A Ballarat teacher is celebrating the achievement of a lifetime’s dream with the release of her first children’s book.
Jodi Toering, who has worked at Forest Street Primary School in Wendouree for the past 10 years, will launch her debut Mallee Sky this Thursday (February 14).
The book, a beautifully illustrated, timely account of the effects of drought on a community, took seven years to reach bookstore shelves.
It has just been launched by Black Dog Books, an imprint of the major children’s publisher Walker.
Ms Toering, who lives on a bush block near Creswick, said: “I haven’t really pushed [to publish the book] actually. I wrote Mallee Sky but I didn’t really have any confidence in terms of sending off my books to anybody.”
Encouraged by feedback after sending the manuscript to writing contests, Ms Toering says she “went off and worked on it more and more and more” and picked up second prize in the Writers’ Unleashed competition.
“That gave me the confidence to say, ‘right, I can actually send this out to a publisher, I might have a chance here,’” she told The Courier.
Ms Toering, 44, also won the 2015 Edel Wignell Mentorship from the Australian Society of Authors, which gave her more help getting her story published. She signed a book deal in 2016, but it was another three years until the book was ready to hit the shelves.
“I am just super, super lucky it’s been brought to life so beautifully by Tannya Harricks and her illustrations,” said Ms Toering.
“Every single illustration is actually an artwork in its own right.”
The author and illustrator will meet for the first time at the launch in Ms Toering’s hometown Hopetoun – which is also the setting for the book – in north-western Victoria.
Ms Toering also plans to use her own book in her work as a literacy coach, which she has been doing for the past 22 years in Ballarat. The book’s themes would be relevant to her students, she said.
“This is really a book about Australia. Even though it is set in the Mallee and it’s called Mallee Sky, in essence it’s about drought, which affects every part of Australia, it’s about climate change, it’s about farming and small towns and the impact that drought has on them.
My children have been so supportive. They have been there from day one. I have used them as my guinea pigs to gauge whether it’s good or notJodi Toering
“It really does belong to anyone in Australia. I’ve always thought the main character of the book is actually the land itself.”
So far, the reception has been very positive. A preview on the publishing industry website Books+Publishing website says: “The Australia of Mallee Sky is a familiar one: wide, red-brown, drought-stricken, unforgiving, yet strikingly beautiful – but never a cliche.
“The book avoids patronising children, instead welcoming them into a mature literary and painterly conversation. Toering’s language is both lyrical and accessible.”
Ms Toering says the publication fulfils the second of two childhood dreams: to become a teacher, and an author.
“I have always wanted to be two things: as a child I was desperate to become an English teacher and an author. I love performing as well. I have actually done it all now. I just performed the national anthem at the Ballarat Gift, I have done several shows on stage.
“Writing did take a back seat to my first passion, which was teaching.”
The arrival of her two children – daughter Mia and son Archie – inspired her to return to it, she says.
“Knowing as a literacy educator just how important it is to read great pieces of literature with your children, it just sparked that need in me to write.”
Her family, including her husband Derek whom she describes as “such a source of encouragement and support”, will accompany her both to the launch and to a bookshop reading and signing in Lydiard Street on Saturday.
“My children have been so supportive. They have been there from day one. I have used them as my guinea pigs to gauge whether it’s good or not – they love it, they’re my number one fans.”
Other writing projects are in the pipeline in “various stages of draft”, she says. “Hopefully in the near future I’ll be able to get some other books happening.”
- Ms Toering will appear at Collins Bookstore in Lydiard Street for a book reading and signing from 11am to 1pm on Saturday February 16.
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