Australian Author of Children’s Books and Teen Books: May 2011

Monday, May 30, 2011

Change the World in Five Minutes: Read to a Child (Even if You Are One)

A five-minute Monday morning action inspired by We Are What We Do and my short film Change the World in Five Minutes Every Day at School.

Stories are a place where you get to do stuff you'd never do in the real world. Like I recently read a Barack Obama bio, so I got to hang out with B-Rock for a couple of weeks.

Everybody loves to be read to but, for kids it's especially important. Listen to this, from Action 2 in Change the World for Ten Bucks - 'Reading and listening to books actually rewires a child's brain, speeds up their grasp of language, helps reduce stress and boosts self-esteem. So how terrible that 60% of children go to bed without a story.'

So go find a kid to spend 5 minutes reading to. Or, if you are a kid, start a campaign and don't let up till someone agrees to read you something every night. Maybe you'll get to hang out with Barack or some other cool cat.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Skype Author Talk

Just finished delivering a five-hour teen book-trailer-making workshop via Skype for Central Queensland University and Mackay Libraries. Some excellent participants and much fun had. There was a Flash trailer being developed, Photoshopping of wings onto humans and lots of Microsoft Photostory / Premiere action. The thing I loved was the swarm creativity, seeing participants who had a problem being helped out by others in the course.
Donna and Kath from Mackay Libraries and Steven Pace from Central Queensland University gave up their Saturday to make sure that the session went smoothly and to give on-the-ground tutorials while I watched on and shared trailers, tips and feedback from 1200 kilometres away. Sadly I didn't get to share their choc-chip cookies but we are vying for a cookie-share function in the next version of Skype.

The workshop capped a week of Skype talks in schools all over Mackay. Thanks for the good times Mackayians.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Simon Sinek at TED: How Great Leaders Inspire Action

This weekend it's TEDxSydney at Carriageworks. In the spirit of things, I have been watching a lot of talks at It's one of the great sites on the superhighway where big thinkers, wacky creatives and bold humans share ideas that push you to re-think the way you live and the ways you do what you do.

The talk above by Simon Sinek, more than any, is incredible food for thought. Why do you do what you do? Why do I do what I do? There are a million things you could spend your life doing. Why this? Why do I tell stories for children? Why not adults? (Children's authors always get asked in sessions at writer's festivals if we're just warming up to write an adult book.) Why not make films? Why not act? Why not go and work for a charity or a cause I believe in and make what might be a more tangible impact on people's lives?

The surface response is that I can making a living out of being creative and turning my own experiences into stories for kids. But is there something more?

The thing that I've discovered really gives my work meaning is inspiring others to create. When I go to schools and make up a story with a group of kids or when I set them ten minutes to write like fiends and the room is still with that silent, palpable force of forty people creating, THAT is when I feel that I know why I do what I do.

I believe that Creativity, in and of itself, is worth fighting for and sharing and investing in. That's why I  create and why I want to inspire others to do so. And, through those creations, we can try to comment on something about humans and our world, the way things are. That's it.

Here's my top five current Ted Talks
1. Simon Sinek - How great leaders inspire action
2. Ric Elias - Three things I Learned While My Plane Crashed
3. Bob Thurman - We Can Be Buddhas
4. Mike Matas - A Next-Generation Digital Book
5. Elizabeth Gilbert - Nurturing Creativity (Not new but an all-time fave.)

Sydney Writers' Festival 2011 Wrapup

A frenetic, satisfying and thought-provoking week in the sunshine at Sydney Writers' Festival last week. Was lucky enough to participate in a varied crop of events from 'Marketing in the Age of Twitter' with the lovely and knowledgeable Alvina Ling from Little Brown in the US to interviewing Singapore-based children's / adult author Shamini Flint. Here are some pics...
Being interviewed by SWF TV. I look as though I am about to lunge at the interviewer and tear the mike from her hands.
View of the crowd at Primary School Days Town Hall event. I hosted some amazing presenters - Deborah Abela, Richard Newsome, Garth Nix, Sean Williams and Morris Gleitzman. I'm unsure if the purple glow is flare from the lights or the audience's aura.
The perfect location for a festival. I love the fact that most of the events are free. The organisers did an extraordinary job. I really enjoyed writer / actor Brendan Cowell's session, interviewed by James Valentine. Many luminaries in the audience.
I was lucky enough to dine with Meredene Hill from UQP and Elizabeth Steed, author of the new title,  The Sparrows of Edward Street. We had lunch at The Sydney Theatre Company Wharf, where I did work experience when I was sixteen. A David Williamson play Sirens was bumping in during that week way back when.
Very proud of the first two copies of my very shiny new book, Galactic Adventures: First Kids in Space.
With Shamini Flint after our session on cross-cultural storytelling. Shamini was a star of the fest and a big hit on The Chaser stage the night before our session.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Deborah Abela, Children's Author: The Writer's Studio

Deborah Abela is the bestselling author of the Max Remy Superspy series and Grimsdon, shortlisted for the Aurealis awards. She is an energetic and generous children's author who divides her time between writing and inspiring children to create and tell their own stories. Here we get a rare peek into her writing space and creative process.

Where did you write your latest book? 
At the desk you see in the picture, PLUS various trains, hotel rooms, buses, seaside parks, cafes and in bed, complete with fluffy pj's.

How important to you is the space that you write in?
I love my desk but the 'space' in my head is more important. If my characters have come to life and my story is knitting together and the action is exciting, then I can write anywhere. 

Do you transform your space in any way for each book? 
My head definitely transforms every single time. Each book is like a different country, so each is like a visit to a great place with so much to learn but also so many different hazards and troubles.

Do you 'get into character' at all?
My characters make me laugh and cry and make me want to cheer for them, so they're separate from me but I will assume poses or look at my face in a certain position to describe how my character would look. 

How has the place that you write evolved or changed since you first began writing novels?
The first place I wrote was a veranda overlooking a quiet, tree-filled, lorikeet-chattering street in Lismore. After that I wrote in a huge warehouse overlooking grungy inner city streets but, once I start, I travel in my head to wherever my characters are. So, with Grimsdon, where the kids live in a flooded city, I was surrounded by water, flooded castles and sea monsters. 
Do you keep regular writing hours? What are they? If not, when do you write?
There's nothing like a deadline to make me write regularly, so early morning from about 6:30 to about 7pm. 

Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
Making tea and seeing if I can touch my toes. 

Thanks Deb! Another children's author will be inviting us into their world next Wednesday.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Change the World in Five Minutes: Pass Your Books On

Here's another five-minute Monday morning action inspired by We Are What We Do and my short film Change the World in Five Minutes Every Day at School.

This is based on Action 065 from the book, Change the World 9 to 5.

I'm a chronic book-horder. I think I like buying books more than I like reading them. Some books anyway.
But I'm gonna start letting go.

I have an extra copy of the book, Change the World for Ten Bucks and I stuck one copy in my son's school bag to donate to the school library when he next goes. Then I'm going to let go of a bunch of my other books, too. Why not just go the the library? Do I need to own everything

Maybe I do. But I'm trying not to.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Varuna Writers' Centre Sydney Writers Festival 2011

Writing at Varuna Writers' Centre Katoomba
I have been insanely fortunate enough to have spent the past five nights in Katoomba at Varuna Writers' House for Sydney Writers Festival week and Varuna's 20th anniversary. This place is an extraordinary oasis where writers come to create. Here is a pictorial diary of my week. 
The magical Carrington Hotel on arrival, Saturday night. I ran a children's writing workshop here on Sunday morning.
Workshop participants were aged from 10 to their 60s. We played and read and did quizzes and wrote. It was an impressive bunch of 36 people in the glorious Carrington library.
After the workshop I signed some books, watched Morris Gleitzman and Catherine Jinks present and then was off to Varuna Writers House where many, many Australian novels have been born. The house was given to the NSW government as a writer's retreat by Michael Dark, son of author Eleanor Dark who had the house built in the late 1930s.
I stayed in the room of writer, Eleanor Dark. In this room I write these words.
Each room has a place to stay and a place to write. The writing spaces are bright and light and words flow easily here.
I usually woke at 6 to work as the sun rose. I'm an early writer and aimed for 2000 words a day before taking care of business and email etc. in the afternoons.
The 1 cent exercise book from Big W that I write three crazy, uncensored pages in every morning at 6.00 a.m. before I start working on my manuscript. Without this book my other writing ends up being far less juicy.
Self-portrait while walking the grounds, looking for inspiration.
Beware: Writer at Work. Varuna has lots of sunny indoor spots for thinking about your story before you launch back into the manuscript.
On Tuesday night I was back at The Carrington for an inspirational and educational session with food writers Joanna Savill and John Newton, writer / restauranteur Pauline Nguyen and Varuna's energetic Chief Executive Officer, Lis Bastian. We discussed 'Cultivating Desire' - food's capacity to change the world. I spoke about freeganism and dumpster-diving, having researched and written a freegan character for my YA novel, it's yr life. There was much post-panel dumpster discussion among the audience over slow food in the foyer and then a Chinese feast with the panellists.

After working all day there were excellent writerly discussions over good food downstairs with the other writers in residence, Judy Johnson, Caroline Van De Pol and Jesse Blackadder
Tomorrow I head to the city to be part of 'Marketing in the Age of Twitter' with US editor Alvina Ling, then to host Town Hall's Primary School Days on Friday and, finally, to interview author, Cambridge graduate, lawyer, self-publisher and soccer-mom Shamini Flint on 'Cross-Cultural Storytelling.' More news from Sydney Writer's Fest 2011 soon.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Katherine Battersby, Squish Rabbit Author / Illustrator: The Writer's Studio

Children's author / illustrator Katherine Battersby on the streets of San Francisco.

Author / illustrator Katherine Battersby is in the enviable position of having her first picture book Squish Rabbit about to be released simultaneously in the US (Viking) and Australia (UQP). She has just returned from the States where she has been meeting her agent and publisher and attending the SCBWI winter conference. Here, she takes us inside her writing space and shows how important it is to her process.
Where did you write your latest book? How important to you is the space that you write in?
I wrote my latest book in a number of different places – in my mind, my office, my living room, my local coffee shop, my car. It’s a picture book, so I often write little bits on scraps of paper and scribble images on napkins, but then I do more formal work in my office at home. The space I write in is incredibly important to me – I believe physical space is as important in writing as mental space. I love my office. It is the perfect place for me to create. It’s quiet and sunny with big windows and greenery outside, plus my puppy hangs out with me there in his favourite chair.
Author / illustrator Katherine Battersby's writing space.
However, in order to keep my ideas flowing and varied, I also … work in other parts of the house and outside it. Coffee shops are one of my favourite places to go when I’m feeling a bit ‘stuck’ on an idea.

Do you transform your space in any way for each book? Do you 'get into character' at all?
I absolutely do. For me, setting up my office to reflect my current project is an exciting part of it all. With novels I source character images which I put up on a corkboard. I also have around me reference images that reflect the ‘feel’ of the story – landscapes, buildings, weather etc. I’ve started making music playlists for novels – songs that remind me of my characters and the mood of the story.

When creating picture books I often fish out favourite illustrated books / graphic novels / art magazines as inspiration – ones that capture the kind of story and style of illustration I’d like to create. As for getting into character, I have been known to act out scenes from my picture books while illustrating, in order to best capture movement and emotion. I try to do this in private, especially when I have to draw small rabbits throwing tantrums…

How has the place that you write evolved or changed since you first began writing?
At first I just wrote on the kitchen table, then slowly devoted a desk to it, and now I have a whole room dedicated to my writing. Oh the luxury! Over time I’ve been collecting things for my office that inspire me. The layout occasionally changes, depending on my mood. Sometimes I’ll even change the main colours in the room.
I’m not exactly superstitious, but I do have a growing collection of small objects that I keep by my computer. A jade elephant from an old friend. A little Buddha from my mum. A glass cat from my grandmother. A wooden box from my partner. All things that make me feel good.

Do you keep regular writing hours? What are they? If not, when do you write?
I’m lucky enough to be doing this full time at the moment. I once wrote every day, but have spent a lot of time recently looking at work / life balance and my priorities, so have cut it back. I now have about four dedicated work days each week (which can increase during deadlines), where I have set work I aim to get done. I try to do my business type stuff in the mornings, and more creative work in the afternoons.
Squish Rabbit - Viking US and UQP Australia in August
Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
Anything that gives my mind room so my characters can wander around inside my head for a while before I start writing. I often start with exercise, such as running, gym or a meandering walk with my dog. Then I’ll do a little housework, make myself a cup of Melbourne Breakfast tea and get straight to it. On a side note, Sir Dahl’s ghost is welcome at my house anytime as my pencils are in dire need of sharpening.

Next Wednesday in The Writer's Studio is Deborah Abela, author of the much-loved Max Remy Superspy series and Grimsdon. She'll be right off the back of Sydney Writer's Festival and inviting us inside her space and process.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Change the World in Five Minutes: Mend it Rather Than Replace It

It's Monday morning and here's another five-minute action inspired by the wise folks at We Are What We Do and my short film Change the World in Five Minutes Every Day at School.

This is Action 032 in the book, Change the World for Ten Bucks.

I can't afford to get anything fixed. It's cheaper to chuck things in landfill than fix them.

The 'play' button just snapped off my jug. As I lifted the lid on the bin, milliseconds from dropping it in and jumping in the car to buy another poorly-made kettle destined to implode just after the warranty expires, I stopped myself. I thought, 'I'll ask Mike.'

Mike's been pulling stuff apart since he was a kid. (And actually putting it back together.) He unscrewed a few things, poked around, told me I needed glue. So I glued it. And it works.

Less landfill. Fewer resources. Money saved. Warm, fuzzy feeling. Praying it stays stuck. Will keep you posted.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Richard Newsome, Billionaire's Curse Author: The Writer's Studio

Children's Author Richard Newsome
Richard Newsome's The Emerald Casket is about to be unleashed on America. It is the follow-up to his highly-acclaimed middle-grade novel, The Billionaire's Curse. Here, Richard takes us inside his writing space, his love of Doonesbury and the tools he uses to wrassle his stories into shape.

Where did you write your latest book? How important to you is the space that you write in?
I tend to write all over the place. Mostly it's at my desk (see picture), which is in a cool space downstairs at home. It overlooks the front yard, so between paragraphs I can study the full extent of our weed problem. When I get bored, or the cat chases me away (see picture...) I'll give the kitchen table a try, or the back deck, and when things are really desperate, I shoot out to the library at the University of Queensland and try to reproduce the productive efforts of my student days.

Richard Newsome's Writing Space
Do you transform your space in any way for each book? Do you 'get into character' at all?
Absolutely not. The majority of the time is spent staring off into middle distance, trying to get the voice right in my head. Having unnecessary stuff around me would be a distraction.

How has the place that you write evolved or changed since you first began writing novels?
Not much at all. I think I spent too long in corporate work spaces to see desks as anything other than just functionary surfaces. Some of my best work is done on foot. A walk down to the park with a notebook and pencil is more likely to produce a breakthrough than face-time at the desk.
The Emerald Casket by Richard Newsome
Do you keep regular writing hours? What are they? If not, when do you write?
I try to keep regular work hours but I'm yet to master the turn it on like a tap writing ability of some. I have the time between school drop off and school pickup to get the bulk of the writing done. Once the youngest member of the family is in the house, all hope of work is abandoned.

Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
Coffee. Check Doonesbury online. Pick up lucky pencil, and go for it.

For other recent sneak peeks into Writers' Spaces, be sure to check out the blogs of authors Gabrielle Wang and Christopher Cheng.

Next up in The Writer's Studio, Katherine Battersby, author / illustrator of the soon-to-be-infamous  Squish Rabbit (Viking US and UQP Aus, August 2011).

Change the World in Five Minutes: Praise People

Here's another five-minute action inspired by the wise folks at We Are What We Do and my short film Change the World in Five Minutes Every Day at School.

This is action 059 in the book, Change the World 9 to 5.

I work from home so I went out into the kitchen and praised my family for one thing each. I think they thought I was slightly creepy. Not that I never praise them. I just don't usually do it with a slightly creepy look in my eye as though I got the idea from a book... which I did.

But when I gave them all a gold star the creepiness was forgotten in favour of pride.

Not sure I officially 'changed the world' today but I'm gonna keep working on the praise thing this week. Maybe it'll be less weird via email.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Galactic Adventures First Kids in Space Review

Here's the first review for my July book Galactic Adventures: First Kids in Space in the current issue of Bookseller and Publisher. There's also an interview from B & P on the massive amount of research that went into the writing of the book. Just double-click each for more readable versions.
Interview with Tristan Bancks on writing and research for Middle-Grade novel, Galactic Adventures First Kids in Space.

First review for Galactic Adventures First Kids in Space (UQP, July 2011)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

John Boyne – The Writer's Studio

Author John Boyne on the streets of Dublin.

Irish author John Boyne is a good man. He is generous and funny, he reaches out to connect with people and he also tells a mean story, for both adults and children. He is the author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Noah Barleywater Runs Away (illustrated by Oliver Jeffers). His new adult novel, The Absolutist is released in the UK, Ireland and Australia this month. Here, he invites us into his writing space and his process.

Where did you write your latest book? How important to you is the space in which you write?

I wrote the first draft of THE ABSOLUTIST entirely in my study at home in my house in Dublin. It's important to me that I start a new novel when I know that I have a space of time on my calendar to devote myself to the draft, seven days a week, without interruption.

John Boyne's new novel, The Absolutist.
Once I've finished it though, I'm happy to work while touring, or in hotel rooms, or anywhere really. The novel almost immediately moves from my desktop computer to my laptop and then that goes wherever I go. And as for the novel I'm writing at the moment, a new children's novel, again the 1st draft was completed in Dublin but the 2nd was all written on the balcony of my apartment in Kirribilli, Sydney, during January and February.

Do you transform your space in any way for each book? Do you 'get into character' at all?
No, I don't make any transformations to my study. But I do make transformations to myself. Beginning a first draft and knowing that you have long weeks of work ahead over the next four or five months is something that I have realised takes a certain amount of good physical conditioning. And so while we all might eat and drink too much while on holidays or while promoting books abroad, before I start working on a new book I bulk up my gym attendance and make sure I get there every morning without fail by about 7 am. Then walk the dog. By the time I'm sitting at my desk I'm alert, refreshed and buzzing with well-being. The importance of this has become more obvious to me with each novel (and each passing year).

How has the place that you write evolved or changed since you first began writing novels?
When I first started I was living in a rented flat in Dublin city centre. I wrote my first 2 novels on a computer set up in the corner of my bedroom. Since then, I've moved out of flat-land and bought a house on the southside of the city with a good garden and much more space to work in. In truth, although it's more comfortable in the house, it doesn't really affect the writing. When you write, the idea is to be totally focussed on what you're doing and not distracted by things around you.

John Boyne's writing space.
Do you keep regular writing hours? What are they? If not, when do you write?
Yes, I'm at my best in the mornings. I work on the novel I'm writing between about 9 am and 2 pm. After that, I'm done in and might spend the afternoon reading, or editing, or just on general day to day tasks. When I was younger and lived alone, I would often work into the night but I don't do that now.

Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
After the gym and the dog walking, I start on the emails, then trawling through the internet to catch up on the day's news. Then I make a cup of herbal tea – a pot, in fact, in a very nice pot with a very fancy cup. Then I settle the dog, Zaccy, into his basket behind me and open a Word document. And then I start typing.

John Boyne's pooch, Zaccy!

Next up in The Writer's Studio, Richard Newsome, author of The Billionaire's Curse and The Emerald Casket (to be released in the US 17 May).


Monday, May 2, 2011

Change the World in Five Minutes: Turn Down the Hot Water Temp

In 2009 I started a blog called Change the World in Five Minutes Every Day. It was inspired by my SBS short film Change the World in Five Minutes Every Day at School. I blogged my five minute actions but soon found it difficult to take a five minute action, photograph it and blog it every single day so I kept acting but stopped blogging. Over the coming weeks I am going to re-post some of those five minute actions here each Monday. Hope they're inspiring in some way.


That was a simulation of me being scalded in the shower when somebody in another room turned on the tap. Quite realistic, huh?

My hot water is so hot that I always have to mix it with cold to use it. Most hot water heaters are set to 75 celsius (167 Fahrenheit) or higher, burning tonnes of fossil fuels unnecessarily.

I figure I'll avoid third-degree burns, save a stack of cash and change the world by turning it down to 60 celsius (140 Fahrenheit). If you're not an adult, pressure your folks to do it. 

It actually only takes four minutes, leaving a lazy minute to kick back and smell the compost... or whatever else is close to yr hot water heater.
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