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  • Cameron M

Book Chat: Romi Sharp & Michèle Dodd

Updated: Apr 5

I’m really excited to have the chance to Book Chat about Our Australian HeArt, a new anthology of beautiful words and images, lovingly curated by Romi Sharp, founder and director of Just Write for Kids Australia.

 

Our Australian HeArt brings together 18 respected Australian illustrators and writers, all sharing their thoughts and feelings about one special thing that crystallises their experience of living in Australia and their love for it. It’s a very personal but wide-reaching collection of words and images, featuring a broad array of artistic styles, colour palettes and literary approaches.


It’s a great thrill to welcome Romi and contributing artist Michèle Dodd to the blog.

Firstly, a few questions for Romi!



Thanks so much for taking the time to Book Chat, Romi!


Thanks so much for having me, Cam!


This incredible anthology came about as the result of Just Write for Kids Australia’s inaugural Picture It! Competition in 2023. How did you and the other judges go about choosing the entries that would make the book? I can only imagine how many amazing entries you would have received, and how difficult this process would have been.


We received over 40 entries for our first ever Picture It! Competition, which was fantastic! The quality of the art and the accuracy of fulfilling the brief was astounding, from every single one. This, unfortunately, made the selection process all the more difficult! With the expert guidance from our judging panel – Jennifer Sharp, Mary Anastasiou and Tannya Harricks – we worked together to ensure that the overall book contained a nice mix of colour, theme, art style and narrative choices. I wanted the anthology to include the right balance of these features with wording that depicted a sense of storytelling, magic and emotion. The final product ended up with 36 pages instead of the original 32 – so, yes, the process wasn’t easy, but we’re thrilled with the result!

 

What was the inspiration behind the theme for Our Australian HeArt?


As a young kid, we often took family road trips up and down the east coast of Australia. Being migrants from a foreign country, it was an exciting, inspiring and eye-opening journey into the feeling of a new kind of belonging and appreciation of the culture, history and beauty of this land. When I decided to initiate the project for the anthology – a collaborative, fully illustrated picture book – I couldn’t think of anything more suitable than a beautiful coffee-table-style book featuring a collection of everyone’s fondest memories and inspirations from our unique and wonderful country of Australia.

 

What do you most hope that readers will take away from Our Australian HeArt?


As creators, we always want readers to take pleasure in the books they read, first and foremost. The enjoyment of reading is the pathway to many more possibilities, so that’s number one. What we aim for is for readers to be inspired by and connected to not only the book, in some way, but also the land in which they live and belong. We hope that Our Australian HeArt will spark curiosity for the artistic techniques, topics presented, and little surprises found in the book, and then encourage readers to discover and share their own voices, talents and hearts about their favourite pieces of Australia.

Furthermore, we hope that our aims reach children and families across the nation, and that is why we chose to give back to the community by donating a percentage of sales proceeds to The Indigenous Literacy Foundation, so that students in remote Indigenous communities can have the same literacy, language and creative experiences.

 

Were there any surprises in the territory covered by the submissions you received for Our Australian HeArt?


Each submission came as a pleasant surprise! I suppose the most surprising aspect that came about was the number of bird entries we received! It seems that our Aussie birds are quite a popular subject matter! I believe you can find about 8 different bird species in the anthology. Can you find them all?


Love it! I'll definitely go back and have a count!

 

So, after the difficult decisions were made about which pieces to include, how did the process of putting the book together unfold?


With the help of the judging panel, there were a whole number of aspects to consider and act upon in putting the book together. For anyone in publishing / self-publishing, you will know all about it!

Jennifer helped me through editing the words, to design and file creation, acquiring ISBNs and all the millions of bits to know when going through the printing and distribution process! Mary and Tannya were brilliant when it came to layouts and typology, and were my eagle eyes on final edits, too. Funnily enough, the front and back cover were deceptively tricky with at least six different drafts tried and tested!

Now, it’s all about the marketing. The next chapter…

 

Are there any plans for a similar anthology in the near future?


I would love to continue the Picture It! Competition anthology again! Just Write For Kids will have several exciting things happening this year (fingers crossed!), so hopefully this is one of them! Watch this space! 😉

 

Where can readers get hold of their own copy of Our Australian HeArt?


Our Australian HeArt is available online through www.justkidslit.com/our-australian-heart, or directly at www.just-write-for-kids-australia.square.site. Sales proceeds from there will go to The Indigenous Literacy Foundation, and additional donations can be made at the ILF link.

It is also sold at Amazon and Booktopia, as well as several bookshops around Australia, and available to borrow at some council libraries (please request it at your local library if you can’t find it!).

 

Thanks again, Cameron! 😊

 

My pleasure, Romi! I've really enjoyed and appreciated your insights into the creation of this beautiful book.


Now it’s Michèle’s turn!


Thanks a million for joining us, Michèle.

 

Firstly, I’d be grateful if you’d share a little of the artistic and life journey that led you to consider entering the Picture It! Competition.

 

Hi Cameron and thank you for choosing to write about my journey with Our Australian HeArt.

 

I had previously entered the Just Write for Kids ‘Pitch It’ comp where I was longlisted and then shortlisted for a YA novel. That was a huge thrill as the ‘Pitch It’ and ‘Picture It’ comps can lead to bigger things for a lot of writers and artists. So when ‘Picture It’ was advertised I knew it would be a great comp to enter as the winners were also going to be published in an anthology.

I hadn’t been illustrating for a while and needed a prompt to get back into being creative as an illustrator again.


The perfect prompt indeed! What inspired you to choose the yellow-tailed black cockatoo as the topic of your entry for the competition?

 

My inspiration initially started from choosing a colour which was yellow for me. And I had always had this vision of doing black cockies flying across a double page. It was an easy choice and I started working on it immediately. Black cockatoos were also a regular visitor to my former home in St Andrews which was destroyed in the Black Saturday Bushfires. Then at my new property they appeared again. They are almost a healing presence when they fly so gracefully and in slow motion overhead calling out with their incredible haunting cries.


I’d love it if you could share a little of your experience of writing your text, making your artwork and submitting it to the Picture It! competition.

 

My illustration came first. I worked for quite a few hours getting the initial drawing working then the fun part came when I could hand colour with pencil and watercolour onto some beautiful Arches watercolour paper.

I wasn’t too worried about writing the text to go with it as I’m also a qualified writer. After the illustration was completed I played around with some evocative words to enhance the yellowness present in the artwork. I had a smudged background of wattle trees in full bloom so I wrote about how it added splashes of sunshine to the Aussie bush. Then I worked on what makes the Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo so unique.


What was the biggest challenge in distilling this particular piece of the Australian fabric into one double-page spread?

 

I didn’t really have a huge challenge working the concept onto a double spread. I had already visualised the birds flying right across double pages and the idea of the exaggerated yellow in the wattle came afterwards. I also thought it would look very aesthetic with intense yellow one side and a soft pastel almost white tone on the other side. This also allowed room for the type to be placed and easily read. (I was once a graphic designer so I understand how type needs to be very readable against a background)

 

What has it been like seeing the book come together, and particularly seeing how your work fits alongside the other pieces?

 

Seeing the book come together has been amazing. And doing some promotion pieces like making a quick video of yourself and what you love about Australia was so much fun and took us all to another level. I’ve also listened to the other illustrators talk about their journeys and you feel part of a special team. Writing and illustrating can be quite isolating and to be sharing a book with other creatives has been really valuable. I feel very honoured my work is featured alongside some outstanding artists and Romi has done an amazing job bringing us all together and getting our work out there. Plus knowing that a percentage of the proceeds is going to The Indigenous Literacy Foundation makes the project feel really worthwhile.  

 

What’s next for Michèle Dodd?

 

I have been so inspired by Our Australian HeArt that I’m working on an Australian bird picture book with some more well-known birds flying/running across double spreads. (Emus, lorikeets, kookaburras, pelicans etc) I have written it as an interactive book so children can search for and count the birds featured and also enjoy learning about how special Australian birds are and the vastly different habitats where they live/breed etc.

I’ve also just completed the YA novel I was short listed with in the ‘Pitch It’ Comp during a writer’s residency at the Lighthouse Arts project in Newcastle.


Thanks for sharing so generously, Michèle. I wish you, Romi and all the other contributors great success with Our Australian HeArt, and look forward to seeing your own picture book and YA novel on bookshelves in the near future.


Those weblinks again to get hold of a copy of Our Australian HeArt, and to support The Indigenous Literacy Foundation:



This post is part of a blog tour for Our Australian HeArt, presented by Books On Tour PR & Marketing. Please keep following its journey on the fine blogs and sites below.



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