My picture book Tulip and Brutus is nearly here!
It’s about friendship, teamwork, differences … and bugs! Some pre-order links are live on my Books page. Looking forward to sharing this stinky little story soon!
My picture book Tulip and Brutus is nearly here!
It’s about friendship, teamwork, differences … and bugs! Some pre-order links are live on my Books page. Looking forward to sharing this stinky little story soon!
I love knowing people’s favourite kids’ books. I feel like it tells me a little bit about that person. Do they gravitate to humour, or are they drawn to the dark side? Literary or commercial? A bit of everything?
I don’t want to pigeonhole myself as only reading and liking a certain kind of book, but then again, perhaps there are some themes tying my favourites together. I do gravitate to realism in the kids’ books I read (and write), then a dose of mystery or magic will find its way into my reading pile, or my keyboard.
Here are some of my favourite kids’ reads, from picture books to middle grade:
Florette by Anna Walker
Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon
Go Go and the Silver Shoes by Jane Godwin & Anna Walker
Adelaide’s Secret World by Elise Hurst
Maya & Cat by Caroline Magerl
The Underwater Fancy Dress Parade by Davina Bell & Alison Colpoys
Mr Huff by Anna Walker
Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima
The Children Who Loved Books by Peter Carnavas
Ginger Green Playdate Queen by Kim Kane
Lemonade Jones by Davina Bell
Isadora Moon by Harriet Muncaster
Truly Tan by Jen Storer
Violet Mackerel by Anna Branford
Polly and Buster by Sally Rippin
The Girl, The Dog and the Writer trilogy by Katrina Nannestad
Stella Montgomery trilogy by Judith Rossell
Nevermoor series by Jessica Townsend
Missing by Sue Whiting
The Secrets We Share/Keep by Nova Weetman
Sickbay by Nova Weetman
The Other Christy (and many others) by Oliver Phommavanh
The Mulberry Tree by Allison Rushby
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many more, but this is the top line ‘Books I REALLY Love’ list. The ones that straightaway come to mind. (I’ve purposefully omitted my writers’ group’s books as it goes without saying I love them all, and I don’t want to accidentally miss one. Yeah, there’s starting to be a lot!). I realise there’s a bit of a female author bias, but hey, at least there’s Gus, Peter and Oliver! Other binding themes – feelings, friendship, heart, and that old cliché, a strong and authentic voice. In the middle grade list, there’s also adventure, mystery and suspense.
I can also see that my current taste reflects that of childhood me. Picture book favourites included There’s a Sea in my Bedroom by Margaret Wild (still love Margaret Wild), Meg and Mog, and lots of Dreamtime stories. A hefty dose of Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl followed, then Selby’s Secret, Hating Alison Ashley, Harriet the Spy, the Anastasia Krupnik books by Lois Lowry, everything Judy Blume (on constant repeat), Paula Danziger’s books and The Baby-Sitters Club.
I loved books set in boarding schools, too. And there were definitely supernatural stories among the mix, I loved things like poltergeists and seances and witchcraft as a kid! A standout memory is Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones (I so wanted to fly around on a broomstick by myself in the middle of the night). So, late-80s me was probably pretty similar to late 20-tens me – loving stories strong on feeling, with a side serve of mystery and magic.
Do you see any parallels between the books you loved most as a kid vs the ones you gravitate to now? I’d love to know what they are!
So I was book-stalking on Booktopia, as you do, when something compelled me to search for my *own* upcoming picture book. Oh, I don’t think I’ve mentioned the title yet? It’s called (drumroll …) TULIP AND BRUTUS and it’s illustrated by the stupendously talented Andrew Plant!
Anyway, maybe it was a moment of imagining what it would be like to look up your own book and magically see it there, on Australia’s mega-portal to *all the books*. I typed in the title and couldn’t believe it when IT WAS THERE! I swear I actually felt my heart skip a beat. I’m sure most authors and illustrators don’t bat an eyelid at such things after a while, but this being my first book, it felt like a momentous occasion – my first sighting of any mention of my book in the public domain. It then got me thinking, if seeing a not-out-yet book with a not-yet revealed cover listed on Booktopia is that exciting, what else will be heart palpitation-inducing?! Here are five more things …
1) Holding an actual physical copy in my hands for the first time.
There’s a reason for all those un-boxing videos circulating online. An actual book! On actual paper! It’s reeeeal!
2) First sighting ‘in the wild’.
This will be amazing (er, I think I’ve got something in my eye …). A book, on a shelf, in a shop. Something people can actually buy!
3) Spotting it in a library.
This might be even better? Not everyone can afford all the new releases, but there’s always borrowing! This will be super cool. Libraries are the actual best.
4) Reading a review. Or maybe not?
This will be surreal, that a book reviewer/blogger/lover has taken the time to read the book and share their thoughts with the world. Unless it’s one of those shocking Goodreads reviews that pop up from time to time, in which case I’ll see if Kate and Nat want to do a ‘celebrities reading mean tweets about themselves’ kind of skit and we can read them out on the podcast.
5) If anyone buys it or even shares it on social media and it’s someone I DON’T EVEN KNOW!
What??!! If this happens, I’ll be ridiculously grateful forever and ever.
So there you have it, my top 5 surreal (but awesome) things about having a book. Not sure if any of these things will ever feel old?! I hope not!
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.
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!
More things …
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.
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.
… to reveal more news (and the colourful cover!) of my own upcoming picture book release … sooooon!
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?
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.
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.
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!
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!
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?
It’s happened!!! I officially have a picture book on its way!
Super excited to share that Melbourne-based publisher Ford Street will be bringing one of my favourite picture book manuscripts to life. I’ll share more about the book closer to time, but basically this came about due to a pitching session at CYA Conference with Meredith Costain (also the writerly brains behind huge kidlit hits like the Ella Diaries series, which I’ve long admired). Looking forward to working with publisher Paul Collins and my future mystery illustrator!
The CYA Conference has played a huge role in my writing journey so far – it was one of the very first writing events I ever attended, and has connected me with lots of great writers, illustrators and publishers over the last few years. AND it was even the subject of our podcast One More Page‘s first ever event special (you can listen to it here). I highly recommend it to anyone setting out on their kidlit journey.
Speaking of One More Page, we’ve just cracked 12,000 downloads and we’re recording the final couple of episodes of 2018. It’s been so much fun, and to top off a great first year of podcasting we’ve been invited to be guest speakers at the SCBWI Sydney Christmas party, woo hoo! If you’re a Sydney SCBWI-ite, hope to see you there!
Writing retreats: super productive, accelerated write-athons, or an excuse to get together with friends and be a bad caffeine-fuelled cliche full of cheese, wine and chats? Um, is it okay if it’s a bit of both? Because that’s pretty much what my recent weekend away with four writing friends was all about. And as far as I’m concerned, it was a success! Here are the ins and outs of our three-day stay in beachside Patonga, which might be useful if you’re thinking of holding your own DIY writing retreat.
What worked best:
– Rules schmoolz – we kept the structure of the weekend very loose, which allowed for random bursts of writing, workshopping each others’ ideas, brainstorming difficult plot points and critiquing each other’s work whenever, interspersed with beach walks, chats and endless tea. It was a great mixture of work and fun, and something with a more rigid timetable just wouldn’t have had the same vibe. I think this comes down to personality though, and the way you work best. It also meant we wrote and edited when ideas struck rather than because we were meant to.
– Word sprints – You may have seen #500in30 floating around on social media – it was basically just like that. This was where we started a timer for 30 minutes and wrote non-stop, with the aim of reaching at least 500 words. While of course you can complete these in your own time and space, doing them together felt even more productive. Something about being accountable and not wandering off to the fridge or kettle, perhaps. We did these towards the end of our stay which worked well, as it put all the ideas generated through brainstorming and workshopping onto paper. And speaking of – some people typed while others literally used pen and paper. Whatever works for you!
– Critique swaps – at random times throughout the weekend we’d break off into twos for a critique swap, whether it be a picture book manuscript or a chapter or two. Without printers on hand, we did this by basically swapping laptops and just marking up comments on the document.
– Not enough ‘stuff’ – It’s hard to find fault with such a great weekend (thanks guys!) but if thinking about it from a ‘next time’ point of view, maybe staying somewhere with more ‘stuff’ would be fun, albeit distracting. We went to a café a few times, but had to drive to the next town over (Pearl Beach), so staying somewhere with a few cafes and shops to explore in periods of down time (let’s call it ‘thinking time’) would be fun. And somewhere to go for dinner would be good, too. The one place to eat out in Patonga (a waterfront pub) was closed for renovations, so we mostly ate food we brought with us (chocolate is a meal, right?), and one night picked up Thai from a couple of suburbs away.
Things to look for in a rental property:
We rented a house via Airbnb, and while it wasn’t the cheapest house around, it felt like the perfect pick. We wanted a place that was within 1-2 hours drive for all of us, coming from various parts of Sydney and surrounds. Patonga on the lower Central Coast fitted the bill; alternatives could be the Southern Highlands or the Blue Mountains.
We were fortunate enough to stay in a fantastic four-bedroom, two-bathroom house spread over two levels, so there was plenty of space for everyone. Despite two people having to share one room, it never felt too crowded. Most of our time was spent in the open plan dining/lounge room and there was lots of space to spread out – two big couches, a dining table and a smaller table with chairs, so everyone had their own writing spot. There was another dining set on the outdoor deck which would have been great in warmer weather. A smaller living area wouldn’t have worked quite as well, so I’d definitely prioritise a spacious communal area over big bedrooms.
Conveniences like WiFi, a dishwasher and heating throughout the house also made the stay a comfortable one, with the kitchen situation great for the gazillions of coffee cups used over the weekend. Without a dishwasher it would have been a whole lot more annoying, with domestic chores taking away from writing time. Another plus was having linen included, so everyone didn’t have to lug their own sheets and towels there and back.
A place on a busy road wouldn’t have been anywhere near as relaxing as our quiet street in a relatively isolated village. Think about the noise factor when picking a place – it’s a writing retreat after all, and the sound of lapping waves is more conducive to thinking time than party noise and traffic. Although as mentioned above, it can be worth considering if you want to be near village shops for cafes, food and other distractions. Or not!
Too budget-blowing? Try these:
A DIY writing retreat certainly doesn’t have to involve forking out for a fancy beach house, as fun and indulgent as that can be. It doesn’t have to cost much, or even anything at all. Other alternatives are:
– A day (or stay) at a writing friend’s house – preferably one with a big communal space, whether it be a lounge room, back deck or yard, with plenty of spots to sit.
– A few hours at a café – especially one with a communal table and nice staff who don’t seem annoyed you’ve outstayed your welcome (you should totally be on your fifth flat white by now …).
– A room at your local writers’ centre – if you’re a member of a writer’s centre, check their room rental policy. Many allow members to use their rooms free of charge.
– A day out and about – if you’re looking for story ideas or writing prompts, you could meet at an art gallery, museum, market or fun park (SCBWI sometimes runs sessions like these called Scribble and Sketch). Wander around and stop to observe for a while, and use your senses to generate scenes, or people watch for character ideas. Public transport journeys alone can be great for this. The possibilities are endless!
What a weekend … I’m not sure I’ve fully processed the whirlwind that was CYA 2018! The highs, the lows … do we have to talk about the lows?! CYA was a rollercoaster of emotions for me as I had the drama of a cancelled flight to contend with and a bunch of missed editor appointments on the first conference day (not to mention missing the dinner, boo!). But thanks to the generosity and flexibility of Tina Clark, Debbie Kahl and the superstar CYA team, and the wonderfully accommodating Sue Whiting, all was back on track and squeezed into the full conference day. Hooray!
All of that aside, the conference was jam-packed. I volunteered for a bit, heard a session for a bit (Claire Saxby’s picture book masterclass – brilliant!) and podcasted for a lot. Nat and I interviewed a bunch of different conference attendees and presenters, and put together a special bonus episode of One More Page revolving around CYA. You can take a listen here.
Aside from podcasting, another high was receiving two 2nd place awards for the CYA Competition, one for a picture book in the preschool category, the other for a non-fiction picture book. And my One More Page co-host Nat also took home two 2nds and a 1st in the picture books primary category and for a chapter book. Hooray!
It was so much fun as always to catch up with friends, interstate writers and illustrators and meet some new people. We met Zanni Louise which was awesome – after interviewing her remotely for the podcast it was so nice to chat in real life! Post-conference, there was the obligatory dinner and wine with some of the writerly gang, and a next day breakfast and stroll around Southbank. So holiday-ish. So SUNNY!
So after another mega dose of conference fun and writerly inspiration, it’s time to put the writing advice in action. Thanks to the organisers for a fabulous time!
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.