I find that nothing quite lifts my spirits as the scent of spring, which came to us late this year but now wafts intermittently as I walk the dog around the neighbourhood. Its companions are the striking pink and white blossoms that are bursting from once naked, craggy branches. And I can’t help also being buoyed by the tropical-sounding calls of the channel-billed cuckoo. I look forward to its arrival every spring, despite its unfortunate looks and lack of civic manners. A walk around the block has become a feast for the senses. The only sense I am on guard against, however, is the jab of Magpie’s beak! I saw one taking on a cyclist the other day – it takes road rage to a new level!
I’m delighted that spring this year also saw the arrival of a number of book babies that I had been anticipating. The first was my writing buddy, Katrina Roe’s Lily’s Balloon, which I was honoured to launch for her, with the wave of my magic bubble wand. This is a beautifully whimsical and philosophical book that can be read on many levels. Katrina wrote it as a reflection on letting go of things we value and how our loss can be someone else’s gain. To me, it spoke of finding joy in the small things and how disparate people can be united by sharing in that moment. (You can see an interview I did a while ago with Katrina for JWFK here).
Next, was Shelly Unwin’s There’s a Baddie Running Through this Book, which is an hilarious rhyming romp as the racoon baddie is chased through the book, ripping things off the page as he goes. I love the playful, metafictive elements and how the narrative engages the reader. Kids will want this read again and again – it’s such fun! I went to the Sydney launch, complete with gate-crashing raccoon - here are a few photos:
(You can read an earlier interview I did with Shelly here).
Another was Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston’s new picture book, At The End of Holyrood Lane. I was fortunate to win a copy of this and their latest collaboration, The Fix-it Man, in an online competition. One of the things I adore about picture books is their ability to render sombre and difficult themes with a lightness of touch that is also deeply profound, and Dimity and Nicky are masters in this field. I commend these books to you – The Fix-it Man is about the death of a mother, and Holyrood Lane is about a child weathering storms as a metaphor for domestic violence.
As I said in my last news, The Scared Book has turned one, and coinciding with the anniversary of its launch in September last year, Kim Siew made a cute little animation to celebrate. I couldn't work out how to attach it in this blog, but you can view it in twitter here.
I was thrilled to see The Scared Book Book Week costumes on social media - how gorgeous!
I have been out on the road with my books a bit this month, starting with a full day at Orchard Hills Public School speaking with classes K-6. It took me good few days to recover my voice! I loved the question from a year 1 boy – ‘How many friends helped you write your book?’ You couldn’t get a better intro into the importance of feedback and the value of a writing group!
Lunch with the Stars, put on by the Northern Sydney Sub-branch of the CBCA and organised by the amazing Belinda Murrell, was another brilliant success. Such a buzz in the room as the authors and illustrators were treated like rock stars and we listened to John Flanagan and Serena Geddes, and even tried our hand at drawing a dragon! My school, St Thomas’ Willoughby, won the best decorated table, and well deserved too. They had taken photos of themselves being scared of The Scared Book, and came dressed as monsters. So creative!
Authors and illustrators from the Northern Sydney sub-branch also ventured west this month to attend Our Lady of Lourdes primary school in Seven Hills. It’s always a thrill to see kids getting excited about books!
I was also at Westfield Hornsby for Australian Reading Hour this month, thanks to Berkelouw Books for hosting and organising. I was in picture-book heaven, reading for an hour to the cosy crowd that joined me.
In cyberspace, I posted the final instalment of my interview with the fascinating Catherine Pelosi on the Just Write For Kids blog this month, and I’m looking forward to interviewing YA author Penny Jaye (AKA children’s author Penny Reeve) over the next few months, starting with the 5th October.
I was also thrilled to see that two of my cyberspace friends, were publicly celebrated this month. Michelle Worthington, creative dynamo behind Share Your Story, won gold at the AusMumpreneur awards, for her business which helps authors and illustrators on their journey to publication. But of course, Michelle has established so much more than a business, she has developed a community, and one that has been a blessing to me. Congratulations Michelle!
Sally Odgers won the Alice Award from the Society of Women Writers for her distinguished, long term contribution to Australian literature. Sally is a generous member of the Australian kid’s lit scene, and I have been privileged to be part of her Prints Charming anthologies. Congratulations Sally!
Now for what's on my radar: this month I have been binge-watching Anne With an E on Netflix. The cinematography is sumptuous and I've fallen in love with Anne, Mathew and Marilla at Green Gables. I wish it will never end!
What I am looking forward to in October:
1. I’m the special guest at the Picture-book Book Club twitter chat on the 4th October. I’d love for you to join in on Twitter 8-9pm. These parties are such fun – bring out your favourite scary picture books.
For more info and to check out past chats, go here.
2. Book launches at The Children’s Bookshop. The bookshop has a range of fantastic authors and illustrators over the school holidays. I’m planning to see Francis Watts and David Legge (2nd Oct) and Sue Whiting (5th Oct). Check out what’s on offer here.
3. CBCA Northern Sydney sub-branch publisher’s panel event at the Lindfield Learning Hub on 17th October.
5. I’m doing a Monster Mayhem storytime and craft session on the 24th October at 4.30 at Gordon Library.
6. Reading all the entries for the Just Write For Kids Pitch It competition.
7. SCBWI Sketch and Scribble event at the Art Gallery. I’m looking forward to being inspired!
8. My niece has a lead role in the musical We Will Rock You put on by the Blue Mountains Musical Society. It looks like so much fun – I can’t wait to see it. You can find out more here.
And looking further ahead... I booked for two conferences next year:
So much to look forward to! Hope to see you in the real world or online! Here are some cheery flowers from my walks...
August is the most marvellous time on the children's literature calendar! It's when preschools and school playgrounds are over-run with super heroes and heroines, monsters and maidens, witches and wizards, sleuths and sloths, villains and vampires and even a pink flamingo. Yes, I'm talking about Book Week when students get to dress up as their favourite book character. I put together a little blog post about making monster book week costumes - you can see it here. Although book week is over for another year, the costumes are multi-purpose and Halloween is just around the corner ;)
Wendy Fitzgerald (President of CBCA Northern Sydney Sub- branch) and I went in to the city for the CBCA NSW book of the year announcement event. What a buzz! YA author Erin Gough MC'd the event with her trademark dry humour, and WA author Diane Wolfer was the keynote speaker. The theme of Book Week this year was 'Find Your Treasure' and I got goosebumps listening to Diane talking about finding treasure in so many serendipitous moments as she sought out her stories. But there was even more treasure in the room in the form of the student talent! We listened to a number of students review the books on the shortlist, and they were eloquent and insightful. Below are a few of my tweets from the day:
I wonder if your favourite books were the winners - or how did you go picking the winners? Here's a fabulous collage of them all put together by Sandy Fussell for Buzz Words. It shows the winners in each category first, followed by the two honour books. It's a marvellous collection of books.
For a behind-the-scenes look at how these awards are decided, listen to the interview with Gail Erskine, NSW President of the CBCA on the One More Page Podcast here. You can also find interviews with Eve Pownall Honour book author Claire Saxby and winner Idan Ben-Barak in prior episodes. The are well worth listening to.
After the announcement, book week is in full swing, and I got to speak with students at a number of schools and preschools - we had such fun talking about books! Thanks to Greenleaf Press for organising these visits. Two of the school visits were KinderFests and it was a joy to present alongside Georgie Donaghey, Narelda Joy and Jan Latta. Here are few snaps:
I've got my first booking for book week next year - it's not too early to book me up - hint hint ;)
Love you Bookshop Day was also in August. Some bookshops went all out with festivities - like one of my Fave bookshops - The Children's Bookshop in Beecroft - who had events throughout the day including live alpacas! I went along to hear author/illustrator Caroline Magerl in conversation with Susanne Gervay about her gorgeous, latest picture book, Maya and Cat. Of course, I had to show some bookshop love with my credit card!
This month's interview on the Just Write For Kids blog is a continuation of my interview with the lovely Catherine Pelosi and the final instalment will be on the blog next week. I've got so much out of hearing about Catherine's experience in the kid lit world.
I've also managed to read a few books for adults over the past few months - you can catch up on what I've enjoyed over on Goodreads.
And just when you thought it couldn't get any better - August is also Birthday Month!!!! Not only is it my birthday at the end of August, but it's also The Scared Book's birthday! This time last year I was preparing launch celebrations and festivities. So here's a cake for both of us (made and decorated by my darling daughters).
The mug was a perfect birthday present (I broke my previous fave mug recently), and just so there's no confusion, it's a French Bulldog on the mug, not a pug!
Things I am looking forward to in September:
1 My writing buddy and Hope 103.2 radio host, Katrina Roe, is launching her latest book, Lily's Balloon on Saturday 1st September. I'm so excited and proud to be able to help her launch this special book, published by Wombat Books.
2. The wonderful CBCA Northern Sydney Lunch With The Stars is on Tuesday the 4th September, where a bunch of authors and illustrators have lunch with a great-hall full of school students and this year we get to listen to author John Flanagan (Ranger's Apprentice) and illustrator Serena Geddes. I can't wait!
3. Another school visit - to Orchard Hills PS on Tuesday the 11th September.
4. Joining other authors and illustrators at the CBCA Authors in the Hills event speaking to school students in Seven Hills on the 21st September.
5. Australian Reading Hour is on Thursday 20th September. I have a To Be Read pile that would mount to the ceiling if it weren't scattered around the house! Any excuse to read for an hour!
6. Just Write for Kids is launching a Pitch It competition that runs for the month of September. Send in a winning pitch for a kid's book and you could have your manuscript jump the slush pile and land directly on a publisher's desk! Details here. I'm a judge. Should be fun! If you write, consider entering - what have you got to loose?
Just for laughs:
I'll leave you with this pic - just for laughs: my favourite book week facebook post that had me in stitches! It's from a wonderfully supportive f/b community I belong to, called The Duck Pond. You join via subscribing to Girl and Duck. Zoe Collins helps out at 'the pond' and she is an amazing creator - check out her website here. And here is the joke:
Until next time,
August is here again and that means one of the funnest times of the year... Book Week! When we get to celebrate all things book - Yay! And dress up as characters from our favourite books - Yay! And if your favourite book is The Scared Book, then you are so in luck with dress up options that kids can do ALL BY THEMSELVES and exercise their creative muscle ALL IN ONE! And even if The Scared Book is not your favourite book (don't say that out loud, though, you'll hurt its feelings) if you want an excuse to dress up as a MONSTER for Book Week, you can say that it is!
(With so many exclamation marks in this paragraph, how can you not be excited??!!!! I know I am!!!)
So lets see what I'm talking about...
If you didn't know, The Scared Book is full of MONSTERS. The book is scared of MONSTERS and I'm sure there's a MONSTER or two still lurking somewhere in the book that we haven't discovered yet... so here's your chance to dress up as MONSTERS of your choosing!!!! Yay!!! What could be more fun than MONSTER dress ups??!!
Last year at Lunch with the Stars in Manly, my table of students dressed up as all different sorts of MONSTERS - using wigs, Styrofoam balls as eyes, fairy wings and cheap bought or hand made masks decorated with oodles of eyes, even bat-wing headbands - your imagination is the limit!
You can see from the photo with the butterfly above, that I was dressed by Peter Alexander - the PJ fashion designer, as he had serendipitously designed MONSTER PJ's just in time for The Scared Book launch! So if you have any monster PJ's, slippers, scarves, beanies, T-shirts, they'll do too :). Anything left over from Halloween could work well too. Below right, I'm in MONSTER slippers (Peter Alexander, of course!) and a beanie/scarf all-in-one. I've also put together a MONSTER look in the two photos below using beanie and sports cap with ping-pong ball eyes attached with velcro dots. The more eyes the better! Velcro dots are very useful when it comes time for Book Week, I find!
When I ran my draw/make a MONSTER competition last year, I was dazzled by the imagination and creativity of all the kids who entered. You can see some of the amazing ideas in my blog posts here and here. I'd love to see what kids can come up with for MONSTER Book Week costumes! Please post me a snap on facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Of course, you can always dress up as the book itself! Because, after all, the book is a character in its own right. I have an oversized book cover with a hole that would be perfect for the job - but at home you could enlarge and copy, or draw the cover onto cardboard, cut out a hole for your head and hey presto! You're now The Scared Book - just like Digby Fixit in the photo!
What ever you choose to dress up as for Book Week, I hope you have MONSTROUS (as in huge) fun!
This month I've taken advantage of the long string of sunny Sydney winter days and popped to the beach. My family and I are not particularly beachy. Truth be known, I’m not a fan of salty scarecrow hair, clods of sand in swimming togs and fly sandwiches. But something happens to the beach in winter. Everything is softer, like a gossamer blanket has been thrown over it. The water is lit up with twinkling fairy lights, not blinding floodlights. Delicate baby blue skies melt to fairy floss pink and something inside me melts and softens with them. I took this photo on a day trip to Balmoral Beach.
I had some more fabulous book news this month -just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, The Scared Book has been shortlisted for another award: The Speech Pathology Australia Book Of the Year! You can see the full list of brilliant books here. It's wonderful to think that my quirky little book can be used to help children in this way. Cecile, a speech pathologist with a fabulous website - Book Share Time - has blogged about just that: how to use The Scared Book in speech therapy with children! Thank you Cecile!
My amazing publisher at Lothian, Suzanne O'Sullivan, had ‘the most scathingly brilliant idea’ which she gifted to me this month. So I worked up a manuscript and sent it in. Fingers and toes crossed that the team love it as much as us - and as much as I love The Trouble with Angels from which I’ve quoted Hayley Mills’ character in the top sentence. It’s one of my all-time favourite movies ever!
I've been Out and about a bit this month, starting with the Kids and YA festival at the NSW Writer’s Centre (now Writing NSW) directed by the wonderful Belinda Murrell. It was a brilliant day. (Technically in June, but as it was the last day of the month it made into this July newsletter!) I was on a panel with others from my writers’ group in the morning, and we had a full house! There was something for everyone at all stages of their writing career, and so much goodness to take away. The ‘Make us Laugh’ panel with RA Spratt, Oliver Phommavanh and Tim Harris, chaired by Jacqueline Harvey, did just that! Below are my three favourite photos of the day:
Talking about Writing NSW, if you are a writer, you should subscribe to their free, weekly Newsbite e-newsletter. It’s a fabulous resource for courses, competitions and information on writing. They even have give-aways! And this month, I won a copy of Bluebottle by Belinda Castels! Thanks Writing NSW! Also, consider joining - check out the website for all the fabulous benefits of membership.
The day after the festival, I attended a SCBWI event with publisher Heather Curdie from Penguin Random House and my publisher at Lothian, Suzanne O'Sullivan. As you would expect from a SCBWI event, it was informative and very helpful, and great catching up with old friends and meeting new ones.
On a cold winter evening I attending the launch of Penny Jaye’s YA Out of the Cages and I was well rewarded not only with an insight into the writing of this powerful and important book, but also with a Nepali inspired feast! Exotic delicacies that I couldn't resist popping into my mouth and washing down with Chai that was rich, smooth, warm and comforting. I’ve reviewed the book on Goodreads here. Katrina Roe launched this important story about an experience that is horrifically all too real.
Talking of interesting launches, Julie Thorndyke launched her debut picture book, Waiting for the Night at the Children’s Bookshop on the weekend, and kids brought along torches for a bit of spotlighting the animals from the book that were displayed on the walls. She also had a lightbox for shadow puppet animals as the story was read. What great ideas! Libby Hathorn did the launching honours for this book written in beautiful, lyrical rhyme, perfect for bedtime. Published by IP.
Still on the subject of launches, I attended the launch of another debut author, Dave Ley, and his mid-grade novel, The Institute for Fantastical Inventions which Tim Harris described as ‘the best mid- grade book I’ve read this year. It’s smart and funny combined.’ With that recommendation, I’m looking forward to reading it! Published by Harbour Publishing House.
On my radar this month:
I’ve spoken before about the fabulous One More Page Podcast, and their recent roving reportage of the CYA Conference in Brisbane recently was a standout for me. Their interviews with speakers, attendees, competition successes and organisers captured the essence of this writing game – the process, perseverance and persistence that are essential for progress and publication.
I’ve also spoken about the fun to be had each month on Twitter with Picture Book Book Club. July’s chat was about using the senses in picture books and the guest was the lovely Tania McCartney. I even discovered a new (to me) illustrator and a book to help with my work in progress! So much goodness from one hour of twitter fun! August chat will be with Anna Walker - so for a chance to chat with this legend, join in on the first Thursday of the month.
I picked up a copy of Finn’s Feather by Rachel Nobel in a bookshop this month. This is a gorgeous, gentle book that deals sensitively with the issue of the death of a sibling. The relationship between Finn and his friend Lucas, is heart-tuggingly both wise and innocent and made me gasp out loud in the bookshop! Simply beautiful.
I have a soft-spot for goats, so the latest junior fiction from prolific and award-winning husband and wife duo Dianne Bates and Bill Condon, The Adventures of Jellybean, was always going to appeal to me! A gentle, feel-good story with playful, endearing characters, a spattering of dad jokes and plenty fun facts about goats. If you want to find out more, there's a good review on the Buzz Words site:
I caught up with the lovely Catherine Pelosi, author of Quark's Academy and the soon-to-be-released Something for Fleur on the Just Write for Kids Blog this month. The launch for Something for Fleur is on this coming weekend - see the flyer. I'm so disappointed that I can't get to this launch, but if you can, Catherine would love it! Part two of my interview with her is on the blog on Friday.
What I'm looking forward to:
1. Book week, book week, book week! I’m off to a number of schools for author visits over the course of the week. I’m so looking forward to having fun with the students and teachers.
2. CBCA Northern Sydney Sub-branch is having an illustrator’s panel event on the 8th August. I can’t make this one but if you can, then do go along - it will be fabulous.
3. Love your bookshop day on August 11th. The Children's Bookshop Beecroft is hosting a raft of events - including LIVE ALPACAS! I'll be attending the launch of Caroline Magerl's picture book, Maya and Cat on the day, and sadly missing out on Oliver Phommavanh's launch of Natural Born Loser at Better Read than Dead, Newtown. Make sure you pop into your local bookshop and show them some love.
4. With book week comes the Book Of the Year announcement by the CBCA. You can attend the Sydney event on Friday the 17th August - details here. I hope to be there.
5. On the 1st September I'm so excited to play a part in launching my writing buddy, Katrina Roe's most recent picture book with Wombat Books, Lily's Balloon, illustrated by Helene Magisson. I can't wait!
How will you share in all the children's book and bookshop love this August?
My goodness, it's the middle of the year already! I hope you are able to keep snug on these winter days. I've needed the heater on to warm the house, but this newsletter is filled with the warmth of childhood recollections, endearing books and news that has put a glow in my heart.
In case you missed it, I’m thrilled that The Scared Book won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for Australia and New Zealand. This is a peer voted award and I’m honoured that my peers chose The Scared Book! I made a video of heartfelt thanks - if you want to watch, it's at the bottom of this post.
I also made some Goosebump Bites to help celebrate – because what’s a celebration without food? See the blog post here.
The Scared Book is also on the Premier’s Reading Challenge for NSW – I’m thrilled about that too! I continue to be delighted when parents tell me how much their children enjoy interacting with my playful book – crumpled pages and Vegemite stains attest to its popularity 😊. Laura sent me a video of her 2 year old son reading it. She said:
“I wish I'd kept recording because he started sniffing the book because of the smelly monsters. By the time you get to sign it I fear it will be very "well loved" by two little people who have demanded I read it "again, again!" constantly since it arrived. Miss E is already almost reciting the whole thing along with me as I read it. I love that books excite them like this though. Hopefully they hold on to this kind of lifelong love.”
This makes my little heart sing! Thanks so much Laura!
Being part of the launch of the new CBCA Eastern Suburbs sub-branch was a blast! You can read about it here. Involvement in my local sub-branch has been a massive source of inspiration, support and encouragement for me over the years (so much so, I'm now the secretary of the Northern Sydney sub-branch!) plus its a brilliant way to engage kids with literature, and we know how vital that is for so many positive life outcomes. Here's an article I read recently about Storytime's Hidden Power.
I thoroughly enjoyed prepping for the CBCA talk, and boy, was it a trip down memory lane! I spoke about my love of my own sub-branch, and connecting with literature, as that is the heart of CBCA. I looked at how I connected with literature, particularly picture books, as a child, as a parent and then as a writer. And boy, oh boy, those memories (and a few tears, to be honest) came flooding back!
What really blew my socks off was the development of a vibrant, strong Australia and New Zealand kids lit industry that had grown up in the space of my early adulthood, and the explosion of picture books as a genre.
My childhood was limited to little golden books, with a few notable exceptions, like Harry the Dog, and this treasure, below, that I rediscovered on this beautifully curated website. (My copy of Peter and the Wolf was in English) I spent hours listening to the music and narration on a vinyl record, and following along in the book. Look at how stunning these illustrations are!
Back in current time, I attended the launch of Kate Simpson’s picture book, Finding Granny. This is a beautiful book after my own heart. Like my When I see Grandma, the child in this story finds her granny hidden by illness – in this case, not dementia but a stroke.
On my radar:
It was an absolute delight to read Tonya Alexandra’s YA The Implausible Story of Olive Far, Far Away. The story of feisty, invisible Olive and her journey of self-discovery was surprising, funny, wise, and poignant. I loved it! The YA themes are subtle enough for readers at the younger end of this genre.
I was lucky to have a sneak peek at Catherine Pelosi's new picture book, Something for Fleur, out at the end of July, about Bo Hippo's birthday present to his friend, Fleur Flamingo. Caitlin Murray's illustrations are candy-coated goodness and this book leaves you with a warm, fuzzy fruit-tingly feeling.
I have listened to two audio books this month:
1. Mr Bambuckles Remarkables by Tim Harris. Mr Bambuckle is a year six teacher like no other. He sees the unique qualities in each of his students and establishes an environment in which they come to value themselves and each other. Each student has a story to tell, often with outrageous (highland fling) and fanciful (killer washing machine) elements. Mr Bambuckle's and the children's voices were vividly brought to life on the audio recording by Englishman Kris Dyer. I interviewed Tim for the Just Write For Kids blog last year - if you missed it, you can track back through the interview from here.
2. Two Wolves, a YA novel by Tristan Bancks. This is a suspenseful, taut and tense coming of age story with references to My Side of the Mountain which I vividly remember from my High School days. Thirteen year old Ben Silver wrestles with the ultimate moral dilemma of loyalty to his family and being true to himself - and discovering himself along the way. The ending is incredibly powerful and satisfying. With a background in acting, Tristan eloquently reads this book himself on the audio recording.
Not so much for kids, but I have really enjoyed watching Employable Me on ABC i-view. This three part series follows adults with neuro-diverse conditions such as autism and Tourette Syndrome as they search for meaningful employment. I found it uplifting, warm and insightful.
Sandy Fussell’s Write-tech newsletter. I’ve mentioned it before, and it continues to be a great source of help for this non-tech savvy writer. This month's tech is all about finances, and I'm pleased to say I'm ahead of the game here, having already a Square reader, for taking credit card payments, in my possession. Advice re receipts etc, I'm keen to action.
Chrissy Byer’s video about her 'disastrous' experiences at a manuscript assessment session with a publisher at the recent KidLitVic conference in Melbourne is delightful and insightful. She describes a litany of errors with great warmth, respect for the publishers and self-deprecating humour. If you are considering having a publisher assess your manuscrpt at any time in the future, do yourself a favour and watch the video on Chrissy's website, here.
The third and final instalment of my interview with the fabulous Katrina McKelvey is on the Just Write For Kids Blog here. Next month, I look forward to interviewing mid grade and picture book author Catherine Pelosi.
Things I am looking forward to:
1. The NSW Writer’s Centre Kids and YA Festival. I’m on a panel taking about writing groups. It's technically still in June (30th), but this blog will be posted before then.
2. SCBWI, Polishing, Pitching and getting Published event on the !st June in Woolhara.
3. Launch of Penny Jaye’s YA Out of the Cages about child trafficking. I’ve read an extract here and can hardly wait to read the rest. Definitely YA with strong themes. I’m sure it’s going to be a tough read, but worth it.
4. Virtual book launch of Tabitha Page’s Mikah's Big Move, about a cheeky monkey who's deaf and uses sign language, and for whom moving home threatens his security. The launch is on the 6th July- find out about it here.
5. Launch of Pat Simmons’ picture book, Ziggy's Zoo on Saturday 7th July. Sadly I won’t get to the event, but I'm excited for Pat.
Finally, I hope you have found a place to snuggle down these cold winter evenings, like my cat, Opal. who I found in my warm winter woollens. Note to self - close the drawer if you don't want cat fur all over your clothes!
What a thrill and honour that The Scared Book won the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Crystal Kite Award! It was announced on the 1st of June, but it still gives me goosebumps just thinking about it! You can read the list of winners throughout the SCBWI 15 regions here.
As I reckon food is important to any celebration, how perfect are these goosebump bites?
The basic chocolate/coconut ball recipe is pretty standard and very kid-friendly - you'll find it on a number of places on the internet. It's a packet of Milk Arrowroot biscuits blitzed to crumbs, 1/3 cup cocoa powder, 1/2 cup desiccated coconut all mixed together, to which is added 1 tin of condensed milk. Roll into balls and coat with extra coconut.
To decorate as monster goosebumps, add three eyes. I used the things in the photo, adding pupils to the polka dots using the icing tube. This bit gets a bit fiddly! You might have better ideas for what works for eyes - let me know! When you are done, place in the fridge for about 1/2 an hour - if you can wait that long!
Cheers and bon appetit!
Ahhh, May! Snuggling into bed or in front of a fireplace with a good book and Honey Dew Melon Green Tea from Tea Drop. Or crunching through a crimson carpet of leaves on walks. Bliss! These have been my bubble wrap moments during May - cushioning the spaces between many other wonderful, but ping-pong frenetic days. I've had to bring in three little helpers to look after the lettuce, beetroot and fennel in my Vegpod while I've been kicking up my low-heeled boots!
Appearing at the Sydney Writer's Festival was a spine-tingling, goosebump-inducing experience. A few butterflies even found their way into my tummy - so it was just as well as I had The Scared Book to help settle the excitement and the nerves.
The Big Backyard was a fantastic venue at Carriageworks, with an array of activities to entice children to engage with books. The Storytime Clubhouse was a cosy cubby filled with bean bags for kids to lounge around and listen to authors and illustrators read to them. It was a joy to be part of the line-up. Nothing beats the thrill of reading your books to a live audience and seeing them respond. One young girl staunchly resisted her father's efforts to extract her before the end of The Scared Book, and one young boy enthusiastically explained to me how the pictures work in When I See Grandma. I fear I may have gotten a little inappropriately up close and personal to the metallic chuppa-chup! Your lips aren't actually meant to touch the microphone, right? But the kids didn't seem to mind.
Thanks to Brydie Wright for the photos of me
Speaking of fabulous books, I was so excited to attend the book launch of my friend, Shelly Unwin's new picture book, Blast Off. What kid isn't intrigued by space? Shelly's brilliant rhyming story of kids blasting off in their rocket is quirky, fun and factual. The illustrations by Ben Wood are a blast too. This is a book that the kids will want to revisit again and again. I predict it will blast off the shelves! I interviewed Shelly on the Just Write for Kids Blog a while ago - you can read the interview (in three parts) starting here.
I've also attended two other literary events. The first was a SCBWI afternoon with marketing expert Jackie Barton from HarperCollins talking about Marketing Magic, and Angie Schiavone, the new SCBWI book reviewer, talking about book reviews. Lots of fascinating insights from both speakers. You can read a round-up of the day here.
The second was a CBCA Northern Sydney sub-branch author panel with Belinda Murrell, Lesley Gibbes and Kate Simpson talking about pitching books to (not at!) publishers. It was fun and informative, as always. In other CBCA news, I have just taken over the reins from Tonya Alexandra to become Secretary of our sub-branch. So if you're on our mailing list, look out for email updates from yours truly.
Talking about Tonya - she has a new book out in her Olive series for teen readers: The Implausible Story of Olive Far Away. I've just managed to get my hands on a copy and I can't wait to read it! I loved her invisible character, Olive, in the first book, The Impossible Story of Olive in Love.
In Just Write For Kids news, I had fun being one of the selection panel for a new logo and banner. Check out the artwork by winner Jason Howe, on the website here. It is Pretty amazing! I also posted part two of the interview with fabulously-fearless Katrina McKelvey, here. Katrina has even more news to share in part three, live on Friday!
I do hope you follow the JWFK book blog tours at Books on Tour. I entered one of their competitions and was lucky to WIN a copy of Maura Pierlot's Trouble in Tune Town! It's a fun and affirming rhyming story of musical notes that fly off the page. The illustrations are gorgeous and I love the inclusion of the lyrebird as the child's friend.
Talking about winning, I also won a copy of Adam Wallace and James Hart's new book in the Accidentally Awesome series. This one's called Frantically Fantastic and it's set on a farm - my favourite place in the whole world, but alas, not so for the book's hero (would we call him a hero?) Jackson Payne. Full of fun, quirky, madcap slapstick, sure to get 6-10 year-olds laughing - and reading!
Talking about reading, I've been playing catch-up with the gorgeous Tan series by Jen Storer. It's been on my radar for a while, but I haven't gotten around to checking it out - but others have - including a film producer who has optioned it for live-action film! Go Jen! I follow Jen at her website Girl and Duck, and her Q&Q vlogs - anyone interested in writing for children should do the same. You'll find great wisdom dosed with Jen's whacky sense of humour and ginormous heart. A bit like her Tan books, really.
I've also been reading the debut YA psychological thriller by Sarah Epstein, Small Spaces. Wow! Be warned, it is very true to it's genre - so not for the easily creeped out nor to be read alone in a house at night! I loved it! I only had one sleepless night :) It's excellent writing, full of great characters set within a creepy-thrilling story and had me questioning whether or not Tash was a reliable narrator almost all the way through. I wrote a review on Goodreads. But wait - I can't find it! It seems to have disappeared! Growling in frustration here! ... Anyway, Small Spaces is an excellent example of its genre, a real heart-thumping page-turner.
What I'm looking forward to in June (this year is galloping along!)
1. I've been asked to speak at the launch of the new CBCA Eastern Suburbs sub-branch on Wednesday 20th June. Check out the flyer to see the other guest speakers, and come along!
2. The Kids and YA Festival at Writing NSW (formerly NSW Writers' Centre) on the 30th June. It's a brilliant program put together by the amazing Belinda Murrell. I'm on a panel with other members of my writers' group, first thing in the morning. Find the program here.
I'll leave you with a little something I sketched at a micro-workshop run by Toni, from the Erin Hill Studio, held at Harry Hartog Bookshop, Warringah Mall on the weekend. It was such a joyful way to spend 1 1/2 hours! I'm no 'big A' Artist, never will be, but it doesn't mean I can't enjoy myself by mucking about with a marker and water colours. It's more about capturing a moment, or feeling, than accuracy, and that's fine with me! It seems similar principles apply to art as in writing - do a little bit often and you'll improve. Three minutes a day, that's what Toni said. I think I might enjoy finding time to do just that!
Until next time,
Where has April gone? Before I could say 'Anzac Day,' April disappeared into an afterglow. I've captured the embers here
before they flicker away:
First, book news- I had to pick my jaw up from my laptop keyboard when I discovered that The Scared Book has been shortlisted with five other fabulous books for the SCBWI Crystal Kite award. This peer-voted award is where other children's authors and illustrators vote for their favourites in a number of rounds. I'm thrilled that Scared made the final round. Voting closes on the 30th.
Talking about SCBWI, I attended a fabulous afternoon catching up with other kid's-bookish people and getting all sorts of ideas about presenting in schools. I came home with a few tips on how to ramp my presentations up a notch or two! Perfect timing for my Sydney Writer's Festival gig in a few days time! There's a fabulous write-up about it on the SCBWI blog here.
I loved catching up with the regional head of SCBWI, Susanne Gervay, more personally at a Flash Fiction weekend I attended in Canberra last weekend. This was a fabulous time of networking, meeting facebook friends in person, hearing amazing presenters (like Jack Heath, Josh Donellan, Irma Gold, Carmel Bird, Craig Cormick and many more) and honing flash (ie really short) fiction stories. Organised brilliantly by the amazing Suzanne Kiraly. It was such fun! See the full schedule here. I'm going to have to blog about it more extensively later. If you're a writer, I commend it to you for next year. It also inspired me to get a copy of Susanne Gervay's YA novel Butterflies. I know I'm very late to the party on this one, but it was well worth discovering: surviving the trauma of severe burn injury is a subject I have not read about in any other novel, for children or adults, and in Butterflies, Susanne Gervay speaks sensitively, eloquently and insightfully to and about those who live in the aftermath of burns injury.
(PS how cool is the newspaper-spine wallpaper in the East Hotel conference rooms?)
On the writing front, I've been reworking a manuscript that hasn't been getting any traction in the publishing world. Michelle Worthington has helped me infuse the story with what I hope to be the perfect blend of humour and heart. I've started sending it out - wish me luck! I recommend Michelle's manuscript assessments - you can find her over at Share Your Story here. On the reworking front, I so identified with Sue Whiting's blog about the struggle of writing a measly 500 words, you might like to take a look here.
Talking about Michelle Worthington, she's the Reese Witherspoon of Aussie Kid Lit - a pocket-sized dynamo in high-heels, oozing intelligence and generosity! I've been part of her 30 Day Social Media Challenge for Creatives facebook group. What an eye-opener it has been, as Michelle has pushed participants beyond our comfort zone to engage more meaningfully with our followers and friends. For example, I never would have thought to go 'LIVE' on facebook, but as I and other participants braved our insecurities, it really felt like we were connecting in a more personal way. Facebook even told me that "your video is popular in NSW" and then "your video is popular with women 35 plus!" It was pretty hilarious!
Talking about connecting with people, in the real world, I finally caught up with Zanni Louise in person when she was in town for some holiday workshops at The Children's Bookshop, Breecroft. I interviewed Zanni last year on the Just Write For Kids Blog, and she has an avalanche of books out this year. Also at the bookshop, I went to the launch of Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg and Andrea Edmond's poignantly beautiful picture book, Visiting You (I bought 3 copies!) and I also caught up with Penny Reeve at the launch of her new chapter book, Camp Max, in my old home town of Penrith where my Mum worked in the library for about 20 years. I couldn't help myself sniffing all the newly-minted books!
I also loved meeting families when I partnered with Vinnies at Brookvale for a special Storytime session early in the month. We had a gorgeous little crowd of enthusiastic participants for a reading of The Scared Book. It's such a brilliant store with so many treasures - so worth checking out.
Meanwhile, in cyberspace:
I got to interview the crazy-fearless Katrina McKelvey for the Just Write For Kids blog this month. She is just so inspiring! Don't miss the interview here, and look out for part two and three in May and June.
If you are a writer and haven't subscribed to Sandy Fussell's newsletter, I advise you to do so. It combines her love of writing with her love of technology, and is chock-full of great writer-tech.
What I'm watching:
Have you discovered the delightfully effervescent Word Of Mouth TV with Kate Forsyth and Sarah Mills yet? It's all about books, authors and cooking - I'd recommend subscribing.
I'm also enjoying the remake of Lost In Space on Netflix. They have certainly remixed and turbo-charged Dr Smith and the robot, to add a higher dose of menace than the original, and it's compelling. Danger Will Robinson, Danger!
Books on my radar. April has been a YA and mid-grade month for me:
Sue Whiting's Missing is a beautiful, devastating reflection on grief, and the question: is it better to know even if the truth seems unbearable? There is alchemy in the writing. Brilliant.
Dragonfly Song, Wendy Orr's highly awarded epic triumph of a novel, has a mute heroine whose voice will paradoxiacally haunt you long after you've closed the book's cover.
llluminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, is an intelligent, inventive dossier-style, genre-mashing politically charged romance-with-zombies-in-space, whose horror elements stretched my limits for this genre.
You can see my reviews for these books over on Goodreads
What I'm looking forward to in May:
1 Sydney Writer's Festival. I'll be in the Storytime Clubhouse Sunday May 6th at 3.00. I'd love to see you there. I'll also be hob-nobbing at the the launch party on Tuesday night, feeling very out of my depth but not wanting to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
2. The launch of my friend, Shelly Unwin's new picture book, Blast Off on Saturday 12th May 4-5pm. Details here
3. Lights off Torches On event at Crown Street Public School Tuesday 15th May. I'll be there in my PJ's with lots of other amazing authors, like Jacqueline Harvey.
4. Another SCBWI event on the 20th May, conjuring up some Marketing Magic. Check out the details on the Australia East and NZ website.
5. Not one, but TWO fabulous CBCA events - A pitching panel on Wednesday 23rd and a fun day of bookish craft on Sunday 27th. See the website for details.
I can see I'm blasting off on a turbo-charged month! See you on the other side.
So many marvellous things to catch you up on from my March meanderings.
The BIG news, of course, is that The Scared Book was longlisted for the CBCA Book Of the Year! It's now a Notable Book! So much excitement! Technically, this was in February, but it was after my monthly wrap-up so I blogged about it and had a celebratory interview with Illustrator, Kim here.
However, despite Shaye from Kid's Book Review listing it as what she WOULD shortlist if she could choose - quote: "The Scared Book because it’s the most engaging picture book I’ve ever read," in the end, it wasn't. (Thanks Shaye!) No matter, my little book is both scared and proud, and I'm pleased as punch with how it looks with it's shiny Notable sticker! *
Other big news is that I'm on the Sydney Writer's Festival program! You can find about my appearance in the Storytime Clubhouse here (I'm on at 3pm on Sunday the 6th May).
This month I attended the book launch for A Boat of Stars poetry anthology at The Children's Bookshop and had so many fan-girl moments with the likes of Margaret Wild, Julie Vivas, Sarah Acton, Sophie Masson, Stephen Michael King and so many more. I was star-struck! I then stuck around for the Northern Sydney CBCA sub branch meeting with the remarkable Paul MacDonald speaking. I blogged about his address over at Just Write For Kids.
Of course, I couldn't walk away from the bookshop without a book or two, so these were my buys for the night - the launched book, of course, complete with signatures, and How To Be which I loved (reviewed on Goodreads) and was pleased to see made it onto the CBCA shortlist!
Another book on my radar this month is Michelle Worthington's Pugs Don't Wear Pyjamas - so cute! I wish I could have gotten to Queensland for the launch - it looked like such fun.
I left a review on Goodreads for Catherine Pelossi's Quark's Academy that I mentioned last month - but I'll reprint it here cause it's short and sweet:
"The 'i's have it where this book is concerned - Interesting, inventive, intriguing, imaginative, intelligent. A novel about kids and science that will turbo-charge their imaginations. Love the flawed but redeemable child characters and the crazy adults. Lots of fun."
My CBCA friend Tonya Alexandra has her new book out in book shops now. I loved the first in this series of magical realism YA about invisible Olive and her quest for love, or at least recognition. I'm so looking forward to seeing how Olive negotiates travel to far flung places. I interviewed Tonya when the first Olive story came out - you can catch up on that here.
And a shout out to my writing buddy Lisa Nicols, whose fabulous mid-grade novel Dr Boogaloo and the Girl Who Lost Her Laughter was also on the Notable list. I was fortunate to have seen some of this book through its development and I'm sure it's destined for big things.
This year I promised myself that I would attend at least one workshop for professional development, and so I attended a morning with Lesley Gibbes at the Australian Writers' Centre about writing chapter books for 6-9 year olds. It was fabulous! Well worth the time and money and I'd recommend it to anyone thinking about writing in this genre. Lesley's running another course in May - check it out here. You can also hear an informative talk from Lesley, on the Writers' Centre podcast - it is worth listening to. It was also great fun catching up with some familiar faces on the course! One of whom was Katrina MacKelvey, who I'll be interviewing next on the Just Write For Kids Blog - look out for the first instalment on the 6th April.
Talking about blogs, the second instalment of my interview with the delightful Aura Parker can be found here.
Did you read to a child on the 19th March for International Read to me Day? I read The Scared Book to a class of Kindies, but alas - no photos to show :( But check out organiser Emma Mactaggart's massive reading efforts in this article
If February be the month of love, why is it that I keep finding love hearts in March? I was inspired by Tania MacCartney to look out for the little things on my walks with Archie, and I found this gorgeous little heart-leaf. And then, look what popped up in my new vege garden - a heart-fennel-sprout
I had a whole lot of fun this month with the Picture Book Book Club Twitter party. This is such a fun forum where you can end up chatting with the most amazing picture book people, and doing the most crazy things! Last month Jackie French was the featured guest, and we were challenged to draw a wombat. This followed on from February's 'worm off' drawing with Will Mabbit. The next one is on the 5th April at 8pm with Damon Young. If you're on Twitter, do pop in and check it out - there's even a 'cheat sheet' of questions asked over on the blog. Here's a pic of my wombat:
Another thing I've been browsing through this month is Enthralled Magazine. Isn't that a great title for a mag for authors?! It's a collaborative magazine that's a place for authors and writers to share their ideas and journeys. So if you're interested in writing, why not check it out here. It's free for now, but if you find it useful, you might want to donate and/or contribute. It's been developed by some of my Aussie kid lit Facebook friends - they've done an amazing job.
Things I am looking forward to in April:
1. Easter. I love celebrating Easter by going to church, eating chocolate and hot cross buns! I wonder if you can guess my favourite type of Easter Egg? Hint: It's nursery rhyme related.
2. I'm chuffed to be partnering with Vinnies for an inaugural StoryTime at their flagship Brookvale store. Do come along and see me read The Scared Book and check out Vinnies treasure-trove! It's at 10.30 the Thursday after Easter (5th April). The next week, author Brydie Write will read her tongue-in-cheek take on toilet politics :)
3. SCBWI is having a session on school visits and what authors need to know. I always love a good SCBWI get-together and there's always something useful to take home.
4. Zanni Louise, who I interviewed for the Just Write For Kids Blog last year, and whom I've never met in person, will be at The Children's Bookshop, Beecoft, celebrating her latest release series - Tiggy and the Magic Paintbrush at 12MD on the 24th. I'm looking forward to finally meeting Zanni! The bookshop is also running amazing school holiday workshops for kids AND adults - including with Zanni herself, so be sure to check those out too.
Wishing you all a happy and blessed Easter.
* Shaye's other WOULD choose books were:"Hark, it’s Me, Ruby Lee! because it has awesome characters and a rich plot and Ready, Steady, Hatch! because it’s so much fun!"
Ruby Lee was shortlisted!
Here's The Scared Book with a bit of bling on the cover. Doesn't it look fancy?! It's been long-listed for the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book Of the Year, and I feel honoured and thrilled for the #thescaredbook team! The book is born of collaboration. Kim, the illustrator has taken my words and brought them to life in the most amazing and unpredictable way, and Suzanne O'Sullivan and the team at Hachette have guided and overseen the process and added their own touches, like the gorgeous embossing on the cover.
In celebration of being a notable book, I thought it would be nice to hear from one of these co-collaborators, the amazing illustrator, Kim Siew.
I love what Kim brought to The Scared Book. It was an unusual manuscript – not your usual illustrating a story. Kim had to make the book a character and bring it to life, as well as make it appealing so children want to interact with it. Kim’s quirky and playful take on my manuscript is colourful, bold and amazing! Here's a Q & A with Kim Siew...
First off, thanks so much Kim, for taking on this book and helping make it something so very special. I’m interested in how you first felt when you saw the manuscript for The Scared Book and what inspired you to take it on?
I enjoyed that as the reader you were encouraged to be so interactive with the story. You guided it and were a part of it. I loved that sense of playfulness. (But really, I just wanted the chance to draw lots of monsters!)
What was your thinking processes that lead to coming up with the ideas we have?
When I first read the manuscript, all the words that jumped out to me were the interactive elements. It was fun! So I wanted the monsters to echo that sense of fun, for them to be silly and friendly rather than scary, so that kids would be more willing to engage and interact with the book.
What medium did you use to illustrate The Scared Book and why?
I like to start with pencil and paper as I find I’m a lot more loose and free, which helps to get my ideas out. Then I’ll start cutting out shapes with coloured paper and moving them about to see what forms I can create, and this tends to create a body, sometimes even a texture or personality for a character. After finding the essence of a character through this, I’ll hand draw again, but this time the character is more precise. This hand drawn image is my base, which I then scan onto my computer. All the monsters are then created through digital collage, using a mixture of textures and papers that I scanned into the computer, and then drawing into them again on the computer. I’m able to move things around a bit easier once I have them all on the screen, assembling all the parts just as I would do with paper collage.
Being a book bursting with monsters, I was worried that they might appear too scary for the child reader. I needn’t have worried – the result is cute and quirky – with only a hint of danger! How did you go about the process of getting the monsters with the right balance?
Big eyes, no sharp teeth! And such fantastic guidance and feedback from Suzanne from Lothians.
What made you think of adding monster elements to the scared aspects – the goose- bumps and butterflies for instance?
I wanted the book to be inundated with monsters in all forms…it is a story about monsters after all! The more monsters in the book the better, it keeps you turning the pages to find more!
What were your favourite spreads to illustrate?
Tingle and Smelly. They are probably the most simple of all the monsters, but they are both so loveable to me.
Here's a gorgeous animation that Kim made of the tingly spine:
When Suzanne O’Sullivan indicated an interest in my manuscript, she told me early on that she had someone in mind who had more of a graphic design background, which I thought was brilliant given the type of book it is. So tell me about your background and your work.
I started out painting murals and creating zines (small, limited run, self-published works). Through my murals I was approached by a couple who created children’s books, Rachel Williams and Peter Warrington from Not Quite Newtown, and they gave me my first opportunity to create a published collaborative work. (Rachel is a photographer, Peter writes the stories, and for ‘You Make the Dreams’ I drew illustrations on top of Rachel’s photographs). I do a bit of graphic design also, teach mural design and paper art workshops and try to exhibit at least once a year.
How did Suzanne know about you?
Through my mural work and paper work that I sell on Etsy. I was so happy when she got in touch with me. It was like a dream!
What made you want to illustrate kid’s books?
I’ve always been a book worm. I love children’s books, I love graphic novels, comics, cartoons, animations. With children’s books, your imagination can lead you anywhere. There are no rules, there’s a sense of freedom and play and a beautiful wonder. I have always loved the art of story telling in all its forms, and my illustrations tend to play to a more naïve, child-like quality, so I guess it all came about quite organically.
I’m so glad she chose you!
So here we are at the end of the creative process with our book in the world – tell me - would you do it again?
In a heart beat x