This year I feel like I hit the ground running and have only just had a chance to stop and breathe. And therein lies part of the problem. A few days before Christmas, I started to cough, just a little. Then some more. No, you don’t have pneumonia for the third time, the doctor said. Phew, that’s a relief because I was a bit worried. I didn’t know I had it the last two times until things got serious (how dare pneumonia interfere with Book Week!) . And then it got harder to breathe. And I was coughing every day. While I waited for the (disappearing) specialist (that’s another story) my symptoms finally went away two weeks ago and I see the new specialist next week for damage control and moving forward. Oh and in between I had shingles – because I was stressed – everyone else in my family had a serious health problem at the same time. We wore out the health system. Never a dull moment.
But in the meantime, here’s what else has been happening:
Ally came home
In 2015 we had to give up our 9-month old deerhound puppy as there were just too many health problems in our family (sounding a bit familiar) and a (very large) puppy was unmanageable. Her breeder found Ally a lovely home with a family on a farm in Yass. We missed her, but sometimes hard decisions have to be made. We called in to visit once and could see she was happy. Fast forward to Christmas 2018, we received an email asking if perhaps things had improved and we might be able to take her back.
Where Ally lived, stock were being attacked by stray dogs (not Ally) and wandering dogs were being shot. On her farm there was no fenced enclosure except her small sleeping area and her family were worried about her. We were happy to have her back, as it was always something we wished we didn’t have to do.
Kids Day Out – first kidlit event for 2019
Often I miss the South Coast Illawarra Kids Day because I’m on holidays. But this year the stars aligned and I was there running two very well-attended Minecrafting a Story workshops. In fact, the whole day is now so well attended it had to be ticketed. I love working with kids and stories. There’s nothing more inspiring.
2019 SCBWI Conference and Creating Creative Writers (Professional Development Day)
Thanks to the constant coughing and severe shingles pain, I was a no show at my favourite conference. (Maybe in 2021…). I did however make it in for my Creating Super Storytellers session at the PD Day where I was on a panel with superstars Tim Harris and Yvette Poshoglian.
I have been casually stalking Tim Harris for almost 18 months – in the same place but always somewhere else at the same time – so it was a treat to finally chat with Mr Bambuckle’s alter-ego. Perhaps the highlight of the conference!
The feedback on my talk about using Minecraft to inspire writing was enthusiastic so hopefully I’ve converted a few teachers to the possibilities the combination of gaming and literature provides.
It still remains my main form of exercise as I rack up the shiny catches and the dopamine hits. I protest I’m not alone in this. There is more than one Oz children’s author on my Pokemon Go Friends list.
Funday Sunday Reviews
I was privileged to be able showcase 24 wonderful Australian books for readers up to 14 in front of the huge Sunday Telegraph Funday pages audience. They’re not really reviews but bits and bites – hopefully enough to grab a parent’s attention and put a book in front of a child. Here are the two five star reviews for January to March:
I wrote 12 articles for Buzz Words highlighting six of my favourite websites and sharing six book and author promotion ideas.
I’m reworking parts of my WIP Algernon and the Outside Girl including the end.
don’t you hate it when someone tells you something you know is wrong with your story,especially when you’ve worked so hard to convince yourself it’s not true?
I had an assessment with an international editor online as part of the 2019 SCBWI conference and the feedback was all positive except for some advice about amping up the action scenes (always my weakness) and a comment that the end (as per the synopsis) letting an otherwise unique story down (*sigh* )
I’ve also been workshopping with a friend (shout out to Freddy Iryss) and my word output has improved dramatically.
I even wrote a blog post…
Goal setting is an important part of my approach to life. I’m not a neat and tidy person. When the Where I Work meme was doing the rounds of social media I purposely posted my messy desk midst the stream of glorious studio spaces and creative nooks. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love one of those. But it’s not who I am.
I need a very defined view of where I’m going and what I’m doing to maintain that essential work life balance and get things done across a number of areas.
It’s all done with Trello.
I’m the person doing ten things at once (no exaggerating) so my desk is more like an archaeology dig with layers of current projects. I’m running my own IT consulting business, working part-time at the South Coast Writers Centre, handling the admin at Buzz Words, helping out with the Students Need School Libraries Campaign, being an author, being a mum and juggling assorted virtual assistant tasks for clients. I find everything interesting!
So I need a very defined view of where I’m going and what I’m doing to maintain that essential work life balance and get things across a number of areas. It’s all done with Trello.
Although specific goals change, they fall under the same headings each year.
I divide my goals into six areas
- What I want to do (personal)
- What I want to do (writing)
- What I want to do (tech & social media)
- What I want to do (craft)
- What I want to be
- What I want to have
I try to keep it as simple as possible. No more than 8 goals on each list (because 8 is the screen length and I want to see the entire goal map in one glance). Some goals have definable steps (on the back of the card as a checklist). Some have a due date. All have a category – Important, Mid Important Least Important.
There’s a gamification element, too – it’s rewarding to be able to tick things off as done with rainbow coloured labels and watch the progress meters crawl along when I manage to write something almost every day.
Last year I made progress and achieved lots of things but I didn’t complete many goals. So the year in review had a kind-of hollow feel to it. So this year I’m aiming for more quantifiable, measurable goals – keeping it SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely
Keeping goals SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely
For example, one of my goals is to Read More Adult Books (10)
- It’s specific – any adult book counts
- It’s measurable – I’m going to read 10 and when I reach my goal, I’ll blog the completed list
- It’s attainable – I have books! I got a pile of adult titles for Christmas.
- It’s relevant – it’ll expand my literature experience and skills
- Timely – I don’t need a deadline for this one
January is over now, so I know this approach is working.. just got to keep it going for 11 months.
In my life, December 25th to mid January is new book time. At Christmas I kindly help my other half choose books for me by providing an extensive list of titles and during our January holiday I obsessively visit any bookstores within an hour-and-a-half radius.
Here are the new additions to my bookshelf and a few now pending:
Two Old Men Dying by Thomas Keneally. I found this one of the shelf of the first ever bookshop, in my lifetime, in the Northern Illawarra. For many years there wasn’t even one in Wollongong. Collins in Thirroul is the real deal. A bookshop run by two sisters passionate about books, supportive of local authors and with an amazing eclectic range of titles.
Unfortunately my Christmas shopping was already done by the time I dropped in to the new store, but I know where I’ll be shopping in future. My other half and I broke the Christmas present cut-off rule and bought a book for each other. He chose The Travelling Cat Chronicles and I chose this one. I’m part way through and loving it. It’s about Learned Man – an imaginary first Australian – told through the eyes of a documentary filmmaker and Learned man himself. It’s hard to explain so I’ll let Penguin’s website do it:
“Tom Keneally explores the journeys of modern Australians alongside the imagined story of ancient Learned Man whose remains were discovered in Western NSW decades ago.” You can read an excerpt here
The Helpline by Katherine Collete . I receive lots of publisher newsletters as a reviewer and this one was in the Text newsletter. it sounded funny and snippets resonated with me – a senior mathematician loses her job and her cousin finds her a new one – on the Council’s Senior Citizen Helpline. So on t0 the list it went.
A Pocketful of Days by Mike Cavanaugh. I met Mike through the South Coast Writer’s Centre where he’s a member and I’m the part-time Office Manager. He writes the funniest, quirkiest emails so at the Sydney Writers festival Live and Local event where SCWC member books are sold, I picked up his first book and read the blurb. I laughed out loud – so I bought it and continued reading in the breaks while I was manning the book stall. At the Christmas Picnic Mike was collecting an award for a short story competition and read an extract from his second book. Everyone laughed out loud. I added it to my list. It’s not as funny as the first – quirky, fascinating and a little heartbreaking – I read it almost all in one go. Both books are memoirs and I’m on board to read the third and final.
I Can’t Remember the Title But the Cover is Blue by Elias Greig. How could this title not attract a reader for whom many of her favourite books are books about books? It was on the list before I even read the burb! Customer stories from a veteran bookseller. As Kenny Banyia says to Jerry Seinfeld, “That’s gold, Jerry. Gold!”
Art Matters by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell. I’m a Neil Gaiman fan I admit it. This book contains four essays including Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming. What’s not to love about that. Very timely as I’m part of the Students Need School Libraries Campaign team. With Chris Riddell’s illustrations, this book is a work of art, itself.
Song Woman by Ilka Tampke. Her previous novel Skin, set in Bronze Age Wales is one of my all time favourites and I love its cover. I don’t like the cover at all on this book, but it’s also set in Iron Age Britain – and I know I’m going to love the story.
And there was a surprise book.
And there was a surprise book. A friend gave me a beautiful hardback copy of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exubery with a special inscription. This would have to be one of the most perfect books to give a friend. I wish I thought of it!
So that’s Christmas. Except I almost forgot, because it’s a sort of book. Friends gave me a subscription to a Cryptic Crossword magazine. I’m not good at cryptic crosswords, although I aspire to be and I’m sure it will be good for my brain. I’ve already completed the first one in the first magazine with a reasonable success rate. over 50% is a good start.
Next came holidays. A detour to Berrima was a good start. I fell in love with Berrima when I spent a week there decades ago installing a new accounting system in Berrima gaol. It has the best lolly shop. I’m making a substantial regular contribution to keeping The Lolly Swagman in business (where else can you get Butterfingers within 2 hours of Wollongong?).
During breakfast in a cafe I discovered the story of the German prisoners of war housed in the gaol during World War II. They were mostly Germans working as merchant seaman in Australia at the wrong time. Nine came of a sunk U-boat. They were allowed into town during the day and the community welcomed them. They were good for local business as many still received wages from their German employees and as German welfare was way ahead of Australia at the time, they thought nothing of paying a portion to those who had no income. The local economy benefited. Plus they were resourceful and inventive – installed their own plumbing and flush toilet and built the town’s first generator. The recreation facility they built on the river became a tourist attraction.
I like positive war stories where people are lucky enough to be able to choose not to be enemies. I’m also very interested in prisoner of war camps and recently finished a middle grade novel set against the backdrop of the Cowra prison breakout. The prisoners there were servicemen and incarcerated 24/7. Their culture engendered a different attitude – feeling ashamed to be prisoners. Hundreds of Japanese lives were lost in the breakout, but they kept a pact that no civilians would be harmed. My family farm out along the Grenfell Rd in Bumbaldry so its a story I know well. The local RSL cared for the Japanese graves as well as their own and when Japan found out in later years, a strong relationship developed. The only United Nations peace bell not in a capital city sits in Cowra, a gift from Japan in appreciation of the respect shown.
I visited the Berrima Museum to learn more about the German prisoners of war and buy the definitive book Prisoners in Arcady by John Simons, a local historian. There I was told the book was out of print, that John and his wife had passed away and the remaining family wouldn’t allow any reprints. The museum caretaker kindly gave a booklet for free with an apology. eBay solved the problem. By the time I got home a week later, my book was waiting.
Our holiday destination was Bundanoon. Not all that far away but it’s the company rather than location that always makes me look forward to our annual January holiday. And this year there were alpacas!
Despite the proliferation of bookstores in Bowral and Moss Vale I only bought one book. I felt like I needed to read what I already had received first, but I couldn’t resist Sagaland by Richard Fidler and Kari Gislason. Two friends with a lifelong love of the Nordic sagas visiting the Icelandic places of legend. I would love to do that but it’s not going to happen so a book is the way to go for me.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t read other books and add them to my Books To Buy Trello List. The holiday house we stayed in contained a well-stocked bookcase and there I discovered Letters to a Young Poet by Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke . I was initially attracted to it because although I knew nothing about Rilke, I recognised his name as the subject of a South Coast Writers Centre poetry appreciation event. It proved to be a wonderful work of creative encouragement.
The other book I found and fell in love with in the holiday house bookcase was The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss. I ignored the advice at the front not to read it if I hadn’t read the two books it was a side story from. I’m not particularly good at doing what I’m told. When I got to the end, the author had a note about how he didn’t think the story was publishable because it was so quirky and hardly anyone would like it but a writer he greatly admired said he had to publish it, because it was the perfect book for her and there weren’t enough books she loved. And I knew it was for people like me, too. I was meant to read it all along. Now I can hardly wait to read the other two books. I’ve added The Kingkiller Chronicles: The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear to my buying list. And when I discovered Patrick Rothfuss organizes the charity Worldbuilders, which, since 2008, has raised over $7.4 million, primarily for Heifer International, a charity that provides livestock, clean water, education, and training for communities in the developing world, I was even more impressed.
I really, really need an excuse to buy the The KingKiller Chronicle books right now.
Not everyone gets a book from me for Christmas although most people do. Many of my friends are readers or writers and if they’re not, they’re the target of my book lover conversion program.
My book giving isn’t age based. Adults are very likely to receive a picture book if I think one will resonate. So this is not the adult list or the or the middle-grade or YA list, it’s the non-picture book list.
Just a Girl – Jackie French
This is one of my favourite books of the year – one for adults and kids alike. It ticks lots of boxes for me – history, ancient Judea, a feisty girl challenging norms, spirituality and a cracking good story. It has a Christmas connection as Mary of Nazareth (Christ’s mother) is an influential character although not a major character. And if that doesn’t make sense, it’s about how it’s cleverly done and I’m not ruining that for anyone. A purple cover earns bonus points from me.
Everything I Never Said – Samantha Wheeler
I couldn’t put this book down. A middle grade book, it’s only a two hour read for me, but I picked it up midnight and wasn’t intending to be still reading at 2 am. It left me shell-shocked. It’s that good at taking you into the life of a young girl with Rett Syndrome. There are so many lessons and messages here – and none of them preachy. All of them about positive things like hope, perseverance and acceptance. And that a happy ending is in the eye of the beholder. Those who have read the book may see that as a terrible pun. It’s not. It’s just exactly what I want to say. Beauty, like happiness, is the eye of the beholder. It’s all about how you look at the world.
Finch – Penny Matthews
This is a wonderfully written quiet book with a most exquisite twist in the tail. Another favourite I discovered through my Sunday Telegraph reviewing which takes me to books I might not have found or chosen otherwise. My own copy is a bit bedraggled now, having been loaned out many, many times. I bought a copy for the friend who loved it as much as me.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles – Hiro Arikawa
I live in a house where cats, Japan, and Japanese translations of books about cats are very popular. And it’s not the only house like that as I discovered on Twitter. Plus this was a very exciting first purchase in the northern suburbs of the Gong’s first real bookstore for as long as I’ve lived here (over three decades!). The new Collins bookstore is a winner in my eyes. The range is surprising – bestsellers, classics, perennial favourites and a truly eclectic selection of “otherness” books. It’s not a huge shop (not small either) but it took me disproportionately forever to browse. So many books I want/intend to buy added to my Trello Books to Buy list.
I’m a Neil Gaiman fan so when I heard about this book and that it included his famous speech about libraries and how they foster creativity, daydreaming and reading, I was hooked. Neil Gaiman and library love. Who wouldn’t buy four copies of that for Christmas gifting and spreading the word?. The blurb describes it as “a creative call to arms” – that’s a call I’m always willing to answer.
The Shape of Ideas – Grant Snider
I met Grant Snider (@grantdraws) on Twitter, where he shares his wonderful comics about creative struggle, reading and all sorts of things close to my heart. This was long before there was a book. Although it was quickly obvious it was going to happen. That’s one of the things Twitter can do. Create books that don’t exist yet. I gifted copies of this book last year, too. Almost a year ago from today, I created a personal bookshelf challenge from one of Grant’s comics.
All of these books have a great story and brilliant illustrations. And they’re Australian. They wouldn’t make my Christmas giving list otherwise. What I want to share here is what makes them special to me.
Invisible Jerry – Adam Wallace
After I finished reading this book, I immediately wanted to give a copy of it to every preschool family. This is a simple story. No-one notices Jerry. Until Molly comes along. Jerry wishes other kids could have a Molly but there’s only one of her. Then he decides that perhaps another kid, like Paul who no-one notices, could have a Jerry. How brilliantly simple is that? The solution to the world’s problems in a picture book. But let’s not start with the world. A playground will do. This book demonstrates important stuff – how to find a friend, how to not be alone, how to show empathy and how to make the world a better place.
Macca’s Christmas Crackers – Matt Cosgrove
This is the Christmas book with both sides covered – the sparkle and the spirit. There’s the over-the-top fun of Christmas as Macca the Alpaca runs around decorating everything in sight, And oh the rhyme as he does it! But Macca’s exploits also nail a key message – “you don’t have to spend on a friend” firmly focusing the reader on more important things than the trappings of the season. For those who score this Christmas gift from me, there will also be socks.
The Pink Hat – Andrew Joyner
The Washington Post said: “This simple and cheerful tale suggests, with not an ounce of preachiness, values of care and comfort and the support women have for each other across generations”. And I said “What they said.” I’m even tempted to get my knitting needles out and knock up a few hats to go with this one.
Room on Our Rock – Kate & Jol Temple & Terri Rose Baynton
I’m impressed that a book can read backwards and forwards but doubly impressed that the message itself can be reversed. It’s the perfect way to make the point – without even saying it – that sometimes what needs to happen is reverse gear. Plus there are seals. Wonderfully drawn seals.
“Books about books” is my absolute favourite reading category. So this one gets a big tick for doing that with bucket-loads of humour. The baddie races through the book grabbing the pages as he runs. I smiled from the first to last page so with this book I can give the gift of a smile (It’s the sort of thing Macca might put in a Christmas cracker!).
This book teeters perfectly balanced on the edge of almost scary – which makes it very exciting but still safe to read before bedtime. I can’t recall any other book that fits into that niche, that doesn’t use humour to dilute the potential scariness. It also has a very, very feisty heroine willing to brave anything to rescue her dog Tinky from the dangerous forest. I like that!
For lots of authors November is National Novel Writing Month #NaNoWriMo where they aim to write 1,667 words a day to achieve 50,000 words for the month. Not for me. I run away very fast every time I hear someone suggest that! Here’s what I did instead:
Wollongong Writers Festival
Now in its sixth year, the Wollongong Writers Festival keeps getting bigger and better. For me, it’s part work and part play. Even if I’m not there as an author (and I wasn’t this year), the South Coast Writers Centre runs three workshops and I’m there to help out with that.
This year I had to choose carefully as most of the things I wanted to attend were on at the same time or overlapping. I decided to attend Powering Your Passion with Grant Writing presented by Dr Friederike Krishnabhakdi-Vasilakis. It was time well spent – hands on and practical with loads of insider grant writing tips.
“The ultimate freedom machine is literature, of course”
– Matt Ottley
The second session I chose was Crafting the Incredible Freedom Machines with Kirli Saunders and Matt Ottley. I heard Kirli speak at the Writing NSW Kids and YA Festival and was keen to hear more. I was particularly interested in Matt’s synesthesia where he sees art as music as I have a WIP in progress where the main character has synesthesia although not manifesting in the same way as Matt’s does. I’m fascinated by the link between synesthesia and creativity and looking forward to the new book he spoke about that’s being published by Dirt Lane Press in 2019 – The Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness. Who wouldn’t want to buy a book with that title?
Books, books, books
I’m a long term fan of the Macca the Alpaca series of picture books by Matt Cosgrove. The Macca books have everything – truly great rhyme, humour and bright wonderful illustrations. Matt knows how to pitch an important life lesson to young (and older) readers without a whiff of preaching. Plus there are loads of resources and activities on Matt’s website, including Macca’s Christmas Crackers Wishlist Activity one which encourages kids to think about gifts for others in a meaningful manner.
The other book that snagged my attention was Brindabella by Ursula Dubosarsky (illustrated by Andrew Joyner). The story is told through two viewpoints – Pender (a young boy) and Brindabella (a joey). Is Brindabella grateful to be rescued? To know her life was saved? No. She’s self-centred, always looking to escape and irritated by Pender’s affection for her. I loved this, looking through the eyes of a wild animal, unchanged by what humans would feel was something to be eternally thankful for. So different. So believable. Even though Brindabella does have an awakening of sorts at the end, she is never a pet. Her viewpoint always remains that of a wild animal.
I also found that elusive window of unfettered tim in which to read Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee. Loved it and a on-the-blog review is in the works.
Work in progress
I’m passionate about the Students Need School Libraries campaign and it’s time consuming work rustling up blog content but worth it. Other than knowing I’m helping with something important I get to have fun. Tim Harris stepped up big time and produced a brand new short story in response to my request for a blog post (thanks, Tim). Paul MacDonald of the Children’s Bookshop Beecroft and I caught up for a coffee in the leafy grounds of the University of Wollongong while I scribed his words, inspired by his enthusiasm and experience with children’s literature and school libraries (thanks, Paul). No matter how busy everyone I approach is, they always make time to help. I appreciate that.
My aim for November was to keep my Inbox empty. No mean feat when I have five inboxes and emails spawn there faster than Pokemon on a Pokemon Go community day. But I’ve managed to zero my inbox every single day in November, so the next step is to share. Stay tuned.
I love all the wonderful chatter-filled , meander-down-the-blog-garden-path monthly round-up posts that I read, but *sigh* mine always sound like someone is writing a report. And maybe because, in a way, that’s what I am doing. Proving to myself that I’m achieving writerly things.
Russ the Bus
On 22nd October I boarded Russ the (story) Bus for a week of school visits in western Sydney – Liverpool Public School, St Gregorys College, Bringelly Public, Rossmore Public, Claymore Public School, St Mary’s Rydalmere and Campbelltown Public School. Some experiences are more wonderful than others, and this was a super-wonderful one.
Russ is magic on four wheels. Faces lit up and numerous times kids asked, and came back to recheck – whether they really were allowed to keep their book.
The team from the Sydney Writers Festival were amazing. Emma, who drove the bus, had a knack for knowing which kids needed a bit of reading encouragement or reinforcement. Sierra was not only a brilliant organiser, but hauled, hammered and hoisted. Amelia, the new head of the Sydney Writers’ Festival Children’s and YA Program, came along for the first few days to see Russ in action, and pitched in as one of the crew. The program is lucky to have them all. Together, the team made magic happen for all the kids Russ visited. Miscellaneous mechanical problems – the bus broke down twice and had an electrical problem all week – didn’t phase them one bit. (PS Russ had a tune-up and I heard he was much better behaved in the following weeks). It was both fun and a privilege to be part of it all.
On the streets of Newtown I finally gave and tasted gelato – Hokey Pokey and Mint Chocolate Chip. I put on an extra kilo although I’ve said goodbye to that now. No gelato shops o my way home here.
Mary Cunnane Workshop
Although I have an agent (the lovely and supportive Pippa Mason at Curtis Brown), I went along to listen to the Mary Cunnane How To Get an Agent Workshop presented by the South Coast Writers Centre (where I’m the Office Manager). The workshop was sold out – because there’s no substitute for the wise words of a seasoned industry professional – and we all learned something.
Books, books books
Every month I review 8 – 10 books for the Sunday Telegraph Funday. It’s part of the brief to give them stars, but as I never review books I don’t love, I never give less than four stars. But it’s still rare that I give a review 5 stars. This month there were two! Both amazing and completely different books.
Invisible Jerry, written by Adam Wallace and illustrated by Giuseppe Poli, is a picture book that packs a punch. I want every preschool family to own a copy. The message of looking after others is simple and incredibly strong.
Just a Girl By Jackie French tackles the story of Mary, mother of Jesus, in a way that’s sensitive and imaginative but respectful. It’s a fascinating story in which Maryiam is almost a side story – but is expertly crafted to take centre stage. Not much is known about Mary, but historical accuracy hasn’t been sacrificed. Jackie doesn’t embellish with fiction or attempt to add details that don’t exist. Rather than focus on the scarce facts, the focus is on the enormous influence Mary has – on the characters in the story and the modern day world.
Halfway through October I joined #auswrites on Twitter – sharing in response to alternate day prompts. I’ve had fun and met new people so it was a given to join in again for November.
Work in Progress
Next topic please. I’ve been shuffling and reworking and although I don’t have any extra word, it is progress of sorts.
I’m helping out with blog management for the #StudentsNeedSchoolLibraries campaign. We have a Trello board! If you haven’t been hit up by me for a blog post, it could still happen…
I’m clocking up the kilometres which is a good thing given that week of gelato every night for dessert. The family did the Shiny Beldum Day (yours truly scored the lowest catch). We failed the Gangar Raid Day as #2 son abandoned us for a gig in Sydney and two people were not enough. I lucked in with a Shiny Sheldar, and spent too many hours pouring over the maths calculations behind the stats. I decided to put the spreadsheet away and reminded myself it was about having fun and that I should just continue catching things randomly.
The adult inside me was disappointed to learn that Pokemon Go is a “dopaminergic reward pathway”
but the kid in me is not phased by big words and continues to have fun.
Halloween in the Highlands
Yes, I’m a big kid. That’s why I’m a children’s author.
I’ve been busy lately and #auswrites slipped by me. Until today. And even though today is Day 15 of every second day through to 27 October, I’m not phased. When you’re a carer, catching up is a way of life and an essential survival skill.
Day 1: Introduce yourself
I’m Sandy. I read, I write (books for kids and code for software), I play Pokemon Go (for exercise of course!), occasionally crochet and in my spare time, I read some more. I love the Internet, chocolate, sushi, frogs and dragonflies. I wish I could make our government care enough to do the right thing abut Nauru, asylum seekers, the healthcare system, public education and homelessness.
Day 3: Favourite Genre to Write In
I don’t think I’ll ever write anything that’s not for kids. I’m not tempted at all. I’m in my comfort zone. I read once you write the age you are inside – inside me is an 11 year old boy. I particularly like writing historical fantasy for kids.
Day 5: Favourite Aussie author
Seriously? I’m supposed to have an answer for this. I don’t have one favourite. I have many favourites. If I had to highlight just one of my favourites I’d say Sofie Laguna – because she writes beautiful picture books, children’s fiction and adult fiction that make my heart hurt.
“I ran from wall to wall, my cells spinning me around the rooms, one after the other. Hallway! Kitchen! Bedroom! Bathroom! Sitting room! Hallway! Nobody could stop me! … I was faster than the speed of light. I knew if it went on much longer I would disintegrate…” – Eye of the Sheep
Day 7: Do you set stories in Aus?
So far, only one. It’s the story of a girl with synesthesia and a Japanese boy who is in Australia as an exchange student. It’s set in modern day Cowra against a backdrop of the 1944 Cowra Prison Breakout.
Day 9: What are you working on?
A middle grade fantasy, opening in a cemetery, called Algernon and the Outside Girl. I have a complete first draft with chapters in various stages of editing.
Day 11: A word you overuse
But. But I need to use it a lot…
Day 13: Recommend another Aussie
Karen Foxlee writes wonderful books. A Most Magical Girl is my favourite so far and I’m super excited to have a copy of her latest Lenny’s Book of Everything on my desk. The anticipation is killing me! I need time…
And now I’m up to date and can tweet Day 15.
I love reading the newsy round up posts of other authors and illustrators – like this one from Debra Tidball or this one from Tania McCartney. I thought I’d have a go at writing my own and that I’d cheat by starting with a look back over the last three months.
Books and kids
Is there any better combination than this? I love being out and about in schools. Most recently I was at Good Samaritan Primary School in Fairy Meadow where Year 5 managed to find half an hour of questions after my session was over. Questions are my favourite part! A highlight of the last three months was a presentation and workshop at Lake Illawarra High School, working with the students in the Eloura autism stream. A Minecraft workshop hit the spot and pages were filled with writing – much to their teacher’s amazement. I’m looking forward to a return visit. August provided another favourite on my calendar – the South Coast and Illawarra CBCA Children’s Literary lunch where I shared lunch and stories with the students from Bulli Public School. A more unusual request was a speech Is Creative Writing a Career? for a Book Week assembly at St Joseph’s High School Albion Park. I’ve never seen so many teachers in book-related costumes.
I attended two festivals, enjoying sitting in the audience for a change. While I love being a speaker, I always spend so much time chatting, that I miss just about everything else on the program. I went to the Writing NSW Kids and YA festival with my friend, Freddy Iryss, who is just beginning her journey as a children’s writer. It’s inspiring to be able to share that journey and the Kids and YA Festival proved an inspiring early step.
I also headed down the highway to Nowra for the very first Shoalhaven Readers and Writers Festival and nailed a task on my bucket list – to tweet an entire event. I enjoy it when others do the same thing for events I can’t attend, so wanted to return the favour into the ether. The program included Cath McKinnon (shortisted for the 2018 Miles Franklin – read my review of Storyland here), Jackie French, Alan Baxter, Eleanor Limprecht, Diane Blacklock, Merlina Marchetta, Allison Tait and Tim Harris. I took the opportunity to acquire a signed set of Jackie’s Hitler’s Daughter trilogy. After that, a winery trip and dinner with friends. Pretty much a perfect day!
As I often tell kids when I’m talking about how Pokemon was one of the ideas behind Samurai Kids, I’m one of the oldest Pokemon Go players in the world. Although there’s quite a few players in the Oz children’s literature industry. No surprises there given the adage ‘you write the age you are inside’. It’s also a family affair for me and it’s bonded us together, even across state lines. The extra exercise – chasing down Chikorita’s on Community Day and racing to walk off as many special regional purple and yellow 7km eggs as possible – has been a big bonus for this “spend too much time sitting on her butt at the computer” person.
Books I read
I’m a constant reader and my reviewing gig with the Funday section of the Sunday Telegraph provides me with the most wonderful selection of Australian children’s books. Highlights have been Finch by Penny Matthews (a rare 5 star review – such a delicious twist at the end), The Peacock Detectives by Carly Nugent (protagonist Cassie has such a unique voice) and Yours Truly, Alice Toolie by Kate and Jol Temple. So good to see Alice stepping out from my 2016 favourite Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers the Third Grade and getting the opportunity to star. I’m a little biased, because being truthful, she’s a bit like me. We share some of the same faults.
My bookshelves are busting at the seams – true!
Books I Bought
My bookshelves being over-loaded doesn’t stop me buying more books. In August, my OH and I went to Blackheath to stay at Jemby-rinjah eco cabins – we’ve been escaping there for many winter weekends.
Any visit anywhere always involves bookstores and this year I found a treasure trove in Gleebooks, Mr Pickwick’s Fine Old Books and Read On Books. My haul was made up of The Aboriginal People of the Burragorang Valley (Jim Smith) and Life in the Burragorang (Jim Smith) – two titles I’ve long wanted for family history research, Cicada (Shaun Tan)- as an ex public servant I love this one! and Freshwater Fishes (I live in a house of aquariums).
Mr Pickwick’s Fine Old Books also had old toys. It was a trip down parenting memory lane – Ninja Turtles, Thomas the Tank Engine, Street Sharks and Biker Mice From Mars (always a personal favourite – I kept the videos!) I purchased a 1947 reprint of Seven Little Australians and a 1972 reprint of the The Muddle-headed Wombat at School (which may or may not still be on The National Centre for Children’s Literature Noela Young wishlist – if it is I’ll be passing it on).
I’ve been helping out at Buzz Words where September was particularly exciting with the announcement of the inaugural Buzz Words Short Story Prize.
I made two blankets – one for my sister and one for a friend inspired by this glorious one another friend made me. I’m finding crocheting super relaxing and filled with friendship
Students Need School Libraries
I’ve been helping out with the Students Need School Libraries campaign website. It’s an important advocacy. If you believe in the value of school libraries, please follow on Facebook (@StudentNeedSchoolLibraries) and Twitter (@NeedSchoolLibs) to show your support. Launch date is 16 October.
I have four cats and three of them take an interest in literature (the other is more interested in music). Frost continues to chew up anything I write that he deems too embarrassing for anyone to see – which I mostly appreciate.
And Seven happily assumes the role of beta reader – although prefers no-one to watch her doing it.
My report card
I’m giving myself two ticks for this blog post (it’s been on my To Do List for three months), a tick for Pokemon Go related exercise, half a tick for writing nearly every day (that’s an improvement, as family health and carer commitments decrease). My newsletter is a massive fail – but I have plans to make that more manageable. My October task is to manage my email more efficiently and I’ll be posting about anything I find that works ( I desperately need to find something!).
What I’m looking forward to
This month I’m off to visit schools in Western Sydney on the Sydney Writer’s Festival’s Russ the Bus and in February I’m booked for my favourite conference – the biannual SCBWI conference. I’m on a panel for the Professional Development Program for Teachers and Teacher-Librarians, Creating Creative Writers, with Deb Abela, Yvette Poshoglian and Tim Harris.
I’ve been avoiding podcasts for a while now. Closing my ears and pretending they don’t exist. The Love of my Life is a big fan but even that didn’t convince me. Until One More Page appeared and little snippets kept snagging my attention. You’re missing out on good stuff, was the subtext of those snippets.
I ignored that, too, pretending I didn’t hear anything. I didn’t know how to listen to a podcast, where to download them, how to play them. And although I love most things tech, I decided it was an app too far. I can hear the eye rolling and yes, I’ve since discovered it was simply a matter of listening to Podcasts on Spotify instead of songs.
So here I am, one of One More Page newest and biggest fans, and with a growing list of interesting podcast prospects threatening to outstrip my music lists.
Nat, Liz and Kate are blatantly, in your face, having a good time being enthusiastic about all things kid lit.
If there’s one word to describe One More Page, it’s enthusiasm. Other words that come to mind are fun, interesting, crazy and informative. Nat, Liz and Kate are blatantly, in your face, having a good time being enthusiastic about all things kid lit.
As an author, I find the interviews are always fascinating. I’m discovering how others work and how their stories unfold. Tristan Bancks sometimes writes the first draft with himself as the main character. I’m learning about illustrating. I’m hearing from all sorts of book industry people. Anna McFarlane from Allen & Unwin taught me the difference between a publisher and an editor. I enjoy hearing the book recommendations. As the reviewer for the Sunday Telegraph I’m fortunate enough to have read most of the books mentioned or have them sitting waiting for me.
The regular section with young readers is always fun and I love it’s message. You can’t have kid lit without the kids. One young interviewer elicited this wise advice from Jules Faber. That you have to keep drawing because it will always get better. It will never get worse. It’s all about practice.
I’m loving One More Page three-fold.
I’m loving One More Page three-fold:
- I learn stuff and I laugh – two of my favourite things to do
- It’s opened the door to the wider world of podcasts – I’ve created a list I’m gradually working my way through (some are not even book related!)
- Cooking the dinner is no longer a chore. I’ve moved the Google Home device into the kitchen and every night I command it: “Hey Google, play One More Page” or whatever else is next on my list
And I’m only up to Episode 7! I’m stretching out catching up on purpose, while I’m busy finding podcasts almost as good to fill the gaps.