Wednesday 26 September 2012


Flurries of Words (FLOW) recently caught up with acclaimed children's book author, Jane Whiteoak, to discuss her new and upcoming indie releases, her prominent careers in the health sector and broadcast media, past works and future plans.  Here is what she had to say...

FLOW:  You've had a long and fascinating couple of careers that span several decades and topics.  How has your experience in broadcasting and public health led you to writing books for children?  How have your media connections helped you get the word out about your work?

WHITEOAK:  My career in broadcasting and public health has actually come full circle. I had written several books for the health organization that I was working for and also was required to be interviewed on television and radio in regards to them and also the organization. I had studied journalism, so was quite interested in watching how this whole genre worked. This aspect of the media appeared very interesting. When I left the health organization, I went into the role of interviewer and researcher for television. I had the pleasure and honour of interviewing many fascinating people from all walks of life and was always drawn to authors, particularly those that had written books for children. Having worked in the media for many years, I would like to say that the "connections" that I made in the business, have been an immense help in writing children's books!  However, e-books are so completely different and are an entirely new venue for me. What worked in that area doesn't necessarily coincide with this area and in many ways are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  There are some similarities but not many.

The discipline required in writing, researching and contacting web sites all over the world is a real challenge. I'm learning about new technology also and it's been a steep learning curve for me. Perhaps, having worked in the media has been helpful, in that I enjoy conversing with people, it's now through the internet, instead of face to face.

I am fortunate to have found an illustrator whom enjoys drawing and creating the features of each character with me. We share many similar ideas pertaining to a story we're working on and discuss them with each other, until they actually come to fruition on paper.


FLOW:  How did you find your illustrator?  Do you work with an editor?  Beta readers?  Is it more difficult publishing as an Indie than it was with the public health sector?

WHITEOAK:  I first met Ray Henderson about fifteen years ago. He was being interviewed at the time by someone else for his musical ability, ballads, etc. I then found out that my brother knew him as a former amateur and pro boxer!  He was also known to many as a graphic artist. Ray's father was originally from Kent, England and he had been a professional artist. I guess that Ray inherited this talent from his father. Fortunately, he enjoyed working with animated characters, so it worked out well for the books that we've collaborated on together.

I have a long time childhood friend who is a professional writer and has written many, many books. He has worked with publishing houses and has published books in every format. He read through this book as a professional and I also asked an English graduate to read through it and then yet another author!
I would seriously consider a Beta reader, for a book that was of a great length. It's a wonderful idea, the more eyes that view the work
the better!

I didn't find it any more difficult to publish an Indie book, than those within the public sector. The difference being, again my dear friend Pete Sisco, assisted me tremendously with this project. As he had written so many books and also co-written books with my youngest brother, he really encouraged me to try this brand new (to me) format, at KDP Amazon.

FLOW: Thomas and the Lily Pond 

sends such a strong message for children. So many authors are inspired by family members whilst others draw things from life experience. What was the inspiration behind Thomas?
WHITEOAK: I wrote Thomas and the Lily Pond over ten years ago, before the act of bullying was in the news all the time, like today. In life, we've all probably encountered a bully or bullies at one time or another. Be it at school, the workplace, "friends ", or just our everyday interactions with people. When attending elementary school, I was bullied for several years, by one girl in particular. Fortunately, it ceased completely, when I attended secondary school, but it does leave an indelible impression on one, for a life time.

School is a tough place for many children to 'fit in' so I suppose that I drew on my own memories and experiences when writing Thomas and thought that one of the best ways to deter children from this extremely undesirable character trait, is to reach them when they are very young and impressionable.


FLOW:  Ten years is a long time.  Why did it take so long to bring Thomas to publication?

WHITEOAK:  Ten years definitely is a long time and I have one word for this...procrastination!  Again, I give full credit to Pete, Ray and my son James. They all thought that it was an important message for children and that the topic of bullying was actually being taken to a heightened level of awareness in the daily news.  The book certainly wasn't going anywhere literally, sitting in a huge folder, illustrations and all inside my closet!  Once I made my mind up to go ahead with the project it was non-stop, I found the process very challenging technologically, but very gratifying because, I truly believe in the message that it carries.

FLOW:  Even though Thomas is your only book currently available on Amazon, I see you are no stranger to writing children's books.  Is there any chance of The Puffless Dragon making it to Kindle or other e-pub outlets? The others?  What's the story behind these books?  Are they available anywhere?   I just have to ask if Rupert the Rabbit Who Smoked was inspired by the real life Rupert the Rabbit .

WHITEOAK: The four children's books that I've written previously, Morris the Mule, The Puffless Dragon, Fitness in your Schools and Rupert the Rabbit Who Smoked, are not copyrighted for publishing electronically at this time, unfortunately.

I had not heard of Rupert the Smoke Alarm Rabbit, before you mentioned it, Paula. It must be a great story, I'll have to obtain a copy and read it!

Whilst working for the Toronto Lung Association or Christmas Seal Association, (as it's also known), I was asked to write a book for children that would define the perils of smoking! This was not a popular subject to engage in, because at that time, many people smoked indoors and out.

It was my responsibility to think of something that would catch the attention and the imagination of children while at the same time be somewhat relatable!

The books were a result of that, the question being how do you engage in a conversation about the health risks and dangers of smoking, with a child? Well, I had to come up with a concept for this topic, thus created a few books with various characters that the children seemed to enjoy.

Ultimately, these books were distributed all over the country and also in the U.S.A. They were read aloud to pre-school children in nursery schools, Montessori schools and Day Care Centres. They were also distributed to dentists and doctors' offices throughout the province of Ontario, Canada.

FLOW:  Sounds like they were a tremendous success.  Did you get any feedback on these books?  How were they received?  Have you ever been approached by readers?

I was very happy about the success of the other books.  We had lots of feedback at the time. We had carried out this project, as mentioned by reading them to the children in various different venues. The teachers and parents wrote wonderful letters directly to me and also to the organization requesting hundreds of books, from each different title. It was nice that we had requests and orders from the U.S.A. as well as Canada. I was particularly pleased, when the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, ordered several hundred copies of Morris The Mule, for their medical teaching faculty in Baltimore, Maryland.
I have always kept the letter that I received from them, it was appreciated very much.

Ironically, the Director of the Montessori programme, where I had graduated from, came across several of them in his dentist's office several years ago! He asked me if I was the author and quite honestly, I was very surprised that the books were still in circulation. I really have not had any recent feedback from readers, other than that, for quite a few years.

FLOW:  That must have been fabulous!  What books do you have in the pipeline now?  Will you stay with the Children's genre or will you branch out to others like YA?

WHITEOAK:  Currently, I am working on another children's book for 3-6 year olds entitled Arrogant Annabelle. She is quite a spoiled little girl and has a great number of toys. A lot of material items are given to this girl and she is exactly as the name implies. Arrogant Annabelle, will be published on Amazon KDP, within the next month.

Another book is also finished now and I'm just waiting for the completion of the illustrations, it will also be published at Amazon KDP right after Annabelle. It's a rhyming book for children about some adventurous water sprites that end up at a dance party out in the ocean!

FLOW:  How are you finding independent publishing?  What, if anything, would you do differently now that you've got one book out?  Any lessons you'd care to share with the new authors out there?

WHITEOAK:  Independent publishing is terrific! It does take a lot of discipline and hard work but I love the autonomy of it. I would always suggest to any new author to check, double check and then triple check, for any grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors of any kind, no matter how small, when writing a book for children. It is very challenging and time consuming, precision and articulation are absolutes and the amount of time spent on these details, really took me surprise. Trust me ....I have learned all of this by trial and plenty of errors!  However, that being said, it can be immensely rewarding if people can enjoy the outcome of their labour when their book has been well received.

FLOW: Is it better than a regular 9-5 job or worse?  Do you miss anything about your previous careers?

WHITEOAK:  Writing Indie books is preferable to me than working 9-5. I really haven't worked that kind of a schedule for many years anyway, as working in the media, most big events occurred in the evening or during the weekend. So, I put many long hours into every week, but they didn't ever revolve around that time frame! I miss the people that I met and the excitement and anticipation of someone arriving for an interview, or alternatively we would go and interview our guests at their location. It's great work, but I always felt this pull to try and write something for children or to be involved with children in some way, but I unfortunately, just didn't have the time.

FLOW:   Is there anything you'd like to share with your readers?  Anything you'd really like for them to know?

WHITEOAK:  I just hope that the children who hear the story will understand the

characters and will relate to some of them, ideally Thomas! There is so much peer pressure now and bullying is becoming so prevalent all over the world. Ideally, if we can reach the children and explain the ramifications at a young and tender age they may well, eradicate the problem in the future. lf they can recognize the signs and if they are ever in this situation, they may feel empowered to also diffuse it through knowledge. I am also a Montessori teacher and it is very disheartening to admit that I've seen bullying in the three- four yr. old age group.

This was really shocking to me because girls are as guilty as boys, if not worse in some instances and no child wants to be on the receiving end of this cowardly behaviour. I hope that parents will always be on the lookout for this, as no one wants their children to be partaking in or being the victim of this despicable behaviour. Our children are only little once and they grow up so fast, I'm certain that our children and grandchildren of today, can and will make a positive contribution to society. Hopefully, they'll be the ones to eradicate this unseemly behavioural trait forever!

FLOW:  Has Thomas helped to reduce bullying at your Montessori school?  How does your experience as a Montessori teacher shape your writing?

Montessori teaching has been a new idea! I completed the certification programme last year and really enjoyed it immensely, although it was not easy, returning to school--a complete career change. I have purposely been reading stories to Montessori children, over the past year in the school setting to try and gauge what they might enjoy.
Since Thomas and the Lily Pond, is newly published and I'm currently working on several other books, and school has just started, I haven't
had the

opportunity as yet, to read it to them. My plan is to open a small school of my own and this will be when and where, I plan to read the story. As I graduated as a "Casa" teacher, this enables me to teach children from 2 1/2 - 6 yrs. old. Reading to children in a Montessori school setting this past year has given me some new insights as to several topics that the children would enjoy.

As I wrote Thomas and the Lily Pond, before I was a Montessori teacher my experience in the schools didn't directly influence me, however, having visited Montessori schools years ago and reading to those children at the time, something obviously clicked with me, in regards to writing books for this particular age group.

I also have a four and a half year old grandson, to whom I read the stories and I really watch and listen to his varied reactions. What I love about children within this age frame is that they don't have any inhibitions about saying (or doing) anything! This is so refreshing, as they are completely honest and can be very amusing.

My grandson wasn't too sure about the merits of rescuing that big bully of a frog! Of course, that wasn't exactly the reaction that I had expected. :-)

Montessori teaching doesn't in general encourage the personification of animals. However, if there is a clear message that the book is conveying and of course one that the children can readily identify with, it is accepted within the curriculum of most schools. During the course of the past year and a half, I've learned a great deal about behavioral skills and also the likes and dislikes of children. Now and in the future, I am certain that they will continue to teach and influence me on this fascinating journey that somehow has brought me back to where I initially started. I hope to continue to write many more books for these delightful and insightful children within this age group.

FLOW: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. :-)

Thomas and the Lily Pond  by Jane Whiteoak (Click here for UK Purchase) is currently available on Amazon

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