Q & A with Fiona Murray

Tell us about any authors that have inspired your writing.

Children’s picture books have always been a joy to work with when I am teaching. Children still love to sit, listen and be read to while looking at visually stunning, interesting and inspiring pictures. The pictures tell a story as well as the text and children talk about what they are seeing and hearing.  This all helps their literacy learning.

My favourite author would have to be Mem Fox. We have a signed copy of Possum Magic, dedicated to my 3 sons and also signed by Julie Vivas, an amazing illustrator. It is a treasured item in our house.

I do love the Dr Seuss rhythmic and rhyming books and a favourite is Put me in the Zoo. The Berenstain Bears are also fabulous to read aloud and are very funny with the father bear having to be rescued all the time while he is trying to teach his son safety lessons.

Where the Forest meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker is still one of the most beautiful, creative and clever books I have ever seen. She creates her own collages made with actual leaves, fabrics and clay and photographs the collages. She is an iconic Australian author.

Why did you decide to write your book?

I have always wanted to write children’s picture books. In 2010, I took the year off from teaching mainly to spend more time with my elderly father and mother. Unfortunately Dad passed away suddenly in the November before my leave started. 

While I had some more time on my hands, a bubble of an idea began developing. I did some market research on reading readiness programs for preschoolers. I really wanted to help parents work their way through the myriad of online sites proclaiming to teach young children to read. Phonological Awareness was the main impetus for my books, because these skills are the best predictor of reading ability. My stories are short and simple, for reading aloud and reading along to for 3–5 year olds.

The main focus of the wording of my stories is to teach children Phonological Awareness skills (hearing, saying and playing with sounds in words). These skills have been proven time and again to be the foundation of all literacy learning (reading, writing and spelling). The Carlos and Friends book series was specifically written for parents to help their preschool children get ready to read in a fun, relaxed way.

Who/what inspired you to write?

My Dad was always a great reader and writer. I had forced him into writing his WWII war story for the family, which he laboured over for 5 years. He was such an inspiration. His story is now on his squadron’s website and is very precious to us all.

Dad has been with me in spirit all the way.

What was the most rewarding part of the process?

I loved creating the characters and storylines based on their little personalities. Dinalie Dabarera, the illustrator, brought the characters to life in the most beautiful and unique way. Of course, the characters are based on what I see in my garden and I have photos that I have taken of them from my compost and garden beds. I feel bad now if I squash a caterpillar! Some of these photos made it to on my website in the parent and teacher guides.

What are your top tips for writing a book?

I only have a few as I am only a newborn author! Firstly, write what about you know and believe in. Your writing needs to be credible even if it is about insects and backyard creatures. Research your target market and look at other products and books relating to your demographic. Try to be unique and offer a point of difference. 

Which books/authors have inspired you?

I have always been a reader. As a child, my brother put me on to the Narnia series, E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children and the Paddington Bear original series were favourites. 

Why did you decide to self publish?

I sent off unsolicited manuscripts to two traditional publishers (you must follow each different company’s procedure otherwise you go straight onto the ‘slush’ pile). Both were rejected. I then found an educational literacy publisher, who was interested but it was going to take two years to develop and produce.

I found Palmer Higgs (PH) on a women’s writing forum and having checked out a few other companies, decided to go with PH. They have been fantastic all along the way, especially Joy (got to love her name) and Helen. It has taken two years to research, write, illustrate, publish and write and develop my website. I started the publishing process with PH at the beginning of this year. We launched on December 8th, just in time for Christmas and snuck in at the end of the National Year of Reading. It has all gone really well, with ups and downs of course, and many new skills learnt along the way. Having complete control over your product has been fantastic.

What do you hope your readers get out of your book?

I really hope that parents can feel confident and happy with their child’s literacy preparation for school by using my books and guides. There is too much pressure on young kids to ‘perform’ and get ahead (of whom, I don’t know). I would like parents and their preschoolers to be able to enjoy all the activities and the books themselves, rather than drilling them with sight words and phonics too early.