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Changing of the Guard

It has been a very busy start to the year! One of the highlights so far was the first Children’s Book Council of Australia(CBCA), Northern Suburbs NSW branch meeting of the year.

It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces again and meet a couple of new members. It was slightly emotional as we sung a farewell tribute to the powerful duo President Wendy Fitzgerald and Secretary Kirsty O’Rourke, who will stay on the committee but step down from these roles. They have both been the most welcoming, encouraging and inspiring leaders and I can’t thank them enough for helping me establish myself in the world of children’s books.

cbca-feb-2017

It was also fabulous to hear from our new leaders, Chairman Marian McGuinness and Treasurer Louise Park who will both do an amazing job I am sure.

At the meeting we were also lucky enough to hear from Lady Cutler Award winner, Paul MacDonald who talked us through ‘what’s hot’ on the book trail at the moment. His insight as always was invaluable.

I sense it is going to be a wonderful year for many of the CBCA authors with so many new releases lined up, and I can’t wait to share their journey.

For more details on the CBCA visit their website http://cbca.org.au

 

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Jasper Rust Book Launch

After a huge effort throughout term three and early term four, we are thrilled to launch Volume 4 of The Lyrebird Chronicles – The Curse of Jasper Rust. A novel written by 6 gifted writers at Lindfield East Public School and illustrated by 4 talented artist. It has been such a pleasure to mentor such a talented group of kids!

‘Jasper Rust is safely locked away in jail, but strange things are happening at Lyrebird public. Has Jasper put a curse on the school? Or is that just crazy talk? There must be an explanation for all this bad luck. Can Sky and Eddie work it out before everything falls apart?’cover-jpeg

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A Big-Bang Announcement

(Warning – this post may contain silly space puns – I can’t resist)

I am so thrilled to finally announce that my non fiction book Blast Off! has been acquired by Penguin Random House and is scheduled for launch in early 2018. Thank you to my super star agent Alex Adsett for brokering the deal.

shelly-random-contract

Blast Off! as the title suggests is a picture book based on the universally popular theme of Space. It takes the reader on a fact-filled, fun-filled astro romp around the solar system. The reader boards a rocket ship and is taken to visit the eight planets, learning about each planet and what would happen if they were to get too close.

We can’t wait to release this story into the world and hope that it becomes the much loved book of many earthlings for lightyears to come!

 

 

 

 

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The Curse of Jasper Rust

For the last two years I have been involved with the gifted and talented writers at my local primary school, mentoring them through the plotting, writing and editing of a chapter book. Last year I shadowed another fabulous local author, Tony Davis, who had been responsible for pulling the programme together with the school four years ago.

This is last years book: The Disappearance of Jasper Rust

jasper-rust-book-3

This year I took the reigns. It has been an amazing experience, from the first full day workshop, through to the final edits. I have been so lucky to have had a team of exceptionally gifted writers, who soaked up everything I taught during the workshop session and delivered it so beautifully throughout the term as we plotted and wrote the 6 chapter, 8,000 word book.

The character Jasper Rust was a legacy from the previous three years, and the title ‘The Curse of Jasper Rust’ was our starting point. We took our time to map out a thorough plot and workshop our main characters and then each of the six students were assigned a chapter. This year we wrote the book chronologically, so our Chapter One writer had a week to write her chapter, then our Chapter Two writer had his week, and so followed through to Chapter Six.

As the chapters took shape I provided feedback and the writers edited their chapters against this and against the changes that came about because of what was written in the previous or subsequent chapters. The children’s ability to take on board the feedback and make the necessary changes to their chapters was inspiring.

We also developed ‘hit squads’ I had a ‘Hamish and Andy’ duo, who had shown a natural ability to write humour into their chapters, so they worked through the other chapters adding hints of their comedy brilliance. I also had character and setting teams who were able to embellish the story with detail, all the while helping to move the plot forward.

Writing in this form is all about re-writing and it is so far removed from a piece of homework that you write once and hand in. They had to go back over their 1,000+ word chapters between 8 and 10 times to get it to mesh seamlessly with the rest of the book. They also had to willingly let others tweak their work. Throughout this whole process the group was amazing, dedicated and flexible. I am so proud of each and every one of them and can’t wait for the launch of book four, pencilled for the 22nd November.

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In the Room with Aussie Greatness

Gleebooks in Glebe brought together some of Australia’s finest Young Adult Writing talent last night for what turned out to be a very humorous and enjoyable panel discussion.  Melina Marchetta, Erin Gough, Will Kostakis and  Chris Morphew were chaired by Felicity Castagna and discussed a range of topics pertinent to the current YA market.

One of the most striking facts from the evening was a statistic, only 1 out of 10 Young Adult books sold in Australia is from Australia. The majority are bought in from the US and the UK. Will, who has just released his latest novel Sidekicks, commented on how great our Aussie talent is at the moment, particularly some of the contemporary voices. He said he connects to seeing the places he lives being reflected in the work. Melina, who’s work includes The Lumatere Chronicles, thought the statistic to be very sad and believes that the Young Adult novels from Australia have been very strong over the last two years. It would be interesting to know how much the block busters such as John Green’s various titles influence these numbers. It would also be interesting to know how many Australian titles are released by Australian publishers compared to the number of titles they buy in from overseas.

There was a vibrant conversation about the appeal of writing for a YA audience. Chris, who is hilarious (and who’s book, Man in the Shadows, I had to buy because I know I will belly laugh when I read it) said that he loves the YA audience because they are so up for the adventure you want to take them on, they’re open minded readers. Erin added that this audience is all embracing, and to write for them gives you a sense of freedom.

The big conversation of the evening was around covering diversity in text. Both Erin and Will’s books have characters with different sexual orientation. Erin spent about eight years trying to write the great Australian novel, she didn’t want to be pigeonholed as ‘the gay writer’ and have a limited readership. But she has found this not to be the case, people have embraced her book, Flywheel, and they’ve embraced it for more than its lesbian content.

I’ve read and enjoyed work from most of these authors and I now have a handful of new books that I can’t wait to get stuck into. Felicity, who’s own book The Incredible Here and Now received the Prime Minister’s Literature Award, was an eloquent and engaging chair. Thank you for sharing Melina, Erin, Will, Chris and Felicity, and to Gleebooks for pulling such an awesome panel together and hosting such an enjoyable evening.

 

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Truth and Vulnerability

At the Writers Unleashed festival last weekend, I sat bolted to my chair as Trinity Doyle shared with us her insights on dealing with emotions in Young Adult literature.

She highlighted the importance of Truth and Vulnerability in our work. “Nobody is going to connect with ‘I’m fine'” she said. And she’s absolutely right. Teenagers are emotional, hormonal and for the most part melodramatic. Their crushes are all consuming, they fall in love, they fall out of love, they hate, they envy, they need and they need now! So as adults writing for Young Adults it’s important to remember the immediacy of their love, wants and needs, and not let our years of experience, and somewhat tamed hormones influence their reactions. “Let the raw, intense feelings of adolescence flood your work,” Trinity says.

Trinity pointed out that for the most part teenagers are outsiders all trying to fit in to what they see as the social norms. She suggests digging deep into the memory banks and thinking about what made you hurt as a teenager. Connection with readers comes from vulnerability. “Do not undermine the emotions of your characters,” she said.

I sat in awe of the amount of thought she had put into writing the emotions of her characters and can’t wait to read her debut novel Pieces of Sky, “A soaring, uplifting novel about love and loss from an exciting new voice.”

Pieces of Sky

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The inside word from Penguin, Random and Panterra

Saturday was the highlight of the Southerland Shire Writers calendar with the Writers Unleashed Festival providing the opportunity to hear from editors from various publishing houses. The event concluded with the Editor panel where we heard from:

  • Heather Curdie, Children’s at Penguin.
  • Beverley Cousins Adult Fiction Random House.
  • Zoe Walton, Children’s at Random House, and
  • James Read YA and Adult, Pantera Press.

Heather highlighted her tips and recommendations for manuscript submissions. She said that first and foremost she comes to a manuscript as a reader, looking to be engaged and entertained. She follows no firm rules and tries to clear her mind of preconceived ideas. But what it must have is;

  • Quality writing
  • A great voice (must be distinctive and original)
  • Great characterisation (characters must come to life on the page)
  • Compelling plot
  • Engaging first few chapters (for children’s books this is so important, they won’t persevere if they are not pulled into the story in the first couple of chapters)
  • A really satisfying conclusion

She’s currently looking for: Contemporary YA with a strong male protagonist & High quality stand alone Junior Fiction, that’s fun and intelligent.

Beverley spoke about what makes a manuscript publishable.

Things that are taken into consideration when looking at a manuscript they like;

  • Balance of the list – do they need more or less historical fiction at that time, do they already have too many rural fiction pieces on the list etc.
  • Profit potential – is the book commercially viable
  • Publishability of the book.

It is a difficult balance because each book is a work of art, but it needs to make a profit. So there is no easy answer.

She looks for Quality;

  • Well written
  • Compelling story
  • Ability to reach a wide audience

For commercial fiction, here is her advice:

  • Plot is key
  • They like a novel that promotes debate
  • The author has a clear idea of what the novel is about and it is something that a large number of people would want to read about.
  • Don’t go overboard describing everything you have researched.
  • Don’t overload with stage management.
  • Don’t over explain characters emotions.
  • Everything on the page should have a reason for being there and drive the story forward.
  • Make sure it is well edited before submitting.

Zoe used examples of books that they have recently published to highlight what they look for.

Starting with her best selling Rangers Apprentice series. She noted that whilst it was not an original concept John brought a really great sense of humour to his writing which kids love. He uses fantasy without magic which is unusual and makes his characters have to work hard for their success.

Next she looked at Alice Miranda. She said it is Jacqueline that makes these books special, she really understands and engages with her fans, and she works really hard for her books.

Lulu Bell was next, of Belinda she said that she really knows her market and knows what appeals to her readers. She is a great example of write what you know. Belinda’s dad is a vet and so is Lulu Bell’s in her stories.

Samuri verses Ninja, Here the title says it all. It is a high concept book with wide appeal.

Moving on to her Young Adult books she said that what makes a story stand out from the crowd is an original voice.

Are You Seeing Me? She couldn’t stop thinking about the characters in the story after she’d read it, which compelled her to acquire it.

 

James said that Pantera are a boutique press and they like to take on debut authors and nurture them, their writing and their careers. They are VERY unique in the publishing industry in that they pride themselves on a fast turnaround time. Getting back to authors within 3 weeks. Yes 3 weeks!!!! But you do need to follow their submission guidelines very closely.

They consider all types of fiction from Young Adult upwards and they are currently looking for commercial womans fiction. Ideally the next The Devil Wears Prada. Their submission guidelines are on their website https://www.panterapress.com.au/submit-your-manuscript