Olive's Birthday Choosy Olive Series Book 1
by Elizabeth & Roger Milbourn Genre: Children's Picture Book
Olive is very excited about her birthday! What presents will she get? What sort of party will she have? What will her birthday cake be like? Help Olive Choose. In this first book of the Choosy Olive series, the reader gets to decide how Olive's birthday unfolds. See if you can dodge the odd outcomes. Help children feel empowered and learn about the consequences of choice from an early age in a fun and silly way with Olive as she embarks on her day to day childhood journey.
Elizabeth and Roger's children's book, Olive’s Birthday, has been a work in progress for over 5 years. Life got in the way a bit as did running around after their young children. Olive’s Birthday is the first book in the 'Choosy Olive' series, which allows readers to choose how the stories unfold. Elizabeth and Roger wanted to create something a bit different in a picture book and are passionate about giving children choices (within appropriate boundaries!) to empower them. Elizabeth is an avid reader and will read anything and everything but can barely go a day without an Agatha Christie fix. Roger loves children's books and reading to their children and is partial to a non-fiction. Elizabeth is Australian but has called England her home for nearly two decades. Her and Roger (originally from Liverpool) live in the Worcestershire countryside with their two children and quite a lot of pets. When not writing or reading, they spend most of their time washing mud off the children and the dog.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I am Australian and came to the UK to work in London as a lawyer. I was only planning to stay for a year or so but that was nearly 20 years ago. I am now living in the English countryside with my English husband, two children and lots of pets.
I started writing children’s stories about 6 years ago after having my own children. I have always loved reading and books and I wanted my kids to love them too.
On my son’s birthday one year we were looking for a book about a birthday on his bookshelves and we couldn’t find one. So, ‘Olive’s Birthday’ was born! It was originally named after my son, but once I’d had my daughter, I thought I’d better change to a neutral name. I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books as a child, and we wanted to recreate that concept, but for younger children. I am now focusing on writing full-time. My husband co-wrote ‘Olive’s Birthday’ and the children also helped especially with coming up with the ideas for choices. It’s great to discover how their minds work.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
My children think I am very weird! This is mainly related to my cooking and baking.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
A bird pooed on my face the day before my husband proposed and he saw it as good luck!
What are some of your pet peeves?
So many, I am quite impatient. I think the main one is when there is technology to make life easier but then it doesn’t always work eg Alexa, a great idea but it drives me mad when she doesn’t do what she is told!
Where were you born/grew up at?
I was born in Sydney and grew up there and then in Adelaide in Australia.
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
Somewhere in nature (probably the beach if not too cold!) with my husband and kids and the dog, eating cake and chocolate.
Who is your hero and why?
I have a few but Agatha Christie is my writing hero. I’m a little bit obsessed with her. She was just wonderful, and I wish I could have met her. She was so clever and such a prolific writer who led such an interesting life. I read her books over and over and at the moment am on a mission to read them all in order. I find her very inspiring.
What kind of world ruler would you be?
I’d be an eco-friendly hippy!
What are you passionate about these days?
My three main passions are books, nutrition (hence the quirky cooking) and the environment.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
Read a book! Or a paper or a magazine or articles on whatever I am currently researching. There is nothing better than a nice cup of tea and sitting on the sofa reading. I also like doing yoga and walking the dog in our beautiful surrounding countryside. With the kids, we like to play board games. We have some very silly ones and they are particularly fond of the ones that involve throwing things at each other (eg Throw, Throw Burrito) or ones that make a big mess (eg Pie Face).
How to find time to write as a parent?
Very good question. I am lucky that I am focusing on raising my family and writing at the moment and am not juggling being an employee too. But it is still really hard. I realised recently that I need to switch things around and leave things like housework and errands and general life admin and first and foremost just write. This can mean doing laundry late into the night though. I also find it helps to schedule it into my weekly planner which I update and print out every Monday morning. I always work better to a deadline and so I set myself weekly writing goals and deadlines.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
A people pleasing, outgoing introvert.
Do you have a favorite movie?
The Sound of Music
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
I can imagine Olive having her own TV series which is interactive, and the viewers get to choose how the episode goes or maybe a game.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I am on a permanent Agatha Christie pilgrimage. We visited her house at Greenway in Devon last summer. We also visited Hay-on-Wye on the (Welsh/English border) last year, which is touted as the world’s first book town. It is full of book shops and was inspiring and like a step back in time. It has a big annual literary festival and I hope to go to that this year.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I like the freedom that a dolphin has gliding through the ocean.
What inspired you to write this book?
Being unable to find a book about birthdays on my son’s bookshelf on his birthday one year. Wanting to write stories for and with my children and a childhood love of Choose Your Own Adventure books.
What can we expect from you in the future?
We are working on other books in the ‘Choosy Olive’ series. The next one is ‘Olive Gets a Puppy’ where the reader gets to choose the breed of puppy, its name and where it goes on its first puppy outing.
I am also working on a children’s picture book series about the environment and a novel. Plus, I am about to launch a website helping people to make eco-friendly changes in their home.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Olive's Birthday?
Olive, wearing her customary blue boiler suit, knows that girls can do anything these days. She could handle herself in a playground scuffle and she is just as content climbing trees as she is playing with soft toys. She has a diverse bunch of mates, and they love having adventures together.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
The book and the characters have gone through quite a lot of versions since inception! Initially it was a little boy named after my son as the main character, but then I had my daughter and thought we’d better be more neutral. I also decided that there were enough children’s books with boy protagonists. We wanted to create something for our children and something a bit different in a children’s book (parents read children’s book over and over and over again). Having loved Choose Your Own Adventures books as a child, I wondered if this could be adapted to a younger audience ie the age my son was at the time, in a picture book.
We are passionate about parenting our children in an empowering way, rather than an old-fashioned authoritarian way (do what I said because I said so). We find giving our children choices within reasonable boundaries really rewarding and so we wanted to incorporate this into the book.
Olive is loosely based on an amalgamation of my two children and the stories are based on real life things our family has done.
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
I think in one version of the book, Olive was going to be an orangutan and it was simple alliteration!
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Inspiring my kids to read and to write stories. Reading and writing is probably the most important skill kids are going to learn and for them to enjoy it just makes me feel warm and fuzzy.
Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick?
Olive loves the outdoors and playing with her friends. She loves exploring and she loves animals.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I have learnt so much about writing and the industry over the last few years. It has been a very steep learning curve. The main thing is to try to have some patience as all the stages of writing and publishing move slowly. The main wisdom other writers and anyone in the industry give to me is to not give up. If it is your dream to be a successful writer, just keep trying and trying. So that’s what I am doing.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
I can see Olive having an interactive series on TV, like Bear Grylls. My daughter is quite theatrical, maybe she could play Olive.
Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
No matter who you are and what you like, there will be books out there that you will enjoy.
How did you come up with name of this book?
Initially it was a little boy named after my son as the main character, but then I had my daughter and thought we’d better be more neutral. I also decided that there were enough children’s books with boy protagonists. I think the name Olive came from alliteration where in one of the versions of the book she was an orangutan. I also think Olive goes well with ‘choosy.’
What is your favorite part of this book and why?
I think I like the silly options best. It is fun seeing how kids react to them and trying to avoid them next time. I particular like the Slug cake.
If you could spend time with a character from your book who would it be? And what would you do during that day?
Well, I do really as my husband and I are the parents in the book and Olive is an amalgamation of our two children. In the book we’re doing things that we have done as a family.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
The characters are based on our family. The mum and dad are based on my husband and myself and Olive is an amalgamation of our two children.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story, or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
Choosy Olive definitely has a mind of her own.
Convince us why you feel your book is a must read.
-something a bit different in a children’s picture book
-the possibility of a different outcome each time you read it
-nostalgia for parents if they loved Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid
-help kids learn about the consequences of choice from an early age in a fun and silly way
-kids get to take control of how the story goes
-giving kids choices helps to empower them and can reduce power struggles and subsequent meltdowns
-it is educational! The choices are made using colours and numbers
Have you written any other books that are not published?
Yes, I have written another 4 or 5 in this series and I have written one children’s picture book in another series about the environment (and I am writing a novel too).
If your book had a candle, what scent would it be?
Something woody to represent nature and adventure or maybe cake.
Is there a writer which brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
Agatha Christie of course as she is my writing hero, but in this genre I think maybe Julia Donaldson of the Gruffalo fame (and all the rest). We all love her books and she just keeps coming up with the goods. I met Cressida Cowell at a Literature Festival, and she was wonderful, I’d love to pick her brain too as I think she is a fascinating character.
Fun Facts/Behind the Scenes/Did You Know?'-type tidbits about the author, the book or the writing process of the book.
It is terrifying giving the final sign off before the book gets sent to the printers! Having said that ‘Olive’s Birthday’ is print on demand around the world to be more eco-friendly. This means for example if you order the books in the US, it gets printed in the US and dispatched from there.
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
-Agatha Christie, tough to say which of hers I love best, probably a Poirot one.
-Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
-My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin
-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Recently I’ve loved:
-Love Marriage by Monica Ali
-Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
-Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Gamus
In picture books, anything by Julia Donaldson or Oliver Jeffers.
What book do you think everyone should read?
The dictionary! I love my dictionary and also my thesaurus. My son rolls his eyes every time I grab it to look something up. We have races to see if he can look up a word quicker online than I can with the hard copy dictionary. Dictionary usually wins. I tell him that it is so amazing as it is a book that has every single word in it. He usually just asks me what swear words it has. (I also loved ‘The Dictionary of Lost Words’ by Pip Williams which is a novel about lexicographers collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary.)
How long have you been writing?
I think it all started as scribbled words in a scruffy notebook (which I still have somewhere) about 6 years ago or so.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
I find most of my ideas come to me at random times. I have notes everywhere as I tend to forget them if I don’t write them down. The writing comes to me as I am writing but I usually have the characters planned in advance. Sometimes they do go off piste though and get a mind of their own.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
I love research, maybe it is the lawyer in me. I am always reading essentially and getting a lot of kind friends and family to read drafts and give their opinion on ideas. Mostly I get my kids views and I also ask their friends.
Do you see writing as a career?
That’s my ultimate dream and I try to visualise it regularly.
What do you think about the current publishing market?
It is as tough as ever to break into, but that is a good thing, I guess. I love the whole industry and think it is all very glamorous and just fascinating.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?
I read anything and everything, although I don’t love anything too distressing or disturbing. I am a bit of a wimp. My favourite is of course Agatha Christie and I read her books over and over. I love reading kids books, especially magical stuff like Harry Potter. I love Julia Donaldson’s picture books and I also love non-fiction. At the moment I have about 5 books on the go.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I like to have noise. There is not a lot of silence in my house. I have to have white noise type stuff though like the radio. If I put just music on I tend to get distracted singing the lyrics.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
Several on the go at one time. Three at the moment.
If you could have been the author of any book ever written, which book would you choose?
I think probably ‘And Then There were None’ By Agatha Christie. It is a masterpiece.
Pen or type writer or computer?
Pen and computer. I used to be all pen and then have to type it up and I have tried to stop myself doing that. I do love real writing with a pen though, however, my writing is quite scrawly, especially if ideas are flowing and I am writing really fast so maybe best to stick to the computer.
A day in the life of the author?
It can vary quite a lot, mainly depending on the kids. Once they’re at school, I usually do some yoga or other exercise. I had a spinal injury a few years ago and so need to do a lot of exercise. I then get to my desk and write or do other writing related things like draft pitches to agents or engage online with my fellow writing group peeps. I do this whilst trying to ignore the state of the house and other distractions as well as trying not to snack and drink coffee every half an hour.
Lunch and a dog walk (and other pet related chores) and then more of the same until school pick up. The school day seems to go very fast! Evenings are then spent with the kids, making dinner, homework, crazy board games or card games. Restoring some order to the house in between and after bedtimes and then flop on the sofa with my husband to relax, whilst replying to messages and sorting logistics for the rest of the week. I aways read when I go to bed.
Do you have any advice to offer for new authors?
Don’t give up!
What makes a good story?
Interesting things happening to interesting characters.
What are you currently reading?
I usually have a few on the go and I got loads of books for Christmas. I am currently reading:
-Why Didn’t They Ask Evans by Agatha Christie
-How to Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie
-No More Plastic by Martin Dorey
-A book about bee conservation called A Sting in the Tail by Dave Goulson
-You’ve Got This, 101 was to boost your confidence… By Domonique Bertolucci
-Menopausing by Davina McCall
-My Hygge Home by Meik Wiking
My son also adds books he has read and liked to my pile eg the ‘Boy at the Back of the Class’ by Onjali Rauf and ‘Spaceboy’ by David Walliams.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Absolutely. I have not experienced it so far thankfully, but I do have ideas block sometime, where my brain is just not in the right zone to figure out a writing issue and I have to leave it and come back to it another time.