This week, Sketa Oz stopped by to talk about her children’s books The Possum Tales, and her YA series The Parchment. Sketa was born in South Brisbane, Australia and grew up on the Darling Downs in South-East Queensland, and both The Parchment series and Possum Tales mark major milestones for this Australian author and independent publisher of children’s books, which sell and distribute on a global scale to physical and online bookstores in the UK, USA, Canada and Austral-Asia.
Q: What inspired you to become a writer?
I have always enjoyed writing, but my son pushed me to write for myself – probably because he thought he would have more access to reading books. However, my son planted the seed that I should do something with my work, instead of writing for other people. Writing and designing educational curriculums have their limits, for enjoyment.
Q: Had you always planned on publishing your work?
No, not really, but I thought it might be a good avenue to pursue – given I was putting pen to paper on such a regular basis. In the early part, I was testing my works on the children I was teaching – just to see how they responded to my style of writing. Once I started and they enjoyed what I was working on, students came to expect something new each week. If I didn’t have anything specific to read to them, there would always be questions about what the character might look like or what it would be called.
These sorts of conversations are highly inspiring when one is writing and very much pushes me to write even more – knowing students enjoy what they are listening to…
Q: What inspired your Possum Tales series of children’s books?
These were stories that I had written over the years; I grew up with possums living in our rooftop. All sorts of noise and escapades evolved – some funny, some cute, some not so nice and some downright dangerous. Living and growing up with animals, one tends to appreciate their amusing attics.
Often, the best stories told in the evening, around the kitchen table, would have the entire family in stitches. These are stories every child loves to hear – I know, I enjoyed laughing with my family. I guess I am carrying on our family story-telling tradition, but in a more physical sense and keeping my childhood memories alive.
Today, we live in a small, woodcutter’s cottage in Queensland and yes, we have a lovely family of noisy possums in the roof. My son too, thinks of this as quite normal. If they don’t screech at night, we get quite concerned for their safety. Possums are known to be skittled by passing traffic.
Q: Were these stories always intended to be part of a series?
No, not really. Each possum or animal saga had a life of its own; very much needing to be told.
Q: Do you find it easier to write with a schedule or with no time restrictions?
When it comes to Possum Tales, I quite enjoy having no time restrictions placed on me. Given the stories are short and personal, they sort of write themselves. Once I start, I can’t put my pen down, until the idea is out. That ends up being my first draft.
However, when I started writing the YA novel series The Parchment, I had only limited writing time after I had formatted the skeleton. Lunch times and morning tea breaks were often all I could manage, so in a sense I was writing with a schedule.
I think when you have a large tale to tell and it requires considerable planning and structure, scheduling writing time is paramount. One needs to remember in depth what characters are doing and how they are interacting with each other within the plot. One also needs to keep track of where the story is going and must make sure that each chapter has a flow its own, while keeping a solid balance of chapters within the book.
Q: Can you choose a favourite character from your books?
When it comes to Possum Tales, both Milly and Poss are equally favoured; one without the other does not work. Both are like chalk and cheese – Milly is reserved and timid, where Poss is a bit mischievous and takes risks – often to his detriment.
In the YA Parchment Series, I love playing around with Callum. He is not the main character, but he is a whole lot of fun – given he is a bit of a wimp, doesn’t always have a good handle on things and uses inadvertent humour to relay what he is thinking.
Q: Was there ever a point while you were writing, when you wanted to give up?
No, those thoughts don’t even cross my mind, as I choose to write for my own enjoyment. Had someone compelled me to write every day – i.e. writing of curriculums for someone else, then my answer might be a bit different.
Q: What is the worst part of the writing process for you?
Expanding my ideas, keeping track of characters and blocking in-depth chapters in novels are often problematic. Short stories write themselves, however, illustrating takes considerable time and I have been known to use,unknown artists to help them get a leg up in the publishing industry.
Q: Do you have a favourite piece of writing advice?
Stick at it and read up on your favourite genre. Research is paramount to staying current. Keeping tabs on your characters is also key. Give up any of that and your story loses impetus, energy and originality. Lastly, Rome wasn’t built in a day – but it was built!
Q: Where can people learn more about your books?
Visit www.elk-publishing.com or www.sketaoz.com to find out more or to order direct from the publisher. You can also find my books online, i.e. Amazon, Fishpond, Barnes and Noble etc. Any good online store or bookstore should have them.
Q: What have you learned since you started writing?
I have learnt not to listen to negative people. Stay away from people that drain your energy, creativity or distract you from your goals. Always remember it is your life and you should live it on your own terms.
Q: What’s next for you?
This year, I would like to get out the third and fourth Possum Tale books and finish writing the last instalment of The Parchment. However, that might be a bit of a push, given I have to finish a designer line of stationery for Sketa Oz Design – I’ll see how I go.
My plan might need to be tweaked a bit, given I have only six months left in the year.