Events and books and … things

Kate, supportive superstar author Oliver P (with one of our mascots!), me and Nat at our CBCA talk

The other week, something exciting happened – our podcast team (One More Page) were invited to present at a CBCA event! It was a meeting of the Northern Sydney sub-branch, consisting of a fab crew including Wendy Fitzgerald, Jan Latta, Jules Faber, Brydie Wright and more. We talked setting up the podcast, highlights and heroes (a.k.a. every one of our interviewees! Cue Wind Beneath Our Wings …. yes, this happened). It was a lovely supportive crowd and a great venue, The Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft. We also got an early look at The Hole Idea, the new picture book collaboration by the bookshop’s owners, Paul and Beth, illustrated by Nathaniel Eckstrom. It’s brilliant!

More events …

Then not long after, it was time to attend the Creative Kids’ Tales Festival, a wonderful one-day event put on by Georgie Donaghey and the CKT team. I got so much out of the talks by Jackie French, Deb Abela, Jacqueline Harvey and Emma Quay, who all offered words of advice and encouragement, and shared their own journeys (and pitfalls – Emma reading aloud a less than flattering review of Rudie Nudie was a masterclass in developing a thick skin in the creative journey).

I also recently attended the SCBWI Sketch and Scribble event at the Art Gallery of NSW, viewing artworks to spark story ideas. There was also the launch of Cocoon by author/illustrator Aura Parker at Kinokuniya, complete with a live drawing session. The book is everything I imagined and more – warm, charming and bursting with character.

Searching for stories with the SCBWI crew

More books …

In other picture book reads – I’ve been reading (and re-reading …) Lottie and Walter by Anna Walker, A Quiet Girl by Peter Carnavas and Love, Z by Jessie Sima. As for what I’m anticipating – loads, but mostly Tilly by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker. You know when you *just know* you’ll love something? That.

Beyond the magical world of PBs, I’ve recently read CATCH A FALLING STAR by Meg McKinlay, a middle grade set in the 70s, that intertwines a historical space event with family and feelings. I really loved the voice in this. I’m currently mid-way through BOY SWALLOWS UNIVERSE, an award-scooping adult read (and feeling like the last person on earth to read it, but I’m enjoying the ride).

What else? Our podcast is careering towards 25k downloads (ahhh thank you, people who listen!), and we’re recording a new episode at the Sydney Writers’ Festival this weekend. We’ll be chatting to two stars of the SWF Family Day events, authors (and so much more) Adrian Beck and Sally Rippin. Can’t wait!

Current book stack …

 

More things …

Eating

There’s been many a new food find lately, with my kids discovering a newfound love of bubble tea (just find us at your nearest Gong Cha). We also had biang biang noodles and ‘Runaway Chicken’ (think fried chicken piled high with dried chillis and sichuan peppercorns) at Xian Eatery in Burwood, and the best massaman curry at Khao Pla in Chatswood – yes, will happily traipse all over Sydney (and beyond) for delicious eats.

Watching

It’s cooling down, it’s binge-watch weather, and there’s so much great viewing right now. Am currently addicted to Killing Eve – onto Season 2 now after a mega catchup-athon. And of course, Game of Thrones, and for some food-related wanderlust, Street Food on Netflix, which makes me want to hop a flight to check out the eat scene in Osaka.

Waiting

… to reveal more news (and the colourful cover!) of my own upcoming picture book release … sooooon!

Bookish Buzz

OMP at SCBWI

Nat, Kate and I (a.k.a. One More Page) and some familiar faces behind us at SCBWI Syd 2019

 

Amelia, Gemma, me and Victoria – pic by Debra Tidball

 

I’m fresh from the bookish buzz that was the Sydney SCBWI Conference, an epic multi-day series of events headed up by everyone’s favourite literary lady, Susanne Gervay! From a series of mini-launches at Beecroft’s The Children’s Bookshop to a mega conference day, a dinner, and a workshop day afterwards, it was full on and fun. There are some excellent summaries of the sessions over on the SCBWI blog, if you want to check them out. And there are some great blog posts by Oliver Phommavanh and Debra Tidball with pics and highlights.

As always, so much of it was all the catching up and meeting new people in the kids’ book industry. Highlights for me included the dialogue masterclass run by Penguin Random House publisher Zoe Walton, an excellent, helpful manuscript critique by Nancy Conescu on my chapter book series, and a great session on author websites, social media and branding via Allison Tait and Valerie Khoo – part pep-talk, part stand-up special! Speaking of Allison Tait, guess who’s the latest guest on our podcast, One More Page?! Except this time, she’s donning her authorial blazer as A.L. Tait, chatting about her two middle grade series. You can take a listen here. So, what else is happening?

Reading:

THE BOOK CHOOK! This is my friend and fellow critique group member Amelia McInerney’s debut picture book with Omnibus/Scholastic, illustrated so vibrantly by Connah Brecon. It’s the hilarious tale of a chicken called Ray who realises he’s not actually a real chook, he’s a drawing in a book! Amelia launched it as one of the 9 ‘speed launchers’ at the SCBWI event, with more events (and more books!) to come.

The Book Chook

 

I’ve also just read a brand new YA thriller called LOVE LIE REPEAT by Catherine Greer, which has a really compelling (if not sinister) voice. It’s set in Sydney in the world of privileged, private school teens where all is not as picture perfect as it seems. Totally recommend!

My next read (for my adult book club) is Jane Harper’s THE LOST MAN. Her debut THE DRY was one book we all actually loved, which rarely happens! So I’m really looking forward to this one.

Loving:

Kids’ book podcasts (I mean beyond One More Page)! I now have a constant feed full of awesome kidlit inspiration, whether it’s hearing about the latest middle grade reads or words of wisdom from top MG authors on Middle Grade Mavens, to in-depth advice on the craft and business of writing on Tania McCartney’s The Happy Book. There’s also a ‘vodcast’ to either watch or listen to (innovative, much?!), The KidLit Club with authors Adrian Beck and Sally Rippin. Each of these podcasts has its own personality and feel, and I’m so pleased One More Page is part of this new wave of kids’ book reviewing, interviewing and all-round fandom!

The Happy Book podcast

Anticipating:

Anna Walker newness!!! LOTTIE AND WALTER is almost here, written and illustrated by my (and possibly everyone’s) picture book idol. I can’t *wait* for this to grace my bookshelf! I had a sneak peak at The Children’s Bookshop at the SCBWI speed launch event, and it’s stunning in every way. Yay!

Lottie and Walter

What else? More books, more launches, more writerly things. I’ll be heading to the launch of Aura Parker’s beautiful new bug book, COCOON soon (a bigger launch, post-SCBWI mini-launch, where Aura presented the book in a really clever way, relating metamorphosis to the kids’ book creating journey).

The Creative Kids’ Tales festival is coming up (my first!) which I’m really looking forward to – author talks on tap. Then not too long after, it’s time for *another* writers’ conference, KidLitVic in Melbourne. I’ve been every year so far and to be honest, was thinking I need to reign in the conference attending (and spending) but once the program was out, do you think I could help myself? It also ties in with a Scribbles Masterclass run by author Jen Storer, so there’s that, too. Of course, I totally have to go! Maybe I’ll see you there?

Picture Book Love: Harriet Gets Carried Away

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima, Simon & Schuster US 2018

Harriet loved costumes. She loved them so much, she wore them all the time! On the day of her own dress-up party she went shopping for supplies with her dads (while dressed as a penguin, of course) and got carried away – *actually* carried away, by penguins!

This is an absolutely adorable story that blurs the line between reality and fantasy. It highlights the magic of getting ‘carried away’ and is ultimately about belonging. The purple-toned illustrations with their touches of yellow suit both the urban and Antarctic settings, and lend the book a unique feel. I love everything about the design of this book, from the hot-air balloon endpapers, to the different cover under the dust jacket (Harriet in all different costumes – cute!).

Aesthetics aside, the story is so well constructed and full of memorable one-liners, with a very satisfying ending. It also has one of my favourite lines discovered in recent picture book readings:

Harriet was almost out of ideas
when one emerged from the sea.

Perfection!

 

Books and other stuff

The Girl the Dog and the Writer in Rome

Just a few things I’m reading/watching/buying/loving lately:

BOOKS

YA // Between Us by Clare Atkins – compelling new #LoveOzYA about an Iranian asylum seeker, and a boy she meets at school whose dad works works at her detention centre. So well-crafted with alternating narrators, some parts told in verse.

MG // Missing by Sue Whiting – a gripping new middle grade mystery about a girl determined to believe that her mum who’s missing in Panama is still alive. Heartbreaking and had me hooked right to the end.

JF // The Girl, the Dog and the Writer in Rome by Katrina Nannestad – charming, quirky, wanderlust-inducing (and will leave you craving raspberry gelato) – a gorgeous kids’ novel about 10-year-old Freja Peachtree’s adventures with a madcap writer in Rome. Quirky characters, a unique feel and LOTS of delicious food.

My Lazy Cat

PB // My Lazy Cat by Christine Roussey – Boomer the cat arrives on the narrator’s doorstep one day, and quickly becomes her best friend. But the girl decides Boomer’s quite lazy, unlike her with all her activities, from judo to yoga. When her day doesn’t quite go to plan she follows Boomer outside, and discovers the art of doing ‘nothing at all’. Love this story, and the illustrations are adorable!

OTHER STUFF

Shopping: at Miniso – hello, Japanese sheet masks (and other random fun stuff).

Eating: at Sushi Hotaru – favourite sushi train ever, great for a post-Kinokinuya browse.

Sushi Hotaru

Watching: I, Tonya –  shocking insights into Tonya Harding’s background, phenomenal acting!

Listening to: Lots of podcasts, including (surprise) ours! Episode 1 of One More Page debuted last week, and articles have popped up in a few places, like Books + Publishing here and the SCBWI blog here. Exciting times – and it’s almost time for Episode 2 next Wednesday, with our guest interviewee the talented illustrator Nicky Johnston.

Other bookish podcasts I’m listening to lately include That YA Podcast, Better Words, and Words and Nerds, plus long-time favourite So You Want to be a Writer. And in non-bookish pods, excited to discover Wowee!, interviewing artists and creatives, like jewellery designer Emily Green.

5 favourite recent reads

On top – cute pop-up ‘Once Upon a Rhinoceros’ bookmark found in Melbourne bookstore The Younger Sun!

Favourite recent reads include my fortuitous footpath find, a (lost? abandoned? manifested!?) review copy of Nevermoor by hype-worthy debut author Jessica Townsend. I tore through this middle grade fantasy, with its enchanting world and characters reminiscent of children’s classics, from shades of Willy Wonka in the eccentric Jupiter North, to a giant cat with an Alice in Wonderland feel. Despite these perhaps subliminal influences, Nevermoor still feels totally unique and fresh. I fell in love with the shape-shifting wonders of the Hotel Deucalion, and the plucky protagonist Morrigan Crow, a cursed girl doomed to die until she’s whisked away to Nevermoor, with a chance to join an exclusive society if she passes a series of trials. It’s a magical ride, with everything from suspense to wry humour, and the writing is simply amazing.

 

In adult fiction, I’ve read and recommend Bridget Crack by Rachel Leary and The Gulf by Anna Spargo-Ryan. The Gulf is a raw, realistic story about fractured families, domestic violence and survival. Teenage Skye will do anything to protect little brother Ben from their situation (think a bleak town, their mum’s loser/dealer boyfriend, constant threat) resulting in a desperate need for cash and escape. It’s a riveting read, and so well crafted – heartbreaking and hopeful.

 

Bridget Crack is historical fiction set in 1800s Hobart, about a convict servant who finds herself caught up with a bushranger group on the run. A key descriptor here could be ‘harsh’, from the treatment of convict women stuck in a cycle of servitude and abuse, to the unforgiving Tasmanian bush landscape so vividly depicted. I have a feeling both of these books will fare well in next year’s literary awards. Fingers crossed for Stella Prize nominations!

As for picture books, there have been two standouts from the ever-growing, library card-maxing stack. One is Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge, about an adventurous little rhino with a yearning to see the world beyond her muddy riverbank home. She’s strong and brave enough to dismiss the others’ negativity and take matters into her own hands. Super inspiring – loved it (and bought it, as it definitely transcends a library lend!).

The other is Feathers by Phil Cummings and Phil Lesnie, a beautiful story about a bird that flies across war-torn scenes, fleeing families, and treacherous floods and storms. It loses feathers along the way, offering hope to those who find them. It’s a deep and moving picture book, multi-layered and lyrical. These are two of the most special picture books I’ve come across this year (these two, plus Anna Walker’s Florette).

Writers’ Unleashed Festival 2017

 

Writers’ Unleashed Competition – with Zoe Walton, Rebecca Sheraton and Sue Whiting (pic: Ramona Davey)

Exciting times at the Writers’ Unleashed Festival, a one-day writers’ fest in Sydney’s ‘The Shire’ – not only did I get to experience a day immersed in the world of books (and book lovers), but placed in a picture book comp! Somehow, twice!

The competition results were announced by the judges of the shortlist, Zoe Walton of Penguin Random House and Sue Whiting (ex-Walker Books, author and editor). The lovely Rebecca Sheraton was the winner, and two of my manuscripts placed second and third. A member of one of my writers’ groups, Colleen, was shortlisted too, adding an extra level of yay. It was an exciting (if knee-shaky) moment accepting our awards in front of the whole conference, especially when there was a paparazzi-like swarm taking our pics afterwards (mostly writers’ group friends, but still, SCARY!).

It’s funny, some people have asked me, ‘So, what was the prize?’ as though prompting for details about piles of sweet, sweet cash and a gazillion-dollar publishing deal, but the real prize (for me, anyway) is encouragement to keep going.

 

Pic overkill alert! Colleen, me and Rebecca (pic: Amelia McInerney)

Tips from the festival sessions

Aside from the comp announcement, there were some great sessions like Sandy Fussell‘s talk on all things tech and social media for writers (she’s a fan of apps like Trello, Feedly and buffer to schedule posts). YA author Sarah Ayoub spoke about creating relatable female characters, with a focus on identity and diversity. She made an excellent point about not taking away someone else’s chance to tell their story, but instead, weaving in diverse secondary characters. And there was a fantastic picture book masterclass held by Sue Whiting. Some of her key tips include recording yourself reading your manuscript aloud to discover the clunky bits, figuring out what your story is about at its core so every word can drive the story, and to be specific about details to develop your characters and make your story stand out (she used Gus Gordon’s Herman and Rosie as an example, where even a yoghurt flavour is mentioned). Children’s author and everyone’s favourite podcast host Allison Tait was there too, talking strategies on making time to write (which I sadly missed). By all accounts it was excellent. Overall, an inspiring (and encouraging!) day.

August Update

Recent reads (and what I loved about them)

 

Remind me how this ends

Remind me how this ends by Gabrielle Tozer

Milo and Layla are childhood friends reunited, and whether or not they’ll end up together keeps you hanging until the end. Authentic characters, tonnes of feeling, a believable dual narrative, and a trip back to that moment of change and uncertainty post-school, pre-the rest of your life.

 

The Secrets We Keep by Nova Weetman

A wonderful, realistic middle grade read revolving around 11 year old Clem, and the aftermath of a house fire. Heartfelt, empathy-inducing, and well-paced, with secrets withheld right until the end.

 

The Catawampus Cat

The Catawampus Cat by Jason Carter Eaton and Gus Gordon

A picture book about the effect of a crooked cat on a kinda boring town. I loooooove this book. Both the story and Gus Gordon’s amazing illustrations, incorporating collage and all things vintage. Quirky, comedic and cat-tastic. (Catawampus = lopsided, I had no idea!).

 

Boy + Bot

Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman and Dan Yaccarino

A boy, a robot, misunderstandings and friendship – this story is full of quirk and charm. Have been seeking out all books Ame Dyckman lately, so good!

 

Nevermoor

The current read:

Nevermoor by debut author Jessica Townsend – I miraculously (magically?!) found a review copy on a lonely patch of footpath! It’s not out until October and getting major buzz already, so it was pretty exciting to stumble across. As well as Nevermoor, I’m also reading Wormwood Mire by Judith Rossell and the first Pippa’s Island book by Belinda Murrell.

 

What else is happening?

  • I’m going to the Writers Unleashed Festival later this month, a one-day event in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire with talks and workshops by Allison Tait, Sandy Fussell, Deborah Abela, Sarah Ayoub and more. Lots of favourites, lots of fab topics – can’t wait!
  • I’m partway through Scribbles, a creativity course run by children’s author and community-building, advice-wielding extraordinaire Jen Storer. It’s idea-generating, creativity-unblocking and I’m loving it.
Scribbles

Stuff for all things Scribbles!

 

  • Another bookish thing I’m loving is Picture Book Book Club, a monthly Twitter chat you can stalk or even better, participate in at #picbookbc. It’s a great opportunity to ask questions of the special guest author or illustrator, discover new PBs to seek out, and chat with a bunch of like-minded picture book obsessives.
  • I went to a SCBWI meeting at Woollahra Library the other weekend, and wow, what a library. It has envy-inducing plant walls, cool murals and even a slide! It was fun to catch up with friends, meet some new members and hear about Michelle Morgan’s foray into self-publishing. We also heard from Anna McFarlane, one of Allen and Unwin’s children’s publishers who gave us an inside look at what they’re publishing, interesting stats and more.
  • Other than that, I’m: plugging away with a junior fiction novel and several picture book manuscripts, thinking about the next JF idea, planning a Melbourne weekend (hooray!), eating too much kids’ party food(!!), obsessing over podcasts (try Literaticast if you’re looking for a new writing one), and dreaming of future, far-flung trips …

Picture book love: Gaston

Gaston

 

A favourite spread from Gaston

Gaston, written by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson, published by Simon and Schuster UK, 2015.

When Mrs Poodle gives birth to four adorable puppies, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, Ooh-La-La and Gaston, one is a little different to the rest. And as he grows, it’s undeniable that Gaston is a different breed. But that doesn’t stop him from trying super hard to fit in, and to succeed at everything he’s taught. When the family meet Mrs Bulldog and her puppies Rocky, Ricky, Bruno and Antoinette, Antoinette looks suspiciously poodle-like. It seems there’s been a puppy mix-up!

What happens next offers valuable lessons around not judging by appearances, belonging and acceptance. It’s also an interesting look at nature vs. nurture, with Antoinette preferring to be ‘tough’ like the bulldogs, and Gaston to be ‘tender’ like the other poodles. The overarching messages are woven through in a way they don’t feel too didactic, though, with fun, sparkly language and a wonderfully bossy omniscient narrator who insists we see each family of pups several times each. In addition to the writing, I love the illustrations in this book, from the still visible brushstrokes to the striking retro style. There’s a follow-up title, Antoinette, that I now must track down!

YA review: The Impossible Story of Olive in Love

Olive In Love

 

Seventeen-year-old Olive is plagued by a gypsy curse that’s made her invisible to all but her future true love. She has a blind best friend, Felix, a ‘perfect’ sister, Rose, and an estranged childhood friend, Jordan, who just knew that Olive was real, much to the annoyance of her family. Add in AWOL parents, a job writing a gossip column, and a newfound love interest, Tom (who can – gasp – actually see her!) and you have all the ingredients for a fast-paced, emotional rollercoaster ride of a read.

The invisibility factor takes all the angst and uncertainty of relationships in the teen years and amplifies them by a billion (at least!). Olive manages to use her invisibility to her advantage on her rocky road to true love (think stealing phones, stalking ex-girlfriends and revenge face slaps – well, wouldn’t you?!) but inevitably, it throws up lots of obstacles too, particularly while out on dates with Tom or having to meet his family. As for whether Tom really is her true love, you’ll have to read the book to find out!

Olive is one of the funniest, feistiest and most adorably flawed protagonists I’ve come across in ages. There were so many moments I laughed out loud while reading this story (often in public, no less). Olive’s sarcasm and full-on personality provide so much scope for hilarious dialogue, altercations, meltdowns and poignant moments that I don’t even care about her sometimes screwed-up logic, I love her anyway!

This is a book with that all-elusive ‘voice’ in spades – a voice I first encountered when reading chapters from the second Olive book at the writers’ group I just happen to be in with Tonya (yay!). So after loving the bits I’d seen of book two, it was super exciting to go back to the beginning and find out how Olive’s story began. Book two, please come out soon – sneak peeks aside, I still need to find out what happens next!

The Impossible Story of Olive in Love, by Tonya Alexandra, Harlequin Books (HQ Young Adult), 2017