The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez – Great Tips From Author Robin Yardi

IMAG2168I was lucky to meet US author Robin Yardi at the Big Sur Writer’s Workshop I attended last December.

Robin’s hilarious new book, The Midnight War of Mateo Marinez has just been released in Australia.

Robin Yardi is the author of nonfiction picture books and absolutely-not-nonfiction middle grade novels. A former classroom teacher, Robin now leads school groups through her local natural history museum, helping kids handle snakes, frogs, and stink bugs, while sneaking in learning about zoology and an appreciation for the natural world. She lives in California, but thanks to Skype she can go anywhere. For more information visit:!

The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez

MidnightWar_NewVersionFinalI’ve reviewed Robin’s book here, and she has some great writing tips at the end of this post.

Nobody believed me when I said two skunks stole my old trike. But I’d seen those stinkers take it. Swear.

This is one of the funniest openings to a children’s book that I’ve read, and with The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez by Robin Yardi the great humour doesn’t end there.

Mexican-American fourth grader, Mateo Martinez has more than his fair share of problems. His social life is in tatters after his former best friend, Johnny deserted him for the ‘cool kids’.

To make matters worse, two skunks really did steal Mateo’s trike (which technically now belongs to his little sister Mila), and not only is Mateo being blamed for its disappearance, but he’s also suspected of other mayhem in the street.

But Mateo sees himself as a knight and getting back the trike could be just the crusade he’s looking for.

Just as well Mateo has a true friend, Ashwin, a guy who enjoys spending time in the library as much as Mateo does, and who also seems to have the honourable qualities needed to be a knight. Ashwin has an understanding of things and a calm wisdom that help Mateo navigate his way through his problems.

IMG_1761When Mateo and Ashwin find the skunks and the missing trike they discover what’s behind the theft. The skunks need the trike to defeat the racoons who invade the playground and bully them at night, in much the same way as Mateo and Ashwin are harassed by Danny Vega and his gang at school.

This is Mateo and Ashwin’s chance to prove their bravery and skill.

What ensues is a fierce midnight battle for the playground in which Mateo and Ashwin realise that five-year old Mila also has what it takes to become a knight.

One of the things I loved most about The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez was the sensitivity and authenticity with which the relationships are handled. Mila is an annoying little sister, but Mateo feels deeply responsible for her wellbeing, and his strong sense of love and fairness mean he treats her with respect and caring.

Packed full of humour and action, The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez also has deeper layers. The skunk/racoon war, is symbolic of Mateo and Ashwin’s struggles at school. This makes winning even more important.

The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez is a heartwarming tale of family, adventure and the true meaning of friendship. It’s a book about empowerment and self-belief.

This stunning hardcover publication is released in Australia by Walker Books for readers aged 8 +.


1. Indulge in creativity and questioning

When I talk to kids it’s clear that they have about ten bananas, crazy, creative ideas an hour, and they ask hundreds of questions a day (scientific fact). So I know that we all have it in us, that ability to create and question, which is where I think great stories come from. Writers have to be ready for inspiration. We have to indulge those crazy questions and see where they take us, just like kids do! When I was sitting on the couch one night next to my daughter, we saw an adorable baby skunk scatter some snarling raccoons and a screeching stray cat off of our back porch without raising its tail. I asked a crazy question. “What do you think skunks, and raccoons, and stray cats are up to all night? Do they go to the playground? Do they ride the slides?”

“How would they even get there?” my daughter asked.

“On your creaky old trike! Just like you! Bet you they steal it every night!”

My daughter laughed, so I knew I had a great beginning. I immediately imagined two skunks stealing off into the night on a kid’s old rusty trike. I followed them, those two crazy ideas of mine, into my first draft, just to see where they were going.IMG_0696

2. Go deep.

When writing, especially in the first few drafts, I go deep inside my characters. I sift through their rooms, to see what’s hidden in their sock drawer or in the back of their closet. I know if their favorite shirt glows in the dark, or has a gorilla on it, or a hole where they are always tugging. I find out everything I can about them, sometimes I draw their rooms, sometimes I have them write letters, sometimes they write in journals or do homework assignments for me. Not all, not even close to all, of those details end up in the book. But knowing them that well allows me to hear their voices, to know how they will act and react when I throw something amazing in their path… like two talking-trike-riding skunks!

3. Let go of your grown-up self.

I think you have to write like you are your own audience. Like you ARE a kid. THE MIDNIGHT WAR OF MATEO MARTINEZ indulges in a fascination with dumb animal and fart jokes, frustrations with parents and siblings and friends, worries about identity and growing up. This is stuff you can’t roll your eyes at (I think), if you really want to get it right. Plus, fart jokes are funny, so stop pretending like they’re not!

4. Have fun & never be boring.

I believe kids are savvy readers and deep thinkers, who have high expectations of books. They better be good! This is something I keep in mind when revising. Is it good enough for kids? How can I make it better, clearer, more meaningful and more fun?

5. Believe!

When writing and revising I’m always remembering how important books were to me as a kid. They taught me about the world and they were my best friends. As I’m working on making my characters and my plot richer and funnier, I’m always believing. Believing that the book I’m working on will be important to some kid.
If I can just get it right.

Food, Writer’s Groups and Inspiration From Cate Kennedy

There’s nothing quite like the support, enthusiasm and talent of other writers to inspire you.

They make you want to write better, and often, they show you how.

Some of our writer's group. Food is almost as important as writing :)

Some members of our writer’s group. Food is almost as important as writing.

I’m a member of a writer’s group that’s made up of an ecclectic mix of playwrights, screenwriters, kids’ and YA authors, novellists, short story writers, and poets.

The group has been going about ten years, but I’m a relative newbie having joined just four years ago.

Last year our group was asked to provide short stories for an anthology, for which each of us was paid $100. We pooled our money to fund projects that would help us improve our craft

So last weekend, the amazing, award winning short story writer, novellist, poet and memoir writer, Cate Kennedy came to talk to our group. You can find out more about Cate here.

The workshop went from 10.00am till 4.00pm (with yummy food breaks in between) and it was amazing.

Cate Kennedy is an enthusiastic and inspiring presenter

Cate Kennedy is an enthusiastic and inspiring presenter.


I can’t share Cate’s 6 hours worth of wisdom here, but I can tell you ten things she said that resonated with me.

  1. Write with the reader in mind – don’t be self indulgent – it’s not about creating something beautiful for the author to gloat over – it’s about creating something for the reader.
  2. Always answer your reader’s questions. There has to be set up but there also has to be a payoff for the reader.
  3. When revising, ask yourself, “why am I showing the reader this?”
  4. Think about yourself as the director of your story with a camera … this will help you show the scene rather than tell it.
  5. Good writing is about deliberate decisions the author makes to encourage the reader to think in a certain way.
  6. During the course of your story’s journey, the main character needs to transform. So they need to be put under pressure or duress, backed into a corner – something must happen to force them to change.
  7. The resolution occurs when the main conflict has been confronted.
  8. Practice writing about things going wrong between people.
  9. There has to be something to stop the protagonist walking away from the conflict.
  10. Don’t state the subtext, let the reader work it out for themselves.

Unknown-1  Unknown  Unknown-2
My tip, if you’re in a writer’s group, pool your financial resources to get speakers or workshoppers who can help you hone your craft. It’s totally worth it.

2011becket_med-4This July, I’ll be presenting at the CYA conference in Brisbane with more tips on how to get the most from your writer’s group.

I’ll also be sharing tips on how to form your own group, and how to give and get the best feedback. Hope to see you there.

Happy writing:)



Writing Competition for all ages

Writing and illustrating competitions are a great way to get your work seen by publishers.

Each year, the CYA Conference offers opportunities for authors and illustrators of all ages and levels of experience to enter your stories and illustrations.

There are opportunities for new writers/illustrators, published writers/illustrators and kids (hatchlings).

Each entry is prejudged by at least two volunteers who are published, unpublished, and editors as well as avid readers of the genres.  CYA endeavours to have at least one published author/illustrator/editor judge adjudicate per entry sent into the competition.

The judges use a standard score sheet per writing category.The scores are tallied into a percentage and the final results are based on that percentage. The same happens for illustrations, graphic novel and illustrated picture books entries.

Judges feedback is provided for all entries.

The winning entry and short-listed finalist will be considered by a publisher of children’s books, with no guarantee of publication. Author/Illustrator retains copyright.

More information is available at the CYA website.


Happy 2016

I hope your new year is off to a good start.

Unfortunately, I’ve been a little preoccupied, which is why I haven’t been posting here lately.

Logo_no_lamp_text_sampleMy crit buddy Alison Reynolds and I have been organising a conference for Kidlit and YA writers and illustrators.

Our aim is to help people get published.

There will be publisher panels discussing what’s hot and what’s not in publishing.

We’ll also have an illustrator panel to provide information to help illustrators find their way in Australian Publishing. Our Illustrator Liaison is the the fabulous Nicky Johnston, Creative Director of the 52-Week Illustration Challenge and a published author/illustrator.

The conference will take place on 7 May 2016 at the State Library of Victoria.

Our fabulous lineup of industry professionals includes:

  • Black Dog Books/ Walker
  • Hachette
  • Hardie Grant Egmont
  • HarperCollins
  • Penguin
  • Random House
  • Scholastic
  • Scribble/Scribe
  • The Five Mile Press
  • Jacinta di Mase Literary Agent

As well as the panels, there will be manuscript and portfolio assessments and a cocktail party.

We’re organising this not-for-profit event for Australian authors and illustrators

You can find out more at our website.

Hope to meet you there:)


KidLitVic2016 – Meet the Publishers and show them your writing and/or illustrations

For some time now my crit buddy, Alison Reynolds and I have been talking about how great it would be to have a Meet the Children’s and YA Publishers Day in Melbourne so that new, emerging and established writers and illustrators would have a chance to network, find out what publishers are looking for, and get their work seen.

It’s now a reality!

KidLitVic 2016  Meet the Publishers is a not for profit event to be held on 7th May next year and we already have some fabulous publishers confirmed for this event including:

  • Black Dog Books/Walker
  • Hardie Grant
  • Harper Collins
  • Penguin
  • Scholastic
  • The Five Mile Press

There will be publisher panels for various genre, and an illustrator panel. You will also have the opportunity for 15 minute one-one-one manuscript and illustration consultations with publishers.

We are so lucky to have the very talented Nicky Johnston on board and she has provided the stunning illustrations for our website and is our Illustrator representative.

If you want to know more about this event, please check out our website.

We are putting our panels together so if there is something you’ve been dying to ask a publisher, but have never had the chance, please feel free to include your questions in the comments section of this post.

Please also feel free to share this post with writers or illustrators you think could benefit from this event.

Kidlitvic Christmas flier

How Networking Helps You Get Published

When I first started writing kid’s books I was quite frankly, hopeless.

A Duel of words hard coverMy writing wasn’t that bad, it was just that I had no idea about the industry or the readership I was writing for.

My manuscripts weren’t the right length for the age group. (See this great post here by Jennifer Laughran for a guide on how long your manuscript should be )

And yes, I was guilty of looking through the yellow pages for publishers (a print copy back then) and sending manuscripts out to anyone with the title, publisher. I soon learnt when I got lovely polite letters from Sport publishers with things like, “You write well, but unfortunately, we don’t publish books for children.

I was living in a remote part of Victoria at the time and the Internet hadn’t been invented yet (strange but true) so I didn’t have access to the fabulous people and resources available today.

Now there are so many resources and networking opportunities available to help you on your path to publishing.

10 Ways Networking Has Helped Me

  1. letterstoleonardolrgCYA Conference 2005 – I came third in the CYA Conference competition with my YA manuscript, Letters to Leonardo and this gave me the confidence to keep revising, and the book was eventually published in 2009.
  1. 2006 – PWE – Professional Writing and Editing at Victoria UniversityDoing this diploma helped me develop some amazing networks and in fact, one of my teachers, Sherryl Clark launched my YA novel, Letters to Leonardo in 2009.
  1. SCBWI Conference 2008 – Letters to Leonardo was published as a result of a manuscript assessment by the wonderful Margaret Hamilton at the Conference and meeting Sue Whiting from Walker Books, who later became my editor.
  1. Met wonderful Lia Keyes online –  Lia set up a Facebook network to support people doing NaNoWriMo all over the world. I connected with and made some lifelong author friends from all over the world when I joined this network.
  1. SCBWI LA Conference 2010 – Helped me make contact with US publishers and agents and develop a wonderful network of international writer friends and colleagues. Also met in person, some of the people I had met through Lia’s network. SCBWI LA was a huge learning curve for me.I learnt so much about international publishing and I met people who have passed on information about publishing opportunities they have heard about. One of the online friends I connected with in LA was Mina Witteman who is a co-organiser of the SCBWI Europolitan Conference and earlier this year, I was invited to Amsterdam to conduct a writing workshop there.
  1. IMAG1859May Gibbs Fellowship – Thanks to the May Gibbs Literature trust I spent a month in Brisbane working on my YA manuscript, The Tangled Web. I found out about this opportunity through my writing networks, and while I was in Brisbane, I was able to extend these networks even further. I’ve been on a number of very productive writing retreats since with Brisbane writer, Sheryl Gwyther. In fact, Sheryl and her fabulous feedback were instrumental in my receiving my first acceptance from The School Magazine this year for my story, Enter at Own Risk (November Orbit).
  1. My New Picture Book – I have a new picture book coming out with EK Publishing. This would never have come about if it weren’t for my good friend, Tania McCartney who told me about EK’s fabulous books, and that they were open for submissions. It’s going to be illustrated by the amazing Tracie Grimwood who I met after she illustrated some of my other titles.
    Lost Dog Scaredy Cat Runaway Pony
  1. Find a crit buddy or writing group. I found my fabulous crit buddy, Alison Reynolds through a group for Kid’s and YA writers. I also met my fabulous critique group members, Bren MacDibble and Pam Harvey through the same network.
  1. Networking can create other great networking opportunities. Alison Reynolds and I were talking earlier this year about how hard it is particularly, for new writers, to meet publishers and present work to them. That’s when we had the idea to have a Meet the Publisher Day to bring children’s and YA writers and illustrators and publishers together. KidLitVic2016 Meet the Publishers was born.Kidlitvic2016 flier with link
  1. Big Sur Writing Workshop – later this week I’m heading to America to attend the Andrea BrownBig Sur Writing Workshops for picture books, early reader, middle grade & YA fiction, courtesy of the Henry Miller Memorial Library and the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Once again, I wouldn’t have known about this workshop or that applications were open if it hadn’t been for my good writer friend, Lia Keyes.

So there are so many great things that networking can do for your career including getting you published, finding out about new publishing opportunities, and finding out about opportunities to hone your craft and make you a better writer. You can also meet some amazing creative people who inspire you and become lifelong friends. These are the people who will support you through the good times and the bad – who will encourage you to keep going when those rejections roll in and who will celebrate your successes.

MORE ABOUT KidLitVic2016 Meet the Publishers 

If you’d like to find out more about KidLitVic2016 Meet the Publishers, you can visit our website  or Facebook Page.

How has networking helped you? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)


8 Amazing Picture Books for Christmas

There are so many wonderful picture books being published at the moment, but I’ve selected a variety to review that would make great Christmas presents.



Unknown The Lion and The Bird by international bestselling and award-winning author and illustrator Marianne Dubuc is the tender story of the unlikely friendship between a lion dressed in denim and a bird with a broken wing.

One autumn day, a lion finds a wounded bird in his garden. This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Then one day spring arrives, and so too do the other birds. Will Lion and Bird have to say goodbye to the friendship for the summer?

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 7.34.23 amThis moving story is so relevant in today’s times when the world is full of vulnerable people like refugees who have been damaged by circumstances, and are looking for a safe haven and a new life.

As well as compelling text, this book is beautifully presented in hardback with the pictures left to tell the story on some pages.

It’s no wonder that The Lion and The Bird has been published in 15 countries across the world.

It’s a beautiful book that can be shared at leisure, and it features themes of friendship, waiting and change.

The Lion and The Bird is published in Australia, New Zealand, UK and Ireland by Book Island.


In this contemporary fairytale, a young boy and escaped blue bird free their country from the rule of tyrannical despots.

This picture book for children aged five-years plus, explores ideas of freedom and justice and meets the demand for more culturally diverse picture books in an increasingly multicultural society.


Every illustration by Mattias De Leeuw is a work of art in this book.

It compliments the lyrical text by Laila Koubaa.

At the door, he breathed in the sweet smell of Jasmine. The front of the house was like one big flower. 

The richness in both the text and illustrations make this book an enticing read. It is beautifully translated into English by David Colmer.

Azizi and the Little Blue Bird is another wonderful book for opening young minds to the world around them. It is also published by Book Island.



Australian Kids through the Years is a wonderful book written by Tania McCartney and illustrated by Andrew Joyner.

It takes readers on a leisurely tour through history starting with Australia’s first children, through the 1800s, 1900s and into modern times.

There are so many fascinating facts in here about things like the way children lived, how they dressed, how they did their hair, what they ate, what they did for fun and what they read.

This book is a feast of fabulous illustrations and easy to follow text with interesting language and information that young readers can pore over for hours.

Unknown-1At the back is a summary of the years, and National Library references for all the illustrations.

Adult readers will also be able to reminisce as they meander through history in these colourful and lively snapshots of Australia’s past.

Australian Kids through the Years is a great way to bring history into both the family and the classroom.

Australian Kids through the Years is published by the National Library of Australia.


9781760067229_COVERI’ll admit upfront that I’m biased about these beautiful books because they were written by my crit buddy, Alison Reynolds, and I have watched their progress from initial idea to finished product.

But right from the start, I was drawn to the two compelling characters and their special friendship. Bree is a feisty little girl who likes to get her own way, but who has a good heart and is able to recognise her own faults. Pickle is a gentle, slow moving and very large bear who admires those qualities in his friend that he doesn’t possess himself.

In The Decorating Disaster, all about teamwork, Pickle and Bree have very different ideas about how the home they share should be decorated, and this leads to humour and disaster, but also some important revelations.

Even though they are the very best of friends, Pickle and Bree are very different, but they soon realise that some jobs like hanging wallpaper and painting, just aren’t supposed to be done alone.

At the end of this adventure are some tips on teamwork that both teachers and parents/guardians will find helpful to share with young readers.

In The Birthday Party Cake, all about welcoming differences, it’s Jason’s Birthday and Pickle is planning a special bear surprise for his friend. But when Bree decides to lend a hand, her idea of a perfect party is not what Pickle had in mind. But can Pickle and Bree find a way to save Jason’s birthday?

This adventure carries tips at the back for welcoming differences and considering the feelings and wishes of others.

9781760067236_COVERPickle & Bree’s Guides to Good Deeds are wonderfully illustrated by Mikki Butterley whose humorous pictures are a perfect match for the rollicking text.

They are great for reading in schools and homes to introduce children to concepts like sharing, accepting others and getting along.

Two more Pickle & Bree’s Guides to Good Deeds are coming soon.

They are published by The Five Mile Press.


Bertie Bear was going on a long journey. He didn’t realise it would be on a camel! And he never imagined he would be having adventures of his own, far away from Jessie.

UnknownThis delightful story of a real bear’s outback camel and train journey has been cleverly woven into a work of fiction by Janeen Brian.

The rhythmic text along with Anne Spudvilas‘ stunning illustrations introduce young readers to the vibrant colours of the outback and its characters.

I also like the way the story is told from the lost toy’s point of view.

This is a work of fiction, but the real Bertie makes a ‘star appearance’ at the back of the book.

Where’s Jessie? is published by the National Library of Australia.



UnknownI love Craig Smith‘s work so I was so excited when I heard a picture book was about to be released that he had both written and illustrated – and I wasn’t disappointed.

Remarkably Rexy also just happens to feature one of my favourite animals, a cat.

Rexy is a typical cat, but he’s also a bit of a dancer, and quite proud of himself because he’s always being praised for his good looks and talent.

But his perfect existence is shattered when Towser the barking dog next door escapes.

Unknown-1The text is hilarious and Craig’s vibrant illustrations are beautiful.

Remarkably Rexy is so much fun for cat lovers of all ages. It also has a link to a free audio reading.

Remarkably Rexy is published by Allen & Unwin.


This hilarious book written and illustrated by Dave Hackett (Cartoon Dave) is one of my favourite picture books this year because it’s so relatable.

“Come on Daddy. It’s time for bed.”

“But I’m not tired,” says Daddy.

How can a little girl put her daddy to bed when he doesn’t want to go?

imagesTime for Bed Daddy is so funny because it’s a complete role reversal, and so much fun at bedtime.

I remember how hard it was to get my kids to bed when they were small, and how tensions often rose.

This book is a great tool for turning bedtime into a playful occasion that’s fun for everyone.

Time for Bed Daddy  is published by University of Queensland Press.