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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Story Starters: Food Glorious Food

In my 4th grade 'Anything Goes' writing book, almost every story was about food. Lollies mainly. Food is an important aspect of stories for kids and by kids. In my latest book Galactic Adventures: First Kids in Space there is a giant food-fight scene at the spaceport and in 'Hot Dog Eat', a short story in My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up Tom Weekly tries to defend his grandfather's honour and break the world hot dog eating record. Here's a food-based story-starter for you from the My Life teaching materials.
All illustrations escaped from the kooky mind of Gus Gordon.
The Story Behind the Story
I heard about the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Competition held at Coney Island, New York, and I was fascinated by the concept of 'professional eating'. I am also an enormous fan of Stephen King’s fantastic story The Body, made into the film Stand By Me. In that story there is an unforgettable “pie- eat” scene. 'Hot Dog Eat' is kind of my homage to it.
What is your favourite or least favourite food? Tell a story about it. Set yourself five or ten minutes on the timer on my Create page and go for it. Don't think, just write. The story can celebrate the beauty of food or, like Hot Dog Eat, it can be a little bit gross.
Google ‘Nathan’s Hot Dog Eat’ and click on a video of the famous Dog Eat that inspired my story.

Good luck. Let me know how you go.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Get Reading Tour

I have just returned from a Get Reading book tour, speaking about My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up and Galactic Adventures: First Kids in Space. The tour took in Townsville, Sydney, Wollongong, Melbourne, Geelong and Ballarat – 15 talks in five days with kids and teens from kindergarten through to year 9. It was a wild, hard-working week, interacting with thousands of kids, hopefully inspiring them to pick up a book and also giving them some tools for creating their own stories.

Get Reading publishes the annual guide, '50 Books You Can't Put Down' and they have just begun touring authors around Australia. Here is my tour in pics and video.

A giraffe by Australian artist John Olsen on the wall of the amazing Olsen Hotel in Melbourne.

With two dynamos, Maryanne Hyde from Geelong Library Service and Bethany Clark from Get Reading
View from my hotel room in Sydney.
Speaking to kids at Balmain Primary School.
My new rocket, powered by baking soda and vinegar.
Signing books with Paul MacDonald from The Children's Bookshop in Sydney.

More pics on Get Reading's Facebook page at

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Story Starters: Worst Job in the World

Here's another Story Starter, perfect for getting kids and adults writing. This one is based on my short story 'Tooth Job' from My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up. The illustrations in this post are by the extraordinary and kooky Gus Gordon.

'Tooth Job' was inspired by a story told to me by an old friend when we were discussing the worst jobs that we had ever had. His worst job was delivering teeth and, in my story, things go very, very wrong for Tom Weekly on his first day in the tooth delivery biz.

Story Starter
What do you think would be the worst job in the whole world? Is it grubby or embarrassing or dangerous? Get a blank sheet of paper or a fresh page in your writing book. Brainstorm a big list of ‘Worst Jobs’ (make them up if you like) and then choose one of the jobs and write ‘A day in the life of a ...’

In the TV series Dirty Jobs they feature a worm dung farmer, a snake wrangler and an owl vomit collector. For inspiration, check out this list of episodes from Dirty Jobs:

Good luck!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Secret to Writing for Children

'And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.' – Roald Dahl

I love this quote. It's the secret to being a children's writer.
[I'm unsure of source for image but please let me know before you sue.]

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Children's Author Shamini Flint: The Writer's Studio

Shamini Flint is a Singapore-based children's and adult author, a Malaysian national, educated at Cambridge. She has self-published many of her books via the company she established, SunBear Publishing and now has deals with Little Brown UK and Allen & Unwin. She was a corporate lawyer and is now a proud stay-at-home soccer mum. She was a hit at this year's Sydney Writer's Fest where I had the good fortune to meet her. Here she takes us into her writing space which she describes as 'a pile of rubbish on the carpet while the house is being painted'. But writers work in all conditions...
Where did you write your latest book? 
I have a very nice room in my house in Singapore – high ceilings, windows with shutters and lots and lots of pictures and books and that’s where I do most of my writing. I also keep a notebook next to my bed. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I get a few ideas but if I don’t write them down I’ve forgotten by the morning!
How important to you is the space that you write in? 
It’s not the space that matters so much to me but the peace and quiet – so I can only write when the kids are at school. If they’re home they interrupt me every five minutes. Even if I lock myself in they bang on the doors and promise that they have ‘just one more thing’ to ask me or tell me – but it never is just one more thing!
Do you transform your space in any way for each book? 
Not really. Sometimes the room is messy, sometimes it’s tidy, sometimes it’s somewhere in between. Today there are bits of paper and colour pencils everywhere because the kids were working on an art project last night and didn’t tidy up. And my computer mouse is sticky which is not so great.
Do you 'get into character' at all? 
I don’t dress up or anything weird like that but when I’m writing dialogue, I sort of think that I’m that person in the book so that I ‘sound’ like them. I get a lot of my children’s characters from my own kids so sometimes I just imagine how they’d behave in a particular situation rather than try and squeeze my forty year-old self into a child’s space.

Do you keep regular writing hours? 
In the morning when the kids are at school and at night when they’re in bed if I’m not too tired. Sometimes I drift off when I’m putting them to bed.
Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
Coffee, coffee and more coffee with lots of milk and sugar. Writing makes me fat!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Story Starters: Vision-Boarding

Each week I'll be posting a new Story Starter here, perfect for getting kids and adults writing. This one is based on my short story Swoop from My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up.
All Australians understand the blinding fear of magpies in the springtime. I wrote this story a few years ago to vent my frustration with the magpie living on the telegraph pole in front of my house. When I sat down to write I set myself the simple challenge of getting my character, Tom Weekly, from his house to the bus stop without being swooped or humiliated in front of Sasha, the girl of his dreams. Then I threw absolutely everything I could at him in order to stop him from getting there.
Vision-Board: One of the tools that I use in my writing is to gather pictures like those above that feel like the story that I am creating. I collect them together in a folder on my computer desktop called a Vision Board. Can you find some images of a dangerous domestic / suburban animal from sites like Google Images and Flickr and use them as inspiration for a story? A personal favourite Google Images search is 'Weird Cats'. Give it a shot and see if it inspires anything.
Magpie Illustrations by Gus Gordon from My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up
Once you have a couple of images you can use the Creative Bank timer app on my Create page if you like. Set yourself either 5 or 10 minutes. Don't think. Just write. See what happens and let me know how it goes.

Good luck.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Children's Author / Illustrator Gus Gordon: The Writer's Studio

Gus Gordon is much-loved in the children's book industry for his generosity, good humour, talent with both pen and paintbrush and his extraordinary moves on the dancefloor. He is the author-illustrator of picture book Wendy and the upcoming Herman and Rosie. I was fortunate enough to have Gus illustrate My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up (Random House) our book of weird, funny short stories for primary schoolers that is released this week. Here he takes us on a tour of his writing space.
Where did you write your latest book? How important to you is the space that you write in?
I do pretty much all of my writing in my studio but I think about the writing everywhere - the supermarket, cafés, in the surf, dancing (I'm kidding - it's really hard to think about anything while you're dancing). But it’s the shower that works best for me. Especially when I have a problem that needs to be resolved. It must be the flowing water, I don’t know, but for whatever reason I think very clearly and visually in the shower. Most of my book ideas have come from there. It’s weird, I’m sure there must be something sciency to it.
Gus Gordon's writing studio. (Gus wanted me to publish a pic of him in the shower but I declined.)
I think a good working space is invaluable. I have a good imagination but if you are not comfortable and in the right head space then it’s so much harder to tap into that place – wherever that is. Poland, I think. Anyway, I need a mental run-up to get on a roll so the less distractions the better. Especially since I am rather prone to distraction. Thankfully my studio has good light, space and most importantly it is my place – my room, and everyone respects that (sort of). Some days nothing happens in there but as long as I have a place to stare blankly into space I’m happy. 
'Nit Cures' from My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up, out this month.
Do you transform your space in any way for each book? Do you 'get into character' at all?
I do a bunch of research so I can get a good feel for the time, place or character/s I am illustrating or writing about. My cork boards are forever changing according to what I am working on at the time. I pin up photos, sketches and things that I find inspiring in some way (like a photo of a beer or some cheese). It’s important for me to be constantly reminded about my character’s environment or about the way I intend to handle the visual or graphic elements of the story. The more stuff the better.

How has the place that you write evolved or changed since you first began writing novels?
Since I started writing I have added another cork board to the wall that I use solely for laying out the story. It’s good to have an area where you can step back and see the story unfolding, not just visually but structurally, in front of your eyes. You need that kind of space with picture books to see if it’s all flowing or if there are any weaknesses in the story arc. Or if it's crap. I do a surprising amount of standing, thinking and just looking at that board.
Do you keep regular writing hours? What are they? If not, when do you write?
For the most part I keep fairly regular hours unless I’m chasing a deadline or working on multiple projects. It’s better for everyone that way. Nights are normally good for me until about 10pm when I always seem to hit a wall and my brain ceases to function on any creative level at all. It’s at this time of night when I begin to write off everything I’ve done that day. I’ve learnt it’s best to put done tools before this happens. I have been trying very hard not to work weekends this year and until lately I’ve been mostly successful. Having said that, I have been working away madly on my new book, Herman and Rosie, so I can see some weekends merging into weekdays before it’s all done.
Herman and Rosie illustration by Gus Gordon.
Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
I’m not really a ritual guy - other than coffee and then more coffee. I am usually down in my studio around 8.30am. I read a few blogs – books and music stuff – then slowly get going around 10ish. I pick some music to set the tone of the day and then I’m away. Afternoons are normally the most productive and I’m always sharpening bloody pencils.
Next week in The Writer's Studio, Shamini Flint, Cambridge-educated corporate lawyer turned children's author and 'soccer mum' who was a hit at this year's Sydney Writer's Festival. She's a dynamo, a funny lady and has written dozens of books, both self-published and through major international publishers. See you then.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Free Short Story – 'My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up'

To celebrate the release of My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up (Random House), my book of weird / funny / gross short stories for children, I'm giving away a story for free. You heard it here first. You pay nothing, nada, niente. And it's a real (toe)nail biter, perfect for reading out loud to kids. Just click the book image above to grab Toe, the free story. (Based on a true-ish story of sibling rivalry.)

[NB: Extract taken from My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up, published by Random House Australia. Text copyright ©Tristan Bancks 2011. Illustrations copyright ©Gus Gordon 2011. RRP $15.95.]

See author Oliver Phommavanh's review of the book in BuzzWords below.

My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up by Tristan Bancks and illustrated by Gus Gordon (Random House)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1817-1  
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up is a collection of short stories for younger readers. These bite-sized bursts of fun are inspired by Paul Jennings, Andrew Daddo and Andy Griffiths, the sort of stories that will keep kids enthralled and wondering if it really happened or not.

Tom Weekly is just your normal kid with a wacky life. This collection kicks off with his pet dog that is constantly getting kissed by a weird dog lover. Bancks just keeps upping the zaniness and laughs from there. Tom takes part in a hot dog eating competition, he is dared to eat vegemite off his sister’s toe and he gets attacked by magpies. Kids will be able to relate to that for sure! In fact, kids will find a part of themselves in Tom, who always finds himself in all sort of weird situations. My personal favourite is the story where Tom and his friend Jack challenge one another to see who has the toughest nan. It reads like a wrestling match.

Bancks is joined by Gus Gordon, who provides some illustrations to flesh out Bancks’ out-there descriptions. They’re a reliable combination to deliver laughs on each page. The notebook layout will inspire kids to write out their own fantastic tales.

My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up has been tried and tested by Bancks. There are some amusing lists and answers from kids on his school visits. He has tapped into a kid’s curiosity and runaway imagination with these short stories. They’re easy to devour and perfect for reading out loud.      

My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up is highly recommended for ages 9 and up.


Friday, July 1, 2011

Ginger Meggs' 90th Birthday: A Tribute to My Great Great Uncle, J.C. Bancks

Ginger Meggs mashup by Amber Melody
As a kid of the 1980s, being the great, great nephew of Jimmy Bancks, the creator of Ginger Meggs was a source of immense schoolyard pride. I spent hours reading the strips, inventing my own characters and gazing up at the Bancks originals on my grandmother's lounge room wall. One of my most memorable childhood moments was meeting James Kemsley, the Meggs cartoonist of the time, at the Royal Easter Show. Ginger and Bancks have been inspirational in my work as a children's author, too. (I only wish I could draw.)
From the 1920s to the 1950s no fictional creation embodied Australian national character like Ginger Meggs. In terms of notoriety, he was the Aussie Bart Simpson of his time. His personification of an idealised Australia spawned two feature films, four stage plays, more than fifty ‘annuals’ and made his creator, J.C. Bancks, the highest paid black and white artist or journalist around. Meggs is the longest-running and most popular comic strip in Australian history and is now read in 34 countries around the world.

2011 is the 90th anniversary of Ginger Meggs and, to celebrate, the Perth Mint have released a rather amazing silver one dollar coin designed by current Meggs cartoonist Jason Chatfield (who is doing a fantastic job with the strip) and fellow artists Peter Broelman and Rolf Harris. You can order the coin here. Today, 1 July, is also the 59th anniversary of Jimmy Bancks' death.
‘Larrikin. Fair go. No matter what you do you’ll never win, so enjoy what you can. Don’t worry. You’ll never be rich but you can have a lot of fun doing things for free. All that is in Ginger Meggs... A basic understanding of Australia’s self-image.’
 - Lindsay Foyle, Comic Strip Historian.

Go Meggsy.

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