When Australian grandmother of eight, Robyn Smith, took on the exotic nom de plume of Mimi King, it wasn’t the only major change in her life. After a lifetime of teaching and reading countless children’s books to both her students and her own children, King took the only logical step necessary – she wrote her own children’s book.
“Being a published author has not been a specific goal of mine,” King tells Australian Women Online, “But I have wanted to produce children’s books for a long time. I’m not sure if that makes sense but to me, being a published author is a side benefit that comes from producing a book in order to bring pleasure to children.”
Raising five children and nursing her first husband through a tragic battle with motor neurone disease, becoming an author is something King found understandably difficult to squeeze in – until now.
The brand new author says she has waited a long time to be in print but has always chipped away at manuscripts, holding the dream in hand. And what a dream – to clutch her very first book – to read it and witness the wonderful responses from her own grandchildren and the children she’s read to at local schools.
“It is very difficult to describe that feeling of finally having the book in one’s hands, but after all the work that has gone into its production it was certainly exhilarating,” smiles the author. “At the same time, I was very aware that it was only the beginning because the challenge then became to find happy homes for each and every book. It still excites me to think of children everywhere enjoying the book and looking forward to the next one.”
Poppy Tried to Sleep is a bright and colourful paperback for pre- and primary school children, which King self-published through Vivid Publishing – an Australian company that offers printing and publishing services to independent authors. Combined with beautiful illustrations by talented Canberra artist, Kieron Pratt, the book is the type little ones will scrabble to re-read.
When it came to writing her first book, King had lots of ideas for stories but it wasn’t until she could actually pin the ideas to a particular character that the book started to crystallise.
“My husband and I live on a property near the township of Moruya on the south coast of New South Wales, and we own and run an earthmoving business – hence the love of bulldozers and other plant equipment and machinery!” laughs King.
“One day, as I thought of how much my husband enjoys his work, I realised that this wonderful attribute could form the basis of a book and that in general, children adore their Poppies. This was a real breakthrough for me and after that I was ‘off and running’.”Main character Poppy needs to sleep. A hard working farmer, this adorable granddad values nothing more than a relaxing bath, a lovely hot cup of tea and… a good night’s sleep. But alas, the challenges of farm life, particularly when it comes to pesky critters, puts paid to any chance of rest, and poor Poppy finds himself so exhausted from a sleepless night, how can he possibly complete his work the next day?
Peppered with adorable characters and delicious subtleties (like earth mover insignias on the bathroom tiles and bedspread), kids will be keen to spot Tootz the cat, a lime green frog and cackling kookaburras, among other endearing creatures.
King writes with a simplistic rhythm that will charm children. She has devised a clear plot that pulls the wide-eyed reader through a serious of ‘challenges’ to deliver a warm and humorous outcome kids will love. Pratt’s big and bright illustrations are full of personality and emotion – and his brilliant take on the idiosyncrasies of real life will have adults rapt and perhaps even eliciting the odd chuckle or twenty.
Something I enormously enjoyed about this book is that it manages to impart a deeply embedded Australiana theme – without resorting to stereotypes or ockerisms that pepper so many modern books with an Australian theme. King does this by her choice of characters, but also with the language she uses – opting for subtle references that make this first book in the Poppy series a worthy addition to the bookshelves of any proud Australian book lover.
King believes it’s the quality of the books children are exposed to that’s critical in their educational development. She says the more positive the interaction kids have with books, the more they will want to read for themselves.
“As well as the educational value of writing children’s literature, it’s also good fun and I think I enjoy a good picture book as much as the children do!” admits King. “In that regard, I have been noticing that parents and grandparents are also enjoying Poppy Tried to Sleep.”
During the process of penning her book, King found the use of a self-publishing system enormously helpful. She admits the process was an incredibly enjoyable one and, being so ‘ready’ to pen some work, her only real obstacle was the general busyness of life.
“The desire to write was always in the back of my mind, but it took a back seat to all the other things that filled my life,” the author tells AWO. “It was only when I found a little time to ‘smell the roses’ that I finally saw the way clear to actually put pen to paper.”
For other writers with a love of children’s literature and a dream to one day publish, King says it’s important to ‘just get started’, admitting that this can be one of the biggest hurdles for any writer.
Since publishing her first book in the Poppy series, King has been busy setting up an interactive website for children, creating a colouring-in competition and even a Poppy jingle. From here, she hopes to successfully market her book while working on the sequel – Poppy and the Bushfire.
“It is my fondest wish that my books will bring much happiness to children (and indeed adults, as well),” says the author. “Poppy is intended to be a kind and down-to-earth character who personifies the values that parents would like to instil in their children. He is a character that is easy to relate to and whilst fun and humorous, also has a lifetime of experience and wisdom.”
Indeed, with a lifetime of grandmotherly experience and wisdom, it will be wonderful to witness King’s Poppy series enchant the lives of Australian children for years to come.
Poppy Tried to Sleep is published through Vivid Publishing – www.vividpublishing.com.au and is available for A$14.95RRP via Burrabooks or on the author’s website at www.poppybooks.com.au where you can request a signed copy!
If you would like to learn about more about Poppy’s adventures, visit www.poppybooks.com.au where you can not only purchase a copy of the book, but also find a sing-a-long and colouring-in competition.