Episode 012 - R.A. Spratt - From TV Comedy to Best Selling Author - NOT The Rob Bell Podcast | Limeworks

Episode 012 - R.A. Spratt

From TV Comedy to Best Selling Author

How Rachel Spratt has made her mark in a tough game.

Rachel Spratt is a best-selling author and television writer. She is known for the Peski Kids, Friday Barnes and Nanny Piggins  series of books. However she cut her teeth in television writing jokes for Good News Week and many others. 

We chat about the business of writing and discipline it takes, the cut-throat world of TV, and so many aspects of being a successful author. It's a great discussion and not to be missed.

You can find R.A. Spratt at www.raspratt.com
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/raspratt/

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Please note, while an effort is made to provide an accurate transcription, errors and omissions may be present. No part of this transcription can be referenced or reproduced without permission.

Rob: So thank you, Rachel Spratt for coming and having a chat on the podcast. Our listeners might know you as R.A. Spratt. You are a best selling author of children's books. But before we get to that, I wouldn't mind touching on your writing career, which actually extends probably 10 years before your first book. Can you give us a bit of a rundown there?

Rachel: Well, yeah, I've been a writer for 22 years now, so I actually started out, I didn't want to be a writer. I wanted to be an assistant director on a TV show. Like, that's, that was my dream job because I like sort of bossing people around. So I went, I was doing work experience when I was at university and I was doing all these internships. And I'm laughing because I was doing internships at the same time Monica Lewinsky was doing internships, but mine worked out great differently.

Rob: Probably a good thing.

Rachel: Yeah probably a good thing. I probably had more employment since. But I got an internship, my lecturer set it up for me, at Good News Week. And Good News Week twenty two years ago was a really big deal because

Rob: Absolutely.

Rachel: The Internet hadn't taken off and I was still on the ABC and all the politicians would watch it and want to be on it. It was a big, big deal. So for me at twenty two to go into work experience there everyone was so excited for me and I'm like whatever because I was too cool. And I get there and I say, what do you want to do here. Good News Week and I said I want to work with the assistant director and I'm like. And they're like the assistant director isn't here she comes in one afternoon a week. And I was like, Oh, I feel ignorant. And they said, the only people we have in the office of the writers. I was like, oh, okay. I said, go sit in the room with the writers. So they stuck me in with the writers and they all ignored me because they were middle aged men who hadn't, you know, just stared at their shoes the whole time. So I just sat and wrote jokes and I handed them in and everyone's like, eh whatever. And I came back the next day and the head writer burst into the room I was in and he slammed them on the filing cabinet. And he said, these jokes are frighteningly good. And they offered me a job and I ended up staying for three years. And I was like, I was bummed because I didn't, this wasn't the job I wanted. Everyone's like, this job is way better than being an assistant director. And you get to meet all these celebrities like I'm Hugh Jackman and I've met the original Gomez from The Addams Family, and Powderfinger and Harry Connick Jr. And they're like, You excited about this job? I'm like, Oh, okay, I'm excited. And it just one writing job led to another. And now and at the time I was bummed because I wanted to be an assistant director and travel and work in crews, but now I'm a mother. And now that I think it's the best job ever to be a mother, because you can, I work home the whole time and I can walk my kids to school. So it worked out, but it was sort of like a weird start to a career that I hadn't anticipated that just flowed on to this whole life that I didn't imagine.

Rob: It's kind of interesting that you fell into it almost, you know, by absolute chance. But obviously there was a natural talent for at least the comedy side of things.

Rachel: Well, that was the thing, that was part of why they were so fast to offer me a job is because it's very, very hard to write comedy. And the way we wrote it at Good News Week, where you write 30 to 40 one liner jokes a day, very few people in Australia can do that. And very, very few women. Like at the time, I was the only woman comedy writer in Australia. And still, I mean, it's kind of a very tight click. Most of the people who I worked with then they would still say, I am the only woman comedy writer. There might be one or two others. And you might think, oh, but what about this person? What about that person? No. The purest comedy writers, it's a very specific thing. And the ability to just sit and write joke after joke after joke is very, very rare generally, and specifically, very rare for women. So that's why when they found me, they were like, oh, my gosh, we're going to offer you a job straight away because it's a big deal. It was. And I didn't even realise, because I've always had this weird mind that comes up with weird stuff. So I didn't realise that I had this rare talent that could be snapped up and useful.

Rob: Do you think that part of the reason why your jokes stood out so rapidly, obviously there has to be an ability to create jokes in the first place. But your perspective as being a woman in a very male dominated territory, do you think it gave you an edge because you had a different perspective on things?

Rachel: A couple of times it would, but no, generally speaking, because the head writer was a man and the host, Paul McDermott was a man, and the producer was a man. So to get your joke through was very competitive. There were 10 writers. You had to get through all those gatekeepers. So you had to write a joke that they would think was funny. So, yeah, I can see where you're getting to, sometimes it would work because ironically, I would write the most sexist jokes because it's a type of joke that as a stand up comedian, you could say as a woman. But then Paul McDermott would be very uncomfortable to say. I wrote a whole bunch of stuff when Paul McDermott married Heather Mills, and she only had one leg. And I was 22 at the time. I'm forty four now. I was much more morally bankrupt back then. And I wrote all these song parodies of Beatles songs about one legged women. And Paul McDermott was so uncomfortable doing it. And I'm like, "oh, it so funny!", and he's like "you are a woman, you can get away with it. I can't", and I'm like, "you got to do it anyway though".

Rob: Because I remember Good News Week, and I did watch it religiously at the time as well. But I guess as a, as an end consumer, I don't think we can fully appreciate the amount of writing and, and sort of construction that goes on behind the scenes. And we sort of think that it's all just ad lib and it's just magic of TV.

Rachel: That's the art of it, yeah. But it's, because people say, oh, but surely you don't have anything to do if you write for Good News Week. And there was seriously because this was back in the day when television had much more money in it. So we had at the peak when we went to Channel Ten, we had 10 writers and we're writing for a script. It's only got like about a hundred and ten jokes in it. So it's really competitive to get your joke into the final. What goes to air. But the thing is, the script would give the whole recording session structure like you start with a monologue and then every game would end, would start with some jokes and end with some jokes. And if you didn't have that structure, the whole thing could just sort of cartwheel off into chaos because everyone's like messing around and ad libbing. You need to come back to structure. Otherwise, it loses coherence. So the script was really important functionally and you may, yeah, a lot of it got cut and didn't make it through. But yeah, it did give the, They used to call it the spine of the show because if it wasn't there, the whole thing would just flop down like a blancmange.

Rob: I think it's an interesting insight into how those shows do come together, because there's that, as you've said, that there's that anchor component and the spine of the show. Is it unique working with different personalities such as Paul McDermott, who brings so much to the table as well, sort of seeing obviously your jokes are the punchline, but everything around that, that perhaps they bring their personality in.

Rachel: Oh.

Rob: Does it sometimes take on a life of its own?

Rachel: Oh, definitely. And he was superb. Like, he was just superb to work with. They say that like a great performer lifts the joke or brings something to it. And then some jokes you write that only that performer can really do. And also, he could sing so you could do song parodies and things for him. And I've worked with other people since, like Peter Berner and I did life support. I've worked with lots of other people. But I would say Paul was an exceptional talent. He just like comedy is a lot of a lot of it is a rhythm. And he just had this fantastic rhythm. And people can't like we had a live audience and people. So he had his energy that sort of frighten people. And when people are frightened, it makes them laugh more because they're like nervous. And so he had this great energy and you could just like play the audience so well because he started out doing a lot of busking and things. So he had that he'd had so much experience just dealing with the crowd. And oftentimes in television, you'll get people like particularly young up and comers who someone's talent spotted, but they haven't had those years and years of experience, working crowds. And you put them in front a studio audience and they just can't, like, get that energy in that magic. So, yeah, it was a real pleasure to work with Paul.

Rob: That's really cool. I'm sure it's memories that will stick with you for quite some time, maybe even spur characters in books.

Rachel: Oh, yes. I think Paul is too complicated to be a book character, but yet I always remember standing between the bleachers, at Good News Week, and there's 400 people in the studio audience and hearing Paul do one of my jokes. And hearing the 400 people like the best is when it was a joke that shocked people and they just go, Ohh. And then they laugh. And you think that's the best feeling in the world. And then it going out to a million people around the country. And you think that, and, you know, it's 22 standing there with all the studio lights and that happening. And it was really magical.

Rob: I do want to move on from Good News Week in a second, but one question I'd love to ask is, was there ever a joke that you thought was the best joke that you'd ever written? And it just didn't land the way that you anticipated? Or is it all in the delivery?

Rachel: A lot of it's in the delivery. But, yeah, generally speaking, no. You get very good professional judgment about what is funny and what's not. Like people always say, how can you tell what's funny and what's not? It's just like I know. It's like I just know sometimes the performer doesn't want to do the joke you've written and they will purposely sabotage it because they know if they stumble a word when it gets to the edit, they'll go, oh well, he stumbled that word, we'll cut the joke out.

Rachel: So Paul was very good at that. If he personally didn't like a joke in the way it would reflect on him. He would, he would stumble it, like I was saying, the Heather Mills parodies. He didn't want to do them, so he stumbled it on purpose. And then the second week, the producer was just like, you're going to have to do them. They're really funny. So they made him do them again. So, yeah, no generally, you know, when it's gonna be good.

Rob: I suppose that's the the art of being a presenter just as much as, you know, being a joke writer as well.

Rachel: There's a lot of nuance.

Rob: Yeah, no doubt. Absolutely. So if we fast forward a little bit, to when you started to write your first book, can you give us a bit of a summary of how that evolution took place? I know you've written for children's TV, but how did you get to that first book?

Rachel: That was kind of how it started. I was working on my first job ever in children's television, which was a TV show called Babalu, which was actually a Jim Henson co-production. So it had like Muppet puppets, was really good fun to work on. But I'd come. I had all this background in comedy and I was really shocked with children's television, how little emphasis there was on entertainment and how much of it was about drumming in sort of curriculum issues. And it disappointed me because I thought, you know, there's all this fun stuff you could be doing. And I thought you could get this curriculum stuff in a non didactic way, which would be more effective. But I thought it was a failure of imagination as all these rules I found really frustrating. So I decided to come up with an idea for kids show that would just be really fun and funny and high energy. So I came up with this whole concept of Nanny Piggins, who was it was like basically a Sound of Music kind of premiss. But the nanny is a pig. And I thought I'd make a circus performer because it would be like a sitcom set up. And then you could have her circus friends come and visit and that would add, you know, extra elements week to week. And I thought you make the dad a lawyer and you know, all these different things. And so I kind of this whole idea and I pitched it to the production company and they said, oh, this is fantastic, but we'd had to go through and smooth it out. So we'd have to make Nanny Piggins nicer. You'd have to cut out all the references to chocolate and cake. You'd have to make her be nice and respectful to the father. And I just thought that's just ruins it there's not fun in that you've got to have bad guys like there's so much they over sanitise so much children's television? And yeah, anyway, so I thought, well, stuff that what I'll do is I'll write the whole thing up as a book and then everyone will fall in love with the book and then they'll make the book into a TV show and they won't be able to change it cause everyone's already read the book. So that was my brilliant plan. So I went away and, you know, 9 books later. Well, 10 years later, it's still not a TV show yet, but it's a Hulk phenomena that as a book that kids all around the world love. So I sort of got sidetracked into this whole publishing career.

Rob: Absolutely. But I mean, it was a really, really cool sidetrack that happened, even if that's not exactly how you anticipated it sort of landing.

Rachel: It was great because as you know, money has increasingly be draining out of television over the last two decades. So like they would say, if you're a creative person trying to diversify your income streams. So for years I was doing TV and writing books and it was great because books you have a lot more stability because, you know, you're going to be working on that for six months and I usually get a three book deal. So, you know, you're 18 months worth of work lined up. And then as the TV comes and goes and you have a few weeks off, you can just focus on the book. So it was really good to be have to diversify like that. But then increasingly, the books became more successful and I was able to rely more on that. And then it reached the point where I was able to just do a tiny bit of TV. So, it has worked out really well and it has been fantastic to get into because it's so much more creative freedom than with TV writing. And also, it's a much better job as a mother because I'm much more in control of my schedule than than working in TV.

Rob: Of course, because your books are not only popular here in Australia, they kicked off in a really big way in the US as well. Can you tell us how that that came about?

Rachel: Well, that was just sheer luck. I can't claim any credit for it. My US editor picked up Nanny Piggins before it was even published here. So I was just really lucky. There was a young publisher who it was her first book. She's gone on to become a really big deal for, she's with Hachette now and she published Friday Barnes as well. But anyway, so she published Nanny Piggins and it was weird. She picked it up. And then a couple of months later, Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state, endorsed the book like I was just randomly sending it out to famous people. And Madeleine Albright writes back and says, yeah, your books really good I'll endorse. So it's got a blurb on the back from her, which blew everyone's minds. And then it got published in the States and it did well. It got starred reviews, but everyone's like, it's a bit of a strange book. But then Booklist, which is the American Library Association's publication. They nominated it as the best youth fiction of 2010. And everyone was just shocked because Booklist only has four top of the list books per year. It's like youth fiction, youth non-fiction, adult fiction, adult nonfiction. And I was like, if they consider my book, one of the top four books released in America in 2010. And people were writing blogs like, I can't believe this. Where did this come from? This weird book about a pig. But anyway, as a result, it's still like I went to the New York Public Library a couple of years ago, and it's still there on the shelves. It's still like popular in America. I did a storytelling at my local church in Bowral on Saturday, and I had kids from Seattle tuning in because it's so big over there.

Rob: That's really cool. So when it when it hit the top of Booklist for your category and there was a little bit of confusion maybe in the other commentary in the industry. Were you still, like, really proud of what you'd put together? And and did you feel defensive or were you kind of just well it is what it is. But, you know, hey, I'm at the top anyway.

Rachel: Yeah well. The things I am like a very sort of introverted, no confidence president, in every other aspect of my life except my work. And I always thought that I had like it never occurred to me from the first time I wrote the book before I even picked up or published it. I always assumed that this was going to be a great classic children's book that people would love for decades. I was just a huge egotist. So for me, it wasn't surprising to be considered the best in America. What astonished me was that I didn't win more awards. Because I've never even been nominated for Australian Book Council Award. Not once in 10 years. Twenty two titles. Not even nominated or, you know, long listed. So, yes, I. I've always thought I wrote fantastic books and I'm just surprised more people haven't noticed that because I think there comedy books, people think they're silly and they don't realise this quite actually quite a lot to them.

Rob: It's an interesting phenomenon with Booklist. And, you know, say New York Times bestseller books and that sort of thing. Do you think that a lot of books do just sell well and fly under the radar of a lot of those things, sort of on the opposite spectrum of what you experienced?

Rachel: Well, the thing like Nanny Piggins did not sell that well initially, but it just sell sold really consistently. It still sells over there. So they never tell you what you sold. But I've done all our research. I think it's sold like a hundred thousand copies in the US all together. But over a 10 year period, whereas things like the New York Times bestseller list that reflects spikes in sales. And so it's a whole different phenomena, like if you cause I this is modest but I write really good books. And if you wrote a good book. It may not spike and it may not get onto lists, but people will continue to recommend it to their friends and librarians will recommend it to kids. And then you have the constant sales. So to this day, I sell 20 to 40 copies of Nanny Piggins on Amazon in America every week, which if think, it's not that many, but gosh, it adds up over 10 years. So.

Rob: That's huge.

Rachel: So, yeah, this is in publishing. There's a whole different variations of books. My husband is currently writing a book because he's got a theatre show and that's going to be called Senior Moments and it's going to come out just before Christmas. And so that's the type of book that those Christmas books, they'll come out. They'll get a big marketing push. They'll get a big spike. But then usually they die away. And that's it. That's that books moment in the sun. Whereas I tend to write these books to just sit and just chug away for years.

Rob: And it's an interesting aspect of writing, which perhaps is overlooked is the marketing and that hype machine that goes along with every release. And obviously, if you are writing controversial books, then there is probably a much bigger role of that. But, I think the underrated portion and the portion of selling books that I see you doing quite regularly is the book tour and the in-person appearances. And how important of a role does that play in the overall success of a title?

Rachel: Oh, it's super important it's all brand building. You know, they call it that. And like Andy Griffith, you know, he's the 13-Storey Treehouse guy who's now, you know, sold millions of copies around the world. But it took him years and years of doing school visits. Like when you're a children's author, you do school visits and like you go to school and you might talk to a hundred kids, maybe six hundred kids. But you think about you do three or four in a day. So you can see, you know, a thousand kids in a day and you'll, you'll do a tour for maybe three days or five days and maybe you'll say 4000 kids in a week. And you think most adult authors would kill for that opportunity. They're doing like bookstore events with maybe 40 or 50 people, maybe literary lunches with 40 or 50 people. Whereas when you're a children's author, you can get out there and face to face, see thousands of children in a week. And over the course of a year, like I usually spend about 50 nights away from home a year on the road. That's not including things I do, just driving out and home for the day. So you just see like tens of thousands of kids a year, like I did the Sydney Writers Festival last year. And I did the Town Hall and I did my presentation forty five minutes. For two thousand children at once. And came back on the following Monday. I did another two thousand children. And you think that's just, you can't beat that in terms of marketing. Because I mean my author, like a lot of all the presentations, they're more responsible than me and they talk about writing and they teach the children something, I don't do that my 45 minute presentation is sell, sell, sell. Like, I just tell all, I just try to like like weave this magic spell about how those stories in my book and make the kids fall in love with the characters and make it seem really exciting. So yeah, it is huge. And you try and create this mythology about yourself when I go and do school visits. It's like, you know, most kids haven't heard of me and I you could walk in there, go, you know, I'm a writer and you should be interested in me because I don't do that. I go and I say hello. And I am here to tell you how awesome I am. And, you know, you just do the Jedi mind trick on the kids. You say, I'm really awesome. I'm a huge internationally popular author, you need to buy my books. And it's you know, it's just building your mythology.

Rob: Obviously, there's a very different approach when you are talking to kids and certainly some added benefits that you've announced there. I think if you turn to a business conference and start the same way, maybe it'll land a little bit differently. But obviously, through 10 years of writing, even the act, or the presence of books in our lives, I think there's this little pocket of children's books which there's really a distinct push to not digitise things and to keep them reading physical pages. How instrumental do you think that's been in terms of the longevity of what you're doing?

Rachel: Yeah, well, books. There's a whole heap. There's so many studies on why physical books matter in terms of, people process information differently when it's on a physical book, too when it's in a digital book. You tend to have better retention. And also, you have a better idea of where things are within the book. And also parents want to get kids off screens as much as possible. So there's all that aspect and, yeah, all physical books, children's books have just kept selling. There hasn't been a dip the way they have with adult books, with all the digitisation and kids, there tends not to be as big an uptake on Kindle and stuff. And also book sales are driven partially through schools encourage it and libraries encouraging children sales. So the way marketing works with children's books is different to adult books. And a lot of the adult books on digital mediums are often people buy books on digital mediums. They're embarrassed to be seen to rate like, 50 Shades of Grey was a huge, digital book because no one wants to be seen sitting on the train reading it. And kids, they're not thinking that way, that they're just they don't know that hopefully they're not reading 50 Shades of Grey.

Rob: And probably not on a train by themselves either.

Rachel: No. No.

Rob: So I guess I mean, I certainly agree and and I've read some very interesting studies around that paper format. You know, even though we're delivering this in a digital medium. I'm still sitting here taking, you know, handwritten notes and all that sort of thing. Do you think that when you came into the publishing world, was there a real deliberate, so obviously 2010 we were talking around digital transformation and that sort of thing. Was there a real intention to come out in a traditional way with a traditional publisher and say not try more self published round?

Rachel: Yes, I mean, I never really occurred my to self publish, to be honest, I was so busy with my TV career. It was like a a side project at that stage. But to this day, the problem with self publishing is distribution is really hard. If you self publish and with children's, as you say, children's tends to be much more the physical books. So when you get signed up by publisher, they've just got that whole distribution network that works for you. And it's like books are heavy, hard to ship. Thing. So you want to have that whole huge distribution network working for you, like I know a lot of authors will start out with self publishing, someone like Tim Harris or I can never pronounce his name. Anyway, let's just say Tim Harris. But they'll start out so publishing, but then they'll pick up a publisher and swap over to them, because if you're self publishing, you'll have to spend so much more of your time selling yourself. And really, if you're a writer, you probably is skill-based is more in writing your material and you would rather outsource that to someone else if possible.

Rob: So you can you really focus on what you're good at? And let the mechanics of it happen take care of themselves. So I wanna shift gears just a little bit, I know from stalking a little bit of your Instagram that you're a pretty avid CrossFit goer at the moment. And I think for anyone we were talking offline about, you know, sitting still and and trying to look after yourself and keep the mind sharp. How much of a role has that physical side of your life played in, say, writing discipline and being able to deliver?

Rachel: It's huge. See, the thing is, I because it's very physically demanding, like writing. You sit. And so that's not good for you. But there's also so much time touring. And when you tour, you're going and you've going around schools. And you've got kids coming up and signing things. And it's always in August when it's cold and flu season, the kids will cough on you. And authors are just sick a lot. They're sick a lot. So I just. And I had this I popped a hernia after I had my second kid and I was just a mess. I was a physical mess. I gained a lot of weight writing, Nanny Piggins. And then I had a hernia. And I was just a wreck after two kids and, you know, 12, 15 years as a writer. And I just had this epiphany that I needed to focus on my health. And I needed to prioritise it because I would not be able to continue to do what I was doing creatively if I didn't take time out of my day every day to work on my fitness. So I started to work on my diet and I started to work on fitness. And then I got into CrossFit. And it's just taken off. So I go to the gym every working day. I usually go five or six times a week and I have a nutrition coach. And I go walking. And it's a huge part of my life. And it was partly just to get physically fit so that I. Because I do like these really high energy performances so I can keep that up for week after week in book week. But it was also mental health is so important because I work from home. And if I didn't like, that's where I see my friends is at the gym. That's my social outlet. So it's a big, big for that as well. So it's been a real boom for me. And yeah. And it's worked back into my books because, as I said, I'm able to do all this physical stuff when I do presentations and leap around the stage that I wouldn't otherwise be able to do.

Rob: Obviously, the physical and mental energy and that extra clarity and everything you've got by being healthier, helps. But were there any unexpected consequences? Say, you know, something funny happened at the gym that somehow makes it into a story.

Rachel: Yeah. So much of my gym life makes it into the books. Now, for a start, everyone I go to the gym with they have characters named after them because you're always struggling to come up with characters and people get angry like my. We call it my swole system. The person I train with. The girl, the lady I trained with is my buddy. I named a character after her. She was really annoyed because the character I named after her was terrible push ups. And she's like, I am really good at push ups. How can you name a character who's bad at push ups. But all the characters in the books there from when I started are across a bit like Friday. Barnes like got punished. She had to do, I think was like a hundred buppies every day. And it was just I took that from and then there was a thing where they they all had to wear Fitbit at school. And I just these all ideas that come to me all the time and the pesky kids, there's all this stuff with a PE teacher. So all these things I would just take around me. Anything that happens around me will end up in a book. So, yeah, a lot of my gym life has ended up in the books and a lot of the stories I hear from people at the gym will end up in the books and characters on base them on people. So yeah, it all filters through.

Rob: Has there ever been a time where you did include a real life experience in a book and perhaps the people involved didn't take too kindly to it?

Rachel: My daughter, my youngest daughter gets very angry because, I like because her name is Samantha and the goal in Nanny Piggins is called Samantha, but Nanny Piggins Samantha predates my Samantha. But I just started doing podcast's stories based on stories that we made up together. And I renamed the girl in that Tammy and her name is Sammy. And she's like everyone we'll be able to tell. I'm like, I don't care. And when I do author presentations I do tell these this huge story about taking her to the airport and going through security and the security guard finding scissors in her bag. And it's this huge. And she hates me doing that story because I say she's got a Hello Kitty backpack because that makes the kids laugh when I say a Hello Kitty backpack and she's like, I would never have a Hello Kitty backpack. And it's like, I know that. But saying that makes the story better. So she gets angry all the time.

Rob: That's interesting. One thing that you mentioned there was around your podcast, which I know you've started earlier this year. How did that come about and how does that play into your outlets?

Rachel: Well, what happened was I was on holiday over Christmas, I was actually in Italy. I was like going to bed at night and I was lying there I was thinking about my career, as you do, I thinking, because I always like to plan and thinking, you know, what can I do differently going forward to make things work better? And I knew the pesky kids was winding down and I knew Penguin Random House would be putting less marketing and publicity into me this year. I knew I would be getting less pushes. I'd be like doing less store visits. I would just be doing less publicity. And so I thought stuff them. And I knew they'd be arranging less touring for me. I thought, I'm just going to do it myself. I'll arrange some of my own touring. And I thought, how can I generate publicity for myself? And it was a, I was getting kind of tired of doing so many school visits because I don't think, like, I'm really good at doing the presentation with the kids, but I just I'm not so good at the small talk with the librarians beforehand. And. And also, it's exhausting. I'm away from home. So much so I thought, what can I do for publicity that doesn't require me to leave my house? And I'd be listening because I was going to Italy. I'd been listening to the history of Rome, the podcast, because I was teaching myself about Roman history. And in episode one hundred, he does a Q&A and he talks about how to make a podcast. And he talks about it. And he's like, Oh, I do it on Garage Band. And I use this. And I listen to it. I can do that. I've got a degree in communications. I know how to do sound editing. And, you know, I go Garage Band on my computer. I can give that a go. And so I did. And it's really easy. And I love it. Like, I really love telling stories. It's like the best bit about my job. And I thought, well, if I'm going to do something for publicity, I would much rather do something I love doing than, you know, be going around. I like meeting people, but I'm just I find it hard. I'm an introvert and it's draining. So being taken around like eight bookstores in a day to shake hands and get your photo taken with a bookseller. At the end of that, I'm just wrung out. Whereas I can stay at home and do a podcast and go out to a thousand people around the world and. It's more fun. And also, as I say, I'm not taking time away from my family.

Rob: Yeah, of course, and certainly that's a very important part of it, and being on the road is hard on you and the family, no doubt. So is there ever an issue, say, obviously, when you're a published author and you're represented by a publisher, there's certain things you can and can't do. Is there ever a challenge with doing something for your own publicity, like the podcast? When you have, you know, a publisher kicking you along or if they have very clear, defined lines there?

Rachel: Well, it's interesting I've always been a little bit more bold. I just took this because so long as I mean, they really can't control what I do. I guess they could. And I guess they could sack me. But I'm pretty successful so they probably wouldn't. So long as I don't like I. For Easter, I wanted to do a Nanny Piggins story that was from a published book. So I had to ask permission for that. And I didn't run it by them and let them know I was gonna be doing a podcast so long as I use original material that I own the copyright on. It's got nothing to do with them. They could get annoyed with me if I was missing deadlines and they thought I was spending too much time working on another project. But I don't miss my deadlines. My books have all got in, and they know that I'm someone who needs to stay busy. It's good for me and they know that they want me to sell my books so that they're happy for me to do it. I mean, it's great for them that they love it. I mean they're the ones that got me to do it. Did you see me doing those stupid physical challenges? They're the ones that put me up to doing that. So they're quite happy for me to waste my time doing strange things for publicity.

Rob: So it seems like there's some divide lines as long as it's all for the for the greater good. They really happy to work with and no doubt the I said no doubt. I assume that they are really looking to leverage some of those additional outlets because no doubt there's some flow on book sales to be had as well.

Rachel: Yeah, well, exactly, and podcasting has actually proven to be very effective form of advertising because it's like you're whispering into people's ears and it's very personal. So at the end of my podcast episode, I will say, you know, to support the podcast just gone buy one of my books and podcasting is proven to have very high take up on that sort of advertising. So, yeah, hopefully it will knock through to a certain number of sales. And I can put a put a banner on my website. People can click through. It's good for them too. And it's good because 30 percent of my podcast listeners are in the States. So Penguin Random House, Australia, because they on sold the rights to America. If I sell more books there, it is money for them too. So everyone's helped.

Rob: Everybody wins. And so obviously with sales as well, if you are self published, you can sort of probably do a little bit more indirect sales and that sort of thing. But I know that you have an agreement with your local bookshop for when people want signed copies and because it does come with some celebrity and notoriety. How important is catering for that fan base in terms of signing and also supporting one of the local bookshops?

Rachel: Oh, look, I'm a huge believer in supporting local bookshops everywhere. I love supporting my own local bookshop they're been so good to me. Small business is really hard, like serious is what I do is a small business and my husband with his company. I totally get how hard small business is. I totally get how much these big online stores crush people. I want to do everything I can to help small businesses. Sometimes it can be frustrating because sometimes they're not the most capitalist driven people. They are very often very ideological. But my local bookstore is fantastic and it's good for them because I've got that on my website and they just ring me when I'm picking up my kids in the afternoon. I'll just drop into the store and sign a book and I can send it off. And so you get like some parents in the States, maybe cashed up parents, they'll get like six books for their kid and all signed and then ship it. But I went into the bookstore the other day and I said I had this email from someone wanted sign books, and I said, do they email you? And I said, yeah, they emailed us. But I told them, this is the lady in the bookstore. She says, I told them to order it from Book Depository. It'd be cheaper for them because the shipping's free. And I'm like you're not supposed to do that I'm suppose to be supporting you as a small business. And she's like, oh, I couldn't bear charging them for shipping. So I still got that there. And I still, you know, regularly go in and sign books for people all around Australia and all around the world who want books signed. Once a dad in the CBD in Sydney. He went into Dymocks and he bought like a stack of ten of my books. And I was like going into the dentist in Sydney. And I went in and signed them all for him. And I think he was on a business trip and he's like going back to Perth or something. And he took them all back for his daughter. So it's great when you can tee up something like that because it's so personal. And then and it's all good business because they'll say, you know, that's a conversation for them. It's like, oh, I got this is my daughter and it makes you look good. So, yeah, it's nice to do.

Rob: An interesting remark there. It's all good business. How important is the business aspect of being an author?

Rachel: Oh, it's super important cause you've got to it's how you make your money and it's not it's not a lucrative business at all. Like people think of J.K. Rowling. We're all rich and we're not like you. Look at what most authors the vast majority of authors. It's way below the poverty line. And it's like a hobby job. And then there's the number of us that can live off what we earn. It's so simple. Like for years, I had to subsidise what I did with TV work. And, you know, it literally affects what I can buy for my children to eat how well I sell books. So if I take it all very personally, the business side of it. And, you know, I really appreciate the bookstores that support me and I will do what I can to support them because, business, it's a tough world. And this is not a lucrative business. And every little like if my sales dropped down 20 percent. That affects what I can do with my children on the weekend. It's very personal.

Rob: Sure. So obviously, you're still writing for TV as well. Is that sort of maintain maintaining that diversity or is it purely mental sanity?

Rachel: I don't do much TV at all anymore. I did a little bit of Lala's Big Live Band last year preschool show and I've just picked up a preschool job with the ABC, but I've done one episode. I don't know, maybe it's doing well. So it's only a tiny bit like maybe once a year I'll do a couple of episodes. So I am very much focused on the publishing at the moment. And you say you earn money from your royalties, so you get two royalty cheque a year from your publisher and then you get lending rights from libraries. And I am super lucky because that's a really good cheque for me, because I have my books in a lot of libraries and then a lot of authors like children's authors well actually earn the majority of there income from school visits. So that's for me it's like 20 to 30 percent of my income. So I'm okay this year with most of that being knocked out or half of that being knocked out we are still doing some Zoom stuff, but a lot of authors are really. That's it. So this is such a tough year for them because that whole chunk of their income is just gone.

Rob: And do you sort of do chunk that success in, say, lending rights and that sort of thing down to the type of books that you're producing? Does that ever come into consideration for, you know, continuing a series versus starting something new?

Rachel: Oh, definitely. Like, some people get upset with me when I end series and I'm quite cold about it. It's like for me, I will stop writing a series when Big W stops stocking it because there's no point me writing a book that Big W doesn't sell because that's, I'm just not selling the volume that I need to support my family. So yeah, that's the basically the series ends when Big W stops selling it and when it's like Friday Barnes, I'm actually having to come back to it because there's so much demand for it. It's like, okay, well yeah, you know, there's so much demand, I will come back and write a couple more. I stopped that series because it was those eight books and it was it's just very hard trying mystery novels and come up with lots of original ideas. So I just took a break from it for a while. But I've forgotten your original question. But yeah, the business does come into what you choose to write about.

Rob: And how hard is it too sort of switch gears? Say, if there's a there's demand for another instalment in a particular series? Say compared to what you were, what you'd prefer to be writing?

Rachel: It is definitely a gear switch, with particularly going back to Friday now to go back to mystery writing and say, OK, how am I going to do this and everything? But I'm very much used because when I started writing Nanny Piggins, I was doing Nanny Piggins and I was doing three or four TV jobs as well. So I'm used to having multiple worlds in my head where you have like, you know, so I have, say, two or three TV jobs, each with a whole backstory and cast of characters and locations. And so you gotta have all that imagery and personalities in your head as well as the book you're writing. So I'm very used to that. And my characters, their voices are quite consistent in my mind. But I have had to go back because the fans always remember stuff better than you because, you know, I would have written Friday Barnes over a period of four years, whereas they will sit down and read it all in three months and then they nitpick details that you got wrong. So I am actually have to go back and re-read all the Friday Barnes books just to make sure that I'm sort of on top of the detail. But I'm sure I make lots of mistakes. I always do.

Rob: Well, and no doubt when you were, you know, experiencing in TV and interacting with those, you know, different stories as well. So I know you've written for The Deep, which is a TV series on Netflix currently, which my kids absolutely love. How hard is it to sort of pick up on a train of thought that someone else has put together versus something that's come entirely for you?

Rachel: It's really hard. And that's what they beat you about the head with is, you know, you haven't got the voice of the character or you haven't got the spirit of the show. And it's very, very hard, particularly something like The Deep, where there's co-producers in L.A. and there's so much brinksmanship and gamesmanship in meetings with their culture in the TV industry over there is so intense. And so something like The Deep like Tom the Creator is really hands on with the script. And then the local producers, they've got input and there's the L.A. producers and then there's a bunch of brand people. So you gotta get your script, basically through, four or five different people's approval. And sometimes it just comes down to. They don't like you personally or they don't like something about your tone and the way you write. And yeah, it's very complicated. The hard part with writing TV is not the writing, the scripts. The hard part is figuring out how to make people happy and happy with what you've done and figuring out, like they say, never give a producer what they ask for. Give them what they want. And it's not the same thing.

Rob: Certainly challenging when, you know, everyone's personality and creativity is involved.

Rachel: You can get lots of cultural problems, too, like when I did. Sydney Sailboat on Bubble Bath Bay it's got a couple different titles. That was a Malaysian co-production. So it was an Australian production Malaysian co-production. That would have been a European co-producer as well. And I can't remember whether it was Canadian or North American. So you've got several different cultures and often you've got a German co-producer. And they're usually they live up to the cliche of being very pedantic about detail. But the Malaysian co-producers I literally had to read the Malaysian content code for Malaysian television standards, and that's a Muslim country, so they had some some different things. And you think they don't you see these like sweet little children's shows and you don't think all these poor writers that write this having to get their heads around three or four different cultural nuances just to write their script about a ship picking up rubbish in a harbour. It's there's so much that goes into the politics of writing. It's crazy.

Rob: And certainly there's a lot of detail in writing that we aren't really aware of. And you include a lot of say scientific references in your writing as well. And I know from seeing my kids watch the show, The Deep, that it's rooted in education, sort of thinly veiled as entertainment. Has that changed over time? And do you sort of include more of that now than what you started off with? Or is it just a habit of your writing?

Rachel: Actually something I've done right from the beginning. People have really noticed it when I started doing Friday Barnes because the character was super intelligent girl who read lots of books and she would talk about physics and chemistry and she would read a lot of novels. But I but no one noticed when I did it with a talking pig because they didn't expect it with a talking pig. But actually, if you go back and you look at Nanny Piggins, there's a there's a whole chapter that's a parody of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. There's a whole chapter about Hamlet. There's all these literary references. And there's a lot of talk about physics as well, because she's a she's a flying pig. So she often talks about the physics of being a flying pig. And ballistics and force equals mass times acceleration. And they test Newtonian physics by throwing things off the roof of the house. And then they talk about the chemistry of baking a souffle and the, you know, eggs losing their tertiary structure and there protein. So there's all this chemistry in that, too. But no one noticed because it's a book about a flying pig, and adult's didn't read it. And the reason I put all the science stuff in, because I love science and I'm interested in that because I didn't study at school. So I'm like a born again scientist in terms of I'm just as I came to as an adult with all my adult enthusiasm instead of having it beaten out of me having been forced to study it. And I consciously decided right from early on in Nanny Piggins to refer to like Lord of the Flies and Dickens. And there's references to the Twilight novels and things like that in Nanny Piggins, like a whole gamut of literature. I think she talks about Proost at one stage because I'd read a criticism of J.K. Rowling. I think it's by A. S. Bind or Blind. She was talking about how in all the Harry Potter series, none of the characters, they're all at school. They go to the library all the time. None of the characters ever read a fiction book. Now, this wasn't she was this criticism came out when there was about four or five books in the series at the end. Hermione does read Beedle the Bard, which is fiction. But I thought that was fascinating criticism. So because she said we're supposed to be as authors, role models encouraging children to read. So if we have children in not our characters, we should be showing them reading books. And I thought, well, that's that's cool. That's I can do that. So all my characters in all my books, they read novels all the time. Actually, the Pesky Kids don't so much but mainly because they're up with the Pesky Kids that's trying to get them out and about being outdoors. But certainly all the Friday Barnes and Nanny Piggins, they're always reading books.

Rob: That's very cool. And I think it's certainly a common vein, it makes adults and parents feel comfortable about buying them for their kids as well, because hopefully they learn something and aren't just entertained as well.

Rachel: Yeah, well, there's a. It's closed down now, but there was a bookstore in Melbourne called Embiggen Books and they were really into having books, novels for kids that had a science theme. So they loved the Friday Barnes books. So, yeah, now it is. It is good. And that's what I talking about. You know, a lot of books trying to have didactic learning. And I always try to not like really literally you will learn this and lay it out, whereas I try and get a lot of educational content, but not like hit the kids over the head. It's sort of like an undercurrent in the books. Like the characters are educated. They talk about educated things and that will flow through.

Rob: It's like like blending veggies into the pasta sauce.

Rachel: Yes exactly.

Rob: Not that any of us would ever do that to our kids.

Rachel: No, I did that literally last night. My trick is grading carrot they can't taste it.

Rob: That's awesome. So it's not a run out of time, but I do have a few quick questions that I'd love to ask you. If there was a single biggest lesson that you've learned in 20 years of writing. Could you pin that down to one thing?

Rachel: Oh, gosh. When people ask me things like that, I always say, get a good accountant, get an entertainment accountant. Like in terms of business advice. They say, write what what you want to write. Don't try and second guess people like as a novelist, that's important. But do market research like a lot of authors don't do market research. I do on my market research a Big W I go and stand in Big W and look at what sells. You don't want to spend six months or twelve months writing a book and then not you have to get it published. I'm not being able to sell. So my advice would probably be if I had one piece of advice, someone wanting to write books is do some market research.

Rob: Brilliant. Love that piece of advice, if you what would you say if you have one favourite book from any author other than yourself? What would that be?

Rachel: Well, for children, I would say, Hating Allison Ashley by Robin Klein, because I love it because it's a comedy book, it's about kids, but it's also a little of pathos, a little heart. And as an adult, as a comedy book, I'd go Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And as a proper grownup, I'd say Pride and Prejudice, because I love Jane Austen. She's the greatest comedy writer ever. It's just a bit hard work getting into it.

Rob: Awesome stuff. Did you have any mentors along the way or still have any mentors?

Rachel: No. I actually am a mentor at the moment. First time ever. I've really been. This is for me. It's a phenomena. I've only scene it come along lately. I'm very wary of it, particularly in comedy writing. There's a lot of people trying to take down other people's careers. So I wouldn't really question the motives of anyone who wanted to be my mentor. And also because I was a young girl and most of the people in my field were middle aged men. It would've just been creepy. And the other thing I've had is when I've gone to people for advice, I've always felt that they give you advice that they wouldn't take themselves. People give overly bold advice, you know, should I walk away from this job? Should I demand more money? People always like, yeah. hell yeah, you should demand more money. But if they were in that position, maybe they wouldn't, you know? So I'd be very, very wary of that. So my advice is always people, you know, trust your own judgment and, you know, be an adult, stand on two feet and think about it and make decisions for yourself. I mean, obviously, respect people and learn as much as you can. But, you know, particularly in television, it's a cruel business and people are out for themselves. You gotta be careful of people's motives.

Rob: Definitely wise words to heed. Do you have any advice for anyone who is looking to write or be published around discipline or any other aspect that you found really critical for your success?

Rachel: Well, definitely, discipline is the big thing. Like a lot of people, they think it's creative, you know, the muse hasn't struck me, haven't come up with something fantastic. It's like no. The single biggest thing standing between most want to be authors and being an author is they don't finish writing the book. And I would say it's like I run a marathon once and I will never do it again. It was horrible. But writing a book is like running a marathon. You just is like one foot at a time. Just you chip away. And I have always been blessed with very good work ethic. And I write books the way I studied for the HSC the way I was trained at my school to do it, which is you sit down and regardless of how you feel, whether you feel like having an inspired day or not, you get some work done. So if I've got a day where I'm supposed to be writing, I'll be kind to myself. I'll say minimum, write 500 words, hopefully write two thousand words, and so long as I get somewhere in there. But if you chip away 500 words a day, some days you get on a roll. We were talking about get on a flow, get on a flow. And maybe I'll write two thousand two hundred words. But somedays it's just hard and I'll stop at six hundred. But if you just do that every single day and at the end of three, four months you have a book and then you can edit the book and at the end of six months you've got something you can give to the publisher, but people don't have the discipline. Like when I write in Nanny Piggins, when I wrote the second book, I had a one day old baby when I got my book deal. So I wrote all the Nanny Piggins books with a baby in the house. And I she wasn't in daycare at all. I would do all the writing when she was asleep, when she went down for naps and I was so disciplined about it that as soon as she fell asleep, I'd have all these notes stuck to my computer of what I wanted to write on. And I would just go to my computer and I would go. And I found that if I could find two or three, 90 minute sessions a week and where I could just sit at my computer and write at the end of six months, I would have a book. But it's late. And as you think, I need like, say, two 90 minute sessions a week, everybody can find two 90 minute sessions in a week. But will you will you actually sit down and do that every single week for twenty five weeks? And most people won't. And even if you say that's what you gotta do, they still won't do it.

Rob: So it sounds like it's really around discipline, but also consistency and not just consistency for a book, but over a decade of writing.

Rachel: Yeah, it's consistency and I was watching you get on Facebook these ads come up for the masterclasses, you know, people like Lee Child and Margaret Atwood. And I've never done one because I'm cheap and I have no spare time. But I always figured the best tip is in is in the is in the ad anyway. And Lee Child was doing one the other day. He said his big tip was dare to suck. And I thought that is really good advice. But what I would say is just plow on even if you think it sucks, like a lot of people. They say they get writer's block because I think I said that I couldn't think of anything good. It's like when I can't think of anything good. I just write something down anyway. And it's amazing how often you come back. And you go, actually, this is a staggering work of genius. So it's just plowing on when it's hard and you've had a bad day and you didn't sleep well and your kids are sick and you've got a cold and you're hungry and but you've only got 30 minutes to write that day and you just do it anyway. That's that's what it's all about. It's just grinding through. I mean, Seinfeld talks about watching builders like construction workers walking back to the side after lunch and him as a comedy writer thinking that's the mentality I've got to have. I don't want to go back to the site after lunch, but you do because it's your job and as a writer you've just got to treat it the same way. I don't feel like writing. I'd rather take a nap. I'd rather go to the gym. But I'm going to sit here and write and then maybe I'll reward myself and go to the gym.

Rob: Just got to grind it out and keep grinding it out. So we're almost out of time, but is there anything that we haven't covered during this conversation that you really wish would have come up?

Rachel: No. But I would expect you to ask me about social media, because that's where all the marketing and stuff is these days and it's such a big part of our lives now. I guess you know all about that. So you don't need to know.

Rob: Is there anything that you have found in social media that that really is or really isn't working?

Rachel: I think authors spend too much time doing it. I think it's a huge time suck and it's, well, the thing with children's authors, too, is you got to be very careful because there's a lot of issues with drawing children into social media. But, yeah, it's but it's fun. I mean, it's a fun outlet, too, like I do enjoy doing all the silly things on Instagram. But you do wonder how much how much it actually affects whether it's just us doing things for other authors, you know, who actually is paying attention. So, yes, it is an interesting question how targeted it is. I mean, that's one of things I liked about doing a podcast, is you can see exactly who downloaded it and where. And, you know, like like I've got a lot of people downloading in Utah. So I think if I tour America again, I can find that children's bookshop in Utah. So that is like a useful way of using digital media where sometimes I think all this Instagram stuff, maybe not so much.

Rob: Maybe just spending too much time watching cat videos. Well, Rachel Spratt, this has been absolutely phenomenal discussion for anyone who wants to find books for their kids or themselves. Where can they find more about you?

Rachel: They can go to my website, raspratt.com, and there's a banner on there. The Book Depository. And you can click on it. You can get a signed book from my local bookstore. But any bookstore in Australia will have my books or they can order them in for you. So go to a local bookstore and support them. Bookstores, people don't realise this. They can order books from anywhere in the world for you. So just say you want something by RA Spratt.

Rob: Great. And your next book coming out. When can they expect that?

Rachel: My fifth book in the Pesky Kids series. Here is I think that's the third book in the Pesky Kid series. And I've got the big banner from the first one. So the next one comes out in August, the fifth and final one. It's actually really good. I've got this five part series and I've tied it all up really nicely. So I'm pretty proud of that. And then the one everyone's excited about is Friday Barnes nine will be out probably the first third of 2001. 2021.

Rob: I's the time vortex of COVID it's all fine.

Rachel: Yes

Rob: Rachel Spratt's, thank you so much for your time. It's been a really great discussion and I look forward to chatting again soon.

Rachel: No worries, thank you.

Rob: Thank you. There you have it. I hope you've really enjoyed this episode. And if you did, please like it, share it or leave us a review on your favourite platform. It helps us show more of this content to people just like you.

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