Doodles and Drafts – Robyn Osborne on her canine obession

Today we invite Robyn Osborne to the draft table. Robyn has a penchant for pooches and writing for kids. Fortunately when she combines the two, magic happens.

Her latest picture book release, My Dog Socks is a winning combination of pure doggy delight. Robyn’s lyrical prose works in perfect harmony with  Sadami Konchi’s animated illustrations. Together they gambol and scarper through the book filling every page with barely suppressed  energy and exuberant colour. Pleasing alliteration, satisfying rhythm and an enticing parallel visual narrative invite readers into Sock’s secret world, where he is anything and everything in the eyes (and imagination) of his young owner.  Konchi’s representation of Socks  suggests an Australian Shepard type breed, however Sock’s irrepressible benevolent doggy nature could be any little person’s best four-legged friend. My Dog Socks is a winsome celebration of young people, dogs, the ineffable attachments they make and the incredible joie de vivre they both possess.

Grab yourself a copy, soon – here (paperback available next week). Now grab a cuppa and settle back with Robyn.

Continue reading Doodles and Drafts – Robyn Osborne on her canine obession

Doodles and Drafts – Jess Black Paws for Thought

Jess Black, author of the new Little Paws series joins us at the draft table today to share her inspiration behind these heartwarming story lines. Puppies, chewed shoes and big responsibilities are all part of training a guide dog puppy. The Little Paws series has them all plus buckets of cute puppy appeal to boot. Here’s what Jess has to say:

Writing the Little Paws series was a very positive experience for me. The story lines are fun, there’s plenty of puppy mischief, it’s a family friendly story line but most importantly the kids in the stories are in charge and at the forefront of the story.

Of course, what’s at the heart of the stories is bringing a gorgeous little puppy into your home and committing to raising it on behalf of guide Dogs. This meant that the series involved my spending lots of time with puppies in training with Guide Dogs Australia, understanding what it takes to be a Guide Dog and the impact that having a dog has on the life of a client. This added depth and meaning to writing the stories.

Continue reading Doodles and Drafts – Jess Black Paws for Thought

Doodles and Drafts – Nick Earls reveals his Top Secrets

word-hunters-and-nick-earlsA few years ago, I had the supreme pleasure of joining a world of word nuts who allowed me to accompany them on hair-raising adventures through time and reason; I discovered the Word Hunters – a trilogy of etymological enigmas by author Nick Earls and illustrator, Terry Whidborne. I carry on a bit about the awesomeness of their series, here. Although Word Hunters is more than satisfying and a dozen other superlatives to boot, I was left wanting more as many exhilarating experiences are wont to make you feel. And so, the trilogy has expanded with the launch of the Top Secret Files.

Top Secret Files is a sort of compendium of loosely connected thoughts and verbal exploration. It’s a journal of notes and taste bud temptations. It’s an explanation of even more philology through brief crisp narrative and pages of eye-catching sketches, drawings, and diagrams. It’s the journal of the great word hunter, Caractacus entrusted to the ancient librarian, Mursili who perhaps a little misguidedly assigns it back to our dauntless duo, Earls and Whidborne.

Today we have the auspicious pleasure of welcoming Nick Earls to the draft table to learn a little more about the custodian of the Word Hunters and how he is dealing with his Top Secret Files.

nick-earls-2017Welcome Nick!

Who is Nick Earls? Describe your writerly self.

Twenty-six books into the job, he’s an unkempt work in progress, growing into the thought lines etched deep into his forehead and still trying to get better each time he writes.

In a former life, your quest was to serve and protect or at least, make people feel better. How does your current occupational goal as a writer compare?

I now wear my underpants on the inside and don’t have a cape. Each job hinges on a connection with people. In medicine, it’s getting to understand them on their terms, so that the story they tell makes as much sense as possible. In writing the kind of fiction I mostly do, it’s about tapping into characters who, when read, feel as though they can’t have been made up. With Word Hunters there are other objectives too – there’s an adventure to be had and a world of mind-blowing words facts to play around with. My goal as the writer of this series is to entertain, but also be part of opening minds to the possibilities of history and the fascinating workings of the language. It’s too easy to fall into the habit of saying that English is a crazy language that makes no sense, but the more you grasp its 1500-year history (plus some back-story) the more sense it ends up making. And the more powerfully you can use it. ‘Night’ and ‘light’, for instance, aren’t spelled that way by chance, or because someone threw darts at a board – there’s a reason for it, and a really interesting one (featuring a now-lost letter), so we wrote about that in the new book.

wisdom-tree-novellasName three titles you have created that you are particularly proud of and why.

It’s not a thing I feel about anything I write. Which doesn’t mean I think it’s all awful – it’s just that ‘pride’ isn’t really the feeling. I love the process of exploring the story and its characters, and how they’ll all work, and then the job of working hard to get the details right and delivering them in a compelling way. If someone gets it, I feel good. It feels as if all that work was worth sharing. Okay, one example: Gotham, the first novella in the Wisdom Tree series. I had two story ideas that I wanted to give to one character, and I thought I could make them work together in an interesting way. So, the first two acts are essentially one of those story ideas, with seeds being sewn for the third, then act three really takes you somewhere, delivers something (I hope) you’re not expecting, and also casts new light on the earlier part of the story. It’s worked just as I hoped it would for quite a lot of people now, and I have to admit that’s gratifying, since I love it when fiction works that way in my head.

top-secret-files-word-huntersIt’s been nearly three and a half years since the Word Hunter series hit our bookshelves. Was a follow up compendium like Top Secret Files always on the cards? If not, what evoked the idea and need for it?

It was Terry’s idea, and he put it to me when we were driving between two schools, doing our live Word Hunters show when the third book came out in 2013. He wanted to do something more visual and less dependent on a big new narrative, and he wanted to explore some of the gadgets we’d included. In that conversation, I realised I’d found some excellent word stuff that I hadn’t been able to include in the other three books, and we came up with the idea of a kind of manual, or ‘a compendium of devices and methods’ as Caractacus rather self-importantly puts it. Living in the Dark Ages and seeing the consequence of knowledge loss, Caractacus puts a premium on knowledge and, unlike the rest of us, has a pipeline to the future. So, this is him trying to keep track of the info future word hunters bring back to him, some of which he adapts for use in his own time. Some of that presented a fascinating challenge. In book three, he’s created lightweight 21st-century ceramic armour for the hunters to fight in, and for Top Secret Files I had to work out how it was made, then work out how to adapt that to processes someone could use on a Dark Ages pig farm. I have to say, that stretched me. Then we paired that with the fun activity of making your own medieval armour from cardboard, using the fascinating terms for each piece.

What can Word Hunter fans expect from Top Secret Files?

Expect the unexpected. You’ll come out of this dressed in armour from the 15th century, making bread from 3000 years ago and able to navigate using the Ancient Phoenician alphabet (or, more correctly, abjad). And who doesn’t want that set of awesome skills? You’ll also understand why we score tennis the way we do, where cricket fielding positions got their names, and how our alphabet found twelve new letters and lost nine of them!

Top Secret Files reads as a combination of loose jaunty exchanges and solid historical fact. At times if feels even more revealing and fantastical than the Word Hunters storylines. (Are all those words that couldn’t be saved as part of the English language real? Sorry had to ask; I’m too lazy to research every groke, fudgel, and curglaff) Why did you choose this style of delivery over straightforward narrative?

Some of the most improbable things in the book are true including, yes, those words that couldn’t be saved (even the one that involves doing a distinctly weird thing to a part of a horse that’s best left alone …). When I was tunnelling around for material, I wanted the facts to be weirder than the fiction, so that the fiction seems all the more plausible.

We had this kind of style in mind from the start, for two reasons. First, not having to build a massive narrative to slip in one brilliant word fact gave us licence to include lots more stuff and focus on it. It would have taken several more of the original books and a lot of complicated storytelling to have created opportunities to use everything we got to use here. Also, Terry was very mindful of creating a different way into the word hunters’ world. This was deliberately compact, really visual and in short sections (with an overarching concept but not an overarching narrative) to provide a way into the world for kids not immediately drawn to 40-60,000 words of narrative.

We wanted to make the original three books accessible by telling the most engrossing time-travel adventure story we could, but this book is designed to increase the accessibility even more. We wanted to create something for, say, 9-10-year-old boys not yet hooked by reading big stories (while at the same time offering fascinating content for people who are). If they get into this, maybe they’ll pick up book one, and then book two and book three. And by the end of that, maybe they’ll have felt that buzz in their head that only books can put there, and they’ll want more. I got into reading as a kid, but Terry didn’t, and this is Terry coming up with the kind of book he thinks might have made a difference to him at that age.

word-hunter-sketchesIllustrator, Terry Whidborne receives equal airplay alongside you, Lexi and Al throughout this journal. What was the dynamic like working with him? How did it influence and or benefit this production?

Terry’s great. We met working on an advertising campaign in 2002. We’re friends and I’m also in awe of his skills as an artist – another reason to do this book: I want publishers and others to see just how talented Terry is.

We each bring very different things to a book like this, and I think that helps make us a great team. We also had a very clear shared vision of what we wanted the end result to be. And it was always clear that we would have the freedom to suggest possible topics to each other, and throw in ideas to get the other one thinking. Terry would say things like, ‘I reckon there would be some kind of portal-sniffing device,’ and I’d have to rummage around for the science to sort-of back it up.

And I’d often say, about something I was working on, ‘I don’t know what this looks like – could you show me?’ and he would. Or I’d say, ‘here’s some great content I want to use, but how do we make it visual?’ and Terry would say, ‘How about a map?’

And he’d hide small things and see if I’d find them. Once you find, say, the ink smudge that’s also a map of Iceland – in context – you realise this book has more Easter eggs than Coles in March. It’s a slim book, but there are about a zillion tiny details in there, and they reveal themselves in different ways.

What inspires you to include or exclude words for discussion in the Word Hunter books? What external forces such as travel for example, influence your writing direction?

This time, I got the chance to use things that had amazed me, but that I wasn’t in a position to devote 20,000 words of narrative to. So, that was fun.

It was very interesting plotting the big story that runs across the first three books, and that create the world that the Top Secret Diary lives in. I needed each of the first three books to be an entire satisfying story, but also part of a whole, and I knew each one would feature three word quests. I also knew I wanted to follow a bunch of different pathways – English is what it is because of that – so I needed a mix of Germanic and Norman French/Latin words and words with very different origins. And I needed to get the characters to certain places at certain times to tell the big story we were telling. That was an awesome puzzle to try to solve. In the case of the last word in book three, I decided I needed something that would take us to the earliest-known book in English, link with an epic Dark Ages battle and get there via Shakespeare and one other interesting step. No easy task. I got there though.

Whose genius was it to include the interactive app, LAYAR for kids to utilise? Do you think this is the way of future storytelling?

That was Terry. The moment he discovered LAYAR, I got fanatical about it. It’s perfect for this book. Perfect. Again, it’s a great way in for someone not rushing to read lots of text, but for whom the idea of using a gadget to reveal hidden content appeals. And no one had more potential hidden content than me. I instantly knew it’d add massively to the reading experience, and I’d get to use a lot more great stuff.

Is it the way of future storytelling? It’s part of it, I’m sure. Technology gives us more tools than we’ve ever had. We just have to be smart enough to use them judiciously. LAYAR would be a gimmick or a distraction for some things, but it’s ideal for this.

On a scale of Never-Do-It-Again to Most-Exhilarating-Audience-To-Write-For-Ever!, how do you rate writing for tween readers? What is most appealing about writing for this age group?

I’m still learning, I think. I’m maybe a more natural writer for adults, but with the right material, time and smart editing, I can end up with something that works for the tween brain, and I’m getting closer to some of the techniques becoming instinctive. Two things are massively appealing about this age group. It’s a huge buzz when a kid comes up to you and raves about their Word Hunters experience and starts sharing some great etymology they’ve dug up. There’s a 9, 10, 11, 12-year-old whose grasp of English, you know, has been altered for the better. I love that. The other thing I really love is going round the schools and doing Word Hunters events. We’ve come up with a show that we can do together or solo that includes loads of visuals, props, games and a lot of noise, and It’s way more fun doing it than I ever thought. Every time I front up to a school with all my Word Hunters’ gear, I’m excited.

word-hunters-the-lost-huntersNow that you and Terry have been entrusted with Caractacus’ archive of Word Huntery (and really really interesting recipes!) thanks to Mursili, and blatantly ignoring all warnings to the contrary, have exposed it to the world, what plans do you and Terry have for the journal? Are more copies likely to appear? In short, what is on the draft table for Nick?

I have a PhD to finish, so no new fiction this year, but in the meantime, I want to make the most of the new material we’ve added to our show and take it around the place. I know that’s technically part of the job, because it might sell some books, but I actually want to do it because of the fun we can have and because of the way it opens a roomful of minds to the prospect of actually looking at our language and how it works, understanding it better and ultimately using it with greater power than most of us grew up being able to. I’ll also be putting in some effort to avoid the wrath of Caractacus. He’s not one to understand that this stuff was just too good to keep hidden.

Just for fun question (there’s always one): Describe a guilty pleasure (of yours) incorporating three words that did not exist before the last century.

Brilliant question. I’ll go as recent as I can. I regularly google (2001, as a verb) idle factoids (1973, invented by Norman Mailer, though the meaning has evolved since) using Bluetooth (1997).

Super! Thanks Nick.

If you reside in Queensland,  you can catch Nick and Terry putting in some effort to avoid Caractacus’ wrath and share their Top Secrets at one of this year’s Book Link QLD’s Romancing the Stars events during March. For details on where they will be appearing (there are Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast venues), and how to book, visit the Book Links site, here.

The Word Hunters Series including the Top Secret Files is available, here.

UQP December 2016

Doodles and Drafts – All of Us Together with Bill Condon

 bill-condonBill Condon is a man of modest expectations that do not match his considerable abilities. He writes with charm, wit, sincerity and affection. His novels for young people, of which there are many resonate a genuineness that fascinates newcomers and for many older readers, transports them back to the idle days of their childhood, warts and all. We are fortunate to have Bill at the drafts table today to reveal some of the mental conflicts he still encounters prior to penning a new story (a predicament faced by nearly every author) and some insights behind the inspiration for his latest junior novel, All of Us Together.

All of Us Together is a tale of warmth, heartache, tragedy and hope all rolled up in one very threadbare blanket that was the Great Depression in the early 1930s. The heroes of this tale are ordinary folk trying to etch out a life during an extraordinary period of Australia’s pre-World War II history. Poverty and having to grow up sooner than you ought to thankfully are not issues many modern day Australian youngsters have to deal with on a day to day basis (although unfortunately they are never completely absent from any society). Condon manages to infuse enough hope into what appears an untenable and inevitable situation for Daniel and his family when they are forced to leave their family home and begin afresh, without being morose. All of Us Together is a realistic and unapologetic view of life with an emphasis on the positive power of sticking together through thick and thin.

Here’s what Bill has to say:

On Writing

Recently I started to watch a movie called Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I didn’t care for it very much and turned it off after a short while. The thing that struck me most about it were the very first words spoken. A teenage boy says: ‘I have no idea how tall-of-us-together-front-covero tell this story’. This is exactly how I feel every time I go into battle with the blank page. One of the problems I have is that usually my mind is blanker than the page.

Although I have been at this game for a long time and have published many books, writing doesn’t get any easier. In fact, it often feels like I’ve never written anything, and have no idea how to go about it.

As gloomy as it may sound, one of the great motivators for me has long been the prospect of death. From the early 80s I wrote children’s poems and plays, short stories, and non-fiction. This was my comfort zone, and I was fairly successful at it. However, I felt that a novel was beyond me.

One night I was talking to one of my two wonderful sisters, and she hinted very tactfully, that perhaps I should try to push myself a little with my writing. I think she even put it more delicately than that, but it was enough to stir me into action. When I was 50, I at long last took the plunge and attempted a young adult novel. I was afraid that I’d fail, but I was even more afraid that I’d die without having tried. The book was called Dogs and it won an Honour Award in the CBCA Book of the Year Awards. Awards are such a lottery, but I was lucky. Perhaps if it hadn’t done well I might have gone back to doing what came easier to me. Even so, it was another five years before my next young adult novel appeared. I’ve now written eight novels, and each one has been a huge struggle.

the-simple-thingsIn 2014 I had a junior novel called The Simple Things published. I thought writing for younger kids would be easier than writing for teenagers, but I was so wrong. It seems any kind of writing is just plain hard for me. I’d written that book and had it accepted in 2012, but it took two years to get published. Then another two years went by, in which I was unable to write anything. So for four years the blank page won out. The one thing that finally got me going again was my old friend Death, or the fear of it.

At the start of this year I had a lot of medical tests done and I’d convinced myself that the results wouldn’t be good. ‘Just one more book’, I told myself. So I went back to a story I’d tried to write the year before, only to give up on. This time I attacked it as if I had a very pressing deadline. From the outset I had a title, All Of Us Together. I knew it was a junior novel set in the Great Depression in Australia, but like the boy I mentioned at the start of this piece, I had no idea how to write it. Then memories kicked in.

When I was young my parents told me of their Depression experiences. If only I’d known that I’d need their help in writing a book one day I would have listened much more closely than I did. But as young people often do, I took them and their stories for granted. I’m sorry to say that it was pretty much a case of in one ear and out the other.

Luckily, some things stuck. I remembered my dad talking about Happy Valley, a ramshackle unemployment camp near Sydney. There were similar camps all over Australia, set up to cater for people who had lost their jobs and homes and had nowhere else to go. I remembered my mum telling me about the tramps who would regularly turn up at her parent’s door to ask for a handout. She said they were always given something to eat.  Both of these memories – Happy Valley, and the tramp asking for food – made it into my book. And too, I borrowed from my own life, as I usually do. When Daniel, the main character in the story, gets into strife, his misdeeds are ones that I got up to when I was a child.

Slowly I got to know and understand Daniel and his sisters, Adelaide and Lydia, as well as their parents, and instead of dreading the thought of going to my computer, I actually wanted to spend as much time as I could with my fictional family.  They had become almost real to me, and I hope readers will feel the same way.

Once I’d found my way into the story and the words were starting to flow, I received my test results. All is fine.  This leaves me free to get on with life, and keep on hoping, for one more book.

We hope so too, Bill!

Thanks for visiting. Discover more bookish revelations about Bill as he continues his Blog Tour around Australia.

About Kids Books November 2016


17 November Di Bates

18 November Clancy Tucker

19 November Sally Odgers

20 November Sandy Fussell

21 November Dee White
22 November Dimity Powell

23 November Elaine Ousten
24 November Melissa Wray
25 November Susan Whelan
26 November Romi Sharp




Doodles and Drafts – In conversation with Tania McCartney over tea!

Tania McCartney March 2016 cropTania McCartney is no stranger to the world of Kids’ Literature. Her knowledge and ability to produce entertaining, endearing and enduring picture books is nothing short of remarkable and now sitting comfortably in her enviable arsenal of accreditations, is a re-discovered gift – illustration.

Sumptuously rich in detail and stuffed with enough iconic charm to make both Banjo Paterson and Con the Fruiterer feel at home, her first self-illustrated picture book, Australia: Illustrated delivers a (very satisfying) slice of all things Aussie to an audience who might still remember what a frog cake is as well as those young enough to regard the Wheel of Brisbane as their first Ferris wheel ride.

Australia IllustratedIt is a magnificent compendium of facts, landmarks, foods, cultures, flora, fauna, natural wonders, celebrities and attractions playfully illustrated in Tania’s unique, considered hand. Her drawings do more than just tell a story and describe a caption. They fill my visual soul. New South Wales’s Snowy Mountain region is resplendent with wild silver Brumbies (skiiing, horse riding and snowboarding as it were!) for example, revealing Tania’s cheeky take on life and no doubt, her own personal reflections of a land she clearly adores.

Her affection is contagious. From the divinely cloth-bound cover and very first end pages, clean and devoid of the congestion of civilization (a nod to the pre-settlement days of Australia perhaps), to each State and Territories’ four to five page expose of their specific peculiarities, Australia: Illustrated draws the reader in and, sublimely, educates and entertains along the way. The final end pages, a testament to the diversity and wonder that fills this wide brown land (with green bits, girt by sapphire seas) we call, home.

Today, we leave the draft table for a pair of comfy armchairs, a delicious cup of tea and a few precious moments with the gifted creator behind EK Book’s newest non-fiction picture book release, Australia: Illustrated.

Welcome, Tania. It’s great to finally spend some ‘virtual’ time with you.

So lovely to visit, Dim!

Your very first self-illustrated picture book, Australia Illustrated, is out any moment. Has this been a dream come true?

In a word: yes!

Have you been suffering heart palpitations? I know I’d be more anxious that than

Yes. How did you know??

I could hear them all the way up here in Brisbane.

I’m not surprised. They’re pretty thunderous.

Has this book been a bucket-list kind of thing?

Yes and no. It was more of a meant-to-be than a bucket-list-thing, though now it’s been ticked off my bucket-list, I’m happy it got onto that list!

It has actually just been a long-buried seed of an idea but it may not have even grown if the circumstances hadn’t been right. There was a grant I wanted to apply for, I needed a contract to do so, my publisher just happened to think the idea was fabulous at the time (this changes, as you know!) and I got a contract the next day.

You’re kidding?!

I know! If only all contracts were like that! This was a little scary, though, because the idea was quite ethereal at the time. I mean, I knew it would unfold okay… and it did. But I did it all the wrong way.

What do you mean?

I basically winged it. I had an outline, of course, but the content was pretty much an organic process. I was SO lucky to have this kind of opportunity. And I did the cover first. I mean, who does the cover first?

I don’t much about the illustrative process, but that does sound a little dotty.

SO dotty. But it worked because that cover was one of my favourite things to create, and it set the scene for the style and layout of the entire book. I highly recommend up-ending processes!

Are you proud of thi047 qld daintrees book?

I am for the fact that I finished it. It took a year and contains over 1000 hand-drawn images over 96 pages. Half of the finished pages are digitally illustrated, too, so it was a lot of work and I was also in learning mode at the time (re-learning my illustration skills and also learning digital skills—I basically learned as I went).

I’m also proud of it because it’s my first self-illustrated book and I think first self-illustrated books take a lot of courage. Like, a lot. It’s scary because I’ve had years to get used to writing criticism, but illustration criticism is a whole other colour on the palette.

So, my nerves are on standby, for sure—and I have to consistently tell myself I created this book for me, no one else—and that if kids and adults happen to take pleasure in it, that will please me very, very much. In fact, ALL creators should create books for themselves first and foremost. If we created them for other people, we’d never enjoy it as much or do our best work. And once our books are published, they become someone else’s anyway, so it’s nice to hang onto ownership during production!

Oh gosh, Dim, this tea is so good.

Thanks! Isn’t it divine? You’ve written several books about Australia. Will there be more?

Probably not. I do have ideas for books about Australian people (biographic), plants and animals but they won’t be Australia-centric, if that makes sense.

I don’t know why I’ve written so many books on Australia. It’s not a conscious decision. Perhaps it’s because the world is full of so much negativity right now—I fully realise and accept that our country (any country) is far from perfect, but it just feels so nice to celebrate what’s good here sometimes. And there’s so much that’s good. Australia Illustrated is a celebration of w007 au beautifulhat’s good.

Hear hear! What brought you the greatest pleasure when creating Australia Illustrated?

So much. The creative freedom. The ability to play and allow things to unfold. I know it’s not realistic, but it would be incredible if all books could be created in this way! It’s just so much fun. I loved relearning skills and meeting my characters and learning so much about this country that I never knew.

I loved the digital illustration and the layout and design. I also loved doing the finishing art in Photoshop. Creating the fonts was fun.

How did you do that?

With an app called iFontMaker. It’s fabulous. You can get so creative. You can even create fonts for your kids, using their handwriting.

Sounds fascinating, I’d love to give it a go.

You must. I also loved pulling the pages together. It’s so satisfying.

So, hang on, you did quite a bit for this book. Not just writing and illustrating?

027 nsw sydney ferriesI did heaps. I researched, wrote, fact-checked, drew, painted, did digital illustration and mono-printing, scanning, touching up, photography, fonts, layout, design, typography, cover layout and design—all to print-ready PDF. I LOVE doing all this. It’s so satisfying and skills-building. Then I had the wonderful Mark Thacker from Big Cat Design take all the PDFs and whack them in InDesign for the printer.

And my gorgeous publisher Anouska Jones was my editor and second eyes and ears, and I had a group of other eyes and ears, too, and then there was the team at Exisle and our printing coordinator Carol and publicist Alison and all the fabulous book reps and all the wonderful friends and colleagues who helped me authenticate things and help me out with research.

I have an entire page dedicated to thank yous! I also had the backing of the ACT Government—artsACT—for their grant to help produce this book.

So while I did a lot, I certainly didn’t do it alone. No one ever does it alone.

Gosh, we have an amazing bunch of people in this industry.

We do. I feel privileged to be part of it. This really is great tea, Dim.

Of course it is, it’s from Queensland! What’s next for you, Tania?

Well, I’ve just come out of a long rest! I took a lot of winter off, other than ongoing obligations and a little bit of production on some upcoming titles.

 Oooh – can you share them with us?

COVER FINAL smilecryfullcover-smallWell, one is a sequel to Smile Cry with Jess Racklyeft. The other is a follow-up to This is Captain Cook with Christina Booth—and we’re also in the middle of another picture book for the National Library. Tina Snerling and I have been working on books 6 and 7 for the A Kids’ Year series.

I’ve been planning my illustration style for my first illustration commission with the National Library and I’ve been working on a non-fiction pitch for them, too, which I’ll illustrate. And I’ve been finalising a junior fiction manuscript after talks with a gorgeous publisher. Oh—and just like you would, I have several thousand other little bits and ideas floating around.

Yes, something I can relate 100% to! But would you have it any other way?

No! Well, yes—I really needed that time out after Australia Illustrated. It was an enormous amount of work. 96 pages!! So happy to have my energy and mojo back now, though.

Mojo back is good! Tania, thanks so much for stopping by today. I’ve really enjoyed the chat.

Me, too, Dim! And thanks for the tea!

The kettle is always on…

This is more than a picture book, more than a resource; Australia Illustrated is a meaningful, beautiful, thoughtful, piece of art.

Order Tania’s, Australia: Illustrated, here.

Australia Illustrated Launch PosterFollow all the excitement of her Virtual Launch this week with reveals, sneak peeks, more interviews and giveaways, here.

EK Books November 2016




Doodles and Drafts – Mark Carthew

Mark CarthewQuiet achievers are those I admire most. Mark Carthew is one of those quiet achievers, except when he’s strumming out a tune on his guitar and reading one of his crazy verse orientated picture books aloud. With more projects on the draft table than you can wobble a pencil at, I thought it was high time we got to know one of Australia’s most consistent and talented children’s authors.

His recent release, Marvin and Marigold  The Big Sneeze with Simon Prescott, exemplifies all that we’ve come to expect of a Mark Carthew picture book: clear, engaging story, lyrical text, and kid friendly pictures guaranteed to spark repeated readings. The Big Sneeze is the first in this mouse inspired cute critter series, ably introducing Marigold to her new neighbour, Marvin, who’s in a pretty woeful way with the flu to begin with. Their friendship begins in a rather slow, fractured way until with a dash of empathy and a slathering of kindness, Marigold comes to accept the true mouse behind all the sneezes, snorts and snuffles. A little classic in the making (which are what The Gobbling Tree and The Moose is Loose! are to me). Let’s find out how he does it.

Welcome to the Draft Table, Mark!

Q: Who is Mark Carthew? Describe your writerly-self.

I am passionate about words, pictures and music… and how each of these things resonates in its own special way to make images. The rhythm of language and the power of alliterative words and phrases shared out loud is something reflected in my stories, verse and songs.

MARK-CARTHEW-FOOTER-2-LOWRES-72DPIQ: A hefty percentage of your children’s titles are picture books. What draws you to creating this genre of children’s literature?

Working with and seeing wonderfully talented illustrators bring your ideas to life is one of the great pleasures of being children’s picture book / illustrated text author. Each book is literally a birth; a special creation and much anticipated result of both vision and passion. Illustrator’s weave their own skills and magic into this creative process, making the genre a unique blend of two imaginations. I also enjoy working with editors, publishers and designers — and they need to get due credit; as they can bring significant (emotionally detached) insights and ideas to picture book projects.

Q: What style of writing do you identify most strongly with; children’s, poetry, song writing? Which style excites you the most to create?

Hard question, as many of my works involve combinations of all three! My picture books, anthologies and plays regularly revolve around narratives with a strong sense of the poetic, alliterative and rhythmic; and more often than not they have a musical or song element that dovetails naturally.

Marvin and Marigold_Cover_frontQ: Marvin and Marigold: The Big Sneeze, is the first in a new series of picture books featuring two new fun characters. Please tell us a bit about it. Why mice? Was this your original intention or is it a product of your collaboration with illustrator, Simon Prescott?

At a meeting in Frenchs Forest Sydney, my Publisher at New Frontier Sophia Whitfield, suggested she would be interested in me developing a manuscript around two animal characters. Reflecting on this while returning on the Manly Ferry, some verses started to flow; and the Marvin & Marigold series began that very day. Some of the key alliterative and rhyming stanzas based around their names, ‘mice’ and ‘mouse houses’ were written on the way back to Circular Quay. New Frontier had just set up a UK office in London and it was Sophia who made the UK connection to Simon Prescott, based on his whimsical style and expertise in illustrating mice.

Q: How did the concept of Marvin and Marigold come to being? What do you hope to portray in your stories about them?

Children’s publishers in Australia and around the world have had great success with picture books concerning cute and endearing animal characters; interestingly quite often with titles featuring ‘two names’.  As mentioned, New Frontier was keen to see if I could pen something original and engaging along similar lines with potential for a series.

While still involving word play and strong rhyme; these narratives also explore some deeper thinking around familiar life scenarios, situations and personal challenges — as well as important themes such as family, relationships, kindness and empathy. A series with two next door neighbours and friends, a boy and a girl, provides the perfect vehicle.      

Q: You mentioned that you ‘enjoy making books that encourage play with language, words and images’. Do you find it easier to ‘tell stories in song’ when developing a picture book as opposed to writing in prose? Describe the process for us.

My creativity seems to flow when I write in a lyrical, rhyming style and I think my love of verse texts, poetry and song writing has influenced my desire to share stories in sympathetic mediums. Poetic stanzas often bounce around in my head like a ‘third eye’ or voice. However, I am also very keen to extend my writing into a more prose based, graphic narrative style for the older primary readership and I have a couple of projects on the draft table in that regard.

The Gobbling Tree with awardQ: Your picture books in particular have strong appeal for lower primary and pre-primary aged readers, providing plenty of predictive reading possibilities and moments of fun to crow over again and again. What is the attraction for writing for this age group?

 Younger audiences respond naturally to call and response, alliteration and the use of strong rhyming, onomatopoeic phrases that are part of my writing style. That natural early childhood interest in shared language and interaction excites me as a writer and allows me the privilege and space to enjoy the fun of word play mixed with drama, music, movement and spoken words.

 Q: What’s on the draft table for Mark?

 2017 will be a big year with three picture books as well as various other poetry and writing projects in production or development.

My long long term illustrator friend Mike Spoor (UK) and I will be releasing a speciality art style picture book Six Little Ducks (with song), a project which evolved from our 2013 Australian tour. The second book in the Marvin and Marigold series, Marvin & Marigold: A Christmas Surprise will be released in the lead-up to Christmas 2017 and The Great Zoo Hullabaloo illustrated by Anil Tortop (Qld) will be out in April 2017. That project was developed during my May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Fellowship and is in essence the sequel to The Moose is Loose!— but with a different publisher, illustrator and a new twist!

The Five Little OwlsWith the assistance of Karen Small from Small but Mighty Productions, I am planning to produce a 10th Anniversary Edition of my CBCA Honour Book and anthology, Can you keep a Secret? Timeless rhymes to share and treasure. I hope to do that in both eBook & hard copy.

I am also working on some new poetry anthologies and a graphic novel / crossover text for older primary readers.

Q: When not scribbling stories for children, who / what do you like to read?

I enjoy magical realism, folkloric and action / fantasy novels… and reading other writer’s illustrated books!

Q: Just for fun question (there’s always one): If you had to choose to be one of your picture book characters for a week, whom would you choose and why?

 The Zoo HullabalooMmmm… most of my current characters are animals, so that is a tricky question! I’d probably be Jack in my upcoming title – The Great Zoo Hullabaloo. He’s a zookeeper who enjoys being around animals, as well as playing the drums!

PS: Mark has lots of information, activities and free material on his wonderful website —

Thanks, Mark!

Marvin and Marigold The Big Sneeze is available, here.

New Frontier Publishing




Doodles and Drafts – Making merry with Gabriel Evans

Profile (studio) - Gabriel Evans small (507x640)You may already be familiar with Nutmeg, Bay and Saffron but not in a spicy culinary sense. These are of course, the mouseling children of the Woodland Whiskers family who first crept into existence in 2013 when illustrator, Gabriel Evans expanded his creative prowess to pen the Woodland Whiskers series. His illustrating career begun some years before, however at the tender age of 17. With a level of professionalism and artisanship that belies his age, Gabriel is the artistic force behind my Stocking Stuffer Suggestion # 4, The Mice and the Shoemaker.

In a world where more and more is expected for less and less, The Mice and The Shoemaker is a beautiful acknowledgement of the classic fairy tale, The Elves and the Shoemaker, a tale of kindness begets kindness.

The Mice and the Shoemaker CoverIn this retelling, The Whiskers family tragically find themselves without a home just before Christmas. Grandpa Squeak comes to their rescue, allowing them to board with him under the floorboards of an old shoemaker whose acts of kindness have enriched Grandpa’s life for years. In an act of selfless humility, the Whiskers family decide to repay the shoemaker on Grandpa’s behalf (he’s too wheezy to do it on his own anymore) and in doing so, are rewarded with the best Christmas ever.

With a gentleness that warms the heart more effectively than a cup of eggnog and pop-up illustrations that defy belief, this is a true picture book Christmas keepsake. Luxuriously large page spreads, roomy enough to share with your own cluster of mouselings, depict scenes of glorious measure and infinite detail. Action and spirit abound without a hint of pretention or noise. I think it’s this intentional subtly that I find so alluring. I could not imagine the time and discipline Gabriel invests in his projects, so I invited him to the drafts table to delve deeper into his finely crafted world.

Gabriel is a 24 y/o illustrator creating imaginary worlds through a paintbrush. He’s illustrated over eighteen books. The Mice and the Shoemaker is his third in the Woodland Whiskers’ series.

Who is Gabriel Evans? Describe your illustrative-self.

I’m an illustrator working in a studio full of creative clutter.

I paint in watercolours, gouache, ink, pencil, and any other material I can lay my hands on.

When I’m not drawing pictures I’m growing trees and playing catch with my dog.

Woodland Whiskers The PartyOutline your illustrative style. Is it difficult to remain true to this style?

My illustration style changes all the time depending on the project. However, as soon as I start a ‘style’ for a book I find it easy to maintain that look throughout. I normally achieve this by working on all the images collectively.

The Mice and the Shoemaker has a very classic feel to the illustrations and is in fact the first style I taught myself after growing up on the classic illustrators including Arthur Rackham and E. H. Shepard.

The Mice and the Shoemaker revisits a classic Grimm’s fairy tale (The Elves and the Shoemaker). What compelled you to take on this re-telling?

This story has a very positive message of offering kindness to others without being asked.

Hopefully it will make children realise that helping others can make for unexpected and positive return.

How does it differ from the books you have illustrated before?

Pop ups! All my previous books have been 2D. But this book has the 3D component of pop-up. Suddenly I’m having to paint three layers for one scene. Then enters the clever paper engineers who compile the layers into a 3D pop up. How they do it I don’t know, but it looks awesome!

Do youRoses are Blue enjoy the author / illustrating process better than simply focusing on illustrating someone else’s stories? What excites you most about what you do?

I enjoy both scenarios.

When I write the story I have much more creative control. I write stories from a visual point of view. Normally the picture enters my head before the text does.

Illustrating stories for other authors is equally rewarding. I enjoy the challenge of interpreting an author’s idea.

You artwork is intricate in detail inviting exquisite scrutiny. How does technology influence and or enhance your illustrations?

All my work is created traditionally using watercolours, gouache, inks, and pencils. I love working hands on in my illustrations and haven’t yet found a need to introduce a digital component to my art.

What tip would you give kids eager to embark on a career as an illustrator?

You don’t have to wait until you’ve ‘grown up’ to start your career as an illustrator. Start now. Enter drawing competitions, put your work into school papers, and contribute work to art exhibitions.

What’s on the drawing board for Gabriel?

I’ve recently finished the illustrations for a pirate picture book with Walker Books. The author is Penny Morrison.

Presently I’m mid way through illustrating a picture book for Koala Books.

Just for fun question (there’s always one); if you could be a character in any fairy tale, which one would it be and why?

Umm, I would have to say the Little Pig with the straw house. Sure, it gets blown down by the Big Bad Wolf, but I think this pig was eco friendly and trying to reduce his impact on the environment by building with straw. I don’t think he was considering the slim chance of a grumpy passing wolf with epic lung capacity.

Plus as a pig I’d imagine he’d wallow in mud. I can’t think of a more pleasant way to spend an afternoon!

Me neither, glorious! May any wolves that turn up at your door, Gabriel have sustainable intentions and small lungs. Cheers!

Be enchanted by more magical picture books like The Mice and the Shoemaker by visiting Boomerang’s Kids’ Reading Guide 2015 / 2016.

The Five Mile Press September 2015



Player Profile: Louisa Bennet, author of Monty and Me


Monty and Louisa Bennet author (1)Louisa Bennet, author of Monty and Me

Tell us about your latest creation:

Quirky, charming and whimsical, a laugh-out-loud mystery with four legs and a tail, Monty & Me is a ‘must have’ for all animal and humorous fiction lovers.

9780008124045You might think that dogs can’t understand us… but you’d be wrong. Apart from an obsession with cheese, Monty is a perfectly rational animal. So when his beloved master is murdered, Monty decides to use his formidable nose to track the killer down.

Luckily he manages to find a home with Rose Sidebottom, the young policewoman who’s investigating the case. But with her colleagues turning against her, and the wrong man collared, she’s going to need a little help…

Ever wondered what your dog is really thinking? You’re about to find out.

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I’m from England but I have lived in Australia for sixteen years.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

I always loved jotting down stories as a child but because of my love of dogs, I liked the idea of becoming a vet.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

I also write thrillers as L.A. Larkin which couldn’t be more different from Monty & Me. With every book I write, I strive to improve on the last. I take great pains to ensure my readers get a well plotted, well written book with engaging characters. Monty & Me was enormous fun to write but it was a challenge because the primary narrator is Monty, the dog detective. So I had to imagine the world from a dog’s view point and create a credible canine voice, a dog terminology and history. I also worked closely with a retired detective chief superintendent who advised me on the crime-solving process and police procedures.

As Monty & Me is the first in a series, it was important for Monty, and the young detective, Rose Sidebottom, to be lovable characters that readers want to continue following into the next book. Given all these challenges I think that Monty & Me is my best work so far.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I have turned a spare room into a Victorian library with floor to ceiling bookshelves bulging with books, an antique desk and burgundy velvet curtains. My two Golden Retrievers sleep on their mats either side of my desk.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I read every day. Anything from cozy mysteries, animal sleuths, detective fiction, action, conspiracy and psychological thrillers, fantasy and humour. When I’m researching a story, I read non-fiction books on the topic. For instance, I’ve just finished a book on the U.S. Secret Service.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

Enid Blyton (Secret Seven and Famous Five), Treasure Island, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

Elizabeth Bennet. She is why I write my Humorous mysteries as Louisa Bennet, because she is one of my favourite characters – feisty, clever but flawed.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

I run courses in crime fiction and thriller writing at the Australian Writers’ Centre. I also do what I can to support charities trying to put an end to puppy farming in this country and in the UK and to encourage the adoption of dogs from rescue centres.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

A good curry and a good beer.

Who is your hero? Why?:

Nelson Mandela because he kept going, no matter the opposition and his personal suffering.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

To manage two new book series’ – The Monty & Sidebottom Mysteries and a new thriller series, featuring Olivia Wolfe, an investigative journalist.

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DOODLES AND DRAFTS – Carrying on with Sam Wheeler and Mister Cassowary

Australia is home to some exceptionally strange flora and fauna. The ubiquitous tropical heat of Far North Queensland seems to accentuate oddities and none typifies unique peculiarities more vividly than Australia’s heaviest flightless bird, the Cassowary.

Sam Wheeler 2Beautiful yet deadly, the Cassowary is a natural magnet of mystery and misinterpretation so naturally is a prime candidate as the main character in Samantha’s Wheeler’s latest children’s adventure, Mister Cassowary. Wheeler meshes misinterpretation of our native fauna extremely well with action packed, character driven, and emotionally sensitive adventures for readers seven and above.

City bred Flynn, is on a mission to Mission Beach in North Queensland with his dad to ready his deceased Grandad’s decrepit banana farm for sale. He’d rather be anywhere else than stuck in this sweltering sultry backwater with a father he seldom sees and barely knows.

Then he meets Abby and two baby cassowaries that slowly help him peel back the layers of mystery surrounding Grandad Barney’s death and his relationship with Big Blue, the meanest, largest, scariest Cassowary in the district.

Mister CassowaryJammed with intrigue, adventure and more cassowaries than you will find in Australia Zoo, Mister Cassowary is an exhilarating and absorbing read for primary schoolers and animal lovers. I’m rating it as high as or higher than her debut novel, Smooch and Rose, on my got-to-read-animal-story list, and Smooch and Rose was sterling.

Today we trek down its creator, Sam Wheeler and discover even more about the enigmatic Cassowary.

After growing up rescuing animals, Samantha studied Agriculture, worked with farmers, and taught science. Writing children’s books inspired by nature, she hopes to prove that ‘anyone can make a difference’.

Welcome to the draft table, Sam!

Who is Sam Wheeler? Describe your writerly self.

I’m an animal lover and crave the outdoors, green spaces and nature. Given a choice of shopping in New York or trekking Blue Mountains, I’d choose the Blue Mountains any day.

Your books for children centre on animals endemic to Australia. Why is this element important in your writing?

My background is in biology and science, which gives me a strong interest in the environment, and when I hear about what’s in store for our precious wildlife, I feel driven to write about them. They say write what you love, and writing books about animals gives me an excuse to spend more time with the things I love. It’s all about the story I want to tell.

How did Mister Cassowary’s tale evolve?

Smooch and RoseWhen I was writing Smooch & Rose, I was working as a tutor with the Ronald McDonald Learning Program. One of my students had to give a PowerPoint presentation on an endangered Australian animal, and having chosen the cassowary, he asked me for help. But I didn’t know anything about cassowaries! As soon as I found out that the males raise the chicks, the story started swirling in my head.

Mister Cassowary addresses various sub themes such as the FIFO father son relationship. Why do you think this holds significant relevance amongst your young readership?

I loved the parallel: the way the male cassowaries are so close to their young chicks versus human fathers who, because of work and other reasons, can sometimes be absent and distant towards their sons. I think many children whose parents work a lot, or travel away, have felt like Flynn. They may relate to his feeling that his dad doesn’t know who he is, and what he’s capable of.

Do you actively research each of your stories before you write them? What is the most mind-boggling thing you have learnt during the writing of Mister Cassowary?

Yes, I love the research! I travelled up to Mission Beach (North Queensland) twice to research Mister Cassowary, and would go again in a heartbeat. The people up there are so passionate about this beautiful bird, and are trying so hard to save it. I learnt so many interesting things: cassowaries don’t have a tongue, they can swim really well, they can run up to 50km/hour (which is why you shouldn’t run if you see one) they were the most treasured gift an emperor or a king could receive. I also think they can tell the time. Up at Mission Beach, a local cassowary turns up at the local dump at one minute to 10 every morning. The dump opens at 10!

What is the hardest part about giving life and soul to stories like yours?

Making sure they aren’t too preachy and the characters are believable. I have to make sure they’re real people, not just tools to push the issue.

What is on the draft table for Sam?

Exciting times! Two more ‘animal’ books are in the making, plus another special story about a girl who can’t talk.

Just for fun question (there’s always one): If you could be any Aussie animal, which would you be and why?

I wouldn’t mind being a willy wagtail! They always look happy and cheeky, and imagine being able to fly!

spud and CharliOh I can, Sam, I can! Thanks for today. May your flightless bird take off for you, as well!

Mister Cassowary is out now and features in Boomerang’s Kids’ Reading Guide 2015-2016. A perfect stocking filler solution!

University of Queensland Press October 2015


Player Profile: Martin McKenna, author of The Boy Who Talked To Dogs


Me and 2 of my rescue dogs copyMartin McKenna, author of The Boy Who Talked To Dogs

Tell us about your latest creation:

Hi, I’m Martin McKenna, otherwise known as The Dreadlock Dog Man. I’m Australia’s best-known dog communicator and give out a lot of free advice to dog lovers all over Australia. I particularly like helping rescue dogs. The Boy Who Talked To Dogs is my new international memoir. It’s about how I first learned the language and customs of dogs as a boy – and in a very unusual way.

9781510702806I was an Irish street kid and lived rough with a pack of six dogs for three years. I lived in Garryowen, a small countryside suburb nailed to the outskirts of Limerick City. I was thirteen was when I ran away. It was a hard age for me. I was severely hyperactive. So illiterate I couldn’t even read and write my own name properly and teachers bullied me for being unable to learn. I felt like a freak because I was one of identical triplets. My beloved mother was German, so it didn’t take long before my brothers and I were jeeringly called ‘Hitler’s little experiments’. I’m from a large family of ten and my mother Sigrid was an amazing, lovely woman – but our charming Irish father could drink for Ireland and often became violent. One night I decided I’d had enough of complicated humans. I climbed out my bedroom window, shimmied down the drainpipe and started running down the road, heading to where the stray dogs of Garryowen hung out.

If you read The Boy Who Talked To Dogs you’ll find out about the six extraordinary dogs I hooked up with. They became my best friends, family and even my teachers – showing me during the three years I lived rough with them the incredible ways of the Dog World. It’s this knowledge and wisdom I share out in two funny cartoons every evening on my Facebook and Twitter pages. They’re developing quite a following!

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I grew up in Garryowen, which is a small suburb nailed to the edge of Limerick City in Ireland. When I was old enough, I joined the exodus of young Irish people looking for work and ended up traveling around the world. When I arrived in Australia, I met and fell head over heels in love with my future wife Lee. We have four amazing children together and live on a small farm in Nimbin in northern NSW with a pack of six rescue strays. I’ve now lived longer in Australia than I have in Ireland but am always proud to call myself Celtic Irish.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

As a kid I might have experienced a lot of fun adventure and freedom, but my main goal was to stay alive. Not many people thought I’d be still standing here today – but I am – alive and kicking!

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

This is my fourth book and definitely my best. My last three books are about dog language and what life lessons dogs can teach us – but this book is very special and I’m incredibly proud of it. It’s my personal story of how six ordinary stray dogs saved my life and soul. Writing it brought back a lot of powerful memories and reminded me how much I owe to dogs for bringing me true friendship when I needed it most. Thirteen is also the age of real adventure if you have a rebel spirit!

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

Writing for me is all done outside on my farmhouse verandah. I have a great old carved chair and matching carved round table, all chewed around the edges from the hundreds of rescue dogs I’ve had stay over the years. My wild garden is what I look out on to. Dogs laze around, birds take shortcuts past my ears, lizards run across my bare feet, the occasional python winds past the roof beams looking for a better sunning spot. I scribble – very messily – in exercise books and am always, always looking for a pen.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

When I’m not writing – and I write hours of poetry a day – I listen to ABC radio, the BBC and NPR to feed my mind. However, I keep flicking through my battered copy of the Tain, which is a translation of a very famous epic ancient poem from Ireland. It features the most famous Irish hero Cuchulainn. It’s still so fresh and contemporary sounding. Celtic women were feisty and could be warriors and power brokers. The ancient Celts were articulate, courageous and exciting. Look them up and enjoy a feast of a new world if you’re not familiar with them – especially the poems in true translated form. If you’re a poet they’re a must to read!

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

I couldn’t even read or write my own name properly in school, but I knew and loved the old Celtic mythical stories from hearing people talk about them.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

Huckleberry Finn grabs my imagination. He inspires me to lie back and sometimes let life wash over me. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give up my freedom either!

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

I strip off my shirt and plant my feet on the edge of the verandah and roar out my lyrics so they echo around the hillsides. I’ve made up a new style of punk music called RAW. No instruments – just my voice and a hell of a lot of energy! I live in the country so I can really let rip.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

I love a big cooked Irish breakfast at any hour of the day or night – and drink tea by the bucketful. I put a chunk of fresh ginger in my mug – and it’s amazing – try it.

Who is your hero? Why?:

Cuchulainn of ancient Irish myth. He liked women, dogs, horses, poetry, battles and had good friends and bad enemies. He was courageous and superstitious. He was incredibly hyperactive like me – and no one had a problem with it. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong century. I was born to be an ancient Celtic warrior.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

I think books are about to enter a new Renaissance because the authors are finally going to step forward and become glamorous celebrities. People will recognize their faces. Know their backgrounds. Legends will grow up around them. Humans are addicted to great stories – and always will be – so I think storytellers are about to step out of the shadows and take center stage again. If you’re an author, it’s going to be quite intrusive sharing so much of your private time being on social media – but that’s going to be the new game – adapt or go do a normal job. The good thing about social media is if you kind of fall into it willingly – it’s rather like being invited to the world’s biggest and most interesting cocktail party. You can wander around introducing yourself and chatting to the most unusual people around the world. People holding guns in Arkansas or a nun holding a baby in downtown Delhi or a rainforest head clan man on a laptop computer in Brazil. Fascinating!

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Doodles and Drafts – Under the magnifying glass with R. A. Spratt

rachel sprattR. A. Spratt and I share a dubious childhood secret. We were both mad for Trixie Belden. I’m busting another secret; there’s a new super-youth-sleuth in town and she goes by the name of Friday Barnes. And now, I’m going a bit mad for her.

Friday Barnes Under SuspicianSpratt’s latest series of detective stories exploded onto the shelves of this generation’s mystery-hungry youth last July with, Friday Barnes Girl Detective. Friday continues to dazzle, in her trademark non-conspicuous way in the second of the series, Under Suspicion, released last month.

Friday Barnes is a complex high thinking, self-assured, crime-solving obsessed eleven-year-old whose powers of observation and logic are nothing short of mind blogging.

She assumes an almost orphan-like persona hailing from a large family of over-achieving scientists, but does not allow her intellectual lineage to hinder her career ambitions; to become an ace detective.

I adore the winning marriage of tongue-in-cheek comedy with surprise packed, interlinking mini mysteries. Spratt never shies away from using occasional highbrow language and concepts; instead, she flatters the reading prowess of her tween / teen audience and rewards them with intelligent character driven dialogue and seriously funny storylines.

You need not be a girl, a Trixie Belden nut, or even a ten-year-old to enjoy these books. I can’t wait to read the next one, Big Trouble. Friday Barnes has everything; snooty boarding school bullies, romance, crime and more intriguing characters and plot twists than you can focus a magnifying glass on.

Today I uncover some scintillating snippets about the award-winning author and comedy writer behind the Girl Detective, R. A. Spratt.

Welcome to the draft table R. A.Who is R. A. Spratt? Describe your writerly self.

I am the author of the ‘Friday Barnes’ and ‘Nanny Piggins’ series. I’m pretty much the cliché of what you would imagine an author to be like. I’m scruffy, I don’t get out much, I’m forgetful, and I spend a lot of time scowling at the floor while my brain is lost in thought. I can also get suddenly very enthusiastic about an idea and I use lots of dramatic hand gestures when I talk.

Tell us one thing about yourself we are not likely to find on a web site.

I don’t like wearing proper shoes. I’m more comfortable in ugg boots or crocs. Sometimes when I do school visits and I have to wear proper grown-up shoes, my feet get all claustrophobic and I can’t bear it, so I have to ask the audience if it’s alright if I take my shoes off.

What’s the most appealing aspect of writing for kids for you?

I can be sillier. I don’t have to deal with ‘adult themes’ most of which are horrible (violent) or icky (involve kissing, or worse).

Your work is filled with hilarious one-liners and sassy word play. How important is it for you to include comedy in your writing? Does it come naturally or is it something you consciously strive hard to achieve?

It’s not something I think about much. It’s just the way my brain works. I would certainly hate to write a serious book, or one of those heart-breakingly tragic ones. There is enough seriousness and heartbreak in real life. I like to focus on more important things – making readers giggle.

Friday BarnesWith her intellectual wit and dysfunctional academia background, Friday Barnes is an 11-year-old to be reckoned with. What was your motivation for creating such a memorable, vividly unique sleuthing character?

Friday is influenced by a lot of different fictional characters and real life people. I went to a selective high school and when I was eleven I knew a lot of super-bright dysfunctional eleven year olds.

I love the cliffhanger endings in each book. How do you conjure up so many complex mysteries and determine how they will fit into each book? Do you ever lose track and wish Friday was there to help you?

I get a sheet of cardboard, lay it on the coffee table in my office and draw a circle to represent the arc of the entire book. Next I draw a line across the top quarter to represent the act breaks, and then I start filling in plot points. I will often have a lot of plot points already worked out and written down on post-it notes. So the circle gets filled in with hand written notes and post-its until the whole sheet of cardboard is a dense mass of spidery hand writing. I don’t lose track of things but as the plot evolves, there are a lot of red herrings and clues that get woven through during the editing process. It can get complicated, especially if I cut a chapter out, I have to make sure that any clues or red herrings in that chapter are put in somewhere else.

Are we likely to see Friday remain at Highcrest Academy and progress to even higher realms of detective distinction in the same way Harry Potter grew and matured with his readers?

I’m not sure. I’m thinking she will go up into year 8 at the beginning of the 5th book, if there is a fifth book. I’ve got a lot of ideas for books 4 and 5 I guess we’ll have to wait and see how things pan out. Often times the characters seem to decide these things for themselves while you’re writing.Nancy Piggins

What’s on the draft table for R. A. Spratt?

I start writing Friday Barnes 4 next week. I’m finishing up writing a spec film script based on ‘The Adventures of Nanny Piggins’.

Just for fun question (there’s always one), if you were 11 again and had a choice of which school (fictional or otherwise) you could attend, where would you go and why?

I did not enjoy high school much at all. I’d rather not go back there. So if I were eleven again, I’d like to go right back in time to 1895 and be educated by a governess. Specifically Miss Prism, the governess from ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. She was a silly woman who napped a lot and enjoyed romance novels. So she was much like me.

Thanks R. A. It’s been fun discovering you.

Dozens of lucky Queensland children will get a chance to meet Friday’s creator this month when she appears at one of SE Queensland’s biggest school literary festivals, the Somerset Celebration of Literature Festival. Be sure to bring along your silly sleuthing hats.

Random House Australia 2014 and 2015


Doodles and Drafts – Waltzing with Bruce Whatley


In just a couple more months, Australia commemorates the Centenary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli. Dozens of new titles are already marching forward to mark the occasion with heart-rending renditions of tales about ‘bloodshed, death, ruin, and heartbreak.’ This is how singer/songwriter, Eric Bogle views the futility of war.

And the Band Played Waltzing MatildaIt’s a timely message that fortunately more and more schoolchildren are gaining a deeper respect and understanding for through historic picture books like this one, And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.

Bogle’s iconic lyrics make your chest heave with anguish at the awful waste of life, yet rippling beneath the waves of depression, is an undercurrent of pride and admiration, perhaps borne from a determination to never ever let this happen again; and yet we do.

One wonders how so beautiful and wrenching a tale could be visually resurrected to deliver the kind of visceral impact young people will appreciate and gain from. Easy, you get a master with the surest of touches and the purest of hearts to illustrate it. You allow his colours to bleed across images that tumble across the pages, injured and torn, dirty and forlorn. You watch until your skin prickles with emotion and your eyes burn with tears.

Today, I am honoured to have that master at our draft table. Please welcome, Bruce Whatley. Here’s what he had to say.

Who is Bruce Whatley? Tell us one thing about yourself we are not likely to find on a web site.

If it wasn’t for my Mum I would not have the use of my right arm. Injured at birth, the damage to my right shoulder was such that she was told it would whither and be useless. Fortunately she refused to believe it and after nearly three years of massaging I held a spoon in my right hand for the first time. Since then I think I’ve held a brush as that’s the hand I’ve made my living with.

You’ve penned and illustrated many children’s stories. What aspect of children’s book creation do you prefer? Which do you regard yourself more proficient at and why?

When I write and illustrate it isn’t as if I write first then think ‘How am I going to illustrate this?’ It comes together like a movie in my head and I don’t really separate the text from the images. That’s why the text and images are so reliant on each other in my books, they compliment and bounce off one another to tell a more complex story.

I guess I think of myself as a better illustrator than writer because that is my background but I am enjoying writing more and more and as I get more confident am working on longer manuscripts. Doing both means if I hit the equivalent of writer’s block when illustrating I can put down the brushes and write for a while.

Can you name one title you feel exemplifies your work the best? Is it the title you are most proud of, or is that yet to come?

The book I’m working on now I am most proud of. This is the book I would give up all others to have published. It is a story I’ve written and though the illustrations use the simplest of mediums – the medium I am most comfortable with – lead pencil – they comprise extensive use of 3d programs to create a unique world and environment. This book will have no compromises. This will be the best I can do. ‘Ruben’ approx. 120 page picture book.

Bruce Whatley and Jackie FrenchRecent picture book collaborations with Jackie French have focussed on dramatic occurrences such as natural disasters. And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, is no less powerful. What attracted you to take on and to fulfil a project of this emotional magnitude?Wombat

Because they were of such emotional magnitude. Success with wombats and ugly dogs had the potential to pigeon-hole me as a particular type of storyteller. I am always looking at ways of growing as an illustrator, looking for new ways of expressing the narratives. These books also enabled me to explore what I had discovered using my left hand. That I produce far more expressive and emotional images drawing with my other hand. Matilda is by far the most emotional book I have illustrated.

Did you ever feel emotionally challenged at any point of this book’s production (because of its heartrending subject matter)? If so why?

I based my illustrations on original photographs taken in Gallipoli at the time. Even though I needed to adapt what I was looking at I wanted the images to be based on reality as much as possible. When using photos this way especially when drawing details it is a bit like those ‘spot the difference’ puzzles you get in newspapers and magazines – you flick your eyes from one to the other to spot the differences. Similarly when you are copying an image you flick from the photograph to your drawing to make sure you are getting the right shape and size etc. It’s not so much about what you are drawing you are concentrating on lines, shapes and position.

I was doing this on one of the illustrations. It wasn’t until I completed the piece I realised what I thought was a rock was the hand of a dead soldier. I lost it at that point.

Matilda illo spread 2This was symbolic to me as it highlighted that we look without seeing. We watch the old veterans march and wear their medals. Old men. But we don’t see the 19 year old that watched their mates get their legs blown off. We do forget. And we still send our children to war.

You are enviably competent in a number of illustrative mediums and styles. Describe those you used and incorporated into Matilda.

As I said I’m always looking for new ways to illustrate. Matilda was done with my left hand – which has a mind of its own!!! I can’t write with my left hand and really I have very little dexterity when I use it – but depending on your definition I draw better with my left than with my right. I used a waterproof felt tip pen for the line work then an acrylic wash over the top. Using acrylics instead of watercolours meant I could work in layers without dragging the colour from underneath.

The predominant colour scheme throughout this book is one of solemn sepia hues stained with splashes of red. What mood are you trying to convey with this palette choice?

I guess it was influenced by how we normally see this period but also I wanted to reflect the mud and despair. Bright colours suggest hope and laughter – I don’t think there was much of that.

Waltzing Matilda 4-5Your use of perspective at the start and end of this tale is both visually arresting and choking with emotional impact. Was this your intention? How do close up views influence the feel of a picture book story when compared to flowing landscape illustrations?

Faces are amazing things and I often have my characters looking directly out at the reader. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. I think that last close up opens that window a bit. (Interestingly I could not have achieved that intensity with my right hand.) Being so close also means it’s in your face literally. After watching from a distance suddenly you are confronted with the reality of the consequences.

What’s on the draft table for Bruce Whatley?

Ruben is my main focus but there are more books coming out soon I’ve written with my wife Rosie and illustrated with my son Ben. And there are always wombats waiting in the wings.

Just for fun question – You illustrate with both hands. Have you or would you ever consider or attempt to illustrate with your feet?

I haven’t but would if need be. The question would be ‘Which?’ Left or right???

Bruce & RubenIndeed. A hundred thanks Bruce!

I could wax lyrical all day about And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, but urge you to experience this amazing story for yourselves. Read it. Sing it. Share it. Do not forget.

Allen & Unwin January 2015


Player Profile: Karen Foxlee, author of Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy

Sonya_Coe_Photography_Web_File--6Karen Foxlee, author of Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy

Tell us about your latest creation:

“Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy”.  It’s the story of a lonely young girl who finds a three-hundred and three year old boy locked away in a museum room. It’s a fast paced adventure story with lots of twists and turns.

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I call a little miners cottage in Gympie, Queensland, home.  I share it with too many animals to mention and my adorable daughter.

9781471403361When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

Yes, I knew it in grade two.  I was going to be an author! I wrote it down in class when we were asked.  I wrote, I WANT TO BE AN ARTHUR.  The teacher was a little confused

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

I’m proud of all my works in different ways but “Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy” saved me as a writer I think.  It made me want to write again.  It made me remember why I write.  It was an incredibly joyful story to write.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I have an office but I can’t use it.  It’s too crowded and cluttered.  Sometimes I perform a great ceremonial cleaning of the office and I spend a day writing there but….mostly I write in my bed, in the kitchen, or on the sofa.  I keep a cat for company.  There is always coffee involved.  And usually cake.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I read anything that takes my fancy but lately only books I read to my six year old daughter.  Lots of Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis, and just recently A.A. Milne.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

So many.  “The Nargun and the Stars”, “Seven Little Australians”, “The Wizard of Oz series”, all the Enid Blyton books, especially “The Magic Wishing Chair”.  Probably the book I read the most though was The Readers Digest “Strange Stories, Amazing facts”.  We loved that book in our house.  It fell apart with reading.  Ghosts, crimes, mysteries, freakish facts…loved it.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

I would definitely be Gerda from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”.   She is so brave and determined and smart and loyal.  She never ever gives up.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

Grow my little girl

Tend to chooks.



Bake (cakes, scones, biscuits – infinitely calming)

swim in the sea whenever I can

oh dear, nothing exciting or surprising in there

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

The first mango of the summer. The first coffee of the morning.

Who is your hero? Why?:

Anyone who stands up for what they believe in.  At the moment Malala Yousafzai.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

I recently spent a week talking to hundreds of school kids (8 – 12 year olds) across the Moreton Bay Council region (outer Brisbane).  I was blown away by their passion for books and stories, reading and writing.  Keeping them reading is maybe the challenge.  Do they fall off somewhere between 12 and adulthood???  Where does that passion go? How can we grow life long readers today?

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Player Profile: Trish Morey, author of Stone Castles

5902889_origTrish Morey, author of Stone Castles

Tell us about your latest creation:

Stone Castles is a contemporary romance that spans New York City to South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula. My heroine, Pip Martin, returns home from her high powered job in NYC to say goodbye to her dying Gran in a small town on they Yorke Peninsula, but find that all the things she was trying to escape some fifteen years ago are still there – Luke, the former lover, the sense of betrayal, and the heartache of knowing she’d been denied the truth.
But when the truth is found, is it any more palatable than before? And does it make leaving again any easier? Especially when there’s still that thing simmering between her and Luke…

stone-castlesWhere are you from / where do you call home?:

South Australia has always been my home, although I’ve worked in Canberra, Wellington NZ, and lived in the UK a while too. I’m back settled with my family in the Adelaide Hills now, though, and I love it. It’s a place that feeds your soul.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become? An author?:

Funny thing – I always fancied I could write – but people didn’t become writers. They had to have proper jobs. And so I got a proper job and became a chartered accountant and that was good too. I loved what I did. It was only after the birth of our second child that gave me the chance to step back from my career and actively pursue a career in publishing. I’m not sorry at all for the diversion. I think a writer’s eye can benefit with living a little life along the way. Nothing is wasted.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

This book. Stone Castles. Because it’s a book of my heart, a book that touches on my family and my history in a way no other book has or could have. It’s a book I dedicated to my father, who passed away in January this year, and so it’s a book with a huge emotional investment for me, and yet with such heart and soul and laughter, that I just love it. From the reviews I’ve seen so far, the readers do too!

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

It’s a disaster! Apart from the usual mess of papers, research and books, we ordered lighting for several rooms a few months back, before he electrician and builder disappeared from sight, so I have boxes piled up. But they’re behind me. In front of me is my computer screen and my character photos for my current story, so at a glance, I’m seeing them. And if I don’t look behind me, I can’t see the mess, so I’m happy. (I’d be happier if the electrician actually called and said he was ready to put those lights in…)

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I love anything written with with and fun. Give me Kelly Hunter’s contemporaries, or Anne Gracie’s historicals or Carol Marinelli’s dark Russians. Yum!

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

I loved Little Women. It was the first book, apart from The Bible, I received as a gift at Christmas, and I adored it. I connected with the characters, even though it was an historical. I think it was a book that early on, taught me the power of the written word to connect with the reader, even though then I was too busy just lapping it up.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

Mrs Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. Although to be fair, we only have four daughters, all of marriageable age. It’s still a worry. Can you help, please?

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

We’re currently in the process of updating our kitchen and laundry (we found another builder :)) and spare time is taken up with choosing tiles and taps. It’s a major distraction but after promising ourselves this for seventeen years, we’re so keen to get on with it now. It’s so much fun putting choices together and seeing what pops. Can’t wait to see the finished product!

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Eggplant or aubergine is a big favourite of mine right now – it’s in season and it’s fabulous in ratatouille or in fritters or barbecued to smokey brilliance and whipped into a dip. So versatile. And as for drinks, I can never go past anything sparkling – from sparkling water to sparkling wine – I do love my bubbles!

Who is your hero? Why?:

My darling Dad, a jack of all trades and a master of them all and part of the inspiration for Stone Castles. Forever a hero.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

For authors to keep writing the books readers want to buy. If they do that, the success of book publishing in the future, in whatever format, is guaranteed. My money says there will always be good books and the readers out there just waiting to lap them up.

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It’s No Mystery That Lesley Gibbes Loves All Things Scary: Review and Interview

With Halloween fast approaching, what book would be more fitting than the sensationally mysterious, Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King?!

9781921504631Review: Scary Night
Ready to be horrified? It’s time to hide! Let out a scream, it’s Scary Night!
Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King bring us a spooktacular tale of three brave friends that set upon a journey in the dead of night. Join them for a mysterious adventure!  

Hare with a hat, Cat with a cake, Pig with a parcel. Any guesses as to where they are tip-toeing to under the pale moonlight?  

The animal friends wander far over dark, rolling hills, traipse through the whispering woods and even dare to cross a snapping crocodile-infested creek. Shivering and squeezing each other tight, they continue on their way. Frightening grizzly bears, ghouls in the cemetery and a black bat cave. Is this enough to forfeit this treacherous expedition? No way! They may be scared out of their wits, but nothing will avert these determined characters.  

Despite their absolutely terrifying experience, the friends finally make it to their destination completely unscathed.  

1407287658567.jpg-620x349But where did they end up? Read the book and you will get a BIG surprise!  

Scary Night is beautifully written in poetic prose. Lesley Gibbes so effectively draws the reader in with her interactive, humorous question and answer play and repetitive phrases. She has also provided plenty of opportunity for teachable moments, including phonic awareness, prepositional language and rhyming words. And Stephen Michael King’s expressive, Suess-like illustrations are bold and engaging, with his use of cool, moody colours and white accents of the bright full moon and the characters large, white terrified eyes. Just perfect to create the thrill of the night-time scene.  

Scary Night, a story of courage and friendship, contains all the goodness of fun, adventure, suspense, and just a little bit of bite to keep its young readers entertained many times over. This read-aloud book is a real treat!  

Lesley+GibbesInterview: Lesley Gibbes
Today I shiver (with delight) to conjure some spellbinding details behind Scary Night and what makes Lesley Gibbes tick.  

What was the inspiration behind the story?
As I child I loved exploring. My family home at Whale Beach on Sydney’s Northern Beaches was bushy and led onto a cliff top reserve. It was a great place to explore and go on exciting and sometimes scary journeys. So I wanted a story that had an exciting journey for my SCARY NIGHT characters. I also love scary! So setting the story at night when anything can happen was a must. My own children had a role to play too. The refrain ‘It’s a mystery!’ was all theirs. They had loads of fun answering my questions like ‘Where are your socks?’ with the answer ‘It’s a mystery!’, so I absolutely had to use this phrase. But there’s another less creative and more academic side to the construction of SCARY NIGHT. You see I’m a primary teacher and I wanted certain elements in the text to encourage and support reading. So you’ll find rhyme to support reading, refrains for repetition, question and answers to encourage participation and loads of opportunities for parents and teachers to ham it up for dramatic play. So all up SCARY NIGHT was quite a compilation of thoughts, ideas and inspirations.  

Scary Night is a whimsical rhyming tale. Do you often write in poem or do you have a variety of writing styles?
I love writing in rhyme and as primary teacher I understand the important role rhyme plays in the teaching of reading. But I do write in a variety of styles. I have three new picture books due for release next year and they showcase a variety of writing styles. ‘Bring A Duck!’ illustrated by Sue deGennaro is another rhyme/prose combination. It’s a riotous story about a duck themed birthday party. There’s no rhyme in the bedtime story ‘Little Bear’s First Sleep’ illustrated by Lisa Stewart or ‘White Fin’ illustrated by Michelle Dawson. White Fin is for primary aged children and is a story about the visiting whales in Sydney harbour. I also love writing novels and have a chapter series coming out soon.  

Are they your ideas to include the little illustrative details like spider webs and ghostly shadows in the images, or did you leave this up to your illustrator?
Stephen has such a creative mind I didn’t want to get in his way. All the quirky, interesting details are part of Stephen’s wonderful imagination. My own ideas would pale in comparison.  

What was it like to work with Stephen Michael King?
Stephen’s work is so magical I was in heaven as I watched the illustrations progress. Stephen did have a surprise for me though. He wanted to take the illustrations for SCARY NIGHT digital. Stephen started with hand drawn ink and watercolour then he created a unique look for SCARY NIGHT by working with the illustrations on the computer. So his soft water colour became bold blocks of colour, perfect for SCARY NIGHT.  
Is there anything that you’re really afraid of?
Being made to eat raw eggs! There, I said it. Yuck!  

438311-48df15a6-fb4a-11e3-8cc4-c8f5cb031907Do you have any traditions or plans for Halloween?
My children are very excited because at long last they are old enough to go on their first trick-or-treat romp around the neighbourhood. Costumes have been bought, lolly bags have been chosen and SCARY NIGHT has been pulled from the shelf ready for a night time reading to get us in the mood. I can’t wait!  

What’s the next writing project that you’re working on?
At the moment I’m writing book four of my FIZZ chapter book series for children 6-9 years old.  The series is being illustrated by Stephen Michael King and published by Allen & Unwin. It’s due for release in 2016. Fizz is a feisty dog who, more than anything, wants to be a police dog. But there’s one small problem. Police dogs are big and buff and Fizz is small, white and fluffy. Well you can see the problem! The books are loads of fun and full of laughs. I can’t wait to see Stephen’s illustrations.

Thank you so much for answering my questions! I really appreciate your participation, Lesley!  
My pleasure. Happy reading everyone!  

For more infomation about Lesley Gibbes:

Review and Interview by Romi Sharp

The Highlights of a Professional Life: An Interview With Ursula Dubosarsky

Ursula_Dubosarsky_publicity_photo_A_2011Ursula Dubosarsky has written over 40 books for children and young adults. Some of which include The Terrible Plop, Too Many Elephants in This House, Tim and Ed (Tim and Ed Review), The Carousel, The Word Spy series, and The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno and Alberta series.

She is a multi-award winner of many national and international literary prizes including The Premier’s and State Literary Awards, The Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Awards, The Children’s Choice Awards, The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and The Speech Pathology Australia Awards.

Ursula’s books have been characterised as timeless classics with universal accessibility, always heartwarming, funny and indelible. Her picture books, in particular, emanate energy and delight, wit and ingenuity. She has worked with some legendary illustrators who have brought Ursula’s playful words to life, including Terry Denton, Tohby Riddle and Andrew Joyner.    

I am absolutely thrilled and honoured to have had this opportunity to discover more about Ursula Dubosarsky’s writerly mind, joys, achievements and plans for the future, and she has been so gracious in sharing her views with our readers.

Where do you get your creativity from? Were you born into a creative family?
Well I was born into a family of writers, although they are more non-fiction writers than fiction writers. But non-fiction demands plenty of creativity, as I discovered when I tried to write non-fiction myself (my “Word Spy” books.) My mother also had an amazingly vivid dream-life -I sometimes wonder if that’s where the story ideas come from…  

What or who are your biggest motivators?
For some reason I find this a very confronting question! and I don’t know how to answer it. Perhaps it’s one of the biggest mysteries of creative acts – why do it? It feels like a compulsion.  

Which age group do you most prefer to write for, younger or older children?
I love the succinctness that is demanded of you in writing for younger children – I love throwing out all the words until you have just that bare minimum. The other nice thing about writing for younger children is you get to work with illustrators, which has been such a pleasure in my life. But of course as anyone would say, each form has its particular rewards (and hardships.)  

the-word-spyWhat has been the greatest response / fan mail to you and your books?
That would be my three “Word Spy” books – non-fiction books about language, particularly the English language. I think one reason they get the most fan mail is that the books are written in character. They are narrated by a mysterious person called The Word Spy. So I think children really enjoy the fantasy of writing to an imaginary person – I enjoy the fantasy of writing back as a character! The Word Spy even has her own blog “Dear Word Spy” where you can see lots of the letters children have written to her – and her answers!

What is your working relationship like with illustrator, Andrew Joyner? Do you or the publisher choose to pair you together?
Oh I love working with Andrew.The pairing came about quite naturally. At the time I was working for the NSW Department of Education’s School Magazine, which is a monthly literary magazine for primary school children. I was doing some editing there, and Andrew happened to send in some illustrations. I just so responded to his work, immediately. Anyway then when I had written the text for “The Terrible Plop” he was a natural person to suggest to Penguin, the publisher, as an illustrator for the book.

Cover_0What was your reaction when ‘Too Many Elephants in This House’ was selected for this year’s ALIA’s National Simultaneous Storytime? How were you involved in the lead up and on the day?
That was truly the most thrilling and touching experience. We were just delighted to hear it had been chosen, and I can’t tell you how heartwarming it was to see children (and adults!) all over Australia reading our book. ALIA did a brilliant job of organising and promoting the event – we hardly had to do a thing. On the actual day Andrew and I read the book aloud at the Customs House branch of the City of Sydney library down at Circular Quay. I can truly say the National Simultaneous Storytime was one of the great highlights of my professional life.  

IMG_6741You’ve had two of your picture books turned into successful stage productions; ‘The Terrible Plop’ (2009-2012) and ‘Too Many Elephants in This House’ (2014). How were you approached / told about the news? What creative input did you (and Andrew Joyner) have in the productions?
In both cases it was a matter of the theatre company (Adelaide’s Windmill Theatre for “The Terrible Plop” and NIDA for “Too Many Elephants”) seeing the book and then approaching the publisher to see if we’d be willing to have the book staged. We were very willing! In neither case did we have a lot of input into the production. The writer/director at NIDA did keep us informed and sent us draft scripts -but I think we both felt it was better to stand back and let her and the actors and the rest of the creative team follow their own instincts. Again, for me and Andrew it was a tremendous experience to see the books transformed and re-imagined.  

What are you currently working on? What can your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
Well Andrew and I will be working together on an illustrated novel, so much longer than and very different to our picture book collaborations. It’s called “Brindabella” and is about a kangaroo. I have written the text already – and am now looking forward enormously to seeing what Andrew does with it.  

What other hobbies do you enjoy besides writing?
I wish I could say something strange and unexpected but it’s just walking! I love to walk the dog, but I also just like walking altogether. And I do like looking for very unusual cake recipes, researching their history and then having a go at baking them. I’m not much of a cook but I enjoy it!

the-terrible-plopFan Question –
Katharine: In The Terrible Plop, where did the bear run to? Did he ever find out what the Terrible Plop really was?

(This question is) something I’ve never been asked before and never thought about! I guess the bear would run home to all his brother and sister and mother and father and granny and grandpa and uncle and auntie bears, who listen to his story and tell him that’s what comes of sitting in folding chairs and that in future he should stay safely inside their big dark cave. So I don’t think he OR any of the others ever find out what the Terrible Plop really is – in fact over time it becomes part of the Great Bear Mythology…

Ursula, thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books! It’s been an absolute pleasure!

Find out more about Ursula Dubosarsky:

Interview by Romi Sharp

Aaron Blabey’s Lessons With a Twist

Aaron Blabey Aaron Blabey is an actor-turned children’s author and illustrator, having great success with award-winning books including Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley, The Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon, and Pig the Pug, which is becoming one of Australia’s best selling picture books.

Fortunate to have Sunday Chutney as the chosen book to be read in schools for Read for Australia during National Literacy and Numeracy Week this year, Blabey’s fortune continues with an estimated 500,000 children simultaneously reading The Brothers Quibble for National Simultaneous Storytime in May 2015!

His books are frequently becoming more welcomed into our household, with their strong sense of morality, sick sense of humour, a touch of darkness and bold, energetic illustrations that leave us wanting more! Here are a few titles to consider adding to your reading list.

the-brothers-quibble The Brothers Quibble
When baby Bunny is introduced is when Spalding’s world falls apart. With a hint of delirium and eyes as big as saucers, the oldest boy feels something called ‘utter and complete jealousy’ creep up from somewhere deep inside. And a WAR has erupted in the Quibble household!

Spalding goes on to cause absolute havoc, only to be sentenced to Time Out in his room. And as baby Bunny starts to grow up, he learns valuable lessons in self defense. But behind every taunt, quabble, whack and scuffle, Bunny still has nothing but love to give.
Eventually, Spalding’s frozen heart is melted and the brothers begin to actually like each other. Even if it’s not always sunny!

Delightfully dramatic illustrations are cleverly depicted through accentuated, crazed facial expressions and moody dark backgrounds. But at the same time there is a nice softness in the colour palette during those ‘loving’ moments.

The Brothers Quibble, a story of relationships, acceptance and jealousy, contains just the perfect amount of humour, touching moments and wickedness through its flowing, rhyming text that will capture all readers from age four, and particularly for those who understand the complexity that is sibling rivalry.

22735715 Pig the Pug
You can’t go past this eye-bulging, squashed nose little pug that graces the front cover of Aaron’s Blabey’s Pig the Pug.

From the onset, we learn just how greedy and selfish this dog is, as he has already claimed the book as his own on the ‘This book belongs to…’ label. True to classic tantrum behaviour, Pig blatantly refuses to share anything with friendly sausage dog, Trevor. A kind gesture by Trevor sees Pig the Pug completely ”flip his wig”.

Just like in The Brothers Quibble, Pig goes delirious and maniacal, showing that same crazed expression and shameful, immature temper as Spalding Quibble.
Pig doesn’t learn his lesson gently. Should we laugh at his misfortune? Ashamedly, yes. With a distinguishable reference to the phrase, ‘When pigs can fly’, Pig the Pug cannot and receives his just deserts, which only turns out to be sweet for one… Trevor!

Pig the Pug is delightfully told in fun, exuberant rhyme, with vivid, amusing illustrations.  A wildly funny read and a clear lesson in learning to share, suitable for all ages.

9780670075997 The Dreadful Fluff
This book is absolutely terrifying! But once again, Aaron Blabey has been able to leave us deeply affected by the experience, yet still wanting to relive it over and over.

Belly button fluff… absolutely dreadful! Serenity Strainer, who is little miss perfect, has found some… in her own belly button!

” ‘That can’t possibly be mine!’ she said.”

Sounds pretty harmless so far? Wrong!
The tiny fluffball turns into a horrific, teeth-gnashing monster, taunting Serenity, creating havoc and threatening her family. As each member of the family encounter the ball of lint, they are instantly engulfed and the evil thing grows larger and fluffier and even more dreadful. Finally, with some smart thinking by Serenity, the fluff monster is sucked into oblivion and everyone is saved.

Characteristically Blabey, his illustration style is amusing, quirky and bold, whilst delightfully and cleverly incorporating a clear moral. Lots of devastingly frightening fun for all ages.  

Player Profile: Kaylene Hobson, author of Isaac’s Dragon

kaylene hobson pic Kaylene Hobson decided at the age of ten that she wanted to be a writer. But it took her till she was ”much older” to act on it, she claims. Writing was always just for pleasure.  

Now she has released her first chapter book, Isaac’s Dragon, an amusing and captivating story about a boy who hatches a wonderfully clever and imaginative plan to catch his own dragon (Review here).  

Isaac’s Dragon is based on Hobson’s son Isaac, who has autism.  ”It is meant to be the world from his perspective. He spends a lot of his time in a wonderfully magical place that the rest of us don’t understand. It was originally meant as a way for him to know that I understand him, but now it can help the world to understand him and other kids like him better too…..while reading an entertaining tale at the same time.”  

received_m_mid_1409371748082_1b95137c0d750e2993_0 She wants readers to enjoy the story. To be entertained, amused and even inspired. ”But they should also feel a connection with the character – and experience happiness, sadness, joy and disappointment along with Isaac.” Hobson goes on to say, ”Even at a children’s book level – a good book is fun to read but a great book makes you feel. If along the way it also helps children gain self-confidence and helps parents to see the world through the eyes of their children, even for a little while, then it becomes an amazing book.”  

As an author, Hobson has an end goal in mind; a beautiful sentiment in leaving a legacy for future generations of readers. She aims to have written ”the classics of the future, that stay with children long after the story ends and influences them enough to want to share with their children and grandchildren”.  

Whilst running a social skills group for autistic kids, Kaylene met illustrator, Ann-Marie Finn. ”The idea was for the kids to make some friends but it’s the adults who bonded. The kids have had to become friends now whether they like it or not!” Out of a growing friendship, came the business partnership. With encouragement from Ann-Marie, Kaylene published her story through her own publishing company, which she established earlier this year.  

Kaylene explains, ”Dragon Tales has arisen from a desire to publish our own work but professionally and with a distinction from the hit and miss quality associated with ‘self publishers’. I have a background in business and marketing and Ann-Marie is the creative side and together we wish to give the opportunity to other skilled and talented artists to realize their own dreams and share their talents with children.”  

When asked to share advice for new writers wanting to get published, Hobson relates back to the idea behind Dragon Tales Publishing; ”be true to yourself while having some professional backup for the stuff you don’t know.”  

So, what’s in store for Kaylene Hobson and Dragon Tales Publishing?
”Big things!!” she claims. With another installment of Isaac’s Dragon to come, as well as some ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) specific books that Ann-Marie and Kaylene are teaming up on, life is pretty exciting. Dragon Tales will be releasing a new book by Jo Emery soon; My Dad is a FIFO Dad, which is already gaining a lot of attention prior to release.  

Contact Kaylene Hobson and Dragon Tales Publishing here:
Mobile –Kaylene 0421 706 369
Email – [email protected]


Player Profile: Alexandra Cameron, author of Rachael’s Gift

Alexandra Cameron Author PIcAlexandra Cameron, author of Rachael’s Gift

Tell us about your latest creation:

Rachael’s Gift begins when talented artist, fourteen-year-old Rachael, accuses her teacher of sexual misconduct, but the principal has suspicions that she is lying. Her father, Wolfe, is worried about his daughter’s odd behaviour but her mother, Camille, will not hear a bad word against her. A fraught investigation ensues, culminating in a showdown on the other side of the world in Paris. The story is about ambition, art, talent, truth, how we pass unresolved issues from one generation to the next and a mother’s uncompromising love for her daughter.

9781742613987Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I was born in Sydney. We lived in Paddington until we moved to Mackay in North Queensland. When I was eight we moved to a small town in country NSW called Currabubula where I attended the local school where there were forty-eight children from kindergarten to sixth grade all in one big classroom. We then lived in Willoughby, Vaucluse and Randwick. I spent a year in Paris and then moved to London. After several moves back and forth, I currently live in London but I still call Australia home!

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

When I was a kid I had a long list of things I wanted to do when I grew up: one of them was to be an author but I also wanted to be an architect, a photographer, a fashion designer and an inventor. This was also when I was eight.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

That would have to be my one-year-old son, Hamish… Seriously, I have only written one novel so far, so that would be Rachael’s Gift.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

Currently I hot desk it around the house. My mac has been moved to the bedroom because the spare room is occupied. There is usually a large window I can stare out of, which helps with the daydreaming up of ideas. I am ordered and I am also chaotic. It’s a case of sliding from one end to the other. There is usually a pile of books on my desk from which I am taking inspiration.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I like to catch up on something I have not read but should have – currently its Nabokov and then I might have something that is new and has caught my interest. This was Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Because he totally gets what being a kid is all about.

Later, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It’s a perfect story that inspires me to be a better person.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

Anne of Green Gables

I love that she’s a fighter and a writer and a hopeless romantic.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

Spare time? I run around after my one year old. Sleep

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Tomato pasta. Oooh champagne on special occasions.

Who is your hero? Why?:

My mum. She is an incredibly strong person who brought up five children (without help) amongst other adversities. I don’t know how she did it. I struggle with just one! She read to me everyday when I was growing up.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

The biggest challenge will be keeping kids interested in reading and books when there are so many other distractions for short attention spans. If kids grow up loving books they will always read, but they have to be encouraged early on.


Player Profile: Kimberley Freeman, author of Evergreen Falls

9780733630033Kimberley Freeman, author of Evergreen Falls

Tell us about your latest creation:

Evergreen Falls is set at a luxury hotel in the Blue Mountains in the 1920s. A forbidden love affair sets off a chain of events with tragic consequences, and it all gets covered up. In the present, a young woman arrives at the same hotel and stumbles across a bundle of old love letters and starts to wonder…

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

Brisbane, Queensland.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

 I always wanted to be an author or a rock star. Given I don’t like performing, it seemed safer to go with the former.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

Evergreen Falls is my best work. It’s my 25th novel (my 6th as Kimberley Freeman) and I feel like I’ve finally figured out what makes a novel tick.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I write a lot in bed, in my pyjamas, with two chihuahuas sleeping on me. It’s not very glamorous. My desk, when I do use it, is immaculate and my pens are all lined up. I’m tidy to the point of being quite quite boring.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

 I love reading Marianne Keyes, and I love reading non-fiction especially about history.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. To this day, I used it as a test of people. If they loved Anne with an E, they are okay by me. My 11 year old son read it last year, and I feel as though I initiated him into a secret club.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

I’ve always felt an affinity with Jane Eyre. She has a good moral compass and a strong sense of self. I think I’d like to be more like that. I have a feeling I might be more like Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights, always brooding and losing my temper.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

I’m a mad-keen cyclist and my favourite kind of riding is hill-climbing. I live at the foot of Mt Coot-tha and I cycle up and around it regularly. I have thighs of steel.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Tea and a crumpet. Hands down.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I admire my mother so much. She is calm and patient and we have never fought (I’ll just let that sink in… not even when I was a teenager). If I had half her wisdom and grace, I’d be a better person.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

Getting people off Facebook. And that includes writers.

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Player Profile: James Carol, author of Watch Me

11886a7ef65c3f7fdc925bcbb07f4402James Carol, author of Watch Me

Tell us about your latest creation:

The next book in the Jefferson Winter series is WATCH ME. This time Winter is heading to northern Louisiana to investigate the murder of lawyer, Sam Galloway. All he has to go on is a video of Galloway being burnt alive…

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

St Albans. It’s a cathedral city just outside London.

watch-meWhen you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

 I wanted to be a rock star.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

 I’m really hoping that my best work is still to come. I’d hate to think that I’ve peaked already!

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

 Complete chaos. I write at the kitchen table, and I have two children aged 2 and 5. Let’s just say that it gets interesting at times.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

 I read most things, but my favorite writers are Stephen King, Lee Child and Jodi Picoult – their books go straight to the top of my reading pile.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. I was 11 when I got hold of a copy, and reality has never been the same since. I reread it recently and it was as amazing as I remember.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

 I think it would be fun to be Hannibal Lecter for a day or two…

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

 I train horses and riders, and I teach guitar … but not at the same time!

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Favourite food: duck pancakes with hoisin sauce
Favourite drink: Fortnum and Mason tea

Who is your hero? Why?:

 I’m going to have two. Stephen King is my literary hero and John Lennon is my musical hero. The term genius is overused these days, but I think it is more than appropriate to use it in these two cases.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

The biggest challenge is getting kids to read. They’re the readers of the future, and without them the publishing industry will wither and die.

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Player Profile: K.T. Medina, author of White Crocodile

L1050082Katie Medina, author of White Crocodile

Tell us about your latest creation:

The name of this novel, my debut, is White Crocodile.

White Crocodile is a thriller set in the land mine fields of northern Cambodia.  Teenaged mothers are disappearing from villages around the minefields, while others are being found mutilated and murdered, their babies abandoned.  And there are whispers about the white crocodile, a mythical beast who brings death to all who meet it.

Tess Hardy thought that she had put Luke, her violent husband firmly in her past. Until he calls from Cambodia and there is something she hasn’t heard in his voice before.  Fear.  Two weeks later, he’s dead.  Against her better judgment, Tess is drawn to Cambodia and to the killing fields.

Caught in a web of secrets and lies that stretches all the way from Cambodia to another murder in England, and a violent secret twenty years old, Tess must find out the truth, and quickly – because the crocodile is watching…

9780571310753Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I live in Wimbledon, London, virtually next door to the All England Tennis Club where the Wimbledon tennis championships are held.  I am also lucky enough to have a tiny, three hundred year old thatched cottage by the sea an hour’s drive from London, where I go for weekends and holidays with my husband and children.  My mother is from Brisbane, Queensland and so I have duel British and Australian nationality. I lived and worked in Sydney for two years, ten years ago and would love to repeat the experience.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

My parents have a photograph of me, aged five, with a crew cut, wearing an Army camouflage outfit. I was an outdoorsy tomboy and always wanted to be a soldier, which is probably why I ended up spending five years in the Army Reserve, and working for Jane’s Information Group, the world’s leading publisher of defence intelligence information as Managing Editor, Land-Based Weapon Systems.  However, I have also always loved to read and write, and much of my childhood was spent immersed in stories.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

White Crocodile is my first novel, but it is very personal to me and, as such, will probably always be my favourite.

I had the idea for the novel while working at Jane’s.  As part of the role, I spent a month working alongside professional mine clearers in Cambodia, to learn more about the information they needed to help them clear mines more safely.  I was privileged to be able to get to know both Western and Khmer clearers and to spend time talking with Khmers who had lost limbs to land mines.

Separately, I also met a professional mine clearer, Paul Jefferson, who had been seriously injured in a land mine accident in Iraq. He is now a good friend, and I have dedicated White Crocodile to him.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I work in a small attic room, which is freezing in winter and sweltering in summer.  However, because I have three children, two dogs and a cat, the location gives me space to escape!

I am not a tidy person – something the Army tried and failed to knock out of me – and so my work space is a litter of paper and post-it notes.  I spend a couple of months laying out a detailed plot on the wall with post-its before I start writing.  The plot of White Crocodile is complex and contains multiple interrelated sub-plots and I would have completely
lost track without my post-it note map!
When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I am an avid crime and thriller reader, which is why I chose to write in that genre.  I love writers such as Jo Nesbo, Steig Larsson, Martina Cole, Mo Hayder, Michael Robotham and Lee Child among others.  One of my favourite books is Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth, which I think is an enduringly excellent thriller.  I also enjoy books that explore people’s psychology, such as the classic Lord of the Flies, as I have a degree in Psychology and am fascinated by human behaviour.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

Two books spring to mind: Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird.  They are both fantastic children’s psychological thrillers, with great story lines and vividly drawn, memorable characters. I have read these novels a number of times over the years and never fail to appreciate them.  I was also an avid reader of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series and, in common with many other tomboys, wanted to be George.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

I would like to be Jack Reacher, because of the freedom that he has to go wherever he wants and to behave however hewants, without rules or boundaries. I think it would be incredibly liberating to have no home, no possessions, no commitments and no dependents – for a while at least.  I also love the fact that he knows how to handle himself.  No body gets one over on Jack Reacher!

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

Apart from reading, I spend as much of my spare time as I can by the sea.  I am probably more Aussie than Brit in my heart, as I love being outdoors, love the beach, swimming, sailing, and anything to do with being out on the water.  I also have a vegetable patch, which I find fascinating. My home grown vegetables always look wonky and never quite the
right colour, but they taste fantastic – much better than shop bought

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

In the winter, which is unfailingly cold and rainy in England, I love roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and a cup of tea.  In the summer, it has to be shellfish and a cold glass of Aussie

Who is your hero? Why?:

My hero is personal to White Crocodile and to me, and is Paul Jefferson, the friend who was badly injured while clearing land mines in Iraq.  He lost a leg and is blind, but continues to lead a more active life than many of the able bodied people I know (including myself) completing a degree in Archeology, travelling, working for charities, renovating a house in France and leading an active social life.  He never complains, is energetic and fearless, and I find him incredibly inspirational.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

I think the biggest challenge for books and reading is lack of time.  The world feels as if it is getting increasingly challenging and competitive, and people have to run faster just to keep up. It can be hard to find the time to curl up with a good book – though there are few things more enjoyable when you do.

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Player Profile: Michael Robotham, author of Life Or Death

bytonymott_545Michael Robotham, author of Life Or Death

Tell us about your latest creation:

 LIFE OR DEATH is a love story and a thriller and a story of redemption. It’s a standalone novel that introduces Audie Palmer, a man who has spent a decade in prison for armed robbery, but escapes the day before he’s due to be released. For ten years Audie  has been beaten, stabbed, throttled and threatened by prison guards, inmates and criminal gangs, who all want the answer to the same question – what happened to the money? But Audie isn’t running from trouble. Instead he’s trying to save a life more important than his own.

9780751552898Where are you from / where do you call home?:

My books might not be set in Australia, but I’m a home-grown boy. I was born in Casino, on northern NSW and grew up in Gundagai, where the dog sits on the tuckerbox. After living overseas for many years, home is now on Sydney’s northern beaches, where I write in what my daughter’s call, ‘Dad’s Cabana of Cruelty’.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

 I wanted to be an author from the age of 12, when I discovered Ray Bradbury and wrote him a letter via his New York publishers. Three months later, I came home from school and found a package on the kitchen table. It contained the four or five Bradbury titles that weren’t available in Australia, along with a letter from the great man
himself, saying how pleased he was to have a young reader on the far side of the world.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

That’s like asking me which is my favourite daughter! All my books are special to me, but the one that changed my life was the first one: THE SUSPECT, which caused a bidding war at the London Book Fair and allowed me to fulfil my dreams. The latest book LIFE OR DEATH is a story I’ve wanted to tell for twenty years, but didn’t think I had the skills until now.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

 As mentioned earlier – I write in the Cabana of Cruelty, a lovely outside space with wrap-around windows and a shingle roof, overlooking tropical gardens and a swimming pool. It is sometimes hard to conjure up the means streets when I’m looking at paradise.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

 I read very widely. Mainly fiction. Although I have my favourites like James Lee Burke, Daniel Woodrell and Dennis Lehane, I tend not to read much crime fiction, but I do have about a four books on the go at the one time, in different rooms of the house, as well as an audio book on my iPod.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

 The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury opened my imagination and transported me and frightened my pants off. Lord of the Rings was also special. I borrowed it so often from my school library the librarian banned me from taking it out again. So I took to hiding it in the library. She found out, but instead of punishing me, she gave me the book. It is battered, broken and taped together, but still has pride of place on my shelves because it is the first book that I ever truly ‘earned’.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby. Nick calls himself ‘one of the few honest people that I have ever known’ and he prides himself on maintaining his standards in a corrupt, fast-moving world. He is a wonderful observer of people and events. He can see their flaws and foibles, but refuses to be overly critical. If I were Nick, maybe I could save Jay Gatsby from himself.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

I’m so boring. When I’m not writing I’m reading. When I’m not reading I’m walking. And even when I’m walking I’m listening to a book. Peter Corris tells the story of bumping into David Malouf at a function and asking if he was writing just then,        ‘What else is there to do?’ he answered. That’s what it’s like for me…breathing.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

 I love a gin & tonic at the end of the writing day and a glass of wine with dinner. As for food, it has to be spicy whether it’s a curry, stir fry and homemade pizza.

Who is your hero? Why?:

 My heroes are those people who we never hear about. The parents who look after disabled children and the wives who escape from violent husbands and the teachers, nurses and volunteers who give back more to their communities than they ever receive

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

 I think the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading is for publishers, authors and booksellers to find a business model that works for everyone.  Heavy discounting by online sellers and self-published authors, is  suffocating bricks and mortar stores and prompting more and more readers who think a book should only
cost 99c or $2.99. On top of this we have the spectre of piracy and illegal file sharing that is becoming more widespread with digitalisation.

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Doodles and Drafts – Roses are Blue Blog Tour with Sally Murphy

Roses are BlueI promised myself I wouldn’t cry. Well, maybe a few tears towards the end might be acceptable, but of course, I was dealing with another verse novel by Sally Murphy, so dry eyes were definitely no guarantee.

Sally Murphy with gabriel evans croppedIt’s not just the subject matter of Roses are Blue that tugs at ones heartstrings. Murphy is simply master at massaging sensitive issues into refined, understated yet terrifically moving poetic verse. Her words whisper across the pages with the soft intensity of a mountain breeze. They are beautiful and arresting; a joy to read.

There are no chapters in this novel. The story ebbs and flows organically in a pleasing natural rhythm. Gabriel Evans’ tender ink and painted illustrations cushion the gravity of the story even more allowing the reader to connect with Amber and her world visually as well as emotionally. Youngsters cultivating their reading confidence will appreciate this generous visual reinforcement on nearly every page.

Amber Rose’s world is turned upside down when tragedy strikes her family leaving her mother devastatingly ‘different’. Overnight, everything is altered: there’s a new school, new friends, new home, new secrets and perhaps hardest of all, a new mum to get used to. Amber vacillates between wanting to fit in and appear normal, aching for how things ‘used to be’ and trying to reconnect with her damaged mum.

As Amber’s mother struggles to free herself from her new entrapment, so too does Amber fight to hang onto to their special shared love until, like springtime roses, hope eventually blooms. Roses are Blue addresses the complex issues of normality, family ties, friendships and maternal bonds with gentle emphasis on how all these relationships can span any ethnicity or physical situation.

To celebrate Amber’s story, Sally Murphy joins me at the draft table with a box of tissues and a few more fascinating insights on Roses are Blue. Welcome Sally!

Q. Who is Sally Murphy? Please describe your writerly self.

My writely self? I try hard to think of myself as writerly – but often fail miserably because I think of other writers as amazingly productive, clever , creative people, and myself as someone slightly manic who manages to snatch time to write and is always surprised when it’s good enough to get published.

But seriously, I suppose what I am is someone who writes because it’s my passion and I can’t not do it. I’ve been writing all my life, pretty much always for children, and my first book was published about 18 years ago. Since then I’ve written picture books, chapter books, reading books, educational resource books and, of course, poetry and verse novels.

Q. I find verse novels profoundly powerful. How different are they to write compared to writing in prose? Do you find them more or less difficult to develop?

I think they’re very powerful too. It was the power of the first ones I read (by Margaret Wild) that made me fall in love with the form. But it’s this very power that can make them hard to get right – you have to tap into core emotions and get them on the page whilst still developing a story arc, characters, setting, dialogue and so on.

Are they more or less difficult? I’m not sure. For me I’ve been more successful with verse novels than with prose novels, so maybe they’re easier for me. But it is difficult to write a verse novel that a publisher will publish – because they can be difficult to sell.

Q. How do you think verse novels enhance the appeal and impact of a story for younger readers?

I think they work wonderfully with young readers for a few reasons, which makes them a wonderful classroom tool. The fact that they are poetry gives them white space and also, room for illustration and even sometimes text adornments.

What this means is that for a struggling reader or even a reluctant reader, the verse novel can draw them in because it looks easier, and gives them cues as to where to pause when reading, where the emphasis might be and so on. They will also feel that a verse novel is less challenging because it is shorter – there are less words on the same number of pages because of that white space.

But the verse novel can also attract more advanced readers who recognise it as poetry and thus expect to be challenged, and who can also see the layers of meaning, the poetic techniques and so on. Of course, once they’ve started reading it, the reluctant and struggling reader will also see those things, meaning there is a wonderful opportunity for all the class to feel involved and connected when it’s a class novel, or for peers of different abilities to appreciate a book they share.

Sally & Pearl & TopplingQ. Judging by some of your previous verse titles, Pearl Verses the World and Toppling, you are not afraid to tackle the heftier and occasionally heartbreaking issues children encounter. What compels you to write about these topics and why do so in verse? Do you think a verse novel can convey emotion more convincingly than prose alone?

Afraid? Hah – I laugh in the face of danger! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself). But seriously no, I’m not afraid, because I think these are issues kids want to read about. All kids experience tough times – sometimes it’s the loss of a loved one, or illness, or a tragedy like Mum being sick/injured/absent. Other times it’s a beloved pet dying, or a best friend who suddenly doesn’t want to be friends. Either way, these tough times can feel like the end of the world. I think when children read about tough topics they connect with empathy or sympathy, and thus have the opportunity to experience vicariously something which they may not have. And if they have been through those really tragic tough times, or they do in the future, I hope they’re getting the message that life can be tough but you can get through it. Terrible things happen in the world – but good things do too. It’s really important to me that my stories have happy times too, and even laughs.

For me the verse novel form enables me to convey that emotion, but I don’t think it’s the only way it can be done. If you look at the Kingdom of Silk books by Glenda Millard, for example, you’ll see how brilliantly prose can be used to explore emotional situations.

Q. Many verse novels I have read are in first person. Is this a crucial element of ensuring stories in verse work well or is it something that you fall into naturally?

Off the top of my head I can’t think of any verse novels written solely in third person. There’s no rule that they have to be in first, but I do feel they work best that way for me, although I’m looking forward to experimenting with point of view in a verse novel I’m planning. I think first works so well because it creates an intimacy which the poetic form enhances.

Q. I particularly loved your reference to the Bobby Vinton 1962 hit, Roses are Red. What inspired you to use these lines in Amber’s story?

It’s actually a bit of a nod to Pearl, from Pearl Verses the World, who writes a roses are red poem about her nemesis Prue – but surprisingly no one has asked me about the connection before. I was looking for something for Mum to sing, and there it was. Of course the fact that Mum loves to garden, and their surname is rose means it all ties together nicely.

Gabriel EvansQ. Gabriel Evans’ illustrations are very endearing. How important do you think it is for illustrations to accompany verse stories?

For younger readers, some visual element is essential, and I am delighted with the way Gabriel has interpreted the story. Who couldn’t love his work? Again, the illustrations can help struggling readers connect with the story, but they are also important for all levels of reading ability. Some people are much more visual learners and thinkers than others, and seeing the story really enhances the experience. And gosh, they’re so gorgeous!

Q. What’s on the draft table for Sally Murphy?

A few things. I’m working on a historical novel (prose), several picture books and lots of poetry. I’m also in the early stages of a PhD project in Creative Writing and, as part of this, plan to produce three new works, all poetry of some form, as well as writing about why/how poetry is important.

Just for fun Question, (there is always one!): If you were named after a gem or colour like Amber and her friends, which would you choose and why?

I can choose a name for myself? That IS fun. I was nearly called Imelda when I was born, and (with apologies to the Imeldas of the world) have been forever grateful that my parents changed their minds. Sorry, that doesn’t answer your question. I think if I could name myself after a colour I’d be silly about it and say Aquamarine, because surely then no one else would ever have the same name as me. It’s also a lovely colour, so maybe some of that loveliness would rub off on me and make me lovely too.

Thanks so much for having me visit, Dimity. It’s been fun, and you’ve kept me on my toes!

An absolute pleasure Sally (aka Aquamarine!)

Be sure to discover the magic behind Roses are Blue, available  here now.

Walker Books Australia July 2014

Stick around for the rest of Sally’s beautiful blog tour. Here are some places you can visit.

Tuesday, July 22nd Karen Tyrrell
Wednesday, July 23 Alphabet Soup
Thursday, July 24 Kids’ Book Review
Friday, July 25 Write and read with Dale
Saturday, July 26 Diva Booknerd
Sunday, July 27 Children’s Books Daily
Monday, July 28 Boomerang Books Blog
Tuesday, July 29 Australian Children’s Poetry
Wednesday, July 30 Sally Murphy




Player Profile: Alafair Burke, author of All Day And A Night

author photo centerAlafair Burke, author of All Day And A Night

Tell us about your latest creation:


A murder case with ties to a convicted serial killer leads a young defense lawyer and an NYPD homicide detective into parallel investigations with explosive and deadly results in this superb mystery from “one of the finest young crime writers working today” (Dennis Lehane).

        The latest story dominating New York tabloids—the murder of Park Slope psychotherapist Helen Brunswick—couldn’t be further from Carrie Blank’s world handling federal appeals at one of Manhattan’s most elite law firms. But then a hardcharging celebrity trial lawyer calls Carrie with a case she can’t refuse. Anthony Amaro, a serial killer convicted twenty years earlier, has received an anonymous letter containing a chilling detail about Brunswick’s murder: the victim’s bones were broken after she was killed, the same signature used in the murders attributed to Amaro. Now Amaro is asking to be released from prison.

        Carrie has a reason to be interested. Her older sister, Donna, was one of Amaro’s victims. Determined to force the government to catch Donna’s real killer, Carrie joins Amaro’s wrongful conviction team with her own agenda. On the other side of Amaro’s case is NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher, who, along with her partner, J.J. Rogan, is tapped as the “fresh look” team to reassess the investigation that led to Amaro’s conviction. The case is personal for them, too: Ellie wonders whether they got the assignment because of her relationship with the lead prosecutor, and Rogan has his own reasons to distrust Amaro’s defense team.

        As the NYPD and Amaro’s lawyers search for certainty among conflicting evidence, their investigations take them back to Carrie’s hometown, where secrets buried long ago lead to a brutal attack—one that makes it terrifyingly clear that someone has gotten too close to the truth.

resized_9780571302314_224_297_FitSquareWhere are you from / where do you call home?:

New York City

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

Some days I wanted to be a writer, but I also wanted to be an actress, pop star, hairdresser, and an eavesdropping switchboard operator (I watched a lot of old movies).  Turns out, I became a lawyer, working as a prosecutor for several years.  It was through my work as a prosecutor that I got an idea for a book.  That idea became my first novel, JUDGMENT CALLS (2003).

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

I really like my new book, ALL DAY AND A NIGHT.  It bends genres, combining a police procedural, legal drama, and a psychological thriller into one novel.  It also allows two very strong female characters to share the canvas.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I can write just about anywhere.  I have a studio apartment that I use as a full-time office.  I get it nice and tidy once a year right after I finish a book and find some downtown.  Then it becomes increasingly cluttered until the next overhaul, but I always know where everything is.

My secondary office is a Mario Batali wine bar down the street called Otto. I find a quiet corner and write in the middle of the day.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I read a ton of crime fiction.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

It’s hard to pick only one but I’ll say THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER by E.L. Konisburg.  Before Harry Potter ever heard of Hogwarts, Claudia and Jamie lived secretly in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  To this day, I can’t go to that amazing museum (where coincidentally my husband works) without nursing fantasies of sneaking in overnight.  I was also a big Encyclopedia Brown fan.  Oh, and Amelia Bedelia.  Mysteries and bad puns were the ultimate entertainment –
not much has changed for me thirty-five years later.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

Nancy Drew.  I love to solve a mystery.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

 I’m crazy about my dogs and golf.  If only my dogs could play golf, that would be the perfect day.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

A good margarita with fresh lime juice, on the rocks with salt, is hard to beat.  I eat anything, but have a special compartment in my stomach for raw clams and oysters.

Who is your hero? Why?:

My husband.  He’s a good person in every way.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

Making sure that people have access to a diverse selection of reading materials

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Player Profile: Stav Sherez, author of Eleven Days

stav-sherezStav Sherez, author of Eleven Days

Tell us about your latest creation:

Eleven Days – 11 Days before Christmas and a small convent in West London is burning. When the detectives get there they find ten dead nuns and one unexplained body. The case stretches back to South American and the upsurge of Liberation Theology in the 1970s. I always wanted to write a locked room mystery and this was my attempt to do so. It’s also the closest to a cosy I’ve written (or am likely to write) 🙂

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

London / London.

9780571290536When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

Always an author. Since the age of ten or so. I always loved books and read all the time. There never was any other possibility!

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

I like all my books for different reasons. Eleven Days is the one where I’m most happy with the writing.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I have an office room which is quite bare. I face the wall not the window to avoid distractions. I keep it quite ordered otherwise the chaos clutters up my brain.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

Crime fiction, of course. American literary fiction. Poetry.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

I read a lot of the geopolitical thrillers that were very popular in the 1970s – Alistair Maclean, Frederick Forsyth, Wilbur Smith as well as Stephen King.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

Always impossible to answer this as all my favourite literary characters have awful lives.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

Mainly listen to music! Not that surprising, I know but it’s the only thing that allows my brain to switch off from narrative discourse.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Burgers and Coke.

Who is your hero? Why?:

William Burroughs – for showing that anything is permissible in the novel.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

The many electronic distractions of our lives.



Player Profile: Alan Baxter, author of Bound

alan-kirkAlan Baxter, author of Bound

Tell us about your latest creation:

Bound (The Alex Caine Series, Book 1)

Alex Caine, a fighter by trade, is drawn into a world he never knew existed— a world he wishes he’d never found.

Alex Caine is a martial artist fighting in illegal cage matches. His powerful secret weapon is an unnatural vision that allows him to see his opponents’ moves before they know their intentions themselves.

An enigmatic Englishman, Patrick Welby, approaches Alex after a fight andreveals, ‘I know your secret.’ Welby shows Alex how to unleash a breathtaking realm of magic and power, drawing him into a mind-bending adventure beyond his control. And control is something Alex values above all else.

A cursed grimoire binds Alex to Uthentia, a chaotic Fey godling, who leads him towards destruction and murder, an urge Alex finds harder and harder to resist. Befriended by Silhouette, a monstrous Kin beauty, Alex sets out to recover the only things that will free him – the shards of the Darak. But that powerful stone also has the potential to unleash a catastrophe which could mean the end of the world as we know it.

9780732299101Where are you from / where do you call home?:

 I was born and raised in Britain, then travelled the world, met a lovely Australian girl and we got married. Now I live on the beautiful south coast of New South Wales, about half an hour south of Wollongong.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

 I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I also wanted to be a marine biologist and a martial arts instructor. Two out of three ain’t bad (I’m not a marine biologist.)

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

 I would like to think my best work is yet to come. How’s that for an evasive answer?

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

 I have a home office that also doubles as the spare bedroom and it’s a study in ordered chaos. Honestly, I know where everything is. Almost. I think.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

 Everything. I’m a voracious reader. I love novels and short stories in all genres, but I tend to favour the dark fantasy and horror stuff the most, which is also mostly what I write.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

 It’s hard to say, but there is no question that Clive Barker’s “Cabal”, Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” books and the “Hellblazer” comic series (particularly the Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis runs) were massively influential on me

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

Batman. As if you need to know why.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

 I teach kung fu (which is a job, rather than “spare time”, but also a lifelong passion), I play video games, walk the dog, look after my infant son and pay tribute in the form of sacrifice to the Dark Lord of the Western Nethers, upon whose whim the universe turns.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

 I love a good roast beef dinner, and I can’t ignore a good single malt scotch.

Who is your hero? Why?:

 I have many heroes, for many reasons. In truth, anyone who is true to themselves, just and fair, and follows their dreams with passion is a hero to me.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

 It sounds trite, but a single bloody ebook format would be good. ePub is almost ubiquitous, but Amazon do insist on mobi. Pushing to a single DRM-free format is something that needs to happen, but I don’t know if it will any time soon.

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Player Profile: Nicholas J. Johnson, author of Chasing the Ace

Nick-JohnsonjpgNicholas J. Johnson, author of Chasing the Ace

Tell us about your latest creation:

Joel Fitch has watched every twist-happy movie there is about con men, and he thinks he knows it all. He thinks he is going to be a master con artist.

Richard Mordecai is a real-life swindler. But, at the end of a long career of lies and betrayal, Richard is tired and jaded. He’s ready to retire.

Until he meets Joel.

They form an uneasy partnership and Joel soon finds himself thrust into a world of bottom dealers and fraudsters.

And when the pair accidentally scam the wrong mark, they have to draw on every last trick to get themselves free and walk away with the money … and hopefully their dignity.

9781925030181Where are you from / where do you call home?:

Originally from Canberra (the natural home of all good Australian con artists) I moved to Melbourne in 2007.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

When I was a child I wanted, more than anything else, to be a dog. My parents did not support my dream but were very encouraging of my goal to become a professional magician.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

Chasing The Ace is my first novel and, by default, my best. I hope to top it soon with the sequel, Fast & Loose.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

 I love writing in cafes. There is just enough distraction to stop me going insane and steady source of good food and
quality caffeine to keep me focused.

There are half a dozen Melbourne cafes that see me as a ‘regular’. If only they knew how I cheated on them.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I read a lot of older books. I love Lawrence Block, particularly his early work. I also have a large library of books on
con artists, card cheats and swindlers. If you want to commit fraud, I’m the guy to see.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

What A Mess. The adventures of that mutt made me realise it is ok to be messy, disorganised and scatterbrained. Even when everyone else around has got it together.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

 I wouldn’t be a literary character. Their lives are at the whims of authors who are, as well all know, terrible people.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

 Magic. I love magic. Card tricks, mentalism, kid’s magic. I love it all. Pick a card, any card…

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

BBQ Chicken, avocado, cheese and lettuce on a toasted pide with a lemonade.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I’m not one for heroes. I’m fair too cynical.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

The biggest challenge is decline in quality. More and more people can write and get their work out there thanks to self-publishing and the internet. However, that also means that we now have poorly edited books selling thousands of copies filled with clunky writing, bad speling and grammar incorrectly.

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Player Profile: Chris Ewan, author of Dead Line

AuthorPic-380x570Chris Ewan, author of Dead Line

Tell us about your latest creation:

My latest book is Dead Line. It’s a noir kidnap thriller set in Marseilles, with a twist — the hostage negotiator at the heart of the story is concealing a dark secret of his own.

Daniel Trent’s fiancée, Aimee, has gone missing without a trace, and Trent does everything he can to find her. He suspects that shady businessman Jerome Moreau has something to do with her disappearance, and he plans to abduct and interrogate him. But before he has chance, Moreau is kidnapped, and now Trent must get him back quickly — and alive — before time runs out.

9780571287987 (1)Where are you from / where do you call home?:

 I’m from Taunton, England originally, but I’ve lived on the Isle of Man for the past ten years. If you’ve never been to the Isle of Man, think of somewhere small and windy in the middle of the Irish Sea. Then add motorbikes.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

 I wanted to be a chef, which was pretty dumb, as I’m not a great cook. Then I wanted to be a travel writer, which explains why a lot of my books end up set in exotic locales. And the Isle of Man.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

 I think there’s probably some kind of law that says I have to tell you that my most recent book is my best, but in the case of Dead Line, I think it’s probably true. It’s definitely the novel that’s turned out to be closest to the book I had in mind when I started to write it. And I really fell in love with the city of Marseilles. It’s the perfect setting for a thriller.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I usually write in a small study carved out of the eaves in the attic of our Victorian terraced house. Just at the moment, though, I’m on vacation in Switzerland (where part of my new book will be set) and I’m writing with a spectacular view of Lake Brienz.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

 I mostly read crime fiction. Any list I give you is going to be woefully incomplete, but some of my favourite contemporary writers include Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott, Stav Sherez, Helen Fitzgerald, Ann Cleeves and Harlan Coben.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

 Ian Serraillier’s The Silver Sword, Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mister Tom, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Plus The Secret Seven, The Famous Five, The Hardy Boys, Sherlock Holmes and many more.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

Tom Ripley, without the psychosis and the murder habit. Take those out of the equation, and I reckon he had a pretty neat lifestyle.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

 I’ve just taken up running. So far, I suck at running, but I live in hope.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Maybe not my all-time favourite food but I’m partial to the Manx national dish – chips, cheese and gravy. It tastes better than it sounds.

My favourite drink has to be coffee. I couldn’t write without it.

Who is your hero? Why?:

Raymond Chandler. Reading ‘The Long Goodbye’ for the first time made me fall in love with crime fiction, and every time I go back to it, I fall headlong under its spell all over again.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

 I’ve just finished a stint working as a writer in residence in Isle of Man schools and I’m stunned and dismayed by how few kids are reading for pleasure. There are challenges everywhere, but it seems to me that getting the next generation of potential readers to engage with books is one of the biggest.

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Player Profile: John Gordon Sinclair, author of Blood Whispers

JGS hi res cleanJohn Gordon Sinclair, author of Blood Whispers

Tell us about your latest creation:

The title of my latest novel Blood Whispers was inspired by a quote from Hermann Hesse: “I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question the stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teachings my blood whispers to me.” Keira lynch is a criminal lawyer working in Glasgow, Scotland. She has taken on a case involving a young prostitute who has escaped the clutches of a Serbian drug gang. When the CIA get involved Keira realises that things aren’t quite as straight forward as she’d first imagined. What no one realises though is that Keira has a secret of her own and she’s never more dangerous than when she’s under threat. The question is: will she trust her instinct and listen to the message her blood is whispering to her?

9780571283903Where are you from / where do you call home?:

 I was born in Glasgow, although I have lived in London for the past 34years. My wife is Scottish too and we still have a lot of family there so we travel back and forward a lot. We’re never away from Scotland long enough to miss it. I still refer to it as home.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

 When I was a kid I had no real idea what I wanted to do in life. I still think it’s impossible to make up your mind without having experience of whatever your chosen profession might be. The only ambition I really had was to be in a Woody Allen movie…either that or become Batman. I’m still tempted by the latter.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

 Blood Whispers is only my second novel, but I enjoyed the writing process much more than the first (Seventy times Seven). I think the positive reaction to the first gave me more confidence, so If I had to choose i’d probably go for Blood Whispers. Although having said that, I have a nagging feeling that the best is yet to come.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

 I write in a hut at the bottom of my garden called the Roald Dahl social club. I have a flame-effect fire on the wall, a sofa bed and a beer fridge. If it had running water and a Nespresso machine i’d move in permanently. I try to keep it fairly tidy, because I find mess to distracting, but I write ideas on anything that comes to hand so my desk is littered with torn bits of envelopes, scraps of paper and even the odd sheet of loo role.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I read a lot of non-fiction. That’s where most of the best ideas are hidden; Noam Chomsky, Richard Dawkins,  Anne Cadwallader. For fiction, Elmore Leonard, Dickens, Iain Banks, Patrick Suskind, Cormac Macarthy, Albert Camus and Vladimir Nabakov are pretty high up the list of favourites. Any one of them could take the top spot.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

 I read a lot of Enyd Blyton when I was young but the books that made the biggest impact were the Lord of The Rings trilogy. I still remember the thrill of discussing the story in the playground and to this day am slightly envious of people who belong to reading groups and book clubs. It was the first time i became aware of words being able to paint pictures in your head.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

 Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye. I’m roughly the same height and share his utter disdain for Hypocracy and “the phonies”.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

 I have two young children so spare time has been missing off the options list for quite a few years now. I used to ride a motorbike and race jet-ski’s. (I cmae 2nd in the first championships in held in Scotland) When the kids are a bit older I’ll get my helmet back on and get out there.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

If it ever came to the point I was asked what my last supper would be i’d opt for Crispy Aromatic Duck and a cold beer, preferably a St Mungo (it’s brewed in Glasgow and is only one of a few beers in Britain granted the German standard for purity).

Who is your hero? Why?:

 My Dad. I remember going into the pub with him when i was in my early twenties and everyone telling me what a great guy he was. “Do anything for you, a real gentleman and one of the good guys,” were the typical sort of comments. I want to be more like him.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

 The convenience of ebooks has made them very popular, but their sales are starting to plateau. I have one myself, but I still prefer a book. No matter what form your reading takes your always going to need content and with the cost of a novel running at about half that of a cinema ticket, i’d much rather have ‘words’ creating images in my head than someone visualising it for me on a big screen. I think the future’s a bright one.


Player Profile: Chris Pavone, author of The Accident

chrispavoneChris Pavone, author of The Accident

Tell us about your latest creation:

THE ACCIDENT is an international thriller about ambition and corruption; the story takes place over one long, perilous day in the life of a literary agent who receives an anonymous, dangerous manuscript about a powerful man’s secret past.

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

 I’m from New York City, and except for university and a modest expat stint in Luxembourg, it’s where I’ve always lived.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

As David Byrne of the Talking Heads supposedly said, “I wanted to be a secret agent and an astronaut, preferably at the same time.” Which is to say: I didn’t have any rational expectations.

9780571298938What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

THE EXPATS is the novel of mine that’s more true and more special; THE ACCIDENT is a more thrilling thriller. They’re different books, but I think there’s no “best” in the comparison.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

 I write in a member’s club, which is sort of like a fine hotel lobby, with waiters bringing coffee and food, and a swimming pool on the roof, and lots of people around, all the time. I’m not productive in quiet solitude.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

 I read primarily what’s referred to as literary fiction, and also a steady diet of various types of crime novels.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

The Sun Also Rises is the book I read the most closely, the most frequently, and thought the most meaningful.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

 I’d be James Bond. I don’t think I need to explain why.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

 I cook, play tennis, do crosswords, play ball with my kids. Sometimes when I ought to be writing a novel, I’ll instead paint the dining room walls.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Negroni on the rocks is my go-to cocktail. For the past couple of years, my favorite food to cook has been a 24-hour pork roast, recipe courtesy of the River Cottage Meat Book.

Who is your hero? Why?:

My twin sons share that honor jointly. Every day I’m amazed at their capacity for empathy, kindness, humor, enthusiasm, and overall goodness. I suspect the world would be much better if it were run by the children.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

Consumers are spending huge sums on culture and entertainment, but they’re increasingly paying it to device manufacturers, cable network operators, and internet/telecom service providers. Then they expect the intellectual property itself–the books, the news, the films, the TV shows, the games, the apps–to be “free” or approaching it. We have been tricked into lining the coffers of immensely profitable international corporations, while withholding fair compensation from individual artists, performers, writers, and other creators. This is not only unjust; it’s untenable.

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Player Profile: Geoffrey McSkimming, author of Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror

1_McSkimmingGeoffrey1Geoffrey McSkimming, author of Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror

Tell us about your latest creation:

Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror

This is the second Phyllis Wong mystery and in it, Phyllis Wong, that brilliant young magician and clever sleuth, discovers a crime that dates back to the time of Shakespeare and is seeping into the 21st century. As Phyllis herself says, ‘Fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen, the ride will get bumpy!’

9781743318379Where are you from / where do you call home?:

 I divide my time between Sydney, Australia, and Cawdor, Scotland.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

 I wanted to be a ventriloquist, then a puppeteer, then a magician, then an actor, then a writer. I tried a few of the former, then found out that writing was for me!

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

That is such a hard question. I’m happy with all the books I’ve had published. Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror is a personal favourite, though; Phyllis is such a clever girl and I loved transporting her (and me) back to Shakespeare’s time.

9781742378213[1]Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I write sitting on an old, art deco lounge which once upon a time belonged to my grandmother. It’s a big, comfortable sofa and I can surround myself with cushions, my manuscript and notebooks, cups of coffee, pens and other things I need when I’m writing.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

 I love reading old crime novels. I have a lot in our home library, some dating back to the 1920s. At the moment I’m finishing reading all the detective novels by Nicholas Blake (Cecil Day Lewis, the Poet Laureate and father of Daniel Day Lewis).

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

 The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury; Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury; The Three Investigators series of novels; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis; Travels with a Gherkin by Justine van Orgling.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

 Cairo Jim. Because after writing 19 books in which he appears I have come to know him very well.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

 Dream up plots for stories … and watch my favourite magician doing magic ..

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

 Anything red.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

 I think it’s the same challenge that’s always been there: to keep producing great quality books and stories. It doesn’t matter what format people will be reading them on — whether it’s paper or electronic versions — if the quality and the pleasure is not there for the reader, the reader won’t be there for the story

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Player Profile: Jane Paech, author of Delicious Days in Paris

Jane Paech at Carette tea salon, Place des Vosges, Paris. (PHOTO Vincent Bourdon)

Jane Paech, author of Delicious Days in Paris

Tell us about your latest creation: Delicious Days in Paris. It’s a series of walking tours that explore the food and culture of Paris, with visits to both legendary and little-known cafés, restaurants and pâtisseries along with small museums, art galleries, gardens and markets – all at a civilised pace, with time to daydream.

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

Adelaide, South Australia

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

A chef.

9781921383045Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

During periods of intense writing my study gets pretty messy, but I can’t work like that for too long. It’s essential for me to have lots of light and a large window to connect me to the garden and the outside world.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

Books in the food/travel genres

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

The enchanting Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

I love to cook (and eat!). I also enjoy lap swimming a couple of times a week, and taking long walks on the beach or along Adelaide’s Linear Park.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?: A crispy-skinned confit de canard with sautéed potatoes, and a glass of Sancerre Blanc.

Player Profile: Rjurik Davidson, author of Unwrapped Sky

RjurikDavidson2-300x245Rjurik Davidson, author of Unwrapped Sky

Tell us about your latest creation:

 Unwrapped Sky sits somewhere between fantasy and science fiction, in a little subgenre sometimes called the New Weird. It’s set in the fantastic city of Caeli-Amur, which is something like an industrial version of Ancient Rome. Steam trams chug along the streets. A ruined forum lies close to a huge arena. Three dictatorial Houses rule the city. It’s filled with strange wonders. Ancient Minotaurs arrive for the traditional Festival of the Sun and New-Men bring wondrous technology from their homeland. Hideously disfigured Wastelanders stream into the city and strikes break out in the factory district.

Unwrapped Sky Cover ImageThe novel tells the stories of three people. The philosopher-assassin Kata has debts that need settling and will do anything to ensure they’re met. The ambitious bureaucrat Boris Autec rises through the ranks, turning his back on everything he once believed, and soon his private life turns to ashes. The idealistic seditionist Maximilian resolves to overturn the oppression dominating the city, and hatches a mad plot to unlock the secrets of the Great Library of Caeli Enas, drowned in the fabled city at the bottom of the sea. 

Unwrapped Sky is a novel of adventure and suspense, but also – I hope – a book that has something to say about oppression and liberation, progress and destruction, gender and class, love and betrayal.

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

 Originally, I’m from Melbourne. At the moment, I’m splitting my time between Australia and Finland. As a child I spend a fair bit of time in Europe. I lived a few years in Paris. So I feel equally at home in Australia and in Europe, though I guess, in the end, Melbourne is my place. That’s where my friends and most of my family are. They become increasingly important as you get older, I find.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

 For some time I used to say I wanted to be a scientist, and I did show some proficiency for it as a child. As a teenager I switched to writer, and though it’s been a long trek, that’s how I make my living now – for the moment at least.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

 There’s a story recently republished in the Time Traveller’s Almanac, called ‘Domine’, which I’m particularly proud of. It’s a ‘slow’ science fiction story, a character-driven story about a man whose father is on the first serious trip into space. Because of the laws of relativity (what’s called time dilation), the father returns to Earth younger than his son (thirty or so years pass for the son, but only one for the father). So for the son, the father is in some ways younger and older than he. I’m proud of that little Carver-esque story. Having said that, the world of Caeli-Amur is my most sustained creation. So the stories and the novel set there will probably be the way most think of me.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

 At the moment, I’m writing standing. The laptop sits on a chair, which is itself set on a table. I’ve had some back and neck problems, so I must stand up nowadays. I quite like it, though my feet get sore sometimes. Gone is all the bohemian mess I was used to! But I do occasionally walk off to find reference books and cookies. Or just cookies.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

 This year I’ve resolved to read more, though my tastes are varied. I’ve always thought it important to read outside one’s genre. You need to know what else is happening. Opening yourself up to many influences is one way of developing original work. On my list at the moment are: ancient history, quantum physics, Hilary Mantel, Jean-Paul Sartre and Scott Lynch. The only thing you’re unlikely to find is poetry, not because I don’t like it, but because I don’t know where to start.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

 No doubt there were sundry fantasy novels, but I think the ones which really get you are ones you read at about nine or ten years old. For me, I think, there were novels of Henry Treece and Rosemary Sutcliff: books about Vikings and ancient Romans. The love of other worlds was with me already. I wanted to go back in time and see those places. I still do.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

 Maybe Tristan Smith, from Peter Carey’s strange and wonderful novel The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith. For those unaware, Tristan Smith is a young, four-foot man with a stutter, who spends much of the second half of the novel dressed in a mouse suit. I’d like to spend more of my time in a mouse suit. I’m ordering one over the internet now. Thanks for the idea.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

 Books about hypnotism and the unconscious. In particular, hypnotist, spiritualist and magic shows of the nineteenth century fascinate me: that unusual combination of emerging science, performance and demonstration really fires the imagination. I’m going to include some of it in my third novel, a steampunk book set in Melbourne during the 1880s or 1890s.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

 Authentic Indian gets me every time. The deep, rich flavours, the meat which melts in your mouth, the heat. In terms of drinks, white spirits are nice. I once went to a bar in Russia where the vodka was free but you had to pay for the soft drinks. It wasn’t very good vodka, mind you.

Who is your hero? Why?:

 Most heroes are unseen and unheard: nurses, teachers, carers. But I admire Jean-Paul Sartre, who is an example of a writer who is engaged with the world. I’d like to write books that might do more than simply entertain. If you’re going to spend a year or so writing a book, it should be about something. Sartre’s ability to move between literary forms – theatre, essays, novels – is enviable, and he stood for something. That’s all too rare.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

The digital revolution means that books – and films and television – are easily reproduced (with the click of a mouse. So it’s going to be hard to sell them in the future, especially as this current generation grows up. The result will be that the current structure of the industry won’t be able to support writers. Quality will go down: just look at paper journalism nowadays. In the short term, I can’t see a way around this, but we live in hope.

Player Profile: Anna Jaquiery, author of The Lying Down Room

mjKPYQE-Anna Jaquiery, author of The Lying Down Room

Tell us about your latest creation:

It’s a crime novel set in France and the first in a series. The main character is a senior French detective at the Criminal Brigade in Paris. This book opens with an investigation into the murder of an elderly woman. Others will die. The main suspects are two evangelists, a man and a boy, who go door-to-door distributing religious pamphlets. I won’t give the rest away – I hope you’ll read the book!

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

There’s no simple answer to this. My father is Malaysian and my mother is half French, half Spanish. My father was a diplomat and we moved every three years or so. I went to French schools, but only lived in France once I’d turned 17 and enrolled in university. I love Southeast Asia and feel very comfortable there. New Zealand holds a special place in my heart and is possibly the place I would call home, if I had to choose. I spent many happy years there. It’s where I met my husband and where one of our two sons was born.

9781447244448When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

Yes. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. Nothing else.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

This is my first published novel. Hopefully, my best work is yet to come!

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I’m not a particularly tidy person but my writing room is reasonably ordered. It’s probably the only room in our house that doesn’t have action figures or pieces of Lego lying around. It’s filled with books and photographs. There are books everywhere in our house, but my favourite books are in this room. I also have lots of photographs here of my two boys. I write next to a window that looks out onto the garden.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I read everything. Lots of crime fiction – Ian Rankin, Denise Mina and Robert Wilson are among my favourites. I also love the books of Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Jhumpa Lahiri, Lionel Shriver, Jonathan Franzen … I could go. Non-fiction authors I like include Patrick French, William Dalrymple, Orlando Figes and the BBC journalist John Simpson.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

My earliest memory of reading intensely dates back to when I was a teenager. I devoured books by Jane Austen, F. Scott. Fitzgerald, the Bronte sisters, Henry James, Thomas Hardy …. I remember reading the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell and being mesmerized.  Reading the Catcher in the Rye was a defining moment. The authors I come back to again and again are Graham Greene, Anton Chekhov and William Trevor.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

That’s a difficult one. Maybe Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo! Not for her asocial and introverted nature, but because of her strength of character. She takes charge of her own destiny. I see her as a moral character. She is a fantastic creation. I absolutely loved the Stieg Larsson trilogy.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:


I have two young boys and so family life is what takes up most of my spare time – no surprises there, I’m afraid. I recently went back to university, and I also work with an amazing group of people who provide support to refugee families here in Melbourne.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

My favourite drink has to be red wine and my favourite foods tend to be Asian, be it Vietnamese, Thai or Indian. My parents live in Malaysia and I love going there for visits, because it means I get to eat all my favourite things.

Who is your hero? Why?:

I don’t really have one particular hero. But the people I admire are generally intellectually passionate and engaged with the world. At the moment I am reading a memoir by Penelope Lively called Ammonites & Leaping Fish, in which she reflects on her life. She is eighty and yet so full of life still, and intellectual curiosity. I admire people like Salman Rushdie and the late Christopher Hitchens for their brilliance and for having the courage to speak their mind, even at the risk of offending others.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

 The biggest challenge is keeping independent bookstores in business, and libraries open. So that our children and their children will continue to read and to understand the immense value of books – the many ways in which they enrich our minds, our lives and our communities.

Player Profile: Kathryn Fox, author of Fatal Impact

bf7c232487990ad8976f06.L._V192219222_SX200_Kathryn Fox, author of Fatal Impact

Tell us about your latest creation:

 It’s Anya Crichton’s latest adventure. This time she’s in Tasmania, visiting her increasingly erratic GP mother. Anya becomes involved in the death of a young girl and a fatal outbreak of food poisoning. Evidence of the source points to an organic farm, facing ruin. However, delving deeper, Anya discovers a world of corporate corruption, genetically modified foods, a murdered scientist and buried scientific research. Meanwhile, Anya questions her mother’s sanity. Then the stakes turn deadly…

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

Suburban Sydney, the part most people forget exists. I’ve lived here for about twenty years now.

Fatal ImpactWhen you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

 No. From the age of five I wanted to become a doctor and cure autism. I knew if I studied medicine, I could write in the future. I didn’t cure autism, but the writing worked out.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

 My children, definitely! In terms of books, I think Fatal Impact is my best and most ambitious story. Hopefully, an author learns and improves her craft with each book!

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

 I like order and peace, so I spend mornings writing at a quiet café without internet distraction. The staff is fantastic and know me pretty well after four books there. After that, I head to my home office and catch up on emails/speaking/plan workshops before another session of writing in the afternoon. I love order, but often the desk is messier than I’d like.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

 Newspapers, blogs, biographies, and at the moment there are so many good YA books around, as well as crime. Anything but unsolved mysteries.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

 I must have reread Pollyanna dozens of times because of the mix of characters. In high school, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood made me question whether or not evil actually existed. Loved Othello and learnt what I did not like – Sons and Lovers, for example! I also devoured everything I could on Helen Keller in a quest to better understand how a blind, deaf woman learnt to communicate and inspire the world.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

 Probably Pollyanna. It sounds trite, but I have so much to be grateful for. After seeing so much death and tragedy in medicine, suspect I suffered before my art. It’s easier now to find the positive – or learning potential – in most situations. You learn not use catastrophic language for non-catastrophic events and it helps see the world differently.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

 Scrapbooking, struggling to learn the harp and piano (not at the same time!) and watching Days of Our Lives. Yes, that’s my guilty vice.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Anything flavoured Chocolate and orange. That’s food and drink!

Who is your hero? Why?:

John Lasseter, head of Pixar studios. He is the Walt Disney of our generation and a brilliant story teller, crusader and humanitarian. Who else could have given us Toy Story films and Monsters Inc? Then there’s UP and the list goes on! He was fired from Disney because the old animators believed computer animation would ever take off. His story is now history.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

 Keeping the public interested and aware of what’s new. Publishers need to adapt. Some were slow to accept ebooks, but they’re here to stay, and print books will never be completely replaced. I suspect on demand printing will become more common. Reading is living multiple lives in one lifetime, time travelling, relating to people from other worlds and cultures. As long as there are great stories, reading will thrive.

Charles Dickens serialised his books over a century ago, and the internet may mean authors do the same, leaching chapter by chapter in an insanely busy information age. Writers are already adapting with blogs and branding, so it will be interesting to see how books evolve.

Player Profile: Naomi Wood, author of Mrs Hemingway

Naomi-Picador3Naomi Wood, author of Mrs Hemingway

Tell us about your latest creation:

The latest creation is called Mrs. Hemingway. It’s a historical novel, told from the perspectives of Hemingway’s four wives and mistresses: Hadley, Pauline, Martha and Mary. Set from 1921-61 it all happens in France and America, in places you’d probably like to go on holiday to, and which I had the arduous task of visiting, for research purposes only, of course.

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

London is home. I grew up in Hong Kong but have been back in England now for quite a while. Although I don’t have family in London it’s where all my friends are – my urban family.

9781447229742When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

When I was a kid I wanted to become “a bloodsucking lawyer” which was a cute if annoying phrase I stole from Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family (one of my favourite movies still). Only later did I realise I wanted to write – and I was twenty-three when this desire to write really took hold.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

I’m definitely happiest so far with Mrs. Hemingway. I’m proud of the amount of research I put into it and I’m pleased that I got to give voice to four impressive and under-known women.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

 I live in London where the rents are astronomical, and my room is tiny! This is a guilty thing to admit but often I write in bed with coffee and toast. The room is too small to even have a desk. And if I’m under the duvet I can save on the central heating. It all gets a bit chaotic and invariably there’s ink all over the bedcovers.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

Too many writers to possibly name but! Kazuo Ishiguro, Marilynne Robinson, James Salter, and I am slowly getting into the work of Kent Haruf. Beautiful work, beautiful sentences.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

The classics, really – anything by Roald Dahl. I was also a real sucker for the tender friendship shown in Charlotte’s Web. In my early teens I had a brief but intense swing into fantasy and adored the books of Robin Jarvis – all I can remember about them now is that they
were about some rather plucky mice and that I couldn’t put them down.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

I’d like to be the marvellously damaged Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises. Beautiful, urbane, and able to drink like a fish.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

 I like to work on small patch-working projects – things like cushions and small quilts. You can find pictures of my designs on my website. I like working with colour. It’s very pleasing to the eye after the black/white nature of writing.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

I love Korean food and would like to put kimchi into everything. Fave drink = red wine, of course.

Who is your hero? Why?:

Martha Gellhorn – for her work, her bravery, her independence at a time when women war correspondents just didn’t really exist.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

The biggest challenge to the written word is probably the image. Images, especially movings ones, are incredibly easy to consume, they tell a story in half the time, and they give the same emotional punch. Will people read if TV box-sets and movies take over? I hope so. But  it might be a dwindling proportion of us.


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Player Profile: Jaclyn Moriarty, author of The Cracks in the Kingdom

moriartyjaclyn02Jaclyn Moriarty, author of The Cracks in the Kingdom

Tell us about your latest creation:

The Cracks in the Kingdom is the second book in ‘the Colours of Madeleine’ trilogy.  The Royal Family of the Kingdom of Cello are trapped in our world.  Madeleine, who lives in Cambridge, England has been exchanging letters with Elliot who comes from a farming town in the Kingdom of Cello, through a crack in a parking meter.  Now Madeleine and Elliot must work together to locate the Royal Family, figure out how to open up the crack, and bring the Royals home.

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I grew up in the north-west of Sydney, spent a few years living in the US, the UK and Canada, and now I’m back in Sydney.  I live close to the harbour and beaches. I like being near water.  When I lived in Montreal, I kept looking for the coast.

9781742612874When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

I wanted to be an author from when I was about six.  I also wanted to be an astronomer, an astronaut, a flight attendant, a teacher, a psychologist, and a movie star.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

I always have trouble with this question.  I think it’s a bit like being asked to choose your favourite child.  And what if I chose one, and then one of the other books happened to see my answer here?  How hurt would he/she be?  I’d have to pay for therapy for him/her for years.

I like all my books for different reasons eg Feeling Sorry for Celia, for being my first book and having a lot of me in it; Finding Cassie Crazy (or The Year of Secret Assignments) because I love the characters; Bindy Mackenzie, because I feel protective of Bindy because everybody hates her, and so on.  I’m proud of A Corner of White and The Cracks in the Kingdom because I spent years imagining the Kingdom of Cello, months researching colours, science, and music, and they are closest to what I want to write.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

Most mornings I work at one of the outside tables of a local cafe.  So my writing environment is noisy, sunny (or rainy, cloudy, stormy etc) and cluttered (there is nowhere to put my tea because the table is always covered in notes, textas and pens).  In the afternoon I work at my desk in my study.  It’s always important to me to clear the desk completely and tidy up the room before I begin writing.  That’s probably just procrastination.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I read a lot of children’s and YA books.  Some of my favourites are Diana Wynne Jones, Louis Sachar, Libba Bray, Frank Cottrell Boyce, David Levithan, Rachel Cohn, E.L. Konigsburg.  Some of my favourite writers for adults include Lorrie Moore, Lisa Moore, Virginia Woolf, P.G. Wodehouse, Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Carol Shields, Alice Munro, Barbara Kingsolver, Karen Joy Fowler.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

In primary school, the defining books were E. Nesbit’s The Phoenix and the Carpet, Roald Dahl’s The Magic Finger and James and the Giant Peach, Madeleine L’Engle’s, A Wrinkle in Time,  Enid Blyton’s, The Folk of the Faraway Tree.  I could go on for a long time.

In high school, it was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Virigina Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. 

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

I always imagine I am Elizabeth Bennett, but I think a lot of people imagine that about themselves.  I grew up identifying with Clover, the second sister in What Katy Did.  Like me, she was a second sister with a charismatic older sister she adored, and she was quiet but sometimes funny.  And I was very taken with her name.

Also Eva Ibbotson wrote some great historical romances with heroines who were quite ordinary-looking but whose faces scrunched up when they smiled, and who therefore caught the attention of the sexy male hero.  I’m pretty sure my ordinary face scrunches up when I smile.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

I have a seven-year-old son named Charlie so mostly I spend my spare time trying to get him to do his homework, or trying to get him to stop throwing balls around the apartment. (‘There’s quite a lot of thudding up there,’ the man who lives downstairs said to me the other day.)  I’m also addicted to baking cakes (especially anything with ginger and cinnamon), and I am learning the cello, and, if there was a frozen lake anywhere, I would like to skate on it.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Favourite foods include chocolate, blueberries and fine-quality peach; favourite drink, champagne or hot chocolate.

Who is your hero? Why?:

My hero is my mother because she raised six children, took care of over 50 foster children, and made every single child feel special.  She seems like a gentle, quiet person but actually has a wide streak of stubborn strength and a wicked sense of humour. My dad is also very impressive to me because he built up a big successful surveying business out of nothing, learned how to fly planes and helicopters, and he can fix things.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

The fragmentation of the concentration span.  Nobody wants to read more than two or three lines any more.

Player Profile: Anita Heiss, author of Tiddas

Photo Credit: Amanda James
Photo Credit: Amanda James

Anita Heiss, author of Tiddas

Tell us about your latest creation:

My new novel is called TIDDAS. Tiddas, for those who don’t know, is a generic Aboriginal term for your close female friends, those who are like sisters to you. And the tiddas in my novel comprise five women (three Koori, two non-Indigenous) who were born, raised and knocked around together in Mudgee (Wiradjuri country). Over the course of their lives they all move to Brisbane and as they approach their 40s they are each going through a particular journey that puts pressure on themselves and each other. The novel looks at the strengths and challenges of life-long friendships, and deals with a range of issues including substance abuse, identity, unplanned pregnancies and failed attempts at pregnancy.

The structure of the novel revolves around monthly book club meetings, with most titles opening up group discussion of Aboriginal arts, culture, politics and social justice. Identity in all forms is also discussed and unpacked.

For me, Tiddas is also a story that celebrates sameness – what makes us the same as women, the shared human emotions we experience, how we all value our friendships and how many of us are people who like to read.

Where are you from / where do you call home?:

Sydney is my home but my mob are from central NSW, Wiradjuri country – Tumut, Brungle, Cowra and Griffith.

TiddasWhen you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

As a kind under ten, I wanted to be a nun, then an air-hostess and at one point I wanted to be Tina Louise (Ginger from Gilligans Island). As a teenager I was a great penpal, but in my youth I never imagine that I would be an author.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

I think that my latest novel TIDDAS is my best to date. I guess I hope that after a number of novels my storytelling has improved. TIDDAS is also something that is also very close to me and I think that passion and love for it comes through in the work.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I’m currently at a beautiful desk my late father made. And I try to make my office tidy, really I do, but I have paper and books and chocolate and notes usually all over my desk while writing. I have a gorgeous big computer screen which in recent years has made a difference, especially when I spent on average eight hours a day in front of a computer. I also have a vision board in eyesight to remind me of what my goals are for the year.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I read across genres – for example, this year alone I’ve read fiction, kids fiction, a couple of picture books, non-fiction and aI’m just about to delve into and anthology of Indigenous writing from a group in Canberra. The list looks like this: Home by Toni Morrison, Dear Life by Alice Munro, The Swan Book by Alexis Wright, How Successful People Lead, by John C. Maxwell, Alfie’s Search for Destiny, David Hardy, The Spotty Dotty Lady, Josie Boyle, illustrated by Fern Martins, Liar Bird, Lisa Walker, Dead Man’s Gold, by Michael Torres, illustrated by Sharyn Egan, By Close of Business: Us Mob Writing (anthology).

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – because it was the only book we read at school that talked about race and race relations.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

At 45 I took up running. Mid-life crisis? You decide. I also love to chill at the beach, a LOT!

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

Favourite bad food is chocolate, favourite good food is the humble banana

Who is your hero? Why?:

My Mum – she is strong, kind, always there for me, and she’s good for laugh.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

I think competition with electronic media – hand held games etc. A lot of kids have a game in their hands constantly, rather than a book. I think nurturing that love of reading in our young people is one of the biggest challenges.

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Doodles and Drafts – Dreaming and scheming with Andrew King

A week or so ago I rubbed shoulders with some of Kids’ Lit most illuminating talents at the Book Links’ QLD (The Centre for Children’s Literature) third Romancing the Stars event. The objective of these evenings is to meet and listen to as many authors and illustrators wax lyrical about their latest publication as possible in a frenzy of succinct deliveries and rotations – rather like speed dating, but with books and ultimately more satisfying.

Amongst them was, rising star, Andrew King. I first met Andrew and Engibear, both instantly likeable fellows, last year when Andrew and I were amongst the ‘daters’. I confess the first time I laid eyes on his non-typical picture book, I baulked at the complexity of its design and presentation. Perhaps it is the poor mathematician in me, but there seemed too many labels and numbers and graph grids! The detail overwhelmed me and the thought, ‘too much’ flickered through my mind like an wavering light bulb.

Cover_Engibears_DreamBut Andrew’s compelling fervour for his work convinced me to look more closely. So I did, and fell in love with what I saw. Engibear’s Dream is neither too busy nor over-detailed, but rather a masterfully thought out and delivered tale of simplicity and perseverance. Engibear’s life is too full to pursue both his dreams and work. He needs help and being a clever engineer like his creator, sets out to design a Bearbot to help him achieve more. But grand schemes are rarely realised first time round. It takes Engibear several attempts to ‘get it right’ but he never gives up on himself or his Bearbot.

Engibear illos BBT09More than just a cute rhyming counting book about the rigours of planning and design, Engibear’s Dream covers the themes of sustainable living, finding balance in a world of progress and change and being innovative and tenacious in the face of failure. Mighty issues for small minds, but ones they will assimilate as they follow Engibear’s attempts to succeed, all superbly illustrated both schematically and in explosive colour, by qualified architect Benjamin Johnston.

I needed to find out more about the man behind the bear, behind the robot. So this week I have a bona fide, qualified engineer behind the draft table. Here’s what he had to say…

Andrew Engibear Launch AssemblyQ Who is Dr Andrew King? How would you best describe present self?

A 48 year old mixed bag: self, husband, dad, son, brother, relative, friend, engineer, co-worker, band member, aspiring author, committee member, community member, etc…

Fortunately, from my perspective, I have been very lucky and the mix has been good to me – I am trying to be good back.

Q Describe your 10 year old self. Did you have any concept then of what you wanted to do or be when you grew up? If so, what?

A 10 year old mixed bag – just a bit less in the mix – son, brother, relative, friend, school student, footballer, etc…

Fortunately (again) I had a very pleasant and carefree childhood. So carefree that I don’t think I had any real idea of what I wanted to do when I grew up. Interestingly though, I remember that a friend and I were writing and illustrating small books of jokes back in grade 6 and trying to sell them (for about 2 cents each). It has been more than 30 years since I last tried but I am now trying to write and sell books again.

Q Writing for children is not your first chosen occupation. Why take up the challenge now?

Kelly and I have been writing and drawing with our kids for years. We ended up developing characters like Engibear and the Bearbot and writing about their adventures in Munnagong. A few years ago my daughter, Marie-Louise, suggested that we should write a book.

Q Engibear’s Dream is your first picture book for children. What are you trying to impart with this book and why choose the picture book format?

The book started as a way of making engineering more accessible to young children. However, we wanted to make the book something more than an instruction manual. Therefore, we included a storyline (in this case a story about perseverance) and tried to include humour. We have also added numbers so that it can be used as a counting book.

To me drawing is a very powerful communication tool. The combination of words and pictures used in engineering drawings is a particularly useful way to communicate design ideas. The opportunity to include these types of diagrams and images of Engibear and the Bearbot meant that the book had to include pictures.

Q What sets Engibear’s Dream apart from other picture books currently on the shelves?

Engineering – in two ways.

Firstly, having a character that is an engineer, there are very few engineers in children’s literature. To me this is surprising as children seem to be very interested in the things that engineers do. Engibear provides a “friendly face” of engineering and therefore a way to introduce engineering to young children at the right level.

Secondly, including detailed engineering drawings. Ben Johnston is an architect who is used to working with engineers. Ben has created loveable characters and has also been able to contrast them with fantastically detailed design drawings of Munnagong, Engibear’s house and workshop, the Bearbot and its working parts. I think this combination of drawing styles allows children to enjoy the characters and the story and then also spend time thinking about how things work and making things (engineering).

Building Bearbots - CoverQ How long from conception to publication did it take to realise Engibear’s Dream?

Building Bearbot was an early family story that is about 10 years old and was the basis for Engibear’s Dream. It sat in the cupboard for a long time. However, once we decided to write a book and chose this story it took about three years to get to publication.

Q It takes Engibear up to 10 types from prototype to final version before he engineers the perfect Bearbot. Does it take engineer Andrew the same number of attempts to design something new before getting it right?

If it is a book, yes – easily!

Building Bearbots - Page 1Depending on the complexity of the project I think engineering design can also take a lot of work. However, engineers have developed systems such as standards, computer modelling and design reviews to help make the design process robust.

Q Engibear’s dream is to have a life less strenuous with more time for enjoying the simple pleasures. What’s the one thing on your non-writing wish-list you’d like to tick off /achieve / produce?

I would like to read more fiction.

Q Do you have other writing dreams you’d like to fulfil?

I have a series of Engibear books planned. Munnagong is a busy place; there is a lot of engineering going on and a lot to write about.

Q Engibear is written in quatrain rhyming verse. As a first time author, did you find this difficult to pull off? Why did you choose to tell the story in this way?

We wrote the book in quatrain rhyming verse because this is how we made up verses when my children were younger – it just seemed to be a natural way to rhyme. However, while this worked for family stories, it was very difficult to do it properly. As an engineer I have some technical writing skills but I had to learn a lot about writing verse. Therefore, I did a course with Dr Virginia Lowe at Create a Kids Book and Virginia then mentored me.

Q You chose to publish your book via a partnership publishing company (Little Steps Publishing). Why? What other publication avenues did you explore if any?

I did contact some traditional publishers and received very polite rejections. I thought that rather than keep going down that route it would be better just to get on with it – self publishing seemed to be the answer.

Q What is on the design board for Andrew? What’s your next ‘writing’ project?

We have been making models of the characters in Engibear’s Dream and we have created a rsk based engineering game. I am also working on the next planned Engibear book “Engibear’s Bridge”. This book is about construction of an iconic “green bridge” near Munnagong State School which will be opened as part of the Munnagong Festival.

Engibear BGT09 specsBrilliant Andrew! You know I can’t wait to meet your new characters and see their designs.

Like the most enthralling kids’ movies, Engibear’s story doesn’t just end with a ‘happily ever after’ moment. Keep page turning and be fascinated by full page project drawings of BBT-10, the Final Version, resplendent with some side-splitting specifications. My young miss could not go past the line drawn end pages detailing Munnagong, home of Engibear either. A fascinating read.

Designed for 3 – 8 year olds. Also riveting for boys, those with inquisitive minds, budding designers and anyone who likes to dream big.

Little Steps Publishing 2012