Jane Tara’s first book, the children’s travel activity book, Around the World in 80 Days–80 Fun Things to Do With Little Travelers on Long Trips, became the genesis for Jane’s path as a travel fiction writer for kids and the inspiration for the company she co-owns with her partner, Dominique. Jane’s passion for teaching young people through the art of fiction has led to a number of books and e-books for kids. In our interview today, she talks about the future of the publishing industry (and her love for e-books) as well as how her stories have inspired young people to explore the world. Come check out their site here!
How did you get started in the writing and publishing industry?
I started as a playwright, won a few awards, including one in New York, which got me an agent. I had a novel published, and had a couple of screenplays in development for a while. I’ve also written over twenty children’s picture books, which are published in Korea, worked on some documentaries, and done a lot of freelance travel writing for magazines and newspapers. Over time I found myself consulting for authors as well as writing so starting my own publishing business was the amalgamation of that.
Let’s say you were starting from scratch and wanted to write fictional travel stories. What advice would you give to this person?
Make sure that’s what you want to write. And write about the places you know. Really transport yourself there while you write. Good travel writing is infused with smells and sounds and small discoveries, especially the writer’s/character’s internal ones. Great travel tales, fictional or not, are always about more than just the geographical journey.
Where do you see your career at Itcheefeet.com being three years from now? How will your income mix change and what do you plan to do in order to adapt to the changing media landscape?
Ideally we’ll have more staff, so that Dom and I can concentrate more on the aspects of the business we’re passionate about. We’re excited about an animated series we’re developing, that can be delivered via multiple platforms, from TV to interactive whiteboards. Ultimately, I’m hoping that the income from all this will allow us to travel even more. We have a large family so even budget travel is outrageously expensive. I’m always happy when I have one small bag and I’m on the road with my kids. I want more of that.
Tell us a little bit about Itcheefeet.com. What gave you the idea to market travel to kids and what do you hope your books inspire them to do?
I lived overseas for 14-years, during which time I worked at various international schools. It occurred to me that there were an enormous number of these “global kids” at international schools around the world, and yet no one was telling their story.
I had my first son, and travelled with him for five years non-stop. I used my experience as a teacher and writer to create original games and activities for him while we were on the road. I wanted him to engage with the travel experience. I wanted him to really take part in our adventures, to learn from them, and be excited by the world. I couldn’t find the books and games I was looking for, so made them up myself. The seeds of Itchee Feet were planted.
I spent years developing the idea before I decided to go for it. I discussed it with my partner, Dominique, on a plane, which is appropriate. We were on our way to Slovenia. By the time we’d landed we’d fully mapped out Itchee Feet. We’d even decided on the spelling of Itchee Feet—we wanted four Es: To educate, to engage, to entertain and to excite.
Unlike a lot of the writers we feature, you write fiction—not non-fiction. Do you see a significant difference in these genres, or do they accomplish generally the same goal for you?
We believe they achieve the same goal. I’m a huge fan of travelogues, from Victorian traveler writers to contemporary writers. Great travel writing makes me want to jump on a plane and visit the place I’m reading about. Even more than that… it makes me feel like I already have been there. But how do you deliver travel literature to children, and have the same impact? Travel fiction for kids is an entirely new genre. We spent a great deal of time developing the formula. What is the best way to introduce a country, a culture to a child? Language really is the key to a culture, but can you still open that door if you don’t speak the language? We think you can through the great stories and legends. So while we focus on one country per book, the portal into that culture is a legend or tale that has meaning for its people. And while the delivery of these tales is in an entertaining format—a kids’ adventure series—we’re careful about how we approach the telling of the tale. Dominique has a PhD in cross-cultural research, so we take the manner in which we deal with and portray other cultures very seriously.
Itchee Feet centers around a fictional family called the Feet family. Can you tell us about that?
Anyone who visits our website will be greeted by the Feet Family. They’re a rather eccentric travelling family, and each character is a portal into different stories. I created the family when I wrote a book for teens called The Daisy Diaries. Daisy Feet is an expat teen who has just settled into school in Sydney when her rather bohemian parents announce that they’re moving again—to Japan. We’ll be releasing The Daisy Dairy series next.
I had the idea for Bella & Burton’s Misadventures, which revolves around Daisy’s younger siblings, twins Bella and Burton, but I knew I’d need someone else to write the series, as my expertise is writing for the picture book and teen/adult market. I decided to track down Stephen Skelton, a bestselling author I knew from New Zealand. Stephen writes very well for the 7-11-year-old reader. By coincidence, I found Stephen living in Japan, working at the very international school I’d loosely based The Daisy Diaries on.
Eventually we’ll branch into kids travel guides, more activity books, and also books for younger readers. But for now we’re concentrating on the fiction.
On your website, you talk a little bit about what you call “the digital revolution” with ebooks and education. While many writers openly fear the demise of the book, you—like us at Travel Writing 2.0—are excited by the possibilities the digital turn holds, especially for kids! How are your ebooks doing in terms of revenue versus your print books?
Our ebooks are doing OK, and certainly picking up traction, but we’re constantly being asked to provide hardcopy books too… especially to schools, for libraries etc. It’s something we might consider, for the short term, but people need to accept that the landscape for kids content is changing. There are countries, like South Korea, where school will be completely paper-free within the next couple of years. It’s a massive change. We need to keep up with that. Children do naturally keep up with that, but they still need their parents or educators to buy the books, and schedule in the time for them to play with iPads etc. I don’t want to see the demise of the traditional book, and I don’t believe we will. That’s not even the issue anymore. It’s quite simple—as parents we must allow our kids the opportunities to keep up with the technologies. So what if your child reads their books on an iPad? They’re still reading. Our niche core market responds to the idea—after all, it’s travel. Who wants to lug five books onto a plane when you can carry five hundred on your iPad? But the idea of sitting down and reading your kids a bedtime story from a Kindle still hasn’t taken off. It will though.
Jane is an award-winning author, with over two dozen children’s books and a novel to her name. She writes for the English education market, especially in Asia. She has spent twenty years living and traveling overseas and taught drama and English at schools all over the world. She was a magazine columnist for two years, where she advised on all areas of parenting. She worked as a writer and consultant on the hit series Cool School Antarctica, and has had articles published in Sunday Telegraph/Sunday Magazine, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Telegraph, The Age, The Courier Mail, Marie Claire, New Woman (UK), Wanderlust, Romantic Times, The Northern Star and the Japan Times. Her first book for Itchee Feet was the children’s travel activity book, Around the World In 80 Ways–80 Fun Things To Do With Little Travellers On Long Trips, which got great reviews. Jane and her partner Dominique live in Bondi Beach, Australia with their four sons.
Interview conducted in May, 2012 by Kristin Mock.