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  • Cameron M

Book Chat: Michelle Worthington

Michelle Worthington is an award-winning author of books for children. Her works have been recognised by the CBCA, the USA Best Book Awards and the International Book Awards – among others. Michelle is also a screenwriter, writing coach, speaker and businesswoman.

Michelle’s latest book, Sass and Traz Save the Library, is a fun-packed adventure which, as well as being a page-turning read, reminds us of the power of story and the value of libraries.

Thanks so much for jumping onboard the Book Chat train, Michelle! I’ve been wanting to pick your brain about your books, and about how you write them, for a long time. To begin with, would you mind sharing a little about the journey that you took to becoming a published author? Had it been a childhood dream of yours?

I didn’t want to be an author when I was little, because I was really bad at English in school. I changed schools when I was in Grade 5 and was encouraged by an amazing trio of educators, my Grade 6 teacher, my principal and my librarian, who saw how much I loved making up stories and how hesitant I was to write them down. They encouraged me to be brave enough to not worry about my spelling (which is still terrible) or what other people might think, and share them on paper. This changed everything. I would never have dreamed of becoming an author without their encouragement. It wasn’t until I had children of my own that I was brave enough to follow that dream. It took me ten years to get my first book published, but I didn’t give up. Now I have over twenty books published and work full time as an author and screenwriter.

Tell us everything you’d like us to know about your latest book, Sass and Traz Save the Library.

Sassafras and Alcatraz are twins who couldn't be more different, except for the fact that they love their local library and their mother is best friends with the librarian. They sit in the library while their mother coaches their older brother's football team. The librarian, Ms Burns, tells them the Mayor is going to demolish the library to make way for a car park and there is nothing she can do about it. When Sass goes down to the basement for the packing boxes, she puts her hands on the old library files that hold the Dewey Decimal Cards and something magical happens. She calls the characters of the books to life. The library is helping them to find a way to fight. They need to find the right combination of characters, including the knights, pirates and scientists, to stop the council and save the library.

Your belief in libraries and the important role they play in our lives was clearly a motivating factor in the writing of Sass and Traz Save the Library. Would you mind elaborating on this, and on any other particular factors that drove you to write this story?

The library was always a safe space for me to retreat to when I couldn’t find anyone to play with at lunch time. Some of my best friends were in books. I loved researching about the Dewey Decimal System. I knew about it because I was a library monitor at school, but I loved researching how and why it was invented and then sharing that with students at school visits. It was important to me to instil a love of the library for everything that it does and represents in young readers. They are the ones who will save them.

I’m curious to know about your drafting process for Sass and Traz Save the Library. Did you plot it out in detail before writing it? And was your drafting technique similar to how you’ve approached the writing of your picture books?

I write books in my head before I put them on paper. The first draft is usually terrible, but I at least get a beginning, middle and end that I can then edit into something worth reading. It is the same for picture books and longer books, the only difference is longer books take up more space in my brain and make me very distracted. My family can always tell when I am writing a new story in my head because they find cold coffee, clothes still in the washing machine and eat late dinners, but they are very supportive and understanding.

I’d love to know where your main characters, Sass and Traz, came from. Did you feel that you knew them well before you plotted the story, or was it more of a symbiotic evolution?

They are a combination of children I have met at school visits. Sass has autism and Traz has mobility challenges. When I was younger, I loved reading about twins in books and I knew I wanted to have characters that could sense how each other were feeling and talk in ‘twin speak’ because that always fascinated me when I was a kid. It was also to highlight that children with alternate abilities need to be represented not only in picture books, but books for older readers as well.

There are many laughs in Sass and Traz Save the Library. I’d love it if you could share some thoughts about the power of humour in conveying important messages such as those we encounter in this book.

Humour is very important and extremely difficult to write. My best review so far was when a young reader told me they ‘lol’ed when they read the book. My kids keep telling me I’m not funny, and I’ve tried for a long time to write a funny picture book, so I’m super stoked that people can recognise and appreciate the humour in this book.

Sass and Traz feel very much like the kind of duo who might have further adventures ahead of them! Have I surmised correctly?!

They certainly do! Spoiler alert for book 2. Ms Burns goes missing. Sass and Traz need to save her. There may be a certain handsome knight involved.

How do you find the experience of writing longer works of fiction, in comparison to writing picture books? Does either come more easily to you?

I think the best way to approach it is to honour the story. I don’t really think about what I am writing until the idea is fully formed and then put it down on paper. Sometimes the stories can trick you and what started out as a picture book could be a chapter book, or a historical fiction could be a movie script. I really try to get to know my characters and let them decide what sort of story they want to be in.

What’s next for Michelle Worthington?

If the home screen of my laptop is anything to go by, I have about half a million manuscripts that I need to finish. I’m working on a television series and even appearing in some movies myself. Life is never dull in my world.

Where would you recommend people go to find you online, and to get hold of your books?

They can go to my website or visit their local bookstore. Support local!

Thanks again, Michelle, and congratulations on the release of Sass and Traz Save the Library. It’s a really enjoyable read and I’m sure you’ll have great success with it.

This post is part of a blog tour for Sass and Traz Save the Library, presented by Books On Tour PR & Marketing. Please keep following Michelle's journey on all of the fine blogs below.

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