Off To The Market

I was lucky to review this gorgeous new illustrated picture book from Scribble, Off To The Market, written and illustrated by Alice Oehr.

I remember as a child, loving going to Victoria Market on a Sunday and finding the produce and the people wondrous.

So when I read Alice’s book, it brought back some special memories.

Off To The Market, is a little unusual in that the text and illustrations start from the very first page so readers are met with a burst of colour and interest as soon as they open the cover. And right from that first moment, I loved the diversity of race age and life stages reflected in the vibrant illustrations.

In a charming and colourful way, Off To The Market, goes through all the things you’ll need for a day at the market – money, a list and something to carry your purchases. I love the environmentally friendly options given.

Young readers are introduced to different types of produce and the fact that there’s more than one kind of potato and that fruit and vegetables don’t have to be pristine and perfectly shaped to taste good.

Alice Oehr takes us through a fascinating journey of fruit and vegetables and what they can be used for.

We’re also introduced to all the different store holders and we see the differences in how they present and prepare their wares.

There are fascinating facts about different types of eggs. I learned that each chicken will lay the same colour egg every time.

This beautiful non fiction-book is a feast of colour, introducing readers to the market experience and homegrown produce in a fun and interesting way.

I also like the way the shopping list appears regularly with the purchased items crossed out – a fun activity that readers can do as they walk around the market.

Off To The Market really is a ‘celebration of markets, cooking, and fresh food.’


Off To The Market, is written and illustrated by Alice Oehr and she has stopped by the blog to answer some questions

What is your favourite part of going to the market and your favourite purchase?

I love the array of colour at the market– so my favourite thing is really the feast for the eyes. I love chatting to people about what’s in season, and making a plan for cooking with it. My favourite thing to purchase is something that may only be in season for a brief time and is therefore a bit special – a custard apple, persimmons, figs.

What was the most fun thing about writing and illustrating this book?

I loved putting my experience of visiting the market each week onto the page– the people I see and know, and all the beautiful fresh produce was a joy to draw. Incorporating a fluro orange ink into my work was heaps of fun too.

What was the most challenging part of writing and illustrating this book?

It was hard to know which season to situate the book in, as I wanted to show a range of Summer & Winter veggies. 

How long did it take you?

I worked on this book over a couple of years; slowed down during the pandemic. The idea and text came early, but I took my time working out exactly what parts of the market I wanted to include and finding the right visual style. 

What do you hope readers will take away from it?

I would love it if young readers could foster a relationship with fresh produce, and the people who grow and sell it. Shopping for and preparing your own food is a lifelong pleasure and I think it’s great to start learning about it young!

Alice is a graphic artist from Melbourne. Her distinct colourful style incorporates her love of food, pattern, collage and drawing. Many of her ideas have made their way into textiles, homewares, magazines and books. Off To The Market is her first children’s book.

Ask No Questions – a memoir by Eva Collins

Eva and her family left Poland during the Cold War. Her verse memoir describing this period is published by Puncher & Wattmann. She graduated with two BA degrees, (Philosophy and Fine Art Photography) an MA in Contemporary Art, a Diploma in Professional Writing and a Graduate Certificate in Secondary Teaching.

As a writer and photographer, she captures evocative images with camera and pen, paying tribute to precious, fleeting moments and unsung heroes. She has published poetry and articles and exhibited photography and short films.

ABOUT ASK NO QUESTIONS

Ask No Questions is a refrain that Eva Collins heard her parents say whenever she questioned their decisions whilst living in Communist Poland.

Heartbroken to leave her homeland, 12-year-old Eva recounts her family’s departure, their boat trip, impressions of other countries and the culture shock she experienced in coming to Australia in the 1950s.

Eva uses simple language to convey powerful images. Its restrained form matches the caution and alertness her parents felt whilst living under the surveillance regime and widespread anti-Semitism.

At the book launch.

Eva’s father’s decision to go to the other side of the world was ‘to be as far away from Moscow as possible’, sadly topical today with the war in Ukraine.

Aside from the actual story, the theme has universal implications. It applies to all migrants and refugees from anywhere. Eva says she has used pathos and also humour to carry the message across.

At the book launch. Eva with MC, Rosie Lew AM

Ask No Questions fits with the Intercultural Capabilities of the Victorian Curriculum prescription for the Year 10 students.

WRITING THE BOOK

What was the hardest part about writing Ask No Questions and how did you overcome it?

The hardest thing about writing my book was to know what to include or what to exclude.

On one hand I wanted to include enough detail so that a full picture of the story would be there to immerse the reader. On the other hand, I didn’t want to make it too long or overstated.

I hope I overcame it by putting in enough detail to make the reader ‘hungry for more’. As a result the story is a little understated, but the language is accessible to everyone and the images powerful enough to carry the meaning.

What is the hardest thing about being an author?

As an author my aim was to write in a spare, simple informal language as otherwise it would come across as lofty and pompous.

It was easy to overcome, as I prefer direct, every-day language. It’s the images which are most important rather than formal words.

Eva’s book can be purchased via her publisher here.

The Raven’s Song – A Harmonious Collaboration Between Two Much Loved Authors

Bren MacDibble and Zana Fraillon are two of my favourite YA and children’s authors so I was so excited to read their new collaboration, The Raven’s Song.

Bren is the bestselling author of How to Bee and The Dog Runner, and Zana Fraillon – the multi-award-winning author of THE BONE SPARROW.

They have joined forces to create The Raven’s Song, an absorbing dual narrative, set in a post-climate change, post-pandemic (not COVID-19) world.

AND THEY’RE VISITING THIS BLOG TODAY!

YES, they’re here to chat about the way they worked together to create this amazing book. I asked them some ‘crafty’ questions about how they wrote The Raven’s Song.

1. How did the collaboration come about?

Bren: Zana put a call out on twitter for ideas to help her with her current novel, I offered an idea, Zana said, ‘No but I’d like to write that novel with you.’ And we did.

Zana: I’m not a big social media user – but one of its great wonders is how quickly and easily you can access help and support from your community (this is at least true with the wonderful kids lit community). I have always been a huge fan of Bren’s, so when she jumped in to help with a plot problem I was having, I was thrilled. And although it didn’t work for my WIP, the world of the story itwould work in was quickly unfurling in my head. I was only half joking when I suggested that we use her solution to craft our own book together, and when she came back to ask if I actually wanted to, I think I may have squealed.

2. What was the most challenging thing about collaborating on this book?

Bren: The collaboration was a breeze. The most challenging thing was when Covid overtook our pandemic novel and we both agreed it would never sell, but we were having too much fun to stop.

Zana: I have honestly never had as much fun writing a book as I did collaborating on this with Bren. It wasn’t work. It wasn’t hard. It wasn’t difficult. It was like we were playing. I think because we both said from the outset that this would be an experiment and that we could pull out at any time, there wasn’t any pressure to succeed. There were no stakes, and if nothing came of it, then we would both have improved our craft and enjoyed ourselves. It was really just an exploration of what ifs. As Bren said, the challenge was Covid turning up and inserting its reality into our fiction (we had a fictional pandemic! We didn’t want a real one!). We didn’t want to stop exploring and experimenting and having fun, but at the same time, we worried that a book about a pandemic would just be too close to home. But in the end, we decided to keep going for our own benefit. We didn’t want to stop! And as it turns out, I can see now that having books about something like Covid, can be a way of processing everything that has changed because of it. The Raven’s Song is all about change and dealing with change and how to keep going when things get tough and how to shift your perspective about the world you think you know. Strangely enough, it seems to have become a book for our time.

3. What did you enjoy most about the collaboration process?

Bren: The whole two brains thing. Zana says it better. Zana brought ideas and knowledge to this story that I just didn’t have, plus she has a really poetic writing style and I think the readers will like the tempo of moving back and forth between timelines and her poetic ancient times, her thoughtful careful boy character and my stark reality loud girl character. I like that we each got to do what we do best and it works so well together.

Zana: I agree – having someone who knows the story inside out, who knows what we are trying to do, where the thoughts came from, where the story is headed – it is like having two brains working on the one story. I could shoot a one-line message off to Bren and she would know exactly what I was talking about and come back with some brilliant idea that my brain would never have arrived at. Or at least, never have arrived out without months of circling around and tripping over itself. I also loved having Bren there to question my assumptions about what we could or couldn’t do. There is a scene that comes towards the end of the book, and I said to Bren, ‘We couldn’t actually do this, but how cool would it be if we did XXXX’ (no spoilers!). Bren’s response was, ‘why can’t we do that?’ And of course we could, and we did and it is still one of my favourite parts of the story. And the other thing is, it was so quick to write and edit! Two brains really are better than one…

4. With Covid, I imagine you weren’t able to be in the same actual space working on the book so how did the collaboration work practically. Did the discussions/editing take place via Zoom/email or some other form?

Bren: We’re also on opposite sides of the country and though we once both lived in Melbourne have never actually met. The initial bouncing of ideas was on Twitter messages, quick back and forths and brainstorming real time a lot of the time, then we went off to each write our characters timelines and then came together to work once we’d pieced the novel together, mostly via email.

Zana: It was actually incredibly magical. After Bren and I had a huge Twitter brainstorm of all the things we could do with this book (messaging each other so quickly that our ideas were tumbling over each other and evolving more quickly than either of us could keep up) we each had a character and a very vague idea of where that character was headed and where we thought the story would go. So we both went off and wrote their stories. I don’t think we really messaged much during that process – other than a couple of check ins – but when it came time to piece the book together, I sent my half to Bren and miraculously our chapters slotted into each other as though we had written them together. It was incredible. I think we needed to split one chapter in half to even it out, but that was it. And then once we were at the next stage, we took it in turns sitting with the manuscript and playing before sending it back.

5. Were the characters inspired by anyone you know?

Bren: Don’t they say you put a bit of yourself into every character you write?

Zana: Not consciously! Although none of my characters are firmly based on, or inspired by real people, there are always bits and pieces of people I know in my characters. It is how I make them real in my mind. Even if it is something small, like a phrase they use, or a habit, or the way they walk. Adding the little details brings them to life for me, and hopefully, for the reader also.

MY REVIEW OF THE RAVEN’S SONG

The Raven’s Song, a stunning collaboration from much loved and awarded authors, Bren MacDibble and Zana Fraillon, is set in a post climate change, post pandemic (not covid) world, but despite its intense content will give readers hope for the future.

Shelby and Phoenix are living one hundred years apart in very different worlds, but they are joined across time, and the future of one depends on the other.

Phoenix lives in a world that is choking under the excesses of human consumption and destruction of the environment. When a deadly virus is released from the bog near his home, his life, and the whole world is changed forever.

Shelby and her ancestors inherited this damaged world and for the past 100 years have been working to put things right. They’ve created a working civilisation that respects and lives in harmony with the ‘honoured and natural world’.

Shelby and her best friend Davy live quiet low-tech lives in a closed community that is made up of exactly three hundred and fifty kind, ethical people living on exactly seven hundred hectares.

When they climb through a hole in the perimeter fence to venture into the surrounding jungle, what they find is more astonishing than anything they could have imagined. They discover a relic city from Phoenix’s time, and remnants of a life that could destroy all the healing that has taken place in the last 100 years.

Phoenix and Shelby’s stories and their worlds are seamlessly interwoven by these two master storytellers. I loved both the carefully crafted characters, and we get their unique and contrasting perspectives through the dual narrative.

Shelby is feisty and strong and courageous.

‘Right down in the base of my skull I have a nagging that someone needs my help and I gotta be brave.’

Phoenix is kind and sensitive and gifted with a sixth sense and a deep awareness of his surroundings. ‘This was the first time Phoenix had seen something so strange that he knew it couldn’t possibly be there.’

Shelby and Phoenix’s worlds are both so evocative, they are like extra characters in this story and help to provide the edge of your seat tension.

I connected instantly with Shelby and Phoenix and could not put this book down, wanting to know what would happen next.

Although sometimes, ominous, ravens represent prophecy and insight in The Raven’s Song and their symbolism is used throughout the book to coherently connect the two worlds and the narrative.

This unique and thought-provoking story is about family and friendship and the passing down of knowledge through time.

I highly recommend The Raven’s Song to readers over the age of 9 who are looking for a page turning story, characters they can identify with, and hope for the future of human civilisation.

The Raven’s Song is published by Allen & Unwin.

Monday Motivator with Shae Millward and The Rabbit’s Magician

Shae Millward is the author of The Rabbit’s Magician, Koalas Like To, and A Boy and a Dog. Shae is an enthusiastic advocate for literacy. She aims to inspire through a love of books, the joy of reading and writing, and the art of storytelling. Shae enjoys writing picture books, poetry, song lyrics, funny or inspirational quotes, short stories and more. Shae’s creative writing skills once helped her win a trip to Disneyland!

The Rabbit’s Magician

The Rabbit’s Magician is a gentle story of love, loss and comfort inspired by a fundamental law of nature: Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can change from one form into another.

The book contains references to and representations of the moon and its phases. It is a children’s picture book, but offers comfort to anyone of any age who has lost a loved one – person or animal. 

The Rabbit’s Magician is illustrated by Andy Fackrell and is out this month with Ford Street Publishing.

What was the hardest thing about writing that book?

The potentially sensitive subject matter. I had no intention of writing a story about loss. But a scene appeared in my mind of a rabbit looking up at the moon. I sensed he was waiting for something. The moon changed phases, and still, he waited. What are you waiting for? I wondered. And then, he told his tale. In a matter of moments the whole story suddenly existed, like a neatly wrapped gift.

How did you overcome it?

Although there was still some hesitancy on my part in regards to the subject, sometimes you just have to get over yourself (and any pesky doubts about what you ‘should’ be writing). Sometimes it’s all about the story, not all about you. Because of the blessed way in which the story came into being, I felt it was not only a gift for me but for anyone who needs it. 

What is the hardest thing about being an author?

Being on the Autism spectrum has its positives, like unique perspectives and creative thinking, but it also has its challenges, with social communication being one. Just think awkward, so awkward, haha!

How did you overcome it? What has kept you going?

I’m lucky to have a supportive publisher who allows me to play to my strengths. I’m grateful for his wisdom in dispelling the thought that you must force yourself to do ‘all the things.’

Fortunately, these days there are a good variety of promotional avenues one can partake in.

Books On Tour PR & Marketing has a number of packages, and options within which you can tailor to your needs. Romi is a superstar – super helpful and brilliant to work with.

Having an illustrator who is also active in promoting – which Andy is – certainly helps and provides team spirit. *enthusiastically does spirit fingers*

Monday Motivator With Susannah Crispe

ABOUT SUSANNAH
Susannah Crispe is a Canberra-based children’s book author and illustrator. She studied art history and zoology at university and has volunteered with native wildlife throughout Australia. She worked in museums and bookstores for about 15 years, until discovering her true passion for creating books.  Susannah works from her glorious home studio in Canberra; drawing inspiration and support from her rambunctious four year old son, step daughters, super-husband and the cutest dog in the world.

ABOUT SUSANNAH’S BOOK
Under the Moonlight is Susannah’s first book as both author and illustrator. It is a gentle story about showing bravery in the face of your fears. Set in a snowy, Scandinavian forest, an enormous, brave and solitary moose settles down to rest. Unfortunately for Moose, his tranquil sleep is about to be shattered by a fright in the night. The story follows Moose as he shows great bravery in facing his fear of the unknown and investigating the source of the night-time fright. Told in lilting, roll off the tongue rhyme with the character of Moose is playfully rendered in quietly humorous scenes.

HARDEST THING ABOUT WRITING THIS BOOK
The hardest thing in writing this book was working out how to turn a nonsense monorhyme poem that I wrote years ago into an actual story. Once I got my head around the structure and stepped away from the monorhyme, I was able to map out the plot visually. I saw scenes illustrated in my head, almost like a stop-motion film and the words just fell into place.

MOST CHALLENGING THING ABOUT BEING AN AUTHOR
In general, I find the most challenging thing as an author and illustrator is having to stop writing and illustrating to do real world things. I have a seemingly endless list of ideas for both stories and illustration, a million techniques to try, a laptop filled with downloaded (and unstarted) courses, and a very limited amount of time to do it all. I love my work so much, and if I had my way, I would write and illustrate to the exclusion of everything else. My family, friends and other commitments have different ideas.

OVERCOMING THE CHALLENGES
I overcome this problem (but absolutely do NOT advocate this for anyone who wants to retain their sanity), is to work until midnight or 1am, 6 or 7 nights a week. The thought that this is a temporary state of being gets me through, as I fantasise about an improbable day when I have no responsibilities and limitless time to explore all my ideas. Well, that and the litre and a half of tea I drink daily.

Monday Motivator with Dianne Wolfer

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dianne Wolfer is the author of 23 books, including the multi-awarded ‘Light’ series which has inspired street theatre, musical and stage adaptations and is currently being re-adapted by Theatre 180. Dianne writes across genres and especially loves historical fiction and animal stories. She combined these passions in her WW2 novel The Dog with Seven Names, winner of the 2019 Speech Pathology Award. This title was one of two books written for Dianne’s PhD research into anthropomorphism in children’s literature. The other, The Shark Caller  is a fantasy quest novel sparked by the ancient practice of calling sharks. 

In addition to The Last Light Horse, Dianne has two more books due out in 2022. One is a second Aussie STEM Star title, about future foods Skye Blackburn-Lang – Eating Bugs for the Planet (Dianne now eats cricket meal muesli for breakfast). The other title Mia, is part of Allen and Unwin’s Through my Eyes Australian Disaster series. You can find more at Dianne’s websites www.diannewolfer.com and www.animalswhotalk.com.

ABOUT THE LAST LIGHT HORSE

There were 136,000 Australian horses sent to fight during the First World War. Just one came home. From the high country of Victoria to the desert sand of Egypt, from the waters off Gallipoli to the battlefields of France, The Last Light Horse is the extraordinary story of Sandy, the only returning warhorse. Sandy was the favourite horse of Major General Bridges. After being hit by a sniper at Gallipoli the major general’s dying wish was for Sandy to be allowed to come home.  This is the final story in Dianne’s award-winning ‘Light series’. It joins Lighthouse Girl  (winner WA Young Readers’ Book Award, shortlisted NSW Premier’s History), CBCA Notable In the Lamplight, and WA Premier’s Award winner Light Horse Boy. A Better Readings review describes the book as, ‘Engaging, and at times heartbreaking, The Last Light Horse is a fantastic conclusion to the series and a heartfelt look at an unsung Australian hero.’

THE HARDEST THING ABOUT WRITING THIS BOOK

The hardest thing about writing The Last Light Horse was filling the gaps between ‘known’ historical events relating to Sandy. Wartime record keeping was detailed for humans, but not for horses! To overcome this challenge, I structured the story around the four pivotal humans in Sandy’s life; Francis O’Donnell, Major General Bridges, Captain Whitfield and Archie. I knew that before the war, Sandy carted bricks for the O’Donnell family at old Tallangatta, a town that was drowned to make the Hume Weir. I also knew that Sandy was Major General Bridges’ favourite horse and that they sailed together in late 1914 on the flagship Orvieto. But how did Sandy and the major general meet? Did the O’ Donnell family donate Sandy to the war effort, or to Major General Bridges directly? I interviewed descendants of the O’Donnell family and Tallangatta historians. Their opinions differed, so I linked their meeting to an actual wartime horse muster. I also knew that after leaving the Middle East Sandy travelled with Whitfield to the Calais Remount Centre, and that his eyesight was damaged in a gas attack. but again there were no details. For an author sketchy information is not necessarily a bad thing as it leaves plenty of room for imagination. For readers who’d like to know more, I’ve created a link ‘The Real Sandy’ on my website, sharing what is real and what is imagined. I will continue adding to this as more becomes known about this iconic horse.

THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING AN AUTHOR

The hardest thing about being an author is believing in yourself and persevering. Every author I know has received manuscript rejections. Writing is like any other job, you need to turn up every day. Editing and working to make your stories the best they can be is difficult.

OVERCOMING IT

When I’m stuck, I find that being outside helps, taking a long walk, swimming in the ocean, or just staring at clouds or a tree. Nature helps me put things in perspective. Once I stop obsessing about a scene or character, a solution usually presents itself. Allowing myself to write scrappy first drafts without judgement also helps. First drafts can be edited again and again until at last they begin to work. When a manuscript is accepted, it’s worth all the hard work.

Monday Motivators With Jeanette Stampone

About Jeanette
Jeanette Stampone is the youngest of eight children.

She was born in a three-hundred-year-old English house and grew up with stories of local legends, pixies, ghosts, and fairies. Jeanette now lives in a small country town in WA with her husband and two boys.

About Shadow and the Girl
Shadow and the Girl is a picture book about a shadow who tries to run away from a giant girl. Soon Shadow realises she is stuck to the girl and there is no escape.

This book explores friendship, fear and self-acceptance. It is written by me, illustrated by Demelsa Haughton and published by Red Paper Kite.

The Hardest thing about Writing Shadow and the Girl
The most difficult thing about writing this book was trying to get a good idea out of my head and onto paper. Shadow began as a monster but that didn’t work.

Then Shadow was playing in the girl’s room but that didn’t work either. So I ended up changing the whole scene and beginning the story outside in the park. Finally, it worked! This process alone took about six months.

The Hardest thing about Being an Author
The hardest thing about being an author is receiving a LOT of rejections and not giving up, even though you don’t know if you’ll be successful.

I overcame this by imagining myself in twenty years time. If I gave up, the older version if myself would always wonder what if…? What if I’d tried just a bit longer? However, if I never gave up but never got published, I still believe the older version of myself would be proud that I kept going and did my best. You can only ever do your best. That’s always good enough.

Monday Motivators With Sarah Armstrong

Before writing kids’ books, Sarah Armstrong was an award-winning journalist at ABC Radio, and she has published three novels for grown-ups, including Salt Rain which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. Big Magic is her first kids’ novel and its sequel will be out in 2023. She lives in the northern NSW town of Mullumbimby (which features, although slightly disguised) in all her novels. 

About Big Magic:

Big Magic is about eleven-year old Tulsi who lives in a travelling circus. She comes from a long line of women magicians but her mother has always forbidden her to learn Big Magic. It’s dangerous, thrilling and powerful – and Tulsi wants it more than anything. But one hot summer’s night, a magic trick goes horribly wrong and her mother disappears. Only one person can bring her back, and that’s Tulsi.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

The hardest thing was carving out the time. Although sometimes it’s a slog, figuring out plot points and making sure everything makes sense. It’s just hard holding everything in my head!  I’d call Big Magic low fantasy (ie set in the real world with a magical element) but there was still plenty of world building which was new to me as someone who’s previously written realist novels. It’s quite complicated creating rules for a new world!

How did I overcome it/what kept me going?

I had Zoom meetings with my lovely editor Luna Soo, at Hardie Grant, where we nutted out some of the world building stuff. And I got out my roll of butchers’ paper and did lots of diagrams and planning. It really helps me to ‘see’ it like that. Freewriting is also my miracle writing tool – I free-write whenever I am stuck whether it be a plot or character issue.

What is the hardest thing about being an author/illustrator?

 It feels like my dream job. The hardest thing is that I never clock off. There is always work to be done.

How did you overcome it?

I’m not sure I have overcome that one yet!

What has kept you going?

My love of books sustains me always and also my writing buddies. I write once a week with kids’ authors Zanni Louise and Tristan Bancks, and have an amazing online writing critique group with those two and Lian Tanner and Deb Abela. I spend so much time in my own head, thinking things through, that having a writing community is really essential.

I was lucky to be at a recent launch of Sarah’s Big Magic and although I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, it sounds amazing.

Dee

MONDAY MOTIVATORS – CANDICE LEMON-SCOTT

Candice Lemon-Scott is the first author to share her tips on how to overcome writing challenges and stay motivated.

We hope this helps get your writing week off to a great start.

ABOUT CANDICE

Candice Lemon-Scott

Candice Lemon-Scott is an award-winning Australian author, editor and presenter. She has published 14 books. Her quirky style, fast-paced narratives and originality appealing to young readers in particular. Her most recent book Ocean Warriors: The Rise of Robo-Shark is an environmental adventure book with STEM themes. Her previous series, Eco Rangers, is a wildlife adventure series. Her first series Jake in Space features turbo space cars, hurtling asteroids, and evil villains. 

She has received awards recognition in the Wilderness Society’s Environment Award for Children’s Literature, Green Earth Award, Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, PPA Award and EPAA (Educational Publishing Australia Awards). Candice has a Bachelor of Communication / Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing & Editing) and is a PhD candidate in English. When not writing, or running her bookstore, Candice can usually be found on a beach somewhere.

For more, you can visit her website: https://candicelemonscott.com.au/ 

THE BOOK

Ocean Warriors: The Rise of Robo-Shark is an environmental adventure with STEM themes for kids 7-12. It’s set in the not-too-distant future at a time when sea creatures are virtually extinct. In this future world, kids are sent to Environmental Citizenship summer camp, and Kai and Emily go to a research submarine to help restore extinct sea creatures. Kai would rather spend his days playing virtual reality games than restore the icky sea cucumber, until one day he sees a great white shark out the portal of the submarine.

The problem with that is, sharks are extinct. Plus, this one is a cyborg. Kai then sets about working with Emily to prove its existence and learning to communicate with it. In getting to know the shark, he becomes determined to bring sharks back from the brink of extinction. Not everyone likes the idea of great white sharks roaming the seas again though, and they come up against an evil organisation trying to thwart the mission.

THE HARDEST THING ABOUT WRITING THIS BOOK

The hardest thing about writing the book was combining writing from the point of view of a human character with that of the robo-shark. It was very different getting in the ‘head’ of a cyborg great white shark compared to that of  my main character, Kai. It was a particularly challenging process to get the shark voice right in creating an anthropomorphised character. I really had to think about how a shark might perceive a world where most sea creatures have disappeared from the oceans in a different way to how humans would see it.

HOW CANDICE OVERCAME HER WRITING OBSTACLE

I originally wrote the different points of view in separate scenes, alternating between the shark point of view and the human ones. Once I’d written those initial draft scenes, I started to combine them into the story. It took a lot of redrafting, particularly in playing around with different ways the shark might ‘talk’ and in seeing the world through the shark’s worldview.

THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING AN AUTHOR

The hardest thing for me is finding the time to dedicate to writing around running my business, my love of travel, and family life.

HOW CANDICE DEALS WITH THE CHALLENGES OF BEING AN AUTHOR, AND WHAT KEEPS HER GOING

I made the decision a long time ago that I was going to dedicate at least one day of the week to writing and nothing else. When the kids were very little it was only a few hours a week and gradually I’ve been able to build that up. Knowing I have that set time each week really helps me and it’s surprising how much can be achieved by giving myself even a small block of time. My passion for storytelling is what’s kept me going. Stories that come to me will persist until I write them, and it brings me a lot of joy to write. Writing is my ‘me’ time.

Dirt Circus League – A page turning YA

Asa is running from a troubled past, and when she goes to stay with the father she hasn’t seen in twelve years, she’s hoping that finally she has found a home.

But he’s more interested in spending time at the pub than with his daughter and when the notorious Dirt Circus League arrives in town they draw Asa into their web.

Apart her instant attraction to their charismatic leader, Quarter, Asa is drawn to the possibility of friendship and connection and the yearning to become part of this unruly group of under 20s, all except The Surgeon who’s an ‘outsider’ like Asa but attends to all the group’s medical needs.

In this page turner, we see Asa drawn deeper and deeper into the League’s mysterious web.

Up until now, Asa has tried to ignore the gift of second sight; the ability to see both the past and the future, but since she has joined the League, her visions have been getting stronger and she soon realises that there’s way more to the League than she thought, and there’s a dark reason why none of it’s members are over twenty.

Asa is also forced to face the darkness in herself and the reasons why she always resorts to fighting and violence to handle the deep anger in her that comes from a lifetime of betrayals.

The author

Asa’s visions help her to discover the truth about the Dirt Circus League, but not everybody is going to be happy with her revelations, even if they save lives.

Asa is forced to choose between her feelings for Quarter and her need to find a space where she is loved unconditionally and personal happiness doesn’t come through violence and danger.

I found myself drawn into the deep and disturbed world that Maree Kimberley has created in Dirt Circus League . I loved its authenticity and the way the author uses the setting as a character in the story, creating menace and beauty at the same time.

The lure of constant danger and Asa’s disturbing visions made this book a real page turner.

I was also hooked in by Asa’s complex character and the way she battles the demons within herself. I loved her strength and her vulnerability, and how they lead her into danger, but also save her in the end.

Dirt Circus League is a compelling read set in a frightening but believable world.

It is written by Maree Kimberley and published by Text Publishing.

Maree Kimberley is a writer from Brisbane. Her work has been published in several anthologies, including The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2015 and Defying Doomsday. Dirt Circus League, her first novel for young adults, was inspired by the remote landscapes of Cape York and her fascination for neuroscience.

I spoke to Maree about how she wrote this extraordinary book and you can see our interview here.