Special! An Interview with Author Caroline Stills

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We’re thrilled to be able to bring you this interview with Caroline Stills, the author of Mice Mischief, among other wonderful books.

When did you start writing?

I started taking myself seriously as a writer after my first baby was born, when I became a ‘stay-at-home mum’ (mum = Australian for mom). I thought I would have lots of time to write while my baby slept, ha-ha. Despite the exhaustion and the all-encompassing role of being a new mother, I did put pen to paper, slowly at first, and have been in love with writing ever since. My first baby is now a teenager, and my youngest child is in primary (elementary) school, so I have a bit more time to write these days.

If you weren’t a writer, what would your job be?

My most important job is being a mum to my daughters. Writing is like a precious treasure, something I do just for me (and my readers). These are the two best jobs in the world for me and I really can’t imagine doing anything else!

How long did it take from finishing your first book to when it was actually published?

I wrote my first picture-book story Magic Mummy in 2005, it was accepted by a publisher in 2006, and finally became a book in 2009. Patience is a very useful trait to have as a writer.

Did you get many rejections?

I was actually extremely fortunate that the first story for children that I wrote was accepted for publication by one of the first publishers I sent it to. I’ve had plenty of rejection since then though. I’ve had some really lovely rejections (where publishers give encouraging feedback) and also one or two really painful ones. Unfortunately rejection is a part of every writer’s life, it comes with the job.

Do you find it hard to stop revising? Or do you have a definite ending point?

I’m a planner when it comes to writing; I like to know where my story is going. Once I finish my first draft, I will edit and rewrite, creating another draft or two. Then I give the manuscript to some trusted writer friends for feedback. Once I read their critique and suggestions, I will work on another draft. After that, it’s time to send the story to a publisher, as any further drafts at that stage might mean the loss of the story ‘spark’. When a publisher accepts a manuscript, they will want more editing and rewriting, and I’m happy to do as many drafts as needed at that stage, to make the story the best it can be.

For you, what is the hardest part of writing a book?

Life always seems to be busy so, for me, the hardest part of writing is finding the time to devote to my writing. But because I love it so much, I make sure to find this time.

What made you decide to write for children, and how is it different from writing for adults?

I initially started writing to create fiction for adults. Having my own children inspired me to try writing for children, and that’s when I found my passion. Some people mistakenly think that writing for children is easier than writing for adults, but it’s not. For example, when writing a picture book, every single word matters. Because there are so few words, each one has to contribute to the story, has to have the right meaning and sound (rhythm etc), and are individually considered with great care and thought. And I believe that some of the most innovative and interesting contemporary writing has been for teens/YA. Did you know it is statistically twice as hard to have a picture book accepted for publication than it is for an adult novel?

Do you have any input into the illustrations for your books, or do you only see them once they’re completed by the illustrator?

It is always exciting to see how the illustrator has interpreted my text and what artwork they have created. I have never been disappointed. I am happy to leave the illustrations to the experts – the illustrators themselves and the publisher. Saying that, I have been lucky enough, on occasion, to have a sneak-peek at illustrations at the conceptual/‘sketching’ stage.

Do you prefer to write about animal characters (like in The House of Twelve Bunnies) or human characters (like in The ABC of Pirates)?

For the most part, I don’t consciously write a character as an animal. However, animals as characters do work particularly well in picture books, as they are nationality-neutral – children from all over the world can appreciate a cute little mouse or rabbit and take that character’s story to their hearts.

The House of 12 Bunnies was actually The House of 99 Children in the original draft of the manuscript. It was a story that my daughter wrote when she was eight, which I worked on with her (expanding and tightening her wonderful idea) before offering it to my publisher. Through the editing process, the manuscript then became The House of 12 Children, and illustrator Judith Rossell chose to illustrate the children as adorable rabbits. It then became a natural decision to change the title to The House of 12 Bunnies to reflect the fabulous artwork.

What advice would you give young writers?

Read. Write what you like to read. Read some more. Enjoy the process. Write because you love to write – not because you think you will make money from writing, as not many writers do.

What inspires you?

Lots of things. My children. Things I see or hear. The news. There is inspiration all around us.

What was the most exciting thing that happened to you as a child?

I grew up in New Zealand but had extended family in Australia, so occasionally my family would travel from one country to the other on a plane. Back in those days, the pilots would let children visit the cockpit if you asked nicely. I remember sitting up the front of a plane, next to the pilots, being amazed by all the gadgets and technology surrounding me while soaring above the clouds. Funny thing is, I hate flying now.

Who is your favorite author or book (children’s or adult)?

That is such a difficult question to answer when there are so many great books and authors. When I was very young, I devoured any book I could get hold of, and they included lots of Enid Blyton books. As I became an older child and into my teenage years, I particularly loved the books of John Wyndham: The Chrysalids and The Day of the Triffids and others. I was fascinated about stories set in the near future, what life would be like if something unexpected happened (eg. What if a spectacular display in the night sky – a meteor shower – caused everyone who watched it to go blind? Many of you will recognize this as the start of The Day of the Triffids).

Over the last few years, a couple of books (adults only) that stick in my mind due to their incredible prose and emotional stories are The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

Can you give us any hints about any new books you might have coming out soon?

My latest release (2014) is Mice Mischief: Math Facts in Action illustrated by Judith Rossell and published in the US by Holiday House. This book was first published in Australia, New Zealand and the UK as 10 Little Circus Mice by Little Hare Books. I’m hoping one day, in the not too distant future, to add a novel to my list of publications (which have so far all been picture books).

Thank you so much to Caroline Stills! To find out more about her and her other wonderful books, check out her website.

(Photo courtesy of Caroline Stills)

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