Robyn Collins is an author and avid reader living in Brisbane, Australia. She has been writing since she was a child, and has published many works on educational topics, as well as a series of ebooks on bullying and strategic planning. In her non-writing life she has been a teacher of English literature, a school principal and a leadership and strategic planning consultant.
The Niello Necklace Mystery is her first children’s book, and the first in a series.
What inspires you to write?
Firstly, I love the process. There are few things as wonderful as escaping into words and characters. I am inspired by a variety of things – a few words, a picture, a news story. For my third book I simply woke up with the first sentence in my head and the whole book stemmed from there.
Secondly, I love reading and want to write well enough to inspire young children to read my books. As an educator I know full well the difference between the performance at school of those children who read and those who don’t. I would like every child to be inspired by words and the joy of reading.
Tell us about your writing process.
I am a bit of both.The idea for the two books in the Niello Mysteries series – The Niello Necklace Mystery and The Secret of the Niello – came from two words, the name of the main character, ‘Bun Hare’. My husband and I were driving from Sydney to Brisbane when we decided to stop for tea and cakes. We were on the highway looking for somewhere other than a service station when a sign on the side of the road just outside Moorland caught my eye, ‘Devonshire Teas’.
The tearooms were a few kilometres from the highway and what a find they were. The building was an old wooden ‘Queenslander’ with a wide veranda and surrounded by trees. The owner was a young girl whose father was helping her get the business started. The scones were hot and moist, the cream fresh and the jam home made. As we sat on the veranda we began talking to the owner’s father. He pointed out a stone building in the back yard, near a huge weeping fig tree and explained it used to be an old bakery and the baker’s name was ‘Bun Hare’. We laughed at the connection between bakery and ‘bun’ and left with good wishes ringing in our ears.
That night I wrote the first words of The Niello Necklace Mystery. The second influence on the book was the Niello necklace, a tiny gold heart bought from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Met is one of my favourite places in the entire world and somehow I had to get it into my book, so the necklace became the centre of my mystery.
The idea for my second series came from the one sentence I mentioned above.
Once I have the main idea I tend to do some planning in my head but mostly I let the characters take me where they want to go. I do spend quite some time working on my characters and how I would like them to be. The main character is especially important to me. In my third book a secondary character is pushing towards being main and I am struggling with this a little. I usually, although not always, know where my story is going to end.
I also have an ideas journal and sometimes receive a lovely surprise when I go back to find an idea I wrote years ago might have some merit for the present.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
Yes, I do, although not perhaps as much as many writers do. I find the shower and long walks are the times when my characters most intrude. I usually have paper and pen with me or, lately, my iPad with dragon installed so I can get words down before I forget them. Sometimes the words are not in sequence with what is happening in the book but I write them down anyway to see if they will eventually fit in.
What advice would you give other writers?
Follow your heart and don’t listen to too much advice!
Write in your own voice.
Write every day. This is the big secret. You can’t succeed without practicing your craft. Constantly.
Get your work properly edited and proofread. Never submit for publication until you know your manuscript is error free.
Don’t beat yourself up or compare yourself with other writers. No matter how accomplished you are there are probably better writers out there. Just have confidence in yourself and enjoy the journey.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
My first book, The Niello Necklace Mystery was first published in 2005 by a small Australian traditional publisher. Unfortunately in the same year three of our small Australian mainstream children’s publishers went into receivership, and one of these was mine. Because my now-defunct publisher had the copyright on my book for five years I deviated from children’s writing, my first love, to dabble in romance. I quickly discovered this was not my genre and in 2010 I returned to children’s books, writing the second book in the Niello series while I waited for the copyright to expire on my first. In 2012 I sent a 3-chapter submission of the first book to a large Australian publisher, and was asked immediately to send the full manuscript. My manuscript stayed with that publisher for 18 months until I received a rejection slip. At this time friends urged me to submit to another publisher but I decided to self -publish. After a lot of research, advice from writers’ groups and from friends, I chose the Amazon self-publishing arm, CreateSpace. The main reason for this is that the process seemed very easy and took out over a lot of small things, like assigning an ISBN, and larger things, like distribution.
The cost was very reasonable also. For $1800 Createspace created my cover, did the layout of the book’s interior, refined marketing copy which I sent the creative team, assigned an ISBN, distributed information to book sellers, distributors and libraries around much of the world, converted the paperback to for kindle and uploaded both versions of the book to the Amazon website.
Most of all, I had complete control. I made changes to the original until I was satisfied and nothing proceeded without my approval. This was a breath of fresh air when compared with my experience of traditional publishing. I will definitely use CreateSpace for my second book, the final book in the Niello series. The Secret of the Niello will be available in July-August 2014.
So what’s my advice? Of course, I would like to be published by a mainstream publishing house but over time this seems to be getting harder and harder and most publishing houses now wish authors to do much of their own marketing. I read a lot about what the ‘experts’ said about self-publishing and, except for the fact my ego rather fancied having a publisher, it seemed to win on sales, control and simplicity. So this is the decision I made after a lot of research and thought.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I am optimistic. I think traditional publishing, self-publishing and ebooks can all co-exist and, hopefully, more and more people will read. I have noticed of late that more people are downloading ebooks because of the convenience and price and think technology might in years to come overtake traditional paperbacks and hard covers.
What do you use?
Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer
What genres do you write?
Children’s books/educational articles and ebooks
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print