In The Real Cowgirl, Isabelle Duff hopes to empower children to talk about their feelings and instil everyone with empathy toward anxiety and uncertainty.

What do you love about writing children's books?

I would love for my books to make a genuine difference to kids. I think we often underestimate how perceptive, considerate and empathetic children can be. I hope that starting honest conversations about really tricky emotions can help reduce stigma around mental health that so many people face later, as teenagers and adults.

What inspired you to write The Real Cowgirl?

I grew up riding horses with my mother on my parents’ farm. My first pony was my pride and joy, and I wanted to be a real cowgirl when I grew up. I often didn’t like going to school, it made me very anxious and I would come home and go straight out into the paddock. This anxiety is something that I have carried forward throughout my teenage years and into adulthood. It has always been my friends that made me feel brave and I wanted to reflect this is Sal’s story through her human and animal friends. I especially wanted to emphasise a set of qualities that I think make a “real cowgirl” as the things my mum taught me it was the most important to be growing up: brave, strong, wild, smart, kind, fierce, a good friend.

How did the writing process for this book compare to your previous children’s book?

While both my books have similar themes: friendship, big feelings, and kindness, I tried quite specifically to centre the Real Cowgirl on qualities such as courage, that Sal has in the story. I found the writing process much more intentional for this book, whereas when I wrote Cookie I was telling a story as it was.

What do you hope your readers will take away from The Real Cowgirl

I hope The Real Cowgirl can help start conversations with kids about scary feelings, in particular feeling anxious. I think a huge part of improving the way we deal with mental illness is reducing the stigma in young kids and giving them the tools to empathize with themselves and others.

What was it like to work with an illustrator on this story? Were there particular images or experiences that you were excited to see?

I absolutely love working with Susannah, as with Cookie, she brought this book to life. Both times I have worked with her, it has been magic to see how beautiful she has made the story. In The Real Cowgirl I love the bush imagery; the authenticity of the Australian scenery, and how real it makes Sal’s story feel.

Do you have any other projects in the works?

I haven’t written anything else yet, but I definitely have a few ideas and am looking forward to writing more soon!