In the Dark Spaces

I’m lucky to have known the elusive Cally Black for many years now, and was aware of her incredible talent long before she was discovered by the Ampersand judges, and awarded the 2015 Prize.

That’s why I’m so excited that readers will now have the opportunity to read her amazing work and discover her quirky,i maginative and insightful stories

I have seen Cally’s YA novel In The Dark Spaces transformed from a great piece of writing to an even greater book.

I can’t even begin to imagine where she gets her ideas from. They are so unique and compelling and amazing. You really have to read her books to understand what I mean.

But you couldn’t find a more hardworking, more deserving  or humble author than Cally, always willing to share her knowledge and craft with others.

Today she is sharing  FIVE fabulous tips on how she wrote her prize winning novel, In The Dark Spaces. Did I say already … you should read it? 🙂

The latest winner of the Ampersand Prize is a genre-smashing hostage drama about 14-year-old Tamara, who’s faced with an impossible choice when she falls for her kidnappers.

Yet this is no ordinary kidnapping. Tamara has been living on a star freighter in deep space, and her kidnappers are terrifying Crowpeople – the only aliens humanity has ever encountered. No-one has ever survived a Crowpeople attack, until now – and Tamara must use everything she has just to stay alive.

But survival always comes at a price, and there’s no handbook for this hostage crisis. As Tamara comes to know the Crowpeople’s way of life, and the threats they face from humanity’s exploration into deep space, she realises she has an impossible choice to make.

Should she stay as the only human among the Crows, knowing she’ll never see her family again … or inevitably betray her new community if she wants to escape?

This ground-breaking thriller is the latest young-adult novel to win the Ampersand Prize, a stand-out entry with a blindingly original voice: raw, strange and deeply sympathetic. With its vivid and immersive world-building, this electrifying debut is The Knife of Never Letting Go meets Homeland, for the next generation of sci-fi readers.

Over to you, Cally.


Tip 1 – Experiment
Don’t be afraid to try something different. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t be afraid to write it out. Write your way into the story. Write it in a new direction if you get bogged down. And write it over and over, until it becomes what you want it to be. I wrote In The Dark Spaces to experiment with some ideas and styles. I wanted to combine values often associated with different genres into one book. I wanted to see if I could do it.

Tip 2 – Write What You Want To Read
I think you have to trust that you as a reader have common interests with other readers and just write what entertains you. If you are writing to entertain yourself, you’re not going to be bored or held back by the expectations of others. Who knows if anyone will ever see your work, especially if you set out just to try some things, like I did. Of course you’ll have a general idea what age group you are writing for, but write for you at that age. Write for the fun and joy of telling yourself the story. I think that definitely shows through in the prose, the plotting and the themes.

Tip 3 – Be Open to Change
I’d written and rewritten In The Dark Spaces to tell myself the story, but once it won The Ampersand Prize and editing was underway, it was clear that it needed a major overhaul. Originally, it was relentlessly harsh, and all action, all the time. The poor reader was in danger of dropping the story from sheer exhaustion. There wasn’t enough hope or light to keep the reader caring and believing. I was pretty much bruising the soul of any reader brave enough to keep reading. That’s no way to reward them for their reading efforts! So it was great to have sweet loving editors offer me suggestions to go away and run with. A new character to the story brought new motivations for my main character, and introduced the balance needed. There were a few major edits required and then a lot of smaller edits. It was a lot of back and forth, changing one thing, following the implications, changing something else, to see if it worked, and I’m in the habit of throwing out scenes and writing them over from scratch because I like flow. In The Dark Spaces may be a short novel but there are two more novels worth in its trash file! Even if the editorial suggestions weren’t quite in line with my ideas, they always revealed a problem, and working on a change always improved the manuscript.

Tip 4 – It Takes Time to be Intensive
Often when you’re writing a whole novel, especially one with many action scenes, there is an urge to rush, move, keep it hopping, but if something important happens, if something terrible happens, then if you don’t linger and evaluate that thing from your character’s perspective, feel all the feels, it’s as if it’s had no impact on them at all. It should affect them deeply, it should shock them, then linger and niggle at them if you want it to be real, and that requires you to slow down and find the pain or the love or whatever has impacted your character.

Tip 5 – If You Make Characters That Are Smarter Than You – How Will You Keep Them Under Control?
I know… what writer in their right mind would make a character smarter than themselves? I did. I made Tootoopne, and I never knew what she was up to. She always had a plan. She schemed. She pulled surprises. She dangled my protagonist on a string. She had a completely non-human logic, further compounding my problem of understanding her. She almost killed the manuscript, just because I could not get her to behave. I think though, that maybe, I’d write her into being all over again, because characters like that are special.

Tootoopne is special … and so is Cally’s book. Thanks for sharing your journey and your great tips, Cally 🙂



Dogs, cake and books … what more could you want?

I’m fortunate to live in a great community where authors and other artists are supported.

Today I met with my local bookshop and librarian to talk books … and launches. More specifically, the launch of my new book, K9 Heroes.

I can’t remember which of us (although it could have been Woody from New Leaves bookshop) came up with the suggestion some months ago that the launch just wouldn’t be the same without dogs.

And so it is, that I’ll be launching my book at the Woodend Library on 26th August at 4.30 pm and DOGS ARE INVITED.

There will be a competition on the day for:

  • Dog with the biggest smile
  • Dog with the smartest trick
  • Dog most like its owner

Requests have already been made to bring alpacas and cats, but I’m sorry, this is a day for dogs 🙂

If you’d like to be part of the fun, you can find the details here.

You’re welcome to bring your family, your pooch, or someone else’s pooch (with their permission of course). You can also come sans dog if you wish.

Online competition.

For your chance to win a signed copy of the book, and treats for your K9, tell us in 25 words or less why your dog is a hero. You must be present at the launch to collect your prize.

You can enter here.

Doggy Delights

Book trailer

If you want to know more about the book, here’s the book trailer.

I hope to see you at the launch. Oh … and did I mention there will be cookies and cake too? We’re going to have a barking good time 🙂





Critiquing Tips – How to Start and Run Your Critique Group

Nicky A contacted me recently asking for tips about how to set up and run a critique group.
Thanks, Nicky.  Really happy to blog about this because critique groups are amazing. Mine have been so helpful to me in developing my craft. I love my critique groups. Shout out to The Secret Scribblers, The Snorkers and The Killer Rabbits.
A critique group should be a nurturing, secure and inspiring environment so here are my tips on how you can achieve this.

My Australian critique groups helped me get this book to publication.

My Tips on Running a Group

  1. Don’t have too many people. I personally think up to about four works best, although one of my groups is larger. Think about this. If there are ten people in the group and each one has a piece to critique, that’s a lot of time you spend reading other people’s work and not writing. Smaller groups can be more flexible because there are fewer people to please in terms of meeting times etc. Also, too much advice from too many people can get very confusing. Don’t be afraid to split a large group into smaller ones.
  2. If you’re looking for members to start a group … be specific about what you are looking for in terms of experience, genre, and commitment to their writing. You want sharers in your group. People who will share publishing opportunities they hear about, and who will be there for you during the highs and lows of your writing career.
  3. Generally, it’s helpful if your critique group comprises people of similar levels of experience. Otherwise, the more experienced writers become more like mentors/teachers and will eventually leave because they are not getting the feedback they want on their own work. The least experienced writers can become overwhelmed and daunted by the experienced writers. However, some groups of mixed experience work really well. It depends on the people and their commitment. And a critique group can be a great learning environment for everyone.
  4. You don’t all have to be writing the same genre (sometimes it helps to have fresh eyes look at your work), but it’s good to have at least one other person in the group writing the same genre as you. That way you have someone who can give you feedback on whether you have met the conventions of your genre. The main thing is that all members have the same level of enthusiasm and commitment to the group.
  5. Set guidelines for your group. For example, you might take it in turns with giving people the opportunity to submit their work to the group. That way nobody monopolises the critique time, and nobody is left out.
  6. Critiquing works best if the person asking for the critique knows what they are looking for and can be specific in the sort of feedback they are looking for. For example, “I’m not sure if my main character is believable’ or “Is my ending too predictable.” Thinking about the kind of feedback you are looking for, makes you think deeper about your work. It also means that nobody’s time is wasted on giving or receiving unnecessary feedback. For example, if this is your first draft and you just want to know if people can engage with your main character, then having people read your work for typos or setting description can waste everybody’s time.
  7. You can belong to more than one critique group. Different writers bring different things to the table.
  8. If you’re writing for an international market it can help to be in an international critique group.
  9. Establish at the start the times and methods of running the group. For example, one of my groups meets every fortnight. Another of my groups does most of our work online and we only meet about four times a year in person. It doesn’t matter if you never meet. With Skype, emails and other electronic means, it’s possible to do critiquing at a time and in a way that suits everyone’s lifestyle.
  10. Critique groups need to be flexible. For example, you might decide to meet once a month. But what if one of your members has just received a FULL manuscript request from an agent? You may want to call an impromptu meeting to celebrate this, show support and perhaps critique aspects of the manuscript before it goes to the agent.

Everyone has different reasons for wanting their work critiqued. As I mentioned before, if you are specific with the aspects you want the group to look at, you will receive higher quality feedback.

Above all … have fun! Your group can have outings, retreats, get togethers … whatever it takes to help and inspire each other.

My U.S. critique group helped me get this book to publication.


  1. Be positive.
  2. Be constructive.
  3. Sandwich a negative in between two positives.
  4. If you see a problem try to suggest a solution – don’t just say, “I didn’t like this.”
  5. Don’t talk while your critiquer is having their say – if they didn’t ‘get’ what you are trying to say, you might need to get your message across more clearly and they might be giving you tips on how to do this.
  6. Constructive feedback is critical to becoming a better writer.


  • Does it hook you in?
  • Does it make you want to keep reading?
  • Does it give indications of what is to come?


  • Is plot believable?
  • Was there a clear conflict/focus?
  • Did story follow plot arc/structure?
  • Did story start at right place?
  • Were there any scenes, paragraphs, characters etc that didn’t need to be there?


  • Could you picture it?
  • Too much/too little detail?
  • Did places seem real?
  • Was setting consistent?


  • Were character’s believable?
  • Did characters have depth?
  • Could reader relate to/feel empathy with characters?
  • Were character’s motives and conflicts clear?
  • Did characters change and grow as story progressed?
  • Was there enough contrast to differentiate characters?


  • Did dialogue seem authentic?
  • Did dialogue have purpose in the story – eg, show character or move plot along?
  • Were there too many dialogue tags?


  • Was the ending believable and satisfying (had the loose ends been tied up)?


  • Did it work?
  • Was it consistent?
  • Was tense consistent?
Some other information
If you’re looking for a writing/critque buddy, you may find one here.
Below are some links to articles on my blog that might help you in the editing/workshopping process. You can find other articles if you search for ‘editing’ on my blog.

Nicky, I hope you and your group find this helpful. Please let me know if you have questions or there’s anything else you need to know.

If you’re in a critique group and you have tips or experiences to share, feel free to include them in the comments section at the bottom of this post.

Happy writing 🙂


Sunday for Children’s Writers at the Sunshine Coast International Readers and Writer’s Festival

If you’re coming to the Sunshine Coast International Readers and Writer’s Festival, make sure you pop in and say, “Hi”.

I’ll be talking about writing for the international market, and the delightful Dimity Powell will be launching my new books, Reena’s Rainbow and K9 Heroes.

The festival has a great line up of speakers, launches and presentations – Sunday is especially for those who write children’s and YA books.

Bookings can be made through festival website.

Hope to see you there.


Can You Have Too Many Friends?

Too Many Friends is the beautiful new verse novel from Kathryn Apel, author of the acclaimed Bully on the Bus and On Track.


Having no friends is hard, but having a lot of friends can make life difficult too. By the end of  Kathryn’s book, you’ll have formed your own conclusions about whether you can have Too Many Friends.

And at the end of this post, Kathryn provides some fabulous tips on writing.

Kathryn Apel in Antarctica, the setting for her latest WIP.

Too Many Friends is a gentle book about friends, about making and breaking friends, about true friendship.

It’s for kids who find it difficult to juggle the needs of the people around them … to keep all the people they care about happy. (And that’s something that most adults find difficult too.)

It’s easy to warm to Kathryn Apel’s main character, Tahnee who wants to be friends with everyone, and who wants all her friends to be friends with each other. This causes tension and heartache, but Tahnee won’t budge from her goal.

I love Tahnee’s generous inclusive nature. Lucy is shy and a bit of an outcast, but Tahnee is determined to include her in their friendship group, even if it risks existing friendship.

And when Tahnee has a birthday, EVERYONE must be invited.

‘You can’t have that many friends!’
Mum gasps.

Tahnee has 23 on her list.

‘I don’t want anyone to feel
                                    left out,’ I say.

Soon Mum and Dad are involved in the excitement of the party plans.

Meanwhile, at school, Miss Darling has the children conducting a science experiment.

During Science
we start testing
the effects of force
on toys.

The push and pull of the experiment is symbolic of what’s happening with Tahnee and her friendships.

I love the way author Kathryn Apel adds depth and meaning to her work using these kinds of devices that young readers will easily relate to.

As well as introducing common dilemmas for kids, Too Many Friends introduces a whole range of fabulous classroom activities for teachers both within the book, and inspired by it.

Too Many Friends is lyrical and sensitive. A beautifully crafted story that will warm your heart.

Kathryn Apel uses words and shape, symbolism and rhythm to create this easy to read, but absorbing verse novel for younger readers, published by UQP.

Page 47


Below, Kathryn shares some fabulous tips on how she wrote Too Many Friends.


Kathryn Apel – Five Writing Tips for ‘Too Many Friends’

Listen: Life is made of experiences that can shape your writing. Sometimes a story needs to find you. Listen! I wrote a story-note on my phone after a conversation with a friend about her daughter; ‘a story about a girl with too many friends’.

Play: Throw words around. Juggle them. Try a new word for shape and size. Play with form.

Remember the big picture; whilst a word might be the best choice for that given situation, if that word is also the best choice in numerous other situations … you have a problem! (Related: Smile. Lots. In real life. But not too much in your writing. No matter how many friends your main character has – or how lovely your editor is – you can’t get away with too many ‘smiles’!)

Have a Joke: One poem (jokingly named ‘The BIG Smile-ing Thing’ – See Point 2) was written during final edits and became one of the heart-warming turning points of the book. You’ll probably never guess which poem it is (once it served its purpose, it was renamed) – but I’ll remember the laugh I had with my editor when she saw that title.

Prioritise: Unexpected circumstances meant ‘Too Many Friends’ had to be at typesetters a month earlier than planned. The pressure was on – and I couldn’t work with life and family continually disrupting. First time ever, I took time out and went away. By myself. For a week! (I won’t rhapsodise too much …) The tightly coiled spring inside me unravelled, the words stuttered … and flowed. I wrote – into the night, and halfway to sunrise. I slept late, wrote more then pottered along for a week at my night-owl-pace … and met the deadline. And my family coped.

Bounce Back: One of my favourite poems (and my editor’s) was a shape poem – and it was perfect! … Until it came back from typesetters and we made the awful discovery that we hadn’t considered line-spacing! My pièce de résistance was cut in half and spread over two pages – and completely unrecognisable! I will always love the original Duck, Dad – and share sneaky-peeks at author visits – but the revised version is even better suited to this book!

Writing With Love

Writing about what you love is such a joyous experience.

Not only that, your passion for your subject comes through in your writing, and makes it sparkle.

Recently, I realised that both my new books due to be released this year involve dogs. And I LOVE dogs.

In Reena’s Rainbow, to be published by EK Books, Reena meets a stray dog and it changes her life. (I love illustrator, Tracie Grimwood’s sensitive and beautiful interpretation of my Dog).

In K9 Heroes, to be published by Scholastic Australia, all four stories are about amazing dogs who have saved people’s lives.

Here are my tips for writing about what you love. I hope you find them helpful.


  1. Remember that your reader might not know as much about your passion as you do … so some explanation might be required.
  2. Story comes first … so don’t let your love for your subject distract you from the art of good story telling.
  3. What you love is part of who you are, it’s part of your natural voice so allow it to filter through organically in your work. Don’t let it become contrived. For example, me bringing dogs into my story happened in my subconscious, and while I love writing about them, that doesn’t mean I should have a dog in every story.
  4. Enjoy the experience. It’s okay to love what you do … even if it’s not paying the bills … yet.
  5. Look for markets that publish pieces about your passion.

What do you love writing about? Do you find recurring themes or symbols in your writing. If so, we’d love you to share your experiences in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing 🙂



Football and Literacy – A Great Combination for Kids

Katrina Germein and Janine Dawson’s new book Great Goal, Marvellous Mark is a seamless creation that blends football with alphabet

This is a great book for teaching kids their ABC, especially active football loving readers who may be more focussed on sport than literacy.

What I love about Great Goal, Marvellous Mark is that the entire alphabet is encapsulated in this book without the reader realising.

It’s an ABC book with a difference … one that will teach kids the letters of the alphabet before they even realise they’ve learned them, and readers will be completely engrossed in the story.

Janine Dawson’s lively illustrations, full of action and warmth, also carry this tale along.

I love the expressions on the kid’s faces, and the mud and slush of a true football game in winter.

Kids will love the humor and movement of the illustrations and the fast paced text.
Great Goal, Marvellous Mark is a book that sport loving parents can read to their kids, or the kids can enjoy alone.

Text and illustrations work in perfect harmony to ensure that this book will appeal to both readers and sport enthusiasts.


We are so lucky that best-selling author, Katrina Germein has agreed to share her fabulous writing tips with us:

  1. Write about something new. 

Things that have been in our lives forever are often the hardest to write about well. That’s because we either take them for granted, or we’re too sentimental; we can’t easily identify the details that make the story interesting or entertaining. When we begin something new as an outsider, we’re observant and curious. That makes for good writing.

I didn’t grow up in a football family and yet one day I found myself the parent of two kids who played Aussie Rules. Junior footy became a big part of my life and it was all new to me. Hours on the sideline trying to make sense of it all resulted in this book.

Love this tip

  1. Be prepared to play with the structure.

Thorough editing is always the key to a good picture book manuscript. Sometimes you can get away with tightening up each paragraph, each sentence, word by word, but other times you need to find a whole new way of organising the story. I played around with junior footy stories for years before I managed to make Great Goal, Marvellous Mark really work. The first two ‘final’ manuscripts are quite different to the published story. I didn’t plan to write an alphabet book, but using an alphabetic structure for the narrative just worked in this case; it provided a wonderful way to showcase the game and celebrate footy lingo.

  1. Take a big deep breath and listen to the experts.

When you’ve rewritten your manuscript fifty million times, and it’s been accepted, and the contact is signed, and the illustrator has begun, it’s easy to feel like the hard work is done. I was lucky enough to have the fabulous Sue Whiting edit my contracted story but despite her expertise and diplomacy I may have had one small tantrum at some point and claimed to be ‘overwhelmed’. Luckily, I got over myself and listened to Sue because her suggestions were small but brilliant and the story is much better as a result.

This is really great advice

  1. Advocate for Diversity

I love the diversity of the engaging characters illustrated in the book. Janine Dawson’s lively illustrations are exactly what I was hoping for. The vibrant art adds layers of action and humour to the story and is inclusive of gender and a broad range of cultural backgrounds. It’s wonderful when author, publisher, designer and illustrator share the same vision. Authors are constantly told to stay out of the illustration process but if something is really important to you, mention it, because you might find that everyone shares the same vision.

I love the diversity in this book too.

  1. Dogs make everything better.

If you can find an authentic way to include a dog in your story then do it. Dogs bring joy (in life and books).

I so agree with this tip 🙂 Thanks for these great writing tips, Katrina.

Just by coincidence, I happen to have a dog book coming out later this year myself … and another book with a dog in it. Dogs Rule!


Hope you enjoyed Katrina’s great tips.

Happy writing 🙂