Angelica Banks is the author of the Tuesday McGillycuddy series for middle grade readers. The first book in the series is Finding Serendipity (published by Henry Holt in the USA in 2015) and the sequel – A Week Without Tuesday – has just arrived in bookshops. The third book will be published in 2017. What you may not know is that Angelica Banks is the pen-name of the writing duo of Heather Rose and Danielle Wood who live on the isolated island of Tasmania off the south coast of Australia. Here’s an insight into writing together.
Middle Grade Mafia: Writing is a hard business to get into, and every path to becoming a published author is different. Could you both share your journey?
Heather Rose: I was encouraged early by a quote I read that to become a writer you have to be able to plaster a wall with rejection notices. And I could do that! I wrote poetry and short fiction since about age 6. And I’ve always been a prolific reader. When I was sixteen I won the youth section of the Tasmanian Short Story Competition and that was my first experience of being published (in the newspaper). By the time I was 17, I wrote a weekly column about windsurfing for the same newspaper and that was when I was first paid to be a writer. I knew to be a writer getting life experience mattered, so I left Tasmania at age 19 and spent two years travelling through Asia and Europe. I did all sorts of jobs like goat-herding in Greece and running a youth hostel on the Isle of Skye. Through all this I kept writing. When I returned to Australia, I did a course in professional writing and one of my classes was Novel Writing. I had to write a novel. It was so hard and I was so bad at it! But it was vital experience. The following year I fell into advertising and worked as a copywriter for many years in Melbourne, Australia. I also kept travelling. My first novel to be published was White Heart (based on several years of travel to the USA). By then I was 34, and I remember feeling like I’d started late!
Danielle Wood: I had a very lucky journey, I have to say. I spent the early years of my career working as a journalist, which meant that I had a lot of amazing experiences (going to sub-Antarctica, landing on an aircraft carrier, encountering people in the midst of amazing successes and the worst kinds of tragedies). It also meant that I learned to write every day and even when I didn’t ‘feel like’ it. When I was about 25, I confessed to my boyfriend at the time (now my husband) that what I really wanted to do was to write a novel. So he said – ‘well, you’d better do that, then’. I enrolled in a creative writing higher degree and wrote a novel called The Alphabet of Light and Dark. When it was done, I submitted it for the Vogel’s Literary Prize, which is Australia’s biggest award for an unpublished manuscript. My manuscript won the prize, and all of a sudden I was a writer.
MGM: Your upcoming release, A WEEK WITHOUT TUESDAY, is the second in the Tuesday McGillicuddy Adventure series. Where did Tuesday’s story originate? Are there pieces of each of you that make up this great character?
DW: Tuesday’s world sprang into being one day in the kitchen of a little house in the mountains, where I used to live, until my twins were about one year old and we didn’t fit anymore. So, one day, when the twins were only very small babies, Heather came up for a cup of tea and I said – ‘I think we should write a children’s book together, about a girl called Tuesday.’ Heather immediately knew that Tuesday’s mother was Serendipity, and I knew that Tuesday had a dog, and Heather knew that the dog’s name was Baxterr. And that’s how it went, with each of us seeming to have half the story lurking somewhere inside of us. In a way, though, her story originated in Heather and my experiences as young readers and writers. Somewhere in the writing process we discovered that we share a childhood fantasy about being locked in a library overnight!
HR: I think there’s a lot of Tuesday in Danielle and me. We’re both very curious, creative, deeply loyal people who are willing to take risks! And there’s a sense of determination in both of us that lives in Tuesday. But more than anything, I think we were both swept away by the world of imagination as children – just as Tuesday is. And these books have given us an opportunity to capture that for other young readers and writers everywhere who may feel reassured that they’re not the only ones to find getting lost in a story a most pleasurable and fulfilling way to spend time.
MGM: When writing your own solo projects, what is your approach for creating a story? How did this work as you collaborated on this story?
DW: When I write, by myself, I write very slowly, and carefully. I worry that if I write something clumsy or awful, it will somehow set, like concrete, and then I’ll never be able to turn it into the beautiful thing I can see in my head because it will be somehow spoiled. I love words, and language and finding exactly the right combinations to capture the things I can see, hear, feel, think, sense. I inch forward, but Heather writes entirely differently, as you’ll see!
Collaborating on something as ambitious and personal as a novel is a strange, magical and mysterious process, and one that we keep learning new things about. We bring different things to the process, and learn a lot from each other. We worry about totally different things, and the result is that between us, we’re perfectionists about every aspect of the books!
We have developed some ‘rules’ for collaborating together. Importantly, we’ve decided that if either of isn’t totally happy with an aspect of the book (a scene, a plot development, the way a character looks), then we have to keep creating new options until we are both completely happy. This has meant, on one occasion, that we wrote the same chapter about 17 times. But that was what it took for us to be completely happy.
HR: Yes my writing practice is completely different to Danielle’s! I’m a rather reckless, impulsive, fast writer. I’ll happily write 2000 words in a day only to find I maybe end up using 200 of them. Or 20! I’m always willing to follow a thread and see where it takes me – even if it’s off a cliff. One of the many beautiful things about working with Danielle is that she will remember to pack a parachute! I love working with Danielle because she reassures me at the worst times, laughs with me through the crazy times, and sorts out the problems that creep into the plot through my rather exuberant approach. She’s also a language pedant which is invaluable. She can spin a sentence in a hundred different ways and that’s so impressive. After 5 years of working together, we’ve never had a fight and we’ve spent the most amazing amount of time laughing and learning together. And all of that has come from a deep respect for each other’s experience and skills.
MGM: The books seem like a teacher’s dream come true to help inspire young writers to create their own magic using the written word. What has been your response when presenting at different schools?
DW: Well, that is a lovely thing to say. We didn’t set out to write a teacher’s dream, but a child’s dream. Heather and I were both writers from as early as we could remember, and we wanted to write stories that spoke to children like us. When we wrote Finding Serendipity, we were thinking about how easy it can be to start a story, but how hard to make it all the way to The End. As we wrote, we found ourselves asking all kinds of questions about what it is to write, questions like: What is the relationship between characters and their writers? And, where do you go, when you write? By the time we wrote A Week Without Tuesday, we were exploring the idea of the collective imagination – a universe shared by all writers. In a way, A Week Without Tuesday is our particular road-map to that universe and our invitation to young writers to take a trip there.
HR: We have Angelica Banks costumes for school visits and the kids love it when we arrive. We have fabulous red wigs and electric blue coats. Doing school visits has been the best surprise of writing this whole series for me. I have a more flexible schedule than Danielle, so I do lots of them solo (another one of the wonders of there being two of us – Angelica Banks can be in two places at once!). I am always in awe of how our books have inspired children to write, to draw, to think and question, and to consider themselves as creative beings. I come away from school visits thinking that there are wonderful minds at work in our schools, and exceptional teachers everywhere. And that is both inspiring and deeply reassuring. We’re available to Skype too!
MGM: What were a few of your favorite reads when you were younger?
HR: I started reading very early so I was onto Hemingway by the time I was six. That sounds a bit crazy, but it’s what happened. Hemingway and Enid Blyton! So I missed a lot of children’s books and have only discovered them through my own children’s reading journeys. I did adore The Hobbit – which my grade 3 teacher read to our class – and I’ve read The Lord of the Rings about 10 times since I was nine years old – including twice aloud to my two sons! And with my own children we’ve also loved Emily Rodda, C.S. Lewis and of course Roald Dahl. He was quite a discovery to me!
DW: My very particular favourite, when I was young, was Carbonel, by Barbara Sleigh, which I loved because it included the concept of children being able to hold conversations with animals. When I was a little older, I fell under the spell of Katherine Paterson’s book Jacob Have I Loved, which even now has a mysterious effect on me. Other treasured books, for me, are: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, all of The Borrowers books, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s books The Secret Garden and A Little Princess.
I want to thank Heather and Danielle for taking the time to share with us their process and a bit about the wonderful character of Tuesday McGillicuddy. To find out more about this series, you can visit their websites (Danielle’s and Heather’s). Angelica Banks has a Twitter page as well.