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BSAB – Writing and Illustrating with Passion: A Panel Session with Book Creators







Two acclaimed writers and one esteemed illustrator walk into a dark, deafening bar…


Well, actually it was a dim, noisy auditorium full of aspiring as well as already blossoming children’s writers and illustrators excited to hear about their heroes’ journeys. The heroes were: the master of fiction himself, Sean Williams; the princess of picture books and children’s fiction, Zanni Louise; and Australia’s goddess of illustration, Freya Blackwood. With the eminent Dr Robyn Sheahan-Bright keeping their stories on track, the eager audience was introduced to our engaging characters’ backstories and how they got started.

From left to right: Sean Williams, Freya Blackwood, Zanni Louise & Dr Robyn Sheahan-Bright

From blogging about family experiences to reviewing children’s books, Zanni’s break into writing picture books came about through her blog and a fortuitous encounter with a publisher who was looking for some guidance on porta-cots. Since then, unlike her first published picture book, Zanni hasn’t been Too Busy Sleeping.

While Freya always wanted to be an illustrator, it was when she was airbrushing hobbits’ feet as a special effects artist for the Lord of the Rings films that she put together a portfolio, sending it to publishers all over the world. Twenty-nine rejections and one acceptance later, Freya got her ‘start’ working as an illustrator, and as they say, ‘the rest is history’.

But you won’t find any cliches in the 50+ novels of Sean Williams who set some very clear goals to becoming an author. He started off writing and submitting short stories before getting his first big publishing break with Harper Collins.

Thanks to our eminent narrator, the audience discovered what motivated our heroes and drove them towards success. It was not just a need to earn a living or the avoidance of having a ‘real’ job, our heroes were driven by a deep artistic desire.

But of course, on their quest many obstacles and challenges were put in their way—the lonely, insular life of being a creative; burnout (particularly for our hero whose work drew him to galaxies, far far away); and the deadening silence of those whose opinions mattered most… the publishers.

Our heroes were not broken, though, by the crushing knockbacks or the exhausting burnout. They fought on—assisted by a strong work ethic, thick skin, determination (and did someone mention an arts grant?), and of course, being ‘pushed’ by their editors… draft after draft after draft. But in the words of our heroic novelist, ‘good enough is the enemy of great’, and their editors’ efforts were well appreciated.

Our three heroes’ journeys merged as they espoused the benefits of collaboration—the key to unlocking endless possibilities. As our heroic illustrator proclaimed, collaboration enables the creation of work that wouldn’t be done by oneself. And according to our gallant picture book heroine, ‘when the artist interprets her story, that’s when magic happens.’

Our heroes’ journeys ended with a more than satisfying conclusion as they each found their way to publishing success with trust and courage, and doing what they do for fun, for joy, for love.

Anyway, back to my real job. But before I go…

A famous novelist, a wise princess and an enchanting illustrator walk into a post-apocalyptic bar…


Written by Liane McDermott

Liane McDermott is a children’s writer and editor, most famous (at this stage) for her collaboration with The Wiggles and her picture book, Dorothy the Dinosaur and Her Magic Hat, as well as numerous unrelated academic journal articles and book chapters. Liane is a member of WriteLinks, SCWBI and the Institute of Professional Editors. You can follow Liane on Facebook at @lianemcdermott.editor.writer or on Instagram at @lianemcdermott

Photo credit: Karen Tyrrell & Annaleise Byrd

Blog coordinator: Sandhya Parappukkaran

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