HAYWIRE by Claire Saxby + Some Writing Secrets

Today, the wonderful and talented Claire Saxby is visiting DeeScribe Writing to talk about her first historical fiction, Haywire, published by Scholastic Australia and she’s sharing some secrets about her writing process.

Claire  writes award-winning fiction, non-fiction and poetry for children. Her books include ‘Bird to Bird’ and ‘Dingo’, ‘Seadog’ and ‘There Was an Old Sailor’. Her books and poetry are published in Australia and internationally.


In 1939, 14-year-old Tom lives in Hay where his family runs the local bakery. Max Gruber is nearly fourteen-years-old. He is sent to his Uncle Ferdy in London, but is then interred and shipped to Australia aboard the Dunera. He arrives in Hay and meets Tom. The two boys become friends and find their lives and their friendship influenced by a far-away conflict in Europe. (from the publisher – Scholastic Australia)

Born on opposite sides of the world, Tom and Max live very different lives that both long to escape. In this compelling tale of an unlikely friendship, the two boys have been brought together by war.

Max’s frightening voyage on the Dunera keeps us spell bound and even once he arrives in Australia, life doesn’t get much easier for him after he finds himself in the Hay internment camp, shunned by most of the outside world as an ‘enemy alien’.

In her novel, HAYWIRE, Claire Saxby documents a little known passage of the Australian WW11 experience.

Tom and Max are both well crafted and relatable characters and readers can connect with their vulnerabilities and the fear and uncertainty that war brings.

Tom’s family life is authentically Australian and rich in the detail and experiences of the time in which the story is set.

Although HAYWIRE is set in a time of great tragedy and fear, we are left with hope and a belief that life for both Tom and Max will turn out okay in spite of the situation and war that their countries have thrust them into.

This well researched work of historical fiction is for readers aged 9 to 12 and has been shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Young People’s History Prize. Congratulations Claire.


  1. What inspired you to write this book?

I knew about the Dunera, the ship that brought so many internees to Australia in 1940, but I didn’t know much. I did know that a substantial number of the internees elected to stay in Australia rather than return to England once the British government acknowledged their wrongful internment. I did know that this was an extraordinary group of men, who contributed enormously to Australia. But I knew nothing about how they came to be in Hay and what the locals thought. And I wanted to.

  1. Who/what inspired the characters of Tom and Max?

Max came first. I had this sense of a teenage boy picked up by a tidal wave and swept from his world to the world of war, where he is judged purely by his heritage, his accent. No one asked how he felt, what he wanted. And the size of the wave that carried him on allowed little time for him to even consider more than surviving. Until he reaches Hay. Tom’s life looks simple in comparison, but he too is caught up in the war at home and it tears at his life, his security too. He, like Max, has little time to really process what’s going on, and what he really wants. I wanted to show that the quiet ones are as ripped apart by war as those who shout loudly.

  1. Can you talk us through the research process?

Research took a very long time and continued throughout writing and redrafting! There were two main reasons for this. The first is that it’s all fascinating and it’s so easy to disappear down paths that may well lead to more interesting information, but which don’t necessarily contribute directly to the novel. The second reason is because in order to represent both 1939/1940 Europe and Hay, NSW accurately I needed to know so much! I needed the timeline to WWII in Germany and England, in Australia in general, and Hay in particular. Then I needed to know what life was like in Hay at the time (and that involved spending a lot – A LOT – of time on Trove, reading the twice-weekly regional newspaper.

Each reading exposed holes in my knowledge and let to more research. I thought I’d done enough research and was somewhere in the middle of drafting (tenth draft?) when I had the chance to visit Hay (It’s on the way from Melbourne to Canberra, right?). Much of what I’d researched was right, but there were several fundamental errors on my part – and each of those meant that if I wanted the story to be as close to real as I could make it, I needed to rewrite a number of key scenes. Aggh! But ultimately it was worth it.

  1. What Surprising Things Did you discover through the research process?

So many. There were so many things that I just hadn’t thought about, eg why did they chose Hay for the internment camps? (criteria included being far from the coast, having transport access, being built on sand to prevent escape attempts). Surprises were big and small and ranged from fathers being rounded up for internment in England, even when sons were employed by the army (and vice versa) to the camp having their own currency.

I met a man who had been a child at the time the internees arrived and he told me that there’d been Gatling guns set up inside the station, trained on the disembarking men. The same man told me about his father setting up on the chimney of their house, armed with several weapons and prepared to shoot if any of the men appeared on the street. Another surprise was that around 20 % of the internees were under 20 years-old.

  1. Writing tips

Claire’s latest release, Kookaburra

I use an A4 workbook for my research, in addition to online research. I write notes in it, on only one side of the page, with reference notes (reference book details and page number or online reference details etc). Sometimes I print out pages too, glue them in and highlight relevant information.

Don’t have too many characters. After writing mostly picture books, I thought, here is my chance to have lots of characters, and it is, but beware of having so many that it becomes confusing. Tom had many more siblings, reflecting family sizes of the time, but not all of them had enough of a role to justify their existence. Some had to go.

Research broadly, from multiple sources. Trove was a … treasure trove! It allowed me access to several regional newspapers, each with their own focus. All were helpful. The internet is wonderful and so are books. Each provides some of the same information, which is useful for corroboration, but each also provides different information, which helps to flesh out the historical world I was entering.

You can find out more about Claire and her work at https://clairesaxby.wordpress.com/





Withering-By-Sea – Writer/Illustrator Jude Rossell Shares Her Tips

Judith Rossell photoJudith Rossell is the author-illustrator of  Withering-By-Sea, a truly beautiful book set in Victorian times and presented in hardback with stunning illustrations and a royal blue ribbon bookmark.

It was part of hotly contested auction in the US, and sold in a lucrative two-book deal to Simon and Schuster America.

Jude is the author of 11 books and illustrator of 80 more, and a colleague and friend, and I’m thrilled to welcome her to my blog to share her writing and illustrating tips, and more about her new book.

 Jude’s Tips

  1. It’s going to be difficult. That’s ok. Keep going.
  2. Ignore that voice in your head that tells you it’s too hard, or that you’re not good enough, or that you should be scrubbing out the shower instead. Whatever it’s saying, it’s not helping. But at the same time, be tough on yourself, and always look for ways to make your writing better. Keep going.
  3. If you’re mainly an illustrator, avoid writing scenes only because you want to illustrate them. The characters and the story should always come first! Also, I’ve found that making little drawings of characters and scenes along the way is helpful and inspiring. And keep going!
  4. Sometimes you’ll find you want to completely rewrite whole sections of your story, and you’re resisting because it took so long to write in the first place. Remember: if in doubt, chuck it out. Probably. And keep going.
  5. When you finally get to the end, you’ll want to send it off straight away. If you can make yourself wait for a few weeks (or a bit longer) and come back to the story, you’ll find heaps of things you want to change. And this will make your story better.


withering front coverWithering-By-Sea is a beautifully illustrated junior novel that lovers of intrigue and adventure will not be able to put down.

Eleven-year-old Stella Montgomery leads a miserable existence with her three awful aunts, Aunt Condolence, Aunt Temperance and Aunt Deliverance, living at the damp and dull Hotel Majestic.

But things become far from dull when Stella witnesses a murder.

This sets in motion an adventure more terrifying and more wonderful than she could ever have hoped for.

What’s in the bottle that Mr Filbert hid before he was killed and why does the Professor want it so badly?

Will he find out that Stella now has it, and come after her?

Of course he will, and that’s where the action for Stella really starts.

There’s so much to love about Withering-by-Sea apart from the great tension and fast paced action.

Stella is a very likeable character. Readers will have sympathy for her circumstances, but will also admire the courage with which she tackles her unexpected adventure, and the fact that witnessing the murder and prior events, have put her life in danger.

She is a smart and very level-headed young woman who struggles to cope with her aunts’ attitude that ‘children should be seen and not heard.’

Withering-by-Sea is a dreary coastal town, but this story is far from dreary. The town provides a perfect setting for intrigue, adventure and betrayal.

Set in Victorian times, this book is full of atmosphere, enhanced by author/illustrator Jude Rossell’s gorgeously detailed pictures.

There are so many great characters for readers to connect with apart from Stella. There’s feisty Gert who is captured along with Stella, the evil Professor, and clever Mr Capelli and his singing cats.

Withering-by-Sea is an historical adventure with a hint of magic. There’s also gentle humour, and authentic and endearing relationships between Stella and Gert, and Stella and Mr Capelli and his cats.

I’d love to see these characters featured in future Stella Montgomery intrigues.

Withering-by-Sea is a book of substance – it’s entertaining and hard to put down but there is also some complex exploration of relationships, and the vulnerability of children and their openness to things that adults often close their minds to.

While this mystery comes to a satisfactory conclusion, the reader is left with unanswered questions that will make them want to pick up the next Stella Montgomery book. For instance, who was Stella’s mother and what really happened to her, and how did Stella end up living with the dreadful aunts? Stella also has a special ability that she must have inherited from someone.

I can’t wait to read what Stella does next.

It’s easy to see why Withering-by-Sea was so sought after when it went to auction in the US.

It is published in Australia by ABC Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Judith Rossell is represented by Jill Corcoran Literary Agent. You can find out more about Jude and her works here.




Lucas And Jack & Writing Tips with Ellie Royce

Ellie Royce has been telling stories her whole life. This resulted in some problems in her early days, notably at age five when she told her grandmother she had flown around the world on a broom.

Eventually Ellie learned to use her powers for good instead of evil and the result is a passion for writing books and sharing stories of all kinds.

Ellie RoyceEllie is the author of two books for teens, Letterbook One – Amy’s Secret and Letterbook Two – Passion for Fashion.

Lucas and Jack is her first picture book.

Ellie lives in Northern NSW with a little dog, a big dog, a second hand cat and her human family.


1. Write. Don’t wait “Till ……”  just write.
2. Write what you love.
3. Be flexible. There is more than one way to tell a story. If one way doesn’t work, try a different way!
4. Sometimes we run out of steam. When this happens, do what you need to fill the well, inspire yourself and feed your soul; walk outside, read,whatever it may be.
5. Then…..write!


Every week Lucas’s mum visits Great Grandpop at the nursing home.

And every week, Lucas waits for her outside.

Waiting is boring! Until Lucas meets Jack.

lucasAndJackLucas and Jack is a sensitive story about bridging the cap between generations.

I love the way that Lucas changes during the course of the story from a boy who is bored with visiting ‘old people’ to someone who can sees them not just as ‘old’, but as people with their own feelings and stories to tell – people who were young once and did things that Lucas can relate to.

There is a strong message in this story that is passed down to the reader in a gentle and inspiring way without them feeling like they are being ‘told’ what to think or they are being talked down to.

As well as revisiting the past through Jack’s eyes, Lucas is also able to find a way to connect with his Pop on a whole new level.

I love the authenticity of the characters in this book, and the way they become even more real for the reader through Andrew McLean’s wonderful illustrations.

There is so much emotion and life in his beautiful pictures.

Lucas and Jack is a wonderful book for families to share. It would also be a great introduction to living history in the classroom.

Lucas and Jack is written by Ellie Royce, illustrated by Andrew McLean and published by Working Title Press.

Teacher’s notes are available here.




Today, acclaimed poet and author, Stephen Whiteside shares his secrets on writing rhyming verse.

Tips for Writing Rhyming Verse by Stephen Whiteside

Stephen_WhitesideWhen I was young, my father introduced me to the poetry of Banjo Paterson. Later, I discovered the poetry of C. J. Dennis. Both of these poets write rhyming verse or, as it is sometimes called, ‘bush verse’.

This comes from the idea that these poems were often recited from memory ‘around the campfire’ in the days when there were no computers, radios or TVs, and newspapers were few and far between. Bush dwellers, like shearers and drovers, had to make their own fun. Even a guitar was too bulky to take on a long trek ‘outback’.

Bush verse often tells stories. The wordplay of the rhyme is great fun, but the poetry is about much more than the rhyme – it also about the ‘metre’, or rhythm. In fact, this is even more important than the rhyme.

Here are some tips to writing rhyming verse.
1. Read some examples of classical ‘bush verse’ to familiarise yourself with the genre. Some classic ‘Banjo’ Paterson poems can be found here and here. A very famous poem by C. J. Dennis can be found here:

  1. Give some thought to the rhyming pattern that you want. The rhyme that stands at the end of the first line is traditionally called ‘A’, because that is the first letter in the alphabet. If the end of the second line rhymes with the end of the first line, it is also designated ‘A’. If not, it is designated ‘B’. AABB is probably the most common rhyming scheme employed. It is also one of the easiest to write. These lines with matching rhymes are called ‘rhyming couplets’, for obvious reasons. Another popular rhyming pattern, though it is much harder to write, is ABAB.


  1. Remember that rhyming verse is not just about rhyme. It is also about rhythm, or ‘metre’. When you have written two rhyming lines, read them both out aloud. Does their rhythm match? If not, you might have a problem. I find that a good way to check this is to tap my foot, or slap my thigh, while I read out the words.
  1. You don’t have to tell a story when you are writing rhyming verse, but it is a good way to begin. Also, don’t feel that you need to know how the story ends before you put pen to paper – or start to type. Often the only way to find out how a story ends is to start writing, and see where it takes you. Don’t worry, too, if your first poems end up a bit of a mess, or you don’t know how to finish them. The more you practise, the better you will get.
  1. Your patterns of rhyme and rhythm can be as simple or as complicated as you wish. It is entirely up to you. You might start out with simple patterns, but become more ambitious as you gain in experience and confidence. It is important, though, that there is some sort of pattern to the verse, and that you find a way to communicate this effectively to the reader.

© Stephen Whiteside


I was drawn to this book not just because I love bush poetry. It appealed to me because it’s different and it’s funny and it’s very Australian.

It introduces readers to a world and situations they might not have much experience with, but it also shares experiences that kids will connect with.

There are some typical “bush poetry” themes, but they have been brought up to date to engage contemporary children.

The rollicking rhyme covers a huge range of topics from the Australian outdoors, sporting life and animals, as well as the domestic world of the average Aussie kid. – with history and sci fi thrown in for good measure.

For easy reading and reference, poems have been grouped according to topics like around the house, dogs and cats, sport, Australian birds and animals, at the beach, weather, history and Christmas.

There’s often an interesting twist at the end to keep the reader guessing.  Here’s an example.


I had an ice-cream yesterday,
And, boy, that ice-cream hurt.
Ice-cream’s always good to eat.
It’s taken as a cert!

Massive scoops of butterscotch,
And boysenberry, too;
Sort and creamy, luscious, dreamy,
Flavour through and through.

I walked a little, licking hard,
And here’s the bit that hurt.
The ice-cream toppled off the cone,
And landed in the dirt.

Lauren Merrick’s black and white papercut illustrations add another lively dimension and stimulus for discussion.


The Billy that Died with its Boots On is the sort of book to be enjoyed at leisure – where you pick out a verse that appeals to you or is relevant at the time. Reading aloud enables you to enjoy the full beauty of the rhythm and language in these pieces.

If Australiana doesn’t appeal or you’re worried that bush poetry isn’t for you, even dinosaurs and aliens feature in this collection.

The Billy That Died with its Boots On is great for classroom read alouds or performances. Poems suit a range of student abilities – some are very straightforward, others are more challenging to perform. This book is for readers 9 +


The-Croc-and-the-Platypus-COV-webToday The Croc and the Platypus is stopping at DeeScribe Writing on its tour through cyberspace.  The Croc and the Platypus is a gorgeous new picture book written by rhyming poetry queen, Jackie Hosking and illustrated by the very talented Marjorie Crosby-Fairall.

They’re going to share some fabulous tips on how they created The Croc and the Platypus.


The seed was planted a long time ago. Not to necessarily write this book but to write a book for Walker. I like to tell the story of being in a small book shop and picking up The Dot by Peter H Reynolds. Much to my embarrassment, as I read the book my eyes began to fill with tears. It really is the most beautiful book. I turned it over to see who had published it and saw the bear carrying the candlestick. Candlewick Press is the American arm of Walker Books and so my journey began. That was over ten years ago.

Then, when a friend of mine, author Claire Saxby had her rewriting of There was an Old Lady who swallowed a Fly, (There was an Old Sailor) published by Walker, I thought AH HA! I’ll rewrite a rhyming classic too. I chose The Owl and the Pussycat because my grandmother used to sing it to me when I was small so it has always been a favourite.


1.  Once I’d decided that I wanted to do an Aussie reimagining of the The Owl and the Pussycat, the first thing I did was find the words to the original poem by Edward Lear.

2.  Then I read it over and over so as to better absorb the rhythm. So the first line, if you recall goes like this…

The OWL and the PUssycat WENT to SEA in a BEAUtiful PEA-green BOAT

The capitals denote the stressed syllables, the drum beat of the line. I needed to copy this beat exactly and so…

The CROC and the PLAtypus TRUNdled OFF in a RUSty old HOLden UTE

3.  This process was then applied to the whole poem.

4. There’s another line that I borrowed, though I’d not realised it at the time, from a song called Gypsy Rover. The line in song goes like this…

He whistled and he sang ’til the greenwoods rang,

My line goes like this…

Platypus sang till the hubcaps rang.

This was not intentional. I used to sing this song at school and it showed up again just at the right time.

5.  After I finished the text I was awarded a Maurice Saxby mentorship. One of my mentors was author Elizabeth Honey. She was instrumental in helping me improve what I thought was a pretty polished story. Writing buddies, critics and mentors are gold and I would recommend everyone to give their work to someone else to read before they submit to publishers. It’s just a sensible thing to do.

The-Croc-and-the-Platypus-Web-22-23Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 10.03.43 amMARJORIE’S INSPIRATION AND TIPS FOR THE ILLUSTRATIONS

Inspiration for the illustrations can come from many places including an initial emotional response or even from unexpected sources. When I read the text for The Croc and the Platypus my first impressions was that it was ‘bouncy’ and ‘joyful’ so I wanted to reflect those emotions in the illustrations. This can be quite literal, like the Ute bouncing along a dirt track and the curved and bouncing type treatment—or it can be more understated, like the joyful dancing under the stars and the fluid curves of the landscape.

It is surprising the different paths you might wander down when you meet some unexpected inspiration. For example, the ‘rusty old Holden Ute’ features prominently in the text so it was important to get that image right. Unfortunately, I’m not really fond of cars, so I was not looking forward to drawing the Ute. However, once I started to delve into the research I fell in love with the 1950s Holden Ute. The Ute became another character and began to spark a number of other ideas for the book—I suddenly wanted to give a nod to the 1950s road trip. This became the jumping off point for several more elements including the fonts and even the colour palette.

Ute-webFive Illustration Tips Relating to The Croc and the Platypus:

  1. Read lots of Picture Books, they can be inspirational in unexpected ways.
  2. Study the painting process of other artists. I decided to use under paintings and drawings after researching Renaissance painting. It’s amazing what you can adapt to your own style!
  3. If you want to use pencil on top of the acrylics, you can try using gesso instead of white paint—it helps to create a ground for the pencil.
  4. If you use a heavy watercolour paper you don’t need to stretch the paper.
  5. You can use your final roughs as a value study.


The Croc and the Platypus is an Australian version of The Owl and the Pussycat, and I couldn’t decide what appealed to me most about this rollicking Australian picture book. There were so many things to like about it.

There’s a lilting quality to the rhyme that I just love, and who wouldn’t enjoy wrapping their tongue around words like hullabaloo?

The Croc and the Platypus is one of those books where you feel like the writer is sitting next to you telling her story, the author’s voice comes through strongly in a unique and engaging way.

But the text is only part of this entertaining story.

Marjorie Crosby-Fairall’s illustrations perfectly compliment the words. They take the humour to a whole new level, and the ochre’s, tans and greens of the truly Australian setting are captured so authentically.

The scenery is stunning and there is so much movement and life in Marjorie’s illustrations that you can picture yourself in the setting – perhaps even coming across these colourful characters along the road.

One of the other entertaining aspects of this book is the incongruous pairing of the Croc and the platypus – and this makes the tale even funnier.

For those who might struggle with the very Australian vernacular, there’s a glossary at the end of the book that provides translations.

Aug 11 – Aussie Reviews
Aug 12 – DeeScribewriting Blog
Aug 13 – Write and Read with Dale
Aug 14 – Children’s Books Daily
Aug 15 – Stories are light
Aug 16 – Kids’ book Book Review
Aug 17 – Pass it on

Marjorie Crosby Fairall on Facebook | TheCrocAndThePlatypus.com | Jackie Hosking on Facebook

Please note that Stephen Whiteside’s profile and tips have now been rescheduled for next Tuesday 19th August.


Today, I’m pleased to welcome a special guest to Tuesday Writing Tips.

Tania McCartney is an author, editor, publisher and founder of well-respected children’s literature site, Kids Book Review. She is an experienced speaker, magazine and web writer, photographer and marshmallow gobbler. She is the author of the popular Riley the Little Aviator series of travelogue picture books, and is both published and self-published in children’s fiction and adult non-fiction.

Tania is visiting my blog on her tour to celebrate the release of her latest book, Riley and the Grumpy Wombat (published by Ford Street Publishing)

As well as being an inspiring creator and marketer extraordinaire, Tania is also a kind and generous person and has agreed to share her tips here today.


Some writers started young. Some started yesterday. Some are starting as I type, but they all have one thing in common: they write. And so begins the first of my Top 10 Writing Tips for anyone keen to make a dent in this tightly-crammed world of fabulous literary talent.

Tip Number 1 – Write

Yes, that’s right. Writers write. And they do so with tenacity, chutzpah and unfailing self-belief. Well, that’s the ideal, anyway. Truth be told, even the most established, successful and famous authors have doubts about their work.

Doubts, insecurities, uncertainty – any creative endeavor is fraught with these very real emotions – but it’s the writers who manage to overcome emotion and focus on productivity and writing from the heart, that truly succeed.

Work can always be edited and improved upon. It can’t be edited or improved upon if nothing has been written.

Tip Number 2 – Write What You Know

Write about the things that interest you, the things you adore, the things that make you smile, laugh or enliven you. It will show in your writing. It will make the words come alive.

I know some authors will tell you to explore what you don’t know – but I prefer to call this ‘research’. Sure, I could research and write about the evolution of the V8 engine, but I just don’t want to, thanksverymuch. I don’t know anything about V8s but I also don’t WANT to know. I want to write about what I know and love because I will do it well and here’s a thought – I’ll have fun doing it.

Writing should be fun, not a chore.

Tip Number 3 – Be Original

Don’t be tempted to ‘copy’ a successful idea that already exists on the market. Firstly, it simply may not resonate with your style, your voice or what you love to write about. Successful books are those written from the heart and with passion about the subject matter – not formatted against a pre-existing idea.

Publishers are always on the lookout for something ‘new’ – something that will stand out in an overstocked market… think outside the square when it comes to your book idea. Do we really need another fairy book on the market? What about a book on pixies instead? Often the greatest ‘original’ shift can be very simple.

Tip Number 4 – Develop Your Voice

Even the most original, clever and perfectly woven stories can suffer if they don’t ring out with a unique and beautiful voice. Incandescent, original writing that doesn’t rely on stereotypical or adjective-laden descriptives or mundane structure, allows the reader to skip along merrily with the text, and truly become absorbed in the storyline.

A book that plods along with clumsy or complicated writing is the equivalent of a popcorn-munching neighbour in a movie theatre – whose every crunch hauls you away from the magic of the film and back to ‘reality’.

Write clearly and creatively. Learn to edit and rework. Do it over and over again. Let your writing simmer, then come back to it later. Toss it up in the air and restructure it, if need be. And learn to let it go, if need be, and start all over again.

Work on the ‘voice’ of your work until it flows and meanders and doesn’t in the least bit get in the way of a great story.

Tip Number 5 – Know Your Target Market

Who are you writing for? Young adult? Primary school age? Toddlers? Who?

Carefully ponder this as you write and hold it close as the plot unfolds. Be certain you’re able to drag yourself back to this market as the story develops. Keep an eye on the words you use, the nature of the plot threads, the voice, the characterisations. Hone these elements to suit your audience, and you’ll save yourself a lot of rewrites later.

Never talk down to nor patronise when you write. Not even to toddlers.

Tip Number 6 – Watch Your Word Count

Whatever the style of book you’re writing, word count is a surprisingly large consideration.

Picture books should not exceed 500 to 600 words (for someone who reviews hundreds of children’s books a year, there’s nothing more frustrating to me than a picture book that is superfluous with the text, and fails to let the images do the talking). Junior Fiction generally runs between 10,000 and 30,000 words, depending on the age, and young adult may run anywhere from 30,000 to 70,000 words. Adult fiction – 70,000 to 100,000.

Whatever you write will probably be cut considerably by either yourself or your editor, so going a little over these figures is okay – but save yourself the time and energy of over-writing (and potentially complicating the plot) by keeping a solid eye on your word count.

Tip Number 7 – Push Through

Writer’s block? You better believe it exists, particularly if you’re working on a complicated novel.

Storyboarding or keeping a spreadsheet of the plot and characters may be helpful, but my own personal strategy for those agonizing moments of Blankdom, is to push through. Just keep writing. Don’t avoid writing, whatever you do. Don’t do the washing or go out. Keep going. It’s not easy, sure, but for me – pushing through and persisting, even if it means writing drivel, works every time. Suddenly, things begin to magically unfold – and the synchronicity and ease with which this happens never fails to astound me.

Tip Number 8 – Let it Simmer

So you’ve written a best seller and you think you’re kind of done, but you’re still not sure. OR you’ve sent it to a million publishers and you’ve got nothing but rejections. What to do?

Put it away. Let it simmer. Let the flavours deepen, and go back to it later. This could be a month later, or twenty years later. Looking at your work with a fresh eye is often just the tonic a book needs to become something More – something publishers will want to publish.

Tip Number 9 – Network

Share the agony with other agonized writers. Get some empathy happening here. Groan, moan, laugh, share, learn. Join your local writers’ group. Set up your own group. Network online and in person. Sharing your processes, your frustrations, your joy – your WORK – with others is absolutely priceless for your work and your sanity.

And you may just make some lifelong friends.

Tip Number 10 – Be Tenacious

My number one piece of advice when it comes to writing books is one word: tenacity. If at first you don’t succeed… If it took Andy Griffiths ten years to have Just Tricking! accepted for publication, then you simply must accept, in your heart, that a rejection slip simply DOES NOT define the quality of your work.

Keep at it. Dust yourself off and keep going. A wise golfer once said “a hole-in-one is absolutely achievable – it just depends on how many times you’re willing to hit the ball.”

Polish up those golf clubs and keep on swinging.

For more, see www.taniamccartney.com and www.fordstreetpublishing.com.


Writing a book? EASY! Selling it? Not so easy. Whether you’re published or self-published, these tips on marketing your work effectively will hopefully nudge your sales in a positive direction.

Tip Number 1 – Branding

Your book is important, but let’s face it – it’s often the name of the author or illustrator that really carries the majority of sales. Thinking of yourself as a human ‘brand’ can help you maximize exposure so that every book you produce will fall under the umbrella of your authorship, and so attract a potentially larger market. People relate to people – and developing a personable presence is a wise and unexpected way to maximize your marketing potential.

Branding involves visuals – logos, colour, images – in a consistent, repetitive way. Do you have a logo for your business as an author or illustrator? Do you have a website and blog and other online presence that are visually tied together with colour or images or style? Are your book covers reflective of your brand (picture an Andy Griffiths book cover and you’ll know what I mean)? Do your emails have branded signatures? Your business cards and flyers and book trailers?

Think about this branding issue and how you can hone it to work for you. When someone glances at your book, do they instantly know it’s yours?

Tip Number 2 – Excellence

Always, always, always do everything with excellence. Dedicate your time and energy to your interviews, your websites, your events, your readings. Half-hearted effort will reap parallel results. Do a great job and you’ll be asked back again and again and will develop a reputation for being wonderful to work with – and producing great work. Make yourself an asset.

Tip Number 3 – Events

Events are a truly fabulous way to promote your work. And they don’t have to be expensive or difficult to produce. Book readings at schools, libraries or bookstores usually cost nothing but your time. Organising sponsorship for book launches (food, giveaways, goodie bag stuffing, entertainment) is surprisingly easy – and cost free.

Online events like this blog tour require nothing more than dedication to writing a stack of great articles.

Tip Number 4 – Online Presence

This, of course, is a given. It’s almost free – just takes a little time – and has the potential for world-wide, constant market saturation.

Websites are nowhere near as daunting as they used to be. Blogger offers incredibly simple blog templates that can be played around with before publishing online, and for just US$10 a year, can be converted to an official website domain, complete with email addresses. For those not-so-confident net-users, almost any website-production process, like writing html, can be googled for instant answers.

It’s well worth the time investment of exploring the option of running your own site – it will save you much time and money – and is an essential and far-reaching marketing tool.

Tip Number 5 – Networking

Priceless. It’s the new word-of-mouth. Not only does it help you with market saturation, it is the best writing and book marketing school in the world. Authors and illustrators are notoriously supportive of each other (they ‘know what it’s like’!) and you will only be failing yourself if you don’t get involved on the social networking scene. You don’t need to live and breathe it – but at least set it in place and contribute regularly. You may just make some glorious friendships, too.

Number 6 – Book Trailers

Book trailers are the new calling card. They are quick and easy to make – you can either learn to do it yourself (Windows Movie Maker is good) or source someone to do it for you, relatively inexpensively. And trailers are yet another avenue for marketing your work. Kids and teachers love them and you can splash them all over YouTube – one of the busiest ‘marketplaces’ on the web.

Number 7 – Author Photo

Do you really want to represent your brand with a blurred, be-sunglassed photo of you on holiday in Ibiza fifteen years ago? That’s not branding.

Get yourself a bottle of wine, a friend who’s slightly handy with a camera, a neutral backdrop (bookshelves and a white, collared shirt, if you really must) and a series of props that relate to YOU and your work – and get snapping. Taking hundreds of photos, in natural light – and you’ll be surprised at how easily you’ll achieve a great author shot with little effort and expense.

If you create illustrated books, consider asking your wonderful illustrator to draw in your book characters, as Kieron Pratt has so expertly done with my own author photo. Oh – and keep the photo current.

Number 8 – Ancillary Products and Resources

You don’t need to set up a production line in China, but offering that little something ‘extra’ – whether it be teachers’ notes, magnets, printable paper dolls of your book character, colouring sheets, online writing workshops (the list is endless) – is a prime way to attract a whole other market to your work. Offering ’something for nothing’ is a great route to more market saturation.

Number 9 – Produce More

Product sells product. This is why book series do so well – both from a branding perspective and from a ‘well-stocked’ perspective. If you have more in the pipeline, more on the shelves, more coming, you will receive more exposure, and each book will link into the next. You don’t want to be a one-hit wonder – more books sell more books.

Number 10 – Keep At It

Unless you want to change your career path, you can’t stop marketing your books. Ever. A publisher can only do so much (they have other books to promote, too, and most books have a relatively short shelf life), and a proactive self-promoting author can sometimes make or break a book’s success. Commitment to promoting your own work is a truly vital marketing component.

For more, see www.taniamccartney.com and www.fordstreetpublishing.com.

As you can see, Tania is a wealth of information and ideas. If you’d like to follow the rest of her blog tour, you can find her itinerary here.  Tomorrow, Tania and Riley are visiting my other blog, Kids’ Book Capers on their journey through cyberspace.


Catching up with international online writing buddies


I was particularly interested in this workshop as I wanted to know how differently authors promote themselves in USA versus how they do things in Australia.

Verla is the award winning author of  nine books and her website has twice been named one of the 101 best sites for writers by Writers’ Digest and her message board has around 2000 members and gets about 1 million hits per month.

She had heaps of useful information about improving your website.


  • Can you quickly change information on your website without major effort?
  • Is it professional looking?
  • Do images load fast on pages
  • Can visitors navigate easily through your website
  • Are your pages too busy?
  • Are your colours hard on viewer’s eyes?
  • Does your site welcome visitors?
  • Is it hard for viewers to navigate?


  • Does your website have a theme?
  • Librarian information
  • Writer and/or illustrator information
  • Children’s activity or fan club pages.
  • Information helpful to teachers and/or pages containing lessons
  • About the Author pages for kids doing school projects
  • Addictive fun games or videoes etc – something people will want to come back to again?
  • A subject that ‘matches’ your book


At the SCBWI Pyjama Ball


  • Constantly changing content will create pages that people want to visit multiple times
  • Some pages can change or be active without requiring a lot of effort
  • Have an on-going monthly contest with fun prizes (can’t give things away for children under 13 or let them go in comp)
  • Activity page for kids with games, puzzles, colouring pages
  • For kids over 13 an interactive Fan Club Page
  • Get teens to create book trailers and link to it – have fun comp.
  • Get trailer made by kids


Verla Kay is probably best known in the writing and illustrating community for her Blueboard. She set it up as “A safe, friendly place where children’s writers & illustrators could share information with each other”.


Since Verla started her Blue Board it has expanded rapidly and now has 4 administrators and 12-15 moderators. There are more than 1500 active members, and over 13,400 people have registered since its conception.

The site attracts 800,000 to 1 million hits every month


  • Search engines are vitally important to you
  • You need your site to show on search engines
  • Effective use of meta tags will get your site linked to as many other active sites as possible
  • websitegrader.com – tells you what weaknesses on website are
  • bloggrader.com tells you weaknesses on your blog.
  • Link to as many other sites as possible. This helps bring your site to the top of the search engines

Rabbit slippers were popular at the ball

After a big day, there was a showcase of the amazing illustrator portfolios. This year there were around 190 entries.

It was time for the Pyjama cocktail party where there were some very inventive costumes. Everything from pink rabbits to a flock of around 20 sheep.

After another big day I crawled into bed around 11.30pm


Today’s great tips and guest post were provided by popular Australian author, Ian Irvine. Ian is visiting on a blog tour to celebrate the release of The Calamitous Queen, the last book in his Grim & Grimmer series.


By Ian Irvine

1. Tying up all the loose ends

There’s nothing more annoying than getting to the end of a series and discovering that half your questions remain unanswered, either because the author forget that he’d raised them in earlier books, or didn’t know how to answer them and hoped no one would notice.

One way to keep track of all the plot threads is to simply read the book through, note down all the questions raised and tick them off as they’re answered. A more visual approach, because you can see how all the threads interact, is to mark them on a huge wall chart. You can also keep them on index cards or in a spreadsheet or database. It doesn’t matter what system you use, as long as you have one.

And this isn’t always easy. My epic fantasy quartet, The Well of Echoes, is 910,000 words, and itself forms the middle section of the 11-book Three Worlds sequence which all up is over 7,000 pages. It would have been impossible to keep track of all the questions raised and loose ends without a good system. More about these books, and the first chapters, here: http://www.ian-irvine.com/threeworlds.html.

When you’re writing a series, remember that you have both story questions and series questions to answer. The story questions must be answered at the end of each book, but the series questions can’t be fully answered until the climax of the final book. The series questions (e.g., will Harry Potter finally defeat Voldemort, and can Harry survive it?) create the suspense that keeps your readers reading to the end.

In Grim and Grimmer, the key story question in Book 1, The Headless Highwayman, is: can Useless Ike overcome his name and nature and make up for accidentally betraying Princess Aurora by rescuing her, or will the Fey Queen kill the princess first? This question is answered at the end of the book (though not to Ike’s entire satisfaction. In the great storytelling tradition, this victory actually makes things worse).

There are three series questions: Can Ike free the Collected Children from the wicked Fey Queen? Can he clear his parents’ names? And can he discover the secret of the Gate Guardians in time to free Grimmery? Despite striving with all his might, Ike makes little progress on any of these goals until well into the final book, The Calamitous Queen. He can’t make better progress, because if he did it would destroy the suspense and readers would feel so let down they might not bother to read on. Covers, blurbs, reviews and first chapters can be found here: http://www.ian-irvine.com/grimgrimmer.html.

2. Deciding when and how to end a series

I normally know how each book and the series is going to end before I begin writing, though I rarely know how I’m going to get to the ending. I do a lot of planning for the first book in a series, but when I start writing I have little idea what will happen in the remaining books. This is deliberate. Planning a book can be a dry and largely analytical process, and for me the story never seems real at this stage. It only becomes real once I’ve written the first draft. In writing it I often have much better ideas than I could have in the planning stage, and I create new characters whose individual choices take the story to places I could not have imagined in advance.

This is an important point to bear in mind – different characters must, necessarily, make different choices in difficult situations, thus taking the story in different directions. Therefore, for me, detailed planning of later books at the beginning is a wasted effort. I only plan each book as I’m about to write it.

But a series isn’t always under the author’s control. I originally planned Grim and Grimmer as a 6-book series, but when I sent my proposal in, in the middle of the GFC, the publisher was concerned about the economic situation and reluctant to commit to more than four books. If I’d planned the series in detail I would have had a lot of cutting to do. Also, it’s not common, if a series is not selling well, for a publisher to suggest that it be cut short. Sometimes the author feels burnt out and can’t bear to write any more in the series, and pulls the plug.

On more felicitous occasions, if a series is doing brilliantly, readers and the publisher will be clamouring for more. For all the above reasons, it pays to not close off the story options too finally, as Conan Doyle did. He killed off Sherlock Holmes when he couldn’t bear to write about him any more, then, after being deafened by the clamour for more Holmes stories, had to find a plausible way to bring the great detective back to life.

3. Deciding outcomes for your characters

Though they’re relatively short books, the Grim and Grimmers have a considerable cast of wild and zany and outright mad characters, and because these were humorous books I wanted to bring all the key characters back at the end (at least, all those who have survived) so I could devise suitably humorous farewells or ironic fates for them.

In The Calamitous Queen there’s a gigantic feast and honours night at the end, after Grimmery has been saved (and most of the story questions resolved), and everyone is there. Not just Ike’s allies, but also his enemies Emajicka the Fey Queen, Grogire the firewyrm, the vicious little imp, Nuckl, plus a host of demons and other villains. This gave me the opportunity to show what happens to each character – such as the fateful romance between the disgustingly unwashed hermit, Gorm, and the violent but fussy old granny, Fluffia Tralalee, each manipulating the other to try and get what they want, and each doomed to failure.

And I wanted to send Ike off with full, humorous honours. He does achieve all his goals in the end. Then, in what is supposed to be Ike’s proudest moment, he’s about to come down the stairs from the upper stage, to be honoured by a grateful princess, when he’s waylaid by our old friend Creepy Cripts the hunchbacked troll. Creepy Cripts demands that Ike fix the troll-bum door he created at the end of The Headless Highwayman. And the only way it can be fixed is from the inside, in front of the assembled nobility and Ike’s gleeful enemies.

4. What happens to the author once the series is finished

I’ve been known to finish a big fantasy series in the morning and start another one that afternoon, though that was a while back and I dare say I’m not so obsessive these days. I know writers who immediately go down with the flu (or total immune system collapse) and can’t get up for days. Others spend a week grieving for the world and the characters they’ve spent years and thousands of hours immersed in. Or run amok. Or get drunk.

I can’t say I’ve ever felt the need for any of the above, but it is important to both celebrate the ending of the series, and punctuate your writing career. Celebrate the ending with a night out or a trip overseas, a massage or a special little reward for all your hard work. And punctuate your career by having a total break from writing for a day, a week, a month or whatever is needed.

Finally, don’t forget to look after the friends and family who have been neglected in your single-minded drive for the perfect ending. They deserve some thought as well.

Then, while you’re waiting for the final book to appear, start work on the next series. And if you have some free time, do pop by to my Facebook author site, where I’m giving away 10 of my books a week all year, plus there’s plenty of other fun things going on: http://www.facebook.com/ianirvine.author.


Here are the other great blogs Ian is visiting or has visited already on his tour.


Catriona Hoy is the author of many wonderful picture books including My Grandad Marches on ANZAC Day, The Music Tree, Mummies are Amazing, Daddies, Puggle and George and Ghost.

Her latest book, Our Gags is her first venture into longer works and it’s published by Walker Books.

Today, Catriona is kindly sharing her tips on how she made the transition from picture books to Walker Stories.

Catriona, your other titles so far have been picture books, while ‘Our Gags’ is an early reader, comprising three short stories. Tell us about it’s journey to publication.

Thanks for having me here today Dee, to talk about my new book… it has had a long journey to publication.

I originally wrote the first of the three stories as a picture book. I submitted it to my editor at the time but sadly it didn’t make it past the aquisitions meeting, so it went back to languish in a bottom drawer. The feedback that I got was that the voice was too old to be a picture book.

After a while, I took it out again, looked at it with fresh eyes and sent it off to another publisher. Again, it got all the way to aquisitions but was ultimately rejected.

However, that publisher soon folded and the editor, Sue Whiting, moved on to Walker Books. I sent Our Gags to Sue again at Walker after another revamp and….then we had an interesting conversation.

Sue told me that she didn’t think it was a picture book either and that in fact, she had probably thought more about my book and analysed it than I had. She thought that it would actually work better in the format that Walker was bring out for early readers, with three short stories. I was asked to submit two other stories about the same characters, with a central theme. And eventually, that’s how it ended up.

So it’s always worth revisiting some old stories in a bottom drawer but also important to listen to feed back

How did writing ‘Our Gags,’ differ from writing a picture book?

It offered more flexibility in terms of the writing as I didn’t have to think so visually. I listened to the voice of the character in my head but didn’t need to be so conscious of pagination and whether or not there were the right number of pages and illustrations.

When I write a picture book, I’m very much thinking in terms of 16 openings and possibilities or opportunities for varied illustrations.

It also offered more opportunity for character development and plot.

Did you experience any difficuties in writing this book, particularly since it had started as a picture book?

At first, I found it difficult to get back into the character’s head. When I first wrote it, I really was almost in that position of being a mum with a new baby. By the time I had to write the second stories, the ‘baby’ was at school.

By the time the revisions came around, we had moved overseas and my girls were quite big! This isn’t unusual though, as often writers need to put works away until they can look at it with fresh eyes.

I also had to have a consistent style and that was something that I had to work at with the three stories. There had to be progression and development over those stories, while still keeping the same overall feel. 

The author and her family featured in the book

How true is the story and do you think that this is important in writing?

I like to write about things that I know, so my family often features in my books. This is the story of how my Mum used to come to help when I had a new baby and struggled with breastfeeding and juggling an energetic toddler. Caitlyn was sometimes babysat by a video, however, my Mum was great and would come and play with Caitlyn, while simultaneously managing to get all my washing off the floors, into the machine, onto the line, dried, folded and put away.

It’s not just about the cleaning though, it’s about the wonderful relationship that my mum formed with her grandchildren. They still love to go to their ‘Gags’ for a sleepover, grab a movie and have a girl’s night in. My mum is getting a bit tiredr but she can be a crocodile, or a horse as needs be for my little niece.

What’s important about all this in writing is that I am familiar with my characters and I’m writing about something I love.

Were there embellishments?

Mum did play great games at the park, including pirates and billy goat’s gruff.

However, she didn’t actually ever have a man think she was having a heart attack when she was pretending to be sat on by an elephant. Although she could do a great ‘death scene,’ complete with flailing arms and groans if the occasion demanded.

How do you find your ‘voice’?

I think you have to know your character from the inside out and be in their head. You have to hear them talking…although I don’t read aloud, I’ll repeat it in my head to see whether I think this is how a child would talk. Although I’m in the book as the mother character, I never actually saw myself as her funnily enough. I was always my little girl Caitlyn.

In terms of the voice for this book, I can now see what those early comments meant in terms of the age of the character. It is very important to own your character and see life through their eyes.

Thanks for sharing your Our Gags journey, Catriona. It’s a wonderful book about the grandmother every family needs. Some great tips too about voice and character.



Travelling Mum in WA on our "Around Australia Trip"

Mother’s Day is always a bitter sweet time for me. I love being a mum and spending special time with my family, but it also reminds my how much I miss my own mother who never got to know my children or see my first book published .

We used to go on writing retreats together and apart from sharing  a special mother/daughter bond, we shared our creativity and love for storytelling.

That’s why I could really connect with Alison Reynold’s new book, For You Mum, released just in time for Mother’s Day. It’s a collection of pieces that reflect who mums are and what they mean to us.

For You Mum takes you on a journey from conception, through pregnancy, morphing into your mother and even how to feng shui your house against mother-in-laws.

I’ve never had to deal with the ‘evil mother-in-law’ syndrome because my MIL has always been wonderful, but I love Alison’s diagnosis of Pentheraphobia which is the “profound fear of the mother-in-law.”

Apparently, this reasonably common condition manifests itself in the following symptoms: dread, air hunger, elevated or irregular heart rates, trembling, irritation, anger, nausea and sweating.  If you want the cure, you’re going to have to read Alison’s book.

Understandably, housework also rates a mention. My favourite quote on this subject from For You Mum is probably an anonymous quote, “My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance”.

In this book there are even Mum’s household tips on how to get rid of cockroaches and mice and even how to use tin foil to sharpen your scissors.

I guess my favourite section of For You Mum would have to be the one on Remarkable Mums because that’s what mums are. There are the mums who save their children, those who save other people’s and the mothers who never forget.

For You Mum is also full of great Mum and child rearing tips

Some pieces are moving, some are surprising and some are just downright hilarious. There’s everything from how to guess the gender of the baby you’re having to what to buy your mum for Mother’s Day (apart from Alison Reynold’s wonderful new book).

For You Mum is a beautiful looking hardback book published by The Five Mile Press. Author, Alison Reynolds dedicates it with love to her own mum, and this affection shows through in her writing.

Many years after losing my mother I wrote a short story about what she meant to me, and it was highly commended in the Cancer Council’s Daffodil Day short story award.

Don’t be afraid to allow the people you love and have loved to be your inspiration. You might find that the words that flow from your fingers are the best you’ve ever written.

Are there people who have inspired your writing? We’d love to hear about them. Feel free to share your comments and stories at the end of this post.

Happy writing:)