Interview – J. R. Poulter

Jennifer and I met in a couple of different Facebook groups (uTales and 12×12) and really I friended her because I can’t wait to beat play her at scrabble! Jennifer is a writer, poet, editor, and as you will discover, collaborative artist. I also felt it was about time I interviewed someone from down under, to maintain the breadth of this blog’s multicultural focus. Jennifer writes for children and education under J.R.Poulter and under J.R.McRae for literary verse, artwork and for short stories [and will do for novels].

  • Illustrator or author/illustrator?

[JRP] I’m an author who is teaching themselves to illustrate with digital images and photography. I am in awe of professional illustrators, they have such vivid visual insight into the imagery of words!

  • What’s your nationality and where do you live?

[JRP] I’m Australian, living in Queensland near a large park, which means lots of wildlife [birds, possums, water dragons, snakes] and dumped pets. One of our cats was a dumped kitten that followed two of my sons home from the park.

  • Can you tell us of a couple of your stories that have a unique Australian flavor?

I try to write stories that relate to children anywhere but my recently published chapter book, “All in the Woods” has an Australian setting complete with a possum as a central character. The other story that has an Australian flavour to it is “Mending Lucille”, illustrator Sarah Davis even used part of a map of the Australian outback as background to one of the illustrations.

  • What place do animals and nature have in your writing?

Children's Education Books

[JRP] I think when you are writing for children, that animals and nature are almost inevitably a part of the story, even if at a tangent. Most of my stories feature elements of nature and /or animals.

“Mending Lucille” has an injured bird as one of the themes running through the story.  “All in the Woods” has a possum as one of the main characters and a large eucalyptus tree features significantly in the story.  “Gelati Supreme”/”Ice Cream Supreme” has pooping pigeons and stinky rats as part of the comic element. My story, “The Stray” features a stray dog.

  • Tell us a little of your beginnings as a writer and how visual this process is for you?

[JRP] I’ve written as long as I can remember.  I have always loved ‘story’ and making up my own stories seemed a natural progression. Interestingly, I have been described as ‘a highly original and visual ‘ writer.  I’m not sure why this is – perhaps because I have always loved art and can ‘see’ my stories as well as express them in words. I am a right brainer so the stories sort of emanate from the end of the pen or the keyboard. It is an adventure getting to know the characters and the story as you write it.

To have an illustrator who resonates with your story and gives it visual life is always awesome! Sarah Davis did a wonderful blog on her process of illustrating Mending Lucille. My own story of our collaboration and how I wrote “Mending Lucille” is on my blog.

  • What sort of collaborative projects have you been involved in and how do you regard the process of collaboration?

[JRP] Readers are much more visually oriented than earlier generations.  I commented to my agent over a year ago that we would start to see volumes of short stories and  volumes of poetry increasingly produced with illustrations. Within a year, reviews of such works started cropping up in the  papers in ever increasing numbers.

I love the collaborative process. It opens up a whole world of possibilities and adds new dimensions to your written creation.  Someone else reading your words adds their life experience and worldview to the reading. This means their interpretation of your story will add layers to the story, which may or may not have been there, it will make the words ‘three dimensional’.  The illustrator may add in an illustrative subtext of their own. The important thing is to be open to how the illustrator sees your story and let the richness of their vision add to yours.

My explanation of the illustrative process goes something like this – the illustrator reads the story – the words becoming a whole world in their head. The story, e.g., tells of a family in a kitchen over lunch – the illustrator sees the family in the kitchen but explores the ‘world’. This might mean looking through the kitchen window, going out the kitchen door and exploring the house, upstairs to the attic, downstairs to the cellar, into the  intimacy of each bedroom’s toys, sports things, make up and bling etc,  outside to the yard, down the street to take in the locale.

My first picture book, “Mending Lucille” was a richly rewarding collaborative process. It  resulted in a major award win and among other things a ‘Children’s Choice Award’, which was the icing on the cake for me! For Sarah Davis, as a new illustrator, it meant she was established as an illustrative ‘force’ in Australia and had more work than she could cope with from then on. My junior novel, “All in the Woods” was a fun collaboration with American water-colourist, Linda S. Gunn that resulted in a nomination for the OPSO Award.

Lots of picture book projects, an illustrated novel and a chapter book are sitting with publishers waiting for decisions…

NOW for something for  everyone else – an opportunity, a chance to collaborate on a story with some amazingly talented illustrators courtesy of Lyn Midnight’s ‘Apocolypse for Kiddies” project.

  • What books and/or illustrators influenced your childhood?

[JRP] A story with stunning illustrations was “Pookie”, a story about a little rabbit with wings.  I think it had been my mother’s. I wish someone would re release it. I remember my grandmother had her copy of Arthur Mee’s stories based on the Shakespearean tragedies. I was allowed to revel in these but not allowed to read Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm.  As soon as I was able to  take myself to a library, I rectified that! Images by illustrators like Rackham, Gustav Dore, Tenniel, Dulac and many more inhabited my childhood. My grandmother also had copies of May Gibbs’ beautiful Australian based fairystories and an amazing  multi volume set called “People and Places”. Many of the peoples photographed and discussed in its pages had already died out by the time I read about them. I loved Lewis Carroll’s wonderful tales and his crazily inventive verse. I went through all Dickens’ books bar Pickwick Papers, which I still haven’t read… Kahil Gibran was a favourite and I discovered Tolkien at school!  My Aunt Mary had a superlative collection of art and archeology books with absolutely stunning reproductions and photography – I knew all about Howard Carter and Tutankhamen before I knew about the crossing of our Blue Mountains. There were lots and lots of stories that I remember with real affection!

  • What does your workspace look like? 

Ummm…. Messy…  :}

  • What projects are you working on at present?


[JRP] “Fox Shadows” will, hopefully, be coming out with Windy Hollows in September and is in final stages now.  Wish I could give you a peak…

I’m working on numbers of picture book projects with illustrators from all over the world. The subjects as diverse as Octopus and sea turtles to sea legends and biting babies. A mysterious dolls’ house in a forest is the subject of a graphic novel and there’s a black and white illustrated novel about cats that are guardians of a motley assortment of people. I have a short story collection and a poetry collection on the go, both of which will be illustrated. I’m also working on two adult and one YA novel.


Five Fun Ones to Finish?

  •  What word best sums you up?

[JRP] “Dreamer” – always  dreaming, daydreaming – ideas, ideas, ideas, STORIES!

  • If you could live anywhere for a season, where would you go?

[JRP] That’s a hard one – I’d love to visit Great Britain and Ireland, Spain, France, Germany, well, all of Europe and the Russias, China, South America… I’d also like to live a month in Tasmania and Melbourne and on a Great Barrier Reef island!

  • What do you do for non-art related relaxation?

[JRP] Word games have always been a passion. As a kid, if I couldn’t get my hands on a book to read, I made up games using the dictionary. The other thing I do to relax is write stories or poems to go with the un-story project related images of illustrator friends. I enjoy movies and documentaries too.

  • Cats or dogs?

[JRP] Cats – they are affectionate without being pestiferous, playful without being boisterous, they are relaxing to watch and inspiring with their mysterious ways…

  • If you could spend a day with one children’s book character, with whom would that be?

[JRP] Mmmm…  Gandalf or Oliver Twist… not sure.

Do check out Jennifer’s work further on:

Poetry & Short Stories –                                                              

Also I do encourage you to check out Lyn Midnight’s “Apocalypse for Kiddies” project as you may be just the writers they need! I am so impressed that you are teaching yourself to illustrate, Jennifer! I loved hearing your thoughts on collaboration. This past week Maja Sereda, who is illustrating my first uTales books, sent me a bunch of sketches, and wow, I was so excited to see the story growing, enriching and coming to life. I look forward to “Fox Shadows” being published! Thank you so much for sharing some of your journey with us.