Back in the Writing Seat

Logo_no_lamp_text_sampleThis blog has been sadly neglected In the last few months, but being involved in the organising of the KidLitVic2016 Meet The Publishers conference has taken up a huge slice of my time.

It was an inspiring event at which I got to connect with so many wonderful writers and illustrators and publishing professionals.

So here’s what happened. Alison Reynolds, Nicky Johnston, Jacquelyn Muller and I organised an event at the State Library of Victoria that was attended by 11 amazing publishers and one fabulous literary agent, and 160 wonderful authors and illustrators. Michael Wagner was our warm, funny and thoughtful panel moderator, Ian Robinson kept us entertained and informed as MC, and Coral Vass was a dynamic, very competent and welcome addition to our team on the day.

Thanks to our amazing faculty including:

Elise Jones Allen & Unwin
Maryann Ballantyne Black Dog Books/Walker
Suzanne O’Sullivan Hachette
Lisa Berryman HarperCollins
Marisa Pintado Hardie Grant Egmont
Jacinta di Mase Literary Agent
Michelle Madden Penguin
Kimberley Bennett Random House
Clare Hallifax Scholastic
Miriam Rosenbloom Scribble/Scribe
Jane Pearson Text Publishing
Melissa Keil The Five Mile Press

With writerly friends, Christina Booth and Sheryl Gwyther

To be honest the whole day was a whirl. There were four panels at which publishing professionals discussed picture books, illustrations, chapter and middle grade books and YA.

A highlight for me was meeting Clare Halifax, the wonderful publisher of my new book for kids aged 9+ due out next year.

I also loved hearing about what publishers were looking for and what authors and illustrators need to do in order to get noticed/published.

Thanks to my writerly friends, Bren MacDibble, Candice Lemon-Scott, Sheryl Gwyther and Kelly McDonald who took notes for me. So here are some tips from the conference:

Wonderful to finally meet Kelly McDonald.

Wonderful to finally meet Kelly McDonald.


  1. Humour, weird off-centre.
  2. Picture books with girl characters.
  3. Stories that tell a child something about themselves.
  4. Authors should find out what publishers are publishing and target those who best suit your work. This information can be found by looking at the books on a publisher’s website, in libraries and bookstores.
  5. 5-7 year old characters need to simply overcome an obstacle, but they must get more complex as character and readership get older.
  6. Be specific about the role of each character and what they are trying to achieve.
  7. Books where the author is in touch with their inner child.
  8. Always room for a good book, no matter what the trends.
  9. Voice is what hooks publishers and readers in.
  10. The story that you had to write … that comes from the heart. Not written to meet a ‘trend’.

Now that the conference is over, I’m right back into writing, and I’ll be posting regularly again.

If you were at the KidLitVIc2016 conference, feel free to share your tips and experiences in the comments section of this blog.

See you back here soon.

Happy writing 🙂






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.


FRIDAY FEEDBACK – The Octopus ODDyssey

Today’s writing snippet is kindly provided by my good writing friend, Sheryl Gwyther. Sheryl is the author of Secrets of Eromanga, Princess Clown and Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper.

Here’s an excerpt from Sheryl’s work in progress, The Octopus ODDyssey.

I have an excellent reason to hide from Bufo Bentley. It began with a dirt-spraying wheelie on my bike and a bagful of textbooks on my back. Over I flipped, but the bike kept going, right into Bufo’s new Avanti Mountain Bike.

He wouldn’t have noticed the scratch on its frame except I wasn’t alone in the school bike shed. The word went out … Bentley’s gonna get Danny O’Leary.

It meant I can’t hang out in the Dirty Duck Café on Friday nights – it’s enemy territory since Bufo and his mates (a.k.a. the Toad Gang) took it over. Instead, I tramp with Finn, Ant, and Leah, deeper into the shadows of Brownie’s Swamp.

‘We’ll miss out on the Dirty Duck’s half-price milkshakes.’ Ant slaps the air around his ears. ‘Plus I’m getting eaten alive.’

‘Serves you right for not using mozzie repellent.’ Leah’s torch flickers into the dense paperbark forest at the side of the track. ‘Let me concentrate or we’ll end up lost.’

Sheryl, I love your opening line. It sets up your story problem and you just know that your main character is going clash with Bufo. It also creates tension right from the start and makes the reader want to keep reading.

But then the tension dissipates because you give the reason for the conflict straight away and it’s told not shown. I’m wondering if the reason for the animosity can be fed into the story as it progresses. Perhaps Bufo sends him a bill for the bike and he can’t afford to pay it.

Explaining what his excellent reason is also drags you back into past tense, which slows the pacing down. It also means that in the third paragraph you have conflicting tenses “it meant” and  “I tramp”.

The swamp is a great scene and the tension picks up again here.  if this were my story I would probably go straight to the swamp. Here’s what I mean.

I have an excellent reason to hide from Bufo Bentley, which is why I’m tramping deeper into the shadows of Brownie’s Swamp instead of enjoying the half price milks shakes at Dirty Ducks.

Another thing you might want to look at is word repetition. In the second paragraph, you mention the word, ‘bike’ three times. If you did want keep this paragraph here, you might want to think about expanding your descriptions more and this will allow your reader to picture what’s going on, enable you to choose alternative words, and reveal things about your character.

Here’s an example:

I was doing wheelies when my backpack full of last week’s homework slipped to one side and unbalanced me. I lost control and hit the dirt but my wheels kept going.  My bike skidded into Bufo’s brand new Avanti and it toppled to the ground, its spokes creased and a scrape the size of a fifty cent piece on its shiny black frame.

Thanks for sharing this piece with us, Sheryl. I can’t wait to hear what happens to Danny in the swamp, and more about his conflict with Bufo and whether he stops hiding.

I hope you found this feedback helpful. If you have any constructive suggestions about Sheryl’s piece, feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post.

If you’d like feedback on your 150 words, send it to FridayFeedback*at*Deescribe*dot*com*dot*au

Happy writing:)



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:-)


TUESDAY WRITING TIP – Writing Chapter Books with Sheryl Gwyther

Today, children’s author and my very good friend, Sheryl Gwyther is visiting  to give us her tips on how to write Chapter Books. Sheryl is visiting us as part of her blog tour for her new book, Princess Clown.

Here’s what Sheryl has to say:

I usually write Junior Fiction – the 9 to 13 age group, but for the past six months I have added another genre into my work – CHAPTER BOOKS. Princess Clown is out now, and my second chapter book, Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper will be out in early August with Pearson Australia.

Chapter books are stories designed especially for children who are beginning to grow in confidence with their reading ability. Their vocabulary knowledge is expanding and they are at that special age where they want to do things like the older kids – including reading books by themselves. They also are the right age to be excited and enthused by their new reading skills. Because of all these things, I think Chapter Books are extra special!

Chapter books cater for these developing readers. The books are also called ‘easy readers or bridging books’ for obvious reasons.


  • Fast paced
  • Interesting and lively writing
  • Simple, clear plots
  • Use lots of dialogue to show characterisation
  • Word length can vary from 500 words – 2,500 words
  • Shorter sentences – leave out unnecessary words
  • Short paragraphs
  • Heavily illustrated
  • Usually told through the viewpoint of a single character/or about the adventures of a single character who is generally around the same age as the reader, not younger.

It’s fun imagining stories that might suit the Chapter Book market – especially when they involve funny situations and interesting characters.

Humour rules in chapter books! If you can make kids laugh, they will keep reading and come back for more.

Kids this age also love mysteries, adventure tales and funny mishaps at home with the family or squabbles between friends at school.


Princess Clown began as a challenge … to write a short story using two nouns unrelated to each other. Well, more than unrelated! They had to clash, because that brings conflict. Conflict is the story. CONFLICT RULES!

With princess and clown it was obvious my main character would be a princess who loves clowning so much that is all she wants to do – forever.

Then to ‘up the ante’. This princess, we’ll call her Belle, is the heir to the throne – there is no chance she can follow her dream. But will she stop? Of course not!

When she practises her clowning tricks around the castle – from her schoolroom to the royal kitchens, Belle creates havoc. The King insists she act like the Princess Royal she is. After all, when he was her age, he wanted to be an inventor, but he had to become the King. Of course, in the end, things work out perfectly for Princess Belle.

The original few drafts were much longer. I got everything down on paper, and then pruned the story. Then out went the filler words, while keeping the rhythm of the story flowing. A dozen rewrites later, I was happy with the manuscript and sent it out to publishers.

Blake Publishing accepted Princess Clown. When they edited the story it lost even more words, but they kept its lively pace.

The book is in Blake’s Gigglers Blue 2 series – a set of 8 books especially designed as high-interest chapter books for 7-8 year olds. They are very popular with children and with teachers so naturally schools buy most of them. Princess Clown is also available online or from educational retail outlets.

There’s another little thrill if your chapter book becomes a reality – a top illustrator commissioned by the publisher will illustrate it. Princess Clown was so lucky Sian Naylor, a wonderful artist got the job. All her illustrations are in full colour.

Sian captured the spirited and energetic Belle so well, and her depiction of all the other characters went beyond even what I imagined. I didn’t see most of the illustrations until I got my first author’s copy of the book – what a thrill to see the King and Queen of Danzania as African royalty trèschic!


Blake Publishing:

Penguin Books Australia (Aussie Nibbles series)

Pearson Education: Primary Publishing Coordinator, Pearson Australia, 20 Thackray Road,

Port Melbourne, VICTORIA 3207


Sheryl has another chapter book, Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper – included in Pearson Australia’s new series called Chapters.

You can catch up with Sheryl on tour at these other great blogs

06 July Tuesday  Dee White – Tips on writing chapter books

07 July Wednesday Rebecca Newman (Alphabet Soup magazine)

08 July Thursday Robyn Opie

09 July Friday Catriona Hoy

10 July Saturday Kat Apel

11 July Sunday Sheryl Gwyther 4 kids

12 July Monday Sandy Fussell

13 July Tuesday Sally Murphy

14 July Wednesday Claire Saxby

15 July Thursday  Mabel Kaplan


Last Tuesday’s blog post, How To Cope With Rejection obviously hit a chord with many people.

I’ve been contacted by authors and even publishers who have offered their tips on how the ‘process’ works and how to cope with rejection.  I wanted to share these with you and the best way seemed to be through another blog post.

Rejection is so much a part of every artist’s life; no matter what medium they work in. It’s something we all suffer from at some point in our career – generally on many occasions.

It’s something that can set us back, but also make us stronger – it’s something that can make us more determined than ever to succeed.

So what do you do when you have created something with painstaking care, when you have shared a very personal part of you and it has been rejected? How do you pick up the pieces and keep going?

Hazel Edwards (Author of There’s a Hippopotamus On My Roof Eating Cake) offers these tips:

Writers in for the permanent work style of self employed freelancer have to develop ways of sustaining themselves such as:

  • Diversifying, and have emotional investment in other projects at different stages.
  • Re-cycling that rejected project in another format or to another prospective market.
  • Re-read and maybe re-write to higher quality or different audience.
  • Share with small group of peers.
  • Reassure self that the project is high quality but maybe political, timely or economic reasons stopped it.
  • Detour to a new project to feel enthused.
  • Rationalise that one in ten projects gets up.

Sheryl Gwyther (Author of Secrets of Eromanga) says,

1. I’ve never forgotten what another author said once, ‘Regard your rejections as part of your apprenticeship of writing and learn from them.’ Remember, even established writers get rejection letters at times.

2. I keep every rejection letter in a plastic-sleeve folder – it is proof that my work is ‘out-there’, not sitting uncompleted in my computer. And more, importantly, they are concrete proof that the letters have changed over the years.


Dr Tom Bibey (physician, blue grass musician and writer) says:

The main reason for rejection is they can’t figure out how they will make money with it.

Publisher, Andrew confirms that rejection is NOT personal.

Publishers are making their best guess in the circumstances with the resources available. Publishing is gambling and we’re making the best bet we can. But it doesn’t mean a publisher is right, anymore than any other gambler. So much is about the mood of the moment rather than the quality of the work, and it is a myth that the good will always succeed (or the bad fail).


As Wendy Orr (Author of Nim’s Island) says, “It’s important NOT TO GIVE UP!”

I used to use rejection letters as scrap paper for printing out the next ms! But I also always try to honour that grief, because it is a real grief, before letting it go.

(And anyone coping with rejection might like to know that Ark in the Park was rejected by 7 publishers before HarperCollins took it. It went on to win the CBC book of the year, has been published in 6 other countries and is still in print 17 years later. So… don’t give up!)

Carmela Martino (author, writing teacher and blogger at advises:

One of my strategies for coping with rejection is to have a “backup plan”–a list of other places I’ll send the manuscript if it gets rejected. After a brief mourning period, I pull out the plan and get to work.

I also recently read a great interview with YA author Kathi Baron on how she copes with rejection. See

Samantha Clark (writer and blogger at has these tips on how to stop rejections from getting you down:

I remind myself of a couple things:

1) many, many, many now best-selling authors went through heaps of rejections before getting their first book published. In his On Writing book, Stephen King talks about filling a three-inch nail with stacked rejection letters — a lot of paper — before getting his first piece published. Persistence is key, in writing to get the best work and in submitting to find the ‘right’ agent.

2) everybody’s journey is different. A good life lesson for anything, and one my husband is constantly trying to drill into my head. :) Like the butterfly gaining strength through breaking through its cocoon, struggles help us grow and get stronger. Every rejection is an opportunity to either take it personally and give up — never — or evaluate for useful information then move on. We can’t judge our own path by that of other writers. Each path is different. The important part is only that we continue down the path and along the way, pick up whatever helps make us better writers and stronger people.

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner had a great post recently on her Rants & Ramblings blog. it was called You Have to Believe and it was all about believing in the dream of publication.

It’s what keeps all creators creating. You have to have a dream and you have to believe in it.

As Rachelle points out, “We live in an information hungry society” so “our options are expanding, not diminishing”.

Maybe we need to adopt the Hazel Edward’s approach – diversify – look at our writing as a talent that can work across a range of mediums and not restrict ourselves to what we are familiar with.

We need to explore our talent and see where it takes us – there might be writing opportunities out there that we haven’t even considered.

As Samantha mentions, “everyone’s journey is different”. I have found this really works for me – I achieve so much more when I focus on what I’m doing and avoid comparing myself to anyone else’s experiences/successes.

For some people, their lucky break comes early – for others, it can take much longer.

But If we are committed and passionate about our craft, persistent and open-minded, I believe we can start to tip the scales in favour of the acceptances and pave our way to success.

I hope it works for you.




Today is my second last day here, and I have mixed feelings about leaving Brisbane. I’ll be sad to leave behind some wonderful friends, but it’s only temporary. I will be back in Brisbane for the CYA Conference in September.

Now that I’ve tied up all the loose ends, I’m getting very impatient to be on that plane, and heading back to my family. Only one more sleep to go.

Today I have been making notes of things to include/lookout for in the next draft of the manuscript I have been working on since I’ve been here. I have quite a few pages. Being a three part series, I have to make sure I lay down all the right clues for the reader.

I have also been editing my YA novel. Having had a break from it for the last few weeks while I’ve been here, I can really see how great my editor’s suggestions are. Putting a manuscript aside for a while is a really good way to identify and understand its flaws.

It has also been a day of last minute catchups. I had a lovely morning tea with authors Sheryl Gwyther and Belinda Jeffrey. I was late…lost I confess. I’m sure the kings were Albert, Edward then George; but that’s not the order that the streets by that name run in Brisbane. Thanks to a kind policeman, I found my way. Had a great chat about all things writerly, and am really looking forward to reading Belinda’s new book when it comes out in September.

After that I walked across the bridge to the State Library where I caught up with Tammy Morley and Steve Bourne. They have been the wonderful people behind my school workshops; making sure that everything ran smoothly and according to schedule. Thanks Tammy and Steve for helping to make my workshops so much fun, and ensure that they finished on time – and for today. Tammy and Steve took me for lunch at the Art Gallery. It was lovely sitting outside watching water dragons scuttle up and down the trees.

On the way home, I visited Glen and wished him all the best, had one of his divine iced chocolates and took one last sandwich board pic. Just as well I can still follow his boards on Facebook.

Now I’m off to back and book my seat for the trip home.

Happy writing.