Australian Author of Children’s Books and Teen Books: May 2013

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Outdoor Writing

I am a big fan of writing outdoors, as regular readers of this blog will know. I am also a fan of feeding creativity with video, maps, music, the Web and so on. But I would argue that Nature is the key to accessing the richest stories that lie within us.

Last week I took my sons, aged 7 & 9, on a beach writing adventure, reading a bit of The Swiss Family Robinson for shipwreck inspiration. We did 4 x 10-minute freewrites (non-stop, freeflow writing), punctuated by missions on the beach to find inspiring objects. By the end, they each had the beginnings of an exciting desert island story that we'll continue writing over coming weeks.

Here are some pics to inspire your own outdoor writing adventure. And if you're in Brisbane 24 June, join me and a bunch of kids for a Story Safari along the banks of the Brisbane River with QLD Writers Centre.



Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Expanding Horizons

I recently ran a two-day workshop for talented young creatives, teaming with a Lego Robotics facilitator for hands-on, active sessions aimed at feeding participants' creativity. We used Lego, modelling clay, illustration, magazines and some creepy-looking skulls and snake skins for story inspiration.

Here are some pics.

My other upcoming workshops are here.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Digital Storytelling

A page mock-up from Earth, my new digital storytelling project with Ben Train.
'It's Evolution, not Revolution – Novel, Radio, Theatre, Web, eBook, Virtual World, App. A story is still a story. The story has not changed that much since cave people.' 

So says Mike Jones, screen media writer and producer, who recently presented Screenworks seminar, Multiplatform Storyworlds. It was a daunting session title but the content was down-to-earth and accessible for even the most paper-bound writer. Jones is a writer first, technologist second and he asked the question, ‘How do we build story worlds big enough for exploration across multiple media forms?’ He encouraged writers interested in this kind of story to ‘think adaptation from the beginning’. He assured us that digital storytelling is simply about telling traditional stories with new tools. The session was just as relevant for authors as it was for filmmakers and game creators.

I write books for children, stories delivered, until now, mostly on paper. It is widely agreed that kids’ books on paper have a much longer life ahead of them than books for adults, yet I believe that it is essential for all writers to dip a toe in the river of digital innovation. Right now the opportunity is there for individual writers armed with nothing more than a laptop to make a valuable contribution to the new ways we will read and create in the coming years.

Kids Stink eBook
I have two new digital projects for June release, one with Random House and one via my website. I have no assurance on the outcome of these experiments but the process is sure to be valuable and exciting. The Random House project is a fairly straightforward proposition – a digital-only illustrated short story, Kids Stink, featuring Australia’s angriest grandpa and Tom Weekly, a character from my earlier collection of short stories, My Life & Other Stuff I Made Up. It will be a 2000-word eBook offered at around a dollar. This is not unusual in books for adults but eBooks are a much smaller portion of the Children’s reading pie. My hope is that kids will download the book to iPod Touch and squeeze some reading time in between games of Star Wars Angry Birds and Lego Batman. Use of the iPod Touch as a reading device may take some re-education, hence this experiment.

The second project, Earth, is an ambitious collaborative, narrative-driven digital story project for 9+ year-olds. It was recently awarded a fellowship by CAL and the WestWords Young People’s Literature Development Program. The story follows the exploits of Pip, a kid born inside the world's largest and most extraordinary theme park, Earth, set on an island in the Pacific. The website will feature a one-minute book trailer, providing the story setup. Readers / users will then be left with a series of clues – photographs, ticket stubs, a key, a notebook, a diary and some old manuals in a virtual tin box. They must use the clues to help create the remainder of the story.
A ride idea for Earth being developed at a recent camp for creative students.
Children & teens will contribute to the project by developing attractions for the theme park as well as characters and story twists. They can use text, illustration, Sketchup creations, images, maps, Google Lit Trips, music, video and other tools to build the world of Earth and develop the story. They can share and discuss their contributions on the website and earn rewards as Storytellers and Earthitects. A community will be built around the project through live talk and workshop sessions in schools and at literary festivals.

Earth is a collaboration with Ben Train, programmer / designer of our free Story Scrapbook brainstorming app which has had a successful beta release. Our intention with Earth is to provide an outlet for children’s imaginations and to further blur the line between creator and consumer of stories.
Earth User Content Page Mockup
These experiments may not work, but they might just work in entirely unexpected ways and lead to new to possibilities for connecting and collaborating with readers. It is no secret that we are at a pivotal moment for the publishing industry. There is great opportunity for individuals and publishers to experiment with digital narrative projects and to invite the reader into the creative process. I believe that these projects can contribute in a meaningful way to the future of children’s literacy and the future of the book.

On this journey, it is useful to remember Mike Jones’s assurance that it is ‘Evolution, not Revolution’ – traditional stories told using new tools.

This article was first published in Northerly, the magazine of the Northern Rivers Writers Centre and Byron Bay Writers Festival. Mike Jones blogs at

Monday, May 13, 2013

World's Crankiest Grandpa Competition

WIN! Send me a picture or illustration of a Cranky Grandpa for a chance to win my World's Crankiest Grandpa competition. I'm giving away five copies of my weird-funny-sometimes-gross book of short stories, My Life & Other Stuff I Made Up – one a month for five months May-September – in an attempt to find the World's Crankiest Grandpa!

The competition is to celebrate the release of Kids Stinkmy new eBook short story with illustrator Gus Gordon, featuring Australia's Crankiest Grandpa. You can download it from Amazon for $1.01 or iTunes for $1.99.

Here's the very first competition entry: an illustration by super-talented 12-year-old, Raph Atkins.
Cranky Grandpa by Raph
So, email me your Cranky Grandpas for a chance to WIN! Either draw a Cranky Grandpa like Raph did or maybe ask your Gramps to pull a cranky face, photograph it and send it in. You can email your entries here. [Remember the drawing or picture has to be your own. You can't just find one on the Web! ;-) ]

Entries will be published on this blog. At the end of each month, May to September, I will decide on a winner, contact you and send a copy of My Life.

Here is a Pinterest board of Cranky Grandpas that I have put together to inspire you.

Good luck!


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Zen Writing


'The Zen way of calligraphy is to write in the most straightforward, simple way as if you were a beginner, not trying to make something skilful or beautiful, but simply writing with full attention as if you were discovering what you were writing for the first time; then your full nature will be in the writing. This is the way of practice moment after moment.'
- Shunryu Suzuki in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Room to Read World Change Challenge 2013

Last year I teamed with Room to Read, Stubbies Schoolwear and schoolkids around Australia and NZ to raise more than $20,000 to build a school library in Siam Reap, Cambodia.

The library built with funds from our World Change Challenge!
This year, the World Change Challenge is on again and we have upped the stakes. It's called All in for Africa and our goal is to raise $25,000 to publish a local-language book in Tanzania, Africa. (Learn more about Room to Read's amazing work in Tanzania with this short video [3:45])

I'm calling on students, teachers, classes and schools all over Australia & NZ to create some fun, crazy challenges to help us in our mission. Check out the video I shot last year with kids at Ocean Shores school, raising nearly $600 in a single day (and getting to embarrass their teachers at the same time).

There are lots more fundraising ideas on Room to Read's Students Helping Students page so take a look and if you'd like to get involved and help us boost literacy for some of the world's poorest children email

World change starts with educated children.

Flyer with more info on 'All in For Africa', World Change Challenge 2013.
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