The Naughtiest Pixie in Disguise – Top Tuesday Writing Tips From Ailsa Wild

TODAY’S GUEST AUTHOR –  AILSA WILD

Ailsa Wild is an award-winning Australian author. She’s the creator of The Naughtiest Pixie and the hilarious Squishy Taylor series, which has been published in the US, UK, Spain and Turkey. When she’s not taking her characters on cheeky adventures, Ailsa is a performer, acrobat and professional whip-cracker. She lives with her family in Melbourne. She likes dressing up in costumes, eating cheese at bedtime and answering the question, ‘But … why?’

ABOUT THE NAUGHTIEST PIXIE IN DISGUISE

Adventurous pixie, Jenifry Star lives with her nana and elderly aunties who don’t seem to know the meaning of fun. Jenifry has Kipsy-cat for a friend, but she wants desperately to play with the human children, to have friends she can talk to. Her Nana and Aunts forbid it, and in spite of their warnings about the Pixie Hunter, Jenifry is determined to sneak into the school and pass herself off as a human.

She’s having fun until the principal asks her for proof of enrolment. The only way for her to stay at school with her new friends is to get Nana’s permission to be there.

Cheeky, bold Jenifry is so much fun, the sort of pixie that every child would want for a friend. Kipsy-cat is also a quirky fun character that young readers will love.

Lively language and made up words add a quirkiness and charm to this pixie adventure story.

Despite its playfulness, The Naughtiest Pixie has universal themes of belonging and friendship that add a whole new layer of meaning. This is also a story about facing your fears.

The Naughtiest Pixie is a real treat for adventure loving readers and even contains a Pixie Pancake recipe and fun character profiles at the end of the book.

Saoirse Lou’s gorgeous fun illustrations help bring Jenifry and friends to life.

HOW AILSA WROTE THE NAUGHTIEST PIXIE IN DISGUISE

TIP ONE – INSPIRATION

Where did you get the inspiration for the character of Jenifry Star?

Since I was really tiny my dad has loved it when I was cheeky and rebellious. I always think of his big, delighted laugh when, aged two, I climbed the kitchen bench to reach the sugar, or later stood up to high school power structures. Despite this, there were times when I was really well behaved because I was so afraid of getting in trouble. I did my homework because I was scared of being humiliated by my teachers. I didn’t ask questions because I was afraid of looking stupid. In a way I wrote this story for that scared little Ailsa – to give her some room to try being naughty in a fun way, rather than it being terrifying. I was also inspired by how much kids love the Treehouse books and how naughty Andy and Terry are. I wanted to write a girl character who is thatbadly behaved. To be honest I didn’t quite manage Andy and Terry’s level of ridiculously naughty, but it did inspire me to write a wonderful adventure story.

TIP TWO – MAKING A CHARACTER MISCHIEVIOUS

Why did you decide to write a book about Pixies?

I love stories about magic – especially stories that have their roots in folklore. I love how pixies play tricks on humans and I like their close relationship with nature. Pixie folklore comes from Cornwall, which is where I lived as a child, so I like that connection too. Also I wanted to write a about a little girl whose naughtiness is loveable and forgivable – and I thought readers might forgive her more easily if the mischief runs in her blood and is taught her by her naughty pixie family.

TIP 3 – TO PLOT OR NOT

Did you plot Jenfry’s adventure or did you just write and see where the character and her personality took you?

My writing is usually a mix of plotting and ‘just writing’. I wrote myself into the character of Jenifry and a few thousand words of story, then I stopped and planned things out in an excel spreadsheet! I wrote the story mostly as I’d planned but making some discoveries along the way. Then, after a break I actually went back and wrote a newplot in a new excel spreadsheet and wrote quite a different story. So my process is a real mix of planning and letting the story evolve.

TIP 4 – FIRST PERSON IN JUNIOR FICTION

First person isn’t common in junior fiction. What made you choose this point of view? Did the character just pop into your head and say, ‘this is how I want to tell my story?’

I love first person. I feel like you really get to be there, right inside the character on their adventure. It was a bit tricky writing Jenifry because my previous books, the Squishy Taylors, are also in first person. Both stories have a sense of action and physicality and both characters are quite strong and determined – so I had to be reallycareful to make sure I wasn’t writing Jenifry in Squishy’s voice. I did lots of thinking about pixie words and how a pixie body might feel and tried to bring that into the Jenifry’s voice. It was quite a process and definitely didn’t jump out fully formed!

TIP 5 – CREATING A FANTASY WORLD

Jenifry’s pixie world is fun and quirky and very authentic. What are your writing tips for creating a fantasy world?

My main tip is go nuts, and then cut back if you have to. That allows your creativity to just let loose and play and you can have all your wild ideas and create a different and wonderful universe. At first, don’t let anything be impossible. Then afterwards you’ll need to edit, and making sure everything fits together logically in the story-world. In all my early drafts (and I’m working on Book 4 now) I’ve had a moment where I’ve gone really over the top, like making Nana’s dialogue overly ridiculous, or having pixie magic way too visible to humans. I’ve had to prune it back so it’s believable within the story-world. I also did a bunch of handwritten backstory and world-building. I never did that systematically (though that might be a good idea!) but whenever I was confused or unsure about how the world worked, I would write it out.

Find out more about Ailsa and her books at her website.

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Kids Being Creative

Last weekend I was honoured and inspired to present the young writer’s awards at the 2019 Daylesford Words in Winter Festival.

The event took place inside a blanket fort, the brainchild of one of the young writers I was lucky to meet.

There were so many things I loved about this event. So much colour and so many amazing primary school aged creators.

Prep to Year 2 winners

The stories I read were evocative and powerful, sometimes funny, always imaginative.

I was moved not only by the creative vibe I found in Daylesford, but also the love of story and story creation.

Grade 3-4 winners

There were hundreds of entries in the competition and every prize winner and contestant at the event was accompanied by at least one proud and supportive adult. I was born into a household where writing wasn’t considered to be a ‘real job’ so it was heartwarming to see the family and community support for these young writers.

Grade 5-6 winners

Many of the writers had also been encouraged to enter the competition by a supportive teacher or librarian.

I was so lucky to be invited to be part of this event, and it reinforced to me how much we can do to encourage kids to write, and to love writing as much as I do.

 

Don’t Give Up Your Author Dreams

When I was seven years-old I decided I was going to be a writer. When I was a teen bookworm and the most uncool girl in school, I realized that the type of writer I wanted to be was an author. I wanted to change the world with my words.

But life had other plans for me. Becoming an author is hard. Writing a book is just the start. A first book is rarely ready for publication, and it rarely earns instant income. I found myself working in insurance, which was as far away from my dreams as I could possibly get. I spent the next fifteen years or so trying to find my way back to my chosen career and in 2009 my young adult novel, Letters to Leonardo was published by Walker Books Australia, and I felt like I’d finally made it. Readers wrote to me that they loved my book. I received some very nice royalties and a lot of great reviews.

But Letters to Leonardo wasn’t published outside Australia and my dreams of reaching readers all over the world with this book didn’t eventuate.

But out of all the books I have written in the last twenty years, Letters to Leonardo is one that’s close to my heart. Matt’s story was inspired by something that really happened. His mother was based on a real person I knew, and some of the events in the story actually happened. I couldn’t let his story finish there. In the back of my mind I always felt that the journey for Letters to Leonardo wasn’t over yet.

Jump to January this year, and I was on a writer’s retreat with dear friends and fellow writers and illustrators, Edna Cabcabin Moran and Laura Elliott in the USA. Both of them had read Letters to Leonardo. Both of them wanted to see it published outside Australia. Both of them believed in Matt and his story. Edna suggested I send the manuscript to US publisher, Mazo Publishers who republish books like Letters to Leonardo.

I worked on the manuscript incorporating some of the skills I’d acquired in the last ten years.  I didn’t change the essence of the story, but I worked on the characters and events.

I submitted the manuscript to Mazo Publishers via their online form, and a month later I had a contract. They have been so wonderful to work with, so enthusiastic about Letters to Leonardo, so dedicated to getting Matt’s story out into the hands of a whole new generation of readers. And  I’ve  been  so  fortunate  to  have  my  dear  friend  and  talented  creator, Tania McCartney  design  this  cover, which I love so much.

Letters to Leonardo is now available in Australia again. It’s also available in the US, UK and other parts of the world at the publisher’s website and in bookstores.

If you have a story you believe in, and being an author is all you’ve ever wanted, don’t give up. It took me ten years to first publication in Australia and another ten to get Letters to Leonardo out into the wider world. But it has been an amazing journey and I’ve learnt so much along the way. And I’ve had letters from readers telling me how my book really did change their life.

I’d love to hear your stories about how perseverance and love for your story has led to publication. Feel free to share in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing 🙂

Dee

Letters to Leonardo is the story of a boy who receives a fifteenth birthday card from the mother he thought was dead. He decides to look for her and find out why she has been absent from his life, and why his father lied to him about her death. Matt helps make sense of his feelings of betrayal and confusion by writing to his dead idol, Leonardo da Vinci. But bringing his mother back into his life doesn’t have the outcome he expected.

It can be purchased direct from the publisher, Mazo Publishers and from bookstores.

Pitching Your Work at Conferences

Pitching your story to a publisher/agent panel is nerve wracking to say the least. I’ve done it twice and now I’m hanging up my pitching shoes, but I wanted to share the things I’ve learned to help anyone planning to pitch their work at a conference.

Although it’s scary, pitching offers a chance to hone your story concept, to get professional feedback on your work, and hopefully get some interest from the panel.

WHY YOU SHOULD DO IT

  1. It’s a chance to step out of your comfort zone, and make new publishing contacts. A little fear can be good for your creativity 🙂
  2. When you prepare your pitch it helps you get your head around what your story is really about. If you can’t summarise it succinctly enough to pitch, it might mean that you have too much going on, or that your story concept isn’t strong enough. Do you know who your character really is? Is there enough at stake for them?
  3. It helps you really own your story

The panel itself is actually the second step. First you have to get past the selection committee, and to do this your story concept needs to be fresh and clear, and your writing strong.

HOW TO CONVEY THE AWESOMENESS OF YOUR STORY

When it comes to presenting to the panel, there are some things you can do to help calm your nerves, and convey how truly awesome your story is.

I. I usually start with my personal connection to the story … this tells the publisher something about me and why I had to write this piece … and why I am the person to write it. For example, when I pitched my WW2 holocaust novel, Beyond Belief, I mentioned that my father had fled Austria because of Hitler, and this was my connection to the story.

2. Don’t try to tell the whole story. You need to say who your main character is, and what their story problem is and how it’s about to get even worse. Leave the panel wanting to know more.

3. Keep it simple. Don’t confuse people with detail. Focus on the high points of your story – the best bits, these are probably the parts you enjoyed writing most. You have to convey the essence of your book.

4. Make your pitch clear and coherent. In a way, the publisher panel is under just as much pressure as you are. They have to listen to your pitch, and give ‘on the spot’ feedback. Make it easy for them. Give them a story concept that can be summed up in a short paragraph, one that’s easy for them to comprehend.

For example, 12 year-old Abby is mortified when her embarrassing parents sign them all up for reality tv show, Happy Families. To make matters worse, Abby discovers one of the other contestants Is her arch enemy Melissa Hill with the perfect family. Melissa is going to make her life hell, but Abby can’t back out now because her parents desperately need the prize money to save them from bankruptcy.

Here I introduce the character and her story problem. I make things even worse for her, and I show what’s at stake and why she has to work through her problem.

5. Go to bookstores and libraries and research competitor books in the marketplace. If you have time, in your pitch, state why your book is unique and why it will appeal to readers.

6. Remember that agents and publishers are real people. They can relate. They may have a dog like yours, an allergy to capsicums or suffer from bad hair days. They are people and they want to hear your story so be proud to tell it.

7. Be prepared for questions. You know your story backwards, but the people you are pitching to won’t have read it. So try and anticipate questions that might be asked and have answers prepared.

8. Plan to read about one page of your work. You only have three minutes to sell yourself and your story. Your writing will speak for itself so one page is plenty. If you try to read too much, you’ll find yourself talking too fast, and the beauty of your writing won’t be clearly conveyed. Allow yourself time to get the panel connected with your character, engaged with your story and wowed by your writing. 3 minutes is not a long time.

You might decide to edit the first pages just for the pitch … so you can give your reading the most impact. You don’t have long to introduce the main character and hook people into their story.

9. Prepare and practice your pitch. Don’t go in cold turkey. Prepare what you are going to say in advance and practice, practice, practice. Practice it in front of your mirror, your dog, your cat, your goat or anyone who’ll listen.

10. When you practice your pitch listen to feedback. If someone says they’re not sure about something, your concept is unclear or your story doesn’t excite them … then keep working on your pitch. All is not lost. Your pitch just needs honing.

Even if you don’t plan to pitch publicly, preparing a pitch is actually a great activity to do in order to help you get to the heart of your story.

EXPECTATIONS

Even if publishers love the sound of your story, don’t expect them to sign you up on the spot. They will want to read the whole thing. The pitching helps them get to know you and whether they think they could work with you … and it helps them get to know your story.

Don’t be disappointed if they don’t jump on your pitch straight away. Look at it as information gathering … it’s a chance to test the viability of your concept … and for you to assess which publishers you might like to work with.

Have fun and be proud of your story … and the fact that you have taken this brave step.

Good luck 🙂

If you have any additional tips on pitching, please feel free to include them in a comment below.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share this post if you think it might be helpful to others.

Dee

A Children’s Story in Sand

Last weekend I experienced the Enchanted Forest Sand Sculpture Adventure at Dromkeen in Riddells Creek.

The exhibition has been sculpted by 11 incredible artists from around the world, each one making a contribution to a wonderful children’s adventure story, The Enchanted Forest, using 300 tonnes of sand.

The eleven sculptures are such a unique and beautiful way to tell a children’s story. There was a unicorn, and all sorts of wonderful fantastical characters created in sand.

Each sculpture was completed in just 10 days by artists who travel around the world creating masterpieces from sand, snow, ice, and sometimes, concrete and even pumpkins.

Unicorn

The Enchanted Forest Sand Sculpture Adventure is an inspiring example of how vision and passion for your art can lead to something truly beautiful.

Baby unicorn

Two-time Australian Sand Sculpture Champion, Leo Vamvalis was our tour guide, explaining how each sculpture was created, and what it represented.

Pegasus

The Enchanted Forest Sand Sculpture Adventure  is open at Dromkeen in Riddells Creek from Wednesdays to Sundays, 10.30 am to 5.00pm and you can buy tickets here for just $15 for adults, $7 for kids under 13, and children 3 and under are admitted free.

Whether you’re an art lover, a lover of children’s stories, an adult or a child, you will love this exhibition. It’s under cover, so it’s open all weathers.

How amazing is the detail on this sculpture made of sand?

Mentone Public Library – A Hidden Gem

Last weekend, I had the most wonderful visit to the Mentone Public Library.

I had been asked to talk about my writing journey by Julia Reichstein, a volunteer at Mentone Public Library, and also at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Elsternwick, which provided so much support and assistance with my research for Beyond Belief.

Earlier this year, when I mentioned to a Mentone resident at a SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) meeting that I was going to be speaking at her library, she looked at me bewildered, and said, “You must mean Cheltenham. Mentone doesn’t have a library.”

But it does!

Mentone Public Library is situated in a quaint little building in the middle of the Coles Car Park, not easy to find unless you are ‘in the know’. Thanks to Julia’s efficiency in making sure that everything was perfect for my visit, I was able to find my way. She had given me great directions explaining exactly where to go.The library has been running since 1925, just prior to the beginning of the Great Depression. It was started by a group of people seeking to lift flagging spirits and provide community support for locals who had fallen on hard times.

Today, the library is still run by volunteers, and going strong. It collects and preserves works by local historians, and is an enthusiastic supporter of local (and visiting) authors and their works. It is funded by annual subscriptions, and is an intimate and inspiring space with an eclectic collection.

I received a warm welcome from Julia, and President, Tony, and a room full of book lovers and writers.

It was so much fun to talk books and writing with such an enthusiastic group of all ages.

Afterwards, there were book sales and signings, followed by lunch at a quaint Mentone Cafe.

Thanks Julia and Tony for inviting me to visit your fascinating library. I enjoyed becoming part of its history.

Photos courtesy of Julia Reichstein.

Welcome Amber Jepsen

Recently, I was so lucky to spend time with talented writer and reviewer Amber Jepsen. Amber’s first book, Highshire Farm – Poultry Passion was published when she was 12 years-old.

I’ve invited her to visit my blog and share her writing story and her wonderful reviews of  At the End of Holyrood Lane and Midnight At The Library.

MEET AMBER

My name is Amber Jepsen and I’m a 15 year old student in Year 10. I’m currently completing my work experience with Dee White, which has been an amazing opportunity and has allowed me to develop in my writing.

I’m a keen writer myself, with a particular interest in creative writing and story telling. Writing has always been a passion of mine, writing my first children’s book at the age of 10 and publishing at 12.

I use writing as a way to unwind from my constantly busy life of being in senior years at high school, living on farm with many animals and being in a wheelchair. Whenever inspiration hits me from the world around, I find myself writing away.

AT THE END OF HOLYROOD LANE

Dimity Powell’s At The End Of Holyrood Lane depicts the beautiful story of a girl named Flick, who struggles to cope with the frequent storms that throws her world into darkness.

Alongside Nicky Johnston’s gorgeous watercolour illustrations, Powell captures the sheer vulnerability and isolation that children can experience when they feel as though they are no longer in control of the world around them.

The story explores the idea of facing our problems and seeking help when needed, one which we can all relate to at some point in our own lives. The simple imagery and evocative descriptions convey the central message that when you’re feeling helpless and insignificant, reaching out for help can make everything that little bit better.

At The End Of Holyrood Lane is written by Dimity Powell,  illustrated by Nicky Johnston, and published by EK Books, and is a wonderful read for all.

– Reviewed by Amber Jepsen

MIDNIGHT AT THE LIBRARY

Midnight At The Library by Ursula Dubosarsky tells the tale of a little book’s journey from being written and read and forgotten and lost.

Within this book, Dubosarsky has crafted a beautiful style of storytelling, one that lets the imagination run free as you follow the seemingly harsh lifecycle of a book.

With Ron Brook’s captivating illustrations, you find yourself lost within the story as a connection is built between yourself and the little book.

It really is a beautiful tale told through the perfect combination of visual and written storytelling. Midnight At The Library is written by Ursula Dubosarsky, illustrated by Ron Brooks and published by NLA Publishing. This is a tale that will not be forgotten.

– Reviewed by Amber Jepsen