Don’t Give Up Your Author Dreams

When I was seven years-old I decided I was going to be a writer. When I was a teen bookworm and the most uncool girl in school, I realized that the type of writer I wanted to be was an author. I wanted to change the world with my words.

But life had other plans for me. Becoming an author is hard. Writing a book is just the start. A first book is rarely ready for publication, and it rarely earns instant income. I found myself working in insurance, which was as far away from my dreams as I could possibly get. I spent the next fifteen years or so trying to find my way back to my chosen career and in 2009 my young adult novel, Letters to Leonardo was published by Walker Books Australia, and I felt like I’d finally made it. Readers wrote to me that they loved my book. I received some very nice royalties and a lot of great reviews.

But Letters to Leonardo wasn’t published outside Australia and my dreams of reaching readers all over the world with this book didn’t eventuate.

But out of all the books I have written in the last twenty years, Letters to Leonardo is one that’s close to my heart. Matt’s story was inspired by something that really happened. His mother was based on a real person I knew, and some of the events in the story actually happened. I couldn’t let his story finish there. In the back of my mind I always felt that the journey for Letters to Leonardo wasn’t over yet.

Jump to January this year, and I was on a writer’s retreat with dear friends and fellow writers and illustrators, Edna Cabcabin Moran and Laura Elliott in the USA. Both of them had read Letters to Leonardo. Both of them wanted to see it published outside Australia. Both of them believed in Matt and his story. Edna suggested I send the manuscript to US publisher, Mazo Publishers who republish books like Letters to Leonardo.

I worked on the manuscript incorporating some of the skills I’d acquired in the last ten years.  I didn’t change the essence of the story, but I worked on the characters and events.

I submitted the manuscript to Mazo Publishers via their online form, and a month later I had a contract. They have been so wonderful to work with, so enthusiastic about Letters to Leonardo, so dedicated to getting Matt’s story out into the hands of a whole new generation of readers. And  I’ve  been  so  fortunate  to  have  my  dear  friend  and  talented  creator, Tania McCartney  design  this  cover, which I love so much.

Letters to Leonardo is now available in Australia again. It’s also available in the US, UK and other parts of the world at the publisher’s website and in bookstores.

If you have a story you believe in, and being an author is all you’ve ever wanted, don’t give up. It took me ten years to first publication in Australia and another ten to get Letters to Leonardo out into the wider world. But it has been an amazing journey and I’ve learnt so much along the way. And I’ve had letters from readers telling me how my book really did change their life.

I’d love to hear your stories about how perseverance and love for your story has led to publication. Feel free to share in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing 🙂


Letters to Leonardo is the story of a boy who receives a fifteenth birthday card from the mother he thought was dead. He decides to look for her and find out why she has been absent from his life, and why his father lied to him about her death. Matt helps make sense of his feelings of betrayal and confusion by writing to his dead idol, Leonardo da Vinci. But bringing his mother back into his life doesn’t have the outcome he expected.

It can be purchased direct from the publisher, Mazo Publishers and from bookstores.

Why School Visits Make You a Better Book Creator

Book Week isn’t just a fabulous chance to celebrate books and their creation.

Letters to Leonardo Book CoverIt’s a chance for writers and illustrators to get out into schools and connect with our readers, to talk about our books and to talk about their stories – and their creative dreams.

Yesterday I visited Gisborne Primary School. I spoke to about 120 Grade 5s and 6s about what it was like being an author, and they had some amazing questions for me.

I also presented a workshop to 15 kids in Grades 3 to 6 who had won the right to attend the workshop by creating a winning story in the school’s story writing competition.

IMAG1578These kids were amazing. They had an incredibly diverse range of characters and story ideas. Their villains ranged from wicked grandmas to a gummy bear army. Their heroes ranged from small children to adult super heroes.

Whenever I work with young writers it always reminds me of what a valuable thing our imagination is.

Kids are not restricted in their thinking by what kind of story might sell or what they think a reader might want. Kids write from the heart. They write with original voices, they write the story they are compelled to tell.

IMAG1579So apart from the magic of working with young writers, and the satisfaction we get from sharing our love of creating with them, there’s a lot we can learn from our school visit experiences.

  1.  Don’t second guess yourself – telling yourself your story idea won’t work. If you like it, run with it and see how far it takes you.
  2. Don’t be hung up on what readers or publishers might want, write the story you want to tell.
  3. Enjoy writing for the sake of writing – because it’s fun and it’s something you love to do.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and brainstorm with others if you’ve reached a dead end with a story idea.
  5. Push the boundaries of your imagination – step outside your comfort zone and try new things: new genre, new writing styles, new ideas.

IMAG1580Thanks to the staff and students of Gisborne Primary for inviting me into your school and reminding me why I love being a writer.

Happy Book Week and Happy writing:)


SCBWI Europolitan – Day 2 & 3


Day 2 of the conference opened with a fascinating keynote on Fairy Tales in East and West presented by Özge Tığlı. It was followed by a panel discussion, Publishing Here, There and Everywhere moderated by translator, Laura Watkinson. The panel featured Brooks Sherman from The Bent Agency, Greet Pauwelijn the Publisher at Book Island, and Majo de Saedeleer of O Mundo. There was a vigorous discussion with some audience questions on what the differences are in books published in different parts of the world.

Hardworking attendees at my workshop

Hardworking attendees at my workshop

I would love to have attended Esther Hershenhorn’s Intensive on Getting Your Stories Right, but it clashed with my presentation of my workshop, Waging War – Casting Your Characters into Conflict.

There were twenty-six very enthusiastic participants at my workshop, which focussed on heightening conflict and raising the stakes for characters, including a focus on individual scenes.


  1. Raise the stakes – Make things even harder for your character. Think of the worst thing that can happen to your character and make something even worse happen.
  1. Eliminate/revise backstory –Look to see if your scene contains backstory – setting up information, giving character’s history etc. What information in this scene does the author need to know and what MUST the reader know.

If you want to include backstory, try to show it through actions rather than telling. In my YA thriller, submerged, my main character had a serious accident when she was a kid when a bird spooked her horse. Instead of telling the reader she is scared of birds because…. I show her fear of birds and then gradually reveal the reasons for it through actions – people reacting to her scars etc.

  1. Do you have the right characters in this scene?

Too many characters in a scene can confuse and distract the reader. Keep reminding the reader of who the characters in conflict are, by showing them in conflict.IMAG8204

  1. Do you have the right balance of internal and external conflict?

You do need quiet scenes leading up to big action scenes to help build the tension. But your characters can still be in conflict. You can use internal conflict to show disparity between what a character thinks they want and what they really want.

  1. What are your character’s values, and are these values being challenged by the scene?

So, is there some kind of internal or external tussle happening? Do a characters internal and external goals oppose each other? How do these goals fit into the overall story conflict?IMAG8229

  1. Emotions of the scene – What emotions do you want the reader to feel after reading this scene? What are the emotions of the characters in the scene? Can you show subtext through actions – perhaps show that your characters goals are different to what they thought they were?
  1. What physical obstacles can you introduce to make things harder for a character?

These are things that will test their internal and external resolve.

  1. How can you use setting to make these obstacles even more insurmountable?
  1. What difficult decisions will your POV character have to make after/because of this scene?
  1. What questions will the scene raise for the reader to entice them to keep reading?

With Brooks Sherman, Literary Agent, The Bent Agency

A gripping opening is essential to hook publishers, agents and readers.

I have a number of projects I’m about to submit so In the afternoon, I attended Brooks session on writing a gripping opening. It was interesting to hear this from an agent’s perspective.

Brooks talked about some common faults with openings:

  1. Too much set up or exposition
  2. Too much action without context
  3. Great voice going nowhere
  4. Start where your story begins
  5. Prologues are not popular.

Although Brooks did clarify that prologues have their place in the right story.

Brooks suggestions:

Focus on action at hand rather than setting up story.

The first chapter should establish status quo of character’s world and at end of first chapter, things start to shift.

IMAG8131Openings to generally avoid

  1. Dreams
  2. Starting in middle of action with no context
  3. First day of school
  4. Moving day

Essentials of a Query Letter

According to Brooks, a query letter should establish:

  1. Rules of the world
  2. Overarching conflict
  3. Who character is
  4. What environment is?
  5. What stakes are.
Day 2 and 3 were also packed full of fabulous events

Day 2 and 3 were also packed full of fabulous events


There were two days of panels, keynotes and intensives, but the conference actually went for a total of four days. On the Friday before the conference started, Mina had organised a Scrawl Crawl where we were guided around Amsterdam by an expert historian and given a chance to get to know each other and our surrounds.

On the final day, there was a peer critique brunch where we had a chance to get feedback on presubmitted work. Our moderator was Esther Hershenhorn and she was amazing. All four of us walked away with new ideas and enthusiasm for our stories.

Somehow my 12 year old character has now ended up in Chicago with a new baby brother on the way. It has added so much more conflict to my story, and I’m loving it – although my character, Eddy is quite unhappy about the whole thing – for now anyway.

Easter Brunch

Easter Brunch


I was lucky to share this Monday afternoon event at the American Book Centre at Spui 12 in Amsterdam’s city centre with  talented authors, Angela Cerrito and Amber Lough.

4789462 1421761418675 1421761447642 Letters to Leonardo Book Cover

We had a chance to talk about and read from our books and there was book sales and signing. Afterwards, the bookshop presented us all with lovely flowers.

Sharing Book Talks with Angela Cerrito and Amber Lough

Sharing Book Talks with Angela Cerrito and Amber Lough

After the conference was over, we headed to Paris where I spent time researching for my new YA adventure, Paris Hunting.

I’ll talk about this in next week’s blog post, The Risks of Research.

I hope you enjoyed the conference wrap up. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to include them after this post.

Happy writing:)


10 Years of CYA

I attended the first CYA Conference in Brisbane ten years ago. My novel Letters to Leonardo had been shortlisted in their writing competition.

Letters to Leonardo Book CoverLetters to Leonardo was published five years later, and five years on from that, I’ll be attending the tenth CYA Conference.

I haven’t been going to many conferences in Australia lately due to family commitments, but I’ve been busy writing, and am now ready to submit.

When you have submission ready manuscripts is a great time to go to a conference like CYA. In Australia there are a limited number of publishers willing to take on or even view submissions from new young adult and children’s writers and illustrators.

Conferences like CYA give you a chance to meet these people and get your work in front of them.

At this year’s CYA Conference there are 8 publishers and 3 agents available to pitch to. Unfortunately Penguin and Harper Collins are fully booked already but there are plenty more.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 3.42.19 pmEven if you don’t have something ready to submit, there are still plenty of reasons to attend this conference. I personally can’t wait for Morris Gleitzman’s extended Master Class.

There’s also a publishers panel about first pages, and workshops by amazing illustrator, Sarah Davis and talented authors like Kaz Delaney, Meredith Costain and Paul Collins.

CYA is a huge day of information gathering, networking and being inspired. Check out the full program here.

Let me know if you’re going and I’ll see you there:)

Happy writing:)


P.S. Tomorrow I’ll be blogging about the fabulous SCBWI Europolitan – I learnt so much.

Letters to Leonardo Goes Global

Letters to Leonardo Book CoverI’m thrilled to say that from 1st September 2014, Letters to Leonardo is available as an e-book so it will now be available to my readers and writerly friends in other parts of the world.

You can buy a copy here:

  • Amazon
  • iTunes
  • Kobo
  • JBHiFiNow ebooks
  • Bookworld

Or read what readers have said about letters to Leonardo here:

The Stories and Ideas You Can’t Let Go

I don’t usually tell people this fact, particularly agents and editors because it tends to scare them off, but I have 80 completed manuscripts in my filing cabinets.

Some are short, some are long, they range across many genres from picture books to adult non-fiction. Some are early drafts, and some are submission ready. Out of the 80, there are probably only about 20 that will ever be submitted for publication.  These 20 are the manuscripts that might not be finished, might not be polished, but they are the ideas and characters I can’t let go.

The other 60 are what I call my practice manuscripts, the journey ones, the ones I wrote to develop my storytelling and writing skills. These are the manuscripts that helped shape my writing, but realistically the stories themselves are underdeveloped in terms of plot or character or their concepts might not be strong enough to carry them.

So how do you know that your story is worth hanging onto – that it’s worth pursuing? Do you just keep submitting until a publisher takes it up? Do you abandon it after the first rejection?

I have top five criteria by which I judge if a story is really worth hanging onto.

  1. Is the storyline memorable? Is it so clear in my head that when someone asks me what my story is about I can sum it up in a short paragraph?
  2. Has the character stuck in my head long after the manuscript draft is finished?
  3. Two years on am I still ‘in love’ with the characters and the concept?
  4. Have I received positive rejections for it like “I encourage you to send it out to other publishers as it has much to recommend it and other publishers may have more room on their list”?
  5. Am I so close to my main character that they feel like a loved family member so abandoning them would be too painful?

Letters to Leonardo Book CoverSometimes, with books like Letters to Leonardo (which took more than ten years from initial idea to publication),  writing and rewriting the manuscript feels like you’ve been wrestling a crocodile, but you simply can’t stop. Sometimes, a story sits so deep in your heart that you just feel it needs to be told.

Having said that, I don’t keep submitting a manuscript in the same form after it has had five or ten rejections. I look at the feedback I’ve had from editors or agents and based on their suggestions and what feels right for me, I decide on a new course of rewrites.

Sometimes I put the idea/story aside for a while and over time and from reading other books, I realise what’s missing from my own manuscript and why it hasn’t been taken up by a publisher yet.

Sometimes, even with published books it can be hard to let them go. You feel the need to go the extra mile to reach a new body of readers.

Sherryl Clark

Sherryl Clark

For example, Sherryl Clark’s YA novel Dying to Tell Me received excellent reviews after being published in US, but she was unable to find a publisher for it in Australia.

Sherryl decided to organise her own publication and distribution here. She bought the artwork for the US edition, translated the book from US to Australian English, had it edited and organised her own printing and distribution.

Dying to Tell Me is a story that Sherryl felt so passionate about that she decided to take the Australian publishing of it into her own hands. Dying to Tell Me is an extraordinary young adult novel, and I’ve reviewed it below:


Once I started reading Dying to Tell Me, I couldn’t put it down.

The main character Sasha hooked me in, made me care about her right from the start.

“I didn’t want to sit in the front seat of our car – that’s where Mum always sat – but Dad was pleading. 

“Please Sasha,” he said. His voice caught and he cleared his throat.  “We promised a new start.”

His face was so creased with sadness that I couldn’t say no.

UnknownSasha’s policeman dad has taken up a posting in the country and it’s a chance for all of them to make a new start.

But the supposedly quiet country town they have been sent to is far from quiet.  Art thefts, arson, murder and ghosts are compelling plot ingredients of this fast paced novel.

When Sasha moves to the country, the gift of second sight that she has been denying for so long resurfaces along with a whole new telepathic power.

Sherryl Clark is the author of more than fifty-five books and Dying to Tell Me is written with polish and the lyrical language that her readers have come to expect.

“Jacket, jeans, sweatshirts, undies – peeled off like I was a skinny orange.”

Sherryl uses imagery and internal dialogue to give us clear insight into her main character, Sasha.

An irritation grew in me like an itch I wanted to scrape raw with my fingernails.

The action in Dying to Tell me carries the reader along at a cracking pace, and Sasha’s little brother Nicky and Dad are also endearing characters.

There are so many twists and turns in this story to keep you guessing. Once you start this book you won’t want to put it down.

A town that doesn’t want her

A ghost that won’t leave her alone

Dreams that mean life or death

With issues of family, sibling relationships, resilience, survival and trust, Dying to Tell Me fits well into the Year 7 Australian curriculum and teacher’s notes are available here.

You can order Dying to Tell Me at your local bookshop or purchase here.

Do you have a manuscript you can’t abandon?  I’d love you to share your experiences and suggestions in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)


Writer’s Masterclass for Teens

Letters to Leonardo Book CoverI’m going to be running a full day writing workshop for students in Years 7, 8 and 9 in July.

My workshop titled, ‘From Portrait to Prose’ will incorporate my experiences writing Letters to Leonardo.

I’ll go through the process of how I used paintings by Leonardo da Vinci as inspiration for events and settings in the story.

My workshop will take writers through the process of how to develop a character from a photo or a portrait, and how you can use this character to write a compelling story.

The workshop will be held in Oakleigh, Melbourne on 3rd July and places are limited.

For more information and bookings see the WriteAwayWithMe website

Hope to see you there.