International Author Sails in to DeeScribe Writing

Today I’m very excited to welcome dear friend and fellow SCBWI Nevada mentee, Mina Witteman to my blog.

Mina is an amazing international author and editor, and today she’s sharing the inspiring story of how genetics, a love of books, and a lifetime of sailing led to the creation of her hugely successful Boreas series for middle grade readers.

Mina will tell us how she weaves facts and reality into her extraordinary fiction.


Mina writes in English and Dutch, and has seven middle grade adventure novels out in the Netherlands, over 40 short stories, and a Little Golden Book. She is currently working on an English novel for Young Adults and an English middle grade novel.

She debuted in 2005 with De wraak van Deedee (Deedee’s Revenge), followed by two more middle grade adventure novels with Van Goor Children’s Books. In 2010 she transferred to Ploegsma Children’s Book Publishers, one of the oldest and most prestigious children’s book publishers in the Netherlands, where her Boreas series is published. The Boreas series tell the story of twelve-year-old Boreas who circumnavigates the world with his parents on a sailboat. The first book, Boreas en de zeven zeeën (Boreas and the Seven Seas ), came out in June 2015 and received rave reviews. Boreas en de duizend eilanden (Boreas and the Thousand Islands) was published in April 2016 and was equally praised, just like book 3 in the series, Boreas en de vier windstreken (Boreas and the Four Winds) that saw the light in 2017. Book 4, Boreas en de vijftien vrienden (Boreas and the Fifteen Friends) is scheduled to come out in 2018.

She was honored to write a series of 21 short stories with illustrations of famous Dutch illustrator Fiep Westendorp. The series was published in Bobo Children’s Magazine. Recent short stories are published in the famous read-aloud anthologies of Ploegsma Children’s Books. She is the proud author of a Dutch Little Golden Book, Mia’s Nest (Rubinstein Publishing, 2014), followed by a full-version Spanish edition, El nido de Mia (Panamericana, 2016).

Mina is a seasoned book editor, trained through the University of Amsterdam’s Dual Master Book Editing. She is an certified teacher creative writing (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences) and teaches and coaches budding and published writers alike. Mina is SCBWI’s International Published Authors’ Coordinator and a founding member of the successful SCBWI Europolitan Conferences. Mina is member of the EU Planning Committee of the SCBWI British Isles’ Undiscovered Voices Competition for unagented and unpublished writers and illustrators and a nominating body for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and a long-time jury member for the Young Authors Fiction Festival of the American Library in Paris. She is the Program Associate Children and Young Adults for the Bay Area Book Festival, and lives in   Berkeley, California.


I grew up in a small town in the Netherlands. Tucked away in the crown of a knotted linden tree, I read book after book, fiction and non-fiction, books that landed me in adventures on far shores, books that taught me history and mythology, books that let me explore nature and science. I loved these books and their exciting unfamiliar worlds. I often wished I could live in them for a while. Reading sparked a fire that, to this date, hasn’t gone out. But there was more that ignited this longing to look further than my own world. My father was an architect and a sailor with a lifelong dream to sail around the world. He instilled in me a love for science, for the sea and the wind. My mother showed me how to catch the tiniest details of life and nature, like a caterpillar on a tree branch or a quicksilver rabbit in a faraway field, gone in an eye’s blink. She also had the gift of storytelling, which she passed on to me. With strands like that coiled around each other and forming my DNA, it was inevitable that some day I myself would write thrilling adventures on far shores.

It wasn’t until I had scattered my mother’s ashes in the sea and bid my father fair winds and following seas, that Boreas was born. Boreas, a young boy named after the Greek god of the northern wind, who circumnavigates the world with his parents on their sailboat the Argo. I couldn’t be happier when Ploegsma, one of the oldest and most prestigious Dutch children’s publishing houses, decided to publish the series.

I wanted the series to appeal to all children, no matter where they lived, to girls and boys, to sailors and to readers who prefer solid ground. Like the stories that captivated me when I was young, I wanted Boreas’s journey to reflect life and the real world in all its facets. I could not just include fun and games; I had to add life’s hardships and the world’s challenges, as well. My biggest hurdle was that I love—as in LOVE!—facts. If I come across something, say celestial navigation, I find out every little detail about it. And I’m super eager to share that knowledge. But I didn’t want to scuttle Boreas’s fast-paced adventures by dumping facts.

My mother’s storytelling gift threw me a lifebuoy. While perusing the logbooks she kept during the twelve years she and my father spent sailing, I realized Boreas had to keep a logbook, too. So, I alternated riveting adventures, ashore and at sea, with more reflective logbook pages where I could sprinkle in my fun facts, ranging from the use of marine signal flags to, yes, celestial navigation, from recipes of dishes typical to the countries Boreas visits to wildlife to plastic pollution.

Most important to me was that I portrayed events, countries and cultures without cloaking the harsher sides of life. I juxtaposed bleaker stories with lighter ones to find a healthy balance in presenting the good and the bad for my young middle grade readers. My Dutch candor keeps me from prettifying the truth. If there is no happy end in real life, like when Boreas and his parents crash into the self-built raft of a young refugee, trying cross the English Channel, I won’t forge a happy ending nor will I leave my readers in despair. I do want to give hope and the logbook pages turned out to be a perfect tool for that. Boreas looks back on events like this, asking himself questions: What is fair and what is unfair? How would he solve the situation if he were in charge? Readers, but also teachers and librarians love the books, as they not just give the joy of reading, but offer talking points for discussions, while sneaking in information and facts that can deepen my readers understanding of the world.

Thanks, Mina for sharing your amazing story with us. If you have questions for Mina, please feel free to share them in the comments section of this blog.

Happy writing 🙂



Tarin of the Mammoths – Jo Sandhu’s 5 Step Approach to Story Development

Jo Sandhu is an amazing writer who was very supportive of me in the early stages of my career, which is why I’m so pleased that her beautifully written Tarin of the Mammoths series (Book 2 due out next month) is doing so well.

In today’s post, Jo generously shares her Five Step Approach to Story Development … and I review her beautiful book, Tarin of the Mammoths – Book 1.


Jo grew up in the Tweed Valley in northern NSW, close to the beach… and she’s still there. She’s married to Sarj, and has two boys, Chris, 21 and Alex, 19.

Jo has been writing on and off for over 15 years and her short stories have been highly commended in numerous competitions. Tarin of the Mammoths: The Exile is my first published novel.


I’ve always loved a Quest story and I’ve always been fascinated by history, so it was probably inevitable that I would one day write an historical adventure story. It only took me ten years! Of course, my first draft was very different to the story that was finally published, and these are some of the steps I took to develop a trilogy from my initial idea.

Step One:

First, I started with an idea and a protagonist.

A boy travels to a mountain with an Offering from his clan.

Simple and straight forward. Then I played with that idea – I asked questions and posed problems.

Who is Tarin? Why is he going to the Mountain? Why him? What happens if he fails? Does that make him still a hero? Does anyone want to read a story about a boy who failed?

From these questions came the picture of Tarin as a member of a Clan or Tribe. I hadn’t set the exact time period yet because I was still playing with ideas around his character. He was going to be the weakest member of the Clan, because I like the idea of the Unlikely Hero. And there would be wolves and river rapids and danger, but somehow, he would ‘save’ his clan. Obviously, still lots of plot holes at this stage of development.

Step Two: Refine the details.

My next step was to make some decisions about Tarin’s world, because that would determine the nature of his Quest.

Where is this happening, and most importantly, when?

Two elements came together here.

Firstly, I had always loved Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series and wanted to share it with my children, but they were too young for such an adult book. Secondly, I already knew a lot about the Paleolithic Era from my own non-fiction reading. The two combined to give me my time in history – a time about 30 000 years ago, when the last of the Neanderthals were disappearing and mammoths and bison still roamed the tundra in large numbers.

I then had to decide about place. I had spent a year in Finnish Lapland as an Exchange Student and still remembered the forests and deep winter. This would be my landscape.

As my picture of Tarin and his world grew, so did my plot. I have to plot a story before I begin writing, otherwise I get a bit tangled up and lose focus. I think a good plot outline is like a map – I might wander off course sometimes, and even find a trail that is better than my original plan, but if I don’t have that initial map to keep me focussed on my destination, I could end up anywhere!

At this stage I had Tarin reaching the mountain, rescuing the wolf pups, returning home and being hailed a hero. The End.

Step Three: Research – my favourite part.

I love research so much I tend to get lost in it. I wanted an authentic world, so I read widely on archaeological digs, scientific discoveries, customs of ancient civilisations, flora and fauna, survival skills, herbal medicine, hunting skills, and so on, and my historical details are as authentic as possible after 30 000 years.

Step Four: Write the story. Follow the map, but be willing to explore.

Step Five: Editing and layering.

Possibly my favourite bit after researching. This is where I take my raw story and shape it into something completely different. I take out extraneous words, adjust pace, swap chapters around, change characters names, delete whole passages in disgust – all the while using my research to add authenticity and richness to the world I’ve created.

I like adding extra layers to the story and I do this by dropping in small facts such as wolverine fur doesn’t allow ice to form, reindeer fur keeps the wearer warm and dry, and sedge grass can be stuffed in boots as insulation. I use Finnish words such as Kaamos for the long, dark winter when the sun doesn’t rise, and beaska is a Saami (traditional Lappish) word for coat. The herbs Tarin uses are all Scandinavian herbs and used authentically, although I created mustika, the plant that brings on trances or death, from the Finnish words for black and plant.

It’s like adding to a skeleton – muscle, flesh, then skin and finally, clothes. I find this is when the story really starts to sing.

I’ve really enjoyed writing Tarin’s story. Book Two, Clan of Wolves is out in October this year, followed by Book Three, Cave Bear Mountain next March.

You can find me at

Thanks Jo for taking us through your fascinating story development process and sharing your tips.


Tarin of the Mammoths – the Exile is a seamless work of historical fiction that immerses the reader so deeply in Tarin’s world that you feel like you are part of the story, sitting in the deer hide tent, or rubbing firestones together to try and get warm.

You can smell the broth being stirred with the bleached bone, and you can picture Tarin limping along, determined but frightened.

With extroardinary setting detail, author Jo Sandhu has captured the world of the Mammoth Clan completely.

Then there’s the main character, Tarin. Tarin is so believable, vulnerable and brave that he stays with you long after this story is over.

Tarin longs to be a hunter, but his twisted leg means he is feared and bullied. After a disastrous mishap, Tarin is forced to leave his family and travel alone across wild, unknown land to save the Mammoth Clan to which he belongs.

Tarin’s disgrace is even harder to bear because his parents are the leaders of the Clan.

He has so much to lose, his family, his honour and his life.

Readers looking for adventure, great characters and tension will love Tarin of the Mammoths – The Exile, and after reading the last page will be eager to know what happens next.

And you’re in luck, because the sequel, Clan of Wolves is due for release early next month.

Thanks Jo for visiting DeeScribe Writing, and sharing your writing secrets.


International Author Sails in With Some Fabulous Writing Insights

I first met extraordinary author Mina Witteman at the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference where she was also the representative of SCBWI Netherlands through her role as Regional Advisor.

By a strange coincidence, we both successfully applied for the SCBWI Nevada Mentorship Program and here we are pictured above.

As well as being a much-loved writer, Mina is also a huge advocate for children’s and young adult creators and the publishing industry.

In 2015 I was lucky to be invited by Mina to present a writing workshop at the second SCBWI Europolitan Conference she organised in Amsterdam. She is one of the three founding members of this bi-annual conference that offers a great opportunity for children’s book creators to connect with each other and with publishing professionals from all over the world.


My Amsterdam writing workshop

Mina was Regional Advisor for SCBWI Netherlands for more than five years from 2011 to 2016, and as well as organising amazing events in that part of the world she was also responsible for member communications. The Dutch chapter of the SCBWI is one of the nominating bodies of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the world’s most prestigious children’s book award.

Mina is a member of the EU Planning Committee of Undiscovered Voices anthology whose aim is to discover new talent in Children’s and YA lit. In addition to this she spent four years as the Chairman of the Working Group Children’s Books of the Dutch Authors Guild in the Netherlands.

She is still a Jury member of the Young Authors Fiction Festival organised by the American Library in Paris. dsc_4667

In between doing all this amazing advocacy work for the children’s book industry, Mina still finds time to create her wonderful stories for children, and that’s what she’s here to talk to us about today. She writes across all genre and age groups from picture book to young adult.

She currently divides her time between her hometown Amsterdam and San Francisco, where she is researching for a number of new works.


  1. Mina, your latest very popular series follows the adventures of Boreas, a young boy who circumnavigates the world with his parents on a sailboat. Can you tell us where the character of Boreas came from?

My favorite childhood book was Margaret Wise Brown’s
THE SAILOR DOG, a Little Golden Book about a dog that sailed around the world, and another one of my favorites was GIDEONS REIZEN (Gideon’s Travels), a book by famous Dutch children’s book author An Rutgers van der Loeff. Both books opened new and excitingly unknown worlds. From the first time my mother read me THE SAILOR DOG, I wanted to sail with Scupper on his ship. I wanted to hang my hat on a hook next to his, my spyglass on a hook next to his and have a bunk for a bed. I wanted to explore new worlds with him. Just like I wanted to travel with Gideon and his father to the mesmerizing new worlds they traveled to. With the Boreas series I hope to open new worlds to my readers, too.

2. You have mentioned to me before that these books come from your own personal experiences? Can you elaborate on this?
Sailing is in my blood, too. Thanks to my father, a sailor in heart and soul, we could sail before we could ride a bike, and that is something extraordinary in a country, where people are basically born bicycling.

We sailed a lot, first in a small open boat on a nearby lake and later on my father’s yacht out on the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. When we kids had all left home, my father left his firm – he was an architect – and his house, bought a bigger yacht and whisked my mother away on a sailing trip that would last twelve years. Every chance we had we would fly to wherever on the globe they were and sail along for a month or so. My mother was the storyteller of the family – I might have inherited some genes here too – and all those years at sea she kept a journal in which she wrote her daily adventures. When she passed away she left me her journals. They are my inspiration, together with all my own sailing memories. 

Mina sailing in France as a child with one of her sisters.

Mina sailing in France as a child with one of her sisters.

  1. boreas-en-de-vier-windstrekenHow important do you think it is for an author to bring their own personal experiences to their work as a children’s book writer? Do you have any tips for other writers aiming to do this?

I believe an author bringing personal experiences to the table is what makes the heart of a story beat.

And this is also where the hard work starts. On whatever experience or memory an author draws, it should never end up in a story just like it was. The art of writing is to transpose the beating heart from your memory to your story. You call up the feeling, the emotion behind the memory or experience and slip that into your protagonist’s skin. You disconnect the personal memory from what you need for your story.

You throw out the truth—what really happened to you—and invite fiction—what happens to your characters.

It’s easier with the middle grade adventure novels, but decidedly harder with my young adult novels. My young adult novels rely more heavily on my emotional life and I have to actively curb my truth, as it were, to prevent it from polluting my protagonist’s story or, worse, taking over and morphing it into a memoir.

  1. Do you think that it’s this personal connection to your work that makes these books so popular with readers? If so, why?

Reviewers and readers alike often describe that it is as if they are part of the story, as if they are physically present and sense everything the protagonist senses.

Readers of the Boreas books mention that they can feel the wind in their hair, they hear the tingling of the halyards and stays, the flapping of the sails.

I believe this feeling of first-hand experience is brought about by how I peel the me from the memories and shape them into emotions the reader can project onto himself.


Mina tumbling down a waterfall

Maybe also, because I tend go even further than only using my past; I create new experiences, too. If the protagonist of my middle grade adventure books tumbles down a waterfall in a kayak, I want to know how that feels. I need to know what happens when you go under, how the current pulls your hair and clothes, how the water pressure pushes the air out of your lungs, how it feels when you want open your mouth to breathe but you can’t because all you’ll pull in is water, how you panic and lose track of what’s up and what’s down. So… I make sure I tumble down a waterfall too. Just like I hike icy mountains or scorching deserts or spend weeks alone at sea.

Just like I roam the streets of San Francisco and Amsterdam for my Young Adult novels. All to find out how my protagonist will see, hear, smell but above all how he or she will feel: the happiness, the sadness, the terror, the desperation, the boredom, the excitement.

  1. You are currently spending some time in San Francisco, immersing yourself in that world for your writing. How important do you think it is for an author to do actual research as opposed to virtually through the internet? What do you think this adds to a writer’s work?

As said before, my work is known to pull readers deep into such a vivid world that it feels as if they are actually there, walking alongside the protagonist, or even living in the protagonist’s head, seeing the world through her eyes. I would not be able to pull that off without walking where my protagonist walks, without seeing what she sees, without experiencing the light and the dark of this city. The Internet is a great help, but it gives you the technicalities of a location only, the street plan, the houses, the hills, the landmarks. I know with Street View you can ‘walk’ the streets, but what it doesn’t provide are any other sensory details. It doesn’t give you that distinct change in smell when you stray from the Financial District into The Tenderloin when crisp winter air morphs into the fetor of human waste. It doesn’t give you the nocturnal wailing and crying of the homeless that haunt you well through the day. It doesn’t brush the salty tang of the ocean past your lips. For that you have to be there. I have to be there. It not only breathes life into my writing, it’s also imperative to the development of the story, because it influences the actions of my characters, it has an impact on my protagonist’s state of mind. Imagine how different her responses will be if she ends up in a clean and bright city that is entirely plucked from the virtual reality of the Internet instead of being plunged into the grim truth of San Francisco… 

'The salty tang of the ocean'. Mina sails the Mediterranean.

The salty tang of the ocean sailing the Mediterranean.


  1. You have also written a Little Golden Book, Mia’s Nest. How did it feel to have your work selected for this classic series? What do you think makes Mia’s story so special?

el-nido-de-miaMia’s Nest…

My first favorite book was the Little Golden Book I mentioned earlier and to be included in that legendary collection is an immense honor.

Angela Pelaez Vargas and I were delighted when we got the call from the publisher. What makes Mia’s Nest a Little Golden Book? I guess it’s the universal theme—a little girl with tangles in her hair—combined with the unexpected twist and Angela’s enchanting pencil drawings, which give the illustrations that classic feel, that, at least I think, fits this much-lauded series.

  1. You have the ability to write in more than one language, what do you think this brings to your work as a children’s book author?

I am not sure if it adds to my work as a children’s book author per se. What I do know is that I never translate: when I write in Dutch I live, think and dream in Dutch and when I work on an English manuscript I live, think and dream in English and because of that it’s easier to write my Dutch novels in Amsterdam and my English novels in the US.

How I choose in which language I write a story? I don’t know. It doesn’t fees like I have a choice. Somehow the language is an intrinsic part of the story I need to tell. The idea comes in Dutch or in English and that decides in which language it needs to be written. So far, I mostly write my middle grade stories, which are adventurous and humorous, in Dutch, whereas my young adult stories that are decidedly raw and dark come in English. It may be that English creates just that little more distance between the darkness of those stories and me to not slip into despair myself. Or maybe my voice is just funnier and more light-hearted in Dutch. I don’t question my gut here. I just go for it. In English or in Dutch.

Picture books and short stories come in Dutch and in English. In between my longer work, I love writing short pieces. My études. I use them to sharpen my pen, to force myself to be concise and trim skin, fat and muscles from a story to unravel its bare bones. Or I use them to just whip my brain in gear and keep the writing going. I need that in both languages and it’s always a conscious decision, composing an étude in Dutch or English.  403137


  1. As a highly successful children’s book author, what tips do you have for up and coming writers?

Don’t give up on your dream would be the obvious one, right? And you shouldn’t. You should never give up on your dream.

But not giving up on your dream comes with an obligation: you will need to work hard to make it happen.

Not just because it isn’t an easy business (and trust me on this one: it isn’t!), but first and foremost because we owe it the children who will read our stories. Our books are the ones they first encounter on their path to literacy, the earliest guidance in growing up, toward compassion and to critical thinking. We have to give it our best shot. You have to invest in your tuition. You have to continue to hone your craft every step of the way. Learn from others. Read the authors you love, but the ones you don’t love, too.

Gaining insight in story and in what works and what doesn’t will help you find your own strength in writing, your unique voice.

  1. Can you share one lesson you’ve learned in your journey from aspiring writer to an author whose books are loved by so many?

Writing is a wicked awesome métier but a solitary one. Don’t get lost in silence. Don’t get lost in your own head. Find the people out there who know what it is to be a writer, people that have experienced what you experience, the joys of that perfect story idea, the satisfaction of overcoming blocks and other hindrances, the despair that washes over you when you get rejection after rejection, the self-doubt that creeps in when words won’t work, the thrill of selling a story, the sheer ecstasy of holding your first book in your hands. You will need your tribe and you can find them by joining organizations like the SCBWI and local authors guilds. Find your tribe!

Mina, thank you so much for visiting and for your wonderful insights into your world and how you create your amazing books.

You can find out more about Mina and her wonderful work here.

If you have questions for Mina about anything writing related, feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post. It could be about her work, about being a bilingual author, about writing stories for an international readership … anything.

Hope you’ve had a great start to 2017 and may it bring you much happiness.

I have a big year ahead with two new books coming which I’m so excited about. I’ll be posting about them here. I’ll also be sharing lots more writing tips, author interviews and the story of how I came to sign with  my fabulous US agent, Jill Corcoran. (I was so lucky to have wonderful people supporting and encouraging me along the way. That’s why as Mina says, it’s so important to connect with other writers.

Till next time …

Happy writing 🙂





Tracy Clark Brings Her Worldwide Conspiracy to Australia

traleaning-4Today I’m pleased to welcome an author all the way from one of my favourite parts of the USA, Nevada.

Tracy Clark is an award-winning author who grew up a “Valley Girl” in Southern California but now lives in her home state of Nevada. She has two teenagers who are a continuous source of great dialogue. (I can relate to this, Tracy 🙂

Her published books include: a young-adult paranormal series, The Light Key Trilogy (SCINTILLATE, DEVIATE, ILLUMINATE,) and her latest novel, MIRAGE, an eerie YA thriller.

Tracy’s a proud mom, a private pilot, a post-skydiving daredevil, a spicy-chocolate connoisseur, and an irredeemable dreamer.

Welcome Tracy 🙂 I’m so pleased you could take time out from your busy schedule to visit my blog. We have so much in common even though we’ve never met. I might need to get some spicy-chocolate tips from you at some stage 🙂

Tracy says,
“Thank you again for being willing to help me spread the word about SCINTILLATE internationally! It’s book one in The Light Key Trilogy. The series is complete and all books are available. Scintillate is on sale for .99 on all platforms and Bookbub is running its ad on 1/29. (Though the sale price will extend a bit longer, according to my publisher.) 
I’m thrilled to bring the series to Australia as it is a global story featuring a worldwide conspiracy. The series has been likened to a YA DaVinci Code or National Treasure because I use real-life mysteries and artifacts from around the world to build the mythology. There’s a strong romance storyline as well because I can’t help but write kissing scenes. It’s an addiction! Right now, the whole series can be had for about $8.00 USD. “

If you have a question for Tracy about her writing or her fabulous books, feel free to leave a comment at the end of this post.


scintillate-new-coverA mighty flame follows a tiny spark.

Cora Sandoval’s mother disappeared when she was five and they were living in Ireland. Since then, her dad has been more than overprotective and Cora is beginning to chafe under his confines. But even more troubling is the colorful light she suddenly sees around people. Everyone, that is, except herself—instead, she glows a brilliant, sparkling silver.

As she realizes the danger associated with these strange auras, Cora is inexplicably drawn to Finn, a gorgeous Irish exchange student who makes her feel safe. Their attraction is instant, magnetic, and primal—but her father disapproves, and Finn’s mother orders him home to Ireland upon hearing he’s fallen in love. After a fight with her father, Cora flees to Ireland, both to follow Finn and to look for her missing mother.

There she meets another silver-haloed person and discovers the meaning of her newfound powers and their role in a conspiracy spanning centuries—one that could change mankind forever…and end her life.

Scintillate is the thrilling Book 1 in the Light Key Trilogy.

Rated 4.1 stars on Amazon and won the Golden Quill for Best YA.
MIRAGE, a YA thriller, 2016 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks for visiting us here in Australia, Tracy. We are so pleased we’ll have the opportunity to buy your books.


Writing & Illustrating a Picture Book – With Tania McCartney

Today my very good author/illustrator friend, Tania McCartney is joining me on the virtual deck for a cup of tea and a chat about how to write and illustrate a picture book. At the end of this post, she’s also offering readers the chance to win some great prizes.

Check out Tania’s great writing and illustrating tips at the end of this post. image011

Tania, tell us about Australia Illustrated.

Australia Illustrated is the very first picture book I’ve both written and illustrated and it was an incredible learning experience. The process was unusual in that I had pretty much carte blanche (with a pre-approved outline from publisher, EK Books). You may already know that in publishing, this is highly unusual.

Having this freedom was a real gift. Having written, edited, laid out, designed, collected, studied, read and enjoyed picture books for two or three decades now, I had zero experience in the actual process required to combine my own writing with my own illustration. In fact, to give you an idea of up how-ended my process was, I did the book cover first!

With this lack of experience, it would have been almost impossible for me to take the ‘roughs, storyboards, mock-ups, colour-palettes, character studies’ route that most picture book illustrators undergo. I didn’t have the know-how or skill, and given that Australia Illustrated is 96 pages and I had scant idea of what I was going to include in the book, having to do all that would have been my undoing!

Thankfully, I muddled my way through, and the end result is something pretty unusual—and something I’m actually proud of.


If I could think of one word to describe Australia Illustrated … it’s joy.

T00a-cover-pastelhis book exudes joy on every page.

It’s clear that Tania enjoyed creating Australia Illustrated … and this book reflects her joy in being Australian.

Each page is full of vibrant, active illustrations that reflect well thought out and researched text.

Each state and territory of Australia is featured along with the food, flora, fauna, sport, customs people and places that make them unique … oh and did I mention food? There’s a lot of food in this book.

From the First People to washing lines and crocodiles, football and sunshine, koalas and akubras, skyscrapers and beaches that squeak, this 96-page picture book is a glorious tribute to this wide brown land and its rich and varied multicultural communities. Vibrantly illustrated with watercolour, ink and mono-printing, Australia: Illustrated not only celebrates the more ‘typical’ Australian flora, fauna and landmarks, it also showcases the everyday quirks and idiosyncrasies that make Australia unique: the many types of rain, Greek street food, Sydney ferries, cattle breeds, the plants of the Daintree. Even the quokka selfie epidemic is featured! 

One of the things readers will love most about this book is that it’s so relateable. For adults it will conjure up childhood memories, for young readers it will inspire them to create them.

Australia Illustrated is beautifully produced by EK Books. It comes in a hard cover and with 96 pages will provide hours of entertainment and joy for readers of all ages in the classroom and home.

What I Learned During My Picture Book Muddle.

  1. I learned that the best way to illustrate a book is to have courage and not think about it too much. There were moments on this journey when I was filled with absolute terror over how my images would be perceived—in terms of skill, style, content.

au-diverse-kid-girl-japaneseI also began questioning how things were unfolding and if I was on the ‘right track’. Whenever this happened, I had to shut this thought down, otherwise, I probably would have given up. And how did I shut the thought down? I told myself what ALL creators should be telling themselves—that I’m creating this book for me first, others second.

Many creators will tell you that they write for the reader but we HAVE to write for ourselves first. If we don’t, we wouldn’t enjoy the process (sorry, but I don’t want to write about boy superheros who live on the moon, even though millions of kids might love that!). We have to write and draw what WE personally love—to give us creative satisfaction and to do our best work. Then, as a massive side-bonus, if kids or adults or monkeys fall into our stories or our images and have a wonderful time there—that is what makes it doubly worthwhile. In fact, they say that once a book is published, it ceases to be yours—it becomes the reader’s. So I say make it yours while you can, then let it go!

  1. I learned that a creative process should be an organic process, and that while having a plan or outline is important, allowing story and images to unfold has an intense magic in it. Good publishers know this. They know that stories can morph over time, and picture ideas can change and grow. The very best books come from trusting that organic process, and not stripping it of its essence with over-editing and over-thinking—or bowing down to what other people want or might expect.
  1. I learned that illustrating books is an immense emotional, mental, physical and time investment (arguable even more so than writing one). You cannot be in this for the money. A hundred-thousand dollars probably wouldn’t cover the hours I put into Australia Illustrated, but the creative satisfaction and joy its creation brought me is priceless. It can’t be about money. If you make it about money, it will crush you with the fiscal unfairness of it all.
  1. I learned that children’s book illustrations really do need to be highly professional and beautiful. I mean, I knew that already, but I learned it all over again on a deeply personal level. I have only just rekindled my love for illustration these past few years. My skills were rusted over, and I’ve had to relearn so very much. During the twelve months it took to create Australia Illustrated, my skills, naturally, bettered themselves, and I found myself looking back at my first images with some disdain. Luckily, I had also developed digital art skills during that year, and I was able to touch up first images to the standard I knew the book needed.
  1. I learned that you Just Have To Throw Yourself In. During my [many] moments of self-doubt or angst of fear, I found the only way out was through. Just do it. When you do that, things unblock and flow. It worked for me every single time.034-vic-mel-icons
  1. Dee asked me for five points, but I can’t resist one more—sorry, Dee! I learned that I want to do things differently next time. There are some splendid illustrators who keep the same style of art their entire career long—and it works beautifully for them. For me, I think creating in the same style forever would send me to the loony bin. I still love the style I’ve done in Australia Illustrated, but I’m ready to try something new for my next book (in fact, I’m currently creating several fully-digital works) and I can’t wait to see what style that will be. I have some ideas but I’ve not settled on something yet. Perhaps I’ll just let it unfold—pretty much like Australia Illustrated.

act-arboretum-boy-3See more of Tania’s work at or follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter @taniamccartney

Australia Illustrated is published by EK Books and will be on sale 1 November in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, with a release date of 28 November in the UK. Hardcover, clothbound, 96 pages, AU$29.99, ISBN: 9781925335217


  • WIN a copy of the book (There three to give away, thanks to EK Books)
  • WIN an original watercolour image from the book (two to give away)
  • the chance to name some of Tania’s book characters!

Enter here at Tania’s Blog


Rat City

Everyone thinks Shannon was responsible for his best friend’s death, including Shannon.

Now he’s not letting anyone get close to him.rat-city-cover-600w

That’s until he meets the gorgeous Ally. But she has problems of her own.

Ally’s twin brother, Felix is sick and getting sicker and nobody seems to know why.

Ally’s sure that it has something to do with her crazy scientist Uncle Killian who not only has a fixation for rats, he’s also supplying dugs to thrill seeking youths, including Felix.

Will Shannon and Ally find out the truth in time to save Felix and what will this mean for their relationship.

Rat City is a compelling read from start to finish. The stakes are high and the book is a page turning mix of science and adventure.

The reader will empathise with Ally and Shannon right from the start. The more you read, the more you care about these characters.

I got to the end of Rat City and wanted more. So I was pleased to discover that Book 2, Rise of the Rat Generation is due for release in 2017.

Rat City is written by Ree Kimberley and is available here and through Amazon.

About the author

Ree Kimberley grew up in Melbourne and travelled Australia before living in tropical Cairns and then settling in Brisbane, in sunny Queensland. She’s always loved reading and wrote her first novel, Strike Up a Friendship with a Vampire, when she was 10 years old. Ree’s writerly obsessions include weird science and things that are bizarre, strange and a little bit gross. She also has a thing for circuses (she swears she is not scared of clowns!)me-at-sete

Ree says that if she wasn’t a writer, she’d love to be a teratologist (someone who studies monsters). Rat City is Ree’s first novel, and the first in a three-part series, Rat Generation.

You can find out more about Ree here.

Why “So Wrong” is So Right

With its short bites of text, humorous adventures, and hilarious graphics, So Wrong Uncensored is so right for readers aged 10-13, particularly reluctant ones.

MW 2011 PS

Michael Wagner

From the diabolically dangerous duo of author, Michael Wagner and artist Wayne Bryant, this book will engage young readers, but don’t expect it to be politically correct.

Former reluctant readers themselves, Michael and Wayne have created the book (and series) they wish had existed when they were kids.

Here Michael chats about how and why he created So Wrong.


How did this series come about and what prompted you to create it?

Over the years, I’ve written lots of little bits and pieces that I couldn’t find a home for. They were ideas for things like two-panel cartoons, satirical ads, parodies of picture books, etc. None of them were substantial enough for a book of their own or would sit easily in a book of short stories, but I liked them and really wanted to do something with them. So they became the spark for So Wrong. It started out as a place to put all these awkward little bits and pieces.

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Wayne Bryant

But once I started assembling them into a book, I got really excited. Not only was I having the most fun I’d ever had as an author (which is an important sign), but I felt like I was creating the exact thing I would have loved as a kid.

Instead of reading books when I was in later primary school, I preferred magazines like Mad and Cracked. So Wrong felt like that sort of publication but in a book form. It had the same hyperactive structure, and abundance of ideas, but short stories instead of comics, and rather than being cynical and worldly, it was more cheeky and absurdist, making it naturally more aimed at children than teens.

The big problem however (which kind of hung over me as I wrote) was how to get it illustrated. It really needed a lot of variety, so it felt like I was going to have to employ several illustrators and a flexible designer to make it work. But then I remembered working on an animated feature film many years ago with an artist called Wayne Bryant. I knew he could vary his style and while discussing the book with him I discovered he was an excellent designer and a fan of Mad and all sorts of other hilarious and beautiful retro comics. So, suddenly, the big illustration problem was solved.

Wot to Luv 01Why did you think it important to feature a narrator with spelling challenges?

The narrator in question, Mitey Mikey, is actually one of the book’s ‘sponsors’. He appears in 3-4 places throughout the book in order to convince you, the reader, to pay for his ‘Lyfe Coach for Kidz’ services. He’s a kid, but he’s a strident, overconfident little go-getter, who believes he’s headed for fame and fortune – except he’s not actually as clever as he thinks, which becomes immediately apparent when you realise he can’t even spell his very first lines: ‘HEY YOO! Wee need to tork.’ So the joke is that he thinks he’s brilliant (and is a little bit in some ways), but we know he’s not as smart as he thinks he is.

But we reckon his misspellings serve more than one purpose – depending on who’s reading the book.

In a funny sort of way, his inability to spell subtly validates the reluctant readers who are also poor spellers. In a quiet sort of way it says to them that being a poor speller is a known, common problem (even for kids with other strengths), and it’s not a life-and-death issue, so work on becoming a better speller, but don’t lose all your self-esteem if you’re not that great at it just yet. It’s not actually the end of the world – in fact it can be a source of a lot of fun.

But also, because it’s tricky to decode Mitey Mikey’s poor spelling, it really reinforces the value of consistent, uniform spelling. If we all spelled phonetically, the way he does, we’d spend all our lives decoding text.

Wot to Luv 02And then there’s the sheer fun of suddenly being able to read his text quite fluently. When that happens toward the end of the book, you feel a little bit like someone who’s just mastered a secret code.

Why are this book and the series important to kids?

We hope these books appeal to all kids, but most importantly to reluctant readers. We think it’s important to keep those kids reading just one more book … then one more series … and for one more year. Just to entrench the habit of reading a little more. And to help them make their own positive associations with books.

What did you hope to achieve when you created So Wrong?

All we wanted to achieve is a book/series that kids love – particularly reluctant readers. And a book that no one’s afraid to admit they like, no matter how ‘cool’ or tough or naughty they feel they have to be.

What will kids gain from picking up these books?

Hopefully, more positivity towards books themselves, a good laugh, and a little validation.

As a reluctant reader, what challenges did you face?

One of the biggest problems with being a reluctant reader (as a child, mind you, I’ve been an avid reader all my adult life) is that you can easily feel as if you’re not that smart. That kicks in especially when the topic turns to books. It’s embarrassing to admit you haven’t read this book or that book or, basically, many books at all.

But it’s more than just embarrassing, it’s downright frustrating. By reading fewer books, you naturally have a smaller and less effective vocabulary than many of the people you know. Despite being an intelligent child (according to my reports – well, some of them), I could barely explain anything if I was under any kind of pressure. I never had the words, while others did. That’s frustrating and bad for your self-esteem.

How does this book/series address these challenges for kids facing these challenges today?

The real competition for reluctant readers is with screen-based forms of entertainment. In order to improve on what they offer a child, you have to be super relevant, visually interesting, and highly validating. That’s what we’ve aimed for with So Wrong. If we’ve achieved it, then those kids won’t think books are quite so boring. And they’ll read one more … and then another … And they’ll start to benefit from reading in all those subtle ways people who love books do, without ever quite realising it.Wot to Luv 03


9780994251756What I like about this book apart from its non-stop entertainment value is that it offers achievable reading goals for kids who are reluctant to pick up a book. They can read a few pages at a time and still complete a story or segment.

As the book itself states, it’s 100% unboring guaranteed.

I think my favourite parts of this book were the highly suspect ‘life advice’ from supposed Life Coach for Kids, Mitey Mike, and the hilarious advertisements for useful products like The Parental Attitude Adjuster.

So Wrong Uncensored is as the name suggests, uncensored, so there are some references to bodily functions and ‘alternative education’ however it’s all clearly done in jest, and designed to tickle the reader’s funny bone.

The narrator’s spelling in some parts is a little suspect too, and these tales are full of naughtiness (including visual treats throughout), but the book is clearly written from the hearts of the creators to entertain the kids who read it.

If you have a reluctant reader in your home or classroom then So Wrong Uncensored could be so right for you.

So Wrong Uncensored is clever, funny and engaging. It’s the first book in the series and is published by Billy Goat Books.

So Wrong is available from great bookshops including:
The Little Bookroom
Tim’s Bookshop
and Michael’s own website,