This month Cambridge University Press released a paperback of Pamela's One Of A Kind, a children's book about DNA, in Australia. The book is part of the publisher's Rainbow Reading series,w hich was first published in 2009.
It occured to me that you might be curious as to how Pam landed the assignment to write One Of A Kind and some of the other readers in the series, African Patterns, A Fancy Fruit Salad, When I Grow Up , Hurry, Thulani, Hurry! and Just Enough, in the first place (for more information about the books, go to the page called Our Books.)
Maybe there are even some aspiring authors among us who would be interested in writing educational books. So I decided to do a Q and A with her to talk about the project. The interview is short, but I do that you find it useful.
DS: How did you land the assignment to write the books for the Rainbow Reading series by Cambridge University Press?
PM: Networks! A freelance editor who was commissioning for Cambridge phoned to ask if I would be interested in writing. I had worked with her when I was editor at another publisher - Heinemann - and when I left publishing to go to government my department contracted her as our out-house editor.
She had also commissioned me for another publisher for a business book that I had edited and written a chapter for. She knew my work and that normally I meet deadlines.
The lesson: it really is who you know. Networks are important!
DS: Did the publisher give you a brief? What did the brief require you to do?
PM: Yes, the commissioning editor/publisher briefed me on topics and age levels/reading levels. I had spent nearly ten years in educational publishing in English Second Language editing and so getting the level right was easy. Knowing that the readers must encompass math and science topics and other learning areas also made the writing easy.
My vivid imagination and my ability to picture in my mind the story scenes or see a "video" running in my head of the story unfolding helped me develop solid and detailed artwork briefs. I did six of the books and got kudos for my artwork briefs.
DS: Tell us a bit about your writing process for the books.
PM: Give me a topic and a story usually bursts from somewhere in my head without much effort. I don't know if it's "talent" or insanity!
My daughter remembers me talking absolute rubbish and making up nonsense verses for her baby brother - who was still in utero at the time. He's creative himself and whether it is in the genes or all my silly songs and stories who knows?
All I know is that writing comes easily to me and always has. Stories flow like streams bubbling over pebbles in a brook - nonstop.
DS: What was the most challenging aspect of writing the books.
PM: Squeezing time out between the day job and family obligations to write and then ensuring that the artwork briefs were done properly and aligned to the text itself so the Cambridge editor didn't have to struggle.
DS: Tell us about the artwork briefs: What was required from you as an author, what was the most difficult part of the briefing, especially as you're not an artist.
PM: I've alluded to the artwork briefs, but I must say, although I am not an artist I studied art history and took several studio courses in art (sculpture and line drawing) at varsity.
Those courses gave me a crude artist's eye, which made the artwork easy to envisage and write out for the artist.
DS: Any tips you'd like to share with aspiring writers about writing educational books?
PM: Get the level right first time. The easiest way to do that is to read lots of material written for that level.
Browse books for that age group at bookshops and talk to children of that age to get a sense of what interests them.
Crawling around on the floor with little ones and playing games with them also helps to get back in touch with your own inner child - a real help when you are writing for children.