Our Author Insights series looks at successful published authors from the Exisle and EK Books family, and asks them to share their advice and experience with the next generation of writers. Today, we speak with Dimity Powell, the award-winning children's author of The Fix-It Man and At The End of Holyrood Lane.
Dimity Powell writes for children because she believes being a kid is one of the coolest things you can be…next to riding dragons and lying under palm trees. She believes in magic and that ice cream tastes divine in any flavour, except maybe rainbow sherbet. She hopes the dozens of stories she’s conjured up over the years will be read by children who love to curl up with books as much as she does.
Enjoy the interview!
What Drove You to Write Your Books?
Different motivations led to different stories. The Fix-It Man was inspired by a real life incident that promoted a classic, "What if?" moment and expanded from there. The idea for At The End of Holyrood Lane germinated after vigorous discussion with the founder of a leading children’s counselling organisation who insisted Australia needed a mainstream picture book addressing domestic violence. I have a truck load of story ideas but it is often a casual random suggestion that suddenly pulls me into a story that begs to be written.
How Did You Go About Getting Your First Book Published?
I originally entered The Fix-It Man manuscript into the Kids’ Book Review unpublished picture books competition. It was shortlisted but after walking away without a placing, I decided to rework the whole thing. Shortly after literally picking every word to pieces (like rebuilding a jalopy!), the publisher from EK Books approached me stating this was just the type of story that EK liked to publish. What followed was an intense labour of love to refine the storyline to diamond brilliance. It was a Herculean effort, getting the final manuscript over the line. I felt like I’d surmounted Mt Everest – twice, but it was worth every step.
At The End of Holyrood Lane underwent a similar rite of passage. The original manuscript was rejected because it lacked substantial global marketing appeal despite the prevalence of the subject matter. Instead of feeling defeated, I took this advice on board and again reworked the script until it became one of the stories I am most proud of. The revised edition was accepted within hours after submission.
What Part About Becoming a Published Author Has Surprised You?
Not much to be honest. I anticipated and (perversely) looked forward to all sorts of hurdles such as lack of or slow communication, loss of artistic input, the slog to hard self-sell on the PR front and so on because this is what I perceived being a published author meant. I wanted to embrace all that rather like new baby nappy changes – I mean they’re part of the real deal, right! What did surprise me and continues to do so is how misaligned my expectations were – at least when working with EK Books. That publishing experience has been nothing short of sublime. The ability to embrace flexibility dilutes unexpected surprises and ultimately strengthens your publishing relationship. In other words, try not to be too precious…about anything!
What Did You Wish You Knew Before You Got Your Book Published?
That there is nothing wrong with balancing your story telling integrity with saleability. Publishing is after all a business so if the potential marketability of your concept is not obvious to those you are pitching it to, no amount of heavenly writing is going to secure you a contract. This does not mean you have to sell yourself short story wise. Rather, I regard it as a challenge to write bigger, better and more brilliantly, with a view of making an impact on as many people as possible but in ways that are laden with individual meaning to each of them. No mean feat but one that is definitely obtainable, with practise.
What Is the Most Satisfying Thing About Being a Published Author?
Knowing that your humble little book has found a home on a child’s book shelf somewhere out there and is being loved and cherished is rewarding beyond words. Reading your story to the people you wrote it for also causes the heart to soar. And although not the benchmark of success, knowing that your industry peers admire and respect your work is also deeply satisfying not to mention validating! It’s great seeing shiny award stickers on your book’s cover. It’s better knowing it’s being read.
What Advice Do You Have for Any Aspiring Authors Out There?
Read! I find my craft is enhanced if I fill myself up with stories. Immerse yourself in words; for pleasure and enlightenment. Read outside your comfort zone as well. In this way you’ll soon learn what works, what doesn’t and deduce why.
Write! Flex your creative muscle regularly. It doesn’t matter what you are writing; your shopping list, in your journal, a letter to a loved one, a competition entry – just make it the best you can every time. Be adventurous with language. It’s your sword after all!
Live! Write what you know is a commonly heard proclamation. Never underestimate your own life experiences as a source of inspiration to springboard ideas. I refer to them as my memories treasure chest. I am never short of story stimuli when I draw from my Pandora’s Box of experiences. But you must live life to fill your chest!
I am also an advocate for going the hard yard. There are no real shortcuts in this industry. You are ultimately the master of your craft so to actualise that you must hone your skills, practise, commit and accept feedback. It may take longer than you anticipated, but that’s OK; writing is an apprenticeship that never ends. Treat your quest for publication as professionally and as seriously as you would climbing a cliff face…in gale force winds. With preparation and perseverance you’ll eventually reach the top and the view will be worth it. So just hang on!