Australian Author of Children’s Books and Teen Books: March 2012

Friday, March 23, 2012

Building Character Workshop in Byron Bay

Here are the details for my 'Building Character' workshop at the Northern Rivers Writers Centre, Byron Bay on 1 April. We'll be playing with my new multimedia brainstorming app, Story Scrapbook, before its release and exploring lots of fresh tools for character creation. The NRWC is at and 02 66855115


This workshop is designed for beginning and emerging writers.
All great stories have brilliant characters. tristan-bancks-webBut how do writers and filmmakers create their characters? Are they found objects, gently extracted using delicate tools? Or are they built and developed, consciously, from the ground up? How does the writer let characters evolve truthfully without forcing them to be inauthentic in the service of plot?
In this hands-on, one-day workshop participants use memory, performance, illustration, people-watching, storyboarding, image-gathering, collaboration and the written word to create memorable, multi-layered characters that will inspire a short story to be written by the end of the day. Participants will go home with a slate of new characters, a new story and a toolkit filled with fresh characterisation tools.
TRSITAN BANCKS tells stories for the page and screen. His background is in acting and filmmaking. His new books are Galactic Adventures, First Kids in Space (UQP) and My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up (Random House). He has also written the Mac Slater books (Random House Australia, Simon & Schuster US) and the Nit Boy series. Tristan loves telling fast-moving stories for young people and inspiring others to create. Story Scrapbook, his new multimedia story brainstorming app, will be available by donation from his website in April. To find out more about Tristan and his writing, visit 
locationSCU room, Byron Community Centre
date and time10.00am-4.00pm (Sunday, 1 April)ticket price$70 NRWC members; $85 non-members


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Isobelle Carmody, Children's Author, in The Writer's Studio

Isobelle Carmody is a writer who moves to her own rhythms. She has discovered her space and process  over 40 years as an author, having begun writing her beloved and greatly acclaimed Obernewtyn Chronicles at age 14. Here, Isobelle takes us for a trip around Europe (and the Great Ocean Road), taking us inside her writing space and life, sharing in images, words and video, where her stories come from. I love this post.

Where did you write your latest book? How important to you is the space in which you write?
I wrote the book I just finished, a collection of six stories called Metro Winds, over 12 years so I wrote in a lot of different places. Allen and Unwin have been incredibly, inhumanly patient with me. They did not even join that website called 'Isobelle Carmody Hurry Up'. Can you believed here really is a site called that? I joined it on my last birthday because I want me to hurry up. too. The trouble is that things take as long as they take and I want to get them right. That is also why it has taken so long to finish these stories.
The title story was mostly written in Prague when I was first living there, and in Paris. The city in the story is in fact a fusion of those two cities. The second is called The Dove Game, and was written in Paris, when I was staying in the Keesing Studio at the Cite Des Arts on an Australia Council grant. One of the micro stories in it was something my partner saw and told me about. I loved it so much I asked him to 'give' it to me as a present, to use as I liked. It was a big ask because he is a writer too, as well as a musician, but he gave it to me. The Dove Game also contains a story that the artist Miles Lowry, who did the covers of the Billy Thunder books and Alyzon Whitestar, told me when I was in residence at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmarrig in Ireland. The third story, The Girl Who Could See the Wind, is set in Europe and in Australia and was mostly written in cafes in Australia.
Isobelle overlooking the caldera on the island of Santorini, Greece.
I write in cafes a lot because you can't put your head down and have a little snooze there without embarrassing yourself and you can't think of a dozen chores to do to get away from your desk when the going gets tough and no one can say they are bored and what should they do or they are hungry and what can they eat or, 'I can't find it, can you help me'. They are also great places for people watching and eavesdropping, important and useful activities for a writer. I always acknowledge the names of any cafes or places I work in very regularly, in the book, but I didn't in this one because there were so many. The fourth story is set in Greece and I actually set it where I go to stay in a villa once a year on the island of Santorini. I wrote the first draft of The Red Wind here and I drew the roughs of the first and third Little Fur books here. In this story the guy is staying in the villa and he even reads a bit of the same old out of print travel guide as I did. The penultimate story is set in Venice - a sort of Ur Venice, actually. I wrote that in cafes in Prague where I am living now, mostly. I also wrote a bit of it in Venice because I go there once a year to the Bologna Book Fair and it is only a two hour train ride away. The last is set in Australia and Prague, and I wrote that here, too.

Do you transform your space in any way for each book? Do you 'get into character' at all?
I have a little study that opens right off the kitchen in Australia, and from it I can see the back yard, the front yard and the ocean. You can see my workspace from this little film Penguin made:
In fact I am mostly there in winter these days and and I tend to shift to sit in front of the fire on the couch. I have a lap top I can take anywhere. I hate being cold but I can't be too warm or I will fall asleep. I prefer no music and no talking and absolutely never the sound of television or ads. I love it when I can hear no human voices. I do go into Apollo Bay and work a lot, and I have my favorite cafes to write in - I tend to write each new book in a different cafe, partly because I think the staff might be sick of sweeping round me by the time I have finished it, and partly because I need to signal to myself that something new is to start. I need a blank canvas. But I hate change. If the cafe changes too much, I will usually stop going there.
In Prague at home, I work in our kitchen which overlooks a complex of apartment yards which have been horribly given over to garages- it is all pitch roof and grey cement. When I showed it to my brother he was appalled. He called it The Gulag. I have a beaten up kitchen table and I am forever fighting to keep the paperwork at bay so we can actually eat there sometimes. The wiring in the kitchen is defective and is always blinking ot dimming or going off at the worst moment. I have to bring in the bedroom lamp when I want to draw.
I usually do the handwriting and some of the computing in cafes, and the main computing and drawing at home in Oz or in Prague, because of the mess. I work in black ink and I am clumsy and messy, as you see. I love when I can work in a hotel as I don't have to cook. I don't even have to eat, I can swim when I need a wake up call, and I can tell the desk not to let anyone disturb me. I can work very intensely there.
How has the place that you write evolved or changed since you first began writing novels?
I pretty much always worked roaming around the house. I think I used to work more sitting in bed but these days I find it makes my back ache and being in bed makes me want to go to sleep. I used to work more in cafes than I do now, but people can smoke in cafes in Prague and I hate that so I stopped going so much. I like working in cafes in Australia, but the music can't be dopy pop or, worst of all, House or electronic of any kind. If there is music, I like modern minimalist Jazz, or quiet classical music or just real music- not something with a computer beat. I like people around but I don't like it when they laugh or talk too loudly. I like quiet people. I like the coffee to be very very good as I am very very fussy. I only ever drink two coffees and I like it when the coffee shop people leave me alone and don't keep asking me if there is something else I want. I love it when they know me well enough not even to ask what I want. Working in Apollo Bay it is lovely because no one pays any attention to me when I am working and I have written in basically all the cafes at one time or another.
Do you keep regular writing hours? If not, when do you write?
I start at about 7.30am, just before my daughter goes to school. I make her breakfast not because she needs me to do it, but because it seems sort of sad for her to get up and get ready and leave all alone. There is an intercom that goes down to the front door of the building and sometimes I miaow or purr at her through it. Sometimes it is not her but it doesn't matter because the startled person at the other end does not know who made cat noises. For all he or she knows, it might be a cat. My daughter says severely, 'Other mothers don't miaow down the intercom.' 'You miaow back,' I counter. 'You encourage me.' 'Only because it would be rude not to answer,' she says, with dignity. I write until about one in my pyjamas, then I shower and go for a walk. I take my computer and after the walk I sit in a cafe and work for another couple of hours, then I go home and work again, stopping to cook dinner, and right now it is 1am and I am still up, writing. Luckily I have always been a bit of an insomniac. Wanting to sleep when I am supposed to be working does not count because it is only a mind trick. Writer narcolepsy. The minute I start to work, I feel sleepy but I have to push through it and then I am okay. Basically I write all the time and squash life in when I have to.
Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
After my girl leaves, I switch my computer on and I make a cup of tea. I give the cat some food or she bites me gently on the back of my knees. Sometimes I put some washing in the washing machine and dry the dishes from the night before but my rule is to be ready to work when the kettle boils. Once the tea is made I sit down and try really really hard not to look at my emails or Facebook page. If I do, which I do about half the time, there goes two hours. If I don't, I am allowed to do that when I come back from the cafe in the afternoon. I stay in my dressing gown because if I get dressed I have to go out. If I need to be put into a certain mind set, I will read a chapter or two of something. I try to be reading the same book or the same author or the same sort of book the whole time I am working on a certain book. I have certain books which I read again and again and I take them everywhere I go in the world, when I am going to write- that is why I love my kindle. It contains a library of books I might need.
When I am drawing, I listen to audio CDs and I have to get out all of my pots and ink quills and nibs and sharpen the pencils and find the rubber because the cat steals rubbers and she often runs off with a pencil I am trying to use. She has a stash of them under the couch. I feel like I imagine an alchemist would feel with all the drawing stuff around me. If I am writing I use the same pen, which I always buy new for each new book. It is the sort that you have to suck ink into. The color of the pen had to be right for the book, as does the notepad I use (a thin B5 lined moleskin), and I always try to get or mix an ink to suit as well. At the moment I am writing The Cloud Road, which is the sequel to The Red Wind, on blue or grey or white Moleskine notebooks, and I have a pale silvery blue waterman pen and grey ink, which I hunted high and low to find. Mont Blanc is the only company that makes it and they have the most beautiful bottles for their ink that I have ever seen.

Thanks Isobelle! Next week, catch another writer in The Writer's Studio.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Somerset Celebration of Literature

This week I'm at Somerset Celebration of Literature on the Gold Coast hanging out with lots of kids and authors and sharing lots of stories. It is an outrageous three days of events where books are celebrated and brought alive for enthusiastic audiences from all over South-East Queensland and Northern New South Wales. Here are a few pics of the fest so far...
Signing books. Authors Jane Caro and Susanne Gervay in the background.
Children's authors Oliver Phommavanh and Katherine Battersby at the launch event.

(Left to Right) Tristan Bancks, James Roy, Jacqueline Harvey and Oliver Phommavanh
at the launch of the 2012 Somerset Celebration of Literature.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Nicki Greenberg, Children's Author and Illustrator : The Writer's Studio

Nicki Greenberg is a writer, illustrator and comic artist. She has re-interpreted The Great Gatsby and Hamlet as well as creating her own wildly original works. Here, she talks coffee, morning rituals and how her physical space impacts on her creative output. (She also has one of the most inspiring work spaces seen in The Writer's Studio.)

Where did you write your latest book? How important to you is the space in which you write?
I wrote/illustrated my last three books - Hamlet, Monkey Red Monkey Blue and BOM! Went the Bear, plus part of The Great Gatsby, in my studio at home, which I call my "drawing room". My drawing room is enormously important to me as a dedicated space where I can spread out my scribbling gear, my research and source material and all the piles of paper that accumulate whenever I am at work. I have a lot of odd scraps of paper and pictures blu-tacked onto the walls for inspiration, and for the happy feeling of being surrounded by beautiful and interesting images.
My drawing room has two desks in it - one for drawing and one for computer work. While the two types of work complement each other and are both essential to the books that I do, I like them to be separate spaces. For Hamlet, which required a lot of involved Photoshop work, I was still using an ancient PC. I've since moved to a Mac and am astounded that I was able to do such a big project on the old clunker.
Do you transform your space in any way for each book? Do you 'get into character' at all?
When I am working on a book I like to add pictures to the walls as points of reference or for stimulation. For example, when working on Hamlet I drew inspiration for the background stage sets from a card that a friend had sent me showing a section of a painting by Vittorio Zecchin. I kept it on the wall as close to eye level as possible so that I could take "sips" of it whenever I felt like it. As I finish one book and start another, I tend to keep the older material up on the wall for sentimental reasons, and also because they are images that I really enjoy. For the last two books I strung a wire across my desk so that I could peg finished artwork on it to refer to while working on other pages.

How has the place that you write evolved or changed since you first began writing novels?
I have had a "drawing room" in every house I've lived in for the past eleven years, and have carried my blue-tacked bits of paper from house to house. This room is certainly the nicest, with a large window onto the garden. It has evolved by becoming fuller and more cluttered despite my frequent attempts to purge and tidy. For a long time I used to also write and draw in local cafes, pubs and during one month of renovations, in the local library. This was only for preparatory work - research, sketchpad scribbling, concept work, notes and brainstorming and some rough drafts. For the time-consuming and meticulous work of the final drawings, I need to work in my room with all my gear.
Do you keep regular writing hours? If not, when do you write?
Before my two darling girls were born, I worked to a very strict schedule. I used to work part-time (and before that, full-time) as a lawyer, so I had to be very disciplined about making (and using!) regular time for working on my books. When I was at the office full time and working on Gatsby, I drew every morning before work. When I went part-time, I spent my home days drawing from about 8am to 6pm, often without a break. Now, with a baby and a toddler, I just have to seize my moments when I can! It has been a learning experience, as I was very accustomed to devising and sticking to a strict work schedule. Now I have to be more flexible and work in fits and starts.

Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
My morning ritual when I worked on Gatsby was to make a powerful double espresso and drink it from a little bone china cup with a rose on it as I began to work. By the time I was doing Hamlet, I had switched to tea brewed in a teapot which I painted for my husband. I still remember with fondness the rush of the coffee, and how it lifted me into the swing of early morning drawing sessions. When I have coffee now, it reminds me of that time. 

Next week, legendary children's author Isobelle Carmody (The Obernewtyn Chronicles and the upcoming Metro Winds) will be sharing her writing spaces in Prague and the Great Ocean Road. Some beautiful images and video to share in The Writer's Studio.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Happy Secret to Better Work

This TED talk, 'The Happy Secret to Better Work', by Shawn Achor is one of the most inspiring I have seen. Not only is the presentation funny, personal and universal, it reveals key information on how our brains work and the extraordinary power of positive psychology (but without all the Tony Robbins take-over-the-world stuff). It reveals five important tools for being happy now. Not when you land the deal or win an award or make a million bucks or when seventeen other criteria are met, but now.

Here are the five tips for creating lasting positive change. I do some of them already, but not often enough. I'm going to do this for the next 21 days and report back. Wish me luck.
1. 3 Gratitudes (Write down 3 new things you are thankful for each day for 21 days.)
2. Journaling (Each day, write down something you have been thankful for in the past 24 hours.)
3. Exercise (Teaches your brain that your behaviour matters.)
4. Meditation (The single-focus is an antidote to all our multi-tasking / cultural ADHD.)
5. Random Acts of Kindness (Each day, write one positive email praising or thanking someone in your social support network.)

Hope the talk inspires you, too.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

I'm looking forward to heading to L.A. in April to speak at Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. This coincides with the U.S. paperback release of Mac Slater Versus the City.

The Festival happens on the USC Campus so it'll be fun to check out the delights of Downtown and East L.A., The Getty Museum in particular.

Here are a few of the cool cats speaking at this year's fest:
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Julie Andrews
Judy Blume
Libba Bray
Melissa de la Cruz
Marla Frazee
Jack Gantos
John Green
Maureen Johnson
Lauren Kate
Jeff Kinney
Patrick Ness
Shawn Thomas Odyssey
Lin Oliver
Mal Peet
Maggie Stiefvater
Wil Wheaton
Henry Winkler


I'm also heading back to the impossibly beautiful town of Claremont on the outskirts of L.A. for events with Mrs Nelson's Books who are worth following on Twitter! @mrsnelsonsbooks and for my first visit to Irvine, CA, thanks to the v. fine Whale of a Tale Children's Bookshoppe (@awhaleofatale)

Get Your Geek On : Mac Slater Hunts the Cool on the YALSA list of 2012 Popular Paperbacks. Lots of good teen reads if you're in the market.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Jack Heath – Young Adult Author in The Writer's Studio

Jack Heath is a Young Adult author and funny-guy. Almost everything he says is funny. And, yet, he writes action. I have been lucky enough to be on a number of panels with Jack at Brisbane Writers Festival and his off-beat, stream-of-consciousness style of speaking holds great appeal for teens. Here he shares his creative spaces, characterisation tips and doughnut-fuelled writing process.

Where did you write your latest book? How important to you is the space in which you write?
I wrote most of my latest book in an armchair my wife inherited from her grandmother, and the rest on buses to and from Sydney. Some spaces are more inspiring than others, but beggars can't be choosers. I've found that helps to be somewhere without Internet access - one visit to can turn into hours spent reading the New Yorker when I should be working.

Do you transform your space in any way for each book? Do you 'get into character' at all?
The space doesn't get into character, but I do. It's not intentional, but when I'm writing about Agent Six of Hearts, I seem to gain some stoicism but lose my sense of humour. When I'm writing about Ashley Arthur, I become more creative, but impulsive. Fortunately, the only attribute I acquired from Timothy Blake (the cannibal protagonist ofIrredeemable) was some Texan language. If I'm writing a book and I'm not picking up any personality traits, that's usually a sign that the character doesn't have any, so the book needs work.

How has the place that you write evolved or changed since you first began writing novels?
I used to be very easily distracted, so I could only write alone in a silent room with the curtains closed. But after six years of practice, I can write in a crowded airport with the TV going. The hard part is noticing the boarding calls - and tracking down an accessible powerpoint without looking like a terrorist. Pro tip: look for a lone vending machine.

Do you keep regular writing hours? If not, when do you write?
I write every morning before my wife gets out of bed. Then I drop her off at work in the Canberra CBD and do some more writing at the local Donut King, which does a very inspiring early-bird special. They haven't paid me to tell you that, but if they want to sponsor me, I'm open to the idea.
Do you have a morning ritual? Roald Dahl was said to sharpen pencils. What settles your mind for writing?
I'm not sure I even like coffee, but the process of making it - boiling the water, frothing the milk, stirring - seems to help me get focused on the task ahead. I also sometimes listen to soundtracks through headphones to get in the mood. Inception, Sherlock Holmes, Metal Gear Solid 3, The Bourne Ultimatum and The Matrix Reloaded are some of my favourites.

Next Tuesday graphic novelist Nicki Greenberg (Hamlet, The Great Gatsby – not the originals) is in The Writer's Studio sharing her super-cool, visually-inspiring creative space.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

www = Write Write Write

As I tour schools talking books and writing, so many teachers express an interest in bringing more creative writing back into the classroom. Much time is spent teaching narrative styles and critical thinking skills and great tools for writing in a test environment but so little time is left to allow teachers and students to experiment with the kind of free-written creativity that I enjoyed when I went to school.

Recently I received a letter from Payton, a participant at one of my school holiday writing workshops and then a follow-up letter from her mother, Diana, a year 6 teacher. I include Payton's note (to Tom, the character in My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up) because it made me smile and Diana's note because it shows how she is instituting a fantastic program she calls www ('write write write') in the classroom with excellent results.

To Tom,Just kidding
I love your book it is so funny!
It is so good even my mum is reading it.Surprised smile
This goes to Tristan Bancks.Hot smile
i went to your workshop at The Childrens Bookshop and
thought it was great!
You are really funny and i like the way you right stories.Open-mouth smile
Please email backEmail

From PaytonStar
Diana's Letter:

Dear Tristan,

Just wanted take a few minutes to thank you. My daughter, Payton attended your writer's workshop at the Children's Bookshop in Beecroft during the holidays and was inspired. I too gained so much from the short time I was able to observe. She has followed your website ever since and has been emailing you. I thank you for taking the time to read it and respond. It means so much to her.

I am a Year 6 teacher and I think she mentioned in her email that I read "Scab" to my class on the first day of school. It was a great way to break the ice with a group of cool pre-teens. They loved it and couldn't wait to hear more from your book "My Life..." I showed them your website and have also timetabled a writing time into our class timetable EVERY DAY. I loved the book you showed the children at the workshop where you would write ANYTHING every day. We used to do that years back as teachers until it went out of vogue. Thanks for inspiring me to bring it back and make the time for it.

I gave the children a special book which we gave a word graffiti cover and I've called the writing session "www." which stands for "writewritewrite." The kids loved it from the beginning.

I used your top tips for writing from your website and told the children that they had to keep writing about absolutely anything and that they could not stop until time was up. It was wonderful to hear them groaning when I said time was up and many said,"that went too quick!"

Keep up your good work in inspiring young people with your knowledge about writing and your great books.

Kind Regards,


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