Jeff Bilman has dabbled in cartooning and illustration, film and writing for many years. This has included: writing and illustrating cards for a major greeting card company, awards for his short films, and a couple feature-writing assignments for producers in Hollywood.
Since having his two boys, Jeff’s focus has switched to writing books for children. He loves humor, and the tradition of storytelling to demonstrate concepts that may help children traverse some of life’s difficulties (such as being called ‘Farty bum breath’).
Jeff wanted to write books that boys would love, and their parents might also enjoy reading. Jeff is currently working on the next books in the Super Ninja Series and the soon to be released Trevor Series, and a book for advanced readers called, Clown Town. It’s a book for boys AND girls … and maybe even parents too!
What inspires you to write?
My inspiration for writing has changed over the years. I was quite good at creative writing as a teenager but had no interest in it as a career. That started to change when I began writing and illustrating comics in my early 20’s, I think as a way of trying to figure out the world and my place in it. I found I enjoyed the writing more than the drawing (and was better at the writing) so I moved into writing for film.
Living in sunny and quiet Western Australia (and not wanting to move location to try my luck in Hollywood), I decided to give up on screenwriting. I was reading a lot to my two young boys, was enjoying books, and for several years had wanted to write one. So, that’s when I started writing for my boys. I started writing small stories for them appropriate to their age, but eventually settled on writing Middle Grade Fiction. My inspiration, apart from my children, is to write stories that kids will enjoy AND learn some life skills. I suppose I’m talking about emotional intelligence here – something I felt I lacked growing up. It’s an area I’m very interested in because emotion, and how you handle emotions, is perhaps the most important skill you can have in life.
Tell us about your writing process
Once I get my idea I ruminate over it for a while. Over a few weeks ideas “pop up” and I add them to my notes. Once I feel I have enough to fill out a basic story, I then write an outline. For some reason it often comes out to about 7 pages. I then look at it structurally and move things around or insert key elements that I feel are missing. Once I have that basic structure then it’s fly by the seat of my pants time to get that first draft.
I think of writing like peeling an onion. That first draft is the full onion. Then each re-draft is like peeling one layer of skin off. I don’t address everything in the next draft – that’s too much for my brain to handle. As the drafts go by, the onion gets smaller and the re-drafts become easier – until I end up with the finished product.
How do you think writing for children and young adults is different from writing for an adult audience?
Well, there’s some topics you don’t write about for children (as yet, I don’t write Young Adult so can’t comment) . Also, for children the stories shouldn’t be too complex. I know from watching movies with my kids, there are some concepts they just don’t understand. They love the action in super hero movies, for instance, but will often miss the deeper meanings. I also know from discussing certain books with my nine year old son that he will miss some key concepts or motivations. I also specifically infuse teachings in emotional intelligence in my works for children – something I wouldn’t do for an adult audience.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I always listen to my characters. I think they are more realistic if they behave in a way that is true to their character, rather than the way I’d like them to behave – if that makes sense.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I spent many years going through the submission processes in both cartooning and film. It is long, time consuming and frustrating – and often without reward. In regard to novels, I submitted one work to one publisher. It took 4 months to get back to me (with a rejection). I thought, I’m not going to spend any more years on the submission round-about. So I published independently. Once I have more books I may consider looking at traditional publishing … maybe.
The grade 4/5 classes at my local primary school are currently reading my book as part of their curriculum. The kids recognize me in the street and at the shops, and my son tells me I am the most famous person at school (very cute). I am also asked regularly when the next book is out. If I had have waited for a publisher, maybe I’d still be waiting and no one would be enjoying my books.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I have no idea, really. Ebooks are here to stay and so is independent publishing. I’m very happy with that.
What do you use?
Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer, Beta Readers
What genres do you write?
Middle grade fiction, science fiction, humor
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print