authors, interviews

Paula Hayes on The Vexatious Haunting of Lily Griffin

Paula Hayes is an Australian writer of magical realism for young people. This means she is good at making strange stuff up and setting it in real life. Her first novel, Lily in the Mirror, was a CBCA Notable Book in 2017. Then Lily in the Mirror grew and grew and turned into an omnibus, illustrated by Katy Jiang – a trilogy of Lily books! Today we chat to Paula about the omnibus, The Vexatious Haunting of Lily Griffin, launched in July 2022.

From the publisher:

When Lily Griffin finds a girl trapped inside a magic mirror, she uncovers a long-forgotten family secret and sets in motion a remarkable chain of events. Lily is a singular character, hilariously funny, sweetly poignant and deeply daggy. Plagued by social doubts and her own pecularities, she is the perfect person to investigate the many secrets of her grandfather’s house and, along the way, mend some family relationships, discover enduring friendships and learn to play netball.


Lily in the Mirror started out as one book on its own and now you’ve added two more books about Lily – bound up in one omnibus! Was there anything you found different about writing books two and three, compared to writing book one?

The wonderful thing about writing a series is that the characters are created in book one and then they are fleshed out able to grow and develop over the course of the two books. This makes writing the books easier because you know exactly how your character will react and what situations will show them off to their best advantage. For example, Linden, Lily’s older brother (AKA PigBoy) is quite a flat character, he is a trope of a nasty big brother but during the course of book two and three he is fleshed out, he develops, and changes and we come to understand his point of view much more.

Have you ever been in a haunted house yourself?

I haven’t been in a haunted house for reals, but in my imagination, I have! I have the sort of imagination that can turn noises into ghosts. My toys used to come alive in my bedroom at night as I sweated under the sheets. Again – imagination … or was it?

We follow Lily’s story as she writes updates in her journal. Did you keep a journal or diary when you were growing up?

During my late primary school days and early high school days I kept a journal every night. I had a great English teacher who encouraged me to write anything and everything, especially feelings. I found writing a way to clear my head and clarify my emotions. I would tie the note book up with a shoelace with complicated knots for safe keeping. At the end of high school, I had about seven big books and I threw them in the bin. I had processed all the events and big feelings and released it. I’m sure if Lily stopped at the first journal, her relationship with her brother would not be properly represented. It’s just a moment in time.

How did you go about researching information about the various time periods that pop up in the omnibus?

As well as being a word nerd, I am a history freak. I studied it at uni. My grandmother’s house was a time capsule for the 1910s to the 1990s and so I was lucky enough to see a lot of the things that are contained in the Rosy Room and the Little House. I love to read history books, biographies and collect old books. But when I want to know a specific fact, I google and go down a slippery rabbit hole where I get immersed in the past and I love it.

Do you have a tip for young writers who’d like to try writing a series or trilogy?

My advice to young writers is just to pick up the pen or your laptop and write. Write anything, you can cull and edit later. As for a series, you might like to map out how your plot is going develop over the course of three books unless you’re like me, I’m a pantser (I develop my story as I go … by the seat of my pants).  Once you know your characters well, they will start talking to you and you will know where to take them and how they will react. Writing a series gives you the freedom to explore themes and characters properly and that is an amazing feeling. Hopefully it’s amazing for your readers too!

The Vexatious Haunting of Lily Griffin is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


Image shows the cover of a children's novel: The Vexatious Haunting of Lily Griffin by Paula Hayes and Katy Jiang. The cover shows Lily standing at the bottom left of the cover. Lily is a young girl with dark hair in pigtails, wearing a white blouse with red collar and an orange skirt. Behind her are an old woman in an orange dress sitting in a wheelchair, a man with a moustache wearing a blue cardigan and brown trousers, a woman wearing a yellow dress being hugged from behind by a man in a white shirt. At the woman's feet sits a teenage boy in a green shirt resting his forehead on his hand. Above them all floats a teenage poltergeist in a red shirt and brown pants. At the top left of the cover is a spider in a web.

AWESOME EXTRAS:

Read an excerpt from the book on the publisher’s website

Download the teaching notes

Visit Paula’s website for more about her and her books

authors, interviews

Deb Fitzpatrick and Ajay Rane: Global crusader for women’s health

Deb Fitzpatrick writes for adults, young adults and children. She loves using stories from real life in her novels and regularly teaches creative writing to people of all ages. Deb lived in a shack in Costa Rica for four years where she became accustomed – well, almost – to orange-kneed tarantulas walking through her house, and sloths and spider-monkeys swinging in the trees outside.

Today we’re chatting about her latest book – Ajay Rane.

From the publisher:

Professor Ajay Rane is the Director of Urogynaecology at Townsville University Hospital and Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at James Cook University (JCU). Ajay has devoted his research and practice to treating women with severe childbirth injuries in the some of the world’s poorest countries.


How did you go about your research for the book?

First, I found every single article, interview and photo of Professor Rane online and printed it all out. As I read, I highlighted everything of interest. I had a big A4 notebook with me, which I filled with the most important information, best quotes and snippets from his life, and I tried to arrange the information in sensible ‘batches’, so that I could keep the huge amount of info manageable and sort-of orderly!

Then, once I felt I was across everything that was available about him in the public realm, I phoned Ajay and we had a lovely chat. I was SO nervous. He was SO lovely. And I asked him if I could start sending him questions about his life via email. Each email had about ten questions for him, and in asking these questions I was trying to fill in the gaps and ‘colour in’ the bits I didn’t know much about.

Despite being one of the busiest humans on the planet, Ajay was so patient and answered every single question, every time. He was an absolute champion to work with. 

Was writing a biography/nonfiction book very different compared to writing your fiction novels?

Writing Ajay’s story was certainly different in some ways to writing one of my novels, because there was an existing storyline I had to follow. And frankly, that was a relief!! As a fiction author, I’m used to having to make everything up, and that can be exhausting! So this was wonderful. Having said that, because Ajay Rane is a narrative non-fiction, there are many scenes in the book which I essentially did make up. The books are designed to read like novels, even though they are about a real person’s life, so all the dialogue, for example, is made up, based on what I understood about Ajay and his life. And, of course, Ajay read every single word and  I asked him to tell me if he felt anything wasn’t right. We were very careful to make sure everything felt true to life.

When you’re writing a nonfiction book requiring research, how do you know when it’s time to stop researching and begin writing?

Ha ha, well, deadlines help in that regard! I had four months to write this book and I can tell you it’s the quickest I have ever written any book! But once I had read everything I could lay my hands on, and chatted with Ajay, and seen photos of him as a child with his family, then I felt it was time to begin actually writing. And that was fun. Because, by that point, I realised how incredible this story was, and I was itching to share it with readers.

Ajay Rane is part of the Aussie STEM Stars series. What’s your favourite subject area when it comes to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths?

I would have to say science, particularly conservation biology. This is an area I’ve long been interested in and is very close to my heart. Did you know that feral cats eat about two billion animals a year in Australia? Reptiles, birds, frogs, mammals … it’s heartbreaking. It’s an incomprehensible number. The work that conservation biologists do to protect our native fauna is critical. We have seen animals literally brought back from the brink of extinction due to their incredible work.

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project?

I always have a few manuscripts on the go! I have a children’s picture book text that I’ve been working on for a while and a junior fiction novel that I’m just editing at the moment before my agent sends it out. Of course, I hope very much that I’ll be able to talk to you about one or both of those books sometime in the near future!

Ajay Rane is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


Image shows the cover of a children's book: Ajay Rane, Global Crusader for Women's health by Deb Fitzpatrick. The cover illustration shows a hand drawn illustration of Prof Ajay Rane standing in blue hospital scrubs with hands on his hips and a stethoscope around his neck. Ajay has brown skin, short dark hair and wears glasses. Around him are doodle style drawings of the symbol for woman, a pelvis from a skeleton, and a glowing light bulb.

Find out more about the Aussie STEM Stars series here.

Find out more about Deb Fitzpatrick and her books: visit her website!

Book reviews by Emily, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Calling of Jackdaw Hollow

The image shows the cover of a children's novel: The Calling of Jackdaw Hollow by Kate Gordon. The cover illustration is hand drawn and shows a close up of a boy's head and shoulders. He has pale skin, short dark hair and he's smiling without showing his teeth. He wears a white neckerchief and a blue shirt. Around him are branches and wildflowers and way behind him is a white cottage style house with the silhouettes of two birds flying above it and forked lightning.

REVIEWED BY EMILY, 10, WA

The Calling of Jackdaw Hollow by Kate Gordon, University of Queensland Press, ISBN 9780702263484

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

The Calling of Jackdaw Hollow is a thrilling adventure book about a boy called Jackdaw Hollow who gets orphaned after his parents and he go outside during a thunderstorm, but Jackdaw miraculously survives. A lady named Mrs Celeste Beekman decides to take him in and be his foster mother while also being the headmistress of Direleafe hall – a school for girls. Jackdaw Hollow has always wanted to find his calling and when an opportunity presents itself he gladly accepts it. He meets several people like ghosts, strange girls and an evil lady and all to try and find his calling.

I really enjoyed this book because it not only teaches people about friendship but is also a thrilling adventure book. Another sensational feature about this book is that it tells you that you should not go too far and lose yourself to try and find your calling.

This book would be suitable for ages 6–12 but can be enjoyed by older or younger people. I would give this book five out of five stars because I like how it can teach others about the meaning of friendship and not to take things too far.


Emily is a regular reviewer for Alphabet Soup. Read more reviews by Emily here. To send us YOUR book review, read our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

poetry, Young Writers in Action

Young writers in action: When the Sky

Photo shows a sky over mountains at sunset. The sky at the top of the photo is blue with white clouds gradually changing to deep red in a sunset near the bottom of the photo. At the base are dark mountains. All across the sky are the dark silhouettes of birds flying. Photo by Giani at pixabay.com

WHEN THE SKY by Ahil, 9, India

We can see the sky
where birds go to fly.
We can see the starry night
and the moon shining bright!

When the sky is blue
all looks so new.
When the sky is dark,
Rain! cries the lark!

When the sun goes down
the sky wears a black gown,
and clouds have nowhere to go
when sleep covers the rainbow!

This is Ahil’s first publication at Alphabet Soup. To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, check out our submission guidelines

Book reviews by kids

Book review: Alex and the Alpacas Ride Again

Image shows the cover of a children's novel, Alex and the Alpacas Ride Again by Kathryn Lefroy. The cover illustration shows a girl with long black hair waving in the wind. She's holding a tiny black box up above her head and there appears to be a glow about the box. In the other arm she cradles a small plant in a black pot. Surrounding her and looking on are four alpacas, one black, one brown, one beige and one white. Above them is a stormy dark sky with two forks of lightning.

REVIEWED BY MIA, 10, WA

Alex and the Alpacas Ride Again by Kathryn Lefroy, Fremantle Press, ISBN 9781760991739

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Alex and the Alpacas Ride Again is a terrific novel written by Kathryn Lefroy. It is the second in a series of two books.

My favourite chapter was chapter 32, the last chapter, because it tells me what the alpacas will going to do with their lives next. And it wrapped up the story in an incredible way! (but I won’t give that away!)

I liked the book because it had so many twists in it and so many discoveries. It kept me reading until the very end.

In my opinion, the funniest chapter was chapter 31 because when Alex’s mum walked in, Griffin was struggling to say anything in front of her, and straight away I knew that Griffin had a crush on her!

I would recommend this book to anyone ages 9 to 13 as it has some difficult words in the novel. I would also recommend this book to anyone who is fussy with their books, because this one will surely keep you reading until the very end!   

Read an excerpt from the book at the publisher’s website!


This is Mia’s first book review for Alphabet Soup. To send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Book reviews by kids

Book review: John Long, Fossil Hunter

Image shows the cover of a children's biography: John Long, Fossil Hunter by Danielle Clode. The cover is predominantly brown. There's a hand-drawn illustration of John Long, a fair haired man wearing a brown hat, black spectacles and holding a pick and a fossil in each hand. Around this drawing of him are doodle-style illustrations of a fish skeleton, a spade, a paintbrush and an ancient looking fish, as well as a lightbulb lit up in yellow.

REVIEWED BY BELLA, 10, WA

John Long, Fossil Hunter, story told by Danielle Clode, Wild Dingo Press, ISBN 9781925893687

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

This book in the Aussie Stem Stars series features John Long, the inspiring fossil hunter. The story is told by Danielle Clode.

I recommend this book for ages eight and up.

The chapter I found hilarious was “karate kid”, when suddenly John fell in love with karate. He first had a passion for karate when he saw Bruce Lee do karate!

I learned many facts about fossils in this wonderful book, that I didn’t know before. I also had never heard about John Long before, until I read the first few chapters of the book.

My favourite chapter was ‘Camping Chaos’, because I like how the author described the the event, which made me feel as though I was in a different world, right there stuck in the terrific story!

If I could star rate this book, I would probably give it a 4.5 out of 5! That is my opinion on how the book is really good.

I really enjoyed John Long, and learning about his experience with fossils.

Take a peek inside the book at the publisher’s website!


This is Bella’s first book review for Alphabet Soup. To send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Book reviews by Emily, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Red Pyramid

Image shows the cover of a children's novel, book 1 in The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan. The cover illustration shows a boy and a girl in silhouette facing a dangerous looking sphinx like creature which is glowing red and yellow.

REVIEWED BY EMILY, 10, WA

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan, Penguin UK, ISBN 9780141325507

Emily reviewed her own copy of this book.

The Kane chronicles: The Red Pyramid Is a thrilling adventure book by Rick Riordan. It is about  siblings Carter and Sadie that look nothing alike. They must go on an action-packed adventure to save the world from the Egyptian God of Chaos, Set, before he takes over the world. It takes place throughout the world including the underworld, the Duat.

I really enjoyed these books because it taught me so many new things about Egyptian gods and pharaohs. I also think that this book is amazing because of all the adventure that takes place.

I think that this book would be suitable for ages 11-15 but could also be enjoyed by people older then 15 or younger than 11. If I had to rate this book I would give it 5 out of 5 stars because I like how in the first book Sadie and Carter have a massive adventure just to save their dad.


Emily is a regular reviewer for Alphabet Soup. Read Emily’s other reviews here. To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, read our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Book reviews by kids, Book reviews by Saskia

Book review: The Rat-catcher’s Apprentice

Image shows the cover of a children's novel: The Rat-Catcher's Apprentice by Maggie Jankuloska. The cover illustration shows a silhouette of a girl in a skirt going into a rounded hollow in what looks like a dark forest. The centre of the hollow she's walking towards is pale blue. In the bottom right of the illustration is the silhouette of a small rat. The title is in large gold letters.

REVIEWED BY SASKIA, 12, WA

The Rat-catcher’s Apprentice by Maggie Jankuloska, MidnightSun Publishing, ISBN 9781925227949

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

The Rat Catcher’s Apprentice (by Maggie Jankuloska) is a gripping novel about a young girl, Marie, sent to catch rats during the Middle Ages, where the plague was always near.

I really enjoyed reading this book because it shed a light on what children would have to deal with during an epidemic in a time where beliefs and technology were so different from today. I also think this book is very relevant to today and was easy to relate to because we are dealing with a similar problem as Marie.

I think this book would be suitable for 10 to 14 year olds, but could be enjoyed by older people too. Out of five stars, I would give this book a four.


Saskia is a regular book reviewer for Alphabet Soup. You can read more of her reviews hereIf YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

authors, interviews

Sharon Giltrow on Get Ready, Mama!

Sharon Giltrow grew up in South Australia and now lives in Western Australia with her husband, two children, a tom cat and a miniature dog. She works in Early Childhood Education and Teacher Education Support, working with Young Children with Developmental Language Disorder. Her debut picture book was Bedtime, Daddy!, illustrated by Katrin Dreiling. Today we’re chatting to her about her new picture book, Get Ready, Mama! illustrated by Arielle Li.

From the publisher:

Getting Mama ready for the day can be a challenge… you’d better watch out that she doesn’t sneak back into bed, try to distract you with cuddles, or … wait, is Mama watching TV?! 


Your first picture book was Bedtime, Daddy! Did you have the idea for a series of books about family members when you wrote the first book or did the idea for a companion book come after the first book was out?

Bedtime, Daddy! is a role reversal book where the child (actually a bear) has to put the daddy to bed. The idea came from my own family. Once I signed the contract for Bedtime, Daddy! I thought writing a series of books using the same structure but different family members would be a great idea. I wanted one about a mum and about the other end of the day, getting up, so I wrote Get Ready, Mama! which was recently published 3 ½ years after the first book. I also wrote a story about taking a grandma shopping and a grandpa to the beach. Those two will be published in 2022 and 2023. So, my picture book family series is now complete. (Wait a minute – what about the aunty and uncle?)

Are you a morning person or a night owl? (Do you spring out of bed in the morning yourself?)

I am a morning person or as a like to call myself an early bird, although at times I am also an exhausted pigeon. I don’t spring out as bed as quickly as I use to, it’s more of a slide, but I do like to get up before everyone else in the house. Then I can have a few minutes of ‘me’ time.

Did you work with the illustrator (Arielle Li) during the book’s creation?

Anouska, the editor at EK Books, encouraged Arielle and I to work together from the beginning of the publishing process. She shared Arielle’s initial character sketches with me and as a team we decided whether the characters would be guinea pigs or humans. We chose humans! I’m glad we did after seeing the child and mama’s amazing facial expressions in Get Ready, Mama! Then Arielle started working on the storyboard and again shared it with me. Throughout the whole process I was able to suggest changes. There weren’t many as Arielle did such a fantastic job interpreting my text. Once the changes were made, I put my text onto the storyboard to check how the story flowed. Finally, as a team we decided on a cover.

Do you have a tip for kids about writing illustrated stories or picture books?

After you have your idea, spend some time brainstorming the idea and in particular the characters. I do this for about 20 minutes every day for a week before I start writing. Here are some questions I use when I am brainstorming.

  • What does your character love or hate?
  • What is their nickname?
  • What kind of being are they?
  • What is their age?
  • What is their physical appearance?
  • Who are their family members?
  • Do they have any pets?
  • Who is their best friend/s?
  • What items do they carry in their backpack?
  • What are their hobbies?
  • What does your character want more than anything?
  • What are their fears?
  • What is their favourite food?

Can you tell us something about your next writing project?

I am currently writing my third book in my early middle grade series The Utility Belt. Books one and two release in 2022 and 2023. But I don’t want to give too much away.

I am also enrolled in a graphic novel course; I want to learn how to write (and possibly illustrate) a graphic novel. I already have a great idea, now to develop my characters – stay tuned!

Get Ready, Mama! is out now. Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Image shows the cover of a picture book: Get Ready, Mama! by Sharon Giltrow and Arielle Li. The cover illustration shows a mother still in bed, cuddling her teddy. There's a child standing next to her bed in a school uniform and with neatly tied plaits. The child is holding a white button up blouse on a coat hanger. Next to the bed is a white dog with brown patches and a pink tongue lolling out. The mother in bed has tousled hair and doesn't look alert. The dog and the child look enthusiastic and full of energy.

Take a look at some pages inside the book

Make your own Get Ready, Mama! mini colouring book

Download the Teachers’ Notes for this book

Visit the author’s website for more about Sharon Giltrow and her books