Hello, Baby – The Book and The Creators

Photo courtesy of Cill Matters

My great nieces, Ella and Evie absolutely loved Hello, Baby written by Shelly Unwin and illustrated by Jedda Robaard.

And it’s hardly surprising! Hello, Baby is a perfect ‘Baby’s First Story’.

The emotive pastel illustrations beautifully complement the gentle lilting text. There’s so much love, warmth and joy in this delightful picture book as the family welcomes their new arrival and contemplates the wonderful years ahead with their new baby.

Today we’re lucky to have the author and the illustrator, Shelly and Jedda, here to talk about how they created this beautiful book.


Shelly is the SCBWI ACT Coordinator and author of the much loved ‘You’re Series’ also published by Allen & Unwin.

I had some questions for Shelly about the inspiration behind this book and how she created it.

1. What inspired you to write Hello, Baby?

My parents were foster parents, and I loved helping them care for the babies. So, when I became an author, I knew at some point I would write a book specifically for babies. But if you asked my husband, he would tell you he was my inspiration – he was the one to suggest that I put pen to serviette (we were in a restaurant at the time) and write it. And I’m so glad he did!

2. Why do you think books like this are important?

I think people often buy books to celebrate the arrival of baby, but they’re often hard-back collectables that sit beautifully on the shelf until the child is older. This book is about reading from the day baby is born, and this is so important. Reading to baby as soon as possible has so many wonderful benefits, assisting cognitive development and nurturing the bond between caregivers and babies. And, in our non-stop world, this book says, ‘Pause, pause and look at the beautiful baby you have created. Pause and relish the time you have with them and the future you will have together.’ 

3. Can you tell me about the writing process?

As I mentioned, my first draft of this book was written on a serviette. I then took it back to my office and reworked it. When I felt confident, I shared it with my critique group for their feedback, several times. This helped to make the manuscript as strong as it could be and ensure I’d nailed the rhyme and the rhythm regardless of who was reading it. 

4. What is your top writing tip for picture book authors?

Find a critique group that works for you. It is so important to get feedback from writers who can look at a story critically and help you build it to its potential before sending it out to agents or publishers. Even if you know a lot about books and writing, you’re often too close to your own work to really see where it can be improved, and this is where a good critique group can be so beneficial. 

5. In your mind, did you visualise your main character as a human baby? How did you feel when you saw the illustrations? 

I always envisioned an animal as the main character, but I thought it would be one animal family the whole way through the story. I was delighted when Jedda illustrated a whole host of animals who gather together with human babies at the end of the book. 

6. What have they added to your text?

I love that the family unit is different throughout the story – some families are single-parent families and many of the animals have no clear gender. It makes my heart sing that the book can support any family structure and is accessible to all. I also love Jedda’s beautiful illustration style – it complements the text and is perfectly suited to the age group. Allen & Unwin also added the dedication page at the front of the book and the space for baby’s first photo at the back, which makes it such a special keepsake.  


Jedda has created over 40 books. Her books are sold internationally and have been published in many languages including English, French, Dutch, Greek, Italian, Korean and Chinese.

Although she enjoys writing her own stories, Jedda has also collaborated with a number of Australian Authors, including Katie Richie, Kerry Brown, Melissa Keil, Libby Gleeson, Kate Welshman, and Tania Cox.

Jedda is published in Australia by Hardie Grant Egmont, Penguin Random House, Hachette, Five Mile Press – Bonnier, Walker Books, Scholastic books, Little Hare Books, Allen & Unwin and HarperCollins.

And internationally by Little Bee, Langue Au Chat, Pearson & Planeta Junior.

I loved hearing Jedda’s insights into how she illustrated Hello Baby!

1.     Did you connect with the text straight away? If so, why?

As soon as I read Shelly’s next, I loved it. I knew straight away how it could look. The images jumped into my mind immediately. Which isn’t always the case when someone else has written the story.

2.     Was it your idea to use animal characters? If so, how did you choose which ones to use?

I believe it was always destined to be animals, but the idea of it being a different animal family for each page made it so much more fun.

I’m not completely sure on how I came to to pick each animal. But the text definitely helped set up characteristics for each family.

3.     What medium/s have you used?

This book was done entirely on the iPad in Procreate (digital drawing program created specifically for illustrators). I’ve found it the only digital program that allows me to draw and paint and get as close as possible to the feeling of illustrating traditionally. 

4.     What is your top tip for new picture book illustrators?

Don’t spend so much time perfecting your folio that you never send it in. You will learn a lot ‘on the job’ and although you may worry your initial folio isn’t good enough. If you have what a publisher is looking for they will see it.

5.     What was the most fun thing about illustrating this book?

Having so many different animals. As your probably aware I love illustrating animals and this was like Christmas for me. 

6.     What was the most challenging?

I think using digital media is always the most challenging for me. Not the actual drawing but making the images look as non digital as possible while not pretending it’s traditional watercolour. It’s a balancing act that I am still working on.

Thank you so much Shelly and Jedda for sharing your insights on how you created this beautiful picture book. I hope that Hello, Baby finds its way into many small hands.

If you have questions for Shelly or Jedda, please feel free to include them in the comments section of this post.



FAUNA: Australia’s Most Curious Creatures – Tania McCartney shares creative secrets

One of the things I love most about being Australian is the amazing fauna we have in our country. Tania McCartney has captured all my favourites and more in her gorgeous new book, Fauna: Australia’s Most Curious Creatures.

“Did you know that platypus have retractable webbing on their hind feet to enable an easy transition from swimming to digging? That kangaroos can’t sweat and that the cassowary has no tongue?”

You’ll discover so many amazing facts about our incredible fauna in Tania’s new book.

As with all of her work, Tania is so detailed in her research that she uncovers the unknown and quirky details that I love.

This is not just a stunning book about Australian fauna, it’s also a book about conservation with Tania flagging species that are vulnerable and endangered; some of these will surprise you.

From koalas to crocodiles, and dugongs to Tasmanian devils there are so many fun and fascinating facts to devour.

There’s a lot to absorb, but kids will also enjoy the fun way in which these facts are presented with sections on drop bears, crocodile nosh, and the aerial acrobatics of the Sugar Glider, just to name a few.

I loved delving into all this amazing information, and poring over the gorgeous full colour, often humorous illustrations that add a whole new layer for readers to enjoy.

Fauna: Australia’s Most Curious Creatures is the kind of book you can take on holidays with the family to try and spot some curious fauna. It’s also a great classroom tool for talking about the fauna treasures we have in our country, and environment and species conservation.

It’s a book that takes the reader on an amazing journey of discovery, and inspires them to share what they have learned. Fauna: Australia’s Most Curious Creatures is published by the National Library of Australia and available where all good books are sold.

We’re so lucky that Tania’s joining us today to talk about how she created her beautiful new book.

Tania McCartney is an author, illustrator and editor of children’s books, with a particular passion for picture books. She has over 50 books in print or production, and recent books include Mamie(HarperCollins), Ivy Bird (Windy Hollow), I Heart the World (Hardie Grant Travel, Feb 2020), and junior fiction series Evie and Pog (HarperCollins, Feb 2020). The founder of Kids’ Book Review and The Happy Book podcast, Tania’s awards include several CBCA Notable books, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award and the CBCA Laurie Copping Award for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature. An ambassador for the Chief Minister’s Reading Challenge, Tania has lived in France, England and China, and currently lives in Canberra with her family, a forest of artwork and a mountain of books. 


1. What was the inspiration behind Fauna?
An animal book has been on my bucket list for a while, and during research for some of my other books, I found myself incessantly marvelling at the curiosities of our native fauna. I mean, we all know there’s lots of quirk when it comes to Australian animals, but I was finding more and more super cool facts I was pretty sure many kids (and adults) had not yet heard of.

I was also keen to produce a book that wasn’t a ‘typical’, traditional animal book. I wanted to create a book high on design and laid out in pockets of text that would enchant a broad range of kids—even reluctant readers and younger readers who are ready for ‘more’.

2. As an author/illustrator, did you write the text first and then do the illustrations or did you work on them simultaneously as you were doing the research?
I’m so lucky with the National Library. My publisher Susan Hall entrusts me with creating books in an organic way that fits my style of working. I find text and image a seamless dance, so I put most parts of Fauna together simultaneously.

I would research, write, sketch and play with shapes and form all at the same time. This meant I could create really balanced spreads. If I needed to fill a certain section, I could choose to create a new image or seek out another little fact or chart of diagram.

The book was edited from fully designed and laid-out spreads. Scientific editor Jeannette Birtles was a real trooper. She went through several rounds of spreads in this way and it worked out really well, as image was so tightly correlated with text, and both could be edited in tandem.

3. There is so much amazing detail in this book. Are you able to estimate how many hours you spent on researching and creating it?
That’s a hard question! I tend to work on several books at the same time, but Faunawas one of the rarities where I had to really focus. I’d say it took about 8 months of work in the proper sense—in that I was actively working in a solid way. But there were many times outside that active phase where I’d do further research, read, tweak, re-check, seek illustration inspiration, take photographs, make textures, etc. So perhaps the entire process was a year in the making.

4. Who is your favourite curious creature?
I have a bit of a soft spot for the dugong. Researching this beautiful creature was strangely calming, and I was particularly taken with how bonded babies and mums are. They’re just the sweetest of animals and have an extraordinary evolutionary history. I love monotremes, too—the echidna and the platypus. They have that special something—when you see one in the wild, you can’t breathe, they’re so beautiful. And both are living relics from our dinosaur past.

5. What was the hardest part about creating this book?
Creating Fauna was a joy, but probably the hardest thing was the toll on my body. The hours put into creating these illustrations … graphic design-style imagery may appear relatively ‘easy’ but it’s not. It’s a massive amount of detailed work, complete with many layers of texture and filters. The other challenging thing was the many (and necessary) rounds of edits with Jeannette. For a book like this, multiple rounds are vital. We want to get our facts straight, and science comes up with new facts almost daily! So, this was a laborious process, especially the cladogram at the end of the book. Worth it, though.

6. What did you enjoy most about creating it?
Discovering glorious facts. Learning more about our beautiful and unique fauna. Falling in love with animals all over again. Designing and laying out the book, and having the creative freedom to do so. That meant the world to me.

7. Fauna is fun, funny and fascinating, but there’s also a strong conservation thread. Why did you include this theme in your book?
As Earth’s ecosystems continue to falter, and as most of the world’s leaders continue to put profit and power before planet, we must seize any opportunity to further educate our children on conservation. These kids hold the planet’s future in their hands, and the love and care and concern they already show for nature is heartening. I hope Fauna can help impassion and inspire them further, in even the smallest way. That is, after all, what books are for.

Thanks for dropping by, Tania.

I loved your new book. I can see Fauna: Australia’s Most Curious Creatures making a great Christmas present for animal lovers of all ages.


All of Us Together – With Bill Condon

disphotoofbillyToday we are pleased to welcome the amazingly talented Bill Condon to DeeScribe Writing. Bill is celebrating his new book, All of Us Together and he has some great writing tips, and at the end of the post we’ll also talk about the book itself.

On four occasions Bill Condon’s novels have been shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Awards. In 2010 he won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction. (Since then he hasn’t been able to find a hat big enough to fit him.) He lives on the south coast of NSW with his wife Di (Dianne) Bates.

All of Us Together

All of us Together is a junior fiction novel set in Australia’s Great Depression of the 1930s.

all-of-us-together-front-coverWhen John O’Casey leaves his family to go in search of work, his wife Margaret is left to raise their three young children, Daniel, Adelaide, and Lydia. Daniel, being the eldest, tries to take on the role of being a leader, but as he discovers, it’s hard to be a man, especially for a boy who’s only twelve-years old.

Although the events within these pages take place many years ago, it is not primarily an historical novel, but one that examines the lives of the same kind of down-to-earth people, who live and breathe today. This is about a family who remain hopeful and resilient, as they stand together through the hardest of times.

All of us Together is an uplifting story, told with poignancy and humour.

Bill’s Writing Tips

In 2015 I spent several months working on All Of Us Together, but I wasn’t happy with what I had, so I gave up, which is one of my many bad habits. At the start of this year I decided to change the story to first person, and when I did that I felt it worked much better, and so I kept on going. – Tip 1 – If your stories not working as well as you’d like, don’t be afraid to try a different approach.

unknownI think first person enabled me (and hopefully the readers) to get closer to the action, and made the story more immediate and real.

The main character in the book is twelve-year-old Daniel. When his dad goes off in search of work, Daniel takes it on himself to bring some money into the home as best he can. Needless to say, all does not go smoothly. But the family sticks together and stays strong.

Daniel and his family are loosely based on my own family. He has two sisters, just like me, and he has loving, working class parents, just like I had. Once I’d recognised the similarities between Daniel and myself, the writing became easier. Tip 2 – Draw on your own experiences and the things you can relate to.

When I was young my parents sometimes told me of their experiences during the 30s. They didn’t tell me much – or perhaps I wasn’t listening very carefully – but it was enough to get me thinking about setting a story during the Depression.

One of the problems writers face is in finding a plot. This is particularly so in my case. I always struggle. Fortunately, this book came with a plot already built-in – the Great Depression of the 1930s. All drama needs obstacles for the characters to overcome. What better obstacle than a period in our history that impacted on the lives of so many Australians? Tip 3 – Historical stories can come with a readymade plot.

unknown-1As with nearly everything I write, All Of Us Together has bits and pieces from my own life scattered through it. Some of the mischief I got up to as a child could fit into any era, so I didn’t find it at all daunting to write a book set so long ago. I also wasn’t perturbed that I was writing what many might perceive as a book about history. It was never that to me. Daniel and his family were just ordinary people – the kind who might be your neighbours today – doing their best to survive in a very tough time.

Because I’m not a history buff, and I doubt my readers will be either, I’ve kept the historical facts to a minimum. My research was confined to Google searches. There is lots of information, and photos about the Depression on-line. I saw one photo that gave me an idea for the story. It’s a picture of three or four boys, each aged around 13 or 14. They were living in a tent in the bush and shooting rabbits to get some money for their families. In my story there are two brothers who are out in the great beyond somewhere, living rough to try to help their family. They are heroes to Daniel and he is always searching for them. When he at last finds one of them, it isn’t at all what he was expecting. Tip 4 – Don’t become lost in your research.

I’ve never been any good at plotting a book. I just find little bits and pieces as I go – like that photo – and I very clumsily and slowly stick them all together. And then, after a year or so of stumbling around in the dark, I make my way to those magical words, The End! Tip 5 – There’s not ‘right’ way to write a book … do what works for you.


all-of-us-together-400hIn his latest book, All of Us Together, award winning author Bill Condon gets us right inside the head of main character, Daniel, right from the first page.

All of Us Together is set in the Great Depression of 1930 when families were being ripped about by poverty.

Unable to find work, Daniel’s beloved father has been forced to leave the family to seek employment further afield in the hope that he will soon have money to send home.

He leaves behind Daniel, his two sisters and his mother, trying to cope with his absence. Poverty forces Daniel into doing things he wouldn’t normally do and his strength and resolve are put to the test.

This realistic representation of a difficult time in history has clearly been well researched, and the characters are so real that the reader feels as if they are stepping back in time, straight into the lives of Daniel and his family.

Amidst the hardship though, there is love and hope and we see the characters grow and develop as they face the challenges that life throws at them.

The harsh realities of the Great Depression are depicted with sensitivity and authenticity, and All of Us Together is a book that would make a great family or classroom discussion piece.

All of Us Together is a compelling read for readers aged 8+.

Bill draws us into Daniel’s world with his great characterisation, and the universal themes of family, belonging, and bullying make All of Us Together very relevant for today’s readers.

All of Us Together is available from About Kids Books or from any children’s bookstore.

Bill will also be visiting the following great blogs on a tour to celebrate the release of All of Us Together:
18 November Clancy Tucker http://clancytucker.blogspot.com.au 
19 November Sally Odgers http://promotemeplease.blogspot.com.au 
20 November Sandy Fussell www.sandyfussell.com/blog
23 November Elaine Ousten http://elaineoustonauthor.com/
24 November Melissa Wray http://www.melissawray.blogspot.com.au
25 November Susan Whelan http://www.kids-bookreview.com
26 November Romi Sharp http://www.justkidslit.com


Writing & Illustrating a Picture Book – With Tania McCartney

Today my very good author/illustrator friend, Tania McCartney is joining me on the virtual deck for a cup of tea and a chat about how to write and illustrate a picture book. At the end of this post, she’s also offering readers the chance to win some great prizes.

Check out Tania’s great writing and illustrating tips at the end of this post. image011

Tania, tell us about Australia Illustrated.

Australia Illustrated is the very first picture book I’ve both written and illustrated and it was an incredible learning experience. The process was unusual in that I had pretty much carte blanche (with a pre-approved outline from publisher, EK Books). You may already know that in publishing, this is highly unusual.

Having this freedom was a real gift. Having written, edited, laid out, designed, collected, studied, read and enjoyed picture books for two or three decades now, I had zero experience in the actual process required to combine my own writing with my own illustration. In fact, to give you an idea of up how-ended my process was, I did the book cover first!

With this lack of experience, it would have been almost impossible for me to take the ‘roughs, storyboards, mock-ups, colour-palettes, character studies’ route that most picture book illustrators undergo. I didn’t have the know-how or skill, and given that Australia Illustrated is 96 pages and I had scant idea of what I was going to include in the book, having to do all that would have been my undoing!

Thankfully, I muddled my way through, and the end result is something pretty unusual—and something I’m actually proud of.


If I could think of one word to describe Australia Illustrated … it’s joy.

T00a-cover-pastelhis book exudes joy on every page.

It’s clear that Tania enjoyed creating Australia Illustrated … and this book reflects her joy in being Australian.

Each page is full of vibrant, active illustrations that reflect well thought out and researched text.

Each state and territory of Australia is featured along with the food, flora, fauna, sport, customs people and places that make them unique … oh and did I mention food? There’s a lot of food in this book.

From the First People to washing lines and crocodiles, football and sunshine, koalas and akubras, skyscrapers and beaches that squeak, this 96-page picture book is a glorious tribute to this wide brown land and its rich and varied multicultural communities. Vibrantly illustrated with watercolour, ink and mono-printing, Australia: Illustrated not only celebrates the more ‘typical’ Australian flora, fauna and landmarks, it also showcases the everyday quirks and idiosyncrasies that make Australia unique: the many types of rain, Greek street food, Sydney ferries, cattle breeds, the plants of the Daintree. Even the quokka selfie epidemic is featured! 

One of the things readers will love most about this book is that it’s so relateable. For adults it will conjure up childhood memories, for young readers it will inspire them to create them.

Australia Illustrated is beautifully produced by EK Books. It comes in a hard cover and with 96 pages will provide hours of entertainment and joy for readers of all ages in the classroom and home.

What I Learned During My Picture Book Muddle.

  1. I learned that the best way to illustrate a book is to have courage and not think about it too much. There were moments on this journey when I was filled with absolute terror over how my images would be perceived—in terms of skill, style, content.

au-diverse-kid-girl-japaneseI also began questioning how things were unfolding and if I was on the ‘right track’. Whenever this happened, I had to shut this thought down, otherwise, I probably would have given up. And how did I shut the thought down? I told myself what ALL creators should be telling themselves—that I’m creating this book for me first, others second.

Many creators will tell you that they write for the reader but we HAVE to write for ourselves first. If we don’t, we wouldn’t enjoy the process (sorry, but I don’t want to write about boy superheros who live on the moon, even though millions of kids might love that!). We have to write and draw what WE personally love—to give us creative satisfaction and to do our best work. Then, as a massive side-bonus, if kids or adults or monkeys fall into our stories or our images and have a wonderful time there—that is what makes it doubly worthwhile. In fact, they say that once a book is published, it ceases to be yours—it becomes the reader’s. So I say make it yours while you can, then let it go!

  1. I learned that a creative process should be an organic process, and that while having a plan or outline is important, allowing story and images to unfold has an intense magic in it. Good publishers know this. They know that stories can morph over time, and picture ideas can change and grow. The very best books come from trusting that organic process, and not stripping it of its essence with over-editing and over-thinking—or bowing down to what other people want or might expect.
  1. I learned that illustrating books is an immense emotional, mental, physical and time investment (arguable even more so than writing one). You cannot be in this for the money. A hundred-thousand dollars probably wouldn’t cover the hours I put into Australia Illustrated, but the creative satisfaction and joy its creation brought me is priceless. It can’t be about money. If you make it about money, it will crush you with the fiscal unfairness of it all.
  1. I learned that children’s book illustrations really do need to be highly professional and beautiful. I mean, I knew that already, but I learned it all over again on a deeply personal level. I have only just rekindled my love for illustration these past few years. My skills were rusted over, and I’ve had to relearn so very much. During the twelve months it took to create Australia Illustrated, my skills, naturally, bettered themselves, and I found myself looking back at my first images with some disdain. Luckily, I had also developed digital art skills during that year, and I was able to touch up first images to the standard I knew the book needed.
  1. I learned that you Just Have To Throw Yourself In. During my [many] moments of self-doubt or angst of fear, I found the only way out was through. Just do it. When you do that, things unblock and flow. It worked for me every single time.034-vic-mel-icons
  1. Dee asked me for five points, but I can’t resist one more—sorry, Dee! I learned that I want to do things differently next time. There are some splendid illustrators who keep the same style of art their entire career long—and it works beautifully for them. For me, I think creating in the same style forever would send me to the loony bin. I still love the style I’ve done in Australia Illustrated, but I’m ready to try something new for my next book (in fact, I’m currently creating several fully-digital works) and I can’t wait to see what style that will be. I have some ideas but I’ve not settled on something yet. Perhaps I’ll just let it unfold—pretty much like Australia Illustrated.

act-arboretum-boy-3See more of Tania’s work at www.taniamccartney.com or follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter @taniamccartney

Australia Illustrated is published by EK Books and will be on sale 1 November in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, with a release date of 28 November in the UK. Hardcover, clothbound, 96 pages, AU$29.99, ISBN: 9781925335217 www.ekbooks.org


  • WIN a copy of the book (There three to give away, thanks to EK Books)
  • WIN an original watercolour image from the book (two to give away)
  • the chance to name some of Tania’s book characters!

Enter here at Tania’s Blog


Is Clutter Wrecking Your Creativity?

Does your study or studio ever get to the stage where the clutter stops you from working?

Are there books and papers piled so high on your desk, you can’t see your computer?

BusyIf this has NEVER happened to you, please share your secrets 🙂

But seriously, it’s not just the physical clutter that stops you from creating.

It can also be the mental clutter … the kind that goes on inside your head and your heart.

Recently, I co-founded KidLitVic2016, a conference in Melbourne in May attended by 160 delegates, 11 publishers and 1 literary agent.

We had talked about running a conference like this for a while because there was nothing of its kind in Melbourne.

Logo_no_lamp_text_sampleI came up with the name, KidLitVic, set up the website and Facebook Page. My partner set up the business name and bank account, and we were off and running.

In the 12 months leading up to the event, my inbox overflowed with conference emails, and my mind was full of tasks, meetings, websites, content development, media campaigns and all the other associated detail that goes with organising a conference.

KidLitVic2016 was an amazing experience. I loved every minute of it. I loved spending time with all the authors and illustrators who came. I loved meeting all the wonderful publishing professionals, and I loved seeing people walk away from the conference feeling like they had gained something and it had encouraged them and helped the with their careers.

But during that time there was little room in my head for much of anything else.

It made me realise just how important it is to make space in your head in order to create.

I don’t know about you, but I find that mental clutter is the hardest kind to get rid of – and it’s what most hinders my creativity.


Here are some things you can do to clear your mental clutter:

  1. Take a break from social media.
  2. Make a list of all your deadlines and things you have to do. That way you don’t have to store all this information in your head.
  3. Set up smart inboxes for your emails, so you can put aside those emails that don’t require your immediate attention. Just do a web search for “how to set up a smart mailbox” and you’ll find heaps of useful sites.
  4. Take a walk – there’s nothing like fresh air and movement to free your mind.
  5. Set aside free time for just being. Allow those creative ideas to come sneaking back.
  6. Go away on a retreat … away from all the things that are cluttering your mind. You don’t have to go far and it doesn’t have to be for long, (a granny flat in the backyard will do) but it does help create room for new ideas and inspiration.

After the conference was over, I was not only inspired by all the fabulous people I had met and the things I had learned, I also had free space in my head to immerse myself in my own work again.

If you have some tips on how you free the clutter from your life in order to create, I’d love to hear them. Please feel free to share them in the contents section of this post.

Happy writing 🙂


Putting Characters into Conflict

In real life, I don’t like conflict. I don’t like arguing with people, I don’t like fighting and I don’t like confrontation. In fact, I actively avoid it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut when it comes to writing, there’s no getting around it. There has to be conflict. There has to be two opposing forces pulling against each other.

To create conflict in my stories, I have to hurt my character’s feelings, I have to put them in difficult situations, in physical and emotional danger. I have to be mean to them … I have to do all these things to make readers care about them.

So if conflict doesn’t come naturally to you, how do you put your characters in a conflict situation?

When I was doing my Professional Writing and Editing Diploma at Victoria University, author and teacher extraordinaire, Sherryl Clark said to us, “Think of the worst thing that can happen to your character, and make something even worse happen to them.”

And that’s exactly how you get to the depth of your character and who they are. How your character handles conflict affects what happens next in your story, and how readers relate to them.

So if you want conflict in your story, you need to know your characters, what they are fighting for, and who they are fighting against.

To create conflict, one character’s views and goals must collide with another character’s.

There are two kinds of conflict – external and internal – and you need them both in your story.

External conflict

External conflict is what happens outside your character and internal conflict is the struggle that goes on inside them.

External conflict is what makes your story exciting. It’s where the action in your story comes from. It’s the obstacles and events your character must overcome.

Internal conflict

Internal conflict is what enables the reader to feel like they know your character. Internal conflict is what makes the reader care about your character and what happens to them. It’s what makes the reader invest emotionally in your story.

Internal conflict can be the disparity between what a character thinks they want and what they really want. It can be caused by your character having to choose what’s right and wrong.

In forthcoming posts I’ll be blogging more about conflict.

2011becket_med-4I’ll also be presenting a workshop in Brisbane at the CYA Conference on 2nd July where I’ll be providing some practical tips on how to put your characters into conflict. Bookings for the conference can be made through the CYA website.

Look forward to seeing you there.

If you can’t make it, I look forward to seeing you back here at DeeScribe Writing.

Do you struggle being mean to your characters or are you one of those people who loves putting their characters in difficult situations? Feel free to share your experiences and tips in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing 🙂



Ever been overwhelmed by too much feedback on your writing?

I’m lucky to belong to four amazing writer’s groups (one is online).

One of my groups meets for four hours every week, and it’s fabulous. We’re all serious about our craft, and work hard not just on our own writing but on helping each other achieve our goals.

As well as good writing, we also appreciate good food :)

As well as good writing, we appreciate good food 🙂

We’re an ecclectic mix of novelists, screenwriters, playwrights, short story writers, poets and YA and kidlit authors. Having such a diverse group means that feedback is always unique and fresh.

But in the early days of our group, the feedback could sometimes be overwhelming.

When it’s an early draft and you get pages and pages of ‘track changes’ it can be a bit disheartening and sometimes confusing – especially when those ‘track changes’ are contradictory.

Our group discussed this at length and talked about how we could make the feedback more constructive.

We all agreed that you don’t actually need a detailed edit on your first draft. All you need to know is the big picture stuff … things like, does the reader engage with the character, does the story keep the reader turning the pages, are there logic problems or inconsistencies?


So now when we’re doing a first draft, that’s exactly what we ask for – only the feedback we need at that point in the writing process.

In fact, no matter what stage we are in our work, we always ask for specific feedback.

This has two major benefits. The first one is that it makes us think critically about our own writing. The second benefit is that it allows us to focus on revising certain aspects of our story rather than being overwhelmed by the feeling that that everything is wrong with every part of the story.

Different drafts really do require different kinds of feedback.

It’s also just as important to give positive and complimentary responses to a writer’s work. This helps them know what’s working in the story so they can keep doing it.

2011becket_med-4I’m going to be discussing giving and receiving effective feedback in more detail at my workshop at the upcoming CYA Conference in Brisbane on July 2.

If you have special critiquing methods/processes that work for you and your writer’s group, I’d love to hear about them.

Feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing and critiquing 🙂


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 🙂






Food, Writer’s Groups and Inspiration From Cate Kennedy

There’s nothing quite like the support, enthusiasm and talent of other writers to inspire you.

They make you want to write better, and often, they show you how.

Some of our writer's group. Food is almost as important as writing :)

Some members of our writer’s group. Food is almost as important as writing.

I’m a member of a writer’s group that’s made up of an ecclectic mix of playwrights, screenwriters, kids’ and YA authors, novellists, short story writers, and poets.

The group has been going about ten years, but I’m a relative newbie having joined just four years ago.

Last year our group was asked to provide short stories for an anthology, for which each of us was paid $100. We pooled our money to fund projects that would help us improve our craft

So last weekend, the amazing, award winning short story writer, novellist, poet and memoir writer, Cate Kennedy came to talk to our group. You can find out more about Cate here.

The workshop went from 10.00am till 4.00pm (with yummy food breaks in between) and it was amazing.

Cate Kennedy is an enthusiastic and inspiring presenter

Cate Kennedy is an enthusiastic and inspiring presenter.


I can’t share Cate’s 6 hours worth of wisdom here, but I can tell you ten things she said that resonated with me.

  1. Write with the reader in mind – don’t be self indulgent – it’s not about creating something beautiful for the author to gloat over – it’s about creating something for the reader.
  2. Always answer your reader’s questions. There has to be set up but there also has to be a payoff for the reader.
  3. When revising, ask yourself, “why am I showing the reader this?”
  4. Think about yourself as the director of your story with a camera … this will help you show the scene rather than tell it.
  5. Good writing is about deliberate decisions the author makes to encourage the reader to think in a certain way.
  6. During the course of your story’s journey, the main character needs to transform. So they need to be put under pressure or duress, backed into a corner – something must happen to force them to change.
  7. The resolution occurs when the main conflict has been confronted.
  8. Practice writing about things going wrong between people.
  9. There has to be something to stop the protagonist walking away from the conflict.
  10. Don’t state the subtext, let the reader work it out for themselves.

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My tip, if you’re in a writer’s group, pool your financial resources to get speakers or workshoppers who can help you hone your craft. It’s totally worth it.

2011becket_med-4This July, I’ll be presenting at the CYA conference in Brisbane with more tips on how to get the most from your writer’s group.

I’ll also be sharing tips on how to form your own group, and how to give and get the best feedback. Hope to see you there.

Happy writing 🙂



Try Something New

Writing takes work and time, but eventually words flow from our pens and they bring us joy.

But for many of us, this isn’t enough.


We want somebody besides the cat to read our words. We want what we write to make a difference in people’s lives.

Yet the world of publishing seems to get harder to break into day by day.

It’s easy to believe that it’s your own work that’s the problem. That your novel is too long, too short, not romantic enough, not literary enough, too much action, too much description, not enough characterisation, a weak voice etc.

It’s possible that your manuscript is none of those things. It’s possible that it’s a fabulous story, but the timing just isn’t right. The publisher might already be committed to publishing a manuscript in a similar vein and they don’t want to produce two ‘similar’ books.

The marketing department may have a plan that you don’t know about, but unfortunately your book doesn’t fit into it. For example, they might be committed to publishing series at the moment, but your manuscript is a stand-alone. Or romance might be what’s ‘selling’ but yours is more action.

It doesn’t mean that your manuscript is wrong or bad, it just means that the timing isn’t right.

So what do you do in this instance?

Try something new

Me skydiving

Try something new. Use this opportunity to become a more diverse writer, to hone your craft in other areas. Learn to have fun with your writing again.

I have a number of completed YA novels that I’ve had the most amazing rejection letters on, but they’re simply not being taken up.

So I’ve put them aside for now.

I will revisit them at another time, revise them again and resubmit – but at the moment, the timing just doesn’t seem to be right.

So I’ve been turning my attention to other forms of writing – shorter forms where it doesn’t take me at least twelve months to complete something.

Not only has this brought me a lot of joy and stretched my writing skills, but it has brought me some success.

My short story for children, “Enter at Own Risk” is coming out in a November edition of one of the School Magazines.

Tracie Grimwood is the talented illustrator of five of my books.

Tracie Grimwood is the talented illustrator of five of my books.

I recently signed a deal with EK Books for a picture book to be illustrated by the amazing Tracie Grimwood to be published in 2017.

I’ve entered the Scarlett Stiletto Awards this year and the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize and I’m writing poetry again.

I’ve also applied to upgrade my writing qualifications – doing my degree in creative writing followed by my Masters. If nothing else, I figure this will develop my skills, keep me inspired and allow me to meet new writers.

Yes, novels are my first love and No, I haven’t stopped working on them, (in fact I’m working on one I’m very excited about right now), but I’m spreading my wings and trying new things, and it has given my writing life new vigour.

I hope this works for you too.

If you have other tips and suggestions on how to navigate your way through the difficult world of writing and publishing, please feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing 🙂