Artelle Lenthall is a ‘published Picture Book writer as well as a wife, mother and Primary School teacher’. Several of her published short stories have appeared in our annual Western Sydney anthology, ZineWest. We asked about her latest children’s story ‘Pop’ and her experience publishing her first Picture Book, ‘Star’.
Q1. As someone who ‘mostly writes for children’ how do you find writing for adults?
I love learning about different genres in adult writing as there’s usually a gem of a technique or skill which can be applied to children’s writing too. But, if I’m completely honest, I don’t like writing for adults and I rarely read adult fiction.
However, writing things for children or even teens, which may be of interest to adults or might suit a competition or a publication, has helped me towards making a name for myself. I’m truly grateful to ZineWest, FAW and WestWords for giving me the opportunity to gain both valuable publication credits and the chance to think about and write to a theme.
Q2. Do you enter competitions for writers of children’s works and picture books?
Yes, but there are few of them and the competition is fierce. Recent opportunities have more often than not been created by children’s writers/groups themselves.
Q3. We’ve noticed your sense of fun. Is there a ‘humour’ bridge between age groups?
Oh definitely and that’s why Pixar and Dreamworks have done so well. By injecting some hidden adults-only humour, their movies can be enjoyed on more than one level. The jokes are gold when not only the children laugh but the whole family is laughing. Picture Books need to work on more than one level too. When the child wants the book read many times, parents need to be enjoying the experience and not suffering through it for the child’s sake. Adults buy the books in the first place, and the books need to get past the adult gatekeepers before they even reach a child.
Q4. Your new project is a book for children starring the innovative Pop – ideas ‘pop’ into her head at top speed. We read this as a story about an exuberant kid figuring out how to fit in, but one which also asks the old question of how we equip children to be independent in this world without clipping their wings in the process. Any comment?
I’m not sure Pop is trying to fit in! She’s loved by everyone except her straight-laced teacher. ‘Pop’ is a story of identity as much as innovation; Pop is an innovator because her grandma Poppy was an innovator and she learned from her since she was tiny. As for the old question, thankfully there are fewer and fewer teachers like Ms P. Dantic although a far greater emphasis still needs to be placed on inspiring children to be creative and giving them the time to be creative; to value the process and not the product. Regarding writing for instance, perhaps if one major work a term assessed the elements of structure, spelling and grammar, and the regular lessons focused on ideation and development of a good story with great characters, children would both enjoy writing and be far more successful at it.
Q5. Your debut Picture Book, ‘Star’ was published last year. Tell us a little about writing ‘Star’ and are there different challenges with your latest story?
Star was specifically written in the style of a fable about a celebrated, well known event and time, namely Christ’s birth at Christmas. I was following the old adage, ‘write what you know’ and innovating by exploring the story from the point of view of the Christmas Star. Star was first written for and published in ZineWest as a short story, but I always intended for it to be a Picture Book. I am naturally quite visual – when I write I see the pictures in my head. This is possibly why I find writing and even reading lengthy descriptions difficult (read boring).
The challenge with my new story is that Pop is completely out of my head; there was no previously written, well known story to work from. I am a teacher, so I do have that background knowledge in my favour, but the rest is purely from my imagination.
Q6. Who illustrated ‘Star’ for you? And can you tell us about how you collaborated?
The wonderful Margaret Dewar, a Melbourne based illustrator at JS Illustrators, illustrated Star and although we did communicate via email and I did have a say in what Star would look like, this is not the usual process for Picture Book authors and illustrators. Knowing that, I tried to leave Margaret to be Star’s creator in her own right. I only commented when asked to by either Margaret or Little Pink Dog Books (LPDB). The only reason I saw anything much of Star is because LPDB is a small publishing house, which needs all hands on deck to create something as beautiful as Star turned out to be. It is far more common for the editor to be the go-between for any questions and discussions, to facilitate the melding of two or more creative visions for the story. That is the ‘magic of picture books’ – both parts (text and illustrations) are equally important.
You can find out more about Artelle Lenthall at her website
Banner Image from Parramatta series – Mihaela Cristescu