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!