I am a Christian children’s and YA author living and writing in Sydney, Australia. My little red brick house is about an hour’s train ride from the Harbour Bridge and the famous white sails of the Opera House. There are no kangaroos jumping around our street, no koalas in the gum trees beyond our back fence, and apart from the lorikeets and cockatoos I get to watch as I write, being a children’s writer in Australia may seem quite similar to being a writer anywhere else in the world.
For the most part, I write alone as most writers do no matter where they are. But as we all know, it can be incredibly helpful to connect and network with other writers on our author journey. For Australian children’s authors living in major cities like me, there are many opportunities to connect. Local and regional SCWBI branches develop a strong sense of community within the children’s literature world. Writers’ centers offer courses and training, and the Children’s Book Council of Australia is a major driver promoting local children’s books. Writers who live further afield, or in rural and remote communities, are sometimes able to access scholarships or online courses to replace these invaluable face-to-face connections.
In my own journey as a Christian author, I’ve also found conferences such as the Omega Writers Conference to be an invaluable source of encouragement and direction for my growth as a writer. The Omega Writers Conference is a unique conference in Australia, specifically designed to equip, encourage and celebrate Australasian Christian writers. It’s one of my favorite events of the year and I’m often involved either teaching workshops or facilitating editorial appointments. I’ve also developed some important friendships and gleaned vital support from like-minded writers by attending these conferences.
Because the Australian book industry is smaller than those in other English speaking markets, it’s crucial that Australian authors learn as much as they can about their local and international markets. Whereas UK or US authors need agent representation, in Australia having an agent is an optional extra. Direct networking between authors and editors often occurs quite naturally at industry events or conferences and can lead to submission opportunities without agent support. However, the comparatively small market can also make it difficult for publishers who have to pitch their lists to readers in competition with large quantities of imported books.
For a Christian writer this situation is exacerbated yet again, because while there are still designated Christian bookstores in Australia, they are predominantly filled with US or UK titles. The dedicated Christian publishers who work within this market must make tough and limited decisions to publish new books which are both commercially viable and meeting the need for Australian voices and perspectives. Because of this, it is not uncommon for Australian Christian authors to be creative about the way they reach their intended audience. For me, I’ve decided to widen the scope of what I write to include both the Christian and general markets, and I’ve also pursued publication both within Australia as well as overseas.
If you haven’t read many Australian authors yet, I’d recommend giving it a try! We’ve got some wonderful writers here and a small but strong group of Christian children’s writers producing high-quality books. A suggested reading list might include some of the following authors. For Christian authors writing for the general market try Lisa Shanahan’s The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler, Rosanne Hawke’s The Truth About Peacock Blue or Cecily Anne Patterson’s Invisible series. For the Christian book market, try Simon Camilleri’s When Santa Learned the Gospel, Penny Morrison’s The Mighty Mighty King or my most recent children’s novel, Camp Max. We mightn’t be able to travel physically at the moment, but we can still travel in the books we read.
Penny Reeve (also writing as Penny Jaye) is the award-winning, Australian author of more than 20 books for children. She writes picture books, junior fiction, children’s Bible studies and young adult fiction. Her most recent picture book, The Other Brother, was released in February 2020. She’s an experienced writing workshop leader, conference presenter and writing coach with a particular interest in equipping Christian children’s writers. You can learn more about Penny at www.pennyreeve.com and www.pennyjaye.com