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Monday, 23 January 2023

Dr Charlotte Birkmanis' Little Shark Lulu is Sleeping - Q&A

Dr Charlotte Birkmanis is a marine biologist, shark scientist as well as an author! Exploring so much about the life of sharks and other marine animals, Charlotte has been the perfect person to work closely with co-author Josie Montano and illustrator Carla Hoffenberg to bring readers an inside look into their children's picture book Little Shark Lulu is Sleeping! It's the first of several planned books in the Little Shark Lulu Series, so keep your underwater camera poised for the next one!


Q: What has been your favourite part of writing Little Shark Lulu is Sleeping


A: I’ve really enjoyed working with such a great team. Josie and I have been friends for a while, so I jumped at the chance to work with Josie and it was fantastic to meet Carla. Together with David as book designer, it’s truly the ‘dream team’. Even though the team was based on both sides of Australia, the Zoom chats were so much fun. My favourite part would be when I shared some facts for the book (such as the sperm whales sleeping vertically or the parrot fish sleeping in mucous cocoons) and the others would say ‘wow, that is so cool’. That was definitely a highlight.


Q: What inspired you to create a children’s book? 


A: I was bitten by the writing bug early and I’ve been writing fiction and non-fiction all my life; in fact, I won my first prize for writing in primary school with a poem that ended up being published. I love sharing fun ‘fin’ facts about our oceans, and so it was a natural progression from presenting and chatting about sharks and other marine critters to sharing what goes on at night time in the ocean through a kids' book. I was inspired by the questions that I would get from children (young and old) when chatting about marine animals. Often the reply was ‘that can’t be real’. But sometimes, fact is stranger than fiction!

I love it when shark lovers join citizen science projects and share in the fun of caring for our oceans. Get involved by sharing the fun facts behind Lulu’s adventures with your friends and family. You can find more details about these fascinating critters in the Teacher’s Notes that accompany Little Shark Lulu is Sleeping on the website.  

Q: What is your favourite shark, and have you had the privilege of swimming alongside them? 


A: I have swum with so many sharks in my career and no matter how many times I see them, it still gives me a thrill. The first shark I tagged was a lemon shark, so they hold a special place in my heart. I’ve done a lot of work on tiger sharks as well, and they are stunning creatures – especially the baby sharks with their stripes. I also love the open ocean sharks I study now, especially mako sharks, or as I call them ‘the Ferrari of the ocean’. The last shark I swam with was one of these open-ocean voyagers, a young silky shark. 


Click here to buy your copy of Little Shark Lulu is Sleeping now! 

Click here to watch the book launch of Little Shark Lulu is Sleeping! 

Josie Montano's Little Shark Lulu is Sleeping - Q&A



Come along with us to interview Josie Montano, award-winning author and advocate of giving voice to those who cannot, as we discuss her newest children's book Little Shark Lulu is Sleeping.


Q: How did you find the writing process collaborating with Dr Charlotte Birkmanis on this story? 


A: I have collaborated with other authors in the past, but this is the first time I've collaborated with a scientist. We respected each other's suggestions and contributions and created a wonderful result out of Art + Science.

Q: What is special about Little Shark Lulu is Sleeping when compared to your other projects? 


A: What made this project was the amazing enthusiastic collaboration that came from four people, myself, Charlotte, Carla the illustrator and David the publisher. We communicated and collaborated from the beginning to the end, we were involved in every aspect. Also, I learnt a lot about what goes on under the sea!

Q: How was the name ‘Lulu’ decided and is there any special meaning behind it? 


A: We named her Lulu because the name means “precious”, “peaceful”, “protected”, and “calm”.


Q: What is your favourite aspect about being an author of children’s books? 


A: I love the feeling of sparking a child's imagination, that my words and story bring them joy and how my gift can inspire new worlds to open up — to take them away on a journey even if it's only for a few minutes.

Q: What do you consider the most important achievement as a writer that you have made in your lifetime? 


A: My most important contribution to the world are my resources on Autism. I have over 30 resources published internationally on the topic and they have assisted people all over the world including Autistic persons, their families, and educators.


Click to buy your own copy of Little Shark Lulu is Sleeping 

Click here to watch the book launch of Little Shark Lulu is Sleeping now! 

Carla Hoffenberg's Little Shark Lulu is Sleeping - Q&A

We wanted to dive in deep with children’s picture book illustrator Carla Hoffenberg and learn more about her behind the scenes journey with Little Shark Lulu is Sleeping… here is what she shared. 

Q: Since this was your debut children’s book how did you find this experience and were there any new or surprising challenges to overcome? 

A: I loved the experience of making on Little Shark Lulu is Sleeping. It was great working with David, Josie, and Charlotte. It was a real collaborative process, which made it all so enjoyable. We had regular catch ups and I loved hearing their feedback and suggestions. I also really loved drawing sea creatures and doing research — watching clips of sea animals, looking at images of remarkable marine life and snorkelling.  


The illustrations took a few months and it really felt like a test of endurance!  I had to be disciplined with my time and make sure that I progressed within the schedule to meet my deadline. In addition, there were so many scenes and characters and I had to be consistent with my style and quality. 

Q: Which page or spread in Little Shark Lulu is Sleeping are you most proud of and why? 


A: I am most proud of the ‘Octopus Spread’. I feel like it demonstrates the most storytelling and I came up with a side story for this spread. (Crab thinks that Octopus has invited him for a romantic dinner. He doesn’t realise that he is dinner.) I also particularly love drawing sunsets and this spread gave me the opportunity to do that. I introduced a shimmering, sparkling, sequenced dress, which was really fun to draw. 

Q: As animals have been an occurring theme in your body of work; for this project, what was your favourite animal to illustrate? 


A: Firstly, I loved drawing Lulu and her parents. I was excited to not portray a shark stereotype, but rather portray them as a friendly, endearing species. There is so much to love about sharks, and I wanted that to shine through in my illustrations.  


The ‘Mini Mantis Shrimp’ was a close second. I don’t normally think of crustaceans as attractive, but this spread changed my mind.  This animal is colourful and charismatic, and I learnt the lesson that, if you really look, you can find beauty in anything.     

Q: Can you elaborate on your design process for this story and the tools that you used? 


A: The most important part of the process was the initial, sketching phase. This really helped me to get to know the animals and get a sense for how to represent them. I did countless sketches of each creature that appears in the book to get familiar with their anatomy and how they move. This allowed me to consider how to show them doing different actions, with varied expressions.  


After this phase, I was able to place my characters in thumbnails and think about the storytelling aspects as well as composition. The next step was formalising the illustrations and creating line drawings.  This is generally the most painstaking for me as it requires a lot of concentration and “precision”. 


Once everyone was happy with the line drawings, I moved on to what I consider the most fun part – adding colour to the spreads. This is the stage where I add life, details, elements of joy storytelling and some Easter eggs.  

I used the app procreate for the illustrations. I find it easy to use and it allows me to maximise my drawing time. I stole every free minute that I could to illustrate this book – sometimes even the 10 minutes that I had in the car while waiting to pick up my kids. Also, there’s no set up or clean up time! 


Q: How did the artistic decision to have the sea creatures dressed in colourful outfits develop and is there meaning behind it? 


A: The first spread I did was the Sperm Whales wearing PJs (even before the thumbnails). The suggestion to have them wearing PJs came from the authors. I fell in love with the idea of the animals wearing clothes, and it immediately conjured up images in my head. It was so much fun putting clothes on the whales that I just had to do it for all of them. I find that putting clothes on animals really helps them become more relatable to kids, and it was fun for me to add clothes and accessories to enhance their personalities. Also, it would’ve been a little bit inconsistent, if only the Sperm Whales were clothed.   


At one of my recent school visits, one of the kids said, “They have to be wearing clothes, because you wouldn’t want them to be naked in a kid’s book.” 

Sketches of Shark Lulu

Click here to get your copy of Little Shark Lulu is Sleeping


Click here to watch the book launch of Little Shark Lulu is Sleeping now! 

Dr Kate Dolan's Beating Drug Addiction in Tehran: A Women's Clinic - Q&A


Author and first place winner of the CIBA award for Journalistic Non-Fiction 2021 Dr. Kate Dolan, shows readers a unique and valuable insight in her book Beating Drug Addiction in Tehran: A Women's Clinic. We had the opportunity to interview her and find out more regarding the topics addressed in this award-winning publication.  

Q: Since writing this book, how has it changed your life and the lives of Iranian women affected by the drug crisis? 

A: I became more aware of how the Iranians respond to drug use problems. I was visiting the UN office in Tehran, and I mentioned how many women who used drugs were at the local pool. The UN lady said they are everywhere. So, I guess I became more attuned to prevalence of drug use among women and their willingness to venture out. 

What can readers do if they wish to be more involved in creating change in Iran? 

A: People can help if they stay informed about the current affairs in the country. Look for avenues to help either through donations or sharing the news. We can also talk to our local MPs and express our concern about the violence occurring there and push our government to take action.  

Q: What is the best advice that you have heard to help those suffering from addiction? 

A: In order to help people who have an addiction we need to meet them where they are. This means we must avoid trying to impose our wishes on them – “stop using or else!”. Rather accept that addiction is a long-term condition and people often relapse. Self-help support groups are useful for the person and their family. 

Q: Can you elaborate on the larger issues involved with being a woman providing advice within a culture where males dominate? 

A: The male director of the centre where we placed our clinic said to me “there is no point in having a lawyer to help the women because the law favours the man”. So, one needs to work within the law, but I did find some women were able to bend the rules. 

Q: What lessons have you learned from the Iranian experience that could be applied to rehab programs in Australia? 

A: Iran has several programs that we could use in Australian but don’t. They provided opium tincture. This is an opiate substitute that is more appealing than opioids such as methadone.  

They also had several prisons where they provided needle and syringe programs. Unfortunately, the research on these was faulty and they were ceased. We do not have such a program.  

Q: Do you believe drug use in Iran is stigmatised to a greater or lesser degree than it is here in Australia? 

A: That’s a hard one. In Iran I tended to mix with people who were familiar with drugs and users and so saw little stigma. I don’t have a fair opinion of the general person in Iran.  

Click here to get your copy of Beating Drug Addiction in Tehran: A Women's Clinic

Constantine & Simone Pakavakis' Earthrunner and the War of Water - Q&A

Co-authors and father daughter duo Constantine Pakavakis and Simone Pakavakis created Earthrunner and the War of Water, a great entwining and thought-provoking story of family, war, peace and resolve. How did they do it you may ask? And what were the ups and downs of collaborative composition? Fear not, we asked for you!

Q: Was it a difficult process to distribute the writing of Earthrunner between each other? 


It was quite an organic process that seemed to go through different phases as needed.

At the very start we discussed ideas of what could happen and gradually built a backbone to the story. It was pretty clear from the outset that we would build it around the idea of twins as we didn’t want the story to have a stereotypical appeal limiting it to only boys or girls. We wanted it to be realistic as possible and so having different writers for Leeta and Patish would help give their personalities more individuality.

Yet there were times when we called on each other for joint drafting, which seemed to work well too. We would often finish each other’s sentences or revise a sentence in a more engaging way. It was always about the best writing, not who wrote it. So, really, there were three authors, Simone, Con, and Simone & Con combined.


Splitting our novel between our twin characters, Leeta and Patish, made distribution a natural process, particularly after we’d created a structure of the story and key events for each chapter. We had different times and systems for our writing; Dad would often get up early in the morning before work and dedicate himself to a chapter, whereas I preferred to write sporadically during the day and sometimes into the night. At intervals, we’d come together to edit, rewrite and polish different sections. 

One time, I remember writing the dialogue between Leeta and Anula as if they were 21st century teenagers; lots of ‘oh my gods’— probably the way I was talking as a fifteen-year-old myself. Dad not so gently highlighted my five pages of writing, days and days of work, and said, ‘um, this won’t work for ancient India, Simone’ and told me to start again. My teenage writing ego was crushed many times over, but for it, the better writer I became.


Q: Where is your favourite place to sit and write? 


This story was written in so many places…at home on the couch if we were writing together, at the State Library Victoria, on holidays at Daylesford, Lorne or Byron Bay, at Byron Bay library, at Mr Tulk Café at SLV, at our friends’ property at Malmsbury, the Botanical Gardens, and even while holidaying in Paris and Crete. I guess the single most used place was when I wrote intensely for a year getting up at 5am every morning to write for an hour before work, sitting on the living room couch with a cup of black tea as dawn broke. In the silence, and before the day’s activities began, I would read back over the last few pages to help me re-enter the land of Gandhara, 330 BC, and allow the story to write itself.


Earthrunner was written with Dad in so many places and especially during so many summers on school holidays, but, most memorably, together on the couch at our home in Richmond with our toy spoodle, Alby. Alby often would often sleep in an awkward position alongside — or on top! — of us on the couch as we wrote, circling his body between our two laptops. His gentle snores would often ease any editing tension as we debated the placement of a full stop or the best direction for a paragraph. When writing alone, I adore the bustle of a café or the gentle hum of a library. There’s something soothing about the happy chatting of voices and the wafting smell of caffeine, and I love noting others as they carefully study their own projects; there’s something inspiring about surrounding yourself with other creatives.


Q: What is the major message and takeaway you wish to give to readers of the Earthrunner


You are never alone or helpless. Whether it’s a personal matter like being teased or bullied, or a global issue like climate change or war, use whatever agency you have to solve the problem in a peaceful way. Ask questions, get help, collaborate, you do not have to face it alone. And trust the wisdom in your heart.


Young people have the agency to make positive, peaceful changes on a local or global scale in the world. Find your voice and, with others, discover how you’re going to use it. 


Q: Would you or have you ever considered making Earthrunner a series? 

Con & Simone

Yes, from early on, once we decided on the setting of ancient India, we wanted to highlight the concept of Ahimsa or non-violence that has such a strong influence in the culture and philosophies existing in the Northwest of India at the time of the arrival of Alexander the Great. Most historians and novelists have concentrated on the personality of Alexander and the strategies he employed in his conquests, but there are great, little known stories about the Indian population and their perspectives that we want to highlight. And these stories are important historical examples of how war was averted, stories of non-violence that need to be known. War is often claimed to be inevitable by the rulers or politicians who have their own motives for going to war at the expense of the common people who are the ones who will die or be maimed or lose loved ones. So, the story of how the people in the kingdom of Gandhara made a decision to avert a war with Alexander deserves to be examined more broadly than it is.


Q: After this experience can you imagine working as co-authors once more for future projects? 


Absolutely. Of course, it will be different as our living conditions, availability of time, knowledge and skills are continually changing, but we know we respect each other’s ability to cooperate and trust in each other’s creativity, honesty, and reliability.


Definitely. Our lives have changed a lot since when we worked on Earthrunner – I was a primary and high school student, and now I’m a teacher myself! — but we have grown significantly as co-authors in writing our first novel together and doubtlessly would be able to use these newfound skills for a future project. 


Q: If you were to meet Patish and Leeta in real life, what advice would you give them? 


I met them while writing and said “I’m glad you didn’t listen to me and followed your own hearts. Oh, and your Way of Peace sounds pretty cool. I wish I had known that stuff when I was your age.”


I think I’d begin by congratulating Leeta and Patish. In Earthrunner, the courage they found to follow their inner voices, and stand up for those they cared about, was brilliant.

I’d encourage them to continue demonstrating this courage in all aspects of their lives. In addition, I’d remind them to let the other Shaktin kids know about the monkeys down at the mangoes. Saving cheeky monkeys instead of throwing stones at them might just have unexpected value…


Click here to get your copy of Earthrunner now! 

Click here to watch Earthrunner's book launch!