Rainbow Street Pets – A Kid’s Book for Animal Lovers of All Ages

UnknownI know that this week I said I’d talk about how to work out which writer’s festivals to attend.  But being an animal lover from way back, I’m afraid I’ve been side tracked by Wendy Orr’s gorgeous Rainbow Street Pets.

Rainbow Street Pets is a collection of six stories for kids about all sorts of animals from a guinea pig to a lion cub.

The stories include Lost Dog Bear, Nelly and the Dream Guinea Pig, Mona and the Lion Cub, Buster the Hero Cat, Stolen: A Pony Called Pebbles, and Bella the Bored Beagle.

Each animal is special. Each story is full of action, great characters and a happy outcome.

At the Rainbow Street Shelter a cockatoo will greet you and a little round dog will make you welcome. All the animals there need children to be their friends. Meet Bear the border collie, Buster the marmalade cat, and Bessy the goat, as well as rabbits and guinea pigs and mice. There’s even a pony called Pebbles, but where does a lion cub fit in?

When I was a kid, I always dreamed of finding a runaway horse, and that’s exactly what happens in Stolen: A Pony Called Pebbles.

IMAG4165I think one of the things that resonates about these stories is their authenticity – the fact that author Wendy Orr clearly loves animals and that she knows what it feels like to be a kid who’s desperate for a pet.

The stories also trace the lives of the pet’s young owners and the very real issues they face. There are strong friendships between them and these link the stories together seamlessly. There are also Mona, Bert, Gulliver and the other characters from Rainbow Street Animal Shelter who appear throughout.

Apart from being a great read, one of the most important things about this book is that it teaches kids about pet ownership and the responsibilities of having a pet, but in a non-didactic way.

IMAG3188Showing the feelings, experiences and emotions of the animals allows the reader to see their points of view and understand that they have special needs that must be met.

Rainbow Street Pets is a book that the whole family can enjoy together. If you’re an animal lover like me, you’ll love these stories.

Rainbow Street Pets is written by Nim’s Island author, Wendy Orr and published by Allen & Unwin.

Next week, tune in for my promised post about Writer’s Festivals :)

Preparing For a Writer’s Conference – A Post For Unpublished Writers

Recently, I was asked whether an unpublished writer should attend a Writer’s Conference and my answer to that is definitely, “Yes!”

A conference can be the thing that gets you across the line – that turns you from aspiring to published.

Letters to Leonardo Book CoverIn 2008 I went to the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference in Sydney. I was unpublished but I had a novel to pitch. I was scared and even when I was sitting across from the publisher I was asking myself, “What am I doing here? Why am I doing this to myself?”

But as a result of that publisher meeting at the conference, my Young Adult novel, Letters to Leonardo was published by Walker Books Australia in 2009.

So as I mentioned in last week’s post, I believe that Writer’s Conferences are worth going to.

But now that you’ve scrimped and saved and agonised to get there, how do you make the most of the experience?


1.  Polish your manuscript until it’s the best it can be. Run it past crit partners, writer’s groups, whoever can give you constructive feedback to make this manuscript shine.

2.  Do your research – find out which publishers will be there. Look at their website, read books by their authors, talk to published writers, assess whether they are a publisher who might like/be prepared to publish your book. Look at the genre, topics and themes of the books they publish or the authors/illustrators they represent.

3.  Read reviews/interviews about the publisher or agent and assess whether they are the sort of person or company you would like to work with. When you’re making your appointments to pitch, choose wisely.

4.  If you have made an agent/editor appointment, Google that agent/editor to find out what they look like.  So that when you’re walking into a room full of editors/agents at small tables, you’ll recognise the person you have the appointment with. This will help you feel at ease and will also ensure you don’t waste valuable time looking for the person you’re meant to be meeting with.  Be warned though, this isn’t foolproof. Photos on the internet aren’t always current. If you have doubts, ask one of the conference volunteers to point your agent/editor out to you.

5.   Know what your book is about. This might seem strange because you wrote this book, but if you can’t say what your book is about in a couple of sentences then the concept might not be strong enough. You should have the concept clear in your head so that when you’re asked questions about it, you’ll be able to respond with confidence.

6.  If you’re pitching a series, don’t just focus on book one. The publisher or agent will want to know about your characters – will want to know that they are strong enough and well developed enough to carry the series. So make sure you’ve prepared biographies for your main characters and that you can talk about them with confidence.

7.  Prepare questions to ask the publisher or agent you are meeting with. This will help relax you and will also help you decide if these are people you would like to work with.


1.  Find out if any of your friends or online friends are attending – arrange to meet up. Even knowing one other person at the conference will make you feel more like you belong there.

2.  Don’t pitch to everyone you see. Just be yourself and enjoy getting to know people. If a publisher asks what you’re working on, then it’s okay to tell them, but try and have your concept down to a couple of sentences you can memorise so you don’t find yourself rambling.

3.  If you’re at a social event as part of the conference, now is not the time to pitch, hand over your manuscript or shove a business card or memory stick into someone’s hand. Networking.

4.  Being nervous is okay. Most people feel a little out of their comfort zone at conferences, but there are some safe questions you can ask people to break the ice. Questions like, “What are you working on?” “What sessions are you going to?” “Have you been to this conference before?” What are you looking forward to the most?”

5.  Often conferences have a social event on the evening before the sessions start – like a conference dinner or cocktail party.  These are a really good opportunity to meet some people before the conference so that you will feel more relaxed.

6.  Try and book into accommodation either where the conference is being held or where most people are staying. This will help you feel like part of the event.

7.  Book early so that you get to see the sessions, agents and editors of your choice.

CYA Success stor

CYA Success stories

Before you jet off to your conference, there’s another post you might find helpful – How Not to Scare Away Agents and Publishers.

If you have any other tips for writers going to a conference, please feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing and conferencing:)


Why Attend Writer’s Conferences


Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 9.32.57 amI recently returned from the CYA Conference in Brisbane, and it was fun filled, inspiring and fruitful.

Fun filled because I got to catch up with so many wonderful writer friends, and make new ones. Networking and making industry connections is invaluable for a writer. It helps you find out about opportunities and provides great support when your confidence is flagging.

CYA was also inspiring because I picked up tips about writing, publishing and marketing from the speakers at the conference, and because hearing about other writer’s successes and projects is so energising.

CYA Success stor

CYA Success stories

But just as important, because conferences cost money, it was fruitful. I had the opportunity to present my work to publishers and agents and even without all the other added benefits, this alone made the trip to Brisbane worthwhile.


The advantages of presenting your work to a publisher or agent in person can’t be underestimated.

  1. When you send a manuscript to the slush pile, you rarely get feedback. The feedback I received at CYA came in different forms – some written on the manuscript itself – some verbal – all useful.

I found out for instance that one publisher liked my writing but the project I submitted clashed with one they already had on their list. A slush pile rejection probably wouldn’t have told me this – I would have been left wondering if the rejection was because either the writing or project weren’t strong enough.

Face-to-face feedback gives you so much more to work with. Although the project I submitted prior to the conference wasn’t of interest to a publisher, I had the chance to speak with them about another project I was working on, and received a request for that project.

  1. You have the opportunity to make a connection with that publisher or agent so you get some idea of what it would be like to work with them, and they are able to make the same assessment about you.
  1. You have the opportunity to make a positive impression on a publisher or agent so that when you send work in they know who you are – you’re not just one of the anonymous thousands who submit manuscripts to them.
  1. You have a chance to talk to publishers and agents about their views of what’s hot or what’s not. This can help you decide whether to shelve a manuscript for the time being or whether now is the right time to bring one out of the bottom draw and revive it.
  1. It makes you realise that in spite of any doom and gloom about the state of the publishing industry …

… Publishers are still looking for great books and new authors.

Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 9.33.28 amWHAT IF I CAN’T AFFORD TO GO TO CONFERENCES?

Conferences cost money so they can be difficult to get to. Here are some things I do/have done to make them affordable.

  1. Be a conference volunteer. This usually means that you don’t have to pay the conference fee – and you often get to meet the presenting authors and publishers during the course of the event so it’s a great networking opportunity. You will need to pay for any pitching sessions.
  1. Interview the presenters and write articles for magazines or online publications (preferably ones who pay). Years ago I funded my Reading Matters Conference fee by interviewing international authors, Meg Rosoff, Jacqueline Wilson and John Boyne and getting articles about them published. Apart from the financial benefits it was a fun and very inspiring experience.
  1. Apply for funding through organisations like CAL (Copyright Agency Limited) and SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators)
  1. Try and put aside $10 a week – even if it means sacrificing a favourite weekly treat, pedicure, dog shampoo, takeaway coffee etc.
  1. At Christmas, Birthdays etc, if loved ones want to give you a present, ask for money to put towards a writer’s conference.
  1. Have a market stall and sell things you don’t need/want. E-bay’s another possible avenue for fundraising.
Post conference dining with writerly friends

Post conference dining with writerly friends


Having young children or other dependants makes it very hard to get away for a weekend conference.

So start small. I recently went to a Literary Speed Dating Event at the Victorian Writer’s Centre. It cost $30 and went for two hours. From that event I received requests for materials from two publishers I would love to work with.

I hope you’ve found my conference tips helpful. If you have other tips, please feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Hope to catch you at a conference somewhere sometime soon :)


Thanks to CYA for a great conference and for use of the photos – and to Peter Allert photographer extraordinaire





How to Encourage Young Writers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALately I’ve been receiving a lot of messages from parents and teachers who have kids or know kids who love to write.

Other enquiries I get are from people who know kids who have great ideas for stories, but don’t know how to get them down on paper.

Here are some things that have worked for me:

1.  Read with the young writer and pick a character, a scene or a setting from what you are reading – something they would like to write about – and get them to write it.

2.  Look at this blog post by Susan Stephenson, which has various ideas on how to get a story started http://writingclassesforkids.com/writing-prompts-to-get-your-story-started-by-susan-stephenson/

3.   Brainstorm with your young writer. I used to do this with my kids. We’d pick a word for instance, chocolate, and I’d make up a story about chocolate and they’d either continue with my story or they’d think up an idea of your own. To encourage them I’d ask questions like “What if… this happened?” and “What happens next?” and “How did that happen? Why did that happen? Who did that happen to?”

4.  If the idea of a whole story is overwhelming, take it in stages:

– Decide who the character is

– Decide what the character’s story problem is

– Decide how the character plans to solve it

– Decide what obstacles will get in the way.

5.  Encourage the writer to create a story based on a favourite character from a book, movie or tv program – encourage him or her to try to imagine what it would be like to be that character.

6.  Don’t put limitations on the length of the story. If the child wants to write a 30 word story, that’s okay. If they want to write 300 or 3,000 words, that’s okay The only word count limitations they should have to follow are if they are submitting for a competition or publication and a word limit is specified in the guidelines.

IMG_12007. Always use encouraging language and don’t push the writer to do more than they are comfortable with.  If you have constructive suggestions on how they can improve their story, always focus on the good things about it first, and be encouraging with your suggestions. Always use positive language.

8.  Don’t take over. If the story isn’t the way you would have written it, don’t interfere. The child needs to follow their own creative direction. You will stifle their creativity, dampen their enthusiasm and wreck their confidence if you try to take over their story.

9. If the writer isn’t great at spelling, don’t let this be a deterrent. They can still be a good writer, they just need an editor to help them. Getting the child to dictate the story to you or to type it themselves, will encourage their storytelling and develop their confidence and stop them from worrying so much about the spelling. This is definitely an area you want to help them improve, but try and keep it separate from their story writing. Jackie French is the Australia National Children’s Laureate for 2014 and 2015. She’s the author of over 100 wonderful books, and she also has dyslexia. She is living proof that one of the most important qualities you need to be a writer is to be a storyteller.

10.  Endings are hard and many young writers don’t complete their stories before moving on to the next one – this is perfectly normal. Have realistic expectations. Writing endings is one of the hardest parts of creating a story. It’s something that writers often find difficult into their teens and even adulthood.  Particularly when writers are young, they are exploring where the story is going rather than planning it so it might not have an ending – and it doesn’t matter. I started writing novels when I was about nine.  There were boxes full of my half finished stories at my parents’ house. They were experiments – me learning to be a writer.  Allow your young writer to explore their creativity without pressure. There is no right or wrong way to be a writer.

If you have keen writers in your house or at your school, look for ways to help them get published – through school blogs or newsletters, or holding a writing competition at school. Find out more about hosting a writing competition here.  If your school wants to run a writing competition, I’m happy to donate prizes.

I also run online writing classes for kids who love to write. Lesson plans that you can use in your classroom are available here.

I hope you found these tips helpful. If you have any additional tips, please feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)



Peas in A Pod – Picture Book Collaboration

Peas in a Pod is the latest quirky offering from talented writer/illustrator team, Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling.

Tania and Tina have created a harmony of colour and words, and they’re visiting today with their great tips on Picture Book Collaboration.


Pippa, Pia, Poppy, Polly and Peg are very cute little quintuplets who do everything the same … eat, sleep, cry and sit … everything.  But one day the girls decide that they don’t like being the same.

FINAL COVERPeas in a Pod is a beautiful story that incorporates the closeness of siblings with the need to be an individual within that relationship.

It’s about finding your place in the world, and even though well meaning people (parents in this case) might encourage you to conform in order to fit in, it’s okay to be different. People are not the same, even when they look quite similar as in the case of Pippa, Pia, Poppy, Polly and Peg.

We are generally encouraged to conform because it suits someone else, but it’s not always the best thing for us as individuals, and that’s one of the reasons why I can see adults really loving Peas in a Pod too.

I love the gentle humour in the text and the way the vibrant illustrations lead young readers through the story, encouraging them make a stand, to be who they are, to be who they want to be.

I like the way the text doesn’t talk down to the reader, and the author uses some more complex words that add interest and inspire the reader to explore vocabulary. The illustrator’s use of colour and action tell a story that wonderfully complements the text.

Peas in a Pod is for readers aged 3-7. It is published by EK Books, and Teachers Notes are available.

Tania McCartney’s Five Tips on Collaborating with an Illustrator 

Authors and illustrators don’t always have the opportunity to work in close collaboration, so I feel really fortunate to be able to work with Tina directly on our books. I think it brings a seamlessness, a cohesion and that extra special something to the work we produce. If you’re going to have the privilege of working closely with an illustrator, lucky you! Here are my tips on how to make the collaboration shine.

  1. Tania headshot IBe willing to give your illustrator creative licence. Don’t be too precious about your text or how things should look. I’ve many times changed my text to suit the creative ideas of an illustrator—and the book has been all the better for it. I’ve also been more than delighted with illustrator interpretation—which is almost always even better than what I had in my head.
  2. Ensure open communication. While creative licence is good, illustrations also need to reflect story meaning and nuance. Most of the time, an illustrator will reflect text really well but occasionally something might be missed or misinterpreted. Or, as in my point above, it might even be improved upon! So communicate openly and well—and don’t be afraid to speak up if something needs tweaking.
  3. Tweaking, especially if illustrations are hand-rendered, is no mean feat. It can take hours or even days to redo something, so this is why keeping on top of communications is key and why you should only insist on changes if they’re absolutely central to the story. You could also ask your illustrator to show you images as they go along, to save on the possibility of any changes down the track. Once illos are complete, changing things at whim or for personal preference is just not on—it’s too much to ask of any illustrator.
  4. If you haven’t worked with this illustrator before, consider asking them for drafts so you can agree on a certain characterisation or scene. As you work with them more and as the book unfolds, you’ll more than likely find no need for any type of draft. Things become sort of organic.
  5. Give feedback and encouragement. It’s difficult for an illustrator to know they’re on track or that you’re liking their work if you say nothing. All illustrators want their authors to love their work! so giving feedback is a great way to open the dialogue and encourage a wonderful collaborative experience.

Tina Snerling’s Five Tips on Collaborating with an Author

Tina Snerling 360px1. Communication, communication, communication. This is key to a smooth and enjoyable collaboration. I understand many other illustrators communicate directly with their Editor/Publisher, but my daily communication is with the Author until our Editor becomes involved once drafts are completed. Tania and I can email up to 50 times a day discussing illustrations for a page!
2. Be open to feedback. This is a given for any Illustrator, but also an important point to remember when working with an Author as they may not always agree with your interpretation.
3. Understand your Authors own style. Having worked with Tania on numerous collaborations, I understand her style, and what my illustrations can do to enhance her words. If you are embarking on a new Author/Illustrator relationship, research the Author and understand their style to ensure your illustrations represent the Authors work in a way you both love.
4. Get a comprehensive understanding of the Authors intentions. As an Illustrator, it is my responsibility to portray the unwritten word, by discussing the manuscript in detail first with the Author, you can gain a deeper understanding of their words – this in turn ensures you represent the book cohesively.
5. Don’t be afraid to add your own flair. I love to take Tania’s words and add my own personal touches. Sometimes I can interpret the Author’s words in a way the Author may not have imagined, but they love it all the same – that is the magic of working in a collaboration!




Run A Writing Competition For Kids at Your School and I’ll Donate Prizes

Writing competitions are a great way to encourage kids who love to write.

If you hold a writing competition at your school, I’d be happy to donate a free e-book on writing for up to 10 prize winners.


Running a writing competition is easy.  Just follow the simple steps below:

1. Decide on age categories, story length and theme – (it could be something to fit with the current curriculum).

2. Decide when you will run it – term breaks and school holidays could be a good time.

3.  Ask your local newsagent, book store or stationers if they are willing to donate prizes.

4.  Advertise your competition around the school, at the library and in classrooms. You can use the flier below if you like – just fill in the gaps for your competition.

Writing Competition Flier

5.  If you don’t have time to read the stories yourself, ask for willing parent or other community helpers.

6.  Get the readers to shortlist the entries and decide on the winners.

7.  Present winner’s certificates and prizes at assembly.

8.  Publish winning stories to your school blog or in your newsletter if you have one.

If you have any questions on how to run your competition, include them in the comments section of this post.  Good luck with your writing competition:)




Applying for A Grant

Rachel Bradbury has asked me to post about applying for a grant.

Being funded to write a project is every writer’s dream, but unfortunately, arts grants are few and far between so competition is fierce.

Here are my tips on how to apply for arts funding.


  1. Show your passion for your project.
  2. Demonstrate strong reasons why you chose this project and why you are the person to write it – what’s your connection to the subject matter?
  3. Provide strong reasons for why you are doing this project, why now?
  4. Speak with enthusiasm.
  5. Outline where you are in your career and how this project will help your professional development as a writer.
  6. Talk about stylistic devices you are using and why.
  7. Show how your project will benefit others. What impact will this project have on the literary landscape – if it’s groundbreaking – say so. Why this form and not another?
  8. Clearly explain what you are trying to achieve?
  9. Have a clear rationale, clear goals and a clear plan for your project.
  10. Identify what challenges this project will present, and how will you overcome them?
  11. If at first you don’t succeed, keep applying. Some people don’t receive funding until their second and third attempt.
  12. Always read and follow submission guidelines carefully.