Paul Russell is the author of three successful children's books published by our sister company, EK Books. Drawing from his experiences as a teacher, each one of Paul's books explores a different theme and tackles a common issue that children face.
My Storee is a creative look at managing dyslexia. The Incurable Imagination encourages children to let their creativity run free. And Grandma Forgets is a sensitive exploration of dementia from grandchild's perspective. Paul has appeared on primetime television in Australia to discuss his books which have received rave reviews in major media outlets such as The Guardian.
In this interview as part of our Author Insights series, Paul shares his story and his advice for aspiring authors.
What Drove You to Write Your First Children's Book?
I’ve always written stories.
My entire motivation to learn how to write letters in early schooling was so that I could write down the stories that were bubbling around in my mind. Getting to sleep was always almost impossible for me growing up because when I would stop moving, my imagination would take off. I realised that if I wrote down the stories, my mind would calm down and I could go to sleep. It was nothing for my floor to be completely covered in written notes by the morning.
I have never really grown up, which is probably why I am a primary teacher. Writing for children just seemed like a natural fit, you are not limited by anything except your imagination and there is a certain honesty that children’s writing tends to lend itself to, that I thoroughly enjoy.
How Did You Go About Getting Your First Book Published?
I have tried traditional means of getting published since I was about 17 years old, sending manuscripts to publishers that accepted unsolicited manuscripts and have been in too many slush piles to count and although I know this works for some people it never worked for me.
The first books I published were a series of novels aimed at middle readers. I was really confident in these books and thought they were something special. I got really close with a publisher who had several rounds of “let me read more” before saying the inevitable no.
So, with a friend that was a graphic designer, I self-published. It was a really good place to start. I got to know the industry, met some great people, got to go to ‘author’ things. I saw my books in book stores, got my first positive review and actually sold a couple of thousand books, which for self-publishing is pretty good. This, however, didn’t lead to a traditional publishing contract, which is what I always wanted.
In 2014, when I was a lot older than 17, I entered a nation wide picture book writing competition, the first prize was your manuscript dropped on the desk of one of the country’s biggest publishing houses. Long story short, I won the competition, but the publisher still rejected my work. They did it much quicker than normal, but they still were not interested.
I sent the same manuscript to every other publisher I could think of, telling them all it was a national award winning manuscript. Nobody seemed interested but I got a really nice rejection letter from EK Publishing who liked the story, but it wasn’t the sort of thing they published but they told me if I ever wanted to send them something else, I was welcome to.
I sat down that night and wrote a story that I thought might suit them about my grandmother and our relationship. Within a month, I was signing a publishing deal.
What Part About Becoming a Published Author Has Surprised You?
It is such a small world and authors are so nice.
Authors, that I have had the pleasure to be around, continue to be so gracious, supporting and encouraging of new authors. After having a few successful books, I have been lucky enough to be invited to festivals, conduct talks and join writing panels and continue to meet these incredible authors who have just been so incredible.
Authors and Illustrators whose work I have admired and read for years are happy to sit down with cup of tea and chat about their work and share their journey. They offer encouragement and praise. I have not yet met an author, no matter how high their profile, that isn’t open, sharing and passionate enough about literature that they want to share their world with you.
It has been the most surprising thing and the most fantastic.
What Did You Wish You Knew Before You Got Your Book Published?
The amount of people out there doing things with books.
Before I was published, I hadn’t been to a writer’s festival or joined a club or group of authors and illustrators for anything.
There were so many opportunities out there to hang out with people who had already done incredible things and I thought I wasn’t important enough or knew enough to be able to join them. I really feel like I missed out. Hearing stories from other people, meeting authors and illustrators is such a great way to get to know the industry and different way people work at their craft.
I wish I knew these groups existed and I wish I had joined them ten years ago.
What Is the Most Satisfying Thing About Being a Published Author?
Nothing beats seeing your book on a shelf in a bricks and mortar bookstore or having a stranger send you a message about how much they enjoyed your story.
Being an author can be quite isolating, you spend a lot of time on your own writing and putting these ideas together and even after a contract is signed it is often a couple of years before you see the actual book.
So, when you see your book out there and people reading and enjoying it, nothing is more satisfying.
What Advice Do You Have for Any Aspiring Authors Out There?
I have two pieces of advice for aspiring authors.
My first piece is always write for yourself. If you try to write something that ticks every box for what you think a publisher want to hear, they have already heard it and probably by someone with a bigger and more influential name than yours. So, write for yourself first. If you love the story all you have to do is find a publisher like you and they will love it too.
My second piece of advice is, live like an author until you are one. Go to writing festivals, join writing groups and clubs. Meet people who want to get published and are already published. Listen to their stories and their advice, they are oddly willing to share it and you never know when one meeting will lead to the next which might be the one you always needed.