FAUNA: Australia’s Most Curious Creatures – Tania McCartney shares creative secrets

One of the things I love most about being Australian is the amazing fauna we have in our country. Tania McCartney has captured all my favourites and more in her gorgeous new book, Fauna: Australia’s Most Curious Creatures.

“Did you know that platypus have retractable webbing on their hind feet to enable an easy transition from swimming to digging? That kangaroos can’t sweat and that the cassowary has no tongue?”

You’ll discover so many amazing facts about our incredible fauna in Tania’s new book.

As with all of her work, Tania is so detailed in her research that she uncovers the unknown and quirky details that I love.

This is not just a stunning book about Australian fauna, it’s also a book about conservation with Tania flagging species that are vulnerable and endangered; some of these will surprise you.

From koalas to crocodiles, and dugongs to Tasmanian devils there are so many fun and fascinating facts to devour.

There’s a lot to absorb, but kids will also enjoy the fun way in which these facts are presented with sections on drop bears, crocodile nosh, and the aerial acrobatics of the Sugar Glider, just to name a few.

I loved delving into all this amazing information, and poring over the gorgeous full colour, often humorous illustrations that add a whole new layer for readers to enjoy.

Fauna: Australia’s Most Curious Creatures is the kind of book you can take on holidays with the family to try and spot some curious fauna. It’s also a great classroom tool for talking about the fauna treasures we have in our country, and environment and species conservation.

It’s a book that takes the reader on an amazing journey of discovery, and inspires them to share what they have learned. Fauna: Australia’s Most Curious Creatures is published by the National Library of Australia and available where all good books are sold.

We’re so lucky that Tania’s joining us today to talk about how she created her beautiful new book.

Tania McCartney is an author, illustrator and editor of children’s books, with a particular passion for picture books. She has over 50 books in print or production, and recent books include Mamie(HarperCollins), Ivy Bird (Windy Hollow), I Heart the World (Hardie Grant Travel, Feb 2020), and junior fiction series Evie and Pog (HarperCollins, Feb 2020). The founder of Kids’ Book Review and The Happy Book podcast, Tania’s awards include several CBCA Notable books, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award and the CBCA Laurie Copping Award for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature. An ambassador for the Chief Minister’s Reading Challenge, Tania has lived in France, England and China, and currently lives in Canberra with her family, a forest of artwork and a mountain of books. 


1. What was the inspiration behind Fauna?
An animal book has been on my bucket list for a while, and during research for some of my other books, I found myself incessantly marvelling at the curiosities of our native fauna. I mean, we all know there’s lots of quirk when it comes to Australian animals, but I was finding more and more super cool facts I was pretty sure many kids (and adults) had not yet heard of.

I was also keen to produce a book that wasn’t a ‘typical’, traditional animal book. I wanted to create a book high on design and laid out in pockets of text that would enchant a broad range of kids—even reluctant readers and younger readers who are ready for ‘more’.

2. As an author/illustrator, did you write the text first and then do the illustrations or did you work on them simultaneously as you were doing the research?
I’m so lucky with the National Library. My publisher Susan Hall entrusts me with creating books in an organic way that fits my style of working. I find text and image a seamless dance, so I put most parts of Fauna together simultaneously.

I would research, write, sketch and play with shapes and form all at the same time. This meant I could create really balanced spreads. If I needed to fill a certain section, I could choose to create a new image or seek out another little fact or chart of diagram.

The book was edited from fully designed and laid-out spreads. Scientific editor Jeannette Birtles was a real trooper. She went through several rounds of spreads in this way and it worked out really well, as image was so tightly correlated with text, and both could be edited in tandem.

3. There is so much amazing detail in this book. Are you able to estimate how many hours you spent on researching and creating it?
That’s a hard question! I tend to work on several books at the same time, but Faunawas one of the rarities where I had to really focus. I’d say it took about 8 months of work in the proper sense—in that I was actively working in a solid way. But there were many times outside that active phase where I’d do further research, read, tweak, re-check, seek illustration inspiration, take photographs, make textures, etc. So perhaps the entire process was a year in the making.

4. Who is your favourite curious creature?
I have a bit of a soft spot for the dugong. Researching this beautiful creature was strangely calming, and I was particularly taken with how bonded babies and mums are. They’re just the sweetest of animals and have an extraordinary evolutionary history. I love monotremes, too—the echidna and the platypus. They have that special something—when you see one in the wild, you can’t breathe, they’re so beautiful. And both are living relics from our dinosaur past.

5. What was the hardest part about creating this book?
Creating Fauna was a joy, but probably the hardest thing was the toll on my body. The hours put into creating these illustrations … graphic design-style imagery may appear relatively ‘easy’ but it’s not. It’s a massive amount of detailed work, complete with many layers of texture and filters. The other challenging thing was the many (and necessary) rounds of edits with Jeannette. For a book like this, multiple rounds are vital. We want to get our facts straight, and science comes up with new facts almost daily! So, this was a laborious process, especially the cladogram at the end of the book. Worth it, though.

6. What did you enjoy most about creating it?
Discovering glorious facts. Learning more about our beautiful and unique fauna. Falling in love with animals all over again. Designing and laying out the book, and having the creative freedom to do so. That meant the world to me.

7. Fauna is fun, funny and fascinating, but there’s also a strong conservation thread. Why did you include this theme in your book?
As Earth’s ecosystems continue to falter, and as most of the world’s leaders continue to put profit and power before planet, we must seize any opportunity to further educate our children on conservation. These kids hold the planet’s future in their hands, and the love and care and concern they already show for nature is heartening. I hope Fauna can help impassion and inspire them further, in even the smallest way. That is, after all, what books are for.

Thanks for dropping by, Tania.

I loved your new book. I can see Fauna: Australia’s Most Curious Creatures making a great Christmas present for animal lovers of all ages.


Blabbermouth – books for anyone who has ever been in trouble for talking

I remember being in trouble for talking at school, often; especially in classes that didn’t involve creating stories or drawing.

That’s why I could relate so well to Chrissy Perry’s latest series for 7+ readers, Blabbermouth, published by Scholastic Australia.

I’m so thrilled that Chrissy is visiting my blog today to talk about how she wrote these fun and very entertaining books.

But first … about the books!


Amelie is the kind of kid you’d love to have in your friendship group. She’s funny, kind and wise. But like everyone, Amelie has her problems too. Amelie is bubbly, very bubbly, and sometimes things fly out her mouth without meaning to. The words are never meant to cause trouble but they do.

Nobody, even Amelie’s friends believe that she can keep her mouth shut, but Amelie is out to prove them wrong.

To do this, she takes on a secret identity requiring her to keep the darkest secrets and solve other kid’s problems in a thoughtful and unique way.

In the first book, ‘Blabbermouth – Oops, I’ve done it again!’ Amelie is ‘trying to help’ and accidentally divulges a friend’s secret. Her mouth also gets her into trouble when she’s seconded to the A-Grade netball team and involved in their strategy meetings.

In book two, Blabbermouth – Oops, I’ve told a little lie, Amelie has the most adorable thing to show the class, but she accidentally leads them to believe that it belongs to her.

Three of the girls in Amelie’s friendship group love her unconditionally, in spite of the messes her mouth gets her into. But one of them, Paris is Amelie’s frenemy – her friend one minute and turning on her the next. And if Amelie is caught out in her lie about the adorable thing, it could destroy their relationship forever.

There is so much to love about Amelie. She has many endearing qualities, and the trait the gets her into trouble the most is something that many kids her age would experience at some point – accidentally divulging a secret.

There’s so much to love about these books. They’re full of humour and cute and quirky drawings by Pete Petrovic, and Amelie is a problem solver with a mature self-awareness for a girl in Grade 5.

I really liked that her friendships are not smooth sailing because they are realistic and her experiences are very relatable.

The Blabbermouth Books are fast-faced fun with deeper underlying themes for readers aged 8+ and will help kids of all genders navigate the difficult road of friendship. The first two books in the series left me wanting more.


Chrissie Perry (who also writes as Chrissie Keighery) is the author of thirty-five books for Children and Young Adults, including thirteen in the popular Go Girl series and the award winning YA novel, Whisper.

Find out more about Chrissie at her website: https://chrissieperry.com/


  1. Where did the inspiration for Amelie’s character come from?

I had an idea that it could be fun to write about a clueless kid who has been given an Advice Column to run. Initially, I thought it might be called ‘Just Ask Ava’. As I developed her character, though, it became clear that her clunkiness is largely due to her lack of filter. It’s true for a lot of kids (and quite a few adults too!).  I really wanted this to be a fun, light hearted series, and Amelie Anderson seemed just the ticket.

  1. Did you have a frenemy at school? Does writing about them help?

Yes, in Primary School I totally did – thanks for asking! Her name was Melinda BLEEPand she gave me a very hard time. I think her biggest problem was that THE most popular girl liked to hang out with me. Melinda BLEEPwould belittle and humiliate me at every opportunity. I definitely thought about her when I was writing Paris Sheridan. The techniques she used to put me down finally came in handy! It was cathartic having Amelie stand in my place, as she’s so resilient and refuses to let Paris keep her down for long.

  1. Have you planned out the whole series or do you write each book as a new idea comes to you?

 A bit of both. There is a narrative arc that rides across the whole series, but each book can be read as a standalone. So, when ideas for a particular book became too congested, I’d keep some for another book. In general, though, each book is driven by a couple of threads with a strong relationship to the title.

  1. What did you love most about writing these books?

Amelie made me laugh. She’s very unlike me. I’m pretty sensitive, but our dear gal is resilient. So, through all her trials and tribulations, I knew she would be okay. I love the subsidiary characters too (except Paris, but even she has reasons why she is who she is) and whenever I got to see Pete’s renditions of them I felt utterly delighted.

  1. What was the hardest thing about writing them?

Sometimes figuring out how the problems Amelie has to answer in her Advice Column could play into her life experiences and make her more emotionally intelligent were tricky to manoeuvre. Of course, the links had to appear seamless – and there’s often a lot of paddling below the surface to make that happen.

  1. What do you want readers to take away from them?

First and foremost, I want readers to have fun with this series. The take away is that they may start to consider notions of kindness, empathy and inclusiveness along the way. That’s quite a lofty goal – but I just mean baby steps towards these qualities.

Thanks for dropping in, Chrissie. It was so great to chat with you and read your books.

If you had a frenemy at school or was in trouble for talking a lot, we’d love to hear your stories in the comments section of this post. If you have a question for Chrissie about her books, you can include that in the comments too.

When and Where to find a literary agent

I honestly believe that the best way to find a literary agent is to go to a conference or somewhere you’ll have the opportunity to meet them in person. That way you can both use your instincts to decide whether you like each other and could work together.

Conferences often offer the opportunity to have one-on-one assessments with an agent so you can get feedback on what you write.

Of course it’s not always possible to go to conferences or events to meet agents, but these days there are some great opportunities that exist online through places like:


  1. Twitter – If you type #MSWL in the search box, you’ll find a thread called Manuscript Wish List where publishers and agents post what kinds of manuscripts they are looking for.   Manuscript Wish List also has a website where opportunities are posted too, and they run Man
    uscript Wish List Academy.
  2. Type in the #MSWLMA hashtag on Twitter to find Manuscript Wish List Academy Manuscript Wish List Academy runs an online conference with opportunities to pitch to agents. They offer sessions like ‘10 minutes with an expert’, writing classes, writing critiques and writing consultations.
  3. #PitMad – ‘#PitMad is a pitch party on Twitter where writers tweet a 280-character pitch for their completed, polished, unpublished manuscripts. Agents and editors make requests by liking/favoriting the tweeted pitch. Every unagented writer is welcome to pitch.’
  4. Pitchfest – Savvy Authors – opportunities to pitch to agents and editors.


  1. Query Tracker – https://querytracker.net- provides information to help you find a literary agent. They have over 1500 listings with information about each agent – and the opportunity to track your query. 
  2. Publishers Market Place https://www.publishersmarketplace.com is ‘the biggest and best dedicated marketplace for publishing professionals built on the foundation of Publishers Lunch, read by 40,000 industry insiders and considered “publishing’s essential daily read”.’


  1. Writers and Artists Yearbook UK https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/writers-artists-yearbook-2020-9781472947512/ ‘an up-to-date directory of thousands of contacts for the book publishing industry including almost 400 Literary agents.’
  2. Guide to Literary Agents 2019 –  by Robert Lee Brewer – ‘Guide to Literary Agents 2019 is your go-to resource for finding that literary agent and earning a contract from a reputable publisher. Along with listing information for more than 1,000 agents who represent writers and their book’ https://www.amazon.com/Robert-Lee-Brewer/e/B002GO21SC/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
  3. SCBWI – https://www.scbwi.org The Book: The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children – Agents Directory – available to download f
  4. ree from SCBWI members.
  5. There are Facebook Groups like Sub it Club where authors and illustrators offer information and support to others who are looking for an agent. ‘Sub It Club is a support group for writers and illustrators who are submitting (or thinking about submitting) their work. Writers of any genre are welcome to join us. We talk submissions, critique query letters, help each other with pitches, share tips, and more.’  There’s also KidLit411 run by the founders of www.Kidlit411.com where they have an agent spotlight.
  6. Literary Rambles http://www.literaryrambles.com A blog spotlighting Children’s Book Authors, Agents and Publishing. Does interviews with agents about what they are looking for and books they have represented.


Of course this is different for everyone, but I’ve found that it’s something that shouldn’t be rushed into. When your work sings, when your characters leap off the page, when you have an amazing story concept that you can sum up in a single paragraph, that’s when I would go looking for an agent.

You only get one chance. If you submit a manuscript that’s far from ready, an agent is unlikely to invite you to resubmit.  Revise, revise, wait, revise, revise, revise then submit. Don’t waste your opportunities!

This concludes the ‘Choosing an Agent’ series. I hope you’ve found these posts helpful.

Please feel free to share your experiences, tips and questions in the comments section of this post.

Good luck finding your dream agent.


Choosing the right literary agent part 2 – international vs local agent


I’ve had an Australian agent, an international agent, and no agent at all (my current position). I’m still considering what’s best for my career.

I’m open to the possibilities of another agent, but there are so many things to consider. For me, I’ve realised that it’s not about finding an agent to put me on the New York bestseller list, although I wouldn’t knock it back of course. Like any author I want to earn enough to pay the bills and be able to eat, but you need to have realistic expectations about what an agent can achieve for you.

I write a LOT of words … a LOT! In fact, I have filing cabinets and boxes full of manuscripts in many different genre. A lot of these manuscripts are what I call my practice works … the manuscripts that have helped me to become a better writer. But there are a number of them that feel ‘right’ to me and although they require varying degrees of revising, some are close to my heart and I’d love to see them published.

So first and foremost, if I choose to work with another agent it will have to be someone who genuinely loves my work and wants to nurture my career, someone I can discuss this unruly collection of potential book babies with, someone who I can run an idea or a first draft past. It has to be someone who’s happy to advise, ‘Hmmm don’t waste your time, nobody will publish that,’ or if I’m lucky, ‘I know just the right publisher.’ 


When I got my US agent I thought I was ‘on my way’, but publishing is complex and the US, UK, and Australian markets are so different. And what works for one market won’t necessarily work for another one.

For me, going through a US agent meant that I lost money on works published in Australia. Some publishers (not all) won’t separate payments between an author and an agent. So my payments from my Australian publisher went to my US agent who converted them to US dollars and then sent them back to me in Australia where I had to convert them back to Australian money again. I lost out by having my money twice converted. This is just something to be aware of, and perhaps check with your publisher in the contract stages.

An international agent who doesn’t understand that the Australian market is way smaller, might also try and negotiate an impossibly high advance that an Australian publisher can’t afford to pay and this can delay the contract and put the publisher offside.

Some people have an Australian agent (who understands the Australian market) and a US or UK agent (who understands the US or UK market) and this seems like a really good combination to me. Of course, getting one agent is hard enough, let alone two.

Getting an international agent and having your book published overseas first is great, but it can restrict your income earning potential in Australia. A book being published by a major international publisher doesn’t guarantee that it will be published in Australia. It might mean that it’s distributed it here, but not published. This limits your opportunities for ELR and PLR earnings and means that your book, if not published in Australia, might not be eligible for Australian literary awards.

What I’ve learnt in the agent search journey is:

  1. An agent has to love your work.
  2. An agent has to have an affinity with you as a person and an understanding of what writing means to you, and the shape you want your career to take.
  3. An agent has to understand the market that you’re writing for in terms of both genre and location.
  4. You need to know why you want an agent.
  5. You need to have realistic expectations of your agent based on these wants. With the best will in the world an agent can’t guarantee to get your debut novel (or any novel) on the New York Times bestseller list.
  6. If you’re working with a publisher you value, you need an agent who can work well with them.
  7. You won’t necessarily have the same agent for your entire writing life.  Don’t stress about it. The needs of both writers and agents change.

These are the things to consider when exploring opportunities at home and in the international market. Weigh up your options and decide what’s best for you.

In my third post, WHERE TO FIND AN AGENT, I’ll provide tips and actual and virtual places to find an agent.

Please feel free to share your experiences, tips and questions in the comments section of this post.


In case you missed last week’s post about Choosing a Literary agent, here’s the link.

Choosing the right literary agent -Part 1


In 2011, I went to a SCBWI Conference in LA, hoping to find an international literary agent. Before I went, I thought that I’d pretty much say, ‘Yes’, to any reputable agent who wanted to represent me – after all, opportunities like that don’t come an author’s way too often.

But in LA, where there seemed to be as many agents as kangaroos in Australia, it made me realise that agents come in so many forms and personalities – they’re not ‘one size fits all’.

‘In LA, where there seemed to be as many agents as kangaroos in Australia’ Photo by Alex Proimos/Flickr

I discovered that I didn’t just want any agent – I needed an agent who would push me to be a better writer. I needed an agent who would nurture my career. I needed an agent who had a proven track record in actually selling the kind of books I wrote. But above all, I needed an agent I felt comfortable with – one I could brainstorm with, one I could talk to about my vision for my book. I realised I needed an agent I could feel comfortable crying in front of (if I felt the need).

Choosing an agent was a lot more complex than I first thought. I didn’t want a cool trendy agent (I’m not cool and trendy), nor did I want one that had 40 bestselling authors on their list so they wouldn’t have time for me. I certainly didn’t want one who reminded me of my old headmaster and made me feel like I was ten years old again.

SCBWI LA 2011 with Sarah Davis, Susanne Gervay and Lesley Vamos

So I decided that the agent I was looking for must be warm and wise, must love my writing, and like me for who I was.

Meeting the agents in person in LA gave me a great opportunity to find out what I needed to know to help me make my decision.


If you’re lucky enough to be offered representation by a literary agent, here are some questions you can ask to help you decide whether they are the right agent for you.

  1. How many clients do you represent? (If they have too many, they might not have time for you.)
  2. How many books have you sold in the last twelve months?
  3. Do you offer editorial feedback? This is important for me but might not be important to you.
  4. Do you already have a publisher in mind for my book?
  5. Do you represent all the genres I write in?
  6. Do you have international contacts?
  7. How regularly do you correspond with your clients and is this done by email, phone etc?
  8. Will you let me know where and when you submit my work?
  9. Will you forward on rejection letters to me?
  10. Are you a member of an industry organisation like The Australian Literary Agents’ Association?
  11. Can you provide references from your clients?
  12. If you’re not Australian, do you have connections in Australia so you can help me get my work published in my home country?

These are just some of the things I felt I needed to know about a potential agent.

You probably have your own questions. Literary Agent, Rachelle Gardner’s blog has a very comprehensive list of questions to ask an agent.

In next Tuesday’s post – FINDING A LITERARY AGENT PART 2 – EXPLORING YOUR OPTIONS, I’m discussing some pros and cons, and factors to consider when choosing your agent.

If you are looking for an agent, good luck with your quest. Remember that a literary agent is a very individual choice – try and find the agent who suits you both as a writer and a person.

Please feel free to share your experiences, tips and questions in the comments section of this post.




Creating Compelling Characters and Writing Dual Narratives

I read an amazing book recently. It’s called Sick Bay and it’s a middle grade contemporary novel by Australian author, Nova Weetman. Sick Bay was published by UQP in June this year.  When  you  read  this  book  you  feel  like  the  characters  are  real  people  telling  you  their  story.

Meg uses Sick Bay to hide from other kids. She’s struggling with changes at home, wears slippers to school and buries her head in books.

New girl Riley is a type 1 diabetic with an over-protective mother. She’d rather chat with her friends than go to Sick Bay, but sometimes she has no choice.

They think they’ve worked each other out, but what if they’ve got it all wrong?

On the brink of high school, Meg and Riley need a place where they can find the courage to be themselves.


From Nova’s website: – I write books, as well as articles, tv shows and the odd shopping list. I eat a lot of chocolate when I’m writing. And spend way too much time hanging out in op shops trying to find a bargain, or looking through old recipes for something yummy to cook. I think they call it procrastination.

Apart from Sick Bay, Nova’s books include Every Thing is Changed, The Secrets We Keep, The Secrets We Share, Frankie and Joely, The Haunting of Lily Frost, and the Choose Ever After series.


One of the most remarkable things about Sick Bay is that it’s written from two points of view and the characters are so well crafted that there is never any confusion about who’s ‘talking’ or whose part of the story we’re reading. We care deeply about both Meg and Riley right from the start.

Voice is such a difficult thing to master and Nova does it with two characters in the same book. Sick Bay reads as if Nova knows Meg and Riley as well as she knows her own children.

To me, knowing your characters is the secret to making them engaging and to ensure that they stand out from each other. Right from the start, the reader needs to feel as if they know these people. They need to see the character’s vulnerabilities and find them interesting. The reader needs to care about what happens to the character/s, to be so invested in their journey that they will follow it right to the end of the book.

Without telling or using info dumps, Nova hooks us into her characters and their lives straight away. It’s in the small detail, the things that make Meg and Riley unique. Here’s what I mean. In the first two chapters of Sick Bay, this is what we find out about each of the characters … and all this through their actions, thoughts and interactions:


  1. Doesn’t have many friends – best friend is a paper bag – sets her apart from other girl’s her age … establishes straight away that she’s dealing with something difficult.
  2. This is not the first paper bag she has used so we know this is an ongoing situation
  3. Attachment to bags and unwillingness to throw them out … she is looking for someone or something to love.
  4. Used to have a best friend who ditched her for ‘normal’ friends … makes us wonder what’s wrong with Meg. What happened to the friendship? Why did it break down?
  5. We are already feeling sympathy for Meg because she has a problem and has been abandoned by her best friend – but she is funny and eloquent  and lacking self-pity
  6. Spends a lot of time in sick bay and teachers let her so they must know something about her that makes them feel empathy for her.
  7. Office lady Sarah feeds her … so either she is poor or she has an eating disorder.
  8. No mention of parents but the teachers seem to have a protective attitude towards her so the reader wonders what the story of her family life is.
  9. Sick Bay is far from a hotel room so there must be some reason Meg she likes to hang out there instead of the classroom or the schoolyard.
  10. Meg spends a lot of time there but doesn’t appear to actually be sick.
  11. She is wearing her slippers to school, but we know that it’s not by choice.
  12. Usually brings her book to sick bay so we know she reads a lot.
  13. Meets Riley who actually appears to be sick.
  14. When Riley asks what she’s doing here, Meg jokes to cover up … defence mechanism.
  15. Meg is clearly very hungry.
  16. Meg wonders what is wrong with Riley.
  17. Meg Quotes things from books.
  18. She is the best writer in grade 6

Already Meg has many unique characteristics and habits that make her stand out.


  1. Has some illness requiring regular testing, but we don’t yet know what it is.
  2. A boy has a crush on her but she doesn’t reciprocate so she has enough self-awareness and confidence not to be influenced in by it. In fact she hates the assumption that she should be flattered by the unwanted attention.
  3. Riley carries an insulin pump around her waist and is self-conscious about. So we realise she’s diabetic, but there are clues planted before this is stated.
  4. Trying to concentrate on teacher but her friend Lina wants to talk about boys. So Riley appears to be more interested in school than her friends.
  5. Her friends are made about boys but she’s not interested in them.
  6. She is not conventional either … that’s something she has in common with Meg.
  7. Likes the year coordinator so doesn’t see teachers as the enemy … another thing in common with Meg.
  8. She is asked to make a speech at graduation and wonders why she was chosen … very aware of people picking her for things because she’s diabetic.
  9. Has only been at the school for a year.
  10. Doesn’t understand why such a big deal is being made of grade 6 graduation.
  11. Tells teacher she is fine about moving on to high school but really she’s petrified. So she isn’t always honest about what she’s feeling.
  12. She is going to public high school but friends are going to private one. She doesn’t seem upset about this. Hint that friendships aren’t perfect.
  13. Parents are big part of Riley’s life – strict/protective – focus on bedtime and carb count. Contrast to Meg’s who aren’t mentioned
  14. Has diabetes and hates having to explain about it all the time.
  15. Meg has been asked to make graduation speech too. Riley sees that Meg is even more suspicious about why she has been asked to make a speech.
  16. Riley wonders what’s in Meg’s brown bag.
  17. Riley likes Meg’s honesty about not wanting to make the speech.
  18. Riley is in a friendship group of four. She lies to her friends about her diabetes so perhaps they’re not true friends.
  19. She is supposed to check her blood glucose levels before she eats but doesn’t always do it.
  20. Doesn’t like being in the sick bay.
  21. Doesn’t like doing tests in front of her friends.
  22. Self-conscious about diabetes and people judging her for it.
  23. Hates friends treating her as if she is one of their patients.
  24. Riley’s diabetes is life threatening.
  25. Mum is a psychologist
  26. Riley thinks of her body in two halves – body bits that are tested, bits that aren’t – bits that are normal. Indicates that what she wants most is to be normal.

Riley is part of the ‘cool crowd’ but has her own issues too.


  1. To create an engaging character you need to know them as well as if they were a real person.
  2. To connect with readers straight away, your character needs to be  vulnerable and yet speak with some authority – they must have credibility for the reader.
  3. It’s the small detail that makes a character unique and tells us about their internal and external conflicts. For example, Meg wearing slippers to school. This is something physically memorable about her but it also hints at internal and external conflicts. Something is not quite right in her life. Twelve year-old kids don’t normally wear slippers to school.
  4. Look for differences and similarities with your characters. Common ground is what forms friendships and relationships. Differences cause conflict.
  5. What does your character need and want … think of needs that might be unique to them? Specifics will make your character stand out.
  6. To create a dual narrative that works, your characters have to stand out. With Meg and Riley, they stand apart from each other because of their needs, their characteristics, their life circumstances, their family backgrounds, their view of the world.

If you’re thinking of writing a dual narrative contemporary MG fiction, I highly recommend you read Sick Bay.

Feel free to share other books you’ve read that have helped you hone your writing craft.

Happy writing 🙂





Trust Me I’m Dead – Tuesday Crime Writing Tips With Sherryl Clark


Sherryl Clark’s first venture into crime writing, Trust Me I’m Dead was shortlisted for the prestigious Crime Writers Association UK Debut Dagger Award for a new writer, and after reading it, I’m not surprised. It’s a cracking read full of clever characters and plot twists that keep you guessing till the end.

Sherryl’s here to chat about the book and share some writing tips.


Sherryl Clark has been reading and writing crime fiction for many years. Her early crime novels are now all in the bottom drawer, and in 1996 she began writing books for children and young adults, resulting in more than 70 titles published by Penguin Random House, UQP, HarperCollins, Pearson and Macmillan Education. Her books for young readers have won awards and been published overseas. Her middle grade crime novel, Dying to Tell Me, was published in the USA by KaneMiller and was a VOYA Top Shelf pick.

She continued to write adult crime fiction for her own enjoyment, and entered her novel, Trust Me, I’m Dead in the 2018 CWA Debut Dagger Awards. She was delighted to be shortlisted. This has led to a two-book deal with UK publisher, Verve Books. The sequel to Trust Me, I’m Dead is tentatively titled Dead and Gone, and will be out in 2020.



What was the inspiration behind your new book?

A long time ago I read an article that had a little snippet in it about a man who had died and left behind a tape recording that was a huge surprise to his family. It was the little spark that kept nagging at me as an idea, and the novel grew from there (into something a bit different). I know I kept that article, and one day I’ll find it! As is the way with these things, I suspect it won’t be what I remember, but it did get me going. The character of Judi just grew and grew, but I can see bits of her in old short stories I have written.


You’re best known for your children’s and YA books, what made you decide to write a murder mystery?

I have always loved reading crime fiction and that goes back to my teenage years. I’ve actually been writing crime for much longer than the children’s books. My first attempt at a novel was crime, and so was my second. The first was truly terrible; the second was a bit better but I received a lot of rejections for it. However, the character in the second one reappeared in a couple of short stories that were published. That’s the kind of thing that keeps you going. My middle grade murder mystery, “Dying to Tell Me”, was the result of wanting to write another crime novel but for a younger audience. I wrote the first draft of “Trust Me, I’m Dead” back in 2008-09, and revised quite a few times, and even started a sequel in 2014. And now here I am!


Did you plot, Trust Me I’m Dead€™ in the same way you’€™d plot one of your children’€™s or YA novels? If not, what was different about the process?

I’m not a great outliner, I’m afraid. If I do anything, I diagram the plot and subplots. But with this novel, it grew from something fairly basic and probably way too short, and each revision added more words and layers, so it was more organic. In my children’s novels I can throw too many threads in, and then have to weed some of them out. With the adult novel, as long as I kept notes on the threads (my “bible”) and drew a good timeline, I could keep better control of all the ins and outs, and how well I was hiding the solution. I find the red herrings most often come from characters making mistakes, or making assumptions, like we all do, rather than anything tricky I can come up with! The follow up novel (called “Dead and Gone” at the moment) needed a lot more notes and diagrams, I found. With each book, I also now have to keep track of what has happened before. It can be so easy to accidentally change someone’s name, or something in the setting or description.


How long did Trust Me I’m Dead take to write from initial idea to publication?

Eleven years! Although in that time I have written quite a few children’s and YA novels, so it hasn’t been a constant eleven years. Over that time I’ve had several lots of feedback from people, including one I paid for which was quite disheartening, but each lot of comments did contribute to another solid revision. The editors at Verve have been great, too, and with their feedback I trimmed about 5000 words which really helped to tighten the pacing.


What have you enjoyed most about writing this book?

Writing the character of Judi, and seeing her develop and grow. And now the book is out there, I’ve just loved readers’ responses to her. I hoped they would like her and feel for her, despite her tough exterior, and it seems that they do. She’ll never be mushy, that’s for sure. I’ve just received feedback from a writer friend to the follow up novel, and am really pleased with her comments on Judi – now I’m thinking about my ideas for Book 3 and making notes.


What are your top 2 tips for would-be crime writers?

One is research. Invest in good resources and spend plenty of time to get the details right. I have half a dozen really good books now (some recommended by other crime writers), and there is so much on YouTube that’s helpful. But I’ve also now done a certificate course in crime scene investigation and forensic medicine, which filled everything out and was so valuable to me. The other would be spend as much time on your characters as you do on your plot. Plot can be strengthened and holes can be fixed, but a strong central character and supporting cast make a huge difference to whether you’ll be asked for more novels after the first one.


Judi Westerholme hasn’t seen her addict brother for four years and now he’s been murdered. Judie is devastated, but not surprised. She knew that Andy mixed with some pretty seedy people.

What shocks her are the discoveries that her brother had been clean for years and now has a two-year-old daughter. After a traumatic upbringing, Judi’s never had the urge to be a mum. In fact, having been raised by an abusive father and complicit mother, she doesn’t like to get close to anyone.

She’s even more shocked to discover that Andy’s wife is missing and that her brother appointed Judi, the older sister he was once close to, as guardian for two year-old …

Judi wants to know who’s responsible for her brother’s death, but she doesn’t expect that returning to Melbourne where he lived is going to land her in the middle of a gangland war. Andy has left her a bizarre set of clues to follow and if she doesn’t solve the puzzle fast, Judi and … could end up dead.

Trust Me I’m Deadis a full of suspense and action. But it’s not just the physical conflicts that draw you in. Judi, the main character is facing an emotional crisis as well. She feels she owes it to Andy to find his killer and ensure his child’s safety, but this forces her to delve into a past she’d rather forget. Then there’s the enigmatic policeman … who threatens to break down emotional walls that she has worked hard to build up over time.

Sherryl Clark sets up a world that’s very relatable. She uses insightful detail to ground us in the world of her characters and their story. The nuanced characters, clever plot, masterful suspense and hint of romance make Trust Me I’m Deada book that I found hard to put down.


Trust Me I’m Dead is published by Verve Books UK and the e-book is available on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo and Nook. Print copies can be purchased from the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville or direct from the author sherrylc1 at optusnet.com.au. Her websites are https://sherrylclarkcrimewriter.com and https://sherrylclark.com