Welcome to My Words!

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


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.


Monday, 11 November 2013

Touring Australia with Tania McCartney - An Aussie Year Interview



Understanding where you are from and appreciating it are two of the most important endeavours you can experience in life. Today, I am compelled to give my little Aussie flag a bit of a wobble because those patriotic juices, that deliciously dress ‘the salad bowl of culture and race that typifies our beautiful country’ are bubbling madly after reading Tania McCartney’s sparkling new picture book, An Aussie Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Australian Kids.

More than a nondescript chronological listing of dates and events, An Aussie Year is countless moments of pure joy. It is fantastic factual fun. It is a riotous romp through the enthralling landscapes and cultures and flora and fauna of our land. And for me, it was a walk back down that footpath of life to a time when many of these sensations, sights and events were first captured in the wet concrete of my childhood memories. 

McCartney has left very few stones unturned in this marvellous collection of celebrations, traditions and events. No mean feat when one considers the sheer enormity of cultural diversity shared by Australians. Five different Aussie kids, leap, surf, fish, twirl, eat, trick, bake, sing and even flag-wave their way through a ‘typical’ calendar year evoking thought, wonder and a tremendous sense of place and time, while each adding their own particular flavour and flair. The reader is able to relate to a little piece of themselves from nearly all of the characters thus transforming An Aussie Year into an intimate and personal celebration of recollection.

An Aussie Year pleases on a variety of levels, not least of which are the splendiferous illustrations by Queensland illustrator, Tina Snerling. Her carefully colour-coordinated renditions of Ned, Lily, Zoe, Kirra and Matilda create a perfect balance of play amidst the meandering text and surreptitious placement of noteworthy dates.  I chuckled at the hat-wearing Melbourne Cup gee-gee and smiled over grilled cheese sangers with noodle soup – so much like my weekend childhood lunches…

Many of these shared moments and observations will strike a familiar chord with older readers. Others will be more familiar to our Z generation, ensuring An Aussie Year will not fail to have a positive and lasting impact on children both in the classroom and at home. 

To celebrate the birth of An Aussie Year, I popped along to Tania’s launch at the Black Cat Book Shop last month. Here is what she had to share in between book signing and distributing sweets…

Q Tania, I have not encountered a picture book that looks so specifically at the fabric of life that surrounds our Aussie kids before? Did you create An Aussie Year because of a perceived void in the picture book market or was there some other need you wished to convey? Why choose the picture book format?

The idea for An Aussie Year first came to me while living in China with my family (2005 – 2009). We travelled a lot around Asia and I was struck by the many and varied Asian children’s books (English versions) that catalogued and celebrated local culture and the life of children. It dawned on me that Australia doesn’t have a book like this—not an all-encompassing overview, anyway. So yes, part of the reasoning behind the book was definitely market void. I love a good market void. 

Aussie kids Tina, Tania & Michael Gerard Bauer
But the overriding drive for creating this book was definitely an expat thing. When you live overseas (or indeed, when you travel overseas), a strange phenomenon tends to overtake you—patriotism; sometimes to sickening proportions! So although I thrive on and adore the cultural saturation of other places, I found myself reminiscing on how fortunate Australian kids are, and how varied and fascinating our local ethnicities are. I also found myself feeling very proud and sentimental about our Aussie childhood. So, the book was born.

It never dawned on me to do anything other than a picture book for An Aussie Year. To me, the purest childhood joys are found in the very young.

Q How long did it take to produce ‘twelve months in the life of Australian kids’? 

This book was actually a very long time coming—it was first conceived around 2008, then I pottered with it, writing snippets, for around two or three years. I subbed it to a few publishers between 2010 and 2011 and it always got a fantastic response but no one committed. It was almost taken on by a Top 5 publisher, but the editors wanted to change it as they found it hard to envisage what the book could/would be. I must admit, even I didn’t really know what the book’s vision was at the time!

It wasn’t until I showed the manuscript to my illustrator/designer friend Tina Snerling and then to Anouska Jones of Exisle Publishing (Anouska had published my adult book Beijing Tai Tai) that things took off for the book. Anouska showed her acquisitions team and they were instantly smitten. I wish all acquisitions could be so fast!

The book underwent quite the transformation while working with Tina. It became focused and honed and much better. Along with Anouska, we worked as a small team to take the book from first edits through to print-ready PDFs. It was an incredible and richly rewarding process which took around five to six months. I wish more illustrators and authors could work closely as a production team. It’s invaluable.

Q What makes An Aussie Year culturally significant and important for young readers? 

It’s significant because it celebrates who we are—a nation of deliciously-blended people with an intense, exotic flavour that’s still very Australian. People often ask ‘what exactly is Australian?’—there is no single defining ‘formula’ for an Aussie. My response is: ‘exactly’. From our First People to our most recent Korean immigrants, we are a unique blend and it’s so important to celebrate that. 

We tried hard to cover as many ethnicities as we could in An Aussie Year. The book’s entries and five characters represent parts of the world that make up the majority of our country’s population, and hopefully incorporate other ethnicities of similar ilk (I hate to sound generic! but we couldn’t possibly represent every single Australian ethnicity). 

Australia is arguably the most successful role model for a peaceful multicultural society and I am enormously proud of that. Racial and cultural tolerance is something that (sadly) needs to be taught to our children early—along with a passion for ethnic diversity. I’ve always said travel is the most effective education for children and I hope An Aussie Year in some way helps kids fall in love with, and be proud of, the fascinating and life-enriching rewards of ethnic diversity.

Q Each month is jammed with interesting fun facts and observations yet I love the uncluttered style and colour scheme of the illustrations. Was this format what you first had in mind when trying to depict a calendar story or did is evolve organically as you worked with Tina Snerling?

It was my original format idea, yes. You can see in the image below my very first draft for January—this is how I envisaged the pages (and this was well before I had defined five central characters). I knew the pages would be extremely text-busy (and yet we cut the text down to about one-eighth of its original content!) and lots would be ‘going on’, so it was important to keep things visually clean. 

Tina is responsible for the amazing illustrations and colour scheme. She also did the typefacing, and even hand-created some fonts. Despite my original ideas, the style and layout for the pages went through several changes, and in this way, the end result was very organic.

Q Were the contents of this book rigorously researched or are the dates, traditions and celebrations included favoured ones that feature regularly on your own calendar?

The dates were intensely researched and catalogued, then cut, honed, trimmed, edited and cut some more. It was really important to me that we include some ‘old-fashioned’ and secular events (like Guy Fawkes night and Shrove Tuesday) because I wanted to appeal as much to adult sentimentality (we used to celebrate Guy Fawkes as a kid, with a bonfire in the backyard) as I did to the curiosity of kids. I wanted kids to ask ‘Dad, what’s Guy Fawkes night?’ I’m all about progression but I become quite despairing when out-moded traditions—or words, or recipes or anything—become lost.

Other dates, like Halloween, were difficult because many Australians see this festival as ‘American’ and are often dismissive of it as yet another ‘commercial’ fad, but Halloween is actually of British/European origin—bloodlines that are steeped in the veins of the majority of Australians. The fact is, Halloween is becoming very popular with Australia’s youth, so we reworded it as All Hallow’s Eve (in keeping with Euro tradition) and didn’t mention Trick-or-Treating, which is the ‘American’ part of the festival.

Yes, I’ll admit there are some entries that resonated with my own childhood, but these will also resonate with others. Regardless, I was really aware of the danger in being too one-eyed, so manuscript entries were tossed around between our team, as well as friends, colleagues, school teachers, and Aboriginal advisor Lisa Watego.

We also knew that countless dates and traditions would be seen as ‘missing’ from the book and that people everywhere would be saying ‘what about…?’ but of course, it was impossible to add them all. We had to be as generic as possible otherwise this book would have been 1000 pages long, and I think most people will understand that.

Q As a child, were there any events or celebrations that created significant, lasting impressions on you? Is it important to you that these or ones like them resonate as strongly with your own children? Why?

Oh yes, so very much. Christmas, of course, was enormous for us as kids. There is no other word to describe Christmastime in my memory as a child other than ‘magical’.

To me, celebration and tradition are the bones of childhood, even if the tradition is waffles every Sunday morning. Childhood shapes who we become, and in my eyes, creating a childhood that’s both stable and magical is paramount. Tradition provides stability and celebration provides magic. That’s all I want for any child, let alone my own children.

Q For me, seasons trigger memories of events and expectations of things to come. Do you have a favourite season or time of the year? Why is it significant?

I spent my first ten years in Hobart, so I’ve always felt cosiest and happiest in winter. Ironically, I didn’t see any significant amount of snow until I was in Europe, age 25! but I remember crying my eyes out when I saw it fall (in London) for the first time in my life. For some reason, all my happiest memories revolve around Winter.

My favourite seasons have, however, changed as I’ve gotten older. Through my 30s, it was Autumn I loved the most (finally, freedom from the summer heat!) and I simply adored the falling leaves and ‘change’ in the air. But now, in my 40s, I’m falling in love with Spring.

Q Do you like to claim dates and fill your calendar in advance with things to do and see or do you prefer to live more spontaneously?

Both. An author’s life is typically stretched between a-year-in-advance and last-minute planning. I have a massive calendar desk pad which I fill in months in advance, but add to as I go along. I love spontaneity when taking time out, but must admit I find comfort in planning when things are hectic.

Q We all tend to live a little vicariously through our kids at times. Do you allow yours to drive your holiday activities and decisions? Do you think this book will embolden kids to be more autonomous in their choices and understanding of Australian society?

My kids are so relaxed during holidays. They work so hard and have so much on during term, they like nothing better than chilling out at home, doing not much else but reading, baking, kicking the ball, playing games or on the computer. In fact, when I offer to take them out somewhere fun, they whinge and moan!

I think we fill our kids with ‘too much’ too much. A lot of the entries in An Aussie Year are of the most simple things; chatting on the phone, swinging on a tyre, playing on an iPad, jumping through puddles. I hope this book emboldens kids to just ‘be’.

Q Your writing calendar has been full to bursting this year Tania, what is on your draft table for 2014?

Every year I tell myself I’ll take it slower but I’m so utterly smitten and impassioned by the children’s book industry, it’s so hard to say no. Plus, even though I’m completely wired most of the time, I love my work; it’s never a chore.

For 2014, I would like to write more and promote less. I’d also like to spend less time on the computer, more time in nature, more time moving by arms and legs (as opposed to my eyes and fingers) and more time reading. I’m very keen to effect greater balance in my life overall.

Q Name one thing you’d like to achieve next year from your non-writing wish list?

A sense of space.

Just for fun question: If a space monster arrived unannounced and consumed all the calendars in my house, I would most likely have a minor conniption, feel inclined to break something and shout loudly. How would you react? 

I’d feel an overwhelming sense of freedom.

Insert: sigh-in-agreement. 

Ripper Stuff Tania. Thanks these totally inspirational moments.

Continue this marvellous virtual tour with Tania - find a date that suits you HERE.
Visit the An Aussie Year web site to meet all the characters from the book, see updates and behind-the-scenes work. There's also some Fun Activities for kids.

Buy An Aussie Year here or from any great book store.

EK Publishing October 2013
ISBN: 978-1-921966-24-8










Wednesday, 30 October 2013

PiBoIdMo Challenge

About PiBoIdMo


PiBoIdMo, or Picture Book Ideas Month, is picture book authors’ answer to NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.  PiBoIdMo is the brainchild of Tara Lazar who created it as a 30 day challenge for picture book writers who seemingly miss out on all the fun of NaNoWriMo.  The challenge is to create 30 picture book ideas in 30 days.  The ideas need not be entire manuscripts, but could include a title, a name of a character, or a silly idea on which to base a picture book.
To participate in PiBoIdMo, simply click HERE to find out more.  Registration  started on October 24, 2013 and is open through the first week of November.

It is no secret that I firmly believe picture books are one of the great elixirs of life. An art form like no other. I adore them and love writing them. I have chosen to participate, along with a number of friends, in hope of harnessing those ideas which until now are either lying ignored in various notebooks or else flitting around haphazardly in my mind searching for a way out. This is a brilliant incentive to gather them up, tie them down and create a little magic with them.

The PiBoIdMo Blog Hop

As a participant I am also taking part in the PiBoIdMo Blog Hop.  The idea is to answer 4 questions about writing, and then tag more children’s writers to take part.    I’ve been tagged by aspiring, and inspiring, children’s author Sam Sochacka.  Sam can not only fix things, write things, photograph things and illuminate the room in which she appears, she's also pivotal in her various roles within the Kids Lit industry.  Check out her blog HERE.

THE QUESTIONS

What am I currently working on?

I was fortunate to win a grant from the CAL Creative Industries Career Fund this year so am currently using it to work on a picture book project along with mentor Dee White. It's attracted a bit of acclaim in various competitions but I'm anxious to develop it into something more substantial and of course share it with the world. It is currently undergoing a major re-haul, something I'm finding both immensely challenging and simultaneously gratifying.

How does it differ from other works in the genre?

I pen quite a few short stories which normally appear in anthologies and school magazines. I love writing shorts for kids; for the discipline and to clear my mind of ideas that need instant exposure on paper. For me, a picture book takes considerably more time to get right. I'd also like to work more on my chapter books in waiting but the picture book is calling out to me. Many people are under the illusion that because they contain so few words, picture books are a snap to write. This couldn't be further from the truth. I sometimes wish I had the luxury of extended word counts...I tend to be a bit of a waffler.

Why do I write what I do?

I write in my diaryto release a need to record and share moments, memories and emotions internally with myself. I write for children (pretty much exclusively) because I have an unrelenting desire to provide the same kind of inexplicable magic I experienced from getting lost in stories as a child. Books and the wisdoms and whimsies found within them were and still are one of life's greatest discoveries for me. I also recently realised what pleasure I get from re-living my childhood as I write for kids. I don't know many non-writing adults who spend as much time lingering in their younger past lives as kids' authors do. It's utterly fascinating and so much fun.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

I suffer from the usual lament: Time. Not enough of it. Getting the timing wrong in terms of submitting a manuscript idea before the rest of the world does first. And finding the right time and place and frame of mind to let the words flow. Writing is not really that hard. Writing something worthwhile and wondrous is more exacting.  

THE TAGEES

I believe the Queensland writing scene is one of the most supportive and vibrant in the land but I have cast my net further interstate and snagged and tagged this talented collection of authors (and illustrators).
 
Nicky Johnston
Nicky Johnston is the author and illustrator of children’s books. She is a mum to four boys, an educator and public speaker. Nicky is passionate about raising awareness of mental health issues in children, focusing on building self-esteem and resilience skills to help kids manage life’s ups and downs. Her first book Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts! has been adapted into a theatrical production that is in its third year of touring primary schools. The production was recently awarded a SILVER AWARD at the national Mental Health Services Achievement Awards. Her latest book is called Actually, I Can and was launched in August this year .
Learn more about Nicky at her site, www. nickyjohnston.com.au 

Christina Booth

Christina Booth is an award winning children' author and illustrator working from her bush garden studio in Tasmania, Australia.With over sixteen books for children published Christina is best known for her story of Purinina, a Tasmanian Devil (Purinina, A Devil's Tale, Lothian 2007) and Kip, the story of a crowing rooster who disturbs his neighbours. (Kip, Windy Hollow Books, 2009).


Her work includes illustrations for many great authors including Max Fatchen, Christobel Mattingley, Jackie French, Colin Thiele and Meredith Costain. Her latest books include Welcome Home (Ford Street Publishing, 2013), Blossom Possum and the Christmas Quacker (Gina Newton, Scholastic, 2013),  and I Wish There Were Dinosaurs (Amanda Niland, Windy Hollow Books, 2012).

Christina can be visited at her website, www.christinabooth.com for an invitation into her life of writing and illustrating.

Kelly McDonald

Kelly is a storyteller/magician who has been weaving tales for the past 16years and sharing them with children at schools, kinders and parties as the Magical Faerie Crystall. She is also an award winning artist and hopes to combine her crafts into a real published book one day soon! www.gardenbabyfaeries.webs.com

Monday, 28 October 2013

Compare Vote Simples

Want to compare meerkats? Then go to Compare the Meerkat.com. It's a pretty good site and Alexsandr has a certain quirky appeal.

Want to compare talented emerging children's authors and then vote for your favourite? Then go to Creative Kids' Tales and vote today. It's a pretty awesome site too and kids' author, Dimity Powell, is exceedingly quirky in spite of her dislike for mealy worms aka grubs.

For quirky reads and the opportunity to vote for Dimity, visit Creative Kids Tales now.

Simples.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

On tour again - with Tania McCartney

Yep, I'm taking off again on another exhilarating ride with dynamic Aussie author, Tania McCartney.

This time we are zipping around Australia, from the 21st October to 21st November, with a handful of Aussie kids and a calendar-load-full of fun. Cruise on by here again on Monday 11th November and read all about the Write Stuff behind the author behind, An Aussie Year, Twelve Months in the life of Australian Kids.

Check out Virtual Tour dates here. No tickets required. There are nearly as many blog stops as months on a calendar so you are guaranteed not to miss out.

If you live anywhere near the SE corner of my great state, pop on in to Paddington in Brisbane, this weekend when Tania launches her new book at the Black Cat bookshop and cafe.

Visit Tania's site for launch details in a state near year.

Now off you go. Time to fill in your calendars.