Monday 4 February 2013


In 1980, three-year-old Trevelyan Edwards reported to his mother that the reason for rainwater leaking into his home was a hippopotamus on the roof eating cake. His mum, Hazel Edwards, subsequently wrote a picture book, There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, which has now sold more than a million copies in five languages, as well as in Braille and Auslan. The influence and support of family members on the writing and illustrating of children’s books is immeasurable, but how different is it when family members collaborate creatively?

Two writers living under the same roof has many advantages, as I well know, being a much-published children’s author married to another. Bill Condon and I began our writing collaboration at around the same time as we began our romantic relationship, about 30 years ago. Our first success was a collection of plays titled Madcap Cafe, followed soon after by a children’s adventure novel. Writing together resulted in many laughs - and occasional stressful moments. Nowadays, each of us has published over 100 books, only a few in collaboration. There are, however, many advantages of keeping our writing lives “all in the family.” Besides the extra joy at Lending Rights and royalty payment times – and learning of CBCA and other awards - these include sharing ideas, passing on publishing information and having another wordsmith on tap when you can’t quite think of that right word or plot twist. We both read our works in progress and offer encouragement. When one of us is deeply entrenched in the writing of a project, the other becomes the housekeeper, taking over the cooking, cleaning and shopping. Rarely do we have artistic differences: instead we are one another’s muse, writing confidante and publicist. It’s a great life keeping our writing all in the family!

Another creative partnership is that of Paul Collins and Meredith Costain. When they met in 1995, Paul wrote mostly for adults, although he had recently begun writing for fantasy collections for various publishers. Meredith had written or edited material solely for the children’s market: along with her editorial work on the Victorian Education Department school magazines and several reading schemes, her titles ranged from teenage popular fiction and non-fiction through to picture books and novelisation of the TV show Heartbreak High.

Their talents melded perfectly. Paul was conversant with the science fiction and fantasy genres, and Meredith was immersed in the world of children’s literature: between them, they knew most of Australia’s genre writers and illustrators. Together they created four boxed sets of speculative fiction anthologies and have since been responsible for introducing many adult writers into the children’s sphere. Meanwhile, their combined talents produced a couple of chapter books and 18 non-fiction books (complete with photo research). These days they collaborate less frequently, although both show their work to one another for proofreading and brainstorming. Like Bill and I, each has a separate study, phone line and internet connection.

Prize-winning children’s author Susanne Gervay recently worked in collaboration with her daughter Tory on a YA novel. Tory, Susanne says, was the driving force of That's Why I Wrote This Song (HarperCollins). She wanted me to collaborate with her to reveal the real issues facing girls growing up,’ Susanne says. 'Like many young people, Tory expresses her inner self through music. She writes lyrics and melody and has a beautiful voice, having studied music since she was five, playing the piano and trumpet, and performing in bands.’ 

Tory inspired the novel’s storyline set against the rock music scene, about four 16 to 17-year-old girls connected through music and their relationships with their fathers - the good, the bad and the ugly - and how their fathers affected their relationships with boys and each other.”

Tory wrote the rock lyrics that drive the text, lyrics for songs such as ‘Psycho Dad’ and ‘I Wanna Be Found’, which reveal character and theme, as well as pushing the narrative forward.

YA novelist Krista Bell's son Damien has illustrated some of her Lothian book covers. Damien, who is now an adult, has been a passionate and eclectic reader all of his life, Krista reports.

‘My first book was published when he was just four and so he's grown up taking for granted that his ma writes books and gets them published (in fact one for each year of his life so far, which seems fitting). When he was younger, as I wrote drafts of my stories, Damien would want to read them and at one point he was suddenly reading and editing my work faster than I could produce it.’

‘My major focus has been on junior fiction for readers of 10-14. When Damien was that age he was my major sounding board for all aspects of my work. When I'd finished a first draft, he would read and edit it, and he would sometimes also make plotting suggestions.

‘In 2002 when Helen Chamberlin, my publisher at Lothian Books, asked me to suggest who might do the chapter headings for my junior novel Who Cares? I was bold enough to suggest that my seventeen-year-old son, Damien Bell, might do them.

‘The upshot was that Damien did five chapter heading cameos. They were published in 2003 in my book which went on to win the 2004 Australian Family Therapists' Award for Children's Literature. So, technically, he's an award-winning illustrator! Since then Damien has drawn his mother’s entire junior novel chapter heading illustrations: four in total so far.

‘I'm a very lucky author to have such a talented illustrator with whom to collaborate,’ his proud mother says.

Another couple who work together on the creation of children’s books is historian-author Nadia Wheatley and her partner, artist Ken Searle, both of whom have enjoyed considerable success in their respective endeavours.

In 2005 Nadia and Ken worked with sixteen students from eight Sydney schools - some Muslim, some Catholic and some government. As well as experiencing the natural environment, the children were encouraged to learn about harmony between the traditional owners and the land, and to find harmony in friendship and collaboration. Going Bush, the resulting picture book, showcases some of the students' illustration and writing, linked together with art and design by Ken and a narrative by Nadia. Published in March 2007, the outstanding book – and their earlier co-produced book, Papunya School Book of Country and History - is testament to what can be achieved when a talented couple collaborates creatively.

The family partnerships mentioned here are not all that Australian children’s books have produced. There are, for example, the picture book collaborations between illustrator-designer Donna Rawlins and her husband, author Simon French. And who can overlook the amazing output that resulted in author Ruth Park working with her illustrator daughters Deborah and Kilmenny Niland to produce numerous award-winning picture books? It all goes to show that creativity does run in families and runs very well indeed.

The website of Dianne Bates and Bill Condon is


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