readilearn: Introducing Jacqui Halpin – picture book author

  • Published on February 16, 2018

Jacqui Halpin author Parmesan The Reluctant Racehorse

This week, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Jacqui Halpin – author, founding member of Write Links (a local group of published and unpublished authors and illustrators of children’s books), a former nurse and tuckshop convenor.

Jacqui grew up in Brisbane where she still lives with her husband, one of her three adult children, and a cat called Loki. While writing and editing, Jacqui likes to sip tea from fine china and eat copious amounts of chocolate. She says she should never be allowed in a bookshop with a credit card in her possession.

Jacqui writes picture books and short stories, some of which appear in anthologies by Stringybark Publishing and Creative Kids’ Tales. She co-wrote and independently published her elderly father’s memoir, A Long Way from Misery.

Today Jacqui is talking with us about her first picture book Parmesan The Reluctant Racehorse, humorously illustrated by John Phillips and published by Little Pink Dog Books in October 2017. Jacqui’s second picture book, Where’s Lucky?, based on an orphaned swamp wallaby joey at a wildlife shelter, will be published in mid-2019.

Parmesan is a delightful story of a thoroughbred racehorse who should be winning races and earning lots of money for his owner. However, Parmesan thinks he’s a dog. Instead of training with the other horses, he’s off with his doggy friends doing doggy things like playing fetch. His owner is not happy. If Parmesan isn’t ready to run in the Spring Carnival, he’s getting rid of him. Parmesan’s trainer is worried. He knows Parmesan won’t be ready, but as they arrive at the Spring Carnival, he thinks of a brilliant way to get Parmesan to run around the track. Parmesan’s triumph proves you can be a winner and stay true to who you are.

Welcome to readilearn, Jacqui, we are looking forward to getting to know you better.

Thanks for inviting me.

Jacqui, when did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I always liked writing stories and poems at school, but it wasn’t until I read picture books to my own children that the first flicker of a desire to be an author burned within me. When I read my first Harry Potter book in 1999, that flicker ignited. I completed a Diploma of Professional Children’s Writing the next year.

Where do you write? Do you like to be by yourself in the quiet, or do you like to write in a noisy space?

Both really. If I’m at home and all is quiet, I write at the dining room table, when it gets noisy, I lock myself away in my study. But if I’m in a busy café, I can write without being distracted by the noise around me. Not that I do that very often.

What do you use to write – pencil and paper or computer?

For the first flash of an idea I much prefer pencil and paper. I have notepads everywhere, even a waterproof one in the shower! But I mainly write on my MacBook.

When do you write?

I like to write first thing in the morning, but if I get the chance, I squeeze in a spot of writing any chance I get.

When do you get your ideas?

Ideas can come at any time of day or night, that’s why I have an abundant supply of notepads lying all over the place. But I find I get more ideas when I just let my mind wander, like in the shower (hence the waterproof notepad) or having a walk. Ideas often come when driving. I’ll see something that will trigger a train of thought that then leads to a story.

Do you think of the story in your head before you write it?

Often, it’s just an idea I get and then it expands and develops into a story as I write it.

What gave you the idea for this story about Parmesan The Reluctant Racehorse?

Parmesan was different. It came to me in a dream, which was quite strange as I rarely remember my dreams. I woke up one morning with the idea of a little racehorse called Parmesan and he didn’t want to be a racehorse. I thought, why doesn’t he want to be a racehorse? Because he thinks he’s a dog.

Jacqui Halpin author quote about happiness

What do you like best about Parmesan The Reluctant Racehorse

I love that he’s happy being who he is even though he’s different from the other horses. There’s all this expectation and bother going on around him and he’s just off doing his own thing. And he triumphs in the end just by being himself.

Jacqui Halpin's quote re John Phillip's illustrations

Do you like the way John Phillips has illustrated the story?

 I love John’s illustrations! He has brought so much colour, life and humour to the book.

How did you feel when you wrote the story about Parmesan?

 I got a real buzz out of writing Parmesan. I had quite a few laughs too. When I finally finished the slow arduous task of getting every word just right, I had a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Like I’d been the one to run the race.

Jacqui Halpin quote run your own race

How do you hope readers will feel?

 I hope readers will feel entertained. That they’ll laugh out loud at the humour in the story and John’s fantastic illustrations. I also hope children will identify with Parmesan and feel that it’s okay just to be yourself, even if you dance to the beat of your own drum. Or, in Parmesan’s case, run the race your own way, however odd that may be.

 Are there any messages you would like teachers to discuss with children when they present your book?

 I use toys to discuss the differences and similarities between horses and dogs, and the expectations people have of each animal, before I read the story. Perhaps teachers would like to do the same. It’s also fun to discuss the humour in the illustrations. Also, a percentage of the income from the sale of the book will go to the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust to help retrain and rehome retired and injured racehorses. It’s done subtly in the story but there is a real threat to a racehorse if he doesn’t perform as expected. I wanted children to see this without it frightening them too much. How we treat animals could be a topic for discussion. This book would also be ideal for discussions on being yourself, and/or being different.

 Do you have any advice for teachers in their role as writing guides?

 Teaching children to write stories is a wonderful way to have them explore how they feel about themselves and the world around them, and stretch their imaginations. Making it fun and exciting is probably the key to getting children to participate in anything, as teachers will already know. The same applies to writing. If it’s fun and engaging and funny, they’ll want to be part of it. I think humour is a key in encouraging kids to be involved and make it seem less like work.

don't look at writing as a task

Do you have any advice for children as writers?

 Don’t look at writing as a task. Write to have fun and entertain yourself. Write the story you want to read.

 Who is your favourite author? What do you like about his or her work?

 I have so many! But at the moment, I’m captivated by Corinne Fenton’s picture books. I love the nostalgic feel they have.

Thank you, Jacqui, for sharing these insights about your book Parmesan The Reluctant Racehorse and your writing process. We wish you success.

Thank you, and thanks for having me!

Find out more about Jacqui from her website:

or connect with her on social media:

Facebook: Jacqui Halpin Author

Instagram: @jacquihalpinauthor

Parmesan can be purchased at all good bookstores. (If your local bookstore doesn’t have it please ask them to order it in.) Online at Dymocks Fishpond, Booktopia, Angus & Robertson, Amazon. Or from the publisher Little Pink Dog Books. For signed copies, please contact Jacqui at

 This interview is now available free, in a ready-to-print format, in Literacy Resources Author Spotlight  Author Spotlight – Jacqui Halpin. The information may be displayed in your classroom or included in a class book about authors and illustrators.

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    Great spotlight on Jacqui here, Norah! And I learned there is such a thing as a waterproof notepad 😉 I get some great ideas while in the bath so this sounds great!

    So nice to learn about Jacqui and her writing. Nice to hear there’s another like me who likes to write on paper and has notebooks all over the place, lol, I’m with Jacqui. And I loved the premise of the story where a horse thinks he’s a dog. Yes, children need to write to express themselves. Great post! 🙂

    Thank you, Debby. I’m pleased you enjoyed learning about Jacqui and her love of notebooks for handwriting stories and ideas. We seem to be finding more who enjoy the practice. You’re in good company, and so are they. 🙂

    This sounds like a wonderful and charming story with a great message and paired with these illustrations by John Phillips, a real winner! Congratulations Jacqui Halpin and keep those ideas coming, whether in dreams or in the shower!

    Thank you so much for reading and sharing your encouraging words, Barbara. We need to grab that inspiration wherever and whenever it finds us, don’t we. 🙂

    Thanks for introducing Jacqui to us here, Norah. Anyone who loves chocolate and bookstores like I do is a new friend of mine. ???? Parmesan, the horse and the book, sounds like a winner to me! And so does his author.

    Chocolate and books – what’s to not love! I agree. 🙂
    You’re right, Pam; they are all winners.

    What a fun book about a horse who thinks he’s a dog. I enjoyed learning about Jaqui’s process and that Parmesan came to her in a dream. The illustrations look terrific, I can see how they catch the humor. Interesting that she wants to make children aware of how we treat animals but without frightening them with some of the hard issues. I had a friend who rescued a Thoroughbred racehorse. He was a massive animal with a big heart.

    Hi Charli, Thank you so much for your lovely comment. It is a fun book. Jacqui did a great job, and John Phillip’s illustrations complement it beautifully. I thought a story about horses might appeal to you. They are magnificent animals.

Please share your thoughts. I love it when you do.

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