Thursday, October 28, 2010

Interactive Quizzical

I visited my first primary school as an author in 2007. The very idea was nervewracking. After all I had never spoken to a class of children before, let alone for an hour. What was I supposed to do? How could I keep them entertained? What if they hated me?

As it happened, it was a lovely school, and the librarian who arranged the visit with me said I was welcome to bring some props along because they were a surefire way to keep the children entertained. What a great idea! Props. I hadn't thought of that. So I started thinking about it. What sort of props could I bring along with me, considering I was a new author, never having visited a school before? I had no idea what I was going to talk about, let alone what props I would bring with me.

After several days of wracking my brain, I came up with a thought that quickly developed into an idea. Since Quizzical was based around a quiz show, why not bring a quiz show to the classroom? Yes, that made sense. Now, I just had to work out how to do that. I was lucky in that my distributor had something called a Quizmaster in stock. It was a longish, bright yellow thing with three red buttons on top. When you pushed one of them, a panel at the front would light up in front of whichever buzzer was pushed. It was perfect for what I wanted. So, along with some questions I'd made up, my buzzer and I headed off to the school on the appointed date.
At first I spoke about how I'd self-published Quizzical; what my experience of that process had been, the positives and negatives, and how it differed from being commercially published. The children were very interested, and asked lots of questions, then we got down to the quiz show. It was a resounding success. I was very buoyed after the visit and looked forward to many more to come.
I can honestly say that visiting schools and libraries is my favourite part of being an author. It is a chance to interact with the children who read my books as well as being a truly rewarding experience. I'm not sure that I make a difference, though I'd like to, but if I can inspire even one child to achieve their dreams, just as I did, then it has all been worthwhile.
Since that first school visit I have had many. No one group is the same, and no matter how different the schools, the teachers, or the children, I always come away feeling uplifted inside. And believe me, there is no better feeling.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Loving the journey!

When I first self-published 'Quizzical' I had no idea where the journey would lead me. I was just happy to have my first book published, and out into the market for people to read. I have had some wonderful experiences since then.
I remember when Irina Dunn, the then Executive Director of the NSW Writers' Centre, rang me to tell me I'd jointly won the 2006 Best Australian Self-Published Book Award for Fiction. I was so dumbstruck that all I could say was 'Really?' She advised me that the awards presentation would be taking place the following weekend as part of the Leichardt Book Fair and even though it meant I'd have to travel interstate to get there, I didn't have to think twice about it. I was going to be there ... and enjoy my first major experience in my journey as an emerging writer!

I booked an early morning flight and stayed in accommodation close to the airport the night before. This was my first plane trip on my own, which didn't bother me, and when I arrived in Sydney I caught a taxi to the venue. It was quite nervewracking not knowing anyone, but once I found Irina, she took me under her wing, and explained how the official proceedings would unfold. I have never been so nervous in my life as I was when I was up on stage, waiting to collect my award, which consisted of a certificate and a cheque for $250.00 as joint winner. I remember my knees shaking and I couldn't control them, and I was even worse when I had to speak in front of the microphone. But I got through it. Afterwards Irina set me up at a table with my books, and people bought copies! It was very exciting. I also met some other authors, one of them being Maureen Bartlett, a fellow self-published author of the children's books, Spiggie the story of a puffin, and Tigerfin and the ferry children. Check out her website at: We have kept in touch since. She writes the most beautiful poems, and always emails me one at Christmas time.

One of my favourite parts of being an author, is visiting schools and libraries where I get to meet and spend time with the children that read my books. I also go through the publishing process with them because it is very interesting, and it is also very relevant because just about every author, (even a multi award-winning one, or a best-selling one) needs their work edited, and it is good for children to know that; that no-one gets it right on their very first attempt, that we all have to practise and work at things, no matter how good we are at them (or think we are)!
There have been other memorable moments for me, too. I was writing my second novel 'Money Bags' when I realised I'd never seen a Green Room, so I contacted Channel 9 in Melbourne and they invited me in for a tour, followed by a taping of the now defunct 'Temptation'. It was great. And Ed Phillips and Lavinia Nixon were lovely.
All these wonderful experiences continue to reinforce to me that this is where I want to be. I'm not there yet. But I'm on my way, and I'm enjoying the journey immensely.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

WB Kids

I have had some great experiences on my writing journey so far. One was the 2008 Book Feast, an annual writing day held in Sydney, where various children's writers have lunch with children from different schools and talk about books and writing.

More recently I had my first television appearance. It was so much fun!

I had to travel to Channel 9's studios in Richmond for a taping of a segment for their digital channel, GO's WB Kids, with Heidi Valkenburg and Shura Taft. What great people to work with! So vibrant and full of energy! And what a fun, enjoyable experience, not to mention nervewracking! But the funny, easygoing and very likeable Heidi and Shura are just as nice off-screen as they are on, and made me feel very welcome and comfortable, as did the support crew who work behind the scenes. I even had a make-up person comb my hair and put some powder on my face!

We did an informal interview first (I tried to forget the camera was there so I wouldn't get tongue-tied or stutter or say something totally embarrassing!), talking a little bit about me and my books, and later Heidi and Shura took part in an 'Interactive Quizzical' segment, where Shura was the victor. The hardest part I found, was ad-libbing with the two of them, because they are so good at it. That night I found it really hard to sleep because I kept thinking of all the things I should have done or said that I didn't, or things I said that I could have put a better way. Hindsight is a wonderful thing! In the end I thought 'What's done is done, I can't change it so there's not much use worrying about it!' It's like with my books. I never read them after they've been published, because I worry I will find something that I'm not happy with, or something I could have written better. It must just be in my nature. I am very hard on myself, but that's not such a bad thing. At least it makes me strive to be the best I can be, and to do the best I can do. That's all we can ever ask of ourselves in life.
I know now that if I hadn't plucked up the courage to self-publish my first book, I would never have known what a wonderful new direction my life would take! I plan to enjoy every moment of it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Book reviews

As an author, you can only hope that people will enjoy what you write and, as a result, want to read more of your books! When I first self-published Quizzical back in 2006, that was all I wanted. I hoped that somewhere out there, someone would read Quizzical, and enjoy it, and perhaps then mention it to someone else so that they'd then read it, and so the cycle would begin.

Writing for me is such a wonderful creative challenge. It is what makes me the person I am. If I am unable to write, or do something that is connected to what I'm writing, I don't feel content in my life. I have three beautiful sons, and a wonderfully supportive husband, and I love them all more than words can say, but writing is something I do for me. I need that avenue to be able to express myself creatively.

I can't describe the feeling you get as an author, when someone comes up and says how much they've enjoyed your books. There are so many books on the market these days, we are spoiled for choice. Sometimes there are good books out there that we may not even hear of. That's where a good marketing campaign helps, to push those books and keep them 'out there' in peoples' memories, and get them noticed. Book reviews are invaluable in that regard, too.

I've been very fortunate with the upcoming release of both Puzzle Palace, and Alby and the Cat:Showbusiness, to have had some really positive reviews. I have been humbled by the interest that's been shown in both books, and the willingness of people to embrace them.

One of those people is Danielle Zapavigna, who runs The Book Nerd Club blog site. I emailed her in the hope she may want to read my books and then review them. She could have said 'No'. But she didn't. She was happy to do both. For opportunities like this, I am so grateful. You can read Danielle's review of Puzzle Palace at: and her Alby and the Cat: Showbusiness review at:

There is also a review of Alby and the Cat: Showbusiness in the July/August edition of Get Ahead Kids Magazine. Just go to:, press the CLICK HERE to receive a copy of the free magazine online and head to page 32.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Review - Puzzle Palace

It is so cold this morning that my fingers don't want to type! But I'll persist!

When you go into a bookshop, and pick a book up off the shelf, have you ever wondered how long it took to get that book to its finished state? And the process involved? It is a very interesting one!
I visited a school recently, and was asked to speak a little about the publishing process of my books. The time always seems to go fast for me, because I am always writing, or re-writing, or re-writing again until both the editor and I are happy with the text. But, looking back to when I first started writing Puzzle Palace to the time it was printed, a fair amount of time elapsed in between, and it wasn't until I was preparing information for my school talk, that I realised just how much.
I began writing Puzzle Palace in 2007, in between trying to publicise Quizzical and waiting for the text for Money Bags to come back from the editor, at which time I knew I would have to drop everything and concentrate on that. That's not such a bad thing, though, because during that time new ideas can come to you that you can then integrate into the story. I used to worry about writer's block, because there is such a thing. But I have learned now that it passes - it may take a few days or even a week or so, but then new ideas will come and the creative energy will flow again. I can go for a walk and by the end of it, a new idea will have hatched in my mind, or a chapter will have come together. That's just what works for me.
Even the best authors don't get it right the first time. They need editors, and believe it or not, they have to rewrite text. A good editor is an author's best friend, believe me! When I first self-published Quizzical, I thought it would just be printed out and a cover slapped on the front of it. I had no idea what was involved in the publishing process. I'm just glad I found someone who did, who could help me get my book to the highest possible standard in every area.
Even when the text goes to the editor, and the editor then suggests changes, and you go ahead and attend to those changes, there will inevitably be more changes, and perhaps more. I doubted myself when this happened with my books, but then I realised it wasn't a personal attack on my work, and the editor was only helping me to make my books better. Besides, if I had written a whole book, then how hard was it to rewrite a few pieces of text here and there?
The editing can take months, depending on how many changes need to be made. With Quizzical I had to pretty much change the whole ending, along with several parts in the middle that had threads to the ending. I was literally mortified, but my editor made the suggestions clear, so I knew exactly what I had to do, and she was with me every step of the way to run changes by. Money Bags had some changes as well, but not nearly as many. Puzzle Palace had lots. I often find the first chapter of any book to be the hardest. It's the one that has to get the reader in, and when I read back my first chapter of Puzzle Palace (after a first attempt), I thought 'Oh, that's crap!' Then I started to worry that it wouldn't be nearly as good as the first two books. But I persisted, then on my editor's advice, changed direction, and slowly it began to come together. I must have changed it a dozen times, though, to get it to a stage where I was happy with it. And that was only the first chapter! I had to work on the characters in Puzzle Palace, too, especially a couple of the new ones. It was quite a challenge, but one that I enjoyed, because I knew at the end of it, my book would be all the better for it.
Once the editing is done, that's not the end of it. There's also the cover, and what goes on it, as well as the wording for the blurb on the back. It's such an interesting process, and when you get a finished book in your hand at the end of it, it's just an amazing feeling!
Puzzle Palace is the third book in my 'Quizzical' series. It has the same characters as the first two books in the series, but I have introduced some new characters in this book, in particular a girl named Summer, who is the same age as Brain and just as smart. Check out the review of Puzzle Palace at:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Review - Alby and the Cat: Showbusiness

Alby and the Cat was originally a 40,000 word novel, with Alby and his interaction with Pussums, the mischievious cat next door, being one of the threads of that original story. However, it was around the same time The Five Mile Press decided to publish my children's book, Quizzical, that they also asked me if I'd write a shorter 5,000 word story for their Ripper Reads series. I decided to take the 'Alby' thread and attempt to condense it into a 5,000 word story, and when I'd finished it, I emailed it to Five Mile. Fortunately, they really liked it!

I'd always hoped to write a series of stories about Alby the guide dog, because I felt there wasn't much information around about guide dogs - what they do, and what's expected of people when they're around them - especially for kids. My aim has never been to preach to kids, more to intersperse educational tidbits throughout my stories so that if a child comes away from reading one of my books and has learned something they may not have previously known, then I am happy.

I am also happy that the second of my Alby stories, Alby and the Cat: Showbusiness is due to be released around July of this year. Check out the very first review on the Kids Book Review at and if you get a chance to read the book at all, let me know what you think!

Review - Alby and the Cat

My chapter book for younger readers, Alby and the Cat, came out in 2008. Published by The Five Mile Press, it was part of four chapter books they released that year for their Ripper Reads series. I wrote the story because my dad was blinded in an industrial accident and had a guide dog for 13 years. His name was Duke, and he was a beautiful black Labrador, who became not only dad's sighted guide, but a loyal and loving companion as well. It was rare not to see them together, and when they were together, the bond they had was amazing. The two of them just clicked, which is the aim of organisations like Guide Dogs, who do a great job of matching visually impaired people with the dogs that are to be their eyes.

It is easy to underestimate the fantastic job that guide dogs do. A blind person has to put their faith completely in the dog leading them - at traffic lights, when crossing at pedestrian crossings, when alighting public transport - in so many different and potentially dangerous situations. There has to be complete trust in each other, because lack of confidence, especially in some of the situations they are faced with, could prove life-threatening.

I saw Duke in action many times leading Dad, and each and every time I marvelled at how he did what he did. Then, at the end of the day, when his duties were done, Dad would take off his harness and he would revert to being a pet, happiest laying at Dad's feet.
When guide dogs are out of harness, and not in work mode, people can pat them and make a fuss of them all they like. It's when they're in harness that they can't be distracted. As cute and loveable, and as receptive as Labradors are to people, guide dogs are different, and have to be treated as such.

That's why I wrote Alby and the Cat. I wanted to write a story so that people, especially children, had more of an idea of what guide dogs do, and how important they are in the life of a visually impaired person. After his accident, Dad retrained as a clinical masseur, and now has a successful business in Traralgon. But he wouldn't be the confident, self-assured and independent person he is today without Duke, who died from bone cancer at age 13. Dad refused to have another guide dog after that, because he didn't want to have to go through losing another dog in his life-time. He has used a cane ever since.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

R.I.P Allan Cornwell

I was fortunate enough to come in contact with a wonderful man named Allan Cornwell in 2006, when I was looking for someone to publish my first children's book, Quizzical. He was a graphic designer who lived on the Mornington Peninsula at the time, who had published his own books, as well as books for other people. He came highly recommended, and was the starting point of my continuing journey as an author.

Allan asked me to email my Quizzical manuscript to him, which I did, and he contacted me a short time later to say he would love to work with me. I had read lots of things, warning would-be authors to take great care when they were thinking of self-publishing, because there were a few sub-standard operators around. But from the start I felt comfortable with Allan, and working with him on my project felt very right. So we proceeded. And the very first thing he suggested was that the book be edited.
I'd never thought much about editing. I'd always been good at English, so I'd always edit my chapters until they were at a standard I was happy with, and although I'd considered that unbiased editing might be a good idea, I thought I'd have to try to find someone to do it, which, at the time, seemed too much like hard work. After all, I was so new to all this. Who would I get that was reputable? And how would I know if they were the best person to look at my book without ripping me off? And then Allan suggested it. And, once again, I put my faith in him. If I was going to have a self-published book 'out there', competing against top-quality books produced by commercial publishers, I wanted my book to be the best it could be, so it could deservedly sit up on bookshop shelves next to those other books.

Fortunately, Allan had a particular editor in mind, who just so happened to have a 'mini break in her schedule'. Her name was Nan McNab. As I've previously mentioned, I was so new to all this, and had no idea who Nan was. Editors always work behind the scenes, so it's very rare to know them publicly. Allan mentioned that she worked for some of the bigger publishers: Penguin, Pan McMillan, and The Five Mile Press, so that was good enough for me!

Nan was such a blessing; a brilliant editor, who has worked with me on all my books, both when I self-published, and then when The Five Mile Press took over. And during that time, she has become a wonderful friend.

But, back to Allan! At the outset, he provided me with costings for every stage of the book process, and informed me of extra's that might come up along the way, i.e. foil on the book cover, illustrations, editing, etc., but he always let me know before proceeding, so I knew exactly where things stood. He organised everything for me, from the type of paper used, font type, illustrations, and cover, to getting the books printed and delivered to the distributor. But he always ran everything by me first, to get my approval before continuing on. He was remarkable, really, and made things so easy for me. Quizzical went on to be the joint winner of the 2006 Best Self-Published Book Award for Fiction, which was due largely to Allan. The award was not only about the story, which had to be well-written and appealing to children, but also about the quality of the product, which, I have to say was exceptional, and something I'm very proud of.

The thing I regret most is, Allan and I never met. Apart from the odd phone call, everything to do with my books was done by that fantastic electronic medium known as email. I remember one time, back in 2006, I needed to ask Allan something, but then remembered he'd emailed me to tell me he'd be away for a short time up north as he was travelling around the Queensland islands with his wife, Marianne, on their boat. I remember thinking: how lucky is he? And now, four years later, he is not here, having passed away last Saturday evening, the 15th May, from cancer.
Through my dealings with Alan in the past few months, if I hadn't been told he was ill, I would never have known. Not once did he complain, or talk about his illness. He was just a lovely, thoughtful and generous man, and so good at what he did. I will always be grateful to him for all his help and advice, his enthusiasm, and his unwavering faith in me. The world is a lesser place because you're not in it, Allan. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What's been happening ...

I have found that one of the biggest stumbling blocks of being a relatively new author, is getting known. It can be a long, slow process - it's incredibly hard competing against the more popular, well-known authors whose books are guaranteed to walk off shelves as soon as they are released - but I'm learning that perseverance is the key. And not giving up. When one door closes, another one will open. Well, that's my theory, anyway. And that's how it often works out.

There are so many things I enjoy about being a children's author. As well as the writing process itself, which can make you almost pull your hair out at times, but then be so challenging and rewarding as well, there are the broader aspects, such as promoting your books, and going to schools and meeting the children who read your books. There are so many wonderful literacy programs in schools today, and it is always an honour and a privilege when I am asked to be involved in one. I took part in a literacy day devoted to 'writing' last Friday, involving several of the smaller cluster schools from around the Warragul area, and held at Nilma Primary School. What a wonderful day! It was just fantastic to see the students so excited, and the teachers so motivated. I had a great time, going through the publishing process - or my experience of it - then finishing off with a round or two of my 'Interactive Quizzical', the interactive quiz show I 'bring into the classroom' to help promote literacy and encourage student participation in a fun way. I had a one-hour session each with children from Years 4, 5 & 6, and what fabulous sessions they were - lots of attentive children, lots of thoughtful, interesting questions, and a lot of fun!

To all of you, if you dream of one day becoming an author, or an artist, or a designer, or an AFL player, or whatever it is you dream of becoming, don't ever give up on those dreams, because dreams do come true. I am proof of that.

I have lots to look forward to in the coming months, with the release of my two new books: Puzzle Palace, and Alby and the Cat: Showbusiness. I've just received copies of both books and they look great. I'm also in the process of finalising several library visits to the metropolitan area, which I'm really looking forward to.

Check out some of my recent interviews online in Alphabet Soup Magazine, at (thanks Rebecca!), in Kids Book Review, at (thanks Megan!) and in Good Reading Magazine, at (thanks Rowena!) You will also find links to their sites on this page, so check them out. There's some great stuff on them!

Well, that's me just about done for the moment! I'll catch you on my next blog!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New books

Hi again

Where does the time go? Already it's April - Mum will be asking me what we're doing for Christmas soon!! Now, that's a scary thought!

I have two new books due out soon. The first, Puzzle Palace, is the third in the Quizzical series. The second, Alby and the Cat: Showbusiness, is the second of my books about Alby the guide dog and the mischievious cat that lives next door. You can read more about them on my website:
Money Bags (the second book in the Quizzical series) now appears on the 2010 Premier's Reading Challenge booklists in Victoria and NSW and all the books have just been added to the 2010 Chief Minister's Reading Challenge booklist in the ACT.