Wombat Books Blog

Wombat Books blog is the place to keep up to date with all the goings-on in the world of Aussie kid's books.

Chatting to Deborah Kelly about Oliver and things

DKellyBWWith an increasing number of children being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) every year, it is more important than ever to have these children and their families represented in mainstream media, including books. Portraying children like Oliver and Tilly not only provides kids in similar situations with literature they can relate to, but it also helps to foster tolerance and acceptance of difference and diversity in all readers.

1. Did you draw on personal experience when writing The Thing About Oliver?

I have the privilege of knowing several children on the autism spectrum and their families. There is a lot of support out there now for kids on the spectrum, which is fantastic. But often the siblings of these children are overlooked. They are sometimes called glass children, because it can feel as though their overstretched parents look right through them. They have to grow up quickly, are often expected to take on far more responsibility than other kids their age and can feel guilty about their own problems and worries in comparison to that of their siblings. They can also struggle with feelings of resentment and guilt towards their parents and the sibling with special needs.

2. The story centres around the move to Townsville, which is described quite vividly. Do you have a history with the area?

I spent several years living in Townsville while I attended university. thing about oliver 9781925563818 large72Because moving there coincided with leaving home (and the whole world opening up), Townsville will always have a special place in my heart. When I visited a couple of years ago for some writing workshops, a lot had changed since I left and most of the people I knew there had moved on. However, I felt that the sights and smells, plants and animals, and the humidity that had hit me all those years ago was the same.

3. Is marine biology an interest of yours? What’s your favourite fish?

I loved marine biology in high school due to an enthusiastic teacher and went on to study it at university so I could help protect the reef for future generations. Like Tilly, colourful nudibranches are high up on my list. So is the goofy-looking parrotfish, which chomps so noisily on coral that you can actually hear it underwater. I’ll never forget the time I came face-to-face with a baby tiger shark! And I love the magic of a night dive. There are tiny creatures in the water that glow at night and if you turn off your torch, it’s like floating in a night sky, surrounded by stars.

The Thing About Oliver is available now.

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Ten Questions with Deborah Kelly

DKellyBWHi! I’m Deborah Kelly.

I grew up in New Zealand but have lived in lots of places including Japan, Scotland and, of course, Australia. I live with my husband and two kids in NSW.

I have written several picture books for children including The Bouncing Ball, Jam for Nana, Dinosaur Disco (Random House) and the soon to be released Me and You (Penguin Viking). I also have a picture book coming out in 2017 with EK books. I have written books for Macmillan Education, including Sam’s Great Invention and Don’t Sweat It. My short stories for children are included in Random House’s Stories for Boys and Stories for Girls anthologies.

This year Wombat Books published my first chapter book Ruby Wishfingers: Skydancer’s Escape, which has been beautifully illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom. The second and third books in the series will be published this year also, Ruby Wishfingers: Toad-ally Magic and Ruby Wishfingers: Hide and Seek. Two more Ruby Wishfingers books are also scheduled for next year. I hope that kids will have as much fun reading the Ruby Wishfingers books as I had writing them!

I regularly visit schools, festivals and libraries to share my books with children and chat about writing. For me it is one of the greatest things about being a children’s author!


1) What was the first story you ever wrote and has it been published?

My first attempt at writing a children’s picture book was cringe worthy. Without going into too much detail, it involved a ladybug with a bad case of wind. I’m very thankful it never made it to publication!

2) What is your favourite part about being an author?

There are so many things I love about being an author. Working in my pyjamas. Drinking copious amounts of tea. Getting lost for hours in my own imagination. Seeing my characters brought to life by illustrators. Getting to work with talented, dedicated people in the publishing industry who are passionate about what they do. Being part of a community of inspiring, creative people. Being able to visit lots of great schools, libraries and festivals to share my books with kids. It’s an absolute honour and a privilege to be able to speak directly to children, all over the world, through my books.

3) What do you do for fun?

I love spending time with my family and friends and just being silly with my kids. I love bushwalking and swimming. And I read a lot! I am also a dedicated yogi. I couldn’t imagine life without my daily yoga practice!

4) How do you test out your stories? Or who do you test them on?

I always let a manuscript have a ‘cooling off’ period before showing it to family or friends. If I get a good response from them and I still like it a month or so later, I might think about submitting it to a publisher.

5) What was your favourite children’s book when you were a kid?


There were too many to count! I still have my childhood copies of The House that Sailed Away by Pat Hutchins and The World Around the Corner by Maurice Gee—two books that I adored as a child!

6) Have you ever travelled overseas as an author?

I spent four years living and working overseas and I’ve been to lots of countries as a backpacker! I’m yet to experience travelling as an author on tour—but I think it would be great fun!

7) Have you met anyone even more famous than you that was exciting?

I said hi to Bob Geldof when I was working at a train station in Scotland! He was there for the Make Poverty History concert. I’ve also met Jeanette Winterson, Dame Kirri Te Kanawa and Jenny Morris. I’ve met loads of amazing authors and illustrators, far too many to count and all of them much more famous than me!

8) What writing do you like to do the most?

I love being in the ‘flow’—those wonderful moments where I’m just watching the story play out in my mind. I write it all down as fast as I can and worry about editing it later!

9) Where do you see the future of children’s books?

I certainly prefer print books over anything electronic. So do most people I know. I think this is especially true of children—particularly toddlers who are very tactile creatures!

10) What is your favourite way/time to read?

Snuggled up in bed on a rainy evening, when the kids are asleep and the house is blissfully quiet!

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