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?

Exciting Book News!

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!

How to hold a DIY Writing Retreat

Could there be a more idyllic front yard?!

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.

What didn’t:

– 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.

Hamptons-ish, no?

Space
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.

Features
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.


Location

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!

CYA Conference 2018

Sunny Southbank

Um, Southbank – are you sure it’s winter?

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.

Books for sale at CYA

Books for sale at CYA – so many fab friends and creators!

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!

Interviewing Tina Clark

Getting the CYA lowdown with founder Tina Clark

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!

 

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 …