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!
The weekend of the 24th May was one to remember. A week later, I'm still recovering, and just beginning to sift through all the information and feedback that I can actually remember. These events are such whirlwinds that I often find it hard to recall everything. The first challenge was actually getting there. Kid Lit Vic, as you might suspect, is held in Victoria, in this case in the beautiful Melbourne town hall. So first things first, take a deep breath and get on that plane. Not my favourite past time. Luckily I had Oliver Phommavanh to keep me company, or rather his hilarious book Thai-riffic. I thoroughly recommend it, especially if you have an embarassing family. The flight proved to be very pleasant and I arrived to a beautiful sunny day, in one piece!
I have to admit I was really nervous heading into that classroom. After over a year of online involvement with the amazing Duck Pond community, I was actually going to meet these people for real. Were we all really going to be introverts, only just brave enough to come out from behind our computer screens? Would I actually take in anything from the session with nerves addling my already ADD brain?! And then there was meeting Jen...
Walking in to an Edward Albee quote on the whiteboard, 'Creativity is magic. Don't examine it too closely', my fears, of course, were unfounded. We played who looks like their facebook photo, I met my over-a-year-long critique partner Sharna, and Jen guided us through a fantastic session on what makes a good story, focusing on dramatic need with examples from several texts. We spot wrote with hilarious results. The afternoon was topped off with insights from author/ illustrators Judith Rossell and Lucinda Gifford, (which I personally found very interesting as I know nothing about the journey to illustration), and a hearty panel discussion resulted in more laughter. Jude, your illustration from your school days was priceless. The fun continued into the evening as we shared stories and experiences, but not too late.... we were all ready for a heads down in preparation for the big Kid Lit day itself.
I'm so grateful to have participated in this vibrant masterclass. I'll be revisiting all my notes in the coming weeks to keep on tightening and heightening my work. Thanks Jen for signing your book Clarrie's Pig Day Out for my daughter. It made her day.
Something different - an exciting writing challenge working with theatre-in-education specialist Therase Neve of Blue Whale Theatre.
Therase recently engaged me to write lyrics for a song for one of her early years shows, 'Staying healthy with Sailor Sam.' Blue Whale Theatre was established by actor and theatre in education specialist Therase Neve, to provide exciting and engaging dramatic experiences for children in Early Years and Primary schools. Therase has written and developed six shows - four early years, and two specialist plays, 'A Bright Light in the Darkness’, telling the story of Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, and 'Mary - A Story of Courage', the story of Saint Mary MacKillop.
Therase is proud to be touring these shows to schools both here and in New Zealand with her very talented cast!
Sam loves to eat 5 fruit and veg a day, and exercises every day to keep both mind and body happy and healthy! Children help Sailor Sam recognise ‘good foods’ from ‘not so good foods’ , learn about sun safety and dental hygiene, and join in with our jolly song to climb the riggings, scrub the decks, and hoist the flags on this fun interactive, sailing adventure!
I also had fun creating Blue Whale Theatre's website videos via my 'real job' with Thaumaturgy Post Production.
Thanks Therase for this wonderful opportunity.
The tune will be stuck in my head for a long time!
Since discovering the Creative Kids Tales Festival in 2018, I couldn't wait to attend this year. The theme was INVEST, and organiser Georgie Donaghey did an amazing job lining up our speakers, Jacqueline Harvey, Deb Abela, illustrators favourite Emma Quay and keynote speaker Jackie French AM. As expected, as soon as I lined up at the registration desk, the excitement was palpable. Friends greeted friends, new members were quickly embraced and conversations flew about manuscript assessment nerves.
Georgie kicked off the proceedings with a welcome before handing over to Jackie French for her presentation, 'How to begin the journey, how to keep going, and how to be an overnight success in a decade, (subtitled, 'or what the publishers probably won't tell you'). An immediate hush fell on the room as Jackie started with a surprising analogy - we are all cows. She described the process of getting published, starting with writers producing 'hopefully superior' milk, then passing it over to the editors, illustrators and publishers to turn it into a gourmet cheese. Her point on impressing people with your book cover in just seven seconds, really hit home to me. I hadn't really thought about it, but yes, when I'm browsing I choose firstly by the cover, then the blurb and if still curious, a quick flick inside to see whether the style of writing is appealing will have me putting it back on the shelf or in my shopping basket in approximately seven seconds. Scary. Jackie went on to talk about being ruthless in your editing, using imagery sparingly and finished on an inspiring and (for me) tear inducing speech about how we - just simple authors and illustrators like us, can shape the future for our kids. Luckily it was then time for the British remedy for all things emotional - a cup of tea :)
'Kids today are depressed, and fearful with the rise of terrorism. Write history so kids know the world changes, write books about surmounting challenges and succeeding against the odds, so kids know how to build resilience, write books that are pure joy and escapism so kids know happiness and how laughter helps, even when the world seems dark. The friends we make in books are with us forever.' Jackie French
Whilst others browsed the book stall, I headed to a manuscript assessment with Sue Whiting. I had seen Sue speak at last years festival, and sought out her books in the months afterwards. I had also attended one of her picture book courses in Newcastle, but this was the first time I had really had an opportunity to speak with her directly. Sue, true to the word impressed upon me by everyone who has met her, was absolutely lovely. She took me through my manuscript explaining what worked and what didn't, and was even kind enough to allow me to accost her later that day for clarification on something I hadn't quite taken in at the time in all the excitement. Overall, I was on a high walking away with my pencil comments from the 'not sure why's and 'less is more's' to 'A compelling start. Congratulations!'
Taking a quiet moment to let this sink in, and realising that now I had better get down and do the work of writing more chapters, I went back to catch the end of Emma Quay's presentation,' Giving Voice, Then Keeping Quiet: the art of making children's picture books.. and letting them go.'
Emma, like me, grew up in the U.K, and in a brief online chat on the CKT facebook page, I was delighted to learn that she had actually studied Graphic Design in my home town at Newcastle upon Tyne Polytechnic. Emma's work is featured globally and includes a collection held in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Emma showed us some of her illustrations from her new book 'My Sunbeam Baby', and talked about her passion for creation. She highlighted the importance of accepting that not everyone will like your work, before sharing some hilarious reviews for her award winning picture book, 'Rudie Nudie', including 'The illustrations are lousy because they lacked effort and detail. There was very little colour and the lines don't contain it.' and '… Rudie Nudie is an ok book, give it a go but don't expect much because it's boring, with average illustrations and story.'
Find your voice Be obsessed with what you want to do Invest your time
You have to truly care Keep doing it - work every day to get better Do your best work
Give all parts of the illustrating equal attention
Pick projects you are passionate about
Every part of the book matters not just the main characters
Never give up
Emma's tips were equally applicable to authors and illustrators.
Our final speaker of the day Deborah Abela, lifted our spirits with her amusing and inspiring talk titled,
'Hard, painful, brilliant and intoxicating: why, how, and what you need to invest in to be a successful writer.' quoting George Orwell (see final image), and reminding me of the statement made by author's agent Brian Cook, on a panel discussion I once produced,along the lines of 'Writers are cursed. They' re driven….once you're driven like that there's nothing else you can do -you have to write.'
Deb went on to share her main ingredients of story: character, setting and problems, explaining that it is our job to make it hard for our characters to get what they truly want, immerse yourself in your setting (another validation for my picture pin board!), and identify the thing that drives the story forward - what makes the reader want to turn the page? She also shared her drafting process and gave us some
recommended reading: 'The Mindful Writer' by Dinty W Moore and 'On Writing' by Stephen King.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching Deb's video where she shares her journey researching her new book,
'Teresa A New Australian', which tells the story of a young girl and her family who survive the bombing of Malta during WW2, before migrating to Australia to start a new life.
During her talk, Deb had shared the ups and downs, citing her disappointment that her 'Ghost Club' books hadn't done as well as she had hoped. I later contacted Deb to let her know that my daughter had chosen Ghost club as her book of choice for her school task to redesign a cover for her favourite book. So it wasn't a flop by any means Deb!
After a much needed second cuppa with some of Georgie's cake, we launched into the publishers panel and Pitch Ya Book session. This was a fascinating insight into the decisions made and the do's and don'ts, with some good laughs and an opportunity to have questions answered. Desperately hoping to have my name pulled out of the pitching hat,(which it sadly didn't) I watched on as several brave and nervous authors rose to pitch their book to the assembled panel.
The room cheered as author Serge Smagarinsky won a request to submit his manuscript for consideration by Omnibus (Scholastic).
And that was the high we finished on. The day had flown, a wealth of information imparted, and we went home with hopes, dreams….and a lot of work to do.
Thanks go to Georgie Donaghey and her family, Susan Hili our critique group manager, speakers, and publishers for yet another highlight event for the future of children's literature.
The start of 2019 has been uplifting and affirming. Most of my writing time was dedicated to preparing three manuscripts. I polished and polished and polished the first two chapters of a novel to be assessed by Sue Whiting, author, editor and everything books, at the Creative Kids Tales festival in April, and two picture book texts to be assessed by Cristina Pase, commissioning editor at Windy Hollow Books, at KidLit Vic in May.
I started February attending a book launch at The Children's Bookshop in Beecroft. It was boiling hot in the packed room, and my view was obscured by a Giant Koala (how did you survive in that hot costume?!) but it was so inspiring chatting to the authors afterwards.
I then attended a SCBWI masterclass with Diane Evans and Allison Paterson of Big Sky Publishing at the wonderful State Library of New South Wales. Of the many topics covered, those of particular interest to me (in relation to my work-in-progress novel) were 'weaving history, powerful messages and important events into entertaining and informative novels', and 'can you link your work to the national curriculum?', which I had never really explored. I also got the pleasure of finally meeting my year long critique partner David, who travelled from Adelaide!
March brought two family birthdays - a growing-up -too-fast 8 and a special 13 - number two teenager in the house! It also brought an exciting opportunity to visit Angophora House Education Learning Hub, a fantastic new initiative set up right here on the Central Coast, by Jacqui Barton, former education manager at Harper Collins. I was thrilled to meet Yvette Poshoglian, best known for 'Ella and Olivia', and Tania McCartney, prolific author, illustrator and podcaster, with her gorgeous new picture book 'Mamie' , about the creator of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, May Gibbs.
The afternoon was presented by one of my favourite amazing ladies, Susanne Gervay OAM, (is there anywhere Susanne isn't? I think she must own a time-turner), and the wonderful Jacqui herself. The enthusiasm of everyone in the room was clear and some wonderful connections were made.
One of those connections was Alison, manager of Bookface . Alison was very happy to let me do a photoshoot in her store at Erina. It was great fun, and the resulting images are displayed throughout the site. Thanks Alison, my talented friend Lee Hanly ,and my wonderful photographer Tanya Stokes!
The end of March brought a wonderful surprise and a confirmation to myself that all the passion and hours put in are paying off. I received news that I had been long-listed in the Greenleaf Blossoms Competition! Sadly I didn't make the shortlist (congratulations to those who did!), but it proved I'm on the right track and with more work, more self-learning and more skill, my goals are realistic.
This weekend brings my second Creative Kids Tales Festival, where I've been given the opportunity by organiser and author Georgie Donaghey, to speak briefly on the benefits of joining a critique group. The theme is INVEST - something I've consciously worked towards over the last three years. I'll be taking my snazzy business cards, designed by the awesome Max Hamilton, who I met this time last year at the inaugural CKT festival.
It's going to be an amazing day - stay tuned for how it went
In 2017 I wrote a novel. 50, 000 words in a fantasy world with characters that had been driving me nuts for months beforehand, screaming to be put on paper. A year later, I took it on holiday to take another look. It was awful. The story was ok - I still think it has potential, one day, after a heck of a lot of work.
The characters were cardboard cut outs. The descriptions were flowery. The POV's were only just under control, and there were chapters that should have been evicted to the desert to roll with the other tumbleweeds. BUT - a year on, I could see this as clearly as if the manuscript had jumped up and slapped me across the face, and that, I consider, is serious progress.
Because in that year, I had learned an awful lot.
I have always wanted to write. Always. Always. But life took me in other directions, and it fell off my radar and, I believed, beyond my capabilities. Now don't get me wrong, I've done a lot of fun things. I've had a lot of jobs, lived in a lot of places, have a wonderful family and friends, and despite many ups and downs, have never had a dull moment. But this 'writing thing' was still waiting, buried under layers of 'too busy, not good enough and not yet.'
Until it wasn't anymore.
I had already 'harnessed the power' with my other long-term dream of working in television. Not, as I originally thought, in front of the camera, but very happily behind, in the post-production team. So when I happened upon an author with several novels under her belt, written whilst parenting and working, a second light bulb went off. What's stopping me? And so it began in earnest. I joined Creative Kids Tales, and attended the festival - kid in candy store material. Publishers, illustrators, authors - in person, beaming in from who knows where in Australia, and excitingly, other aspiring authors like me. We compared notes. We found each other on Facebook. We're still in touch and supporting each other all the way. I wrote more. I did an online bootcamp, dragging myself up at 5am to be live in America. I went to writer's festivals, author talks at the local library, a masterclass with Sue Whiting, and a 'Polishing, Pitching and getting Published' seminar with Heather Curdie from Penguin Random House and Suzanne O’Sullivan from Hachette. I joined a critique group, found a facebook community and joined SCBWI (the society of children's book writers and illustrators).
I joined 'Scribbles' where I was tasked with making my own notebook cover, on which I included one of my favourite quotes from the Wizard of Oz: 'You've always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.'
I entered, and was shortlisted in the Scribbles Creative Writing Awards. And I wrote. A lot.
I have made it my goal to do one thing every day towards the business of writing, whether it's reading, making notes, networking, marketing, listening to podcasts, researching publishers, critiquing others, getting, or working through feedback, discussing ideas and always being open to learning.
I feel privileged to have met, and become part of this amazing community of authors where I can be myself. I understand this is hard work. I know I can do it.
2019 - watch out. I'm coming.
If I hadn't attended the 2018 Creative Kids Tales festival, I would never have made friends with Max, and if I hadn't made friends with Max she would never have said, 'You must check out 'The Duck Pond!'
The Duck Pond is a facebook group dedicated to aspiring and already published authors and illustrators, run by children's author Jen Storer. It is the most supportive community of any of the creative arts that I have ever been involved with. Wait for it....people actually want you to succeed! And give you hints, and tips and generally share the love. Amazing!!!
So I became a Duckie.
From 'The Pond', I discovered 'Scribbles', an online course designed to help you rediscover your inner child whilst (hopefully) squashing your inner critic. It's fun! But whilst the end result of writing for children is often fun, it's also very hard work, so when the opportunity to enter the inaugural Scribbles creative writing awards came up, I knuckled down.
The competition was judged by industry professionals Gabrielle Wang, Judith Rossell, Lucinda Gifford and Jen Storer. Knuckling down became biting knuckles, as the Duck Pond and Scribbles facebook groups counted down the days to the announcement. I tried not to care. Impossible.
Max messaged me. 'You seen your email?!!!!'
My email that said I'd been shortlisted. The email that I'd been sure I would never receive.
But I did. Another proof to myself that if you 'do the verk', at some point, it has to pay off.
I didn't win. and I genuinely didn't care. I was so happy and excited for those that did, that it felt like I had won anyway. The whole experience was a roller coaster. I was thrilled to ride it with others who are equally passionate about what they do, and who are doing it better, because those are the people I want to be around, and that is the type of person I want to be, for someone else like me. Thank you Jen and judges for giving me an opportunity to have my work read by you.
I'll be meeting some of the Scribbbles gang in May when I head to the Kid Lit conference in Melbourne. I'm sure it will be a wonderful play day.
"You’ve always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself."