Guests Sally Murphy and Sonia Kretschmar & Book Give-aways!

Today I am so fortunate to have as my guests two of the most creative people in my orbit. Sally Murphy and Sonia Kretschmar are the author and illustrator of a new picture book from Walker Books entitled:


Henri lives in the French village of Villers-Bretonneux. Billy lives in Melbourne, Australia. These two little boys, who live thousands of miles away from each other, share one story that unites Villers-Bretonneux and Melbourne in history. A moving and inspiring story of World War One.

  The battle in the village of Villers-Bretonneux may have occurred almost 100 years ago, but this sensitively handled story will ensure it is a story that is kept alive and relevant for generations to come. And I have to say, this story blew me away.  It’s going to be a brilliant book to have as a family resource and I know teachers are going to fall over themselves to get it. 

Just as exciting is the fact that Walker books have offered two of these beautiful books as prizes to celebrate the launch, and it couldn’t be easier to enter ! Details at the bottom of the blog.

Congratulations Sally and Sonia on such a beautiful book! Both the text and illustrations are sensitive and engaging, and together they offer a book to be treasured. Indeed, ‘Do Not Forget Australia’ is a book that shouldn’t be forgotten and I hope will never be forgotten – and not just because it’s wonderfully crafted. 

Sally, if I may start with you:  Many Australians have a familial connection to France in both world wars, but in particular to Villers-Bretonneux. I lost Great-Uncles there myself. Is this the case with you? Or was there another reason for creating this story? Also, because it fits here,  can you share the moment you knew this story had to be written and in this format?

Sally: My Grandfather fought on the Western Front, though he wasn’t at Villers-Bretonneux.  I must confess that this was a part of my family history I knew little about until my son, Tom, was entering a speaking competition about the Anzac experience. He started asking questions and researching and renewed that connection for me.  Then, a few months later, Tom was chosen (on the basis of his speech) to travel on the Premier’s Anzac Tour to France and Belgium.

It was at a parent briefing for this trip that I saw a photo of the school at Villers-Bretonneux. It was a lightbulb moment. I’d seen photos of the school before, but it was this time that I started to really wonder how a sign, written in English, reminding students in a French school not to forget Australia, came to be. I knew there was a story there.  Because the stimulus – that sign – was so very visual – the decision to write it as a picture book text seemed quite natural.

Sonia, as someone who can’t draw a straight line, I’m always in awe of those with your artistic talent. So, similarly, I wonder if you could describe your reaction to reading the text? Did you visualise immediately how you would proceed?

Sonia: The first thing that really affected me about the text was the heightened emotion of the time – I empathised with the characters a great deal. Contrasting with that was the mundane reality of having to cope with such tragedy and loss, and also the joy of new beginnings. I guess we all have impressions of what life was like during WW1, though it was after I did a  bit of additional research I was able to visualise a version of what things may have been like in a small town n Northern France.

Sally, may I compliment you on your deft touch with this story.  War is scary, and you don’t really shy away from that fact, but your gentle touch ensures children are educated  and can empathise without being traumatised. Was that balance difficult to achieve?

Sally: Thanks, Kerri. It’s a relief to hear you say that. You are right – war IS scary, and as such it’s a scary thing to write about. To get the balance between the horror of the events and the need to not sanitise, but certainly make  accessible for children is difficult. I think the point of telling stories like this one is not to emphasise the war, or who ‘won’ and ‘lost’, but to show how humanity is the winner when people – ordinary people –overcome adversity. This is a war story but is really a story about friendship.

Sonia, we’re getting close to 100 years since this event, and many younger readers will have no knowledge of not only this battle – but of this era. Your illustrations add so much to this story – you bring the society, of the time, to life. Can you tell me something about the method you used in your illustrations to capture the past and still keep the story relevant to young readers of today?

Sonia: I guess I always try to get a sense of connection or feeling coming through the characters, which I hope is timeless. I also try to achieve a balance of simplicity and sophistication, so the pictures are welcoming at first but bring further rewards if you choose to dwell on them a bit longer. I think an approach of stylised realism brings a sense of quirkiness that younger readers may find appealing. Keeping painterly textures and details also adds to the warmth, or at least I hope so!

 Sally, obviously this is a story close to your heart? Does that means it was an easy write – or were there some heart-wrenching moments?

Sally: Yes, it was close to my heart. This story really got under my skin and it was really important to get it right. It was difficult to write because I so much wanted it to work. I probably didn’t get as intensely emotional as I wrote this as perhaps with Pearl and Toppling – perhaps because I knew that this story had such a positive ending, whereas with the verse novels I didn’t know quite how they would resolve. That doesn’t mean Do Not Forget Australia was less important to me – just different. This story really excited me, because I couldn’t wait to share the story with children.

I wonder if I could ask you both about the collaborative process? Was there much communication? Had you worked together before?

Sally: Almost no communication – although we are friends on Facebook! After Walker had accepted the manuscript, they sent me some samples of Sonia’s work. They suggested she might be a god match for this story and asked if I agreed. I was just amazed by the beauty of her artwork (the samples were from Song of the Dove) and said a very emphatic yes.  During the illustration process I was shown sketches and drafts, which came through the editor. This is a very common way of working – it allows both sides to give honest feedback. Of course all my feedback was positive!

Sonia: I hadn’t worked with Sally before, nor have we met – Sally is in Perth and I’m in Melbourne. Walker Books sent through the manuscript to me and asked if I was interested, which I was – I thought it was a story worth telling and remembering during current times, in which Australians seem to be increasingly xenophobic. Helping each other, across borders, and indeed across the other side of the world, and showing thanks for that help and rememberence of these events gives another perspective to children who can’t quite understand events like Anzac Day. There wasn’t any direct communication between us – it was all through the publisher, though I think there was a bit of collaboration, at a distance – as I uncovered more historical details through my picture research , some text changes had to be made, for example.  

Finally – as an author I’m a sucker for having to know how other creators work. I.e. – your processes… So, may I ask you both: Do you have any rituals?  Roald Dahl had to sharpen all his pencils and no one was ever allowed to clean his office other than empty an overflowing waste basket.   Is there anything you each have to do?

Sally: Rituals? Hah! I live in a messy, disorganised house with many kids, a dog, a day job… so ritual is not very possible. And yet, maybe my ritual is that I continue to make myself write, even in the midst of that. On the days when the house is quiet and I have no other obligations, I also make sure I set a time when I will start writing:”‘At 10 o’clock, no matter what else needs to be done, I am going to write”. And I try to stick to it. I sit at my desk before that time  and try to clear away the distractions – facebook, twitter, bills, emails, whatever – so  that at writing time I can write. It works. Sometimes.

Sonia: Definitely starting the day with a coffee – I wish I had the discipline to do things I’m supposed to do – such as clean my desk before starting, or indeed cleaning it at the end of the day. I to tend to be a bit cluttered. Because I work alone, my “water cooler moments” usually involve occasionally keeping an eye out on Facebook, but I’m not sure if you could call that a ritual or a habit. Other rituals may be called “obligations”, such as walking my dog Ernie – he has ways of making his presence known if he doesn’t have his way – and then I’d never get any work done!

Blog Tour dates

And how do you approach each work? Dive in? Ruminate? Do you work for set hours per day? Certain time of day when you’re most creative?

Sally: I don’t have set hours, simply because of the stuff I mentioned above (kids, job etc) but on the days I am at home, I try to be at my desk for about 4 hours, plus breaks.  As for a new project – each one is quite different. Sometimes I have an idea, make some notes, do a little research then do nothing about it for months – even years. Then one day the story starts to talk to me, telling me it’s ready, and I start writing.  Other times I have an idea and start writing to see where it will take me. With Do Not Forget Australia, I started with research and thinking a lot about how I could craft it into a story. It was several months before I wrote the first draft and that draft needed a lot of work before itw as anywhere near publishable. It was the story – the characters of Henri and Billy especially – which needed to be shaped out of the facts, making them credible and people readers will care about.

And when am I most creative?  Funnily enough, usually when I’m not trying to write. Walking on the beach, lying in bed, driving the car, etc. these are the times when new ideas, new sentences, new plot points, come to me. Luckily I have lots of notebooks.

Sonia: I do like to dive in, but I feel like I’m most productive from about 3pm onwards, unfortunately, which means I sometimes work well into the night when a deadline is looming. The good thing is that I’m able to juggle time around for other commitments, so I feel like I’m very flexible. But that also means I usually have no idea what a public holiday is.

Thank you both for sharing these insights – as well as some of your busy time with myself and fellow bloggers. The blog schedule (above)  is pretty hectic alone – and  makes me even ‘more’ appreciative of your time, so even bigger thanks for hanging around to chat.

As we get the ball rolling, I wish you the greatest success with this book – though I suspect it’s not going to need a lot!

And don’t forget, if you’re reading this blog – all you have to do to go into the draw for one of those gorgeous books, is leave a message! Too, too easy!

I’ll be popping in and out, but we’re going to leave this open until Sunday – and we’ll announce the winners then!

So, ask away!!

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61 Responses to Guests Sally Murphy and Sonia Kretschmar & Book Give-aways!

  1. Kaz Delaney says:

    I’m kicking off the morning by offering a warm welcome to both Sonia and Sally!

    “Thank you for being here. And thank you for being so generous with your answers!

    I’ll be ‘around’, and popping in and out.

    Have fun!”

  2. Bella Boyle says:

    Hi Sally and Sonia,
    Kerri told me about this book and I thought it might be good for an assignment I’ve got to do.We have to give a report on a movie or book or something that shows something about Australian history, so Mums going to get me one of the books today.

    Thanks for writing it!

  3. Amy Lee Tan says:

    Hi Sonia,
    My name is Amy and I’m in year 4, and I like writing stories and I love drawing. I think I’m good at it. Is it hard to be an illustrator? Do you have to go to univrsity?

    • Sonia says:

      Hi Amy! Personally, I studied Graphic Design as a way to get into Illustration, but there are a few courses, usually at TAFE level, that specialise in Illustration. As for whether or not it is hard… Well, it can be hard to make a living from it, if that is what you mean, but if you love doing it ,you will find a way. Good luck!

  4. Melissa says:

    Hello Sally & Sonia,
    As a mother, teacher and reader I adore picture books and have a huge collection. My own boys are past that stage now, but after teaching mid and upper primary (stages 2&3) for years, I find myself on a kindergarten class, and so I have a legitimate reason to hang around the PB section again!

    I have to say I love the sound of this book and feel it is a resource that will be great for all stages.

    Congratulations – I’m off on a PB aisle raid!

    • Sally Murphy says:

      Thanks Melissa. I, too, have a huge PB collection and lament that my own kids are past the stage. But as a teacher it’s great to have an excuse. And one day, there’ll hopefully be grandchildren 🙂

  5. Mel Peterson says:

    Fabulous book! Should be more like them! How much better would our lives as teachers be!

    Well done to both – I’ll definitely be hunting this one down. One for me – and one for the class. Love an excuse to buy books! Yes!

  6. Kerri/Kaz says:

    I have a question actually – and I know it’s rather banal in that I guess it’s one you get often – but how long did it take each of you to complete your respective parts of the book?

    • Sally Murphy says:

      It was about 4 and a half years from getting the idea to it being published. Obviously I wasn’t writing that whole time. I researched over several months, thought about the story and what form it would tke, long before I wrote it. The first draft was quick – maybe an hour. But then getting it right took almost two years – rewriting, tweaking, submitting, rewriting againa fter feedback from the publisher and so on. And after the story was accepted there were still more changes needed, right up until it went to print.

    • Sonia says:

      For me, I think it was about six months from when the publisher first contacted me to when the final artwork was due.

  7. Dorothy Boile says:

    Hi Kerri, I enjoyed reading this interview. Especially as I’ve been trying to write a picture book for a few years now. I’ll look this book up for my grandchildren, but I did want to ask Sally about whether she’s ever done any writing courses and if she recommends them?

    The books looks great – congratulations to you both.

    • Sally Murphy says:

      I studied English at university and, later, some short creative writing courses via correspondence. I’ve also done lots of workshops at writers festivals and such, as well as regularly reading books on writing and reading blogs and articles online.
      Yes, I do recommend doing this. Not every course is right for every person – and there are a lot out there to choose from. It comes down to your own needs, your budget and your time. But studying the craft and getting feedback on your writing is invaluable.

    • Kerri/Kaz says:

      Good luck with your course choices, Dorothy! And with your book!

  8. Kerri/Kaz says:

    Oooh – just caught Dorothy’s comment and question and it prompted another question from me – this time for both of you.

    Sally & Sonia: What is the best advice you would give to someone trying to break into your fields of writing and illustrating?

    • Sally Murphy says:

      Read a lot, and write a lot. If you want to write for a particular market you need to be constantly reading new release boks. So, you want to write picture books – you read pictrue books, every day. The best way to see how a book should be written is to totally immerse yourself in good books. And you need to write, too. Not just one story, not just for publication – write whenever you can, and try to get fedback on that writing.

    • Sonia says:

      For illustration, I think working on a portfolio of work you are proud of is a great beginning, before you go and see any publishers or post anything on the Internet. When I was beginning, I found it useful to pretend I was doing proper assignments – so if you read a book or story in a magazine that you like or find inspiring, do an illustration based on it. Then when you show your work to other people,or potential clients, they can see how you think. Showing how you apply your ideas is just as important as drawing pretty pictures.

  9. mariaciana says:

    Thanks for an entertaining interview, Kerri.

    Always love finding out about new books to consider!

    Congrats to Sonia and Sally!

  10. Sally Odgers says:

    Loved this interview, ladies. As a dog-owned myself, I was interested to hear that Ernie insists… good title, that. I May Steal It!

  11. I really enjoyed reading this interview, you talented ladies! So many interesting things to disvocer about you all, the book and its history. Great questions too. Look forward to reading it! 🙂 Clever Walker Books for picking it up.

  12. Kerri/Kaz says:

    Gosh, you slip out for an hour or two and look what happens! Lovely people drop in! And I wasn’t even here to offer you a cold drink! Such a bad hostess! LOL.

    We do appreciate it though – so sending a big thank you to the people who’ve dropped in so far to help Sally & Sonia celebrate their book launch and help spread the word.

  13. Kerri/Kaz says:

    Sent though Facebook from Leah Rath for this blog:
    “Have sent the link to my granddaughter. She is second year uni Bach of education and she may learn something ♥”

    K says: Thank you Leah! Children’s lit used to be a unit of work in the B Edu, as was author study – so if it still is, she’ll probably find this really interesting. Thank you for passing this on!

  14. Ree says:

    Hi Kerri, and hi to Sally & Sonia.

    I’m another teacher – and soon-to-be mother – who is excited about this book. I can think of so many occasions when this would have been perfect for the unit of work I was teaching.

    I also really enjoyed hearing the back-story to the creation of this book. I think it adds something to the enjoyment knowing something about its creation. It’s obviously been a lot of work – but rest assured it will be appreciated.

    I’ll be adding a copy to my baby’s already quite extensive collection! Congratulations on such a lovely addition to bookshelves everywhere – both in the classroom and home.

    • Sally Murphy says:

      Thanks Ree. It’s always a pleasure to talk about my work 🙂
      Congrats on your impending new arrival. S/he sounds like a lucky baby to be coming into a house where reading is valued.

  15. Michelle says:

    Wonderful interview, ladies. Kerri, thanks for introducing us to Sally and Sonia. Do Not Forget Australia sounds fabulous — really important story + gorgeous artwork. I hope it takes the world by storm!

    And, Sally, it sounds that in Tom there may be another writer in the family. 🙂

    • Sally Murphy says:

      Thanks Michelle 🙂
      Yes, Tom is a talented writer already – I think he’ll go far 🙂

      • Kerri/Kaz says:

        My pleasure, Michelle. Despite the fact that I sometimes grumble about the amount of writing time that gets gobbled up by business internet activities, one of the great pleasures and benefits is being so easily able to introduce our author friends to each other – and also to our wider audiences of family, friends – and hopefully fans.

        I believe it adds a richness and depth to all our lives – and it certainly helps the respective authors in relatively difficult times. Thank you as always for being such a great support, not just to me, but to the book community!

  16. Annie says:

    Hi Sally and Sonia – what a great interview. I particularly enjoyed reading about how each of your work and your routines. I’m wondering if collaboration brings up surprises for you both, or if it’s pretty much a process of things proceeding as you expected. I hope the book does wonderfully well for you.

    • Sally Murphy says:

      Thanks Annie. Yes, collaboration does throw up surprises – lovely ones. I’m not really a visual thinker, so don’t have a fixed idea in my head of how the illustrations should/will look, so it’s always exciting to see what an illustrator does with the story.

    • Kerri/Kaz says:

      Great question Annie, and one I always wonder about. For myself, if I may jump in – I know with my younger kids books, it’s always an interesting time as you await to see how the illustrator interprets your work. And I have to say I’ve had one or two experiences that have really rocked me. Thank fully it’s only been a couple, but it does happen.

      I think that’s why I’m always excited to see a book that works so well – as this one does.

  17. Leah Rath says:

    I agree with all ., a great interview an ordinary nobody but reader and lover of books it was very interesting reading ..thank you Sally and Sonia your work Kerri

    • Sally Murphy says:

      Thanks Leah, though i don’t agree that a reader/booklover is an ‘ordinary nobody’. Books are written for readers – without readers books don’t exist. So here’s to you, and all the readers in the world!

      • Kerri/Kaz says:

        I couldn’t agree more, Sally. In my latest Kaz Delaney novel I thank readers in the acknowledgements – because without them, we have no purpose.

        To get all poetic this Sunday morning (must be the spiritual connotation), readers really are the wind beneath authors’ wings.

        Hugs Leah for being one the windy ones. xxx

  18. Kerri/Kaz says:

    Thank you again everyone for coming in to visit. I really appreciate this show of support for all of us.

    Just home from and engagement party and checking in. At the party I was talking about this book with several friends and one was, Warren, a retired magistrate who desperately wants a copy for his grandchildren.

    He’s been to Villers-Bretonnneux, and told me a wonderful story I needed to share. He was travelling in an area quite close to V-B, and came across a toll booth but there was no one manning it. The twenty or so French travellers lined up behind him were beeping their horns impatiently, so after long minutes of indecision he moved on. Of course about 20klms further down the road, he came to a barrier that one needed some kind of ticket (supposedly purchased at the Toll Booth) to make barrier open and proceed down the road.

    This would be the same ticket he didn’t have…

    Warren got out of the car and spoke into a microphone speaker and tried to explain his dilemma to the person far away but who was electronically manning the barrier. With no French on his side and broken English on the other they were trying to work out where he had joined this road to ascertain how much he should pay. The two were making halting progress when the Frenchman suddenly asked, ‘Where are you from?’

    Warren replied, ‘Australia’. And immediately the barrier shot up and he was advised to move through with their blessing.

    Nice story and I had Warren’s blessing to tell it. As he actually relayed it to me, his voice was rough with emotion – but then we had also been talking about this book as well.

    I said it before, but I will say it again. This book is going to be very successful.

    • Sally Murphy says:

      Wow – what an awesome story, Kerri. It brought tears to my eyes just reading it.
      There are so many stories like this one – and shows just why it so important that Australians know the story, too.

    • Leah Rath says:

      would that have been Warren also ex scout leader used to live up on my hill ? small world glad he is still plugging on

  19. Sharon McGuinness says:

    Appreciated reading the background to the new book Sally and the illustrations look truly beautiful, Sonia. I look forward to sharing with classes at school very soon! My Nan had 3 brothers who fought in France and Belgium, yet only one returned. It was a special moment when my son recently travelled to Belgium with his high school history class, and saw the name of one of the great uncles inscribed on Menin Gate. One was exactly the same age as my son when he travelled to France to fight – but how very different were their purposes. All the best to you both…..I’m sure the book will be enjoyed by all ages!

  20. Kerri, Great interview. Don’t enter me in the draw as I already have a copy of this great book plus one up for grabs on my blog today where Sally has written a guest post.
    Kerri, while on the subject of giveaways, you were the winner of the copy of my novel Streets on a Map but I need you toget in touch to tell me what you would like signed on it.

    • Kerri/Kaz says:

      Dale! How exciting! Thank you! I’m so sorry I didn’t follow up to find out – life is such a blur at the moment. No excuse really, but thank you so very much. I’ll contact you privately.

  21. Mardi says:

    Thank you for telling us the story of the story.
    My Grandkids – and lots of other kids – are going to enjoy this book, and learn at the same time.

  22. Michelle d Evans says:

    Thank you for such wonderful interview.
    I can’t wait to read this book to my kids.

  23. Kerri/Kaz says:

    Thank you Michelle and Mardi! I know you’re both going to enjoy this book.

  24. Kerri/Kaz says:

    And The Winners Are…
    The day is drawing to a close and it’s only fair to draw the winners now as Sally and Sonia have a hectic schedule. As a matter of fact, if you aren’t one of the two very lucky people I’m about to announce – then please hop on over to Dale Harcombe’s blog:
    and join in that discussion for yet another opportunity. And please note the other dates on the blog tour schedule above.

    So: we cut up all the names and dropped them into my gorgeous, trusty, all-purpose, orange bowl and Bob, The Wonder Drawer, closed his eyes and drew two names. Those names are:
    Miss Amy Lee Tan
    If you ladies could contact me with your addresses, ( I’ll happily bundle these up sand send them on their way!
    Lucky Ladies Indeed!!

  25. Kerri/Kaz says:

    Thank you, thank you everybody for dropping by. It’s been huge fun and I’ve totally enjoyed playing hostess.

    Most especially thank you to Sally and Sonia for their gracious answers and their time – and equal thanks to Walker books for donating these gorgeous books for prizes.

  26. catupover says:

    A great interview Kerrie and very informative answers sonia and sally. Oh how I wished I was as disciplined as you Sally. The distractions always get me!

  27. Kerri/Kaz says:

    Thank you for your kind words. And I’m with you – I think we all wish we had more discipline!! LOL!
    And thank you stopping by – the girls were very certainly generous with their time and answers, weren’t they.

  28. Peter Taylor says:

    I loved reading this interview, Kerri, and thank you so much for your interesting and useful responses and advice, Sally and Sonia. This is certainly one huge blog tour for you! For those who didn’t win, I’m hosting Sally and Sonia on March 6th with a giveaway, too – and hopefully discovering something more in the backstory and taking a look around Sonia’s studio.
    Yes, I need to be more organised, too – and at least for a first draft, just keep writing. It’s so easy to procrastinate and be paralysed into inaction with the fear that what we might write will not be of a high standard, or that time available is not long enough. For me, I think I’ll have to increase my output by utilizing brief opportunities as they arise, as well as particular times. I believe there’s a lot to be said for a ‘First Hour Club’ – you and your friends need to write for an hour before checking last night’s emails or doing anything else on the web. The chances are that, once you start, you will write for more than an hour. And your friends will check progress!
    All best wishes – and to Warren. Thank you for sharing his experience, too.

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