Robyn McLennan has recently released her first children’s book, The Clunkertons of Sunnybank Creek. FOCUS chats to her about the writing process and working with local cartoonist Jules Faber.
How did you first begin writing?
Well, I have always loved writing, but I’d never had a chance to do it. I used to read stories to the kids when they were little, and it wasn’t until they were all off my hands that I got the chance to write.
In my day we only did the intermediate certificate at school, so even though I really wanted to write, I just felt I didn’t have enough qualifications.
So when I was 48, I decided that I would risk it and I went to Orara High School to sit my HSC. Bill Weatherall was the Principal at that stage, and he allowed me to do Years 11 and 12 at that school – which was really good, because then I learnt quite a lot. I’d just sit in the classroom with all these Year 11 and 12 kids, but it worked out really well, because they all accepted me. I have a lot to thank Orara High School for.
So you started writing The Clunkertons after that?
Well, I deep breathed for a couple of years first, and then I started writing the story. I’d write, then I’d put it away for a while, then I’d try to illustrate it, then I’d put it away again, and that process went on and on …
Then one day I was at my hairdresser’s, and there was another lady getting her hair cut beside me, Andy, who had also written a novel. We got talking, and my hairdresser said to Andy, “Oh, Robyn has written a children’s story”, and I thought, “Oh my God, I haven’t got that corrected, and it’s not complete!” So really just by her telling Andy, I thought I’d better get up off my tail and get into it. So I did.
You worked with local cartoonist Jules Faber for the book. What was the illustration process like?
Over the years I’d tried different illustrators, but they just couldn’t handle it. When I was at the end of my tether, I thought I was going to need a cartoonist to do what I really wanted.
The only one I knew was Jules. I’d seen his drawings in the paper and I’d really liked them, so I thought, what have I got to lose? So I picked up the phone, told him about the story and that I was having a problem with someone trying to draw three legs. He just said, “I don’t see a problem with that. How about you bring the story down to me at the Harbourside Markets, and I’ll see what I can do.”
I had a couple of illustrations that I had done and gave him an idea of what I was after, then the following week he came back with these amazing illustrations, and I thought, “WOW … AT LAST!” Then I asked him how he would feel about illustrating the story and he said that was what he was looking to go into … so that’s how it all got started.
Jules is very cool to work with. We listen to each other, but I listen more to him. He has a great technique, and he’s taught me a lot. I was very lucky to come across him, because he was my last hope! If he’d said no, I may have just given up.
Tell us about your style of writing.
You’ll notice there’s a lot of alliteration in the book. When I was at school, I learnt ‘Sleepy Snakes Slither in the Sun’, and that’s always stuck in my mind. I really like the rhythm and playing with the words, so that is how that book is produced. If you were to ask me if I follow any other authors, the answer would be no. I didn’t want to copy anyone’s style, because then it throws your own thoughts out.
The Clunkertons are pretty interesting characters. They have 3 legs! What inspired them?
In our house, we have lights with three bulbs that come down. I was sitting there one morning and looking up at these lights, and I just imagined that they were little legs. We live by the creek, so then I started imagining these little creatures by the creek. So I used to go down to the creek and do a little bit of writing and drawing down there, and it all sort of came together.
You self published the book. How did you find that process?
I didn’t find a real problem with it. It was scaring me at the beginning, but I was very lucky because Jules has a friend, Michael Davies, who’s written about 14 books. So I asked him about who published his books and all about the process, and he pointed me in the right direction. He made it easier for me, so it wasn’t so scary. If I hadn’t spoken to Michael it would’ve been difficult, so that was an enormous load off my mind.
You’re now in the process of putting together the second book in the series. How’s the second book coming along?
It’s good! It’s called The Clunkertons and Their Unforgettable Journey. It’s different to the first one, but it travels along … it’s a real little journey. I’m quite excited about it. I was excited about the first one but it’s done now, so we’re on to the second book. It should be ready for release early next year.
Do you think there’ll be more books in the series?
Yes, I think I’ve got one more to write. As we were writing this one, Jules asked if I had another one in mind and I said, “No, that’s it”. He said that he thought I should have another one, so while we were working on this one I was writing the second one, but I’ve still left it open. So I think I’ll still have to do this third one, and I think that will be it of this series.
What do you love about children’s books?
The imagination, putting yourself in to another world and the way the words run. And I like beautiful illustrations. Some children’s books have pathetic illustrations so when Jules did this, I was very happy. He did such a great job.