Because of COVID, I’ve been participating in a few online events (haven’t we all?). A friend of mine invited me to a Zoom event and who was there but Pip Harry? I was so excited to see her face in one of those little squares, so excited that I contacted her to ask about her writing journey, how the pandemic has affected her creativity and tips for getting through this difficult time, creatively speaking. I’m delighted to bring you my interview with Australian author and journalist, Pip Harry.
NLK: You’re an author and editor with a background in journalism. Does your editor hat ever get in the way of drafting stories?
PH: It does get in the way, so I try to take off my editor hat when I’m in the first draft stage of writing a book. It’s a write quickly and don’t look back approach. My theory is that the first draft isn’t about perfect sentences, spelling and grammar. It’s about pinning a bunch of ideas on the page and hoping they stick. When it comes to re-drafting, I’d rather tackle a messy, complete thing, than hold myself up by stopping to fixing things up along the way.
NLK: Are there pros to wearing all these hats? In what ways do they complement each other?
PH: Over the past 20+ years I’ve worked as a magazine editor, in-house writer, freelancer, proof-reader, copywriter, and many other wordy jobs. All of them have made me a better author and helped me to understand story, structure and how to engage a reader. Having said that, it’s still incredibly hard work to write and edit a novel. Each book is a mountain to climb!
NLK: Has the pandemic changed the way you approach your work? In what ways?
PH: Oh yes is has! Like most people, I’m now working from home – which means pulling together an 80-page lifestyle magazine from my dining room table for my day job. Whatever time is leftover is for drafting a new middle grade project. I’m also Zooming with my SCBWI Singapore writing group, catching online author talks and book launches, and doing the occasional online preso for school groups. It’s a juggle!
NLK: What advice do you have for writers during this pandemic?
PH: Don’t worry if you’re not writing consistently (or at all!) This is such a difficult, sad and emotionally challenging time. If you are not up for being creative, give yourself a break –focus on self-care and survival! When I don’t have the energy to write, I read or listen to writing podcasts and author talks. It’s all part of the process.
NLK: What drew you to writing for teens and children?
PH: When I was an aspiring author in my early 20s, I always imagined my book would be in the YA section of the bookstore. Writing for adults (which I’ve done in a few short stories and failed manuscripts) just didn’t feel as natural or exciting as writing for young people. I think because writing for kids and teens means I get to tell straightforward, gritty stories with a fresh perspective and hope. As a bonus I get to do school visits with awesome, smart kids and be part of a wonderful global children’s literature community. Children’s book authors are the best people.
NLK: Do you have a favourite children’s author? What’s special about their stories?
PH: There are so many Australian children’s authors whose work I admire, like Karen Foxlee, Helena Fox, Simone Howell, Fiona Wood, Cath Crowley, Malla Nunn, Wai Chim, Nina Kenwood, Jane Godwin, Deborah Kelly, Peter Carnavas….the list is long…
But one of my autobuy authors is Irish novelist, Sarah Crossan. All her work is wonderful, with rich language, emotionally intelligent characters, big ideas and swoony sentences. Her verse novels, The Weight of Water, One, and Toffee make me want to be a better writer. I can’t wait to read her latest adult novel, Here is the Beehive.
NLK: Do you think it’s necessary for children’s authors to be represented by literary agents? Can you please tell us how you approached getting an agent?
PH: It’s not strictly necessary in Australia to have an agent – I have quite a few mates who have direct relationships with their publishers, which works well for them. Personally, I’ve sold books agented and un-agented, and I prefer having an agent. It means someone is in my corner, looking over contracts, negotiating the best deal, and giving me advice about things like screen adaptations, overseas rights ect.
I’ve actually had three agents – Jacinta Di Mase when she was at Australian Literary Management back in the 90’s, Sophie Hamley when she was at Cameron Creswell, and currently my agents are Benython Oldfield and Thomasin Chinnery at Zeitgeist. All three I signed with after sending a cold pitch submission via email (in the 90s it was a written letter!).
NLK: As an editor, what would be your biggest tip for emerging writers?
PH: Don’t sweat the small stuff, and don’t hold onto your book for years and years. If you have a fabulous idea, great characters, and you’ve done a few rounds of edits (one with trusted beta readers), then you’re okay to send it out. It doesn’t have to be word perfect or copyedited by a professional. That polish will come later when it is contracted to a publisher.
NLK: You’ve got a couple of books coming out in the near future, can you please tell us about them?
PH: In mid-2021 I have a new Middle Grade verse novel coming out with Hachette Australia. It’s called Are You There Buddha? It’s a funny, awkward, honest and modern take on puberty, first periods and relationships. I’m also working on another contracted MG for Hachette, potentially for 2022, but I’m still figuring out what it’s about!
About Pip Harry
Pip Harry is an Australian author and journalist. Her young adult novels include I’ll Tell You Mine, Head of the River, and Because of You, shortlisted for the CBCA Children’s Book of the Year Awards, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award and Queensland Literary Awards.
Her first middle grade novel, The Little Wave, is shortlisted for the 2020 CBCA Book of the Year Awards, and the 2020 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards – Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature. Pip lives in Singapore and currently works as Editor for the Australian and New Zealand Association (ANZA).
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