Jennifer books her place for a twilight career
For as long as she can remember – and that’s a long time – Jennifer Poulter has loved to write. Her first work, a book of poetry, had been published by the time she finished school.
But, as for many, life intervenes and passion doesn’t translate to career. For almost half a century she built a colourful CV, with “circus worker” among the jobs.
Like other CV entries, it was grist for the mill that would give the 68-year-old grandmother a perfect combination of skills and passion to launch a business just when her peers were drawing down on their super.
Jennifer was born in Sydney and was 11 when her family moved to the Gold Coast. She won a scholarship to the University of Queensland and studied social work.
“But it wasn’t for me. There was too much red tape,” she says.
She switched to an arts degree and it was between semesters that she joined the circus, working as a gopher and looking after lighting and ushering at Ashton’s.
“It was a bit of fun,” she says. But it also expanded her experiences and inspiration for her children’s stories that were to come decades later.
After finishing uni, Jennifer worked at the State Library in William St, another useful incubator for a twilight career.
“I made a career as a librarian, at various times working with reference books, lending, rare books, and the history collection at the John Oxley,” she says.
“Then family intervened and by the time I got back to the library it was a totally different workplace, one where computers had replaced lending cards.”
And so there was another step, unknowingly taken, that would provide a present salary and a future business.
Jennifer became an academic editor, helping foreign students prepare their assignments for submission.
“At one stage I had 21 Indonesian students. They have a totally different grammatical structure.
“While they understood and had no trouble with an oral assignments, getting it on to paper was another story,” she says.
“I came up with the idea of recording them when they spoke their work and then I would transcribe it and help them turn the spoken word into the written word. It was very time consuming but it did lead me to a huge range of subjects. I had to get my head around all the subject matter.” She remains in contact with many of the students.
Next, she joined the Queensland Studies Authority as a senior education officer. Devising assessment packages and curriculum-based materials for teachers from pre-school to year 12 was also to give her some handy skills.
When the QSA ceased to exist she returned to UQ and did a lot of writing and editing.
And then all the puzzle pieces of her past began to come together for doing what she loved most of all.
Jennifer’s five children – three singles and twins – and now four grandchildren aged three months to nine years, are a constant source of inspiration.
She had never stopped dabbling with writing and in 2009, her book Mending Lucille started winning awards, and among others, was in the top 10 Children’s Choice for children’s and young adult books.
It’s about a little girl whose mother leaves, inexplicably gone, when she wakes up and tells her story through her doll Lucille.
It has a message and is used for bibliotherapy in the US, Malta and Australia “that I know of” to help with counselling children and families.
Many of her stories have a message, covering such issues as toilet training and anxiety, that help change attitudes.
The Sea Cat Dreams is also used for bibliotherapy.
It’s about coping with dramatic change – disaster, flood, fire or loss – through the eyes of a child.
“I was being published by big publishers of children’s books but I hadn’t always had the best experience, so I thought that there must be some way I could do this myself,” she says.
“I began sharing my books with free downloads to schools and families in socially deprived areas.”
There were hundreds of thousands of downloads. And Word Wings, her publishing company, was born.
“I found myself in charge of a publishing business at 65,” Jennifer says.
While never at a loss for words, literally, she now had to familiarise herself with other aspects of book production, working with designers and illustrators.
“The creative part is awesome, it’s marketing and promotion that’s the slog,” she says. “Costs are high and I’m not an accountant; and I don’t naturally dance naked on tabletops, but you have to get attention.”
Soon she was collaborating with artists and designers in 22 different countries and was able to draw on a lifetime of networks – heads of acquisition in libraries and schools – to place the product, and get royalties for everyone.
“At first I could hear my old contacts freezing over, but when they saw the books and that it was a good product, I got the thumbs up from senior people in the industry.
“People are responding to the product and love the original stories and design.”
She’s still writing and Word Wings now has a wide selection of books, schools are cataloguing them and Jennifer regularly does talks, workshops and readings in schools and libraries.
She has also won awards and five-star reviews from international sites but more importantly, the books are getting into schools for kids to enjoy.
“It’s a later life career for sure,” she says. “I’m always having to find ways of doing things, but if you are determined you will find a way.
“It has been a huge learning curve, not just to write the books but create the whole product. And I am still learning.”