Best known for picture book series There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cakeopens a new window (now performing nationally as a musical), Hazel Edwards OAM writes for all ages. She co-writes with those from diverse backgrounds, and has recently published a quirky memoir. Her books are translated into Mandarin, Russian, Korean, French, Indonesian, Braille, Auslan and dyslexie font.
We recently caught up with Hazel to learn more about her creative practice.
How do you describe your creative practice?
I am an author who lives and writes in suburbia, researches in places like Antarctica and whose books are read internationally. I was once asked by a visiting French puppeteer, ‘How can you be an artist and live in suburbia!’ Artists are inspired by real life, wherever and whenever they live.
How and why did you get into writing?
I enjoy learning about new places and cultures and what motivates characters. Research is the respectable name for ‘stickybeaking’ if you’re a writer. Living a different person’s life for the length of a book enables more tolerance afterwards by readers and writers.
What are you working on at the moment?
I just released adult mystery Celebrant Sleuth; I Do … Or Dieopens a new window. The theme is topical, as celebrants are busy after same-sex marriage law changes, but that was coincidental. I also have a new hippopotamus picture book coming out later this year.
Where do you write?
I have used a home office since my children were small and it saves the frustration of peak hour traffic. I use Skype for interviews.
What influences and inspires your practice?
Intellectual property is even more important than real estate. Long term, our society depends upon problem-solvers and imaginative inventors. Books can stimulate, but the ideas must be crafted in accessible ways. That’s why writing for children is even more challenging than writing for adults. And literacy skills do matter, so ideas can be shared. That’s why I’m a Reading Ambassador.
What has been your favourite project to work on?
My picture book Antarctic Dad, after my 2001 expedition with the Australian Antarctic Division. It is about a parent working away from home long term, and is now republished by Kipas Booksopens a new window. Antarctic vehicles, wildlife and family 'keeping in touch' rituals are accurately drawn by illustrator Kevin Burgemeestre.
In a typical week, how much time do you spend creating?
Increasingly, the ‘administrivia’ of being an author (BAS, forms, rights, legal stuff, PR, etc.) takes up 80% which leaves only 20% for original work. An artist needs to be an ‘Authorpreneur’ because you are a small business.
How do you define success in the arts?
That your art is used and inspires others. And that you are paid for your contribution, which may be an income earner for Australia via cultural tourism.
How do you celebrate your successes?
By starting the next project.
What has been the most touching moment you’ve experienced as a creator?
- Fan mail, where a book has been highly significant to a reader or their family; especially very sick children who relate to the hospital hippoopens a new window story.
- Fan mail written to my characters, where I have to answer ‘in-character’ as a hippo or a duck.
- Watching Hippo Hippo the Musical with my 7 year old grandson, realising that he was watching a performance based on a book inspired by his mother and uncle 40 years earlier.
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?
Practice. Keep working. Persist. If your project is rejected, it may be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Try again. We had 41 rejections on Hijabi Girl which is now in multiple reprints after self-publishing.
Do you have favourite author?
I admire Jackie French, the former Australian Children’s Laureate for the scope of her work and that she wrote through the challenges of dyslexia.
Where can we see more of your work?
My website has an events column which is updated daily. Visit your local library, the new hippopotamusopens a new window book will be out in October!
Visit www.hazeledwards.comopens a new window for more on Hazel and don't forget to check out her books at the libraryopens a new window! If you're interested in writing, check out upcoming events at the Watsonia Library Write and Publish Maker Spaceopens a new window.