Questions with Debra Tidball

Debra writes stories that speak into children’s lives. As a social worker, parent and author she understands the power of narrative to resonate with children and parents alike.

Her first picture book When I see Grandma is a celebration of life and love drawn from her experience of having a parent with dementia, and reflecting the experience of many with ageing parents and grandparents.

Debra lives in suburban Sydney and satisfies her rural cravings by keeping chooks in the backyard and mucking around with her donkey who is paddocked on the city’s fringes.

She is available for author talks and story-time sessions for schools and play groups.

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I was lucky enough to meet Debra at this year’s SCBWI conference, in Sydney. She tracked me down and I’m SO glad she did. She’s as delightful in person as she seems online! She’s also a huge supporter of Australian kidlit creators and shouts out to her fellow creatives any chance she can! I think she’s amazing and her books are just glorious. I hope you enjoy hearing her answers!

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Tell us a bit about your latest book.

My latest is a picture book called The Scared Book, illustrated by Kim Siew and published by Hachette. It is exactly what the title suggests: a scared book. It asks the reader to interact with it to help it not be scared and rescue it from the monsters that have invaded its pages. It’s loud and fun with a sneaky message about overcoming fears.

What was the inspiration for the story?

I was pondering the colloquial use of the word ‘sick’ to describe something awesome, and was applying it to all sorts of objects: sick shoes, sick clothes, sick book. Sick book! What would it be like for a book to be sick? Then sick soon morphed into scared, and voila! The Scared Book.

Tell us about your main character. Why should we fall in love with them?

My main character is the book itself! It’s a bit of a scaredy cat and it addresses the reader directly, asking for help. By helping it out we, the reader, become the hero in the story. You’ve gotta love that!

Have you always written, or is writing something you’ve come to in adulthood?

Writing stories is something I’ve come into in my adulthood, but I’ve always liked crafting words for essays and reports that I wrote in my time as a social worker.

What was your favourite book as a child?

My favourite book that my mother read to me by my bedside was an AA Milne classic – The Christopher Robin Storybook. I still have it! I wrote a blog post about it here: https://www.debratidball.com/blog/read-to-me . Later, I fell in love with the world of Beatrix Potter, even making the characters up into stuffed toys. I take Mrs Tiggy Winkle along on my school visits.

Can you recommend another female author we should read?

So many to recommend! I’ll choose a recent read: Penny Jaye’s debut YA Out of The Cages is an important and powerful book. I’ve also interviewed her for the Just Write For Kids Blog (she also writes for children as Penny Reeve) for those interested in writing, here: http://www.justkidslit.com/penny-reeve-breaking-boundaries/

What was the last book you read and loved?

I’m currently reading The Peski Kids by RA Spratt and I’m loving that. Especially the feisty, gung-ho, hostile girl character, April. She’s a hoot!

Do you have a favourite quote by a female author?

This one from Kate Di Camillo: ‘We have been given the sacred task to make hearts large through story. We are working to make hearts that are capable of containing much joy and sorrow, hearts capacious enough to contain the complexities and mysteries and contradictions of ourselves and each other. We are working to make hearts that know how to love this world.’ I pinched this quote from an inspiring speech by another (Australian) female author, Lisa Shanahan, on the occasion of the CBCA Book of the Year announcement last year, in Queensland. You can read the speech here: http://readingtime.com.au/guest-speaker-lisa-shanahan/

Tell us three fun facts about yourself, that other people might not know?

I like animals with sticky-uppy ears: I have a Devon Rex cat, a French Bulldog and a donkey.

I don’t do coffee.

I like rock climbing.

Do you have a favourite illustrator of children’s books? Why?

Another difficult one! Of course, I could say the illustrators of my books, Leigh Hedstrom and Kim Siew, who brought my words to life in a way that I could never have imagined! But for the purpose of this question, l’ll say a recent book I read: Mr Walker by Jess Black and Illustrated by Sara Acton. I love her soft, loose style with ink and watercolour and how she’s brought the lovable Labrador Ambassador, Mr Walker, alive. It’s reminiscent of the iconic Quentin Blake and his illustrations for Roald Dahl.

What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?

I can only think of good advice, like: ‘Writing can’t be taught, it has to be practiced.’ Jackie French said something like this at a conference I went to last year. I take it to mean you actually have to do it to learn.

What is your favourite thing about being published by Wombat/Rhiza?

Apart from feeling you’re in a family of amazingly wonderful and talented book creators? Then I’d say the commitment and care they put behind the book for the long haul. You never feel like the carnival has moved on and left you behind. They believe in every book they publish – for the life of the book.

Can you recommend another book by a Wombat/Rhiza author?

Apart from your powerful and important book, Kate? I’ve already mentioned Penny Jaye’s Out of the Cages, so I’ll go with my heartland – picture books.  I’d have to say Katrina Roe and Jemima Trappel’s Same. I love this book and the way the scribbly styled illustrations echo the heart of the story, which is fear of difference yet connection through art. It’s based on Katrina’s experience having a brother with cerebral palsy and her child’s reactions to him in his wheelchair. It’s beautiful book and one that deserves a wide audience.

What is your favourite song by a female singer, and why?

Pearl by Katy Perry. It’s a haunting song about a pearl of a woman who is now just a shell of herself, due to her relationship with a man. I love the poetry and imagery of this song, the metaphors are fabulous. It is heartbreaking and triumphant, with an empowering message that I love in many of Katy Perry’s songs.

Find out more about Debra in the following places!

Website: www.debratidball.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/debratidballpage/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/debratidball

Anyone interested in the monthly roundup of my little patch of kid lit can subscribe here: https://bit.ly/2DHf9n9