Covers, Costumes, and Crashing some Blogs

The countdown is on till my next picture book hits the shelves. WALKING YOUR HUMAN is on its way – due out in February 2021! A bunch of sassy pups spill all the ways to walk your human, like the best places to eat, drink and even cool down. I just love all the animated doggos that illustrator Gabriella Petruso has created, and it’s already open for pre-orders on Booktopia – hooray! Here’s a peek at the cover:

 

 

In other bookish news, it’s Book Week 2020, with the theme of Curious Creatures, Wild Minds. It was a thrill to watch the CBCA Book of the Year Awards announced online last week, and see some favourite reads receive well-deserved gongs. I absolutely love the adorable MY FRIEND FRED by Frances Watts and A. Yi that took out the winning spot for Early Childhood, and for other favourite reads of the past year like NOP by Caroline Magerl and THE SECRETS OF MAGNOLIA MOON by Edwina Wyatt to win Honour awards. Another exciting win was for small publisher Ford Street (who published my picture book Tulip and Brutus) – with their title by Chris McKimmie, I NEED A PARROT winning Picture Book of the year.

Speaking of Book Week, there’s been many a costume idea floating around online lately, should you need some inspo. My friend Gemma Patience has collated an awesome round-up of dress-up ideas on her blog, here. Just a reminder that if you’re after a super last-minute (and super easy) ‘rustle up at home’ type costume, my bug book offers an easy out. Red and black clothes, some spots, some makeshift antennae and hey presto, you’re Tulip (the ladybug from Tulip and Brutus)!

 

 

I’ve also popped up on another amazing blog lately, by author and podcaster extraordinaire Allison Tait! I’m a long-time reader and fan of Allison’s blog, with its wealth of writing advice and inspiration (plus I’m a diehard So You Want Be a Writer podcast listener), so I loved having a guest blog post published by Allison, 6 things I’ve learned about podcasting. It’s a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at the ins and outs of producing and co-hosting a podcast, with some tips for aspiring podcasters included too.

 

 

Some recent One More Page podcast episodes we’ve released include an Own Voices ep, where I interviewed graphic novelist and middle grade author Remy Lai about her books like FLY ON THE WALL. Nat spoke to deaf activist and author Asphyxia, and Kate interviewed YA author Alison Evans. Then another jam-packed ep overloaded with guests was our very own Picture Book Palooza, starring Gus Gordon, Kate & Jol Temple and Lucinda Gifford.

I’m so proud of these epic episodes – not only are we getting to pick the brains of people we admire in the kidlit industry, but the fact they’re free and available for anyone to listen to is, well, pretty amazing. How good are podcasts?! For Book Week, I just made a little vid for Newtown Public School too, to help share some podcasterly advice and inspiration with the kids there who are delving into their own podcast projects.

Other than that, I’ve been devouring so many amazing new release kids’ books, like the beautiful HELLO JIMMY by Anna Walker and FINDING FRANCOIS by Gus Gordon. In the world of YA I escaped into STARS LIKE US by Frances Chapman, and a fun recent adult read was THE NANCYS by R.W.R. McDonald. The long awaited HOLLOWPOX by Jessica Townsend is now calling my name, along with the gorgeous (and gold foiled) THE GRANDEST BOOKSHOP IN THE WORLD, a debut middle grade by Amelia Mellor.

Happy Book Week, book lovers!

Podcast press, pranks and people

Our podcast One More Page features in the latest issue of Newswrite magazine, the member mag for Writing NSW. Hooray! It was exciting to be approached by the centre for this, especially since it’s our podcast HQ, plus we’re often there for writing critique groups in non-Corona times. I definitely have a soft spot for this place (the late night haunted feeling just adds to the charm). Here’s the piece:

Also on the podcast front, we’ve pulled together the last few episodes of One More Page via recording everything online (as is the way right now). Actually missing that kooky little Harry Potter room under the stairs at Writing NSW! I interviewed author Mick Elliot for our ‘Gross is Good’ episode, and we’ve also had agent Danielle Binks, Real Pigeons author Andrew McDonald and Laura Harris from Penguin Random House on the show (plus Adrian Beck in Ep 48’s Kids Capers, despite him being completely unaware – cue lawsuit). You can check them out here:

And another super exciting happening of late – the launch of my podcast co-host Nat’s latest middle grade book, The Power of Positive Pranking, complete with socially-distanced book launch at Berkelouw Leichhardt. Nat also celebrated the launch online via an *epic* reading of the first couple of chapters of the book by an array of kidlit creators, from Matt Cosgrove to Sally Rippin. Superstar UK author Katherine Rundell is even there! I was so thrilled to be included – see my little cameo between Zanni Louise and James Foley:

 

And here’s team OMP on launch day – excitement! Rachel at Berkelouw (who also hosted my picture book launch!) did an amazing job at setting up the store, from a prank hunt for the kids to installing Nat in the window, sneeze guard and all. Brilliant!

Coming up, I’ve just interviewed author Julianne Negri. It was so amazing hearing more about her debut middle grade novel, The Secret Library of Hummingbird House. Definite perks of the podcast – not only getting access to exciting new books before they hit the shelves, but delving deeper into the inspirations behind the stories. Looking forward to sharing this one, the book is simply magical. It features family problems as protagonist Hattie Maxwell deals with her parents divorce, melded with a timeslip adventure in an old house with a hidden library, a tree that grows lollies and so much more. It’s the kind of book I would’ve absolutely devoured and loved as a late-primary school aged reader.

How to hold a kids’ book launch (or even how to wing it)

T&B Melbourne launch crew Meredith Costain, Andrew Plant, me, Julie Grasso and Pamela Ueckerman (aka the Middle Grade Mavens) at Ford Street HQ

This has been a big year of bookish firsts for me. With my first picture book Tulip and Brutus out in the world, I’ve had a deluge of new experiences, from the first time holding the book in my hands, to first bookshop sightings, school visits, author interviews and more. It’s been a wild ride (crammed into the last two months or so) and a lot of fun, but one of the biggest ‘firsts’ was holding a book launch. Err, make that two. The first was at Sydney’s Berkelouw Books (Leichhardt) in their upstairs event space, the second in Melbourne at Ford Street Publishing HQ.

For other first-timers, or even old-timers unsure about the whole launch thing, here are a few tips I’ve learnt along the way:

Have a ‘launcher’ or two
Not keen on the spotlight falling entirely on you? I was always going to be on board with the idea of having other (far more entertaining) people doing the heavy crowd-pleasing lifting. This is where book launchers come in – peeps who do some kind of speech with a bonus little something to make the event memorable. Being one third of a podcasting trio, I felt asking my One More Page podcast co-hosts Kate and Nat to launch my first book was a no-brainer. Kicking things off at the Sydney launch, they wore giant bug costumes, were extremely funny and brought the house down with their unique rendition of ‘I Got You Bug’. It was the best. And all I had to do (for that bit anyway) was sit back and enjoy the show. Perfect!!

At my Melbourne launch, I continued the podcast host theme with Julie and Pamela from Middle Grade Mavens as the launchers. Complete with bug antennae, they did a fun ‘would you rather’ type game then a bookish Q&A with illustrator Andrew Plant and I, and did a fabulous job. I loved the collaborative feel of having other people involved in my launch, and there’s definitely the feelgood factor of other people having your back! As for who you could ask to launch your book – I’ve seen friends have their publisher as their launcher, another author friend, or a writing teacher or mentor. It could be anyone you feel a connection with in the bookish world.

It’s all in the timing. Or not?!
There’ll never be the perfect date or time that suits all of your family and friends. For my Sydney launch, I evaded the school holidays (when by book’s release date fell) due to some people being away, and held it the weekend after the holidays ended. This seemed to make sense, however it just meant there were a different batch of peeps unable to attend. What I’ve learnt from this is not to overthink the date and time. There’ll never be a one-time-fits-all solution, so just take a gamble and hope most of your BFFs can make it! Just for detail’s sake, my Sydney launch was on a Sunday morning, while the Melbourne launch was on a Saturday afternoon. Both seemed to work!

Spread the word (like, really spread it)
For both launches, I whipped up a pretty simple invite on Canva (free) with all the essential info, book cover pic and using colours matching the book. I posted these all over social media, mostly Facebook and Instagram, and also mentioned the events on One More Page and via the pod’s social media accounts too. It ended up being shared by all kinds of people online and even popped up in Pass It On newsletter (without me instigating!). Basically, it was a free for all. I recommend this approach – if I’d kept it a bit more invite only, I’m sure I would’ve forgotten someone anyway, and this way you have a few surprise guests, like friends bringing friends you haven’t seen for a while, or someone deciding to bring their mum. Fun!

Homemade vibes

Food glorious (theme-ish) food
People young and old LOVE food at book launches. I mean, *really* love food. I had what I thought was an excessive amount of food at both launches and it was absolutely demolished. Theme-ish food is always fun – I didn’t get anything specially made (although I do love a book cover cupcake), as my book featured ladybugs and stinkbugs, and it seemed like an easy enough thing to whip up at home. Think cookies with icing eyes and blue smartie dots for the stinkbugs, and cupcakes featuring little fondant ladybugs miraculously for sale in the baking section at Woollies. Yay! I made a whole lot, then my Mum oddly enough made THE EXACT same kind of ladybug cupcakes without me knowing, plus Oreo ladybug cookies so there was like, double of everything! Then I duplicated the same things for the Melbourne launch (I made them once I got there as I stayed at a friend’s). In addition to that, Ford Street put on a whole lot of other food and even wine and bubbles. Hooray!

Gimmicks and giveaways
This might be my biggest tip of all. Get your gimmick on! Think about what else you could do to shine the spotlight off yourself and onto OTHER THINGS! If that’s how your brain works. My most gimmicky and fun thing (besides the hilarity of my launchers and their shenanigans) was a bug eating game. As my picture book features bug characters, and edible bugs are a thing, I held a game with a spinning wheel (at the Sydney launch) where kids could come up and spin, game-show style, to win a chocolate bug or a real cricket to eat.

I couldn’t lug the wheel to Melbourne, but still ran the same game – the kids just drew a piece of paper out of a box to reveal which bug type they’d won. At both launches, I held a lucky draw prize, the prize being a basket full of buggish things I’d put together (activity books, stickers, lollies, bug toys etc.). And I made some activity sheets for kids to take home – a Tulip and Brutus find-a-word and a maze. I had T&B bookmarks to give away too, supplied by Ford Street. And at the Melbourne launch they also provided another prize for the winner of a T&B themed art contest. I loved the feeling of giving away things – I highly recommend this as a way to engage with everyone there. And who doesn’t love a prize?!

Illustrator Andrew Plant bringing the word art to life (verbally, not just art-ily!) as I read Tulip and Brutus

So there you have it – my top tips on holding a big, buzzy book launch or two. You can see a whole bunch of photos of both of my launches on my Instagram and Facebook author page.

Oh, and one more thing, I have since had a couple of people asking me curiously about the cost factor. Neither launch costed me much at all! The venues were free (bookshops don’t charge money for holding your event there. It’s a huge and instant customer base for them!), and Ford Street hosted my launch in Melbourne, so that was a free venue too. For food, I went homemade, and except for a few fondant bits and pieces the ingredients were mostly lurking in my cupboard anyway. (Or in the case of Melbourne, in my friend Cat’s cupboard, hehe). Invites and publicity were all free, as it was all online only and self-generated.

The only other costs were buying the crickets for the game (I borrowed the spinning wheel), and buying a few inexpensive things for the lucky draw prizes. As for going to Melbourne, I used frequent flyer points and stayed at a friend’s place (who also played chauffeur all weekend, which I’m ridiculously grateful for). So moneywise, it wasn’t actually much of an outlay, bar edible crickets and prizes!

The whole book launch idea all seemed so intimidating to me at first, but in the end I’m glad I launched with a bang. It definitely made my book debut feel more memorable, generated some buzz online, and was a really great way to connect with the bookish community and bring friends together. I hope this gives you a dose of confidence if you’re weighing up whether to have a book launch, particularly for your first book. Afterwards, you may even have a publisher request a phone meeting to discuss your book launch tips, as your pics online make you look like some kind of book launch expert even though you’ve been winging it the entire time. True story!

A buzzy, buggy book launch!

Tulip and Brutus is officially launched! I was completely overwhelmed with the turnout and buzz at the Sydney launch – a weird and wonderful whirlwind of a morning.

Held upstairs at Berkelouw Books in Leichhardt, with the amazing Rachel Robson at the organising helm, it was such a fun time. Think an overloaded table of buggish treats like strawberry, oreo and cupcake ladybugs, and cookie stinkbugs (promptly demolished), plus a truly spectacular rendition of ‘I Got You Bug’ (think I Got You Babe, on … a lot of sugar) by my giant buggy launchers – One More Page podcast co-hosts and writers’ group buddies, Kate and Nat. Totes brought the house down.

After a book reading, I ran a game where kids could spin a game show-ish wheel to win either a chocolate bug or a real bug, a crunchy cricket. The uptake for the crickets was far more enthusiastic than I anticipated. Yay! How delicious are bugs?!

There were so many awesome people in the room, from old friends and family members to my kids’ school friends to writerly people from all the kidlit places, like SCBWI. I had an epic book sign-a-thon which was *surreal*, a gazillion photos were taken, and it all went by in a dreamlike blur. And I get to do it all again soon in Melbourne with the book’s publisher Ford Street and illustrator Andrew Plant too, hooray! If you’re Melbourne-based and around on Saturday 9 November, I’d love to see you there (find the details over on my FB Author page).

Huge thanks to everyone who shared their snaps with me – my mum, Steve, Mali, Amelia, Amanda and probably more – thanks all!

What else?

An author talk
Soon after the Sydney launch, I visited Shellharbour Library for an author talk with the most lovely writers and illustrators group. It was a really fun morning complete with another book reading, signing and sales, and an extensive q&a type book chat about the writing and publication journey. And we ate more bugs! Local writer Karen Hendriks was a fab host, taking me on a tour of the town including a stunning beach viewpoint.

Some longlistings
I randomly entered the Lane Cove Literary Awards and found myself longlisted in the Travel Story category, woo hoo! I didn’t progress beyond the longlist, but it was nevertheless a bit of a boost and a reminder of my pre-kidlit love for non-fiction travel writing (and of course, travelling). I also entered a pitching contest via Just Write for Kids, and just found out I’m on the picture book longlist. Fingers crossed! But regardless of the outcome, it was a great way to pin down a pitch for that particular story anyway!!

A podcast interview
Along with getting to interview (aka fangirl over) amazing people for my kids’ book podcast with Nat and Kate, One More Page, I am now on the show as an interviewee! In Episode 39, we have none other than Newbery Medal-winning, New York Times bestselling author Kate DiCamillo on the show (!!!) which is surreal enough in itself. Then there’s a kid interviewer chatting with me about Tulip and Brutus and friendship in kids’ books in the same episode’s Kids Capers segment. Have I used the word surreal in this post already?! Yes. Yes, I have. You can listen to the episode here and subscribe to One More Page on whichever app you devour your podcasts.

A Twitter chat

I’ve found myself not only in a podcast interview but as the guest of a Twitter chat – happening next Thursday night! I’m a huge fan of Picture Book Book Club and love their monthly chats, so it’s pretty awesome to be a guest in one (vs usual groupie). Kidlit twitter peeps – feel free to find and join (#picbookbc).

Yet more book talk …

Find more Tulip and Brutus talk on Creative Kids Tales, Just Write for Kids, Kids Book Review (plus I popped up as one of their 12 Curly Questions posts), I wrote a piece on friendship and school libraries which is on the Ford Street blog, and if you subscribe to the Pass It On kidlit newsletter, you may have seen an interview with me there recently, too. Phew!

Ok, enough with all things me and my book. I will be back next time celebrating all the other books I’ve been reading and loving lately!

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