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Women Who Write: Carlie Gibson

Emma Macdonald

It’s a deeply personal creative expression, an often solitary pursuit and a foray into a competititve market littered with failure. 

But it’s also an old and cherished art – introducing children to fiction through words and pictures.

Three Canberra women are making it in the world of publishing, trying to ensure the written word will always hold appeal for children and that books—and not iPads—are the ultimate vehicle for imagination.

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She started her writing career as a journalist before transitioning to the cut-and-thrust of federal politics as a media advisor, where speeches and press releases became her word-count mainstay.

Now Carlie Gibson has made the leap into a world of beautiful and tiny French mice – through her children’s book, The Sisters Saint-Claire.

WHEN DID YOU FIRST START TO THINK ABOUT CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?

Probably in my early twenties, when 
I was still at university. I always felt the urge to write creatively, but I lacked the discipline and patience at the time. I thought children’s books would be the easiest way to indulge my desire to write a book. How naive! It’s anything but easy. Children have so much entertainment at their fingertips now, and picture books (especially by unknown authors!) really need to jump off the shelves and into the hearts and minds of little readers.

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WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE THE SISTERS SAINT-CLAIRE?

I vividly remember being overwhelmed by a creative desire which I couldn’t explain, or satisfy. Many failed or half-baked craft ideas just didn’t seem to silence that voice inside me. I sat down at my computer one day with three children all needing attention, and decided to write straight from the heart. I asked myself a question. What do I know about? And the answer was sisterhood (I am one of five girls), family, country living and simple adventures.

The Sisters Saint-Claire was a name that popped into my head and, from there, the characters grew into little mice who lived in a quaint French village. Thankfully I had visited the French countryside with my husband years before, and had lots of memories to draw on.

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WHAT STORY DOES IT TELL?

Hopefully, it tells young people that size doesn’t matter. Small people 
can do great things. It tells a story of adventure, and sometimes that comes in the most simple form – baking, playing games with your siblings, joining your family for a day out.

HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT TRANSLATING AN IDEA INTO AN ACTUAL PUBLISHED WORK?

I worked on the story for over a year. I wrote, rewrote and agonised over every line. When I was happy that I had something worth reading, I asked my sister, my Mum and a couple of friends to give me an honest critique. They loved it, and encouraged me to pursue it.

I consulted as many people as I
 could to find out how to get the book published, but in the end it came down to luck. After sending it to Penguin with no response, I met an amazing lady by the name of Emma Magenta, an artist and author. I plucked up the courage to ask her if she’d look at my story, and she did. She gave me some great advice, and passed on the name of an editor (Anna McFarlane) at Allen and Unwin.

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Anna loved it, and pitched it to 
her team. She also introduced me 
to illustrator Tamsin Ainslie. The manuscript was sent to Tamsin’s agent and she was immediately keen to be part of it.

She sent through a rough sketch of a mouse the next day. I couldn’t have been happier with her work and we hope to work together again – possibly on a Sisters Saint- Claire series!

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THE CHILDREN’S BOOK MARKET IS A TOUGH ONE. HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR BOOK STANDS OUT?

A lot of thought went into that. It’s smaller than a lot of picture books, with a beautifully tactile hard-cover.
I wanted it to be unapologetically beautiful, and Tamsin’s illustrations are just that. It also has an old-fashioned look and feel, and is written in rhyming verse, so I hope all those things combine to make it something special.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT THAT CHILDREN READ AND ENJOY BOOKS?

Because the experience of owning, reading and holding a book cannot be replicated in any other way.

My Mum recently sent me a box 
of goodies she had kept from my childhood. There were half a dozen books in there, and the minute I picked each one up, the memories came flooding back. I remembered what I felt at that time in my life, where each book came from, the thrill of a surprise ending and the shock of a sad one.

Books help us to learn more about ourselves. To connect with our own emotions. To express ourselves. To respect words. And that is a little piece of magic.

Photography by Martin Ollman

This article originally appeared as part of our Women Who Write article in Magazine: Back to Basics for Autumn 2017, available for free while stocks last. Find out more about Magazine here

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

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