Developing Setting and Making it Active in Your Story – a free online resource for teachers

The Your Story is Our Story project continues!

As I wasn’t able to be in the classroom because of the Covid-19 lockdown in Victoria, staff at Yarrawonga College thought it might be helpful to have a video on setting for their online classes for Years 4-8.

They wanted me to talk about the benefits of choosing a setting you are familiar with, so you can authentically describe it, how I use setting in my books, and how to make characters active in the setting and not just create an information dump of setting details.

I wanted to use images of the local area in my video because I wanted them to be familiar and relatable to students.

On my exercise walk, I took out my phone and snapped a few photos. The sun was shining as I wandered around Yarrawonga, but the streets and parks were eerily silent.

I hope they will have fun making the amazing characters they have created active in their settings.


I know there are lots of schools and writers being impacted by COVID and lockdowns so I’ve uploaded the SETTING video to Youtube and my website as a free resource for anyone wanting to teach or develop their own settings.

The video is available from my website at or via Youtube


Thanks to Creative Victoria and Creative Learning Partnerships for making this program possible.

Author in Residence Day 2 – Your Story is Our Story

Another hectic, fun day at Yarrawonga College P-12.

One of the Year 7’s was so excited after completing a character profile, they declared, ‘I’ve got my whole story plan already now.’

So great to have the chance to inspire these talented writers and see their stories grow from small seeds..

I also worked with Year 8’s developing their characters by looking at internal traits and character motivations.

My stories always start with characters because they drive the story and make things happen.

Picture prompts for character ideas. Students chose from contemporary and historical characters.

So this was the focus of the Year 1 sessions too.

We used puppets again to demonstrate concepts and talked about how I developed my characters for Reena’s Rainbow and the Pippa’s Pets series.

Students had created their own puppets to use in their stories and they were amazing.

The Year 4s were also very creative developing characters to be featured on their ‘missing’ milk cartons and used in their stories.

So wonderful to see such enthusiasm and talent. Everyone has a story to tell.


Thanks to Creative Victoria and Creative Learning Partnerships for making this program possible.


Next school holidays I’m running a series of 4 separate writing workshops for adults and children of different ages and writing experience.

The workshops are being sponsored by the local shire and libraries, and we are keen to encourage writers of all ages, particularly within the Macedon Ranges. So the cost of a 2 hour workshop is just $10 per child and $20 Per adult.

These workshops are going to be full of fun, hands-on writing and great tips to help you on your writing journey whether it’s a hobby or you are aiming for publication.

I’d love to see you there.


Enjoying a laugh with writerly friends Marie Alfaci, Claire Saxby, Sheryl Gwyther, Elaine Ouston, Julie Nickerson and Kath Battersby

Very few children’s authors become wealthy from their writing, but it is an industry rich with wonderful people and great friendships. I was reminded of this on the weekend when I attended the CYA Conference in Brisbane.

Queensland author, Sheryl Gwyther and her husband, Ross welcomed writers from all over Australia into their home. (Thanks Sheryl and Ross – Chateau Gwyther is always a great place to stay:-)

I spent an amazing weekend, laughing, brainstorming and sharing with other authors; knowing that I am not alone – that others share my love of children’s literature – that others share the ‘ups and downs’ of working in an industry where rejections are plentiful and acceptances are few and far between and must be celebrated with relish.

On Friday night, we attended a function, Four on the Floor at Black Cat Books Paddington featuring Julie Nickerson, Aleesah Darlison, Peter Carnavas and Oliver Phommavanh.

Oliver’s hilarious talk about his new book, Thai-riffic inspired us to dine afterwards at a nearby Thai restaurant.

Illustrator, Jo Thomspon set up a gorgeous display for The Glasshouse launch.

Saturday was full on at CYA Conference where I launched Sheryl Gwyther’s hot new book Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper and Jo Thompson and Paul Collins stunning new PB, The Glasshouse.

I also attended and was inspired by sessions and workshops with Kate Forsyth, Gabrielle Wang, Prue Mason and Chris Morphew. I love hearing how other authors work and came away from each session feeling as if I had learned something valuable or heard something that would help me decide future direction/revisions to my current WIP.

The hardest part was coming away feeling so inspired and not having the time to write until I got home again.


Sunday at CYA was Hatchlings day. From about 9.00am enthusiastic young writers aged 8-16 started trickling through the door, eyes alight with excitement and perhaps a few nerves.

I was very excited at the prospect of being able to do my Heroes and Villains workshop with a whole new group of young writers. And it was wonderful.

We talked about stereotyped heroes and villains and what makes a well rounded character. The kids had two photos as a starting point and worked on developing a character based on each picture; one hero and one villain or two villains if they preferred.

As well as interviewing each character to find out more about them, they looked at the relationship between the two and how they knew each other.

It was so much fun. It was also interesting to see how quietly and intensely they worked at making each character unique and interesting.

Unfortunately time was limited so they didn’t get a chance to put their characters into conflict, but right at the start of the workshop they got to act out their own Hero vs Villain scenario.

All in all it was another inspirational CYA conference. Thanks to Tina, Ally and crew for all your hard work in bringing together Australian children’s writers and illustrators and other industry professionals in such a fun and inspiring way.

And it was so great that young writers could share the experience this year.

Happy writing:-)



Life is a dodgy takeaway – sweet and sour and full of surprise ingredients.

You never know where inspiration is going to come from, and often it’s the words of someone else.

Today, on my walk to the Queensland State Library, this little gem written on the chalkboard of a coffee cart in Ann Street attracted my attention.

It made me ponder the fact that words of wisdom can come from any source – and that great writing is everywhere!

Contemplating the ‘surprise ingredients’ of life occupied my thoughts for most of the trip, but from somewhere, also came the flash of knowing whose point of view I’m going to be telling my new story from. It always amazes me how one thought can randomly generate another, equally as important, but totally unrelated.

It’s one of the things I was trying to encourage the young writers to do today – explore their randomness, break down the boundaries – get those ideas happening – don’t be restricted by what anyone else thinks you should write.

Today’s groups were brimful of enthusiasm and it was so exciting for me to hear kids who had completed their character profiles and developed their plots utter those eager words, “Can I start my story?” and to see the fervour with which they put pen to paper.

On my wanderings, I also came across The Drovers – a selection from a series 0f 85 figures portraying people in everyday situations, frozen in time, capturing the ‘essence of Australia’.

Seeing The Drovers was kind of serendipitous, and made me think of the debate between Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson over what was the ‘essence of the Australian bush man’, that sparked the inspiration for my book, A Duel of Words.

One of the exciting things that came out of today was a group of kids determined to start their own school magazine so they could get some of their work published…and a teacher who was enthusiastically behind them.

Today I also enjoyed visiting the Queensland State Library’s fascinating Bipotaim: Stories from the Torres Strait exhibition, and I explored portraits at the Art Gallery. Works from both these exhibits are going to feature in my next workshop on 7th April where young writers will learn how to turn Portraits into Prose.

Now it’s off to pay attention to those brand new book characters clamouring for attention.

Happy writing.



State Library of Queensland

Today was day one, session one of my Heroes and Villains workshops, and there was definitely a villain at work to keep me on my toes.

The first workshop was scheduled to start at 10.00am, but the travel weary year 7’s didn’t actually walk through the door till after 10.20am.

“That’s okay,” I told myself. “You can cut 20 minutes off a 90 minute workshop – a bit less plotting time here – spend a few minutes less on character building (their fictional characters, not me, lol). That sorted, I relaxed.

Everything was going well until 11.10am when the fire alarm sounded and the fire warden burst in and demanded our immediate evacuation via four flights of stairs. We were allowed back in the building in time for the kids to collect their hats, stories, and lunches and hop on the bus for home.

Needless to say the Year 7s were a great group of young writers and they seemed genuinely disappointed that their workshop had been cut short. I was sorry too, and promised to email all the necessary materials to allow them to complete their stories.

The Superhero mask that now has a 'mouth' cut out of it:-)

To be fair, I had to accept responsibility for one of the day’s misadventures. It wasn’t due to chance that the hero selected from the eager group of year 7’s could only emit muffled grunts instead of following my carefully crafted script…that was my fault…I’d forgotten to cut a mouth in his superhero mask.

Workshop 2 went off without a hitch. The group of year 5s giggled at the sight of their colleagues performing hero and villain roles (the mouthless mask had been discarded) and enthusiastically set about building their own characters. The activity was based around some fabulous photos from the State Library of Queensland’s Heritage Collection, and some dastardly and debonair characters emerged from the pages.

I can’t think of anything more exciting than watching a group of young writers comparing notes on the characters and stories they have created. Then they moved onto plotting and creating some great conflicts and obstacles for their heroes to overcome.

Me, Patrick Ness and Judith Russell

All in all, an inspiring day; topped off by an evening visit to Queensland University to hear international author, Patrick Ness talk about his wonderful books and the way he writes.

Now I’m off to prepare for tomorrow’s workshops.

happy writing.


LETTERS TO LEONARDO BLOG TOUR – DAY 11 – We visit Sandy Fussell and Matt reveals some interesting things about himself.

Tomorrow we’re off to visit Sandy Fussell and Matt Hudson will be coming out of hiding. He’s going to be talking to Sandy and revealing all sorts of interesting things about himself. You can join us at

And tomorrow is the ACTUAL launch of Letters to Leonardo.

Catch you in cyber space.

Dee and Matt:-)