Book Chat: Allison Paterson
Updated: Apr 2
I'm really excited to welcome my latest guest to Book Chat – Allison Paterson. Allison
is a writer, publishing consultant, book reviewer and former teacher-librarian who has written several books for children, as well as a young adult novel and a non-fiction book for adults. Allison's book Anzac Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front was longlisted for the 2016 ABIA and CBCA awards, and Allison was a recipient of a 2017 May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Creative Time Fellowship, which culminated in the publication of her young adult manuscript, Follow After Me, in 2019. Allison's other children's titles include Granny’s Place and Shearing Time, as well as two books in the highly successful Australia Remembers series, including her latest title, Australia Remembers: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force.
Hi Allison! It’s an honour to welcome you to Book Chat, having followed your writing career for a long time. Congratulations on the release of your latest title, Australia Remembers: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force. I’m looking forward to learning more about it.
Hello Cameron! It’s lovely to be invited to Book Chat. I’ve followed your career for a long time too – does that mean we’re getting old 😊? Anyway … I’m looking forward to answering your questions about Australia Remembers: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force.
Firstly, I’d love our readers to know about your journey as an author. Have you always wanted to write professionally?
Writing has always been in my life, so I don’t think I can pinpoint a time when I made a conscious decision to be a writer. Being a published author came from a dream as a young adult to tell the story of the service of my ancestors in WWI. Thirty years later it came to be. From there, other books grew. I did need to decide a few years ago to resign from an awesome job as a teacher-librarian to pursue writing as a career. Today I am a full-time writer, interspersed with author talks and workshops in schools and casual consultancy work for Big Sky Publishing.
Has your experience as a teacher-librarian influenced the kinds of books you’ve wanted to write for children, or your approach to writing them?
Absolutely! For twenty-four years I had the pleasure of hanging out with kids and books every working day. I got to know both quite well! I could also identify gaps where resources were needed for classroom teachers. Ultimately though I write about history because I love it and want to share the past with children.
Your latest book, Australia Remembers: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force, is the second title in the Australia Remembers series, published by Big Sky Publishing. What inspired you to write this title? Did you feel that some of these customs and traditions were at risk of being forgotten or neglected?
As a teacher-librarian, every year, I felt I was supplying teachers with the same non-fiction resources regarding the origins and traditions of Anzac Day and Remembrance Day. In addition, the lack of information regarding war memorials was significant. An idea was born for the first book in the series! I wanted to provide a very useful and curriculum specific book that filled those gaps, one that would be valued by both teachers and children. Australia Remembers: Anzac Day, Remembrance Day and War Memorials came to be. But … there was so much fascinating information that I couldn’t include – like why do service personnel salute, why do they turn their eyes when they march past an important person – what are the origins of these customs? The idea for the second book came as simply as that.
I doubt the customs and traditions are at risk, I certainly hope not. I believe that self-understanding and knowledge of service help to develop community spirit and empathy for others. The books in the Australia Remembers series are designed to ensure that the next generation shares the history and understands the traditions of these important commemorative occasions.
Writing about war and its consequences, you are obviously dealing with some quite mature and potentially dark themes. How do you go about addressing this subject matter in a way that isn’t too confronting for children?
Questions about war often arise in Primary classrooms around Anzac Day and Remembrance Day. Individual children will have different levels of readiness and often that comes down to family background and values. Teachers will respond with caution. But early childhood children want to know what war is, and if they and their families are safe, while older children start thinking about why we have to have wars. I wanted to create resources for teachers that simply provide answers to the many questions.
There are hard decisions to be made when writing about war. Largely I thought about the questions that children (and adults) have asked me about Anzac Day and Remembrance Day and ensured I was answering those. It often comes down to softening the language of war, stating the facts but not dwelling on the tragic events. We choose images that are not confronting and use break-out boxes for children and adults who want to explore the content in more detail. I also consulted with other teachers whose opinions I valued. For instance, the publishing team debated whether Two-up should be included – we didn’t want to promote gambling. We threw the question out to the teachers. Two-up stayed and we presented it simply as a game of chance that the Anzacs played for entertainment.
Your Anzac Sons books (published in 2014 and 2015) were based on some extraordinary source material – the more than 500 letters sent back from the Western Front by your grandfather and his four brothers. Did being a custodian of such a rich and personal primary source present any particular challenges as an author?
The courage and sacrifice of my ancestors inspire me every day. The challenge was wanting to include it all … I valued every single one of their words. The young men were the same age as my children in the last final years as the manuscript came together. I so strongly identified with their mum that the boys began to feel like my children. I got to know each brother, their handwriting, their emotional responses, their attitude to war and their love for their family. It was an honour to tell their story and a very emotional journey.
I’d love to know about how you approach writing non-fiction. Do you find it to be as creatively fulfilling as writing fiction?
Museums are bliss, as are libraries and historical research. I read a lot of history, both fiction and non-fiction, so ideas tend to swim around with my own personal experience. Once I have an idea, I write a structure and start researching. I’m a planner! Knowing when to stop researching a non-fiction book is not as clear, and making decisions about what to include is significantly different to writing fiction. In writing my YA novel, Follow After Me (BSP, 2019) I wrote about the years of World War I, so my previous research for Anzac Sons meant I needed to do little research. The research I did do was generated by what I specifically needed to know, rather than by what I think a reader wants to know, as in Australia Remembers.
What do you particularly hope readers will take away from Australia Remembers: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force?
First and foremost, I hope readers enjoy Australia Remembers: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force! I hope they discover wonderful facts that will enhance both their understanding and appreciation of the rituals they see on our days of commemoration. They may be surprised to find that they actually perform some rituals that are derived from the military themselves!
What’s next for Allison Paterson?
I’m slipping out of the past and into the future – just for a moment or two. My next picture book is about a little wooden toy boat that is left behind on the beach. It’s called I Wonder and is illustrated by the talented Nancy Bevington. It was inspired by a visit to my local beach at daybreak. I was dismayed to see rubbish lining the foreshore. Council workers were arriving to clean it up … I wondered … why? Why would people leave behind such a mess that ultimately could find its way into the ocean? Having seen reports about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the dangers of marine pollution, I was so very sad that, regardless of the knowledge we have, we can still get it so badly wrong. That day I wrote the story of I Wonder. I’m thrilled for it to be the second book in Big Sky Publishing’s Caring for Our World series.
Where can readers find you online and get hold of your books, including Australia Remembers: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force?
You can find my books at any great bookstore! There are links on my website or at Big Sky Publishing to your preferred online source as well:
Big Sky Publishing: https://www.bigskypublishing.com.au/?s=australia+remembers
Thanks so much for your time, Allison, and for sharing your thoughts and experiences so generously. It's been a real pleasure.
Great questions Cameron, and thanks for inviting me!
This post is part of a blog tour for Australia Remembers: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force, presented by Books On Tour PR & Marketing. Please continue following Allison's journey this week on the many fine blogs below.