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

Monday, 9 November 2015

Living in the Moment

Some months ago, in a flurry of over-sharing and passing on information to those within the Lit Industry, I happened upon an exciting opportunity. After duly sharing it with all and sundry, the tiny soul named, Do It who perches on my left shoulder and is in constant opposition with the joker on my right shoulder called, Don't Do It, suggested I 'give it a go', too.

So very much along the same line of thinking as the awe-inspiring, Dee White (you can read about her quests to expand her writing prowess, here), I submitted a proposal to become one of three Gold Coast writers to join the Story City team.

Story City is an exciting interactive online storytelling experience that allows the reader to become fully immersed into the story. Like the perennially popular choose your own adventure style of books, where the reader makes the decisions and picks the paths the story takes, Story City users are in complete control of their destiny and thus, the story's outcome. The unique thing about this experience is that it uses Geo-caching techniques that allow the reader to choose not only the direction of the narrative but also literally the actual direction to the next location the story takes place in. Several stories by a gamut of uber talented Aussie authors are already operating in Adelaide and Brisbane.

The application was straightforward enough albeit exacting. The idea was captivating. The time frame for completion insanely tight. The execution...well I'd worry about those technicalities later. I mean, it wasn't like I was going to land the prize or anything, was it? Besides, I had plenty to occupy my storyboards with. In fact I was just approaching that lead-boot-sinking feeling stage with the writing commitments I had on the go at the time.

Therefore when the exuberant, Emily Craven announced I'd made the cut, I was suitably chuffed and equally mortified. What did I know about writing locative fiction - creating digi stories - crafting choose-your-own-adventure-style tales to appeal to young and old? I normally struggle to produce one plausible ending let alone eight. (The fact that I began with 13 endings and an impossibly convoluted number of story branches is a whole other story.) Wisely, Do It advised me to keep these concerns to myself and just get on with it.

So, many, many long (really) long nights and days later, here is the result...well an invitation to experience the result once it goes live in December 2015.

My story, The Chapel of Unlove is a spoof-inspired satirical romp around Sanctuary Cove, northern Gold Coast, in search of a pair of missing wedding rings and a way to avoid ending up with Elvis as your father. Fun and frivolous, one thing is for certain, it's YOUR adventure. I encourage you to live it, like I did.  

Do It girl and Dee were right; taking a chance, having a go, stretching myself (and my family) beyond breaking point and back again was not only immensely challenging, it was also hysterically the best fun ever. Would I 'choose' to do it all over again? You bet.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Two Birds on a Wire - Balancing with Heidi Cooper Smith

Balancing the extremes of childhood dreams, real-life realities and the myriad of other little collar-jerking moments that prevent you from ever walking a perfectly straight line is no mean feat. You'd be forgiven for feeling a little doo-lackey at times and having a laugh at yourself. 

Debut picture book illustrator, Heidi Cooper Smith is someone capable of doing just that so today in celebration of her  launch of Two Birds on a Wire, along with author, Coral Vass, we uncover 5 Fun Facts about Heidi (+ one if you're counting, because I obviously can't. It's why I write.)
  1. When I was eleven, I wrote a series of picture books (unpublished!) called ‘Matilda Mouse and the War between the Cats and the Mice” and won a school award for them.
  2. I once played bass clarinet in a quartet with my principal, vice principal and senior mistress.  Yes, I was that cool.
  3. I have the worst sense of direction of anyone I know and am appallingly messy.  I often end up buying art materials twice because something I really need is lost in the rubble! 
  4. It didn’t occur to me to use my glass drawing table as a light box until AFTER I’d traced every single spread the old fashioned way (tracing paper, shading on the back then tracing onto the final sheet) – next time I’ll save myself many hours, a perpetually cramped hand, and 2 whole pencil's worth of shading!
  5. I used around 200 reference photos to assist in the illustration process as well my children’s plastic farm animals and a toy truck to work out the tricky perspectives in the background scene.  
  6. My 6 year old took my advance copy of Two Birds on a Wire in for ‘Show and Share’ at school one day.  I told him to look after it because I still needed to take it to show the library in order to book my launch and to playgroup for a practice reading.  He rolled his eyes and said ‘You’re not going to show the book to EVERYONE are you Mummy?
Two Birds on a Wire is a sweet humorous tale that hums pleasantly along in rhythmic rhyme making it a prime go-to choice for reading aloud, over and over again. Two instantly recognisable characters, literally fill the pages, Little Bird Blue and Little Bird Black and as it transpires, one overhead wire which in turn leads to a rather flustered and heated debate about who should leave and who should stay.

By sundown the showdown is all but over. Ruffled feathers billow about on a mellow breeze and the two former rivals embrace a newfound friendship. Siblings and playground friends will warm to this tale of sharing and eventual caring. 

Smith's use of close up perspective places readers in the crow's nest as it were or rather, on the wire. We are granted dizzying views from above of the farm fields below and are able to witness Blue and Black's dispute first hand. It's a simple yet impressively effective viewpoint from which to enjoy this picture book. Fun and full of colour, Two Birds on a Wire is worth tweeting about. 

Coral and Heidi are launching Two Birds on a Wire simultaneously in Melbourne and Brisbane, 12th September 2015. Visit if you can or stay on line for the Blog Blast commemorating the launch.

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.