November 7

How to write – Richard Harland

richardAt a Creative Writers’ camp recently, Richard Harland worked with students to demonstrate ways in which they might create and build a story. He drew on examples from some of his most popular stories, Worldshaker and Song of the Slums to inspire students to investigate the feelings and emotions of the characters, and how they might develop these ideas in their own writing.

One of the things he emphasised was that writing requires you to draw on your own experiences. However, he assured us that even if you haven’t actually experienced the particulars of an event, it is possible to transfer emotions from a similar event to develop an idea. So we then had a few “have you ever…?” moments to inspire ideas and discussion.

Early on, Richard spoke of his own writer’s block – his first fully published success was at the age of 45 even though he has written all his life! Discovery of your own writing style and talents is thus important, he stated. He encouraged students to seek comment from others – both positive and negative – so that they might work out what they write best.

Another idea he demonstrated in the workshop was that writers are all unique, drawing from different experiences and lifestyles to create their stories. As we shared our ideas, this was clearly  obvious, with many different scenarios developed around the group. “Ransack your memories…

The finale was when Richard demonstrated his SteamPunk guitar, which he encouraged a friend to create from his own imagination.


“Put yourself in the character’s shoes, and imagine how s/he would be feeling.”

In weeks to come, there should be some reviews or comments from those on the camp who purchased his book, Song of the Slums, so check back soon.

January 27

Jackie French honoured



Australia Day honours to Jackie French – named Senior Australian of the Year this week! Applause!!

What a great and well deserved honour for this prolific Australian children’s author. As author of over 140 books, named the Australian Children’s Laureate in 2014, and a bold force promoting the richness of children’s literature, Jackie has been a household name for many many years.

Her first book for children was Rain Stones, was published in 1991. This was in spite of the fact that she had dyslexia (a condition which makes it hard to read and understand words). Her wonderful imagination and determination to tell her stories, firstly to friends and family, must have pushed her beyond this difficulty, though her editors have commented that they did struggle with some of her early manuscripts. She is certainly a model for all aspiring writers and creative people!

As her popularity arose over the years, naturally, Jackie has constantly been called upon to talk about her books and how she gets her ideas. As many schoolchildren will attest, she is an entertaining and inspiring author. She also makes it clear that writing involves a great deal of effort and focus – and even picture books take an extremely long time to perfect.

Jackie is a perfectionist. When she wants to bring an historical event to life, it is usually because it is a period of time which she has already had a great interest in herself. From the realities of the Depression years in Somewhere Around the Cornerto the dramatic world of The Night They Stormed Eureka, Jackie aims to get the mix of history and fiction just right in her books. Her fun but informative non-fiction books also aim to either bring history to life, to excite children about nature and science, or to encourage kids (and adults) to get down and get dirty in the garden!

The many awards Jackie has received, span across the years of her writing, beginning with her first book, which was shortlisted for 3 awards. Another well known book, the Diary of a Wombat, is a classic which is in many home libraries, and has either won or been nominated for nearly 20 separate awards since it was first published in 2002!

Jackie’s passion is obvious when you hear her speak, and this was evident in her acceptance speech below:

To quote Jackie from this speech: “If you want intelligent children, give them a book. If you want more intelligent children, give them more books.” 

For more insights into the person of Jackie French, have a look at this 2009 interview, one of many you can find online.

How many Jackie French books have you read? If you haven’t, maybe it’s time to search them out?

January 22

Loyalties – Two Wolves

Where do your loyalties lie? Would you do anything for your friends? your family? What if things didn’t seem to be quite right?

Ben is placed in a difficult situation. He and his sister are suddenly bundled into the car with their parents as they ‘head off for a holiday’. But it’s NOT school holidays, and they are NOT heading off to some exciting resort. And the way that dad is acting is downright crazy!

For instance, why do they have to swap from their old car into an even dodgier vehicle from Uncle Chris? And why on earth are they headed to his grandfather’s dark and dank old cabin, if they are supposed to be going on a holiday? Even his dad hadn’t been there for ages!

As he contemplates the answers to these questions, Ben collects strands of information together to try to make sense of things. After all, he’s always dreamt  of becoming a detective. Thus, he jots down in his notebook all sorts of things; like the surprise visit of police officers at their family home, the family’s rapid departure after this (still in their school clothes!), and all the other insane events which follow.

When his parents are evasive about the reasons for everything that is happening, Ben does his best to uncover the truth. In doing so, he continues to battle with his father and even begins to question his mother’s sanity. Should his parents really be dragging Ben and Olive into the dangerous situation seemingly on the run from the law?

Ben’s choices waiver as he thinks of those who will be impacted – including his pesky sister, Violet, and his parents. As he reflects on events as his circumstances rapidly change, he ponders how much he has inherited from his dad and where his loyalties should lie. Then he worries, is he simply a ‘chip off the old block’, destined to follow his father’s dodgy footsteps?

There are several twists and turns in Tristan Bancks latest book, which is due for release in March this year. Like his other ‘Mac Slater Coolhunter’ books, Bancks delivers a likeable main character, with choices to make, and consequences to consider from his actions.

Bancks is also very adept in using all sorts of media in his storytelling – which makes sense given his background in acting and film making. His skills include sharing some of these creative ideas via a multimedia story brainstorming app, Story Scrapbook, and lots of encouraging advice you can investigate at:

August 11

Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel

It’s time for Ishmael’s last two years of school. He has actually survived years of bullying and teasing, due to the ‘loser’ tag his surname Leseur has blessed him with, and now, even has a small band of buddies to see him through the tough times.

‘Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel’ is the final of the Ishmael books written by Michael Gerard Bauer. And it’s probably one of the funniest. It is easy to empathise with Ishmael and his friends as they negotiate the problems faced in the final years of their schooling – the things they do and say are totally believeable and easily recognisable. Even if you haven’t read the earlier books, it’s a tale that’s easy for the reader to follow and to yearn to support Ishmael’s honest endeavours to survive.

The ups and downs of normal teenage life and strife are woven through Ishmael’s senior school story. His newfound love, extracted to New Zealand by her father’s work (just after their first kiss), troubles Ishmael. The loss of his dream girl haunts Ishmael for some time. But then there are other things he needs to worry about; as school demands, high teacher expectations and the needs of his friends claim his attention.

Through it all, Ishmael is lovable and laughable – so much, that my family wondered what I was chuckling about as I eagerly turned each page. Probably not a book to read on the train – perhaps I recognise too many students’ ways in these characters?

Gerard Bauer has captured much of the essence of the last years at school – trying to balance school, friendship and the ‘finessing’ of your own self esteem. Though Ishmael and his friends, (Razzman, Ignatius, Scobie and Bill) sometimes negotiate their final years with the skill of a sumo wrestler in a fine ballet performance, they triumph in so many other ways – just as many senior students surprise both themselves and their teachers in the final resolution of their school years. (Well, if the Razzman can get a handle on Hamlet, then there’s hope for everyone, right?)

Michael Gerard Bauer also has lots to share with his readers and those who aspire to write successfully, as he certainly models what he says:

‘Write for yourself first and foremost rather than an audience. Write the story you are passionate about – the one that makes you laugh, or cry or moves you in some way, not the one you think you should write just to get published…Your task is to make your reader feel that anytime they are reading your story, it is the only one that matters. ‘ (Part of an interview with Michael Gerard Bauer on We Love YA blog – read the whole interview here )

Much of Ishmael is a reflection either from his own personal experiences, or as a former teacher, those observed at school. Maybe that’s what makes it all so good? I suggest hooking up with ‘Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel’ soon to judge for yourself… (And if you haven’t read the previous books, try them out too!) 

## Whether Ishmael  and the Hoops of Steel takes out the CBCA Older Readers Category will be announced in the coming weeks. What do you think? 

N.B. If you haven’t read the previous Ishmael books, check out this video where Michael Gerard Bauer explains how some of his characters come about, and ways the distinctive voices of his characters develop:

July 29

Read to write

At a recent gathering of the Writers’ Group, we discussed the many things needed to inspire one’s writing, and one thing which came through strongly was the need to read. Indeed, this was one of the many things emphasised by this week’s major winner of the Australian Book Industry Awards for 2011, Ahn Do.

‘The Happiest Refugee’ is Anh’s memoir – his journey from Vietnam as a young child, to a far away country. It reflects the struggles, torments and challenges faced by a refugee child.

For someone who had trouble reading and writing at school, to win not one, but three awards is a major achievement. In his acceptance of the awards, he credits much of his success to developing a love for reading; which was well supported by his mother (including buying second hand books from Vinnies). This must have been a vital step to learn his second language, English.

In an interview transcribed on the ABC’s AM site, Anh Do spoke about rising above early problems he had in school, and the determination to do well in his new homeland, encouraged by his family. Now, he is also encouraged by people who have enjoyed his book, which is a mixture of happy and sad events. It seems his story of rising above life’s many challenges speaks to many.

While it has been suggested by some that Anh had a ghost writer, he explains that he did have help recording and organising his thoughts and experiences for the early drafts of his book. Credit has been given to journalist and writer, Michael Visontay, who has been acknowledged in the book. However, Do and his publishers state that the final manuscript is his work.

In view of the ABIA accolades and past awards* received for ‘the Happiest Refugee’, the final word remains with the author, Anh Do:

“(So) to win Book of the Year after being a kid who had issues with reading and writing it means that maybe I’m not so bad at it.”

# Think about it, why is it important to read as a writer? What sort of books do you read that influence your writing?

* other awards include the Indie Book of the Year Award 2011 and being shortlisted for the 2011 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.

Postscript – I just came across another blog which talked about the importance of reading for your writing – see those ideas here.

April 27

New dog, new tricks – re-launched and better than ever.

insideadog-largeAfter 5 years in existence, one of the fantastic sites followed by ‘CrewsReviews’ has reinvented itself – the Victorian State Library re-launched its much loved youth literature website Inside a Dog on March 8.

As reported by Tye Cattanach – on the Book Gryffin

Inside A Dog now offers some incredible tools for teachers and students alike. For those teachers wanting an online ‘bookshelf’ for their kids, or better still, wanting to start an online book club for students, you need look no further than this. Designed to be as user friendly as possible, the applications for the use of this site are varied and many.

There are entire pages dedicated to book clubs, book trailers, engaging literacy ideas, literature circles, book reviews, writers in residence, (a unique feature giving your students an opportunity to ask writers questions in the comments), to name but a few. 

 As a student or independent reader you can also:

– find great reads (new releases)

contribute reviews (let authors know what you think)

– read about how authors are inspired (why they write, how they write and what inspires them)

– follow a writer in residence (monthly insights into the writing process of a featured published author)

– discuss the latest young adult literature (with other kids your age, not just adults…)

– enter all sorts of competitions

– vote for the Inkys (book awards counting student votes!)

– and more…

This is one of the most inspiring sites for news on new Australian literature for young adults, maintained by the State Library of Victoria, with the interests of youth at heart.

Their motto still rings true: Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read. —Groucho Marx

September 3

After Twilight – Shiver!

shiverReviewFor some time, following the success of the ‘Twilight’ series, a massive number of Twilight-themed books appeared. Even now, bookshops and chain stores are laden with vampire love stories of various qualities. Now is the time to herald a new wave of  books – this time based on werewolves. (For those who are ‘Team Jacob’ perhaps?)

One well-written example of this is ‘the Wolves of Mercy Falls’ series by Maggie Stiefvater. Beginning with ‘Shiver’, the tales focus on the relationships which develop between humans, and those in their community who morph into wolves when the weather cools down – as winters do harshly in the fictional town of Mercy Falls (likened to forested areas just south of the Canadian border).

Grace has had a fascination of the wolves which live in the woods near her home for as long as she can remember. This is in spite of being snatched off a tyre swing and being dragged into the woods as a young child. For her, there was some unexplained attraction to these wild animals, and to one wolf in particular.

We meet Sam, listening to his thoughts about the sensations he feels, tastes and smells, and become aware of his acute instincts towards Grace. These are heightened when he is able to take refuge in her home – a place rarely frequented by her busy, preoccupied parents. This allows them to time to learn about each other and the forces impacting their lives.

A major complication for their relationship is the fact that Sam has, for many years, changed into a wolf as wintry weather approaches. This is the normal cycle – he can only be human for a short time each year – and this time is shortening each year.

Maggie Stiefvater has created some interesting voices in her tale (the first of 3) and gives differing perspectives – from the points of view of the wolves, the wolf pack and the human communities of Mercy Falls, as they exist side by side. You can almost smell the musky scent of the wolves, feel the crispness of the woods, fear the chill as winter approaches, and sense the anxiety of Grace and Sam as their time together appears to be running out.

On her blog, Maggie writes –

As an artist and musician, I can’t work in a vacuum when I write—music and art is always in the back of my head in one way or another. Here on this page you’ll find the stop-motion animated book trailers I made for Shiver and Linger, playlists of some of the music I listened to while writing the book, and the music I wrote for the series. Plus, some links to some real wolf howls because that’s just cool.”

To read this, after reading her book, helps you to see how she has worked to evoke your senses, and to appreciate how her ideas have grown from perceptive ‘all-senses’ observations. The link above also gives you access to some quirky little book trailers she has created, with music she composed especially for the process.

‘Linger’ is the next book, with the final book ‘Forever’ due out next year. (N.B. The film rights have been bought and a screenplay has been written, but whether the series makes it to the screen is yet to be determined.)

Till then / before then, read the books!!!

August 29

Writers on writing – Sonya Hartnett

sonya_hartnettSonya Hartnett has been writing since she was very young and had her first book published at the age of 15. She has been recognised by many awards in her writing career, so it was interesting to hear her interviewed for the 702 Bookclub recently, where she told some interesting tales about when and how she writes.

As a successful author, Sonya has many books to her name – one of the most recent being ‘Butterfly’ (reviewed earlier). In this interview, she talks about how she takes on the voice of a teenaged girl in ‘Butterfly’, and tells about how and when she writes each day. Listen to the interview by clicking here.

Since 1995, Sonya has received many accolades for her writing, including awards from the Children’s Book Council of Australia, NSW Premier’s Children’s Award, the Guardian Children’s Award and the Miles Franklin Award. Some of her books have been received with controversy as well (‘Sleeping Dogs’ and ‘All My Dangerous Friends’ among these).

Sonya’s books include (see CMIS Focus on Fiction for more details and titles):

    • the Silver Donkey
    • the Ghost’s Child
    • Thursday’s Child
    • Stripes of the Sidestep Wolf
    • And my personal favourite, Forest.

Why not leave a comment about any of Sonya’s books you have enjoyed, or what you think of her writing style and method? Click on (Comments in the title bar)

August 4

The teacher took my tennis ball…


Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of tar?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
(Under the vine of the dark veranda)?

Do you remember an Inn, Miranda,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
Who hadn’t got a penny,
And who weren’t paying any,
And the hammer at the doors and the din?
And the hip! hop! hap!
Of the clap
Of the hands to the swirl and the twirl
Of the girl gone chancing,
Backing and advancing,
Snapping of the clapper to the spin
Out and in–
And the ting, tong, tang of the guitar!
Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn? (Tarantella by Hilaire Belloc)


I had a little beetle
So that beetle was his name
And I called him Alexander
And he answered just the same
And I put him in a matchbox
And I kept him all the day
But nanny let my beetle out
Yes nanny let my beetle out
She went and let my beetle out
And beetle ran away…. (part of A.A. Milne’s poem, Forgiven)

The Teacher Took my Tennis Ball

The teacher took my tennis ball

She took it for the day

Just because it broke some glass

She said I couldn’t play… (part of The Teacher Took my Tennis Ball by Libby Hathorn)

Each of these poems, and many others, hold a special place in my life. The first one , Tarantella, echoes the rhythmic introductions of a special teacher in Grade 3 (Thanks, Mr Simmons). Other memorable poems performed by this teacher included A.B. Paterson’s, the Man from Ironbark, and of course, the Man from Snowy River – I can always remember the gasp from the class when “Murder! Bloody Murder!” was pronounced.

Later as a parent, I wanted to show my children the best of the old and the new – poetry I enjoyed from my parents’ introductions and the new from authors of the day. Thus, poetry memories for my children include those of A.A. Milne and Libby Hathorn (with quirky poems like the Teacher Took My Tennis Ball).

My thoughts on poetry were revived again by the launch of a new poetry collection at a recent CBCA conference held in Sydney. Libby Hathorn was there to promote her poetry anthology, The ABC Book of Australian Poetry. To quote Libby:

I have been concerned that works of certain classic Australian poets may be slipping out of sight, while the fine works of poets of our time may never be heard or read by young people. This anthology gave me the opportunity to invigorate classic works and highlight contemporary Australian voices, using the metaphor of the river of life for each section and reflecting so aptly on the phases of our history.

As I reflect on the poetry I was introduced to early in my schooling (primary school years), I too desire that today’s youth is exposed to both classics from the past, and new and upcoming poets. Indeed to be inspired to become poets themselves. As a start, students could look at Libby’s Poetry Parade  to submit their own poems. Those already writing their own poems should, as other writers do, read widely, to discover their own interests and style of writing while experiencing a varied and diverse taste of poetric styles. Indeed, a reading through the ABC Book of Australian Poetry reveals the different styles of poetry around us – writing to inspire us, as we look back in fondness to poets of Australia’s past, and forward to those of the future.

abcbookofaustralianpoetryRhythm or rhyme?

What’s your style?

What does it take

To make you smile…?

(Or frown).

What gets you down?

Or makes you think?


Whatever it is –

Just take note now

To have it there for all to see.


## For ideas have a look at:

May 22

Where The Streets Had A Name: Randa Abdel-Fattah

randaI recall listening to Randa Abdel-Fattah decrying the fact that many books about other cultures are written by those outside the culture. How authentic could such novels be, she asked? She also seemed to indicate that this lead to an urge for her to be the provider of the authentic experience – writing from her heritage from the things she herself knew and understood – as an Australian Muslim of Palestinian and Egyptian heritage.

‘Where the Streets had a name’ certainly meets the criteria Randa has set for authenticity. It reflects her high interest in Palestinian human rights and introduces the average Australian young adult reader to situations of dispossession, the daily struggles of people living with the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, and life under military occupation.

Hayaat, as a young but determined teenager, centres the story, after introducing her family situation and daily events – which can include curfews, rationing and disruptions to normal routines. As her grandmother, Sitti Zeynab  is ailing/dying, she longs for the homeland she knew – before her family was dispossessed and moved to a foreign place. Hayaat commits to bringing to her grandmother, soil from her homeland. While this homeland is physically only a short distance  away, there are many barriers to Hayaat’s mission due to political restraints. But she goes nonetheless, with her Christian friend, Samy, in tow.

To the average Australian teenager such a journey may seem incomprehensible, given the political situation, but with the humour and the silly optimism of Hayaat, Samy and their various encounters, there is much to be considered. And it provides an insight into life in Israeli-occupied Jerusalem – life in ‘an open-air prison’.

As an ‘Australian-born-Muslim-Palestinian-Egyptian’, Randa Abdel-Fattah lives in many worlds. She has always been passionate about Palestinian human rights campaigns due to her heritage. Her work as a lawyer is intricately combined with her authorship, and she is often called upon to talk about all of these things. A visit to father’s birthplace, Palestine, in 2000 inspired this book, as the tale of her grandmother’s own dispossession became clearer to her. 

There is lots to be learnt from this tale, as Randa grounds it in her in own life story. In her (first) book dedication, she states:

To my Grandmother Sitti Jamilah, who passed away on 24th April, 2008, aged 98. I had hoped that you would live to see this book and that you would be allowed to touch the soil of your homeland again. It is my consolation that you died surrounded by my father and family and friends who cherished you. May you rest in peace. And to my father-May you see a free Palestine in your lifetime.

While this indicates the heart with which Randa has written the book, it also gives hint to the urge she has to present realistic  reflection of life as a Muslim in the global  world today. One reviewer hoped that it would help young readers to:

‘grasp the seemingly endless turmoil of the occupied West Bank and Israel’ and ‘help adults grasp the ridiculous realities of insult constantly faced by residents of occupied Palestine’.  Naomi Shihab Nye, Wisdom and laughter in a child’s view of Palestine.The Electronic Intifada, 10 December 2008 Sourced from:

For more about what inspired Randa Abdel-Fattah to write this and her previous books, ‘Does My Head Look Big in this?’ and ‘Ten Things I Hate About Me’, visit her web site FAQ page:

Do you think it is important for people to write what they really know? or can an author complete a certain amount of research to write an authetic novel?