Clear the Decks to Inspire Creativity

IMAG8601Some people might see tidying up as procrastination to delay starting that new project, but I find that if I’m embarking on a new work I need to clean my workspace, and file away old ideas, old manuscripts.

As Jeff Goins says on his Writer’s blog.

“The mess is not inevitable. It is not cute or idiosyncratic. It is a foe, and it is killing your art.”

I am not a tidy person by nature, so cleaning up is a conscious decision by me to focus on a new work. It’s a symbol of my intent, but it’s also a way of narrowing my field of view – eliminating distractions.

I’m often tempted to leap into a new project, can’t wait to get started, but I find a life planning day is just as important as planning what will happen in my story.

And the two are often interconnected. While I’m decluttering the physical environment around me, I often find it helps to declutter my brain. I’m not a big fan of housework – it’s a necessary evil.

But sometimes the lapping of soapy dishwater around my hands can bring on a wave of new ideas for my new story, can transport me to a different world.



Here are my tips for freeing up your creative space and mind so you can launch whole-heartedly into that new project.

1, Tidy up your creative space and put away the things that aren’t relevant to your new project.

2.  Clear a wall space for your plot planner, or any pictures you might want to display that are relevant to your story..

'Game On' Plot Planner

‘Game On’ Plot Planner

3.  Clear the desktop on your computer – and make a new folder so that everything relating to your new project can be clearly filed away and easily found later. Put a footer on your manuscript that’s the same as the file name – and date it – e.g. ‘May 2015′ and this will help you find it later. It mightn’t seem important now, but if you don’t do this, ten drafts into the story, you could be tearing your hair out.

4. Tidy your house surrounds so you can’t use ‘cleaning up’ as an excuse for procrastination.

5. Take a long walk and clear your mind in readiness to embark on that new project.

6. Eliminate electronic distractions.

7. Eliminate social media distractions.

8. If you find it difficult to work on the computer and not be distracted, then write your first draft long hand. I have started doing this anyway as I find it really helps me to immerse myself in my story.

9. Use ‘Do not disturb’ signs or whatever it takes to let other members of your household know that you are seriously writing :). (It might take them a while to get into the habit of taking this seriously, but it’s worth persevering.)

10. Do not answer the phone  (unless you’re expecting an urgent call) – that’s what we have answering machines for. And people can always ring back. In the days before mobile phones, people had to ‘wait’ for you to respond. You don’t have to respond to everything straight away.

If your current work in progress has stalled or you have writer’s block, you might find that decluttering your work environment can help declutter your mind and get you going again.

I’d love to hear your comments on how you ‘clear the decks’ in preparation for a new project.

Happy writing:)





The Risks of Research

After leaving Amsterdam, my head full of all the things I’d learned at the SCBWI Europolitan Conference, we headed to Paris to spend time researching for my next book.

IMAG8694This one is a YA adventure set in Paris called Paris Hunting. It’s about a girl who goes hunting for clues to a World War 2 family mystery in Paris, and she ends up being the hunted. It’s pure adventure and it is a lot of fun to write.

IMAG8778I was in Paris to look for settings. The outdoor ones were easy. The Seine with its stone steps, sewer tunnels, houseboats and many bridges is the ideal place for an action packed place.

There are also many large and beautiful parks where my characters can encounter danger – and these were easy to explore and photograph.

IMAG9107But my plot necessitated that I set my story in a museum. I didn’t want to use the Louvre. I was looking for somewhere more quirky and I found it. It was a small, eclectic museum, quaint and heavily guarded.

It wasn’t till I spoke to my writer’s group when I got back home that I realised that this last piece of research could have got me arrested.

IMAG9184Working out how my character would break in and out of the museum necessitated lots of note taking and photos. I wanted my writing to be authentic. I didn’t want readers to visit the museum and say, ‘that could never have happened’.

I am now writing the scenes while the setting is still fresh in my head – and so is the anxiety I felt while doing this research, particularly in a place where they spoke no English and I spoke no French and my actions may have been very difficult to explain – except to another writer who knows the lengths that must be gone to in order to make a setting believable.

IMAG9178I was lucky, but I was also quite well prepared. I had done a lot of research in advance. So here’s my guide to risky research.

1. Always take someone with you who can keep watch – and bail you out of jail if necessary.
2. Take someone who speaks the language so they can explain things for you.
3. Do as much pre-research as you can so you can be focussed in your information gathering and minimise the time you spend in a potentially risky situation.
4. Carry proof that you are a writer and perhaps a story outline to prove your need for research is genuine.
5. Be confident in what you are doing (even if you have to fake it). Remember that your motives are purely harmless and proceed with confidence – this is less likely to arouse suspicion.

Good luck:)

IMAG9293I’m off to work on Paris Hunting. But if you have a story of where research nearly landed or did land you in trouble, I’d love to hear it. Feel free to share your experiences and tips in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)




Carousel by Brendan Ritchie

Carousel by Brendan Ritchie is a suspense filled young adult novel like no other.

Art graduate Nox is stuck inside a locked shopping mall with his idols, Lizzy and Taylor.

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 6.21.31 pmThey’ve all arrived there in a strange cab. Some kind of apocolypse has occurred outside Carousel and for some reason they have been saved.

But they’re not alone. Teen checkout worker Rocky is also there and he doesn’t seem to want to leave.

At first it’s a bit of a game. Stuck inside a building that has all your favourite foods, games, technology etc. The four of them eat fast food, watch bad TV and wait to be rescued.

But as time goes on, they start to realise that nobody might come for them, and they will have to be smarter about the way they live or they won’t survive.

When Nox comes across a skeleton in a storeroom, it could hold the key to their escape.

As days of incarceration turn to weeks and months, the menace grows.

This is a complex story of a post apocolyptic world in which four characters appear to have been saved for a reason – but the only thing they have in common is their art.

The authentic voices of the characters and the development of their relationships to each other will hook you in and compel you to read on.

Carousel re-imagines the coming-of-age survival novel within the confines of a modern shopping complex.

It’s a perceptive and insightful novel with strong voices and beautiful writing.

Taylor and I shared a smile. It was beautiful and awful at the same time. Like a lot of stuff in Carousel.

We resumed gardening as the sun dipped away. Taylor was stabbing into darkness, but she knew it was a small space, and that me and my secrets were in there somewhere.

Carousel explores strong themes of friendship, identity, art, technology and consumerism.

Author, Brendan Ritchie wrote the novel within his creative writing PhD at Cowan University. He is currently working on the sequel.

Carousel is a novel for young adults published by Fremantle Press.

SCBWI Europolitan – Day 2 & 3


Day 2 of the conference opened with a fascinating keynote on Fairy Tales in East and West presented by Özge Tığlı. It was followed by a panel discussion, Publishing Here, There and Everywhere moderated by translator, Laura Watkinson. The panel featured Brooks Sherman from The Bent Agency, Greet Pauwelijn the Publisher at Book Island, and Majo de Saedeleer of O Mundo. There was a vigorous discussion with some audience questions on what the differences are in books published in different parts of the world.

Hardworking attendees at my workshop

Hardworking attendees at my workshop

I would love to have attended Esther Hershenhorn’s Intensive on Getting Your Stories Right, but it clashed with my presentation of my workshop, Waging War – Casting Your Characters into Conflict.

There were twenty-six very enthusiastic participants at my workshop, which focussed on heightening conflict and raising the stakes for characters, including a focus on individual scenes.


  1. Raise the stakes – Make things even harder for your character. Think of the worst thing that can happen to your character and make something even worse happen.
  1. Eliminate/revise backstory –Look to see if your scene contains backstory – setting up information, giving character’s history etc. What information in this scene does the author need to know and what MUST the reader know.

If you want to include backstory, try to show it through actions rather than telling. In my YA thriller, submerged, my main character had a serious accident when she was a kid when a bird spooked her horse. Instead of telling the reader she is scared of birds because…. I show her fear of birds and then gradually reveal the reasons for it through actions – people reacting to her scars etc.

  1. Do you have the right characters in this scene?

Too many characters in a scene can confuse and distract the reader. Keep reminding the reader of who the characters in conflict are, by showing them in conflict.IMAG8204

  1. Do you have the right balance of internal and external conflict?

You do need quiet scenes leading up to big action scenes to help build the tension. But your characters can still be in conflict. You can use internal conflict to show disparity between what a character thinks they want and what they really want.

  1. What are your character’s values, and are these values being challenged by the scene?

So, is there some kind of internal or external tussle happening? Do a characters internal and external goals oppose each other? How do these goals fit into the overall story conflict?IMAG8229

  1. Emotions of the scene – What emotions do you want the reader to feel after reading this scene? What are the emotions of the characters in the scene? Can you show subtext through actions – perhaps show that your characters goals are different to what they thought they were?
  1. What physical obstacles can you introduce to make things harder for a character?

These are things that will test their internal and external resolve.

  1. How can you use setting to make these obstacles even more insurmountable?
  1. What difficult decisions will your POV character have to make after/because of this scene?
  1. What questions will the scene raise for the reader to entice them to keep reading?

With Brooks Sherman, Literary Agent, The Bent Agency

A gripping opening is essential to hook publishers, agents and readers.

I have a number of projects I’m about to submit so In the afternoon, I attended Brooks session on writing a gripping opening. It was interesting to hear this from an agent’s perspective.

Brooks talked about some common faults with openings:

  1. Too much set up or exposition
  2. Too much action without context
  3. Great voice going nowhere
  4. Start where your story begins
  5. Prologues are not popular.

Although Brooks did clarify that prologues have their place in the right story.

Brooks suggestions:

Focus on action at hand rather than setting up story.

The first chapter should establish status quo of character’s world and at end of first chapter, things start to shift.

IMAG8131Openings to generally avoid

  1. Dreams
  2. Starting in middle of action with no context
  3. First day of school
  4. Moving day

Essentials of a Query Letter

According to Brooks, a query letter should establish:

  1. Rules of the world
  2. Overarching conflict
  3. Who character is
  4. What environment is?
  5. What stakes are.
Day 2 and 3 were also packed full of fabulous events

Day 2 and 3 were also packed full of fabulous events


There were two days of panels, keynotes and intensives, but the conference actually went for a total of four days. On the Friday before the conference started, Mina had organised a Scrawl Crawl where we were guided around Amsterdam by an expert historian and given a chance to get to know each other and our surrounds.

On the final day, there was a peer critique brunch where we had a chance to get feedback on presubmitted work. Our moderator was Esther Hershenhorn and she was amazing. All four of us walked away with new ideas and enthusiasm for our stories.

Somehow my 12 year old character has now ended up in Chicago with a new baby brother on the way. It has added so much more conflict to my story, and I’m loving it – although my character, Eddy is quite unhappy about the whole thing – for now anyway.

Easter Brunch

Easter Brunch


I was lucky to share this Monday afternoon event at the American Book Centre at Spui 12 in Amsterdam’s city centre with  talented authors, Angela Cerrito and Amber Lough.

4789462 1421761418675 1421761447642 Letters to Leonardo Book Cover

We had a chance to talk about and read from our books and there was book sales and signing. Afterwards, the bookshop presented us all with lovely flowers.

Sharing Book Talks with Angela Cerrito and Amber Lough

Sharing Book Talks with Angela Cerrito and Amber Lough

After the conference was over, we headed to Paris where I spent time researching for my new YA adventure, Paris Hunting.

I’ll talk about this in next week’s blog post, The Risks of Research.

I hope you enjoyed the conference wrap up. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to include them after this post.

Happy writing:)


So Much to Write, So Much to Learn – SCBWI Europolitan Day 1

I recently returned from the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Europolitan Conference in Amsterdam.


Amsterdam Canal

It was a wonderful, inspiring event, but it reminded me that even when you think you have learnt so much, there is still so much to learn.

The Europolitan Conference, a team effort presented by the SCBWI regions of Belgium, France, German+Austria, Switzerland and The Netherlands was one of the most professional, well organised and inspiring conferences I have ever been to.

Mum and Mina

With my dear writerly friend and conference organiser, Mina Witteman

My heartfelt thanks to the leadership team of Tioka Nparis, Dina Von Lowenkraft , Elisabeth Norton, Patti Coughlan Buff, Dana Carey, Özge Tığlı and Gabriela Nicole Gonzalez – and especially to my dear friend Mina Witteman, RA for The Netherlands who pulled it all together with such style and grace.


One of the highlights for me was the inspiring opening keynote, Here Be Dragons by engaging Marieke Nijkamp, which opened our eyes to the importance of Diverse Books for children and young adults.

Maritime Museum, Amsterdam

Maritime Museum, Amsterdam

Jill Santopolo, Executive Editor, Philomel Books gave us valuable insight into how the sales force sell books in the marketplace. I found this invaluable because it made me think about the following things:

1. What is my story about – what are the high points of the action and the emotional plot?
2. What is the main conflict?
3. What is the theme?
4. What is unique about the way I have told this story?
5. Why would someone want to buy or read this book?
6. How does this book compare to others in the genre with a similar readership?
7. Why did I write this book?

Knowing the answers to these questions also helps you pitch your book to publishers and agents, and do author presentations in bookshops and schools. If you know the answers to these questions you will be able to get to the heart of what your story is about and why it’s important.

Keukenhof, Amsterdam

Keukenhof, Amsterdam

with Marietta Zacker, Senior Agent at Nancy Galt Literary Agency

Marietta talked about seven things that make characters bloom.

1. Emotional Connection – the reader must have a reaction to the character. Their first reaction is very important.
2. Empathy – you must create a character that readers can empathise with.
3. Memorable – your character must be memorable – just like people stand out in real life, characters must too. What makes a character memorable is their voice. if someone could replace that character then their voice is not memorable enough.
4. Adventurous – characters must push the limits and force people to think. Characters must not accept the cards dealt to them, they must push the limits and not passively show story.
5. Unique – characters must be unique but readers must still be able to relate to them.
6. Secrets and aspirations – characters must have secrets and aspirations – and not all will necessarily be resolved.
7. Have heart – characters must show anything and everything they have inside.

with Mina Witteman

Losing the plot literally is a problem I find with my work. Somehow in the translation from ideas to paper, the story can become too complicated, and the essence lost.

Mina’s session focussed on using Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet to help get your story back under control.

Mina presented Blake’s strategies with clarity and used examples of popular books to show us how they could be applied practically.

You can find out more about Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet here. It’s a great revision tool for your novel.

Day 1 of the conference concluded with a cocktail party and an illustration gallery where amazing folios were on display.

The fabulous Day 1 Program

The fabulous Day 1 program

Next week I’m going to blog about Day 2 of the conference where I learnt more amazing things.

If you have any tips from a recent conference (it could be the SCBWI Europolitan) that you’d like to share, feel free to comment at the end of this post.

Happy writing:)


10 Years of CYA

I attended the first CYA Conference in Brisbane ten years ago. My novel Letters to Leonardo had been shortlisted in their writing competition.

Letters to Leonardo Book CoverLetters to Leonardo was published five years later, and five years on from that, I’ll be attending the tenth CYA Conference.

I haven’t been going to many conferences in Australia lately due to family commitments, but I’ve been busy writing, and am now ready to submit.

When you have submission ready manuscripts is a great time to go to a conference like CYA. In Australia there are a limited number of publishers willing to take on or even view submissions from new young adult and children’s writers and illustrators.

Conferences like CYA give you a chance to meet these people and get your work in front of them.

At this year’s CYA Conference there are 8 publishers and 3 agents available to pitch to. Unfortunately Penguin and Harper Collins are fully booked already but there are plenty more.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 3.42.19 pmEven if you don’t have something ready to submit, there are still plenty of reasons to attend this conference. I personally can’t wait for Morris Gleitzman’s extended Master Class.

There’s also a publishers panel about first pages, and workshops by amazing illustrator, Sarah Davis and talented authors like Kaz Delaney, Meredith Costain and Paul Collins.

CYA is a huge day of information gathering, networking and being inspired. Check out the full program here.

Let me know if you’re going and I’ll see you there:)

Happy writing:)


P.S. Tomorrow I’ll be blogging about the fabulous SCBWI Europolitan – I learnt so much.

Sally Snickers’ Knickers

Unknown-2There are so many things I love about Sally Snickers’ Knickers, a picture book cleverly written by Lynn Ward and beautifully illustrated by Anthea Stead.

Sally Snickers is an ordinary little girl who gets into trouble at school for wanting to be an individual, and wear her knickers on her head.

Sally’s teacher is quite put out by this quirk.

But the teacher says she shouldn’t have
her knickers on display
and unless she wears a proper hat,
she’s not allowed to play.

One of the things I liked about this story is that it’s so relatable for small children. I remember a friend’s son who never went to the supermarket without his underpants, worn proudly on his head. It’s a situation kids find humour in, and it’s a way of asserting their individuality.

Unknown-4I love the way Sally is helped out by her classmates who support her quirkiness and eventually convince the teacher that Sally is okay.

Sally Snickers’ Knickers is told in rollicking rhyme, and the hilarious illustrations rollick along too.

Unknown-3Anthea Stead’s riotously colourful pictures perfectly complement the text.

Sally Snickers’ Knickers is about being an individual, and about supporting your friends. But it’s also a playful, fun read, which makes it a great classroom book.

Sally Snickers’ Knickers is published by Walker Books for readers aged 4+