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!

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

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.

Literary fun times and new cafe crushes

KidLitVic illustrators' cards

KidLitVic 2017

Pictured above: a few favourite cards picked up at KidLitVic, a fabulous writers’ conference now in its second year. My card stash features the work of illustrators (from top left, clockwise): Allison Langton, Caitlin Murray, Nicky Johnston, Luisa Gioffre-Suzuki, Irene Tan and Tania McCartney. Aren’t they all amazing?! One of my favourite parts of the conference was checking out the illustration portfolios on display (so much talent, sigh!).

The publisher panels offered the inside word on kids’ books, the atmosphere was fantastic, and the organisers (author Alison Reynolds and team) once more did an amazing job pulling everything together. Industry insights aside, meeting up with other writers and talking all things books and publishing was undoubtedly a highlight. Especially when debriefing afterwards over delicious Malaysian food! I stayed at my friend and fellow conference attendee Cat’s place, and we managed to squeeze in some Melbourne must-dos (like Readings Kids!) into our whirlwind of a weekend.

Readings Kids

Melbourne wanderings

With Cat and her kids as tour guides, we hit Lygon Street in Carlton for a cannoli fix at the treat-laden Brunetti’s, before a book-ish droolfest at Readings Kids. I so wish there was a carbon-copy in Sydney! Packed with everything from picture books to the latest #LoveOzYA reads, you can easily spend hours here (and lots of $!). I came away with a small stack of new reads, including some titles from my kids’ current favourite series, Truly Tan and Isadora Moon, about a half-vampire, half-fairy (super cute!).

You're Five series launch

Book launch: The You’re Five series by Shelly Unwin

Along with some other writer friends, I attended fellow critique group member Shelly’s book launch at The Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft. It was the first of several events launching her You’re Five series, with a book celebrating each age from 1 to 5. A great concept, and a beautiful package complete with Katherine Battersby’s charming illustrations. After introductions from bookshop owner Paul MacDonald and guest author Jacqueline Harvey of Alice Miranda fame, Shelly ran a fun storytime session followed by the perfect accompaniment – birthday cakes!

Natasha Lester author talk

In other bookish news, I went to a fascinating talk at Five Dock Library by Perth-based author Natasha Lester, with a focus on her latest historical fiction novel, Her Mother’s Secret. She filled us in on her publishing story, her writing routine and the in-depth research she conducts for her books. Her latest release is set in 1920s and 30s Paris, and centres around the birth of the make-up industry. I love the way Natasha’s books weave historical events with issues concerning women’s fight for equality (highly recommend her previous book too, A Kiss for Mr Fitzgerald, set in 1920s New York). Natasha is such a warm and open presenter, and it was so nice to meet a writer whose work (and advice-filled blog) I hugely admire.

Sydney Writers' Festival

Sydney Writers’ Festival

More books, more authors, more literary fun times! This year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival featured an amazing program, and their family day was no exception. We took our kids to see UK Children’s Laureate and Charlie and Lola creator Lauren Child, who talked about her influences and creative processes. Even Quentin Tarantino movies form the inspiration behind her beloved children’s books. We also saw the always hilarious Andy Griffiths, with glimpses of his upcoming 91-Storey Treehouse book, followed by a session with picture book creators Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys. They shared the stories behind their stunning picture book, Under the Love Umbrella, from initial idea and napkin scribbles on a Brooklyn-bound train, to the intensive illustration process. In other SWF news, I did a children’s writing masterclass with R.A. Spratt (Friday Barnes/Nanny Piggins). As well as being highly entertaining, she offered some great tips from plotting to using IRL observations of conflict as story fuel (recommended: a Saturday trip to Ikea!).

Goodbye Horses

Goodbye Horses

Cafe Crushes

And to accompany everything bookish – coffee, of course! So many cafes … so many crushes. A few on my radar lately:

~ Concrete Jungle in Chippendale, for their super health-packed bowls.

~ The perfectly tiny Glider (in the same laneway), with the cutest coffee coasters, like mini-wooden pallets.

~ And new Summer Hill cafe, Goodbye Horses – great coffee, music and staff (and plants!), and a backroom that feels just like a dining room in a terrace house.

KidLitVic 2016 (Part 2)

There were so many thought-provoking topics discussed at KidLitVic (see Part 1 for an intro), from gender and diversity in children’s books to what publishers are looking for. Did you know:

  • Picture books are submitted to publishers in far greater quantities than other types of kids’ books (junior fiction and beyond). For example, Melissa Keil of Five Mile Press said for them, it’s around a 30:1 ratio.
  • There is a need for more children’s books featuring female protagonists. From Melissa Keil: only 1 in 11 of their current picture books feature a female lead character(!)
  • There are exceptions to every ‘rule’. For example, picture book authors are commonly told the publisher will source the illustrator, however in the case of Scribble (a new imprint by Scribe), publisher Miriam Rosenbloom said they actually like being approached by an author/illustrator pair.

More from the panels:

  • Other interesting revelations from the Picture Book panel (Melissa Keil, Miriam Rosenbloom and Maryann Ballantyne from Black Dog Books) included picture book word lengths not always mattering (i.e. you don’t necessarily have to stick to the under 500 word guide most often mentioned). You can also submit 2-3 manuscripts at once.
  • The Chapter Book/Middle Grade panel, featuring Clare Hallifax (Scholastic), Marisa Pintado (Hardie Grant Egmont) and Michelle Madden (Penguin Random House), discussed the idea that boys will read chapter books featuring girls, but may feel social pressure to hide it. All revealed their penchant for publishing non-gender specific characters and concepts, however Clare Hallifax commented that young readers often want something gender specific. ‘I hate it, but it is a reality,’ she said.
  • Marisa Pintado and Michelle Madden prefer chapter books that are part of a series, however Clare Hallifax doesn’t mind standalone titles, especially if they can later be packaged with other books by the same author.
  • For illustrators, showcasing your work on websites like The Style File is invaluable. The Illustration panel (Jacinta di Mase (literary agent), Kimberley Bennett (Random House) and Suzanne O’Sullivan (Lothian/Hachette) mentioned they visit this for ideas and sourcing talent.
  • In the world of YA, paranormal is out. Lisa Berryman of HarperCollins said she receives ‘too much fantasy and paranormal’, while Elise Jones of Allen & Unwin said ‘publishers and booksellers are sick of dystopian’, even if readers aren’t yet.

There is so much more I could tell you – but if you write or illustrate children’s books, you might just have to come to the hotly anticipated 2017 event! A few more attendees have done some fabulous write-ups too:

  • Sylvia Morris includes some helpful links on permission protocols if writing from a cultural perspective that’s not your own (with some specific advice relating to indigenous content)
  • Ramona Davey features some great snapshots of what each of the presenters like (oh, and a pic of our lovely critique group too 🙂 )
  • Megan Higginson has a detailed, fly on the wall account that will make you feel like you were there, even if you weren’t

KidLitVic 2016 (Part 1)

Chapter book and middle grade panel at KIdLitVic 2016

I thought I’d recap some highlights from KidLitVic 2016 before I descend into a post-conference, hot chip and gravy scoffing pile of exhaustion *may be too late*.

This was the first ever KidLitVic conference, also known as ‘Meet the Publishers’, put on by children’s authors Alison Reynolds, Dee White and Jaquelyn Muller, and illustrator Nicky Johnston (who all did the most amazing job). Held in Melbourne’s State Library on 7 May,  it was a day full of insightful panel talks on everything from picture books through to YA, featuring some of Australia’s top children’s publishers. There was an illustrator showcase, one-on-one feedback appointments with editors/publishers/an agent plus pitching sessions, all followed by a cocktail party. So, what did we learn? Gazillions of things (like, hardly any guys come to children’s writing festivals, haha!), but I came away with a few strong overall messages:

Think commercially

This was reiterated again and again. Your writing might be good, but if your book’s not marketable it won’t be picked up. As a writer (or illustrator) you have to think beyond the story you want to tell to whether it will sell. This is the reality of publishing. So, the more insights you can gain into what publishers and the market want, the better.

You are your brand

Self-promotion in the form of social media and everything internet, along with events like writers’ festivals, school visits etc. are all part of being an author. Clare Hallifax of Scholastic said ‘you do become a brand’ and ‘there is a huge need for authors to be self-promoting’. Michelle Madden from Penguin wants ‘a person who can empathise with gatekeepers’.

Write all the books

Publishers are not interested in one hit wonders. Many said that they want to know you have (and can) write lots of books – that you’re worth investing in. Marisa Pintado of Hardie Grant wants ‘an author ready to write lots of books’. Publishers want career authors, not someone who’s rustled up a manuscript and just wants it published, with no intention of a book-creating future.

More to come in Part 2!

CYA Conference 2015

Morris Gleitzman

Morris Gleitzman on characters, problems, humour and his writing process

 

This was my second year attending the excellent CYA Conference, organised by a savvy team of wonderful women headed up by Queensland author Tina Marie Clark. Held in Brisbane, the conference is attended by a cross-section of the Australian children’s book industry, from publishers and literary agents to established authors and illustrators, up-and-comers and fresh arrivals to the world of children’s writing.

The conference started with a fun networking night full of inspiring people, drinks, chats, prizes and laughs. The following day was jam-packed with sessions and workshops. First up was a panel talk of success stories stemming from an association with CYA, one of my favourite parts of the conference. This year, we heard from Georgie Donaghey of Creative Kids’ Tales about her path to publication with Lulu (an adorable rhyming picture book about a dancing polar bear), who said ‘rejections fuelled my passion and inspiration’. Illustrator Helene Magisson shared her story and said ‘put all your passion and energy in it and doors will open’. I also really loved first-time author Jennifer Loakes’ story about her writing journey with her picture book Mate and Me, complete with dismay at its’ low competition placing before revising and reworking it – hope for us all!

I attended YA author Kaz Delaney’s highly personable session that focused on the oft-neglected ‘saggy middle’ of a narrative that can let down an otherwise amazing beginning and ending. Next, it was the exuberant Meredith Costain’s masterclass on creating hooks or page turners, with some really practical advice and examples. The other major session of the day was a talk by Morris Gleitzman on everything from his writing processes (copious amounts of green tea are a must!) to ideas on characters and the importance of problems in a narrative. ‘We are deeply curious about the problems of our fellow humans,’ he said. As writers, ‘we want to envelop the experience of that problem.’ He explained that characters usually come to him as an embodiment of a problem, and that we ‘sometimes need to let characters fail for their own good’.

The day was a whirlwind of ideas, note-taking, coffee-swilling, book-purchasing and connecting with like-minded people. I’m so impressed with the way Tina, Ally, Sam, Debbie, Natalie and the other volunteers pulled together another great conference, providing encouraging words along the way as we attended nerve-wracking pitch sessions and feedback appointments on our work.

Post-conference, there was time for dinner with my YA manuscript winning friend and conference roommate Cat Mojseiwicz, then a riverside breakfast and whirl around the art exhibitions at GOMA the next morning before flying back to 10 degrees colder Sydney, armed with inspiration overload.

P.S. Here’s my write-up on last year’s conference: 5 things I learnt at CYA Conference 2014

P.P.S. Author Dee White has published some great posts following this year’s CYA: Why attend writer’s conferences and Preparing for a writer’s conference – a post for unpublished writers

{Writing} 5 things I learnt at CYA Conference 2014

I recently ventured to Brisbane for this year’s CYA Conference (Children and Young Adult’s literature). As an aspiring children’s author I’m trying to gather as much intel as possible on all things writing and publishing related, from studying children’s writing as part of an MA to attending workshops and conferences. Which brings me to one piece of wisdom from CYA – don’t spend too much time studying writing and not enough time actually writing (guilty!). Here’s what else I learnt at this amazing gathering of inspirational people:

1. Children’s writers are the friendliest

CYA Conference is as much about networking as learning. Everyone I met was so friendly, encouraging and unpretentious – children’s author Aleesah Darlison raised this about Australia’s children’s writing community at a recent NSW Writer’s Centre event, and it seems to be true (yay!). And speaking of wonderful people – one of my oldest, dearest friends (hi Cat!) was in attendance at CYA and neither of us thought to inform the other we’d be there. Surprise!

2. Bring useful things

There’s not much you *need* to bring to writing events except copious amounts of paper and a pen or two, though I noticed some savvy attendees toting laptops, where they wrote up their notes directly without having to go back over them later. Or perhaps they were super savvy and were blogging and social media-ing on the spot. Another idea is to bring business cards. Most writers whether published or aspiring had their own business cards at hand. Brilliant for networking/friend-making purposes. And more likely to be followed up than hastily scrawled contact details in people’s notebooks, don’t you think?

3. Recent success stories are so inspiring

Words of wisdom from well-established authors are invaluable, but the experiences of a freshly published debut author can seem more relatable or attainable. At CYA we heard from a panel of newly published authors, from Kat Apel with her Bully on the Bus novel to Stella Tarakson with Mike the Spike and Cassandra Webb with Adorable Alice. All assured the captive audience to never give up. Cassandra spoke of receiving over 50 rejections before being published, and Kat Apel mentioned it took seven years from the time of writing her book to the publication date.

4. Don’t send glitter

Publishers from Penguin, Walker Books, Lothian/Hachette, Wombat Books, Five Mile Press and Tyle and Bateson, as well as literary agent Alex Adsett, held a fascinating discussion panel delving into their likes and dislikes when receiving manuscripts. One of their major pet hates? Gifts. Particularly those bearing fine sparkly particles that rain down on their keyboards once opened. Glitter aside, one publisher spoke of opening an envelope full of sand with a note that stated ‘the beach is coming’ (which they vowed not to read!). A warning to all – withhold the gimmicks – ‘damn good writing’ is all Suzanne O’Sullivan of Lothian (and the others) are interested in.

5. Take a chance on sessions that seem irrelevant

At any conference in any industry, certain sessions or workshops will seem much more applicable to attendees than others. CYA’s lineup included some topics that weren’t directly relevant to me (at first glance), yet some of these proved surprisingly useful. One (which was perhaps my favourite session of the conference!) was an illustration session with author/illustrator Peter Carnavas (The children who loved books, Sarah’s Heavy Heart…). Despite falling firmly in the writers camp, I gained a greater appreciation for the role of illustrations in telling a picture book’s story, and learnt how to draw a very cool bird among other things in the process!

I came away from CYA feeling inspired, energised, informed and connected, and highly recommend it to any aspiring or emerging authors or illustrators. I’m sure I’ll be back in 2015!