KidLitVic2016 – Meet the Publishers and show them your writing and/or illustrations

For some time now my crit buddy, Alison Reynolds and I have been talking about how great it would be to have a Meet the Children’s and YA Publishers Day in Melbourne so that new, emerging and established writers and illustrators would have a chance to network, find out what publishers are looking for, and get their work seen.

It’s now a reality!

KidLitVic 2016  Meet the Publishers is a not for profit event to be held on 7th May next year and we already have some fabulous publishers confirmed for this event including:

  • Black Dog Books/Walker
  • Hardie Grant
  • Harper Collins
  • Penguin
  • Scholastic
  • The Five Mile Press

There will be publisher panels for various genre, and an illustrator panel. You will also have the opportunity for 15 minute one-one-one manuscript and illustration consultations with publishers.

We are so lucky to have the very talented Nicky Johnston on board and she has provided the stunning illustrations for our website and is our Illustrator representative.

If you want to know more about this event, please check out our website.

We are putting our panels together so if there is something you’ve been dying to ask a publisher, but have never had the chance, please feel free to include your questions in the comments section of this post.

Please also feel free to share this post with writers or illustrators you think could benefit from this event.

Kidlitvic Christmas flier

8 Amazing Picture Books for Christmas

There are so many wonderful picture books being published at the moment, but I’ve selected a variety to review that would make great Christmas presents.



Unknown The Lion and The Bird by international bestselling and award-winning author and illustrator Marianne Dubuc is the tender story of the unlikely friendship between a lion dressed in denim and a bird with a broken wing.

One autumn day, a lion finds a wounded bird in his garden. This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Then one day spring arrives, and so too do the other birds. Will Lion and Bird have to say goodbye to the friendship for the summer?

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 7.34.23 amThis moving story is so relevant in today’s times when the world is full of vulnerable people like refugees who have been damaged by circumstances, and are looking for a safe haven and a new life.

As well as compelling text, this book is beautifully presented in hardback with the pictures left to tell the story on some pages.

It’s no wonder that The Lion and The Bird has been published in 15 countries across the world.

It’s a beautiful book that can be shared at leisure, and it features themes of friendship, waiting and change.

The Lion and The Bird is published in Australia, New Zealand, UK and Ireland by Book Island.


In this contemporary fairytale, a young boy and escaped blue bird free their country from the rule of tyrannical despots.

This picture book for children aged five-years plus, explores ideas of freedom and justice and meets the demand for more culturally diverse picture books in an increasingly multicultural society.


Every illustration by Mattias De Leeuw is a work of art in this book.

It compliments the lyrical text by Laila Koubaa.

At the door, he breathed in the sweet smell of Jasmine. The front of the house was like one big flower. 

The richness in both the text and illustrations make this book an enticing read. It is beautifully translated into English by David Colmer.

Azizi and the Little Blue Bird is another wonderful book for opening young minds to the world around them. It is also published by Book Island.



Australian Kids through the Years is a wonderful book written by Tania McCartney and illustrated by Andrew Joyner.

It takes readers on a leisurely tour through history starting with Australia’s first children, through the 1800s, 1900s and into modern times.

There are so many fascinating facts in here about things like the way children lived, how they dressed, how they did their hair, what they ate, what they did for fun and what they read.

This book is a feast of fabulous illustrations and easy to follow text with interesting language and information that young readers can pore over for hours.

Unknown-1At the back is a summary of the years, and National Library references for all the illustrations.

Adult readers will also be able to reminisce as they meander through history in these colourful and lively snapshots of Australia’s past.

Australian Kids through the Years is a great way to bring history into both the family and the classroom.

Australian Kids through the Years is published by the National Library of Australia.


9781760067229_COVERI’ll admit upfront that I’m biased about these beautiful books because they were written by my crit buddy, Alison Reynolds, and I have watched their progress from initial idea to finished product.

But right from the start, I was drawn to the two compelling characters and their special friendship. Bree is a feisty little girl who likes to get her own way, but who has a good heart and is able to recognise her own faults. Pickle is a gentle, slow moving and very large bear who admires those qualities in his friend that he doesn’t possess himself.

In The Decorating Disaster, all about teamwork, Pickle and Bree have very different ideas about how the home they share should be decorated, and this leads to humour and disaster, but also some important revelations.

Even though they are the very best of friends, Pickle and Bree are very different, but they soon realise that some jobs like hanging wallpaper and painting, just aren’t supposed to be done alone.

At the end of this adventure are some tips on teamwork that both teachers and parents/guardians will find helpful to share with young readers.

In The Birthday Party Cake, all about welcoming differences, it’s Jason’s Birthday and Pickle is planning a special bear surprise for his friend. But when Bree decides to lend a hand, her idea of a perfect party is not what Pickle had in mind. But can Pickle and Bree find a way to save Jason’s birthday?

This adventure carries tips at the back for welcoming differences and considering the feelings and wishes of others.

9781760067236_COVERPickle & Bree’s Guides to Good Deeds are wonderfully illustrated by Mikki Butterley whose humorous pictures are a perfect match for the rollicking text.

They are great for reading in schools and homes to introduce children to concepts like sharing, accepting others and getting along.

Two more Pickle & Bree’s Guides to Good Deeds are coming soon.

They are published by The Five Mile Press.


Bertie Bear was going on a long journey. He didn’t realise it would be on a camel! And he never imagined he would be having adventures of his own, far away from Jessie.

UnknownThis delightful story of a real bear’s outback camel and train journey has been cleverly woven into a work of fiction by Janeen Brian.

The rhythmic text along with Anne Spudvilas‘ stunning illustrations introduce young readers to the vibrant colours of the outback and its characters.

I also like the way the story is told from the lost toy’s point of view.

This is a work of fiction, but the real Bertie makes a ‘star appearance’ at the back of the book.

Where’s Jessie? is published by the National Library of Australia.



UnknownI love Craig Smith‘s work so I was so excited when I heard a picture book was about to be released that he had both written and illustrated – and I wasn’t disappointed.

Remarkably Rexy also just happens to feature one of my favourite animals, a cat.

Rexy is a typical cat, but he’s also a bit of a dancer, and quite proud of himself because he’s always being praised for his good looks and talent.

But his perfect existence is shattered when Towser the barking dog next door escapes.

Unknown-1The text is hilarious and Craig’s vibrant illustrations are beautiful.

Remarkably Rexy is so much fun for cat lovers of all ages. It also has a link to a free audio reading.

Remarkably Rexy is published by Allen & Unwin.


This hilarious book written and illustrated by Dave Hackett (Cartoon Dave) is one of my favourite picture books this year because it’s so relatable.

“Come on Daddy. It’s time for bed.”

“But I’m not tired,” says Daddy.

How can a little girl put her daddy to bed when he doesn’t want to go?

imagesTime for Bed Daddy is so funny because it’s a complete role reversal, and so much fun at bedtime.

I remember how hard it was to get my kids to bed when they were small, and how tensions often rose.

This book is a great tool for turning bedtime into a playful occasion that’s fun for everyone.

Time for Bed Daddy  is published by University of Queensland Press.



Paris Hunting – Introducing Cara Jamieson – An Emerging New Character

There’s something really exciting about delving into the minds and lives of fictional characters.

My good author friend, Sheryl Gwyther was invited to participate in a Character Blog Hop by fabulous author, Wendy Orr whose post explores her famous character, Nim.

On Sheryl’s blog, she shares wonderful insights about her compelling character, Adversity McAlpine. I love Addie and her story set in NSW during the depression.

Now Sheryl has asked me to lift the lid on one of my characters so I’ve chosen to talk about a new character from my current work in progress, Paris Hunting.

Paris Hunting is a Young Adult adventure/suspense set in Paris in the present day.

IMG_0048My main character, Cara Jamieson is living in my head at the moment, but I’m looking forward to finding out more about her and her life when I spend time in Paris in April.

What is your character’s name?

Cara Jamieson

Is this character based on you?

Not consciously, but I guess parts of her are. She’s inquisitive like me. She’s quite headstrong and she’s adventurous.

I have never lived the kind of life Cara lives, but maybe a part of me always wanted to.

How old is the character?

Cara is 17 years-old.

What should we know about the character?

If you met Cara it wouldn’t take you long to get to know her. She’s an outgoing, honest kind of girl.

Cara is living in Paris because her father has a diplomatic posting there. She’s an only child so her friends are important to her.

She has just discovered that her Great grandfather, Phillipe Gautier was an important member of the French Resistance in World War 2. Her Great grandfather was a taxidermist (the research on this character has been interesting to say the least) and there’s a rumour that he concealed something important inside one of the animals he stuffed. Cara is determined to find out what it was and where it is now, but the only clue she has is a letter written by Phillipe just before he was murdered.

imagesCara has travelled a lot because of her parents’ work and her friends are the kids of other diplomats. She is someone who likes to learn about and immerse herself in other cultures and traditions.

Cara is a daredevil, and is always challenging her friends to something extreme. Her latest dare involves breaking into the Paris Museum of Hunting to take a selfie with a unicorn horn.

What she doesn’t know is that the Museum holds a clue to her family’s past, and finding out about it could put her life and the lives of her friends at risk.

Cara is very determined and single minded and is hard to talk out of a course of action, even if it’s dangerous

What are your character’s personal goals? 

Cara wants to find this thing that was so important to her Great Grandfather that it probably got him killed. Cara also wants to fulfil her need for adventure.

Where can we find out more about the book?

Paris Hunting is still a work in progress but I’ll be sharing more news about it on this blog as the story develops.

My good writer friends, Alison Reynolds and Sally Murphy have some great new books coming out this year so I’m tagging them to share their character’s stories.

Be watching their blogs at Alison Reynolds and Sally Murphy to find out more.


Tuesday Writing Tips With Marmalade and Alison Reynolds – Writing a Sequel

A-Year-with-Marmalade_cropped2Today I’m very pleased to welcome my good friend and writing buddy, Alison Reynolds.  Alison has a new book out and it’s a sequel to her bestseller, A Year with Marmalade (also illustrated by the very talented Heath McKenzie).

A new friend for Marmalade once again features the wise and independent thinking Marmalade.

Marmalade is a bit of a favourite of mine so it’s so great to see his adventures continuing, and I’m in the middle of writing a sequel to my book, Letters to Leonardo so I was very interested to read Alison’s tips on writing Marmalade 2.


UnknownTo help Alison and Heath celebrate the release of their brand new book, I’m offering a manuscript assessment of the first chapter of a chapter book for one lucky winner.

All you have to do is  comment on this blog post or any other blog during the A new friend for Marmalade blog tour and add the initials DW.

The more you comment, the more chances you have to win.

More information about the other great prizes on offer is available here.


Alison and Heath signing books

Alison and Heath signing books

Dee, thank you so much for hosting me here. A new friend for Marmalade was a very special book for me to write.

Toby is different from Ella and Maddy. He wants to be friends with them, but doesn’t know how to gain their friendship. Ella and Maddy aren’t mean to Toby but they exclude him because they’re not sure how to handle his exuberance, and Toby doesn’t have the social skills to know how to fit in.

Marmalade immediately accepts Toby as a friend, and doesn’t even notice that he’s a bit different.

I wanted to celebrate Toby’s special qualities – his exuberance and unique way of seeing and doing things. I wanted to show that once the girls were prepared to accept Toby’s differences, that they could all be good friends.

I leapt at the chance of writing a sequel for A Year with Marmalade. I love that cat!


  1. Come up with a totally new concept from Book Number One. Keep it fresh.
  2. If self-doubt creeps in  about whether you can write a book as good as Book Number One, don’t think about it and just start writing. You’ve done it once and you can do it again.
  3. Make sure that your sequel isn’t too similar to book one. I wrote a list of cat actions so I didn’t use all the same words that I used n Book Number One to describe Marmalade.
  4. Don’t change the characters too much in the sequels so you have continuity in the series.
  5. Hope and wish that Book Number One does well enough so you are asked to write a sequel. Then hope and wish that Book Number Two does well enough so you are asked to write a sequel. Then really hope and really wish that there is a Book Number Three and it does …


I love picture books like A new friend for Marmalade where themes of friendship, tolerance and adaptability are woven into the story and the actions of the characters so seamlessly that readers are absorbing important messages without feeling as though they are being preached to.

I can’t be completely objective with this book because Alison is my crit buddy, and I’ve seen this story grow from the gem of an idea into the beautifully told and illustrated book it is today.

But the themes in this book and the setting are universally recognisable. And the rhythm of the language makes it a great book to read out loud.

“A whirlwind cartwheeled through the sandpit. Maddy scowled and Ella frowned”

So few words, yet the scene and its characters are easily established in the mind of the reader. To me that’s the essence of a great picture book.

Readers will enjoy the sense of fun in A new friend for Marmalade, expressed both through the text, and the lively and appealing illustrations.


Lovers of the first Marmalade book will enjoy A New Friend for Marmalade, and this book is bound to guarantee this cute ginger cat a legion of new fans.


Marmalade is padding off to more great blogs. You can visit him here:

11th Dee White – review and post

11th Chris Bell – post

12th Angela Sunde – interview with Heath

12th KBR – book giveaway

13th Boomerang Books – Post with Dimity Powell

14th KBR Guest post

14th KBR Review

14th Sally Murphy – Meet my book

15th Buzz Words – Interview

17th Ask the Bean Counter – Mr X

17th Pass-it-on Post and Review- Jackie Hosking

18th Ask the Publisher – Kay Scarlett

Tuesday Tips – Picture Book Writing and Illustrating with Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie

This week at my blog I’m celebrating the release of my crit buddy Alison Reynolds’, and talented illustrator Heath McKenzies’ beautiful new picture book, The Littlest Bushranger.

The Littlest bushranger_FRONT COVERI was so excited to hold The Littlest Bushranger in my hand. I have seen this book through its various stages of development. I’ve seen it grow from Alison’s seed of an idea to a complete, full colour work of art and literature.

Bushranger page 2So I can’t promise my review of this book will be completely objective, but anyone who reads The Littlest Bushranger will love the playfulness and the wild imagination of this story, enhanced by Heath’s amazing pictures.

When Jack’s sister Lil goes off to school, Jack is left alone with his dog Hector and his imagination. Lil has assigned Jack the task of looking after her favourite toy while she’s away, but when an outlaw comes to steal it, Jack must call on his bushranger skills to save the day.

What I love about this book is that it explores the world inside a child’s pure imagination – and shows us that in the universe inside our mind anything is possible.

Jack is a very likeable character  who shows resilience and resourcefulness in dealing with his sister’s absence. He transforms his backyard into a magical world of adventure where he battles the fiendish villain with fearless resolve.

Bushranger - other picThis book is a true collaboration between author and illustrator where the author has given the illustrator plenty of space to bring his own interpretation to the story. Heath’s illustrations are full of life and movement and carry the reader along in the urgency and adventure of this story.

The Littlest Bushranger can be read and discussed on so many levels from the entertaining story to looking at issues of the younger sibling left at home, and finding the resilience within ourselves.

The Littlest Bushranger has a uniquely Australian flavour.


Alison and Heath, the creators of this beautiful book have generously agreed to share some of their writing and illustrating tips.

Alison and Heath book signing at Collins Northland

Alison and Heath book signing at Collins Northland

Alison’s Writing Tips

  1. Pillage your childhood!
  2. Get writing. You can’t fix up a blank page.
  3. Cut, cut, cut.
  4. Do as many drafts as it needs. If the sight of your manuscript makes you feel sick, then you’re on the right track. Swig an eno and do another draft.
  5. Leave room for the illustrator to interpret the story too. You don’t need to say everything when you can show it in an illustration.

Heath’s Illustrating Tips

1. The more you draw, the better you’ll get – mistakes are one of the best things you can do!

2. Don’t try and draw a perfect drawing straight away – rough things in, make a little mess and refine that.

3. Imagining what you’re trying to draw as a group of basic shapes is a good way to start.

4. Draw what you love (BUT try something different now and then, it’ll do you wonders!)

5. Experiment! Both with styles of drawing and what you draw with!

Saddle up for The Littlest Bushranger blog tour.

Follow the stops on tour and you could win some fabulous prizes. The best thing about a blog tour is that you don’t have to visit on the stated day, you can drop in the next day or the next and still enjoy being part of the tour – and win the prizes.

June 11 Kat Apel

June 12 Chris Bell

June 13 Angela Sunde

June 14 Boomerang Books Blog

June 17 Ask the Sales Rep. Interview with Melinda Beaumont

June 18 Dee White

June 19 Kids Book Review

June 20 Ask the Editor. Interview with Melissa Keil.

June 21 Heath McKenzie and Alison Reynolds interviewed by Juliet Chan, Marketing & Publicity Executive.



  1. A piece of Heath McKenzie’s artwork from The Littlest Bushranger
  2. A picture book assessment by Alison Reynolds
  3. 2 free passes direct to an editor’s desk (you get to skip the slush pile)
  4. Copies of The Littlest Bushranger.


Little Bushranger_Internals_LORES - page 8 There are a couple of monsters in The Littlest Bushranger. One’s a bunyip, and the other an outlaw/monster who steals Lil’s telescope.

What sort of monster do you like? Send along a painting/drawing/model of a monster and you could win a piece of Heath McKenzie’s amazing artwork for The Littlest Bushranger.

Upload your own best monster to or email it as a low res jpeg file to and we’ll upload it. If you don’t have a scanner, take a photo on a smart phone and email that!

Two categories. Under 12 and 12 plus including grown-ups. Entries close 25th June!

Follow the blog tour to find out details of the competitions and how you can win these great prizes.


Have your manuscript on a Non Fiction Editor or Children’s Book Editor’s desk.

All you have to do is comment on any of the posts and leave NF (if you have a non-fiction manuscript) or CB if you have a children’s book manuscript. Leave NF and CB if you have both.

Good luck:)

I hope you’re enjoying our picture book blog post series.

Happy writing and illustrating:)


Picture Book Writing Tips – Alison Reynolds Shares her ‘Marmalade’ Story

Today I am thrilled to welcome my very special crit buddy and great writerly friend, Alison Reynolds to DeeScribe Writing.

As well as being a fantastic crit buddy, Alison is the author of over 30 books for children and adults.

She’s here to celebrate the release of her wonderful new Picture book, A Year With Marmalade. It’s a very cute book with a compelling story and wonderful illustrations by the very talented Heath McKenzie.

I’m going to start with a review of Alison’s new book, but I have to warn you that I may be biased on several counts: I love Alison and Heath’s work and I love cats.

But I have seen A Year With Marmalade develop from a three simple elements; girl, a cat and a picture of autumn leaves, into a heartwarming story about friendship and change.

Ella’s best friend Maddy is going away for a year and she asks Ella to look after her beloved cat, Marmalade. But Ella and Marmalade don’t exactly take to each other and they both miss Maddy.

Over the course of the year their friendship blossoms like the tree in Ella’s garden. When Maddy comes back, Marmalade manages to slot perfectly into both Maddy and Ella’s lives.

In A Year With Marmalade, Ella and Marmalade’s friendship mirrors the four seasons and all the changes are beautifully depicted by illustrator, Heath McKenzie. I fell in love with the gorgeous, green-eyed Marmalade – a cat with attitude.

A Year With Marmalade is published by The Five Mile Press. It’s a great book to share with young readers and to invite discussion about friendship and change.


DeeScribe Writing is Alison’s first stop on her blog tour to celebrate the release of her new book.

During the tour, she’s running a competition so you can win a FREE copy of this special book just by sharing a picture showing the personality of a special cat in your life.

Here’s what to do:

Marmalade’s   personality really shines through in Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie’s newest picture book A Year with Marmalade.

Share your favourite picture showing your cat’s personality to win. The winner will receive a signed copy of A Year with Marmalade and a copy of the picture book Lighty Faust the Lion, a book about a much bigger cat.

Share your favourite picture of   your cat by uploading it to author Alison Reynolds’ Facebook page at or email it to Alison as a low res jpeg file at and she’ll upload it on her website

Entries close on the 1st of   September.


Today, Alison is sharing some of her favourite picture book writing tips.

Five tips for picture book writers

1.  Be prepared to do lots and lots of drafts.

I often start with a vague idea and play with it and see what emerges. Often I find that I end up with a totally different story, which is always better than my first try. A Year with Marmalade started with a little girl, the seasons, jealousy, a cat and a bird. It morphed into a cat, two little girls and a story of friendship and that change isn’t always a bad thing!

Themes seem to have a habit of emerging as the book improves.

2. Learn to think in double spreads and the physicality of a picture book.

Think of each spread as a scene, and when you turn the page the curtain closes and there’s a new scene on the next page. I buy visual diaries and copy my words in them so I can check on the flow. I also always write illustration guidelines. This helps me check that there is actually something different to illustrate on each spread.

3.  Don’t have too many words!

You have pictures to help tell the story too! Make the most of it. I cut A Year with Marmalade by one third, and it improved it! I like to see how low in word count I can go.

4. Don’t submit too soon

I like to live with the picture book for a while and peck away at it, removing a word here, or changing a word there. I wrote a completely different story first, and then an entirely new one that ended up being A Year with Marmalade.

5.  Find a great crit partner.

My crit partner always improves my books. (Thanks, Dee.) I tend to complicate things. In A Year with Marmalade, I needed to make the cat climb up a stile over the fence. Why wouldn’t the cat just jump over anywhere? So I was starting to think barbed wire, booby traps etc. The brilliant Dee suggested a cat-flap. This is my favourite part of the book.


You can follow Alison and Heath on tour as they visit these great blogs:

Blog Tour

7th  August  Dee White

9th  August  Karen Tyrrell

11th August  Tania McCartney

13th August  Pass It On

14th August  Kathryn Apel

17th August  Dale Harcombe

20th August  Peter Taylor

22nd August  Susan Stephenson

23rd August  Robyn Opie Parnell

27th August  Sally Odgers

29th  August  Angela Sunde

31st August Chris Bell


Travelling Mum in WA on our "Around Australia Trip"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy writing:)



I recently read a blog post by US agent, Nephele Tempest where she said,

I see a great many manuscripts that show promise: good story, interesting characters, steady pacing that builds suspense. But all too often, the writers have jumped the gun and sent me a draft that still clearly needs rewriting.

 She also said that…

writers have to make sure the prose on the page actually conveys what they see and imagine in their heads, and in a fresh, compelling manner.

As I commented on Nephele Tempest’s blog,  this is one of the hardest things to do as a writer. We know what we want to say, but how do we pass that on effectively to our reader – and how do we know when it hasn’t quite worked?

If we can bring our reader into our character’s head and into their world, our good writing becomes even better.

So, how do we do it? How do we bring the reader closer?

Recently, when I was working with my wonderful crit buddy, Alison Reynolds on my YA manuscript, I realised it’s those little extras that take something that’s a good read to something that a reader can more closely connect with.

They’re the things that help the reader understand a character’s motivations and forge a closer connection. They’re the little things that bring a character’s voice into the reader’s head as if they were standing in the same room.

In my current YA, the little things that needed tweaking in my manuscript were mainly  character and voice.

For example, my main character’s mother seemed impassive to her daughter’s pain. In my mind this was logical behaviour because the mother was repressed due to something that had happened when she was young. It wasn’t that she didn’t feel things; she just didn’t show them. It was her defense mechanism. I knew this about my character but forgot to convey this to the reader so the mother just came across as being uncaring. Making this small connection for the reader helped them to empathise with her character and feel closer to the entire family situation.

One of the flawed characters in the book did something major to redeem themselves fairly late in the book. This piece of information/action got lost in the redrafting process, but it was something that was vital to the resolution of the story and future outcomes for the main character.

In a previous draft, I had realised that it was my character’s voice that was letting the story down. The dialogue was competent and the character was likeable, but I hadn’t done enough with her words and actions to make her stand out as a person – to give the reader reason to like her so much that they cared about what happened to her. The things your character says and does are what make them stand out – what make them unique – what make them sparkle – what make them matter to the reader.

Another of my problems can be that I’m focussing so much on building up tension that I make my plot too linear. Don’t be afraid to have flashbacks and play with format to give your story depth and interest.

Letters to Leonardo started life as all letters, but on my wonderful editor, Sue Whiting’s suggestions, I changed it to a mixture of narrative and letters. This gave the letters more importance and added texture to the story – it was like having two characters – the narrative showed the action and the letters took the reader on a more intimate journey into what the main character, Matt was feeling.

Character, voice, setting and structure are all things to look at when trying to give your story more sparkle.

The hardest part is taking a step back so you can see for yourself where things aren’t working as well as they should.

I am learning to trust my instincts. If a voice in my head says, “this could be stronger” or “this doesn’t quite work”, I stop and pay attention.

I also try to leave plenty of time between a final draft and when I send it out.

Good luck with your submissions.

Do you have any tips of your own about how to make a manuscript sparkle – how to turn good writing into something great?

I’d love you to leave your tips and share your experiences in the comments section of this blog.

Happy writing:)


How Critiquing Can Help You Write Better – Tuesday Writing Tip

I’m lucky to have a wonderful writer’s network full of supportive crit buddies/beta readers.

They are all fantastic so I hate to single anyone out, but there is one person in particular, Alison Reynolds (Co-author of the popular Ranger In Danger series and writer of many other great books) who doesn’t let me get away with anything. I don’t consider any manuscript to be ‘submission ready’ until Alison has cast her critical eye over it.

The critiquing is a mutual thing and we often laugh about the fact that we make the same mistakes and that we pick them up in each other’s work but find it very hard to identify them in our own writing. I wonder if it’s a subconscious thing – that we know the mistakes we make so we see them in others.

I guess that’s one of the reasons why critiquing other people’s work can help you become a better writer. It can help you identify the things you could improve about your own writing.

These are the things I look for when I’m critiquing someone else’s work. They’re also steps I use in my own self-editing process. They are the questions I ask myself.


  • Does the setting information allow the reader to step into the world of the main character?
  • Is the setting detail relevant, appropriate, adequate?
  • Is the setting detail overdone?
  • If setting is important to the story, is it like another character – does it have a life and presence in the story?


  • Is the dialogue relevant and appropriate?
  • Does dialogue reveal character?
  • Does dialogue move the story along?
  • Does dialogue flow?

Constructive criticism can't hurt you *


  • Is there enough variation between the characters? For example, for balance, you need mean characters and nice characters. You can’t have all nice or all nasty.
  • Do the characters have their own strong, unique voice?
  • Do I care what happens to the main character?
  • Is it clear who the main character is in the story?
  • Are the characters developed enough?
  • Do all the characters need to be in the story?
  • Do character behave in a consistent way throughout the story? Is their behaviour credible?
  • Is there enough differentiation between characters in the story?


  • Does the plot hook the reader in straight away?
  • Does the plot have a series of events leading up to a climax or high point in the story?
  • If the plot doesn’t follow the straight narrative ark, does the format work?
  • Does the plot keep the reader hooked right to the end?
  • Are there any plot inconsistencies?
  • Is the plot credible within the setting and context of the story?
  • Are there page turners leading to the next chapter?
  • Is the sequence of events logical? Could they be restructured to strengthen the story?
  • If the book is going to have a sequel, has this been adequately set up?


  • Is the language appropriate for the readership?
  • Does the piece have any repetitive words or phrases?
  • Look for inconsistencies in names of people and places (this is where a style sheet is handy)
  • Could the language be stronger?
  • Is the sentence length and structure varied enough?
  • Could the author have used language like similes and metaphors to make the piece more visual for the reader?
  • Could the language be tightened? Has the author used too many words – eliminating words ending in ‘ing’ and ‘there was’ type phrases can tighten a story. Also check for qualifiers like ‘really’ and ‘so’. These slow pacing down too.

Choose your own path when it comes to accepting other's critiques

If you can recognise all these elements in someone else’s story, you’ll have a better chance of recognising them in your own.

By the same token, critiquing is a subjective thing. You don’t have to take everything someone else says and they are not obliged to take your comments on board either.

That’s one of the great things about being a writer – you’re the one who controls the words on the page. Be open-minded, but don’t feel you have to change something that matters to you – perhaps you just need to clarify its place in the story.

I’d love to hear how your crit buddies or beta readers have helped you to write better. Also, feel free to share any critiquing tips or methods you have.

Happy writing and critiquing:)


P.S. I’m on school camp this week with no internet access so if your comments and my responses don’t appear straight away, don’t worry. I’ll be back on Friday and all will be sorted then:)

*  Couldn’t resist using more pics from our ‘Around Australia Trip’. The crocodile is one we ‘met’ in Queensland. The road pic is from the Oodnadatta Track.


I started my scribing life as a playwright creating murder comedies like The Body in the Buggy Room and Up The Creek. It was something I did for fun. I joined an amateur theatre group and I learned all about stage direction, what the audience could see and how much the actors really  needed to know.

But thanks to two writerly friends I recently realised that you need to toss the stage direction out the window when you’re writing a novel – you need to immerse yourself in the scene.

Alison Reynolds, author of the very popular Ranger In Danger series and many other great reads and Bren MacDibble author of numerous compelling books and short stories for children and young adults both had some invaluable advice for me.

Alison said:

I wanted the scene with black roots to be more menacing and I’ve marked other scenes where I’ve wanted more drama.

When I looked back at the scenes Alison was talking about, I could see what she meant. I had put people in places instead of allowing them to go there of their own free will – to find their own way to react to what was happening around them. These scenes were static – they lacked emotion, they lacked realism, they lacked drama and they lacked spark.

Bren said,

Descriptions on the move as the characters interact with the landscapes, rooms, building may need to be focussed on as well as watching that the stage direction doesn’t overwhelm the narrative or become robotic.

They were both right. You need to let your characters make their own moves and inhabit the world you have created for them.


To show you what I mean, here’s an example of  a static scene – even though the characters are moving, it’s forced and not dynamic enough – not enough emotion and tension for the scene.

Dad looks at me miserably “That’s just what I’m afraid of. You don’t see what he’s doing to you – to all of us. It has to stop somewhere. He has to start taking responsibility for his actions.”

Mum tries to side step past him. “We are responsible for his actions. It’s what we let happen that caused this.”

Dad moves to the side. “Go then. Just go. But if you leave now, don’t bother coming back.”


Dad has just about stirred the bottom out of his coffee cup. He lifts it to his mouth and peers at me through the steam. “That’s what I’m afraid of. You don’t see what he’s doing to you – to all of us.”

The oven timer rings. Mum slams or hand on it and the ringing stops, but the vibrations still echo through the room. Dad stands next to me while I take my pizza out of the oven. It looks cooked but I don’t feel like eating it now.

“Shit!’ I burn my finger on the tray and just about drop the pizza on Dad’s foot.

“Sarah!” Mum jangles the car keys in her hand.

Dad takes the pizza from me and puts it on the sink. I run my finger under the cold tape and Dad turns to Mum. “See what Ed does to this family.”

“This wasn’t Ed’s fault, Dad. I burnt myself.”

Dad takes the pizza cutter from the drawer and starts slicing,  just about cuts a hole in the tray. “This business with Ed has to stop somewhere. He has to take responsibility for his actions.”

Mum slams a plate on the bench next to Dad. “But we’re responsible for this! We’re the ones who let it happen.”

Let what happen? I keep running my finger under the cold tap, try to stop the pain.

Dad slides the sawed pizza onto the plate and slams it down hard on the kitchen table. He points to the door. “Go then, just go,” he yells at Mum. “But if you leave now, don’t bother coming back.”

In this new scene I tried to incorporate more of what you would expect to be going on during the conversation – the background stuff – the sort of detail that helps put the reader into the scene and make it more real.

Thanks Alison and Bren for your help.

I hope that sharing this with my blog readers might have helped you too.

Happy writing:)