Question: what does Being Brave mean? Answer: writing a book for the first time.
I had the privilege of working with two debut authors earlier this year to edit their book, Being Brave, for girls aged 8-12. Hester Leung and Sema Musson had never written a book before but had passionate ideas and a strong friendship – a winning combination.
Creative collaboration is one of my favourite parts of the publishing process, and it was an honour to work with Sema and Hester (based in Sydney) and help shape their manuscript into a book. We had a few conversations over the phone about sizzling starts and hitting the right tone, and many, many emails flying back and forth about maps and text types and language. Michael Hanrahan from Publish Central provided strong support and much experience to coordinate the self-publishing process.
Sema and Hester told me not to hold back with any feedback as they wanted to make the manuscript the best it could be – I hope they didn’t regret that statement!
Here’s an interview with Hester and Sema about their process.
KC: What is your book about and who is your audience?
HL & SM: Being Brave is about two friends, Ellie and Alyssa, leaning into each other in an Australian adventure about courage and inner strength. Ellie and Alyssa are different in many ways – one chatty, one shy, one adventurous, the other considered, one Australian, one with Chinese heritage. Yet they support each other. Ultimately, their friendship guides them through obstacles and setbacks as they find their way.
We wrote it with 8-12 year-old girls in mind, but we really hope that boys and parents find it instructive as well, as the story aims to bring out tools that can help children overcome the inner critic to build self-esteem and confidence.
KC: Why did you decide to write a book?
HL & SM: The inception of this book began through the many years of talking about everything and anything. Our daughters are friends, and so we became friends! We have shared our life stories and struggles, from parenting to being working mothers, from stressors when we were growing up to relationships now.
Therefore, our friendship led to the creation of Being Brave. Taking apart the struggles we had when we were growing up and turning it into something positive, we set out to write a story about the young girls we observed in our lives. We felt like we wanted to share the tools that helped us through moments of doubt and inner criticism when we were young. We also felt in today’s society given the increased challenges young girls are facing with social media, this book should be a crucial part of their toolkit!
KC: What was your collaborative process? How did you work together?
HL & SM: It was very much thanks to Google and technology! After a brainstorming session and agreeing on our themes and the main storyline, we set up a Google document. This allowed us to work in real time and at our own pace. We contributed at different times and when the creativity suited us. The story naturally unfurled. There were no problems with version control or marking up changes as the technology sorted that out for us. A big shout-out to Google, because without being able to share a document, we would not have been able to write the book so collaboratively.
By having a friend to work with we were able to work through our writers’ block and our own self-doubt. We gently encouraged each other on or picked up each other’s thoughts when one of us was stuck. We would add a comment or a question for the other, who would reply with an idea or another thought, and we would keep going, word by word. Sometimes we would call each other and have a discussion about where the story should go. Other times, we would text an idea that just came to us. We probably emailed or texted each other 20 times a day! We also see each other every weekend because of our children’s sports, so it was easy to keep up to date and move the writing along week by week building on our ideas.
Ultimately the story and its messages were a team effort and we wouldn’t have done it any other way.
KC: What was the hardest part of writing a book?
HL & SM: We talk about self-doubt a lot and it is not surprising that it’s the self-doubt that makes you worry about what we had written and created, whether it would resonate for our readers, whether it was any good. Luckily we had each other to encourage and to bounce ideas off. Feedback is so important and makes the story better. We were open to each other’s ideas. To be honest, we don’t remember any time where we couldn’t agree on a course of action after talking it through.
It’s great having a partner on the journey. You do fall into a slump, or you get busy because of work or personal lives or even when you just want to have a holiday, so it’s great to have someone pick up where you left off and cheer you on. We’ve got each other’s backs and that’s important.
KC: When did you have the most fun writing your book?
Thinking of ideas, names, situations, brainstorming – some ideas were hilarious and we got into silly moods making things up! Also when someone comes up with a brilliant idea that brings the story forward, that was also an amazing feeling. We encouraged each other a lot and even though most of the writing was done separately when we had time to add to the story, the fun times were the moments trying to think of a solution together.
KC: What does being brave mean to you?
HL & SM: Being brave to us means being yourself – that can be different things for different people. Ultimately backing yourself, knowing your values and going towards your goals are all actions that require courage and confidence. Being Brave means to trust and believe in yourself.