Friends, Free Writing and Famous Faces

In February I packed my laptop and warm coat and headed off to New York for the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference). The coat proved to be particularly useful as we had snow … lots of it. The laptop was pretty handy too 🙂

The trip was all about stepping out of my comfort zone. I had arranged to room with amazing author/illustrators Serena Geddes and Liz Anelli whom I barely knew, and I was on a mission to spend time with my recently acquired and very fabulous agent, Jill Corcoran. I’d met Jill briefly in LA in 2010, but all our communications since then had been via the internet.

My gorgeous roomies, Serena Geddes and Liz Anelli

At the SCBWI NY conference with our fabulous agent, Jill Corcoran

I also visited the Holocaust Museum to research my work in progress, Beyond Belief. That day I walked 19.2 kilometres but no amount of walking could erase the images of the people who had suffered at the hands of Hitler and his Nazis.

The Holocaust Museum was a moving but sad experience

I met some famous faces (although I think they may have been imposters.)

So much to do and so little time. But I managed to fit it all in … and find time to write as well.

The conference itself was amazing and you can read all about it at the SCBWI Conference blog.

A writer’s life is full of ups and downs, but if I took one important thing away from the trip it was that being a writer is as much about the journey as the destination.

Happy writing 🙂


P.S. I’m heading off to Paris on Friday to research my book, Beyond Belief. I wouldn’t be doing it without  the generous support of VicArts who have given me a grant to cover the trip. I’ll be blogging about my adventures/journey here. See you then 🙂

A Path to Publishing – Revise Your Novel in a Month

I don’t normally talk about writing products on this blog. In fact, I don’t think I EVER have before, but I found the PlotWriMo Revise Your Novel in a Month videos so helpful that I wanted to spread the word.


Jill Corcoran

The videos have been produced by US Literary Agent, Jill Corcoran and the Plot Whisperer, Martha Alderson. They have put together the PlotWriMo program to help authors get their book published and to learn how to revise their own novels to make their manuscripts shine.

I found the PlotWriMo videos are also great for when you’re starting on a new project and trying to work out what will happen in your story and why.

There are eight videos in the PlotWriMo series, and you can work through them at your own pace, in a month or longer if you need to.

I used the videos to revise two of my novels – a young adult thriller, Submerged and a middle grade survival story called Game On.

I always do a lot of work on my characters so I feel I know them quite well when I’m writing my story.

What the PlotWriMo videos did for me though was to bring my characters into sharp focus so that the reader could understand why the protagonist was taking the journey.  They helped me to identify my characters greatest goal – the one that was bigger than themselves – and the flaw that was stopping them from achieving it.

Through the use of Energetic Markers (described fully in the videos), I identified the most important scenes and honed in on them. I identified the lowest point in the story for my character – when their flaw has brought them to their knees – when they have to acknowledge their responsibility for what has happened in the story.  This is an important point in a story that I don’t think I had identified before – it’s the point where the character acknowledges who they are, and that they will need to change in order to achieve their goals.



Martha Alderson’s plot planner helped me to identify and develop this vital scene in my stories.


  1. You need to keep putting your characters under pressure and see how they behave
  2. You need to have an understanding for all your main characters of their flaws, strengths, loves, hates and fears – these are what will drive their motivations and what happens in the story.
  3. In the last quarter of your book, your character has to make a conscious decision to change and do things differently, and this will be what makes them successful in reaching their goal.
  4. Characters should be introduced into your story in order of importance – but not too many at the start – don’t overwhelm your readers with information.
  5. Each quarter in your story needs a big turning point and by the end, your character has to be able to do something that they weren’t able to do for their entire story.
  6. By the end of your story, your character has to have made a major transformation from who they were when the story started.
  7. A scene needs to work on seven levels (you’ll find out more about this in the videos).

There are so many more great tips in the videos about things like cause and effect, where to start and end your story, strengthening voice and adding back story, just to name a few.

Watch video 1 for free here.

Here’s How the Video Series Work

Each video includes an in-depth look at the specific elements promised and how to consider these essential story principles as you write, revise, rewrite, sell your story. Writing assignment(s) guide you with step-by-step instruction.

Whether you decide to watch all the videos in a row and then go back and do the exercises or jump right in to the 1st video’s exercise, work at your own pace and take more or less time on the step-by-step exercises. The series are designed to fit into even the busiest of schedules. Sign-in and watch video lectures, complete homework assignments, and ask questions in a public forum on a timetable that fits your needs.

As well as the Novel Writing Videos, Martha and Jill also offer a series of videos for picture book writers and a number of other services to writers. You can find out more by joining their A Path to Publishing Facebook Group.

A Path to Publishing


Comment on this post, and enter Jill and Martha’s competition to win a FREE observation spot in an upcoming OFFICE HOURS workshop (a $45 value).


Find out more about Jill and Martha and how they can help your writing by following their blog tour. Here’s where it’s stopping:

December 1
December 1
December 1
December 1
December 1
December 2
December 2
December 2
December 2
December 3
December 3
December 3
December 4
December 4
December 4
December 5
December 5 Susan P






Withering-By-Sea – Writer/Illustrator Jude Rossell Shares Her Tips

Judith Rossell photoJudith Rossell is the author-illustrator of  Withering-By-Sea, a truly beautiful book set in Victorian times and presented in hardback with stunning illustrations and a royal blue ribbon bookmark.

It was part of hotly contested auction in the US, and sold in a lucrative two-book deal to Simon and Schuster America.

Jude is the author of 11 books and illustrator of 80 more, and a colleague and friend, and I’m thrilled to welcome her to my blog to share her writing and illustrating tips, and more about her new book.

 Jude’s Tips

  1. It’s going to be difficult. That’s ok. Keep going.
  2. Ignore that voice in your head that tells you it’s too hard, or that you’re not good enough, or that you should be scrubbing out the shower instead. Whatever it’s saying, it’s not helping. But at the same time, be tough on yourself, and always look for ways to make your writing better. Keep going.
  3. If you’re mainly an illustrator, avoid writing scenes only because you want to illustrate them. The characters and the story should always come first! Also, I’ve found that making little drawings of characters and scenes along the way is helpful and inspiring. And keep going!
  4. Sometimes you’ll find you want to completely rewrite whole sections of your story, and you’re resisting because it took so long to write in the first place. Remember: if in doubt, chuck it out. Probably. And keep going.
  5. When you finally get to the end, you’ll want to send it off straight away. If you can make yourself wait for a few weeks (or a bit longer) and come back to the story, you’ll find heaps of things you want to change. And this will make your story better.


withering front coverWithering-By-Sea is a beautifully illustrated junior novel that lovers of intrigue and adventure will not be able to put down.

Eleven-year-old Stella Montgomery leads a miserable existence with her three awful aunts, Aunt Condolence, Aunt Temperance and Aunt Deliverance, living at the damp and dull Hotel Majestic.

But things become far from dull when Stella witnesses a murder.

This sets in motion an adventure more terrifying and more wonderful than she could ever have hoped for.

What’s in the bottle that Mr Filbert hid before he was killed and why does the Professor want it so badly?

Will he find out that Stella now has it, and come after her?

Of course he will, and that’s where the action for Stella really starts.

There’s so much to love about Withering-by-Sea apart from the great tension and fast paced action.

Stella is a very likeable character. Readers will have sympathy for her circumstances, but will also admire the courage with which she tackles her unexpected adventure, and the fact that witnessing the murder and prior events, have put her life in danger.

She is a smart and very level-headed young woman who struggles to cope with her aunts’ attitude that ‘children should be seen and not heard.’

Withering-by-Sea is a dreary coastal town, but this story is far from dreary. The town provides a perfect setting for intrigue, adventure and betrayal.

Set in Victorian times, this book is full of atmosphere, enhanced by author/illustrator Jude Rossell’s gorgeously detailed pictures.

There are so many great characters for readers to connect with apart from Stella. There’s feisty Gert who is captured along with Stella, the evil Professor, and clever Mr Capelli and his singing cats.

Withering-by-Sea is an historical adventure with a hint of magic. There’s also gentle humour, and authentic and endearing relationships between Stella and Gert, and Stella and Mr Capelli and his cats.

I’d love to see these characters featured in future Stella Montgomery intrigues.

Withering-by-Sea is a book of substance – it’s entertaining and hard to put down but there is also some complex exploration of relationships, and the vulnerability of children and their openness to things that adults often close their minds to.

While this mystery comes to a satisfactory conclusion, the reader is left with unanswered questions that will make them want to pick up the next Stella Montgomery book. For instance, who was Stella’s mother and what really happened to her, and how did Stella end up living with the dreadful aunts? Stella also has a special ability that she must have inherited from someone.

I can’t wait to read what Stella does next.

It’s easy to see why Withering-by-Sea was so sought after when it went to auction in the US.

It is published in Australia by ABC Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Judith Rossell is represented by Jill Corcoran Literary Agent. You can find out more about Jude and her works here.




Writing Tips – Revising Your Novel – Strengthening Your Character Arc – GAME ON

I have been revising my middle grade novel, Game On, about a boy and his sister who become stranded in the Australian wilderness.


Jack the main character is a techno head who can’t survive without his wifi or his favourite video game, Crocodile Run.

But he has no choice when a family holiday goes disastrously wrong and Jack and his sister end up stranded in the Australian wilderness, and all Jack has are skills learned in a virtual reality to help them survive real world challenges.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo help with my revision process, I’m using A Path to Publishing‘s, Revise Your Novel in a Month videos  produced by Jill Corcoran literary agent and Martha Alderson, the Plot Whisperer. There are eight videos in the series, and you rent them for 12 months for $75 USD. I can highly recommend them.  They cover everything from character, to plot, to energy in the story, to detailed line edits.


This is the first in a series of posts where I’m going to talk about how they helped me with the revision process.

In my head, I knew how my character had changed. He started the book as an unfit city kid who only entered the real world when forced to, and whose biggest physical challenge was lifting pizza to his lips and wrestling virtual crocodiles. By the end of the book, he was skinning kangaroos and fending off real crocs.

Constructive criticism can't hurt you *

So clearly, the physical arc was there. It wasn’t until I started revising using the videos that I realised I hadn’t paid enough attention to Jack’s internal arc. How would fighting for his life in the wilderness mentally and emotionally change a wisecracking 13 year-old boy?

For my character, it results in a deeper connection to his environment, a deeper understanding of consequences, and a deeper love for his family, particularly his little sister who is his companion on his real life survival quest.

I found that I’d shown a big change in my character by the end of the novel. It was kind of easy because circumstances necessitated certain actions so Jack had to be a certain way in order to survive.

What was missing from my story was the transition. I needed to go back and put markers in my story – to look at the physical events that brought about his change and made sure they reflected the mental and emotional journey as well. I needed to show that he hadn’t suddenly gone from being one kind of person to another – that his character had evolved due to circumstances and to his own self-knowledge.

DINGOSo these are the things I asked myself about to Jack in order to strengthen his character arc in the story:

1.  When does he come to understand the part he played in ending up in the situation he’s in?
2.  How does he behave under pressure?
3.  How does this behaviour change over the course of the novel?
4.  How does his understanding of himself change over the course of the novel?
5.  How does he come to realise what he has been doing wrong?
6.  What does he decide to do differently? How does this change him as a person?
7.  At the end, what is he able to do on a mental and emotional level that he wasn’t able to do at the beginning of the story?
8.  How does this help him achieve his goal?

CAMELIn my story, my character’s story goal actually changes and increases in intensity as the events unfold, so this necessitates greater change in his character.

One of the other things I realised is that the problems my character encountered needed to be a lot more due to his own actions rather than natural hazards or bad luck.

This increased the emotional stakes for him, the need for change, and a bigger character arc.

I hope this post helps you develop the character arc in your story.

If you have any tips to share or experiences with developing your character arc, feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing and revising:)