Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Wyoming Public School as a role model on behalf of charity Books in Homes. With the aid of some wonderful K-6 helpers, we performed a poem about adventures in books, enjoyed the video that amazing authors Cate Whittle, Oliver Phommavanh and Deborah Abela had so kindly recorded footage for, and finished up with a well researched Q&A from each stage group. A wonderful bonus to the assembly was another donation - this time from author Aaron Blabey, who gifted me with two of his Bad Guys books to give away. The recipients will be decided during the school holidays when I will take time to read the letters and stories that I challenged the children to write if they want to be in it to win it! After the assembly, along with Julie Ditrich from Books in Homes and Murray Hawkins, our local Scholastic Head Rep, we met with the children to hand out their long-awaited book packs and chat to them about their choices. I was so impressed with the welcome from the school, and the knowledge and excitement of the children, and sadly had to turn down the requests to sign autographs in someone else's book. I did however get to sign a piece of paper for Riley borrowed in haste from the library, so keep reading Riley - one day I will sign my book for you for real :)
If you'd like to find out more about this wonderful charity, head to their website, or check out my write up on the Creative Kids Tales website here.
On Friday 7th June, prompted by friend, artist and author Selina Fenech, we organised a get together of local writers on the Central Coast. The Central Coast is often overlooked when it comes to organising 'writerly events', as we are right between Sydney and Newcastle where all the major workshops and festivals are held. So we put a call out on social media to see if there was anyone else local who was interested in writing. Several people turned up (more than pictured) and it was a lovely evening discovering each others areas of interest and enjoying a new local venue. I'm sure we will do it again. Who knows where this may lead!
As per their website, KidLitVic - Meet the Publishers was established to give new, emerging and experienced writers and illustrators the opportunity to meet and hear from industry professionals about publishing children's and YA books in the current Australian market. Every year, the event has proven to be a sellout, and no wonder. KidLit team Alison Reynolds, Coral Vass, Nicky Johnston and Sarah Reynolds do an incredible job putting it together, answering questions and building excitement as the day draws closer.
I had never heard of Kid Lit Vic two years ago. Since attending the Creative Kids Tales Festival in 2018, I have been constantly amazed just how many events, associations, social media groups and training opportunities there are in the world of Australian writing. Clearly Kid Lit Vic was an opportunity not to be missed. But I nearly didn't get there. On the very day 'Santa' decided to buy me a ticket, facebook announced that the last one had sold just ten minutes before. Devastating! Santa was not to be deterred. He set about getting me on the waitlist straight away. 6 weeks later, an email arrived from the wonderful Alison Reynolds, the brain behind KidLit Vic, to say a ticket had become available. That was the fastest I have scrambled to get on the phone. I instantly knew from the conversation that I was going to have an amazing experience. Alison was so warm and welcoming and I felt like I'd known her forever by the time I 'hung up'.
Saturday 25th May dawned crisp and clear. All over Melbourne more than two hundred kid lit writers, illustrators and publishers were getting ready for a huge - and it was huge - day. I joined the queue outside the town hall, and soon we were let inside the hallowed doors, finding name badges, friends and a wonderful sense of belonging in the beautiful Swanston Hall. I found the real people behind the tiny social media icons that I had interacted with over the last year, and there were plenty of hugs and exclamations.
At the time of booking assessments, I was disappointed not to have been able to check out everything in my shopping cart, indeed I was actively having to remove items and try to check out several times before finally getting the assessment and Up Close session that I did manage to book. As we kicked off the day, I realised that was a blessing in disguise. It was my first time attending and really, I just needed to soak it all up and let it process without having four different sessions to try to focus on.
I spent a lot of the day standing at the back of the hall, watching the panel discussions over the nodding and bobbing heads, and comers and goers. Davina Bell and Katrina McKelvey beautifully hosted their respective publishers, keeping us engaged and laughing, and drawing out a wealth of information.
Our panels this year were, What Makes a Publisher say Yes?, Secret Agent Business, The Inside Story, and Finding Your Perfect Match: From Big Publishers to Small Indie Houses. Sadly I missed the last one, but I will be searching for that nugget of information from the blogs and groups on Facebook. Clearly a standout 'voice' and good old fashioned do the work, were the clear messages of the day, with so many insights and tips reeled off I will have to spend time deciphering my rapid scribbles!
Nervous for my assessment, I climbed the stairs and headed to the quiet room, a beautiful area complete with a picture of HRH UK (not HRH AUS - Jen Storer, although wouldn't that have been hilarious!) It seems there was a bit of a manuscript mix up, which invalidated some of the comments, but I did get some great food for thought which has allowed me to grow the pieces yet again. Whilst not being handed the golden offer to stay in touch, it was a great opportunity and I'm so pleased I got that session in my speedy shopping cart!
In the afternoon, I once again hooked up with my critique buddy Sharna, and we met in a cosy group of six to 'interview' the inspiring (and am I allowed to say seductive?) Lisa Berryman. Lisa was the ultimate professional, giving truthful no nonsense answers, with such encouragement that it was impossible not to go away inspired. I made a goal for myself - I want to be so good that Lisa wants to publish me! Now that would really be like getting inside the doors of the Wonka Factory. Can I be Charlie Bucket?! Anyone can dream…
By the time the cocktail hour arrived, we were all a little brain befuddled, and a glass of wine was very welcome! Now, as throughout the day at any refreshment break, publishers and hosts mingled openly and chatted to the delegates. Through my work in television, I have attended many events, but none where the playing field seems as level and lacking in ego as these children's literature events. This art form contains the most supportive set of people out of any of the arts I have participated in and it is always a pleasure to be amongst these inspiring creatives.
Later that night, pushing through my mental fatigue to head to a small jazz bar and a (literally) smoking cocktail, I reflected on the day against the backdrop of smooth saxophone tones. From all the information, discussions and advice, I had confirmed where I had suspected my true strength lies and from that I now have a specific direction. I was excited to one day find the partner or team with the respect, trust and boundaries that Jen Storer and Lisa Berryman attributed to their long-term partnership, and to keep dreaming, working hard and stay connected with this wonderful special tribe of creators.
A huge thanks to Alison, Sarah, Coral and Nicky and the attending publishers/panellists. Your dedication is so appreciated by attendees at every stage of their career. Congratulations on a wonderful event. I hope to be back for more pearls of wisdom next time!