It’s Author Interview Thursday and I’m so excited that we have another opportunity to be inspired by an author who has encountered the challenges associated with getting a book published and is still standing. Today’s special guest comes from the beautiful nation of Australia. We connected via Facebook and it’s been a pleasure to get to know her better in the build up to this interview. She’s a teacher by profession and is really passionate about increasing the literacy levels in children. She recently got her first children’s book published and I know it’s going to be the first of many to come from her pen. Her passion for reading and writing is so infectious as you’ll agree with me by the end of this interview. So without further ado, please join me in welcoming Sandra Bennett.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and that first moment when you knew you could write.
I am a bookaholic. I have had my nose in a book for as long as I can remember. I started writing in my teens and won my first national poetry award when I was sixteen. By the time I went to teachers college and studied children’s picture books and their authors I knew I wanted to write for children too. I don’t know if I could say I had an exact moment when I knew I could write, I just always knew it was something I had to do. It was a natural progression, a part of my teaching and my love of literacy. I wrote stories for the kids in my classes and for my own sons. When we lived in Thailand I began writing stories about our adventures and experiences living amongst a different culture, and then when we returned home to Australia I decided it was time to study children’s writing further so that I could one day reach my dream of publishing stories for all children to enjoy.
My passion throughout my teaching career has always been helping struggling readers to not only learn to read but find the joy in books that I have always found. Having the desire to reach and encourage as many children as I can to learn to read is my inspiration to write this book as well as many others. I have discovered from first-hand experience that children increase their ability to learn to read when they read something not only familiar but that they really enjoy as well. I wanted to write a story that was not only engaging, funny and entertaining, I wanted to hook the reader at the end of each chapter so that they couldn’t put the book down. Gingerbread Aliens was inspired from the chaos cooking in my own kitchen with my three sons many years ago when I realised I could twist the experience into a hilarious tale of somewhat epic proportions. This then in turn leads the reader on an adventure that keeps them guessing all the way to the end. Gingerbread Aliens is ideal for children learning to read or reluctant early readers who have not yet found a love of books. Ages 6-10 is ideal for them to read themselves, however I have found 4-5 year olds have really loved it too when read out loud by a parent, grandparent or significant other.
How do you combine being a full time teacher, married with three children and writing?
Doing anything you love is always a balancing act and a bit of a challenge but if you have the determination to reach a goal you will always find a way. Having a laptop helps as I can take my writing anywhere and I am able to write whenever the urge takes me. When I was teaching I usually kept it to weekends or late at night, however I have retired from teaching now that my boys are older and are independent young men. This has enabled me to have more time to devote during the day to developing my ideas, although I admit I am still a mum first who likes to have a meal on the table when her boys come home each evening. I travel a lot more these days as well with my husband for his work, so again a laptop is very convenient. I just plug in no matter which city we happen to be in and away I go.
As a child C.S. Lewis, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” would have to be my all-time favourite, I can’t go past a good adventure. I also loved reading mystery series like “Trixie Belden,” Nancy Drew,” and “The Hardy Boys.” Guess I’m showing my age a bit here. By the time I was in my teens I found the wonderful humour of Douglass Adams “Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.” It was even more fantastic when I was able to re-read it and share it with my own teenage son. On that point, may I add some of my other favourites that I read along with my boys as they grew up. Emily Rodda’s “Deltora Quest,’ anything and everything by Paul Jennings, in particular “Round the Twist.” Paul Jennings has such a great sense of humour to attract kids to read. Jasper Fforde’s clever literary feast “Thursday Next” series and of course I can’t go past “Harry Potter.” J.K. Rowling was masterful the way she made a whole generation of children start reading again.
What three things should writers avoid when writing dialogue?
- Avoid using said after each person speaks. Try to show who is speaking through an action or emotion. It comes back to the old saying “show, don’t tell.”
- Be careful not to make the language stiff or stilted. Good dialogue does not have to be formal, it has to flow naturally.
- The words must fit the character. If it’s a teenager use teenage jargon, a grandparent may have completely different idiosyncrasies. Do not fall into the trap of letting all your characters speech sound the same. Make sure they are individuals.
It’s an old classic but a good one that has lasted throughout the generations, Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice.” I defy any young teenage girl not to fall in love with the arrogant yet debonair Mr Darcey and who can’t help but laugh at the ever meddling dialogue of the forever vexatious Mrs Bennett? (I know I am Mrs Bennett too, it has not gone unnoticed in this household either.) The setting of the story may be well before our times and therefore the dialogue is much more structured however it is fitting for the day and tells the story in a manner befitting late eighteenth century English society.
Toy Story or Shrek?
Toy Story! While Shrek was fabulous in it’s own right, I can’t go past the humour and delight of Toy Story. I love the whole concept of the child’s toys coming to life when he is not around. I can just imagine this happening in bedrooms and playrooms everywhere. I also love the fact that they used toys that I grew up with as did my own boys. Toy soldiers, Mr Potato Head, Slinky the dog, even Barbie entered in the sequel. Again it comes back to telling a story with things that all kids can relate to and what is closer to their hearts than the toys they play with every day.
I had the privilege to read to several Year groups at a Primary school recently. The experience really made me consider being a teacher. What advice would you have for me and anyone reading this interview who are thinking about pursuing a career as a teacher?
Teaching is an enormously rewarding career. There is nothing like the joy of watching the delight rise on a little face when they have a “light bulb” moment or realize they can finally achieve something that they have struggled to learn. There are no words to express the feeling of how wonderful the opportunity it is to take a group of small students from the beginning of the year and watch them grow and teach them to learn. When they start off unable to read and leave you as independent readers by the end of the year, you know you have done something right. Teaching can engulf every waking hour as you tend to put your heart and soul into your class. Preparation and evaluation can leave you with very little time for anything else, so good time management skills are essential.
If you were not a teacher, what would you do?
I am already doing it! I am no longer teaching. I spend my days writing, researching, marketing and when I can I visit schools for book readings. I would like to add writing classes in schools one day to my list of skills but haven’t really looked into that yet.
Wow, that’s harder to answer than you might think. Australia is such a large place and there are so many wonderful things to see and do and places to visit. It depends on whether you are into scenery, the arts, animals or culture?
- I guess most people would say you have to visit Sydney Harbour. It is one of the most beautiful harbours in the world. (Yes I am a tiny bit biased. I did grow up in Sydney). The Opera House is spectacular, the Botanic Gardens are magnificent, The Rocks are full of our convict history, and Darling Harbour is alive with wonderful multicultural restaurants, and it is all under the backdrop of the “Coathanger” our amazing Sydney Harbour Bridge, which if you are not scared of heights, you can climb.
While you are in Sydney you should also take the time for a surf at any of our superb beaches that spread north and south along our coastline. Feel the sand beneath your toes and smell the salty sea air before you dive into the crisp clear blue ocean waves. I virtually grew up on Cronulla Beach on Sydney’s south side so the sea is in my veins.
- Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef off Queensland’s magnificent northern coast is another must. The colorful coral and exotic tropical fish have to be seen to be believed. The turquoise water is so clear you can see forever while you float amongst the tranquillity of the gently lapping waves that relax your inner soul.
- Explore the Outback. Take in the vast contrast of the red centre and the Indigenous Aboriginal Culture. Whether you fly to Alice Springs and Uluru, Kakadu or the Kimberly Ranges in Western Australia, there are spectacular gorges, waterfalls, rock art and Aboriginal paintings and artifacts galore. Recently I had the awe inspiring experience of swimming under a waterfall in an outback waterhole. It was something I’ll certainly never forget.
I know you only asked for three, but I would like to add one more on a personal note. Whenever we have visitors from overseas they always ask to see Kangaroos. We have many kangaroos hopping through our property daily as we live in the country not the city, but the kangaroos here are wild and will not allow you to get close enough to touch. So we take our visitors across to the South Coast of New South Wales to a little spot in Murramarang National Park, called Pretty Beach (just north of Bateman’s Bay) where the kangaroos are quite tame. Here you are welcome to pat them, the only request by the park rangers is that you do not feed the roos, please allow them to forage for themselves. We find our guests always go home feeling overwhelmed to have had such an awesome and amazing experience.
What can we expect from Sandra Bennett in the next 12 months?
Book two in my Alien Adventure Series is complete. The Bradberrie boys are up to more mischief and mayhem yet again! I hope to have it released soon, but no date is set just yet. So stay tuned “Alien Shenanigans” is coming soon! I am in the middle of writing the third book in the series. With a bit of luck it might be ready by Christmas. I am also considering publishing one or two of my picture books this year. I have quite a few works in the pipeline. It is just a matter of deciding which direction I want to take.
Where can readers and fans connect with you?
I have an author Facebook page they are welcome to follow at
Readers and fans can also follow either of my blogs. I paste the same content to both so that following one is sufficient. I try to write advice for parents looking for help with the home reading struggle as well as including author interviews, book reviews, and the occasional recipe or science experiment. When Alien Shenanigans is released there will be more fun science coming. J
Any advice for authors out there who are either just starting out or getting frustrated with the industry?
Read, read and read some more. Then write , write and write even more! The old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ is alive and strong when it comes to writing. There is no easy way to writing, you just have to keep at it. Take classes, learn your craft, join writing groups but don’t be afraid to put pen to paper. Even if you don’t feel your writing is good enough to show anyone else, keep writing until you find something you feel worthy of sharing. If writing and reading is your passion, (as it is mine) then don’t let anyone or anything stop you. Follow your dream, it doesn’t matter whether your book ever becomes a best seller or not, as long as it puts a smile on at least one face then you have done what you set out to achieve. I may have only published one children’s book so far, but during my journey I have learnt a lot. Be prepared to market yourself, be social media savvy, hang in there and write more books. The more books you publish the more you will develop a following and become known, but most of all, be true to yourself and never give up!
It’s been an absolute delight having you with us today Sandra. I just admire the fact that your primary motivation for writing is not the dollar bills but the fact that you love the written word and the opportunity to affect others with your words. How can one go wrong with that sort of mindset? Please do check out the links Sandra gave above and be sure to like her Facebook page. You can also get a copy of her book, Gingerbread Aliens by clicking the link below.