Welcome to My Words!

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

Saturday, 28 June 2014

A Croc and Bull Story - Reporting on the Central Coast

Okay, so I'm no longer on the Central Coast of Queensland and the fact that I don't even have central heating is a little hard to bare after spending a balmy week in Rockhampton but report I must for bulls and crocodiles have a right to be heard.

It began with an invitation to present at this year's Central Coast Literary Festival in Rocky, Queensland. Sounded harmless enough; spend a week soaking up the CQ sunshine in between rabbiting on to a few hundred school students just days away from their mid-year break.

Things started well with fair skies and some snappy local colour.
No sign of crocs in the local watering hole. Several authors decided to risk taking a dip in spite of constant warnings against this. Understandably, they reside in Melbourne where crocs are susceptible to hail damage thus not prone to hanging out in motel swimming pools.
Things took a turn for the worse as the fog rolled in from a nearby lagoon, Suddenly Meredith Costain's constant cautionary tales about bunyips became ironically plausible. But were they capable of taking on the world's most murderous reptile?

We forged on. We had no choice.They held our books hostage - with balloons.
Calm was restored within the hallowed grounds of Rockhampton Grammar School.

Thoughtful of them to install a bell tower; to warn students of impending croc attacks I presume.

But what of the bulls?

I scaled the highest towers (but not the bell one for fear of setting off a false alarm), battled the cruelest winds and scanned the outlaying land for wayward bulls (and my author buddies). But found nothing.

No, wait...Meredith came too, plucky country gal that she is.

Croc avoidance and bull location is wearisome work. Eventually, we found sustenance deep within the Rockhampton Customs House.

The purpose of the Customs House was to impose duties on imported goods. As there was no demand for imported crocodile-skin boots in Rockhampton, the town being self-sufficient in that sort of thing, the Customs House was closed down. Weird neon glowing bar stools were installed and carefully balanced with chili and lime so gatherings of authors could dine comfortably on vogue inspired Thai cuisine. Disappointingly, there was no croc on the menu.

Nonetheless, it took a while for Adam and Leigh to convince Peter and Phil it was safe to dive into the Tom Yum.

It took even longer for Leigh Hobbs to convince me I could draw. Hmm not quite Old Tom but thanks to Leigh and Peter and Adam, I've managed to connect with my inner-illustrative muse. Or exposed an odd fetish for musical tinnies.
Finally a day off. Life is crazy relaxed in Yeppoon. Even the mangrove trees favour a good lie down on the beach over actually growing somewhere.
Sunday streets were strangely absent of crocs and bulls.

Time to dine again - we authors eat ridiculous amounts.

The Criterion Hotel boasted its own ghost and a fish tank.

But we had to bring our own forks.

Fortunately Peter Carnavas, Adam Wallace and Gemma Dean-Furlong never leave home without theirs.

Again no croc. Plenty of bull but I really wanted to see one with its legs still attached...

Despite our best efforts to restrain him, Phil Kettle couldn't resist a feet first stair-dive.

He made it look easy.

Such grace and flair Phil. It's how I'll remember you.
The local Rocky vino is rather robust and chunky in body exhibiting striking gold hues and a pronounced sweetness with lingering nutty undertones.

After several glasses you hardly notice the metallic aftertaste.

The hallucinatory effect of the vino took affect mainly in confined spaces - like maxi taxis.

Here, George Ivanoff looking suitably terrified
as Adam Wallace recalls the size of a certain bull's appendages he encountered earlier that day.

Chilling stuff.

In the end, Rocky was all about crossing over, for me at least.
Photo courtesy of George Ivanoff

We visited some awesome schools (this was not a croc hunting net but a gigantic web at St Pauls Primary school), meet some inspired individuals, and talked and talked and talked - to adults and students alike - here's proof.

And not once did the locals bare their teeth at us or threaten to charge us out of town.

And that's no...
Photo courtesy of George Ivanoff

Monday, 16 June 2014

My Writing Process & a bit about Pie Charts - Blog Hop

When the very charming children's author, Julie Fison asked me to participate in this blog hop, I graciously declined thinking I'd dodged a bullet, however shiny and enticing. I mean, I had to stand by my panna cottas as they set and grapple with my manuscripts, both of which require a fair bit of my concentration and focus. (Panna cottas are not as simple as making pies you understand.)

So when the equally charming children's author, Samantha Wheeler asked me to participate in this blog hop with the beguiling urgency of a koala on the run from a theme park, I unwittingly forgot to parry. Sam loves to write about animals and adventure. Her first book Smooch and Rose is a story set against the continuing destruction of koala habitat. Her next book Spud and Charil is about friendship, horses and bats. See how Sam rolls here.

So here I am, ready to leap into my own process - of writing. Could be messy. Hang on here we go...

What am I working on at the moment, I hear you ask?

To say that I am half way through a new chapter book for young readers would be grossly inaccurate - it's still only an overworked story outline - set out in very fetching pie-chart fashion on A3 paper.

To say that I'm putting the finishing touches on a short story that is due for editing by August is also a slight exaggeration - it's still an embryotic idea slurping around in my head - uncomfortable.

To say that I'm prepping my next book review is closer to the truth - I spend much of my writing week drafting, writing, and massaging children's book reviews for Boomerang Books Blog. I like to craft reviews with care out of respect for the books' creators and in hope of sharing some real reading gems with their intended audiences.

To say that I m constantly editing, reworking and writing picture books would be spot on the money at the moment. After winning a CAL Creative Industries Career Fund grant last year and securing the immeasurable mentoring talents of Dee White, I have been meticulously working on two of my picture book manuscripts with her. It's been a rite of passage for me as a writer working with a mentor; both exquisitely liberating and supremely challenging.

To say that I'm working on 'this blog post' would earn WINNER play-again status.

How do I think my work differs from that of other writers in my genre?

It has my name on it as the accreted author, which is nice. Who doesn't want to see their name in print on something other than a parking ticket at some point in their lives?

A constant vexation I have as a writer is the discovery of one of my thoughts or phrases or ideas cleverly concealed within another writer's story, usually one with legendary rock star status. Exasperating but unavoidable. These occurrences are of course completely coincidental and proof I should have gotten my writing finger out a lot sooner. The world is full of remarkable ideas and stories all swilling around at any one and the same time. What makes each unique is the individual heart and soul with which they are told. Plus the elves in my chapter book could leap tall buildings with a single bound. I don't think that's occurred in Santa's workshop before.

Why do I write what I write?

I write for kids because it really does remind me of being one. It think it's good for grown-ups to stop, take stock and remember, really remember the sanctity of childhood and all that it represented; its joys, its promises, its disappointments. For the most part this is fun.

I'm not one of those writers who will stop breathing and curl up and expire if I don't write. But when I do have one-on-one time with my words, it is truly electrifying. I feel dizzy with joy. I want to share that feeling with kids through stories. I figure that's fairer than forcing them to listen to me sing.

What's my writing process and how does it work?

It varies but usually involves a cup of something to sip on, a pencil, a note pad and sometimes very little sleep.

I tend to draft EVERYTHING in long hand before I type one word of it up. (The challenge of not being able to read my own handwriting is exquisite) This method is: a great way of free writing, allows me to write anywhere in any position, helps me avoid obsessive line-editing on what is really the first draft and provides plenty of opportunity to doodle pie charts.

I've developed into a hybrid plotter / pantser. Whilst words may still erupt unplanned, I tend to note it all down a bit more carefully these days; exploring themes, planning plots, interviewing characters, (and making pie charts of course) before tackling the actual narrative.

Perversely I also enjoy self-editing and reworking what I've written which explains why I have so few books out there - I'm a ditherer.

Time to dither no further and handover blogging rites to three of my fellow writerly chums. Visit their blogs to keep the hop alive - forever - or simply hunker down with one of their books. My writing process would simply not exist without reading. That is my penultimate answer. I don't really have the final answer to writing well. It's a process, true but also a state-of-being.

George Ivanoff has written more books for kids than I can count on my fingers and toes combined even when looking in the mirror including the Gamers' Quest series. His latest creation is the interactive You Choose adventure series. George's likes include Doctor Who, soft rind cheeses and getting pied. Visit his site for visual explanation.

Angela Sunde is a champion of Kids Lit, can do marvellous things with a coloured pencil and a dab of paint and has a predilection for French Champagne. Her first novel for children, Pond Magic is a magical combination of teenage skin problems and exotic first crushes. Angela's likes include apples, drawing (lots of things including apples) and connecting readers and writers. Find out how she does it here.

Paula Weston is the author of the four book Rephaim YA series about fallen angels, hellions and demons. Paula has an unnatural obsession for the Foo Fighters and a more acceptable appreciation for paranormal speculative fiction. Her likes include brie and quince paste on ciabatta, greyhounds and book launch parties. She hopes to make it to her next one for the release of  Shimmer (Rephaim # 3) in July. See here for your invitation.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Dancing up a storm - Blog Hop Bop

Look who's taking a spin around the literary dance floor? It's the strawberry-sweet, ever smiling Samantha Wheeler. She's filled up her dance card with some scintillating insights on her writing process and then thought I might like a turn.

Well thanks Sam, but you do realise I haven't properly cut a rug now for a couple of decades don't you?

See how she does it with superlative style and grace and then if you can stand it, stick around for my clumsy contribution next week.

View Sam's Blog Hop Bop here.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Bouncing along with Robert Vescio - Hopscotch Showdown Party style

Playground pastimes in those informative primary school years tend to cement some of the most endearing and enduring memories of our time spent in school. These days it’s handball and (insert grimace) looming. I myself was more of a marbles and knucklebones kind of girl and can remember sacrificing lunch to compete in crucial playoffs and tournaments. Ah, the salad days of youth…What a party is was.

Fortunately for me, I still get invited to the odd party and today I am delighted to be part of Robert Vescio’s Launch Party for his new early reader chapter book, Hopscotch Showdown
Robert Vescio is perhaps best known for his picture books, No Matter Who We’re With and Marlo Can Fly but is a regular contributor to the children’s book scene and multi-competition winner, resulting in an admirable affiliation with Jelli-Beanz Publishing. His original Hopscotch Showdown short story was in the Jelli-Beanz Publishing Packed Lunch Volume 1 anthology for kids in 2011. Kids can now enjoy it as a standalone reader. But now, it’s time to get this party jumping and what better way than with a rousing hopscotch showdown.

Hopscotch Showdown is a springy little tale about two young girls embarking on a fierce battle of patience and precision in order to defend honour and reputation.

Clarity Johnson is the current Blue Hill Primary Hopscotch Champion. Prunella Hinchbottom, the girl who’s quest is to be the best, aims to bounce Clarity off the winner’s podium. Armed with nothing but their markers and quivering thigh muscles, they hop, skip and jump their way into primary-playground history. 

Vescio’s occasional play on words, ‘silence reigned heavily although no one got wet’, is happily unbalancing at times and his description of the playoff is sufficiently accurate and enthralling enough to keep young readers on their tiptoes till the climatic end. Who knew hopscotch could be so riveting?

I especially appreciated the way seemingly arch enemies eventually demonstrated good sportsmanship, reminding us all it’s not always about how fast, how high or how many marbles you accrue that counts in the end.
I wish I could say there’s a prize for guessing the exact number of hopping-related puns there are in this blog, but I’m not in charge of the loot bags this time. Maybe someone can tell me what the current GuinnessWorld Record for fasted completed hopscotch is though? Hint: it’s a fair bit quicker than Clarity’s. 

Thanks for inviting me along to your ‘hop’ Robert. It’s been a real trip.
Visit Jelli-Beanz for more cyber-fun, readings, discussions with Robert and party games.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Everything is Awesome - Mother's Day Review

Q. What is as big as a mini iPad, more full of ideas than Paul Jennings and doesn't involve looming (of the rubber band type)?

A. Awesome Aussie Things to do with Mum.

Being a mum pretty much outstrips all other occupations for me. In spite of the startling similarities it shares to being a writer: negligible pay, crippling self-doubt and reoccurring frustration, the ecstasy received from ones own child is unrivalled. I wouldn't swap that feeling for all the stars and moons combined and neither would my Miss 8. Well, maybe she'd short-loan me for a few thousand looms. So in this age of screen-addicted, attention-deficient youngsters, books like these are worth their weight in mini-iPads.

Awesome Aussie Things to do with Mum by Ed Allen and Simon Williams, is quietly sensational from this X-generation mum's point of view.

Things I like:

  1. Nifty, no-nonsense hard-cover, compact size. It's an activities book disguised as favourite fiction.
  2. Groovy layout and design. The table of contents and layout are uncluttered and concise and a great example of procedural writing for primary-aged kids.
  3. It cleverly caters for boys and girls; keen to involve mum in their crafts, activities and projects by using personalised, conversational, upbeat text that reads like prose.
  4. It appeals to kids from all ilks of life. It doesn't matter if you have brothers or sisters, live in the city or by the sea, have a sweeping backyard or a bonsai balcony; there is something useful in here for everybody.
  5. The step-by-step instructions are so orderly and straightforward, even a mother could follow them. (And I have.)
  6. Ideas are followed up with Fun Facts and tips plus room to make your own notes or even rate the activities with mum.
  7. It covers a satisfying range of active and passive activities and projects, some sure to reawaken old fads. Remember knuckle bones - ALL of the stages? Cats' Cradle?
  8. It offers contemporary options for ancient skills. Need a new mobile phone cover? Why not knit one?
  9. The quirky abstract, line-drawings of Simon Williams bring humour and purpose to every section of the book.
Thing(s) I don't like:
  1. The finger-operated-paper-fortune teller things weren't named as I remember them, the name of which I frustratingly can't recall. Oh well, time to enlist the help of Miss 8 and her i Pad...
Things I loved:
  1. Throughout each instruction and at the conclusion, there was continual reinforcement of the notion that the most awesome thing of all that you can do for mum is...'to let her do absolutely nothing at all.' Amen to that.
Awesome Aussie Things to do with Mum is a lovely little book full of lovely little things to share with mum, especially if you are in need of a creative, recreational past-time other than looming. Bang on for Mother's Day.

Need more wholesome gift ideas? Check out some other Mother's Day literary highlights, here.

Friday, 7 March 2014

A Time To Write - Top Tips for Writing with Feeling

In spite of my word faux pax, extreme convolutedness and tendency to hide behind mixed metaphors, I was okay at English as a kid. Actually better than okay. Then, on the morning of my Year 12 Matriculation Exams, an horrific backyard incident took place leaving me numb with shock and anger. The details are not important.

What was important and even more tragic, was what I did with these raw emotions.

I ripped out my heart and rammed it on my sleeve, alongside my anguish, and for the next three hours goaded and forced them to fit into the composition question of my English exam.

It wasn't exactly an epic fail. But it did remove any chance of scoring the A+ I had in the bag 24 hours before hand. A lesson hard learnt.

Zip forward a few decades...

Five years ago I penned a picture book manuscript which I've been pushing around, in and out of competitions and past a few critical eyes. It is now foremost in my in-tray again, as my wonderful mentor, Dee White, and I ready to do battle with it. Except, last week, an horrific backyard incident took place leaving me numb with shock and anger. The details are not important. Suffice to say it was a classic case of life imitating art.

What is important is that, after reopening the manuscript and staring at those words so ironically reflective of what actually took place, I found I could not immerse myself back into the story. Not yet.

I closed the file and told Dee of my status quo, explaining I'd rather not drown the text in emotional drivel and needed a bit of time to allow the rawness to subside. She agreed. It is impossible to write objectively and brilliantly when you are beset with thick, consuming emotion.

Of course as writers, we are often advised to channel our own pain and joys into our words, to bleed a little on the page because that intensifies the sense of reality and believability. This is not untrue. So bleed if you must. Draw on your own experiences and dig into your emotional baggage because you will very likely find some colourful moments worth weaving into your story. But be wary of the 'too much, too soon' syndrome.

I have not shared much about my mentoring experiencing to date. I've been much too absorbed with the whole process and enjoying that exclusivity for what it's worth.

So here are my tips for writing with feeling when feelings are on fire:

  1. Distance: Give yourself time; a change of environment; a reason to stop dwelling on how you feel; or simply allow yourself to grieve, rejoice, miss, whatever it is that is occupying your energy and attention. No matter how much you want to write about what just happened to you or force it into a story because you think that somehow that will make you feel better and make your words stronger, don't. Stand back and just breathe a little first.
  2. Perspective: Without it your characters will be assuming paper souls with emotions based on what you are feeling, not what they would be feeling. What is happening around you may intensify (or weaken) your story in ways that do not make it work as it should. Don't let warped perspectives warp your story and characters out of their natural context. Emotion should not tell the story or be the story. It should enhance it.
  3. Return: When the time is right, and the wounds have healed, reopen the files or write about your experience afresh and see how it compares to how you felt when it all first happened. You'll know when to return and when the time is right; when it feels less sad, less unpleasant and more like returning to an old friend's cosy lounge room for a relaxing cup of tea.
  4. Channel and Focus: Don't waste those emotions. They are valid and real after all. Remember how you felt, how you wanted to react, or what you did, and why, then direct this all carefully and with purpose into your writing. 
  5. Calm: Be it, think it, believe it. 
  6. Social Media: Up to you but many people would do well to apply Steps 1 - 5 before commenting on any FB post too.
  7. Try to avoid encountering horrific backyard incidents immediately prior to embarking on a significant writing project. They really can throw your plans.
  8. Finally in the words of my mentor: Writing cannot be forced - it has to come when the time is right. And there is no right time for writing, just time to write.
This doesn't just apply to getting words right either. Many of the elements I harness for my craft are relevant to every day existence. What about you? Do you find you write better after giving yourself some emotional distance from the subject matter? Is your objectivity sacrificed if you try to purge your emotions too quickly? I'd love to hear from you and how you cope.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Charming Christmas Ideas

Prepared to be Charmed!

Out now, just in time to plump up your Christmas stockings, the first two volumes in the charming new Crock of Charms series, a project conjured up by Sally Odgers and coordinated through Prints Charming Books.

This set of three anthologies features a delightful collection of children's stories, written especially for them by a dazzling line up of children's writers - including ME. Stories and volumes suit children aged 4 -14 years.  My story appears in Volume Two. Read it independently or as part of the full set. Each of the stories are linked by a storyline that flows through linking and embracing the stand-alone pieces by contributing writers.You don't need to start at the very beginning but the stories and poems included make for some very interesting and intriguing reads.

Imagine chancing upon a crock of charms and discovering the story behind each one. What does it all mean? 

This series is literally PACKED with dozens of stories, poems and illustrations and is guaranteed to please a variety of reading tastes and fire up your child's imagination. It was also buckets of fun to participate in. Contributing authors had to choose a charm and then, using it as a source of inspiration, write a children's story about it. Check out all the fantastic Puff Pages included in each volume to find out all about your favourite author or illustrator.

This was mine...A bronze peacock
I can't wait for you to sneak a peak at mine.

Click here for more details about the books and project or contact me direct if you'd like a hard copy sent to you, in time for Christmas and signed of course.