Ready for something fun? Sandra Bennett is it. Her book, Gingerbread Aliens, is wonderfully crafted to draw even the most reluctant reader into the literary world. I am thrilled to introduce to you, a great lady fro Down Under, Sandra Bennett!
Your book, Gingerbread Aliens, had my son in a fit of giggles! He loved it. You clearly have a talent for sparking joy and laughter in the young at heart. Where does this wisdom come?
I have always felt laughter is the key to encourage children to develop a love of reading, so that makes me delighted when I hear that my book has tickled someone else’s sense of humour. Our own house has always been full of laughter and entertainment with my boys and all their friends. I notch up a lot of my ideas from the wonderful experiences they have all brought to my life. I believe it is being constantly surrounded by my family that has enriched my ideas and kept me young at heart. I also regard myself as lucky in that I taught Primary school children for many years, my favourites were always the Kindies and year ones. In that respect I always considered myself like a “mother hen,” all clucky, wanting to embrace and cherish them all. I began writing stories for them and about them in a bid to engage them in the learning to read process. Having also taught English as a Second Language and Literacy Assistance I have a strong belief that stories need to be easily relatable to children if you expect them to want to learn to read and that we only have a small window of time to turn them into life-long lovers of reading.
I was particularly impressed with the illustrations. Who is your illustrator? How did you connect?
Hayley Welsh was the illustrator for Gingerbread Aliens. She is a young artist living in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. At the time we were introduced she happened to be working for my husband on an oil and gas project. He saw some of her drawings and asked if she would be interested in reading my manuscript and the rest as they say, is history.
What was your greatest moment in your writing career?
Two memorable moments come to mind quite quickly. Firstly, the moment I opened the email from The Australian National Eisteddfod requesting the use of Gingerbread Aliens in their 2013 Championship Section of Speech and Drama for Ten years and under, to when I was finally able to watch the performances of the children on stage reading from the book. I feel it was a great honour to watch the children perform exerts of my book. It gave me such delight to see they were obviously really enjoying themselves onstage reading my words, that truly was a great moment. The other great moment was the time when I arrived at a school for a book reading during book week to discover one of the students dressed up as my main character (David Bradberrie), complete with a cardboard cut out of a gingerbread alien and his copy of my book. It was such a lovely feeling to see that a reader had decided to choose one of my characters to dress up as instead of a more famous character.
As an educator, what are the top three things you suggest to parents who have struggling or reluctant readers?
First and foremost relax! The more stressed you are, the more stressed they will be! All children learn to read at their own pace but with a little encouragement, motivation and time spent reading together they will eventually get there.
Find books that will pique their interest or curiosity. Provide a wide variety of genres, including non-fiction, magazines as well as science fiction, fantasy, and adventure, especially books that have great hooks at the end of each chapter and make then laugh so that they want to read more.
Play lots of word games with them, simple things like memory and scrabble to begin with. Even Karaoke on the console may seem like just a game, but as they sing along they are reading the words and having a whole lot of fun and learning along the way. Mix it up a lot but keep it interesting and fun. For an extensive list of ideas you can visit my blog “Raising Awesome Readers.” Here’s the link to two of my blogs to help get anyone in need started.
Describe your writing community, your typical day, what you do to enhance your writing output, editing, and revising.
I live out in the country amongst the kangaroos, native birds and other wildlife and I don’t drive a great deal these days so my writing community has to be online. I joined writing.com several years ago where I was encouraged to further my writing career when I won several competitions I entered and received amazing feedback from many other wonderful writers. It really is a great community to develop your skills, receive reviews and helpful hints. Through Linkedin and Facebook I have become friends with some other wonderful authors as well that continue to inspire me with their enthusiasm and motivation. This year I also joined another group of wonderful writers online that encourage one another with their writing, revising and editing through an author magic spreadsheet where we are encouraged to list our word count each day. It keeps track of your weekly and monthly output helping you to strive to stay on task. Authors can seek advice from each other and generally tend to be quite helpful. I usually try to squeeze in a couple of hours writing during the afternoon after taking care of the usual house hold routines, any work I may need to do for my husband’s company and chasing around after tradesmen working on the building of our home. (This is a long term project that is taking much longer than I ever anticipated.) I am also spending quite a bit of time away from home while my husband works in Darwin, I am hoping this will provide more opportunities for longer hours on my laptop without as many daily interruptions from home.
What recommendations do you have for other writers? (this can be a mention of a few books about writing, blogs, habits, conferences, frame of mind…)
Writing is like any craft it takes practice, lots of practice. I use to tell my students that it is ok to make mistakes as long as you learn from them, writing is the same. Don’t worry too much about how a first draft reads, just write, you can always go back and edit later. The key is to get your ideas down on paper (or computer) fast, before you lose the thread of an idea. Too many of my students would worry about grammar and spelling and then stumble on the main idea or plot. It is more important to form good writing habits than to be concerned with perfection. Also read a lot. Whether you read books on how to write or you read books in your chosen genre you can still learn so much from studying other author’s techniques. Look for a style and flow that suits you, search for what you feel works or doesn’t work in a story. Observe their use of intrigue, adventure, chapter hooks, climaxes and resolutions but it is also important to take the time to develop and find your own voice. In fact I only recently read a great article on this subject, the link is below.
In the world of marketing, what habits have brought you success? How do you find readers?
In the world of children’s books most of my book sales have come from school visits. As a former teacher I have had the opportunity to be invited to do readings at various schools throughout Canberra where many of my former colleagues are still teaching. Once introduced to a class of students it doesn’t take long for them to become hooked readers. I have been planning to add to my blog a series of classroom activities to enhance the reading experience. Hopefully these will start to appear soon to build on the marketing through the use of my books within the classrooms. Word of mouth has always been good for me as well, parents spreading the word when their children enjoy the story. I encourage parents and children alike to write to me on my website or Facebook page with a review or a photo of them cooking a batch of Gingerbread Aliens, this always seems to help.
As a published author, what were some of the lesson (good, bad, and memorable) that you learned in the process?
As it is all such a huge learning curve, especially as children’s books have illustrations to include, I decided to enlist the aid of a small self-publishing company here in Canberra to show me the ropes so to speak. While I would say in many ways they have been very helpful and supportive they still leave all the marketing up to me and have not managed to gain a great deal of access to bricks and mortar book shops leaving me wondering if it has been worthwhile having a middle man? My other issue is that they control the price of my book on Amazon making it difficult for me to sell it at a sale price. When I asked the self-publishing company to reduce the price of my e-book, they made a separate link on Amazon which I can’t seem to link back to the original page where you can see the reviews and my author profile. This has not helped with sales at all. I would much prefer to be in control myself. Most of my sales come from hard copies via my website.
The book launch they organised at a local bookshop was fantastic though and as a result Gingerbread-aliens stayed number one on the sales chart here in Canberra for over month when it was released. I hope the second book in the series Alien Shenanigans does as well when it is released in the coming months.
I am currently in the process of editing the illustrations for Alien Shenanigans, the Bradberre Brothers Alien Adventure continues. Also book three Brussels sprouts and Alien Brains, is in the final editing stages. To top it off I have just completed a collaboration with a wonderful illustrator here in Canberra on a picture book, Emma the Eager Emu. It was one of the short stories I originally won an award for that encouraged me to pursue my writing career. Now the gorgeous illustrations are complete and the Australian birds have come to life so beautifully, I look forward to it being published soon.