Back in the Writing Seat

Logo_no_lamp_text_sampleThis blog has been sadly neglected In the last few months, but being involved in the organising of the KidLitVic2016 Meet The Publishers conference has taken up a huge slice of my time.

It was an inspiring event at which I got to connect with so many wonderful writers and illustrators and publishing professionals.

So here’s what happened. Alison Reynolds, Nicky Johnston, Jacquelyn Muller and I organised an event at the State Library of Victoria that was attended by 11 amazing publishers and one fabulous literary agent, and 160 wonderful authors and illustrators. Michael Wagner was our warm, funny and thoughtful panel moderator, Ian Robinson kept us entertained and informed as MC, and Coral Vass was a dynamic, very competent and welcome addition to our team on the day.

Thanks to our amazing faculty including:

Elise Jones Allen & Unwin
Maryann Ballantyne Black Dog Books/Walker
Suzanne O’Sullivan Hachette
Lisa Berryman HarperCollins
Marisa Pintado Hardie Grant Egmont
Jacinta di Mase Literary Agent
Michelle Madden Penguin
Kimberley Bennett Random House
Clare Hallifax Scholastic
Miriam Rosenbloom Scribble/Scribe
Jane Pearson Text Publishing
Melissa Keil The Five Mile Press

With writerly friends, Christina Booth and Sheryl Gwyther

To be honest the whole day was a whirl. There were four panels at which publishing professionals discussed picture books, illustrations, chapter and middle grade books and YA.

A highlight for me was meeting Clare Halifax, the wonderful publisher of my new book for kids aged 9+ due out next year.

I also loved hearing about what publishers were looking for and what authors and illustrators need to do in order to get noticed/published.

Thanks to my writerly friends, Bren MacDibble, Candice Lemon-Scott, Sheryl Gwyther and Kelly McDonald who took notes for me. So here are some tips from the conference:

Wonderful to finally meet Kelly McDonald.

Wonderful to finally meet Kelly McDonald.


  1. Humour, weird off-centre.
  2. Picture books with girl characters.
  3. Stories that tell a child something about themselves.
  4. Authors should find out what publishers are publishing and target those who best suit your work. This information can be found by looking at the books on a publisher’s website, in libraries and bookstores.
  5. 5-7 year old characters need to simply overcome an obstacle, but they must get more complex as character and readership get older.
  6. Be specific about the role of each character and what they are trying to achieve.
  7. Books where the author is in touch with their inner child.
  8. Always room for a good book, no matter what the trends.
  9. Voice is what hooks publishers and readers in.
  10. The story that you had to write … that comes from the heart. Not written to meet a ‘trend’.

Now that the conference is over, I’m right back into writing, and I’ll be posting regularly again.

If you were at the KidLitVIc2016 conference, feel free to share your tips and experiences in the comments section of this blog.

See you back here soon.

Happy writing:)






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

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

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

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

The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


1. Indulge in creativity and questioning

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

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

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

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

2. Go deep.

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

3. Let go of your grown-up self.

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

4. Have fun & never be boring.

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

5. Believe!

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

Food, Writer’s Groups and Inspiration From Cate Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cate Kennedy is an enthusiastic and inspiring presenter

Cate Kennedy is an enthusiastic and inspiring presenter.


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

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

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

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

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

Happy writing:)



Writing Competition for all ages

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

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

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

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

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

Judges feedback is provided for all entries.

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

More information is available at the CYA website.


Happy 2016

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

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

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

Our aim is to help people get published.

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

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

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

Our fabulous lineup of industry professionals includes:

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

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

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

You can find out more at our website.

Hope to meet you there:)


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

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

It’s now a reality!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kidlitvic Christmas flier

How Networking Helps You Get Published

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Ways Networking Has Helped Me

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

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

MORE ABOUT KidLitVic2016 Meet the Publishers 

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

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

Happy writing:)