Tea with JT – Tania McCartney

Jenny Tiffen 5 November 2015
Tania McCartney

Hello and welcome to another episode of Tea with JT. This week I got to catch up with an old friend. This woman is so warm and creative and I could sip tea with her ALL day {and we almost did!}. Tania McCartney is an amazing writer who fills my mind with inspiration every time I see her and she also has taught me a bit about yoga, grammar and driving at night. You will LOVE this read. Make yourself a pot of chai {just like we drank at Local Press Kingston, Dockside} and guzzle away with us.

Who are you?
Tania McCartney—Author, illustrator, editor, book-nut, wife and mum.

Tania McCartney

How long have you lived in Canberra?
We first lived here in 1999 — for 18 months. My daughter Ella was born here, then we were on the hop again — to Melbourne, Adelaide, Beijing — and back to Canberra in early 2009. My son Riley was born during that Melbourne leg. So, we’ve been Canberrans again for almost seven years!

I know you have been writing for yonks but when did you discover that you could also draw?
Around the age of two. JT, I know people roll their eyes when I say this, but everyone can draw. Children have an innate talent for drawing that’s free of ego, angst and control. Some of the most beautiful art is created by the very young, and, indeed, some of the world’s most famous artists — Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinksy and many, many more — have produced art possessing magical puerile qualities. It’s when we become self-aware and analytical — when we see what we want to see and not what actually is — that the ability to draw slips away.

Tania McCartney and Jenny Tiffen

So, I’ve always drawn, but — as with most grown-ups — I lost connection with creativity in my mid-twenties, and illustration slipped away completely (I never stopped writing). It wasn’t until I hit my mid-forties that I knew I needed to reconnect, and the desire to illustrate came up suddenly and voraciously. The thing was, though, I honestly thought I’d ‘forgotten’ how to draw. I knew that if I wanted to reconnect I had to practice daily, so I founded the 52-Week Illustration Challenge (now in its second year) — a Facebook Group with weekly prompts to a theme. We now have nearly 4,000 members, and the group even exhibited in Perth with Arts Brookfield earlier this year.

This group is single-handedly responsible for my reconnection with illustrating. Almost two years later, I’ve not only re-learned my craft, I have my first contract for an illustrated book — out November 2016. Life moment!

I think there is a book in all of us. What advice could you give to someone who has a burning desire to become an author?
To write what you know and love. Don’t try to fill a niche or write what you think people might like. Write what’s in your heart, with your own unique voice, and the authenticity that both publishers and readers seek will naturally flow. And practice daily! Writing is not a career — it’s a way of life, and the process from idea to publication is long and dedicated. Books need to percolate and writers need time to hone and ceaselessly grow. Everything you write, whether it’s eventually published or not, is a valuable addition to your skillset, and brings you ever close to the publication dream.

My other important piece of advice is to put industry before market. If you throw a manuscript into the vast ocean that is the world’s book market, it will make barely a plip. If you throw that manuscript into the small pond that is your local, niche industry of publishers, editors, booksellers, authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers, judges and other book professionals, you will not only make valuable connections and real friendships, you’ll have an arsenal of support behind you. And that can make a very big splash, indeed. Why plip when you can splash?

Tania McCartney and Jenny Tiffen

You have had books published in a variety of ways. Can you tell us a few pros and cons to self publishing vs going through a major house?
When we moved to Beijing, I had a lot of time on my hands, so I self-published my first children’s picture book because I could, not because I had to. Printing was very affordable in China so I did everything myself (I didn’t use a vanity publisher). This was an absolutely priceless learning experience. I basically learned the entire process of publishing a book, from concept to bookshelf, and was most certainly thrown in the deep end when it came to marketing and promotion, distribution and sales. I pretty much absorbed twenty years’ of publishing savvy in about 18 months. Priceless pro. And another pro was having complete control — perfect for control freaks (but of course, I’m not a control freak …).

When we moved home to Australia, my self-published book — Riley and the Sleeping Dragon — did very well, so I self-published two more books in the Riley series, and also began submitting to trade publishers. I soon had several contracts and am now published with five publishers, including the National Library of Australia. Publishing with traditional houses was a huge relief because self-publishing is an enormous amount of work (not difficult per se, just lots to do!). No more marketing, promotion, distribution, sales — hurrah! More time to create! Huge pro. Another pro is that your books reach a far wider audience when you’re house-published. And you become even more well-known. You also have the benefit of highly professional people who know what they’re doing — including selling your books to overseas markets.

I’ll never regret self-publishing for its impressive learning curve and its control levels, but I must admit, the benefits of trade publishing far outweigh it. You may earn less per book but you sell many more books with a publisher, so it works out well in the end. And I’m really fortunate to work with publishers who still allow plenty of creator control.

What do you have coming up?
My biggest news is my first self-illustrated book, which comes out November 2016. A life moment in manifestation! I’ve very, very excited about it, and find myself wandering through a creative wonderland while producing it. I also have four more books in the A Kids’ Year picture book series currently in production (illustrated by my talented friend, Tina Snerling). We’ve just released A Scottish Year and An English Year for the UK market, and in 2016, we’re tackling another huge overseas market. In 2017, there’ll be two more books focusing on another two countries, so it’s very exciting to see these book hop around the world.

It looks like my first junior fiction series will be in production soon, too, which is embryonic news! I’m hoping to have confirmation from the publisher soon, so fingers and toes! Junior fiction has been another goal of mine for some time now. I promise you — work hard, be persistent, and things will happen!

Photo by Jenny Tiffen

You are a mother to two lovely children. What is your favourite family holiday destination?
We’ve been lucky to do a lot of traveling with the kids – and I have a heap of destination posts on my blog if anyone is hankering to globetrot with tots. I’m not really a lie-on-the-beach person but I’d have to say our favourite holiday of all time was Phuket about two years after that tragic tsunami. The tourist market was still in recovery, and the people were so gorgeous and welcoming. We had the most serene, beautiful experience.

Hoi An, Vietnam, was also a really special experience for us — we spent Christmas 2008 there, and San Francisco was another family favourite. We visited friends in The Hague a couple of years ago, and the snow was deep and luscious and the kids just went nuts. That was an amazing time. And London — what could ever beat London? The train driver at St Pancras had to drag us kicking and screaming onto the train when we left. Highly, highly recommend London with kids. And Bruges.

What gives you the most inspiration for your stories?
Everyday life, really. The little things that happen every day. I once wrote an entire picture book based on a packet of hundreds-and-thousands spilling all over the kitchen bench. The things kids say really inspires me, too. And colour. Nature. Art. Story. And often, the inspiration just comes from ‘above’. From nowhere in particular. Characters just pop into my head and I channel their story from there — as though someone is whispering it to me on high. My picture book Peas in a Pod came to me in that way, and my junior fiction work tends to emerge like this, too.

Tania McCartney

What’s your favourite café?
I love love love Ona. The coffee is to die for. And Flute Bakery in Fyshwick is a bit of a fave haunt. I can sip and nibble then dash across to Bunnings to pick up some 4 x 4 and Osmocote.

Who is your hairdresser?
Me! Mostly. I colour my own hair and I also trim it. Occasionally I go for the chop (last chop was about four months ago) and that’s when I see Sam at TJ’s Hair Studio. Other than that, it’s writer’s ponytail all the way, every day.

What makes you smile?
Beauty. Aesthetic beauty but also thoughtfulness and kindness and depth of spirit. Gorgeous illustrations. Picture books. Clever stories. Silliness. The smell of freshly brewed coffee. The things kids say. The fact that I can still find, if I snuffle enough, the faintest smell of ‘baby’ on the back of my twelve-year-old son’s neck.

Tania McCartney

If I could bless you with a superpower, what would it be?
I would become Booko! the supersonic book delivery chick, who would ensure every child in the world had their own little library of fabulous books, and before I zoomed off again, I’d also ensure they had the skills and passion for full, unadulterated, magical, life-changing literacy.

Tania McCartney

If you could change something about Canberra for the better, what would it be?
I would plonk it next to the ocean. Complete with surrounding mountains. Then I’d steal a Parisian bakery and whack it on Bunda Street … and then it would be perfect.


I told you she was great! I have just joined that Facebook drawing group for my own personal growth challenge and I freaking love that she colours her own hair because as a fellow fake blonde, this isn’t easy {Tania is probably less fake blonde than I am}. I nearly wept when she told me she can smell the faint scent of baby on the back of her twelve-year-old boy. Oh man! She makes my ovaries hurt too. Tania I love your publishing advice and it was fantastic sipping tea with you.

Did you see that I drank tea last week with Jane Brown? You can read it here.

See you next week.

Jenny Tiffen




This week on my blog I wrote 5 reasons to put your Christmas Tree up in October.



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