Interview with Children’s Writer, Coral Vass, and Illustrator, Heidi Cooper about their new picture book ‘Two Birds on a Wire’

Hi Coral and Heidi, thank you for coming onto my blog today.

Congratulations on your new picture book ‘Two Birds on a Wire’. It’s a beauty. I’ve already had  the pleasure of reading it as Coral was our guest author for July at KOALA Kids Book Club and it was a huge hit with the children.

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Firstly, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions, Coral…

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How did come up with the idea for Two Birds on a Wire?

TWO BIRDS ON A WIRE is about two birds, perched on the same wire, both refusing to share the space. I think ‘sharing’ is a universal struggle. And so, one day while watching two little birds fighting with each other up on a wire, I was inspired to write this story.

Cool.

Do you ever get stuck for rhyming words, and if so, how do you move forward from there?

I love writing in rhythm and rhyme. I visit www.rhymes.net and www.thesaurus.com frequently to help me find the BEST word in a sentence. There is nothing worse than an awkward rhyme, so if I can’t find the right word with the right rhythm, I will change the sentence altogether.

 Now, that’s sound advice.

Who’s been the greatest influence in your writing life?

I adore the work of Lynley Dodd and Dr Seuss. Their stories are clever, the rhyming is impeccable and the books are a delight to read.

Is there a book that you’ve read that rocked your world?

There are so many great books around, but there is only one that has stood the test of time….the Bible!

Of course!

And Heidi, I’ve got a few questions for you too, hang on a tick…

HeidiAboutMe

As this is your first foray into children’s picture book illustration, how did the opportunity come to illustrate ‘Two Birds on a Wire?

I’m amazed at how fortunate I have been! When I stumbled across Tania McCartney’s 52 week illustration challenge group in January 2014, I started drawing regularly for the first time since leaving University 20 years ago.

Six months later, I received a message from Koala Books through my Facebook page, asking if I’d like to do a sketch test. The Art Director had been watching the challenge wall and noticed my work. At the time I didn’t realise how big a deal that message was… until the manuscript came through and it was by the wonderfully talented Coral Vass, whose books I had in my collection. I was astounded, and have never been more nervous about creating a drawing!

Luckily Koala books loved the sketch, and a few weeks later I had signed the contract. I’m still pinching myself!

That’s awesome. I love hearing stories like this.

I note on your blog your choice of medium, was coffee one of them? How do you use it?

Coffee is very underrated as a medium. I know some amazing artists who use it like watercolour – mixing up different strengths (using instant coffee) then applying it like paint. I’ve only ever used it as a preliminary wash (after masking very light areas) to give the illustration a uniform warmth and an antique feel. It’s a beautiful colour and gives a slight sheen and texture.

Who has been your greatest artistic influence?

That’s a tricky one. There are illustrators I absolutely love – such as David Roberts and Freya Blackwood – but I don’t try to emulate their styles so I’m not sure I’d say I’m influenced by them. I think my biggest artistic influence is the 52wk challenge! I’m on the admin team now and I frequently look through the wonderful variety of illustrations posted every day. Group members are usually very generous when it comes to sharing their methods and mediums.

The 52 Week Illustration Challenge does look challenging! I imagine it would keep you disciplined though. Check out some of Heidi’s gorgeous artwork here…

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Tell us about your next project?

I have a couple of projects in the works, but I’m most excited about a joint submission I’m working on – the manuscript is simply brilliant and I’m really enjoying bringing it to life!

Good on you Heidi, I hope it all goes well.

You can see more of Heidi’s artwork here on her website. It’s just beautiful!

A big thank you to Heidi Cooper, and my buddy, Coral Vass, for allowing me to interview them and post it on my blog today. I hope that ‘Two Birds on a Wire’ does awesomely well for you both. I’m sure it will, as all children squabble, and they will definitely see themselves in this story…

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Outback Adventure

I should have blogged this awhile back…never got around to it. I still want to talk about though. So here goes…

Back in April, I had a funny feeling wash over me…another footy season had arrived. It just felt same old, same old. Now, I love my footy but with three footy loving boys and a husband involved with the greatest football team in the world (the Collingwood Football Club), I needed a change of scenery to get me through.

I had to see and do something different…and soon…

I explained this to my husband, who looked completely dumbfounded (this is coming from a man who watches AFL 360 every night and never misses a game of footy – how can one ever get enough football?). So, my husband asked ‘What would you like to do?’

I was reading The Age Travel Section at the time and pointed to an ad for outback adventures. I couldn’t go for long…too much family stuff happening. But, here was a perfect weekend away…with Australian Air Holidays.

A flight over Wilpena Pound and the Flinders Rangers, a night in a cave in Coober Pedy (never been there), a ‘low and slow’ flight over Lake Eyre (I had been absolutely dying to see this since my parents had travelled there in 2009), Warburton Groove, Goyder Lagoon and the famous Simpson Desert, with lunch in Birdsville before flying home. Perfect!

So, this was my birthday weekend. All by myself…

I made some lovely new friends, and yes, okay, they were all over the age of 60 years, but we had a ball. I couldn’t get over how much I enjoyed the flight, everyone was so interesting and engaging and they all had wonderful stories to tell, and the…

‘Mrs. McMullin, would you like another cup of tea?’ (man, I could get used to this). ‘Don’t mind if I do, thank you.’

And as I took pics of everything, I appeared to score the best seat on the plane for every leg of the trip.

Wiplena Pound, South Australia

Wiplena Pound, South Australia

I got such a shock in Coober Pedy. The colour of the sky, the vivid red of the desert, the piles of dirt and holes everywhere. It looked so unfamiliar and lunar. And the horizon was vast, a 360 degree view. The wide openness. I loved it. I could breath out here.

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When I quizzed the locals about Opal Mining (Coober Pedy produces 95% of the worlds opals), they said:

‘Nah, no opals out here, love. There’s nothing out here.’

And yet there were holes absolutely everywhere?

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And there were these signs…

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‘Why don’t you just fill them in?’ I asked one local.

‘Oh,’ as if they’d never thought of that? They must have been having me on.

I’d been writing a piece about ‘The Cattle King’ Sir Sydney Kidman and I’d read about how cattle thrived on ‘cotton bush’ and ‘saltbush’. I’d never seen these plants before. And from Prahran, that was kinda hard to imagine. So to be able to see these plants and to be able to touch them and smell them was fabulous (yeah, I know, I gotta get out more).

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On the way to Lake Eyre we flew over Anna Creek Station (still owned by Sydney Kidman’s family) and the Anna Painted Hills. It was just beautiful, check out the colours…it’s from water run off and oxide minerals in the soil.

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I was initially a little disappointed when we flew over Lake Eyre. Only two weeks before the water had completely dried up from the big fill of 2009. All the birds had gone, but as my guide pointed out, the beauty of the drying salt lake was amazing.

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Patterns made by nature, algae, evaporation, wind and cracked crystalline salt were just wonderful.

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And the maze of tributaries of the Goyder Lagoon was spectacular.

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Lunch at Birdsville was fun, the scenery harsh but beautiful.

Anyway, I loved my outback experience…everything I saw, the people I met…all fuel for the imagination and yes, after my adventure, I happily settled back in to another footy season with my boys.

A visit to Flemington

Hmm, research…a term I love to use when I should be writing, but I’m not. But I can actually say, I’m not procrastinating at the moment. I’ve already written this story (five years ago to be truthful).

This research was undertaken to assist the illustrator of my next picture book, the award winning and fabulous, Andrew McLean. My new book is called ‘The Bushfire Miracle’ due out with Allen & Unwin in 2016. It’s the story of an old racehorse in a bushfire and how he remarkably saves seven yearlings. It’s a true story from the Black Saturday Bushfires in 2009.

So, Andrew, who is not familiar with horse racing had a desire to gain a greater understanding.

I grew up in a horse racing family so it was already familiar to me and easy to visualise images as I wrote the text. Like a movie in my head. But for Andrew to make his work accurate and truly authentic, a visit to a horse racing facility became vital for him to get a feel for the ‘hustle and bustle’ of stable life.

I’m very grateful to leading racehorse trainer and friend, David Hayes, for allowing us to visit his wonderful stables, Lindsay Park, at Flemington.

Famous Flemington Clocktower

Famous Flemington Clocktower

Source: VRC website

Source: VRC website

What time do we have to be there?

6am !!!  Crickey, I haven’t been up that early since…?

It was very dark.

Mind you, everybody else at Flemington had already been there since 4am.

We met the very helpful, Jessie, the Stable Manager, to show us around Lindsay Park Stables.

After checking out the boxes and stalls and outside yards where the horses spend their days, we watched the horses being saddled up for track work. The clanking of stirrups, the rattling of a bit in the mouth of an eager horse and the clip clopping of hooves filled our senses.

We watched as a young Irish bred horse was put into the circular walker for 20 minutes. He was ‘a bit bound up in his action’ and this would help to loosen him up before he did his track work.

We had two friendly dogs as company and we crossed the path of an affectionate tabby cat that insisted on a pat.

We followed the horses out through the tunnel under the main track into the centre of Flemington to watch them do their track work.

Source: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Source: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Source: Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images

Source: Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images

In the centre of the race track, there are three different tracks. They’re ‘wet weather’ tracks and they sort of look like a fine chip bark. The horses train in both directions, so that they are strong on both sides of their bodies. That makes sense.

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Lindsay Park has it’s own little hut on stilts out in the middle of the track to watch everything.

My editor, Sue Flockart, illustrator Andrew McLean and myself in the hut.

My editor, Sue Flockart, illustrator Andrew McLean and myself in the hut.

It holds a lot of technical stuff, computers and so forth, timing gear and video equipment to monitor track work. Every horse has a different training program. They’re all different (just like us) so their training is based on the nature of the horse, how old they are, how fit they are and how close to racing they are. They all have different work loads.

Usually, if they are racing on Saturday, they’ll have a ‘hit out’ and gallop the last two hundred metres.

Source: Michael Klein

Source: Michael Klein

I’d forgotten how exhilarating this is to watch. The pounding of hooves, the flexing of muscles, and the snorting sound horses make when they exert themselves. It was very exciting!

The track riders wear monitors on their skullcaps that flash when a horse achieves ‘even’ time, which is a measure of speed they need to achieve to fulfill training requirements.

If a siren sounds, it means a rider has fallen off. Apparently, it happens on occasion. Young, frisky yearlings, skittering and jigging about, excited to be out on the track.

Source: George Salpigtidis

Source: George Salpigtidis.   Hold on!

Thankfully, we never heard one of these, so that was a relief.

Up to one hundred horses can be training at the one time in this space every morning.

It’s as busy as Bourke Street! Fortunately, there is a gentleman there that controls the entry of horses out onto the track though so that they don’t all rush out at there once (can you imagine, mayhem!), a bit like what the traffic lights do as you enter the South Eastern Freeway.

Source: News Corp Australia

Source: News Corp Australia

As sunrise dawned, silhouettes of horse and rider could be seen, legs pounding, clods of earth flying, perfectly balanced and completely mesmerising.

Clip clopping back into the stables, horses are unsaddled, hosed down and rubbed dry. Some might get to dry off in the sand roll while other horses are rugged up ready for a well deserved feed of hay and a bit of rest and relaxation.

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images.   Damn, that feels good

Someone's watching you, Andrew

Someone’s watching you, Andrew

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We got to explore the tack room and feed rooms, with rows and rows of halters, bridles, saddles, saddles cloths and horse rugs.

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Horsey smells, molasses, hay and manure…old racing photos adorning the walls.

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It was such an enjoyable experience – a big thank you to David Hayes, Susan Mills, Jessie and all the staff at Lindsay Park.

And thank you to Hugo, the dog.

Hugo looks after the place

Hugo looks after the place

 

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I’m really looking forward to seeing what Andrew McLean’s illustrations will look like.

Now, I’m wondering how on earth am I going to explain to my husband about that share in a syndicate I just bought…!!!?

Well, he did look very fast…

Neridah’s new picture book ‘Knockabout Cricket’

I have just received the advance copies of my latest book.

Here it is…

Ta da!

Front Cover KC

It’s called ‘Knockabout Cricket’ and it’s my first foray into non-fiction writing with One Day Hill.

I absolutely love the front cover. The illustrator, Ainsley Walters, has excelled herself; the colours are vivid and wonderful. And without any bias, of course, I think the text is pretty darn good too.

Funnily enough, I wrote this story five years ago as fiction. Yep, you heard me right, five years ago. It was long forgotten. But as one of my writerly friends once said to me, no written word is ever wasted. And sure enough this story managed to find it’s way from the depths of my filing cabinet back into the spotlight again, only to be re-written as non-fiction. I wasn’t too sure about it at first, but now that it’s done, I can see that it works well. I really appreciate the opportunity that One Day Hill and Scholastic gave me to re-write this story.

It does lend itself to a story with text and illustrations interspersed with text boxes pointing out an interesting fact here and there.

So what’s the story about?

‘Knockabout Cricket’ is a story told through the eyes of a squatters son, James Edgar, growing up on his parent’s pastoral station ‘Pine Hills’ at Harrow in Western Victoria.

It’s the true story of the famous indigenous cricket player, Johnny Mullagh. It’s set in 1865 when James Edgar arrives home from boarding school to find it’s shearing time at Pine Hills Station. It’s a narrative account of how Johnny Mullagh may have come to play cricket.

Pastoral runs in this era were typically very large, Pine Hills Station was 30,000 acres; so there were many sheep to be shorn. Shearing was a demanding time of year and all the adults were busy working during this annual period of ‘shearing time’.

During these periods, James was concerned his holiday would be boring as there was no one around to play cricket with him. In these hard working times though, children did have the freedom to roam and play with the local Aboriginal children.

So James manages to fill in his time by organising casual games of cricket after the shearers knocked-off, which was usually around 5pm. They played cricket for the pure enjoyment, although they were always happy to prepare for any pastoral challenge matches coming up on the calendar. Whoever was around usually joined in, including station owners, neighbouring stations owners, managers, roustabouts, drovers, groomsmen, gardeners, fencers, spiltters, and rabbiters.

The definition of ‘Knockabout Cricket’ means ‘a casual game of cricket’ with rules modified to suit the environment. This meant it could be played anywhere. There were usually no wickets and the bat and the ball would be typically home made and rudimentary.

Artwork by Ainsley Walters, 2014

Artwork by Ainsley Walters, 2014

In the 1860’s, the game of cricket was hugely popular and often played between pastoral stations.

Johnny Mullagh’s real name was ‘Unaarrimin’ and he was born of the Jardwadjali people around 1841 at Pine Hills Station near Harrow in Victoria. He rarely moved far from Pine Hills Station and Mullagh Station, which probably covered his traditional tribal lands. It was not unusual for Aboriginals to be nicknamed from the pastoral station they lived.

Local young sportsmen Tom Hamilton (from Bringlebert Station) and William Hayman (from Lake Wallace Station) organised a match between an Aboriginal team and the MCC (Melbourne Cricket Club) in Melbourne.

The match was played at the MCG (the Melbourne Cricket Ground) on Boxing Day in 1866 and attracted a crowd of 8,000 spectators. It is one of, if not the earliest matches of the great Boxing Day tradition. It was also the catalyst of an Aboriginal cricket team touring England in 1868.

Extraordinarily, this all happened 11 years before Test Cricket.

Johnny Mullagh cutting a fine figure in his cricket gear, c. 1867 Source: State Library of New South Wales

Johnny Mullagh cutting a fine figure in his cricket gear, c. 1867
Source: State Library of New South Wales

On the Aboriginal cricket team tour of England, Johnny Mullagh’s cricket statistics were outstanding. He took an incredible 245 wickets at a bowling average of 10 runs apiece, in addition to scoring the most runs of the tour with 1,698. His performance during the tour is comparable to the best the game has ever seen.

Aboriginal Cricketers alongside the Melbourne Cricket Ground Pavillion,c. 1867. Team members: at rear (left to right), Tarpot, T.W Wills, Johnny Mullagh; front row, King Cole (leg on chair), Dick-a-Dick (standing); seated, Jellico, Peter, Red Cap, Harry Rose (Tiger Rose?), Bullocky, Cuzens). Source: State Library of New South Wales (MPG/113)

Aboriginal Cricketers alongside the Melbourne Cricket Ground Pavillion,c. 1867. Team members: at rear (left to right), Tarpot, T.W Wills, Johnny Mullagh; front row, King Cole (leg on chair), Dick-a-Dick (standing); seated, Jellico, Peter, Red Cap, Harry Rose (Tiger Rose?), Bullocky, Cuzens). Source: State Library of New South Wales (MPG/113)

Artwork by Ainsley Walters, 2014

Artwork by Ainsley Walters, 2014

Johnny Mullagh had a famous and daring ‘signature shot’. He would drop onto one knee to a fast rising ball holding the bat over his shoulder, perpendicular to the ground. The ball would touch the blade and shoot high over the wicket keeper’s head to the boundary. This shot was an adaptation of a technique traditionally used in tribal fighting whereby a narrow shield would deflect spears. It was a dangerous shot, but spectacularly mastered by Johnny Mullagh (and it’s now being used today, especially in T20 Cricket).

Ian McMullin shows us Johnny Mullagh's famous signature shot. Thanks for the bowling action shot in the background Toby!

Ian McMullin shows us Johnny Mullagh’s famous signature shot. Thanks for the bowling action shot in the background Toby!

The English crowds loved the Aboriginal teams cricketing prowess and were thrilled with their displays of traditional skills. At the end of a days play they would change into traditional tribal wear such as possum cloaks and feathers into to provide demonstrations of boomerang and spear throwing. A player called ’Dick-a-Dick’ used a narrow shield to parry away a hail of cricket balls thrown at him by spectators.

However, Johnny Mullagh was the star of the show. He was the ‘social darling’ of the upper echelons of English high society and he ended up with a collection of pictures of English women who admired him. He was a cricketing hero to a white audience but he was also a man caught between two worlds.

Johnny Mullagh’s went on to play professionally with the MCC but after a season, he returned to Harrow.

By this time, a law had been introduced in Australia that Aboriginals could not leave their designated Missions without written permission from the ‘Board of Protection for Aboriginals.’ This ‘restriction of movement’ ruined any opportunities that cricket may have had to offer an Aboriginal person and it was an absolute tragedy.

Johnny Mullagh continued to play for the Harrow Cricket Club right until the end of his life in 1891. He dominated the batting and bowling averages, and the locals recalled how he would emerge from the bush and, with seemingly no practice, perform like a champion.

Johnny Mullagh’s life was never free from discrimination, but he rose above it with dignity and has been described as humble, upright and quiet. He refused to live on a Mission and he was a great advocate for Aboriginal rights. He never married and lived out his days alone with his dogs by a waterhole at Pine Hills. Among his belongings when he passed away was a miniature daguerreotype of a lady he had met in England.

Johnny Mullagh is a true sporting legend – his feats making him one of Australia’s first international cricketing stars.

What inspired me to write this story?

…well, Johnny Mullagh, of course, because he was such an amazing person…with an equally amazing story…

But so are these two little people who just love their cricket…

Toby and his buddy William (our neighbour). Cricket is alive and well in our little street...

Toby and his buddy William (our neighbour). Cricket is alive and well in our little street…

‘Knockabout Cricket’ can be found in any good bookstore and will be available from February 1st, 2015.

Toby McMullin, Prahran U/11 Purples

My little cricketer, Toby McMullin, Prahran U/11 Purples

www.neridahmcmullin.com

www.onedayhill.com.au 

www.scholastic.com

Interview with Children’s Writer, Tracey Barnes

I’ve got a new writerly friend on my blog today and her name is Tracey Barnes. Tracey was a fellow Maurice Saxby Mentee with me in 2013 and she’s relatively new to the world of children’s writing.

Tracey is an aspiring author who enjoys writing for young children. Currently, she fills in her time waiting to be discovered by teaching a grade full of rather gorgeous Preps and Grade One students who she is secretly training to be the cleverest children ever! She aspires to write stories that find special places in people’s hearts, just like the ones she reads to her own children and the children she teaches.

 Although Tracey has always written stories, she’s only recently started to take it more seriously. She is an avid reader and a strong advocate of children’s literacy, and I just have to say that she’s an awesome teacher and mum.

Tracey Barnes, Children's Writer & Teacher, awarded Maurice Saxby Mentorship 2014

Tracey Barnes, Children’s Writer & Teacher, awarded Maurice Saxby Mentorship 2014

Thanks for coming onto my blog today, Tracey.

Hi Neridah, thanks for having me.

1. I have to ask this question even though I already know the answer. I want my followers to hear it from you as it’s really inspiring. Tell us how you came to be awarded a Maurice Saxby Mentorship?

Well, not sure about inspiring. But, for me the Maurice Saxby Mentorship came at a time in my life when I needed something positive to look forward to during a period that was incredibly difficult.

To begin from the beginning though, I had always loved books…devoured them by the dozens. I have always found it hard to leave a library with less than a full arm load. I dreamed of being a writer, but like many others let life get in the way.

I became a teacher, married, had my two darling boys but I always kept dreaming.

Around five years ago life changed dramatically when my husband Phil was diagnosed with an unusual version of Myelodysplasia. This is a blood disorder that can be simply described as a pre-leukemia. Suddenly our life was thrown into a constant stream of doctor appointments, hospitals and transfusions.

I went back to work after years of being home, allowing Phil time at home to concentrate on getting well and being with our boys. He continued to become increasingly unwell and eventually it was decided he was to be given a bone marrow transplant. For many nights, while the transplant was taking place, I would be up in the 5th floor of the Royal Melbourne Hospital looking out over the city.

One night as Phil slept I was desperately missing our boys looking up trying to find the moon, wondering if they could see that same moon back home. A line popped into my head. Have you seen the moon tonight? That line played around and around in my head and I must have jotted it down at some point.

It stayed in a little note book for years. Eventually life went back to a sort of normal, but I never did any more than that.

A couple of years later Phil’s health began to deteriorate and once again we went back to the never ending merry-go-round of doctors and hospitals. I have no idea why in the midst of all of this I suddenly started to write except that it was probably a way to keep thoughts in a happier place than where they tended to wander.

I found my one little line and my stories grew slowly into a small little pile. I wrote them late at night, making poor Phil listen to them at all sorts of ungodly hours. I joined a couple of children’s author/illustrator newsletters and through one of these I saw an article mentioning the Maurice Saxby Mentorship. I hadn’t been writing long but I thought “why not” I have nothing to lose. I truly didn’t expect anything. It was all very new and I kept my writing rather close, only sharing with a few about my secret.

Then one day the family was travelling back on the train from an appointment in Melbourne. It had been a truly awful day as we had just learnt that the bone marrow transplant after nearly two years had failed. We were quite simply devastated. It was a very somber journey home. Phil had bought along the i-Pad and was checking our emails. He suddenly looked up at me and said my name is such a funny tone. I can still see his face, he had this look on his face which read ‘you’re are not going to believe this!’ He handed me the i-Pad. And he was right, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had been accepted into the Mentorship. On this incredibly terrible day came a little glimmer of something positive.

So, we soldiered on and Phil was put in for another round of chemo with the hope he might be able to have another transplant. I met the other mentees (including my beautiful friend Neridah) and the lovely Helen Chamberlin and Albert Ullin.

Phil’s health began deteriorating at a rapid rate and the Myelodysplacia turned into acute leukemia. Very kindly the mentorship was deferred. Phil was so pleased that I would still get to have this amazing opportunity, all be it somewhat later on. We were both sad though knowing he would not get to share this with me. My darling husband passed away in June last year.

The boys and I slowly made ourselves a new sort of normal and I knew that I had the mentorship to look forward to in May this year. The mentorship was a gift that has done more than just further my knowledge of writing and publishing. I made some truly wonderful friends, met some incredibly inspiring people and it has helped pull me back into writing after feeling I was too sad to weave words into stories any more.

2. As part of the Maurice Saxby Mentorship, you are provided with the opportunity to have a mentor to help you with a manuscript as well as getting to meet industry specialists in every facet of the children’s publishing industry.

What was the most important thing you learnt about your visit to Penguin and Allen & Unwin?

I think the most important thing I learnt from the visits to publishers was realising what an incredible team effort the production of a book is. That the reality is you really are just one part.

There is a need to be able to ‘let things go’ and trust in the expertise and passion of others to take your story all the way through to a beautiful book you can hold in your hands.

As an author you tend to work on your own. What you write is private and personal for the most part until you choose to release it to other eyes. From that point on when you put it in the hands of others you entrust your manuscript to their care.

And the wonderful thing to discover was that they do care, passionately.

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3. Your mentor was Shaun Tan (yes, WOW! I hear you all say). What was the most important thing you took away from that meeting?

Shaun Tan, award winning Children's Writer & Illustrator

Shaun Tan, award winning Children’s Writer & Illustrator

Just like with Shaun’s books it all seemed a little surreal. There were some parts from meeting Shaun that seemed to hit me so hard and true that they have continued to echo around and around in my head still.

Shaun Tan's latest book 'Rules of Summer'

Shaun Tan’s latest book ‘Rules of Summer’

It is difficult to put into words all of the things I came away with that day.   One comment that seemed to have more impact on me than the others was – “Every book I write is about me.”

When you think about that statement, it is HUGE. I suppose on some level I knew this, but maybe it was the way he said it that seemed to resonate so much. Shaun is sharing an often very personal part of himself with others in the form of a seemingly simple book. It is a telling statement. It is also probably part of the reason people feel such a connection to his work.

My writing tends to be lighter and for a younger audience, but to some degree it comes from an experience or emotion that is connected to me. Now, I can only hope to aspire to Shaun’s strength with words, but that moment, that connection I made on hearing that statement was truly like bells ringing in my head. That doesn’t mean I am going to toss away my other ideas if they are about fluffy bunnies, but it certainly resonated with me. I am not sure what that means when I write in the future, but I think it will make the journey more interesting.

It was a truly wonderful experience having Shaun as a mentor.

I am so very grateful for his expertise, his advice and the time he generously gave me.  Plus, he is just the nicest guy!

4. What was your favourite part of the Maurice Saxby Mentorship? Do you think it’s changed you as a writer?

My favourite part has most certainly been meeting such an amazing group of people who are all connected by a love of children’s literature. We got to share some wonderful experiences that for a beginning writer are invaluable and inspiring.

Has it changed me as a writer…??? I feel that I have learnt many things that I can use as tools or guidelines when writing. It opened me up to new ways of thinking about writing and challenged me to question why I want to be a writer. I think all writers are constantly evolving through experiences and new learnings whether they are as targeted as the Maurice Saxby Mentorship or just from our everyday lives.

But at the heart of it all, I still only write for the joy that I have in creating something special to share with others and that hasn’t changed.

That’s a beautiful reason to write.

5. What are your favourite books?

Hmmm…this could take a rather long time. It is almost painful as the decision making process for something like this is slightly excruciating.

Well, as a little girl I was MAJORLY obsessed with Enid Blyton. Anything and everything she wrote was magical to me. I loved all things fairytale and spent hours reading my mum’s collection of fairytale books in our sunroom at the back of the house. I still love fantasy/fairytale books and practically hyperventilate if I see anything new written by Juliet Marillier and Cassandra Clare.

The Harry Potter series and ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’ both hold a special place in my heart and I really enjoy a lot of the new Y.A. novels.

In terms of other favourites, I love ‘Anne of Green Gables’, ‘The Secret Garden’, ‘Little Women’ and all things Jane Austen.

My favourite children’s books change all the time because there are so many wonderful books out there I can’t go past.

‘Where is the Green Sheep’ by Mem Fox, ‘Wombat Stew’ by Marcia K Vaughan, ‘The Red Tree’ by Shaun Tan, ‘Finton Fedora the World’s Worst Explorer’ by Clive Goddard and ‘The Muddle Headed Wombat’ by Ruth Park.

Now my brain is going into over drive thinking of millions of others…it’s so hard to limit a list like this.

It’s true, there are so many wonderful books out there. We could be reading forever! 

Well, thanks so much Tracey, for giving of your time and coming onto my blog today, it’s been such a pleasure to hear from you.

Good luck with your writing. I can’t wait to be a part of your journey.

Interview with David Lawrence, ‘Fox Swift takes on The Unbeatables’

The long awaited sequel to ‘Fox Swift’ was launched this week at Corrie Perkins My Bookshop, and let me reassure you, ladies and gentlemen, it was well worth the wait.

David Lawrence, Author

‘Fox Swift takes on The Unbeatables’ is a fantastically (is that even a word?) awesome read, and today, I’m lucky enough to have the author himself, David ‘Starchy’ Lawrence, here to answer a few questions for the fans.

Fox Swift takes on The Unbeatables - cool front cover

Fox Swift takes on The Unbeatables – cool front cover

Hi Starchy, thanks for coming onto my blog again to talk about ‘Fox Swift takes on The Unbeatables.’ A warm congratulations to both you and Cyril Rioli and the fabulous Jo Gill (the Illustrator) on the recent release and book launch of ‘Fox Swift takes on The Unbeatables’.

Hi Neridah, thanks for having me here.

No worries at all, it’s my pleasure.

1. Tell us Starchy, how did you come up with the plot line for ‘Fox Swift takes on The Unbeatables.’ Being a footy fan, I found it a dastardly wicked plan and yet it is something that does happen in footy (perhaps on a smaller scale)?            

I used to play in the Amateurs many years ago, and successful sides were always suspected of paying players.

(That was often my team’s excuse: “What chance did we have? – Those guys are obviously being paid!”).

So, I thought it would be funny to have a junior footy coach so evil and desperate to win a premiership, that he would pay star under 13 players to join his club. I mean how low can you go?!

Yeah, I agree, it was just shocking.

2. You tackle some pretty serious issues that are prevalent in our society such as bullying, racism and discrimination. Where did you come up with these ideas? I hope they didn’t happen to you. That bully Mace Winter is a nasty piece of work.                   

I was a boarder at school so I definitely saw and experienced quite a lot of bullying.

I think it’s important to include these issues in my stories because kids have to deal with them everyday. (And many find it hard to talk about.)

I enjoy highlighting how thoughtless and ignorant bullies and racist people really are.

In my stories the bad guys always come undone (usually in a comical fashion) – unfortunately in real life that doesn’t always happen.

No, sadly you’re right. But I love the fact your bad guys get their comeuppance. 

3. I found the ending truly satisfying. How much time did you dwell on this and how to ‘tie it all together’?     

Thanks Neridah – I’m glad you enjoyed it!

I like to include a ‘twist’ in the plot, so a fair bit of time goes into planning the ending at the very start of the process.

It’s great to drop a series of clues throughout the book that only make sense at the very end.

4. What’s it been like to work with the great Cyril Rioli?

Fantastic.

It’s great to chat to him about footy skills and drills – you ask him to explain how to ‘sell a dummy’ and a huge smile breaks out on his face.

Even though he is quietly spoken, don’t be fooled – he is an incredibly determined athlete who works very hard, especially to overcome his injuries.

The only time he has let me down this year was when he kicked the winning goal against my beloved Bombers.

And Collingwood unfortunately…nah, we love Cyril.

Cyril Rioli, Starchy, Jo Gill, (front) Toby McMullin

Cyril Rioli, Starchy, Jo Gill, (front) Toby McMullin

5. Tell us about your typical writing day and how you go about your novel writing? 

All writers are different, but here’s what works for me.

I start out by writing a one-page ‘sizzle’ document to get the publisher excited.

This includes mentions of the key characters and my next step is to start writing a character bible. I then go back to the one page document and start expanding it; adding plot twists and even snippets of dialogue for several days until the one page eventually becomes about 25 pages.

I then break the 25 pages into chapters – there are usually obvious places where problems are set up and resolved.

So with about a page of writing per chapter I then have a really clear blueprint for the book … and then I spend the next three months of weekends trying to meet a ridiculously ambitious deadline set by the publisher!

Wozwers, now that’s some serious planning. Maybe that’s where I’m going wrong…

Just briefly I just want to touch on Jo Gill’s fabulous illustrations. Jo’s illustrations add so much to a quality reading experience. They are funny and enriching, truly complementary of Starchy’s jokes. They are a dynamic duo, these two!

Thanks so much Starchy for visiting my blog again today. Good luck with ‘Fox Swift takes on the Unbeatables’ We absolutely love it. It’s such an enjoyable read.

Thanks for having me, Neridah.

To read a synopsis about and to learn more about Starchy and Jo Gill, click here…‘Fox Swift takes on the Unbeatables’

Slattery Media published ‘Fox Swift takes on the Unbeatables’ and can be books can be purchased on-line at Slattery Media or can be found in any good bookstore. If it’s not in stock, get them to order it, it’s easy!

Here are the details:

Title: ‘Fox Swift takes on the Unbeatables’ written by David Lawrence and illustrated by Jo Gill

Published: August 2014

Format: PB

ISBN: 978 -0-9923791-1-7

Price: $16.95

Starchy has just spent the past week, as part of Book Week, up at the Twi Islands conducting school vists and workshops. We’ll have him back on my blog soon to tell us about his experiences.

So stay tuned folks 🙂

Starchy is also available for school visits at Booked Out Speakers Agency and I have to say he does seriously fantastic, interactive and hilarious school visits and workshops. So don’t miss out. BOOK NOW!!

More about David ‘Starchy’ Lawrence and Jo Gill

Hey, swanky new website you two!

 

Interview with Kevin Burgemeestre, Author/Illustrator

This is Kev at a library visit, yep that is a pencil through his head

This is Kev at a library visit, yep that is a pencil through his head. Photo: Nadine Cranenburgh 2013

Today, I’ve got Kevin Burgemeestre visiting my blog, celebrating the release of his new book ‘Kate’ published by Morris Publishing.

Kevin has illustrated over 50 children’s books since 1985. He wrote his first book ‘B is for Bravo’ in 2003 and illustrated it using amazing dioramas. He loves doing workshops for all ages. His other titles include ‘Antarctic Dad’ with Hazel Edwards and ‘The Uncle Eddie’ books with Lucy Farmer (Walker Books). Kev is an absolute performer at school workshops. Children (and adults alike) love him. He’s funny and inspiring, encouraging children to have a go at writing and drawing.  

I was lucky enough to meet Kev as part of my Maurice Saxby Mentorship last year and he’s very generous in his support of emerging writers.

Congratulations Kev on the launch of your new YA novel, ‘Kate’.

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A dangerous boy, an abandoned dog and one girl’s perilous road trip to personal growth. Meet Kate.

This is a story of growth and mistakes. Kate’s lucky to find Wilde, a battered, heroic hound she rescues from the streets, and Mal a troubled young man with a dark past. When things go really wrong they’ll need each other and they’ll have to run!

“Kate dug her hands deep into the pockets of her hoodie and sniffed; she hated how the cold weather made her nose run so freely. Her eye caught a motor-oil rainbow shimmering across the soft sheen on the damp asphalt and wondered briefly how it was that ugly things could sometimes appear so beautiful.”

‘Kate’ is also an illustrated novel, dotted with beautiful, dark and gritty, black and white images reflecting Kate’s dire situation.

I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Kate’ and read it in one sitting. I’ve got a few questions for you Kev… just hang on a tick while I get myself together. Okay.

1. Tell me, how did you evolve from being an Illustrator and becoming an Author/Illustrator? Did you always write?

Good question Neridah. Perhaps I didn’t always write, but even in primary school I told stories. If they were a little exaggerated perhaps I knew even then that even though I had deep enthusiasm and respect for non-fiction, fiction would always be my thing. I wrote remarkably pretentious, wordy and impenetrable poetry through my secondary years and wrote years of correspondence back to Australia whilst living and studying in Holland. It was all preparation for eventually taking up the pen and key and wielding the word.

For example, I illustrated Susan Kurosawa’s column in the Australian Newspaper for years. When I heard she was going on holidays I sent an email suggesting that I take over the writing of the column while she was away. So, whilst the editor had enough sense to not even acknowledge my offer (what did he know?) even then I felt that it was inevitable.

But wait, there’s more. I have always listened to and copied others speech patterns and am a little too probing when asking about people’s lives and experience. I love to stretch a tale, and am still a tad too pleased when I can make myself cry when writing. Are they the marks of a writer or what?

 Absolutely they are. Making yourself cry is a skill.

2. How did the idea for Kate first come along? It feels and reads like a true story. What’s your advice to writers trying to achieve this?

Firstly, thank you for that compliment; I appreciate that specific endorsement of my characters from another writer. Kate feels real to me because she is an amalgam of girls I knew when I was growing up. She is also in part the friends of my children, my children, and young women I speak to when visiting schools.

I feel for the profound challenges they face growing up in our time. There is so much scrutiny and intrusion into their lives and yet they face so many disturbing chapters of their lives unseen and alone. I don’t think we manage the transition to puberty at all well and Kate reflects this.

We over protect them right up to pre-puberty, and then suddenly all ties are off. They have phones, almost unfettered access to the internet, an aggressive media modeling bizarre behaviour to them in prime time and magazines that describe a model of femininity that’s prime material for psychotherapy.

I also really like women and have many female friends, and they are all strong and capable. They are not without their insecurities but in spite of this they achieve highly, and on top of this they are loving, loyal, and at times very brave. Here’s to them.

How do you write characters like that? Pick some sound female friends. And don’t be afraid to listen to them.

Good on Kev. And I agree the challenges facing our teenagers are so different from our own.

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3. You obviously love dogs, because Wild is a gorgeous creature. Do you have a dog? 

When I was young both mum and dad worked, and after schools it was often our two very large dogs who greeted us when we came home. They were excellent companions, jealous protectors and entirely forgiving of our mean tricks and callousness.  They taught us to be better people.

They were also a very soothing presence. School was such a confusing experience, and as a migrant others were often not as gracious as they might have been. Having a dog around you after a bad day is like taking an aspirin for a headache.

I don’t currently own a dog but speak to them often and everywhere. And of course as you might know money from this project goes to the lost dog’s home. We have never had an animal that hasn’t been rescued or inherited.

 It’s a wonderful cause. Check it out at Lost Dogs Home in North Melbourne.

4. I found your book pretty fast paced. How do you approach writing that sort of action and dialogue? Do you stop to sleep?

ZZZZZZZZZZ. Oh sorry, I seemed to have dozed off.

Michael Dugan, whose work I illustrated early in my career was a perceptive and generous mentor. When we drove off into the country to conduct workshops we talked about all things.

He was a very successful writer and gave me some excellent advice. He said that especially when writing for young people it was important to make something happen on every page. As it turns out that’s not bad advice for any writer. When writing Kate I tried to keep pushing my characters Kate, Mal, Jess & Wilde into situations beyond where they were comfortable. It manufactured a tension that I kept trying to resolve in the writing. It created a sort of roller-coaster effect.

The other thing he stressed was to keep the language simple, sentences short but not to be afraid to launch into complex subject matter. When writing Kate that’s what drove the process.

Dialogue is very important to me. I am impressed how both Michael Dugan and John Marsden write clipped, elegant dialogue that infers so much more than it says. It is something I will always aspire to.

I agree, they’re amazing writers.

Well, thank you so much Kevin for so generously giving your time to answer these questions for me. I feel I know you so much better and there is some great writing advice in here. Good luck with your next project, I can’t wait to read to see it.

Kev & I at Toorak Library where I watched Kev take a school workshop. He was awesome fun!

Kev & I at Toorak Library where I watched Kev take a school workshop. He was awesome fun!

If you’d like to buy a copy of Kate, she can found in any good bookstore or you easily can buy it on-line at Morris Publishing Australia.

Also, at this site you can read the first Chapter of  ‘Kate’ and read a great review by Jill Smith.

Check out some of Kev’s other books. They’re absolutely wonderful.

‘B for Bravo’

Is an alphabet book that teaches the phonetic alphabet, celebrating 100 years of Australian aviation.

Published by Hachette/Lothian, 2003

Published by Hachette/Lothian, 2003

‘Antarctic Dad’ written by Hazel Edwards & Illustrated by Kevin Burgemeestre

Published by Hachette/Lothian 2005

Published by Hachette/Lothian 2005

‘The Uncle Eddie’ Books written by Lucy Farmer & Illustrated by Kevin Burgemeestre

Published by Walker Books

Published by Walker Books

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