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.

ABOUT MINA

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.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE WRITING – Mina’s story

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 🙂

Dee

Advertisements

FIND A WRITING BUDDY IS MOVING TO FACEBOOK

Find a Writing Buddy’ is moving to Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/187001442008233/

THE BAD NEWS

Unfortunately some writers seeking a buddy have been receiving unwanted attention so a week from today, 25 June 2018, I’ll be deleting all the comments from this blog page, and moving ‘Find a Writing Buddy’ to Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/187001442008233/

THE GOOD NEWS

You’ll be able to find a critique partner/writing buddy on the Facebook group. This will be a secret group so all members will be pre approved. There will also be posts to help you improve your writing skills.

This group is to help aspiring and emerging writers to network and get useful, constructive and critical feedback

It is NOT for people who want their work proofread or are looking for co-writers.

Please be professional and respectful at all times.

NOTE:  Your writing buddy doesn’t have to live near you. You can crit each other’s work and help each other online:) Also, if their genre isn’t quite the same as yours…particularly YA, that doesn’t really matter either. The main thing is that they understand what you are writing and have written similar length works. For example if you write novels, it’s best to find a crit buddy who has written novels so that they understand what it takes to plot and put together a work of that length.

If you want to find a writing partner/crit buddy/beta reader, here’s what to do:

Step One

  1. Go to  Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/187001442008233/
  2. Request to join the Group.
  3. Once you have been approved, post your writer details including genre you write in, publishing experience and why you want a critique partner.
  4.  Give links for your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts.

Happy writing and I hope you find the writing buddy of your dreams.

Please feel free to share this blog page through Facebook, Twitter etc. I want to help as many writers as possible find a crit buddy.

Dee:)

 

School Libraries Matter – Do you have a school library story to share?

I’m a member of the School Library Coalition, aiming to save school libraries from further funding cuts and decimation.

To help us in our campaign, we’re gathering stories from people whose kids have benefitted from the resources in their school library.

This year, the School Library Coalition will mount an Australia wide campaign to demonstrate how important they are, not just for your child’s school years, but for lifelong learning and fulfillment.

To help us, we’re looking for stories about how children have received significant benefit from participating in the literacy, social and cultural activities of the school library, or simply from feeling nurtured and engaged.

Or perhaps you have an experience of how school library staffing cuts have impacted on your child’s learning or wellbeing.

If you have a personal experience that you’re happy for us to share (we can change names if necessary), we’d love to hear from you.

Please email your story or contact details to dee*at*deescribe*dot*com*dot*au

Thanks for any help you can give us.

Happy reading and writing 🙂

Dee

K9 Heroes – It takes more than one person to create a book

Today my books K9 Heroes (published by Scholastic Australia) was released into the wild.

K9 Heroes is inspired by four true stories from France, Canada, USA and Australia about dogs who have saved people’s lives.

There are so many books about people who have rescued dogs, but I wanted to pay tribute to the amazing K9s who have rescued people. The K9 Heroes I have written about saved humans from fire, drowning, cougar attack and homelessness.

The idea first came to me when I was on a retreat near Santa Cruz with my writing sisters, Laura Elliott and Edna Hokunaauao Cabcabin Moran. Every writer needs people to inspire and encourage them like these dear friends.

They encouraged me to develop the idea. They shared their tips and suggestions … and so 10,000 miles from home, my new book baby was conceived.

This book has had so much support from start to finish. When I wanted to create a book trailer, my local community got behind me and volunteered their dogs.

Here’s the end result: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jeRNf2CFkA&feature=youtu.be

And of course there has been the enthusiasm of Clare Halifax, my publisher at Scholastic who seemed to love my doggy tales right from the start.

As authors, we are the ones who put the words on paper, but there are so many wonderful people who join us on the journey.

Thanks to everyone who has helped K9 Heroes on the road to publication.

And if you’re looking for a Christmas present for a dog lover … well K9 Heroes is a perfect stocking sized book 🙂

Dee

A Book For All Children

What an amazing experience it has been to see our new picture book, Reena’s Rainbow released to both deaf and hearing communities.

Reena’s Rainbow tells the story of a deaf girl and a homeless dog and how they bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing worlds.

One of the most amazing things about our Reena’s Rainbow events has been being able to include both deaf and hearing children.

This was made possible thanks to a grant from Regional Arts Victoria that funded our fabulous Auslan Interpreters Meg, Pauline and Bec.

It meant that deaf children could feel included and valued, and be introduced to a story in which they could see themselves represented.

It meant that hearing children could experience communicating in Auslan, and it allowed them to walk in the shoes of deaf children.

We were truly fortunate to be able to also be able to have both deaf and hearing children at our workshops where they could learn about how books are created.

There were interpreters.

Our Auslan Interpreter, Meg, our fabulous launcher Mitch Vane, me and Tracie at Dromkeen.

Tracie, me and Bec our Auslan Interpreter

Auslan Interpreter, Pauline, interpreting how to create Rainbow Stories

There were lots of eager young readers.

There were supportive bookshops and galleries including Dromkeen, Squishy Minnie and Collins Bookstores.

And there was cake. And books of course.Thanks to everyone who has supported Reena’s Rainbow and its launch into the deaf and hearing worlds. Special thanks to my fabulous partner-in-picture books, Tracie Grimwood who created all the fabulous illustrations and did so much more.

Happy writing, illustrating and creating 🙂

Dee

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.

ABOUT JO

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.

JO SANDHU’S FIVE STEP APPROACH TO STORY DEVELOPMENT

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 www.josandhu.com

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

DEE’S REVIEW OF TARIN OF THE MAMMOTHS – The Exile

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.

Dee

Nurture Your Creative Dreams

When I was seven years-old I decided to become a writer.

I had written a poem for arbor day (tree planting day) that I was asked to read at school assembly.

Little oak tree by the mill
standing there so quiet and still
stretch your branches up to the sky
up to the birds flying by.

And when the wind oh how it blows
It blows the leaves down to my toes
With little acorns yellow and brown
“Folks gather them all over town.

Oak tree I like you when you’re small
and I like you when you’re tall
But I like it best of all
When the coloured leaves fall from the trees
Look at the things that the butterfly sees.

Not a literary masterpiece and that last stanza is pretty random I know, but I was only seven 🙂

Reading my poem out at assembly and seeing how people reacted to it was amazing, I think it was the first time I realised the power of written words, that what we write can have an impact on people.

Of course I didn’t realise at that time what being a writer actually meant. All I knew was that I loved to write.

English and writing were the only subjects where I shone,  but there was nobody at high school to advise me  how you become a writer.

So I wrote. I thought that seemed the best way to follow my passion. Then I went to Vic Uni and did their Professional Writing and Editing Diploma, and I wrote some more. I wrote because it’s who I am … a writer.

I battled self doubt often … and the judgements of friends and family who didn’t think that writing was a ‘proper job’.

And after a while I started to see things their way. What other profession would you face constant rejection … constant letters/emails from people saying that your work was not what they wanted? What other profession would you devote hundreds of hours to a project with no guarantee of any financial reward?

I took a job in insurance because it enabled me to eat, but still I wrote. It was a compulsion with me. It was who I was … a writer.

Eventually I went from insurance to marketing to advertising to copywriting … and finally I was a writer.

From there, it was a short step to being an author … or so I thought.

But getting a novel published isn’t easy. You have to find someone that loves your book, loves the story idea and the writing so much that they are willing to publish it.

So began the long road of rejections.

As the years went by, the rejection letters got better … if you can use such a word for rejection. I started receiving letters that weren’t the standard rejection. Editors and agents began to offer feedback on my work … offered suggestions on how to make it more ‘publication ready’, and I embraced all their suggestions.

But still I wasn’t published. And I have to say I became more desperate. I submitted to publishers I might not normally have sent work to. If I’d had the money I think I would have been open to all kinds of publishers offering to publish my work for a ‘not so small’ fee.

The reason I’m sharing this is because writing is hard. No matter how patient we are, how hard we work, sometimes it feels like it’s never going to happen.

My new book out this year with Scholastic Australia

But if you have talent and dedication and lots of ideas i firmly believe that you will find someone who will love and believe in your work as much as you do.

So take heart, don’t give up, but don’t sell yourself short either. Don’t fall victim to scammers and companies seeking to make a lot of money from your desire to be published.

Have faith in yourself and wait for the right opportunity, wait for the publisher who wants to pay to publish your work rather than the company who wants you to pay hundreds or thousands to see your work in print,

Out 1st September with EK books. Loved working with illustrator Tracie Grimwood on this one 🙂

Be patient (although I know how hard that can be). Keep writing, take courses and get better at your craft.

Anyone who values your writing as much as you do will be prepared to pay for it.

Feed and nurture your creative dreams until they bear fruit.

Good luck, keep going and happy writing 🙂

Dee

Here’s a link to a page I’ve set up about some of the traps you can face as an author: https://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/authors-beware/