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READ WRITE INSPIRE. Welcome to my Words, a place devoted to making Reading and Writing for children more Inspired.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Creative Life Celebration - Writers in the Park

When I lived in London, what seems like a lifetime ago, I had the good fortune to observe many ritualistic ceremonies, one of them being Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park. This public-byo-soapbox-forum, dating back from the Victorian times was an eclectic gathering place to share one's view point and generally have a bit of a rant. It was and still is a melting pot of political debate and more importantly, a symbol for a free and democratic society. And with the need to expound arises the necessity to create, something people of the pen know only too well.

To better celebrate creative life, the good folk of the Centennial Parklands Foundation, Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators SCBWI, and the historic Residences Centennial Park have joined forces along with dozens of writers, storytellers, publishers, arts associations, performers, illustrators, poets, and literacy advocates to present Writers in the Park.

This one day festival is choc-block full of writer and illustrator encounters (over 50 attending), literary inspired talks, book launches, illustrating duels, guest readings, scrummy eats and treats, market stalls and I'm told, a goat. Co-ordinated by festival director, Susanne Gervay, Writers in the Park promises to be a sensory sensation for book lovers and creative addicts alike. There is something for young, old and everyone in between. And the best part? It's in a park too - Centennial Park, Sydney. And it's FREE

Get yourself down there if you can - Sunday 27th September - 10 am - 6 pm.
Check out their website for the full program of events and the who's who who'll be there.

Writers in the Park  http://writersinthepark.com.au/

Too good to pass by.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

I've got a dream

Almost a decade of moons ago, I made a serendipitous discovery that forever altered the spin of my world. Falling pregnant after so many years of waiting and yearning was nothing short of miraculous (for me) and a life event definitely worth waxing lyrical about. But did I? Sadly, not as much I as wanted to.

There are those who find it hard to exist without sharing the contents of their dinner plates with the rest of  the world, then there are others who worry that a beautifully executed birthday cake photo shared on social media will somehow demean the starving populations of the world. I oscillate between the two but tend towards the latter, always fretting over how others will take good news in light of their own current situations and struggles, thus resorting to a severe downplaying of my own good fortune.

The pregnancy of my first child should have been a joyous occasion - it was a joyous pregnancy after all - but I was acutely conscious at the time of another family member's own dire repeated attempts to have children; so conscious in fact that it was some months before the big 'reveal'.  And then we were careful to show nothing more than modest enthusiasm whenever around them. It should have been my time to shine, but I didn't want my happiness to further sully their dreams.

She eventually became a mother, just like I did. Looking back, this martyrism was a waste of time. I should have embraced my moment and rejoiced because while she might have felt the weight of her own situation more keenly with my news, she was actually rejoicing with me too.

We all have dreams. Some take longer to realise than others. It's okay being sympathetic to the feelings of others in the wake of your own good fortune, but this does not mean you should not enjoy that absolute miraculous feeling of joy, relief, happiness and fulfilment that the realisation of YOUR dream brings you. Live YOUR moment. Let yourself shine because not all stars gleam brightly forever. I never did fall pregnant again.

The world of (children's) book writing can be a bit like trying for a child too. There's often lots of research, planning, effort, repeated attempts to get it right, missed opportunities, mounting expectations (pardon the pun) and then...crushing disappointment. Only, sometimes, occasionally dreams are realised and something beautiful is born.

Although it's early days, I have a new arrival to announce. My first picture book is about to be published. One of my longest and most yearned after writing dreams is about to come true.

Am I happy? YOU BETCHA. And this time I don't care who knows it.

Oh...and now I can finally say...I'm going to be living the dream with illustrator Nicky Johnston. Happiness beyond description. It took me two days to stop weeping (with sheer joy) after viewing her initial samples for my story. I can't wait for her to breathe visual soul into my words with her beautiful illustrations. Follow Nicky's illustrative and narrative successes via her blog. Who knows, you may even get a little glimpse of our shared dream taking shape.  

Here is Nicky's announcement for your reading pleasure in the meantime.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Ready, Steady, WRITE - opportunities and comps for kids

Nearly every time I brush shoulders with my target audience - children, I am asked, 'What now? How can I learn to edit better? Where can I submit my work? Where can I get more information?'

Here is a post by fellow scribe for young people, Chris Bell. Her From Hook to Book site also includes a really comprehensive page of resources especially sourced for young people, YWR. It highlights writing competitions, noting those which are currently open along with other websites and links where budding young writers can find information on everything from punctuation to polishing stories until they blind you with their brilliance.

Some can be found on my Kool Kidz Stuff page, many more are worth noting because most comps and conference are run annually giving you plenty of time and opportunity to practise, practise, practise.

Chris writes...

Calling all young writers, playwrights and poets! While I’ve been gallivanting around the UK, these past few weeks, heaps of regular and new young writers’ competitions and opportunities have opened up. Some are closing soon.
So flex those writing muscles and get your entries in fast. (Only if they’ve been buffed and polished and proofed, of course.) You’ll find further details and some great new resources on my Young Writers’ Resources page, such as details of three KSP residential places in WA, The John Marsden and Scribe Non-fiction Prizes, plus lots more comp details, events and happenings.
All fabulous opportunities to get your writing in front of judges, publishers and selection panels and there’s some not insignificant cash prizes on offer too.
So get those stories and poems in fast for the comps closing soon.
Some tips for success:
  • Follow submission guidelines (exactly)
  • Redraft, redraft, redraft
  • Read your work aloud to pick up jars and jolts and to check for rhythm
  • Vary your sentence structure
  • Be strenuous at spell-checking and proofreading
  • Give your work a few weeks “air time” (you’ll pick up things you never noticed when you go back to it after a break)
  • Flick off that fear goblin nagging on your shoulder. If you’ve put in the work – it’s ready. Repeat – flick and submit.
If you know of any writing opportunities or competitions for young writers, not listed on the YWR page, I’d love you to leave me the details in a comment or email me the link. Thanks. And Good luck!

Sunday, 5 July 2015

I'm going have to get a bigger harbour

That post title may sound a bit self-congratulatory, mainly because it is, but it feels like my harbour is slowly filling up with ships. Those I cast out into the winds of fate are finally finding their way back in.

Amongst the small flotilla, another short story, Getting to Know You, which has received a Highly Commended in the Charlotte Duncan Award 2015.

And whilst I never normally like to blow my own fog horn unnecessarily, the real bonus was receiving the judge's report, which as those in my writing circles can attest, as feedback, is worth its weight in gold doubloons.

So nice to know I am setting the right course.

Getting to Know You drops the reader into the topical issue of social media, told through the experience of its twelve-year-old protagonist. The well-developed relationships between the main character and her family and friends round out the issue-based story. Suzie’s feelings and actions will be recognisable to many kids, giving them insight into friendship – both on line and in person. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Selfies - Self Published Picture Book reviews

Selfies – more and more, what we once relied on others to do, we now love to attempt ourselves. Book publishing is no exception. The sheer volume of printed (and electronically) produced material out there today is overwhelmingly mind-boggling especially for the discerning parent or caregiver on the hunt for useful literary material to share with children.

Here is a small sample of picture book selfies that came my way. They represent a number of notable similarities; namely, their authors are all driven by an insatiable urge to share their knowledge and past experiences with an audience of children. In most instances, this enthusiasm shows in bucket loads. The topics tackled are often more extreme than themes covered in more mainstream publications reflecting the authors’ culture and life values.

Karen Tyrrell is one such author. Having released two adult memoirs, her attention is now firmly turned to producing books that empower and educate children on a number of mental health issues. Her latest picture book, Harry Helps Grandpa Remember is perhaps the best example of this assertion to date.

More restrained than her previous titles, Harry is written with warmth and genuine understanding. Using child-friendly language, it conveys a young boy’s struggle to retain his special relationship
with his grandfather once he develops the onset of dementia.

Tyrrell playfully weaves in remedies allowing Harry to help improve Grandpa’s memory and thus regain the intimacy they have always shared. By equipping Harry with the power to discover ways to help and implement them himself, readers understand that certain mental health situations may be reversed or at least sufficiently managed to continue living, and enjoying life.

Aaron Pocock’s jolly illustrations bounce with vitality bringing Harry and the characters of his grandparents’ farm to life.

A useful addition to the world of biblio-therapy.

As part of the launch of Karen’s book this month her BlogTour features an exciting Book Giveaway. Check out all the details at the end of this post for your chance to win. 

Can You Keep a Secret by Robin Adolphs and Trevor Salter is more suited to beginner readers. Its high-level repetition is ideal for shared reading with youngsters as young as two years-old as well.

The premise is surprisingly simple; Scram Monster has a secret he is busting to share. However, once he does, the concept of actually keeping a secret is hilariously lost on his monster mates who pass it on and on until finally it circulates back to Scram.

Slater’s’ bold, expressive monster illustrations provide plenty of clues to encourage children to guess the secret before the big reveal. And what is this? Ah, that you’ll have to see for yourself.

As with her previous picture books , Adolphs takes pride in creating story situations that are deceptively simple in appearance but full of lots of lovely ‘extra’ meanings. Funny and smartly paced, each book comes with loads of handy teaching notes and well-conceived free activities too.

Looking forward to her next picture book release, Sylvia's Itch available now.

Butternut Publishing 2014

Although of a slightly different calibre to the former two, Nanna’s Boot Camp, the second 'Nanna' picture book by Vicki Griffin embodies the same self-driven passion to explore cultural diversity and artistic talents and deliver them in a relatable way to young readers.

Nanna’s Boot Camp is an indigenous inspired play on words involving a visit to nanna’s country home by a group of teens. What they encounter and whom they meet there, is set to change their ideas about boot camp, forever. Delivered with sincerity and heart, Nanna's Boot Camp was warmly received by our Australian Children's Laureate, Jackie French.

Not all self-published books for children tick every box in terms of what makes a good book great, but then this is an attribute many commercial mainstream produced titles share as well. You be the judge. As Jackie French points out, hunting down self published titles online permits readers to experience tales they might not otherwise have found in bookshops.

With the succession of selfies and hybrid authors (both) on the rise and the puddle of opportunities for new authors to emerge through traditional means rapidly diminishing, these stories are fast becoming distinguishable chips in the chocolate biscuit that is the world of children’s literature. Devour some if you dare.

Simply leave a comment on any of the tour sites below for a chance to win a signed print copy or one of five E-copies of Harry Helps Grandpa Remember. Six copies in total up for grabs.  Winners announced by Karen, 3rd July.
23 June: Ali Stegert Interview http://ali-stegert.com/
24 June: Di Bates Buzz Words Review http://diannedibates.blogspot.com.au/
25 June: Robyn Opie Interview www.robynopie.blogspot.com
25 June: Jackie Hosking Review www.jackiehoskingpio.wordpress.com
26 June: Charmaine Clancy Author Platform http://charmaineclancy.com/
29 June: Sally Odgers interview http://promotemeplease.blogspot.com.au
30 June: Jill Smith Review https://authorjillsmith.wordpress.com
30 June: June Perkins Interview http://gumbootspearlz.org/

Harry Helps Grandpa Remember   is now on Amazon world-wide as a print Book and as an eBook.
Good Luck.

For another gorgeous and sensitive introduction to the challenges of Alzheimer's Disease in loved ones check out Newspaper Hats by Phil Cummings and Owen Swan, out this month. I'll be featuring this review on Boomerang Books Blog. Not a selfie, but another useful and relevant vehicle with which to expose young readers to life's larger dilemmas.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Author Interview - Feeling happy with Nicky Johnston

As the flurries of anxieties created by recent NAPLAN testings settle, I am reminded that even the youngest of minds can be beset with worries, which may manifest themselves so firmly within a child’s physchie that they become dangerously debilitating.

I’ve seen it in kids around me, in my own nephew and most alarmingly, my own daughter (although not from NAPLAN – she loved that experience).

The need to reach out to and persuade young people to fight their worries and to cultivate strong healthy convictions about who they are and what they are capable of spurred the urge to write a book to show them how. This is still a work in progress for me, however, fortunately, for the welfare of children everywhere, Australian author illustrator, Nicky Johnston has already penned a few useful books addressing these exact issues.

Her first attempt to battle ‘worry thoughts’ in children appeared in 2008 with her self-illustrated picture book, Go Away MrWorrythoughts. Bayden should be an intelligent and courageous young boy yet anxiety in the shape of one Mr Worrythoughts plagues him. This ugly beast threatens to sap every ounce of Bayden’s energy and zest for life until thankfully one day, Bayden realises that the power to overcome Mr Worrythoughts dwells within him.

Johnston’s picture book Happythoughts are Everywhere, followed in 2009. Bayden returns, still suffering from the odd bout of worry. However, being a little older and wiser means he is slowly able to accept that counting ones blessings is akin to finding happy thoughts everywhere, and with them to occupy his life, there is positively no room for worry and fear.

Each of these stories is backed up with some very clever and useful tips on how to banish worrying thoughts and replace them with happy ones; simple, straightforward strategies to help children take control of their mental well-being.

Johnston’s latest picture book, Actually, I Can, hit the shelves in 2013. Two new characters appear Connor and Amelia. Connor is shy and concerned and wishes he shared a confidence more like his friend, Amelia. Amelia’s sense of daring and adventure take them both on a journey of discovery and revelation.

Amid a swelling sea of books attempting to address and improve the mental health and self-esteem of our young people, NickyJohnston handles the notion that simply changing your attitude can change everything with clear insight and sensitivity.

I asked Nicky what her motivation was to write these books and a little about herself. Here’s what she had to say…

Q. Who is Nicky Johnston? Describe your writerly / illustrator self.

I always have more ideas than time. I am a busy mum to four boys and I absolutely love my job as a writer and illustrator.

I would love to say that I am an organised, routine writer/illustrator, with a tidy desk and a daily planned schedule. But I am more like a mad scientist. I have numerous journals and sketch pads that capture ideas or images and sometimes I can get so swept up in a project that I work all night without realising it. I have a tight ‘mum taxi’ schedule so my writing and artwork tend to be slotted in where available. I do love my weekends when I can sneak into my studio for a while before anyone finds me!

My favourite part of my writerly/illustrator self is when I visit schools or workshops. I just LOVE teaching children, inspiring and motivating them. I love watching their eyes sparkle as they realise they too can become a mad scientist like me.

Q. What were the main motivators for writing your picture books about coping with anxieties and worries?

My very first book ‘Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts!’ was borne from the huge need for a children’s book about worrying. My eldest son was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at just 5 years of age and back then, there were very few children’s books available for me to read with him. So I decided to write and illustrate one.

I always knew there were many children with anxiety, little worriers just like my son, but I had no idea that these books would raise such awareness and become in such demand over the coming years.

Mental health issues in children are now becoming a big focus for parents and educators and it is wonderful to be able to provide some valuable resources. I was recently a speaker alongside Dr Michael Carr-Gregg (renowned child/teen psychologist) who told the audience that my books are a main resource that psychology professionals reach for when dealing with children with anxiety.

Q. How do you use your books in your roles as an educator and author? And why do you think it’s important to do so?

As an author of children’s books tackling anxiety, and a mother dealing with a child with an anxiety disorder, my books have lead me to be involved in a variety of speaking opportunities, talking to professionals, educators, parents and even working with children in schools. By talking about my books and their inspiration (my son’s journey) it is not only raising awareness of mental health issues in children, but also providing information, support and the understanding that anxiety in children is treatable and manageable and that early intervention (like anything) is always the best action.

‘Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts’ has been adapted into a theatrical production and is currently in its fourth year of touring primary schools in Victoria. It is a brilliant production and is a wonderful way for educators to address resilience and emotional well-being in children.

Q. What’s next for Nicky?

I am currently working on a children’s book that I have written and illustrated for an organisation due for release later this year. I also have another children’s book I am hoping to work on, again with a focus on anxiety and resilience.

I am also working with Frankston Arts Centre, as we are trying to take the theatrical production of ‘Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts!’ on a national tour, and perhaps even adapting my most recent book ‘Actually, I Can’ into a production also.

I never really know what is just around the corner, and I love that most opportunities pop out of left field when I least expect them.

Me too, Nicky. Thanks for visiting.

Please note, this interview was conducted earlier last year. For the very latest on Nicky's beautiful artwork and stories, please visit her, here.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Lucky Duckies

Love reaching into a Lucky Dip and plucking out a prize? I do. The mystery of the unknown, the anticipation of the find is too tantalising to pass up.

Here's something else you'll find hard to pass up...a new kids' anthology.

The Lucky Draw anthology is an exciting collection of stories and poems for children aged between 7 to 12 years, covering 7 different genres told by 33 authors. Over 50 stories to thrill, intrigue, amaze and delight. 

Yours truly features in the adventure section, because my life rocks with adventure. Well, okay my imagination gets pretty fired up from time to time, even if I don't leave the house anymore.

Check it out for yourselves, here.

Available now, if you ask me really nicely, or even just plain old nicely.

Prints Charming Books April 2015