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Monday, 11 August 2014

SCBWI Sydney Conference 2014 - Lasting Impressions

It's the last month of winter. Almost four weeks since I had to dig out my gloves and wraps for the first time this year. They accompanied another 'first'. An experience I had been secretly yearning for, aspiring toward for years...my first SCWBI Conference. And, unlike a few other 'firsts', it exceeded all expectations.

Much of what went down, who was there and what we got up to has been magnificently covered both on the official SCBWI Australian/NZ web and blog sites, and featured in several sensational personal accounts, not least of which is Tania McCartney's SCBWI Wrap Up post. Be you author, illustrator, industry professional or just interested passer-by with a fondness for Kids Lit, you're bound to unearth some awesome insights on your favourite artists, books and literary gems.

Here are a few recollections and choice tip bits of my own, along with the mandatory blurred snapshot to seal the moment.

Feeling like a kid allowed to go to her first big party by herself, I rugged up, boarded up and headed off to sunny Sydney.

Had to stifle slight alarm after sliding into the taxi and was promptly asked by the driver how to get to The Hughenden Hotel. Hmm but get there, we did.

The cosy lounges and corridors of this charming boutique hotel soon bubbled with conversation and old chums. A veritable cauldron of new faces and old, some connecting for the first time in spite of years of cyber friendship. It felt like a magnificent homecoming in many ways.




First task: to register. Met these two bear-skinned cuties in the marquee. Poor little mites must have misunderstood the brief and filled out themselves instead of the forms provided. Oh dear.







Kick-off at 3.00pm Opening remarks were lost as a rabble ensued thanks to one boisterous baby brolga and some unruly banana-benders.

Rachelle Sadler, Rebecca Sheraton, Yvonne Mes, Peter Taylor & Tracey Lennon




Fortunately the unflappable Christopher Cheng was there to lend a hand and restore calm.



Things settled down and I settled with the idea of sharing digs with these three ratbags - Sheryl Gywther Head of the Rovers, Jacque Duffy minus her bear and the effulgent Kaz Delaney.



Meal times were quite memorable. Scott Chambers and Peter Taylor seen here with their unfortunate Freundian choice of table number.
Deb Abela, Mark Greenwood, Frane Lessac and DianneWolfer.



Feeding time fun at the Woollahra Hotel.







Dianne Wolfer encouraging a frail looking Wendy Binks to wolf it all down.













Sessions Away!

Room to Read's Wendy Rapee inspired and moved, by reminding us that 'the ripple effect is world changing'.

Connie Hsu















'Publishing is Conversation and Collaboration' Maryann Ballantyne Black Dog Books

'Be the next you!' Karen Tayleur The Five Mile Press

'Give readers a visceral reaction' Connie Hsu Roaring Brook Press

'Visual elements in books are a HUGE draw card for older readers.' Connie Hsu

'You can get a hole in one depending on how many times you want to hit the ball'  Tania McCartney

'Books are static. We need to make them real for people' Kathryn Otoshi KO Kid's Books

'Encourage, support. Start small and grow organically. Stay true to yourself and give back' Tania McCartney

'Remember your eight year old self' Tania McCartney

'Even back cover Blurbs need a resolution' Melina Marchetta


'Look for your pot of gold but don't be unrealistic. Study which fund, grant, award or fellowship will suit you and your project best and stick to the application guidelines' regarding tips on seeking grants.

'How do you move 250,000 books? Use boxes' Louise Park Paddlepop Press

'Never orphan your product for what you think is a good marketing plan. Have a contingency plan and invest YOURSELF in it to the very end' Louise Park





'Focus should be on excellent books to increase the pleasure of reading' Professor Ernst Bond

'Provide diverse experiences so kids can connect' Professor Bond

Master class with Bruce Whatley, Christina Booth, Tania McCartney, Nicky Johnston and me. Photo courtesy Tania McCartney.
'Common Core Standards can increase visual literacy, critical thinking, better writing and an understanding of literary elements' Professor Bond







'If an illustrator can find their own visual narrative, they will add multiple layers to the book and enhance the text rather than simply duplicate it' Bruce Whatley 


'I never feel I'm quite 'there' because if I get there, I may stop.' Bruce Whatley



Then things started to slide when they let publishers from Walker Books Australia, Harper Collins, Black Dog Books and Scholastic Australia up on stage to 'assess' a couple of outstanding but as yet uncontracted book concepts pitched by our own efficacious Susanne Gervay and Frane Lessac.

They had every chance to make it as shown here by Sue Whiting's display of a fart making picture book.




The Budgie Smuggler pitch met with wild applause and generous feedback.



However Frane was advised that her artwork need more refinement.

Scott Chambers, Frane Lessac, Meredith Costain, James Foley

Fortunately she was recompensed with Mark Greenward's booty thanks to the award winning efforts of The Beatnickers.

Susanne Gervay Extraodinarie with Frane Lessac
Already fat on fun, fabulous facts and friendships, we rewarded ourselves with group shots, dinner, wine and a bit of choralling of course to the wonderful groove of The Beatnickers. Have a peek at the video below for a glimpse of authors and illustrators behaving...quite well actually.
Queensland SCBWI members
SCBWI Sydney Roving Reporter Team headed by Sheryl Gywther


The SCBWI Sydney Conference was a fantastic meeting of minds, kindred spirits, ideas and shared dreams and in some ways, of a realisation of ourselves as valued members of a truly tremendous industry. Just in case anyone didn't realise who they were, I requested they all hold up their name tags. What a self-aware bunch.

The Delegates - a fraction of

And so, as the halls emptied and the ink dried on the limbs of another set of SCBWI bears, I headed back to my writing nook, to bask in the warm afterglow of my inaugural Sydney conference confident it would not be my last.

What did the SCBWI conference mean for me?

Apart from a few days respite from making school lunches...

It was more than the absorbing and enriching presentations and workshops.

It was more than the chance to mingle with contempories and pitch my work.

It was like attending a big family reunion. Hundreds of people, some you may not know intimately, some you have never met before but there pervaded a powerful sense of being part of something greater, an extended family, of belonging.

As dawn goes down today...on Sydney
If you are a published or self-published children's author or illustrator and want to find out more about the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and exactly what it offers, have a look here. Consider becoming a member. You could do far worse than listening to the Beatnickers once in a while...


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.