Charlotte Rose Hamlyn is someone you might not recognise whilst walking down the street, that is unless you have kids. She is one of the quirky presenters on Get Arty!, like a modern remake of Art Attack. You’d probably recognise the previous programs she worked on, namely Blinky Bill and Tashi. She recently published a children’s graphic novel, ‘Opposite Land’, telling the story of a new kid in school who journeys through the wonderful world of Opposite Land to find herself and her self-confidence. A modern Alice in Wonderland. I sat down with her to talk about how she got where she is and what brought her into the wonderful world of children’s writing.
What advice would you give to people who want to make the ‘creative’ jump?
Sometimes in creative careers, you can’t necessarily make a direct jump from working in a café to doing whatever it is that you want to do. I don’t think you always need to make that jump, there is an in-between solution. Especially in an industry like film, or animation or writing. If you can’t immediately do the thing that you want to do professionally and jump straight into that then you can at least be around people who do that professionally and that is actually incredibly valuable.
So that was your start in animation, where did you go next?
I went to another studio that made kids TV (Blinky Bill). I was this frustrated creative in a production role. They were like “ohhh you can write!” and I was like “yeah, I just spent four or so years in Adelaide writing constantly.” They gave me a go at writing scripts, and they liked them, so they gave me more. I realised: this is what I want to do. I don’t want to be running an office. I could have stayed there and had a comfy job or at least a stable job that paid good money compared to the zero dollars I had always been used to living on. Or, I could go out and take this leap of faith and hope that it worked out, that people took me seriously as a writer. I remember it being a big risk. I had a budget, I had a buffer. I knew I had this much money and I can survive this many months without getting any work and after that I would have to come grovelling back: “PLEASE GIVE ME A JOB!”
So how long did you go on that ‘buffer’ time?
6 months. I had 6 months budgeted and my budget had no give in it. Basically, I budgeted out my rent, I averaged out my gas bills for the last 3 years, calculated the minimum I could spend at ALDI. I’d ride my bike to ALDI and just buy the cheapest stuff. I had no money for eating out. I budgeted out a coffee a day, just to get me out of the house and not go crazy.

A lot of my friends and family and all those people who worry about me (naturally) asked: “why don’t you stay at your comfortable job and do the writing at the same time?” But essentially, if you’re writing or doing whatever your creative pursuit is on top of a full time job, it gets very hard. It’s shoved into your weekends and weeknights and there is a limit to how much you can do. You don’t have a life.

More importantly, what I realised was that as long as I stay in a production role, people would think of me as this production coordinator and not as a writer. It’s more of a mindset that people have around you. So I thought, if I quit, I could just go around to everyone I know that could potentially give me work: “Charlotte Rose Hamlyn: Writer. Pleased to meet you.” Then people would stop saying, “Oh, you’re that coordinator who sometimes writes.” It made a big difference. Just in the nick of time I got it. I got a script. It was just one script, to test me out. But it was just enough to keep me going.
Was there ever a point where you were not script fit? How do you deal with perfectionism?
I remember that whatever the deadline they gave me was, I would have used every minute of it. Been up, an anxious mess most nights. It’s nerve wracking. It still is. I have worked with quite a few studios now and a number of different people have been happy with my work. If someone were to turn around now and say “you’re rubbish, you’re a terrible writer,” I don’t think I’d take it so personally. I’d just be like Matthew McConaughey and be like “well, that’s just your opinion, man.” Whereas back when you’re starting out and you have no money and you’re relying on impressing particular people, it sucks. If that first job had said, “we just don’t like your style, or if they had not been quite as giving of me being a young writer, then maybe I wouldn’t be here. Maybe I would have given up? There were writers starting out at the same time as me, maybe they are great writers? Maybe other studios would have really liked their work? But the studio that they first tried to get a leg-in with just wasn’t vibing them.
Do you feel as though Channel 7 owns your persona to a point? How do you rationalise that?
You just give them a little slice of you that you’ve chipped off the side and are willing to give away and call a persona. I enjoy wearing it like a costume. So, they can have that but I get to keep the rest of the cake.
What about the books? How did that happen?
That story is the best. So I started drawing Super Lonely Mutant Girl (Charlotte’s zine) and I had been doing that for a while and I was enjoying it. Suddenly I had this epiphany: “I like writing for kids and I also like drawing comics. Maybe I could put the two together and draw comics for kids? That would make sense! That would be a good use of my skills.” And I had always been interested in writing a book. Like a lot of people – “I GOT A BOOK IN ME”. Then I thought, why not do graphic novels? It would allow me to tell a longer story which I haven’t been able to do as an episodic writer. Amazingly, the universe delivered and Sydney Writers Festival had this workshop on called “Writing Graphic Novels for Kids.” It was eerily within a day from making the decision. How can I not go to that? It was a little bit expensive, I think I was a little skint at that time. I just had to go. Even if I learnt one thing, it’d be worth it. And the workshop was great.

But most importantly, I was sitting next to this really friendly woman. We were chatting and she said “what brought you here?” (she had heard me introduce myself that I was writing for kids TV). I asked, “what about you?” And she just said “oh, you know, I’m here for work.” I asked, “what kind of work?” And she said, “Oh, I’m an Editor for the children’s department at Penguin-Random House!” So she asked if I wanted to come in and pitch some ideas? And I was like “really? I can just do that?” So I did. It took a good five months, back and forth. I pitched three separate ideas to them. I hadn’t illustrated professionally, I had to put together a portfolio to prove that I could draw. So I put in SLMG and I didn’t think it was of a professional standard but they seemed to think it was, so that was great. Then I had to draw character concept art, eventually some sample pages. Eventually we nailed it down to one concept. I expanded it which she then pitched to her boss and next thing I had a book.
Is there another in the works?
“I enjoy it because of the creative freedom. I can write these full length stories. I can create this other world. In TV, you’re writing for other people and they have their own demands and their own budgetary concerns and they have bosses over their heads, and bosses over theirs. There will be more books. I just don’t know what they’ll be just yet. I would do more ‘Opposite Land’ if it sells well and they want me to do more.

Instead of trying to move upwards, I try to move sideways sometimes. I find that’s good for me not just career-wise but also creatively. If you just do the same thing over and over again you’re not expanding your skillset. So I have just followed whatever I’m curious about. So, I’ll try drawing, I’ll try a book, I’ll try presenting. Why not? I’ll give it a go. All of those skills keep feeding back into whatever I do. The big change coming up for me now is that I’m trying to pursue creating my own TV shows and developing those. That’s now my focus. It’s a bit different from just writing on shows that have already been developed, but we’ll see.

To keep in the loop with Charlotte’s world, you can follow her here:
Words: Yehuda Aharon
Photography: Samantha Hughes


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