Getting to know our shortlisted authors: Trace Balla

Over the next few weeks we’ll introduce you to the six shortlisted authors on the Readings Children’s Book Prize 2015. Who are they? Where do their ideas come from? What do they love to read? What do they love to snack on?

We hope you’ll share these mini interviews with your children.


Trace Balla, from Castlemaine, has a background in illustration and community arts. Her debut was Rivertime, a graphic novel about a boy who, initially reluctant to leave behind the comforts of toys and computer screen, ends up having the time of his life on a boat trip with his Uncle Egg. A beautiful and very moving picture book called Shine comes out next month, and rumour has it that Rivertime may have a standalone sequel, which here at Readings we are extremely excited about!

1. What were you like as a kid?

I spent a lot of time in my favourite spot, up a tree in my garden. Otherwise I was often hanging out on my Dragstar bike or with our dear dog Sha, or drawing in my bedroom overlooking that tree in the garden. I remember how I was struggling to draw people’s hands so I used to put them in their pockets. Now I just let them have wonky hands!

2. When did you first want to be a writer?

I believe us humans can all sing, dance, make art, and write… just some people get paid for it. I’ve been writing letters to friends across the planet, often filled with sketches and doodles for most of my life. Having a son inspired me to make him lots of little picture books, some of which have since become recorded songs. ‘The Trusty Rusty Bike’ is my favourite. When I hear the song I feel happy, just like I do when I’m gliding down a hill on my bike. I also wrote a song about my experience paddling whilst on the Glenelg River. I have made several animations, which start with drawing and writing storyboards.

3. How did Rivertime begin?

The little seed was a beautiful wooden canoe that I spent ten days in on the Glenelg River, with my partner Greg. Of course my trusty journal came along too, and by the end was overflowing, and ready to be twisted into a story! The river’s natural beauty and remoteness from the modern world really affected me. Sitting in a silent boat with a keen bird watcher sparked my growing interest in birds.

4. What is your favourite scene in the book?

I like the night scene where they’re paddling on the river. It takes me back there. And when they have dinner on the boat… oh, and the swimming wallaby (yes, we did see one).

5. How did the book get its contract?

A dear friend told me about some funding from the Australian Society of Authors to develop children’s books, due in two days! I had just returned from the river and thought if I made our story of travelling on the river about a kid and his uncle, then the story would be worth sharing with kids, especially city kids.

This is my first published book, and aiming for a graphic novel was like setting off on a huge adventure into the unknown. So when I saw a workshop for comic makers I booked in. But I was the only one who did! So I took the teacher out for lunch, showed him what I was up too, and quizzed him on any clues on how to go about such an ambitious undertaking. He gave me some great advice, as well as introduced me to Erica Wagner, the publisher at Allen and Unwin. She really trusted and understood what I was aiming for.

6. What were some of your favourite books when you were a kid?

I loved Pippi Longstocking - she was so mischievous. Also loved the whimsical The Little Prince and Storm Boy. I wanted to be like him, roving around in the wild with a bird friend.

7. What was the last book you loved?

The Encyclopedia Of Early Earth , a graphic novel by Isabel Greenberg. I really admire her combination of words and images, and the story and characters are just so quirky!

8. What is your ultimate ambition as a writer?

I’d love to keep on getting books into libraries, and out to people for the rest of my life! I love that Rivertime and the workshops I’ve been running related to the book are getting readers inspired to care more about this beautiful planet.

I recently spent a week with 500 kids making local bird posters for the Castlemaine Festival. For some of those kids it may spark a lifelong interest in birds. So I guess my ambition extends well beyond the books, which are like a stepping stone for myself and the readers. I could also imagine Rivertime as a beautiful film.

My latest book with Allen and Unwin is Shine, a children’s book about death. I hope if faced by loss of someoneclose to them, readers may find some comfort and insight. I wrote it specifically for my niece at a hugely difficult time.

9. If you won the RCBP, who is the first person you would tell and how would you celebrate?

Uncle Egg and Clancy… whoops, I mean my partner Greg and my son Joe! It’s easy to get them confused! I reckon we’d take some fish and chips out for dinner in the canoe.

10. What is your preferred writing snack?

Seeds, a bit of fruit… like a bird, really!

The six books on the shortlist can be purchased together at a special discounted price by clicking here. Books can be purchased individually here. All the books are available in store.

Find out more about the Readings Children’s Book Prize here.

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Cover image for Rivertime


Trace Balla

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