Children's Literature graduate publishes her first picture book

Children's Literature graduate publishes her first picture book

How can you express your love and affection for someone when they don’t even know or remember you?

Macquarie graduate Debra Tidball's new book When I See Grandma tells the tale of two children who visit their grandmother in an aged care home and do their best to make memories with their Grandma. The children's vitality brightens the lives of their grandmother and of the residents of the once bleak aged care home.

Writing the picture book

The picture book is described by the author as a story about "past and present, beginnings and endings, set in an aged care home and reflecting this cycle of life." It is based on Debra's own experiences taking her young children to visit her mother in the years before she died from dementia.

Debra recalls, "My kids were exhibitionists when they were young and when they realised the attention they could get by putting on mini concerts at their Grandma's aged care home with their primitive attempts at music and dance, they were hooked. They planned and choreographed and practiced all week and couldn't wait to get back to their captive audience.

Debra dedicates her book to her mother and has also committed to donate the book's royalties to the Hazel Hawke Alzheimer's Research and Care fund.

Reaching for her dreams

Her mother's long career in a local library was influential on developing Debra's love for books. She's been writing short stories since she was in grade school. She gets her inspiration from exciting scenes, pictures or phrases.

However, Debra admits that she was a “closet” writer. Before enrolling in Macquarie for a Master of Children's Literature, Debra was timid and self-conscious of her work. She believes her postgraduate studies helped build her confidence and developed her writing.

"My postgraduate studies gave me the confidence to put my writing out there – workshopping with others to improve my manuscripts, and sending it to publishers. It gave me an understanding of and ability to apply narrative concepts that helped shape my writing."

She chose to study at Macquarie because it was close to home, so she could do most of the subjects externally. She says she was also inspired by the course outline and range of subjects. The combination of theory and creative writing subjects broadened her knowledge and skills.

Having experts and writers like Jane Messer as teachers also helped Debra gain confidence.

Debra says, "I thoroughly enjoyed my postgrad studies at Macquarie. When it came time for the creative subjects, I was incredibly nervous to read any of my own work out loud, or critique others, but Jane Messer's workshops were always respectful yet incisive, responding to student needs and creating a collegiate atmosphere of trust and goodwill amongst a very diverse group of students. In the end they couldn't shut me up! I also appreciated the way the practice of creative writing further informed and made sense of the concepts studied in the prior units."

Advice for aspiring writers

Debra's advice for students and aspiring writers is to get engaged in a writing community.

She says, "It's invaluable to be encouraged, critiqued, inspired, supported. I've kept up with a writing buddy I met through the course, and joined the Children's Book Council of Australia sub-branch – it's full of amazing authors, illustrators and teacher librarians.

"I've also found it really helpful to submit stories to competitions – especially those that give feedback. You can use the feedback to improve the story or in your pitch to a publisher."

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