Not Just a Piece of Cake: Q&A with Hazel Edwards and Sarah Bacaller

November 8, 2021

 Hazel Edwards OAM, author of the much-loved children’s book series There’s a Hippopotamus On Our Roof Eating Cake amongst over 200 other books, has recently released her memoir, Not Just a Piece of Cake: Being an Author, as an audiobook, narrated by Erin Marie White. The book details her life as a self-described ‘authorpreneur’, juggling family life and a long-term writing career, mentoring aspiring writers, and ‘researching’ by adventuring to Antarctica and beyond.

Sarah Bacaller is a writer, audiobook producer and narrator from Melbourne, working with the company Voices of Today which produces public domain audiobooks and also works with contemporary authors. This year, Sarah has produced audiobooks by Australian authors including Hazel Edwards, Susanne Gervay, Kate Constable and Rashida Murphy. She has 40 titles on Audible and participates in solo, duet and full cast production audiobooks.

We chatted to Hazel and Sarah about bringing the memoir to life as an audiobook.

What inspired you to write this book, and adapt to audio?

 Hazel: Many writers are time-poor. They want to learn strategies to write better, and reading candid memoirs of practising authors helps. Being able to listen on audio while exercising or multi-tasking domestic stuff, is more manageable.

Sarah: I love working with authors – both upcoming and established – to make quality literature available above and beyond its current sphere. The popularity of audiobooks is growing at a rapid pace (8 years of consecutive double-digit growth in the US!). It makes sense for authors to get on board. Unfortunately, audiobooks and eBooks are not yet part of the Government’s Lending Right Schemes (though the ASA have been campaigning hard in the last two years, especially since the accessibility of print books has been diminished by pandemic restrictions). When this occurs, it is another way that audiobooks will add significantly to the income streams of authors, other rights holders and possibly narrators too.

Hazel Edwards. Photo by Say-Heidi.

What can we expect from your memoir?

Hazel: ‘Not Just a Piece of Cake’ takes the reader behind the books. Collaborating with illustrators, performers, co-authors and even family.  Heart tugging fan mail. Literary speed- dating with characters from a different perspective. Dealing with the Plateau of Boredom and the Map of Serendipity. But also, sharing ‘the process of the process of writing’ and why storytelling matters culturally, and personally, and why a 6-year-old knew she wanted to be an author.

In what ways would this book be inspiring to other writers?

 Hazel: It discusses the reality of being an author when you also have a family; strategies for those contemplating writing as a life/workstyle; the impact of creating stories which skill the reader to ‘be’ someone different.  Mysteries. Non- fiction. Crime. The busy-ness of long term creativity including poignant fan mail, ideas, collaboration, author touring and multi-media. Unusual structuring based on ‘anecdultery’ and response to common questions rather than the chronological boredom from which many memoirs suffer. ‘Not Just a Piece of Cake’ suggests writing is not easy, but can be very satisfying and links the child reader’s cake-eating hippo with adult writing strategies too.

Slices of an adventurous life behind & beyond the beloved hippo eating cake on the roof. Why being an Antarctic expeditioner or trekking in Nepal is research. Literary speed dating with Hippo answers to common questions asked of the character.

Diverse workstyle of the mind behind the fantasy of writing children’s books, long-term.

How much research is involved in your writing?

Hazel: A lot.  For the adult fiction and nonfiction, I’ve researched /participated on an Antarctic expedition, interviewed over 25 celebrants for ‘Celebrant Sleuth: I Do or Die’, and travelled on The Ghan outback. For many of the children’s stories, I eavesdrop.  An unusual viewpoint, phrase or funny situation is the basis of most picture books.

Collaborating with someone from THAT culture or with that skill is another way of researching for example; Hijabi Girl, Difficult Personalities, etc.Co-writing with someone more skilled in that medium e.g. Geoffrey Wright and the script adaptation of ‘Wed Then Dead on The Ghan’.


Why adapt a print story into e-book and audio?

Hazel: To reach a wider readership and enable switching between mediums. Because each of the chapters is self-contained, it appeals to those with limited time to listen/read in segments in their favoured medium.

Audio is valuable for those wishing to improve their literacy, or for whom English is a second language. Those with eye issues can change the size of the font for e-books.

I chose Voices of Today rather than narrate myself because I’m not a professional actor. I’ve audio recorded ‘Celebrant Sleuth’ in a studio for Audible’ but it takes me twice as long.  I have recorded my short picture books successfully but they were done in one session in a studio.

I also liked the suggestion of including a clip from Garry Ginivan’s ‘Hippo Hippo’ the musical as an introduction. That was one of the most creatively satisfying productions in which I have been involved across all my books.

Sarah: We all know the convenience of eBook readers (taking our libraries with us everywhere!) and of audiobooks (folding washing just got a whole lot more interesting!). These platforms expand access to the written word exponentially – so it makes sense for authors to make the most of them! For this reason, it’s so important that the Lending Rights Schemes are expanded to include eBook and audiobook formats.

Sarah Bacaller, producer at Voices of Today

What did you enjoy about working on Hazel’s audiobook memoir?

 Sarah: As a writer with a young family, I became thoroughly absorbed in Hazel’s recounted adventures. There were many intelligent observations, tips and tricks for making the most of time, ideas and experiences. Hazel’s quick wit often had me laughing out loud, and her candid reflections on some of the more complex aspects of life resonated and encouraged me. It was a great book to produce – and a total privilege to encounter the author who wrote those Hippo books (that were read to me as a child, and that my Mum now reads my own kids!)

What is the value in producing a book like this in audio form?

Sarah: In a way, it gives it a new type of life. Erin is giving voice to Hazel’s words – so there is a degree to which an author relinquishes creative control and leaves it in the hands of the narrator – and that is a type of generosity that opens a text to new readers (or listeners). I am a total audiobook addict – while also being addicted to print books, writing and ideas in various forms – so I can sing the praises of audiobooks all day. But in this case, it has relaunched a title published some years ago, and has increased its visibility and accessibility to people who, for a whole lot of reasons, either need or want to listen with their ears, rather than read with their eyes.

What are the relational dynamics between audiobook producer, narrator and author?

Sarah: It depends who you talk to and who they work for! Voices of Today is a small, independent producer. I like authors to be able to choose their narrator, and to introduce them to each other. That can be a really productive relationship. All the authors I’ve worked with so far have been wonderful in giving space to the narrator to ‘do their thing’. As the co-ordinator of that relationship, I’m very conscious of both respecting one another’s boundaries and work. So far, that’s gone really well! As producer, I was checking in with both Erin (narrator) and Hazel, sending project updates. I also did the project proof listening and editing, so it was a very hands on process – partly because we are a small company! But it was a real delight and I’m proud of having been part of it.

Sarah lives and works on Bunurong/Boon Wurrung land. Hazel lives in Blackburn on Wurrunjeri land.

‘Not Just a Piece of Cake: Being an Author’ is available now in print, ebook, and audiobook formats. For further information, visit Hazel’s website here.




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