Posted in authors, interviews

Kim Doherty on Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist: 2016–2020

MEET THE AUTHOR

Kim Doherty is an editor, storyteller, teacher, and a mum to two young children, who she hopes will be inspired by the amazing world of science and Alan’s story. Today we’re thrilled to chat to her about her new book, a biography in the Aussie STEM Stars series – Alan Finkel.

From the publisher:

As Australia’s Chief Scientest, our country turned to Alan Finkel for advice on everything from climate change to artificial intelligence, to the pandemic. But at a time when scientists have never been so important, Alan nearly didn’t become one at all!


How did you go about your research for writing about Alan Finkel? 

I did a LOT of reading. It’s lucky that I love reading as well as writing, as there is so much to read about Alan – he’s always busy doing something interesting. I read all the speeches he’s ever given (and that is no small feat – there are hundreds) and a lot of his scientific papers. I confess, some of the papers were a bit too complicated for me to understand, but I did my best. I spent a lot of time interviewing Alan of course, but I also chatted to his colleagues, his friends and his family (his sister had lots of funny stories to tell. It’s a good reason to always be nice to your sister – you never know who she’ll talk to about you in the future!)

Did you meet Alan Finkel while you were writing the book?

Alan and I had grand plans to have lunch together in Melbourne, where we both grew up. Then he was so busy that we changed it to Canberra, where his office was as Chief Scientist of Australia. Then he was due to give a speech in Sydney, where I now live … but then something got in the way: Covid-19. There was no way of travelling or meeting face to face during the pandemic, so we did all our chatting on zoom. Which I have to say was fun! It was like being teleported straight into his living room in Melbourne, without ever having to walk out my own front door in Sydney. (And once, I was still secretly wearing my slippers. Ssshh!).

As Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel worked in many different areas of science – technology, biology, science education, the pandemic, climate change – and in the book we learn that perhaps his greatest passion is taking care of our planet. Which area of STEM do you find most interesting?

Oh I love all of it, I wish I’d studied more science at school. Alan is always fascinating to talk to, but perhaps my favourite of the many STEM topics we chatted about was how science can help look after our planet. For example, Alan believes that clean hydrogen can power our vehicles instead of dirty fossil fuels, and it turns out that Australia is a great place to produce hydrogen. You can make hydrogen from water, and instead of emitting nasty greenhouse gases, its only byproduct is water vapour! It’s exciting to think that, thanks to our scientists, Australia could play an important role in looking after our beautiful planet.

In addition to this biography about Alan Finkel you’ve also written a book for children about Mt Everest. Do you have a tip for children who’d like to write nonfiction?

Hmm, I’m sure your clever readers would think of this themselves but my advice is this: find a topic you’re really interested in, because it’s a lot more fun to read and write about a subject you love. It doesn’t mean you have to know a lot about it when you start, but you need to be ready to read a lot first, and then talk to people who know a lot, before you even start to write yourself. If you’ve really worked hard on the research, the writing bit is easy and fun. Go on, give it a try!

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?

To be honest, I am still trying to work it out. I love writing about amazing people, and there are so many of them in Australia – scientists of course, but also people from all walks of life who are doing wonderful, brave things. It’s an honour to tell those stories, so thank you for reading them. I hope they inspire you too.


Alan Finkel is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book store or local library.

Take a sneak peek inside the book

Image shows the cover of a biography about Alan Finkel written for children. The title is Alan Finkel, Australia's Chief Scientist: 2016 - 2020. Story told by Kim Doherty. Text at the top of the book's cover says Aussie STEM Stars. The cover is predominantly dark blue and shows an illustration of Alan Finkel. Alan has short grey hair and is wearing a pale blue collared-shirt with a maroon tie and a dark grey suit jacket. He has fair skin and dark blue eyes. Other symbols on the cover include sketches of a human brain, a computer chip, and a lightbulb (the last of which is shining brightly, yellow).
Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

James Foley on Stellarphant

MEET THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR

James Foley makes picture books, middle grade novels and comics for kids. His work has been published as books, in anthologies, and in magazines and newspapers. Today we are thrilled to chat to James about his latest book, Stellarphant.

From the publisher:

Stella wants to be an astronaut. There is only one problem – Stella is an elephant. Every time she applies to Space Command, they come with a new reason she can’t join. But where there’s a will, there’s a way and Stella is determined to reach for the stars.


What sparked the idea for this story?

I was at our annual SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Rottnest Retreat, June 2014. Sitting around in the cottage with my friends and we were all sketching and scribing away. I made this random pen and watercolour sketch of an elephant and penguin as astronauts. Elephants had turned up in my sketchbooks regularly over the years, but never as an astronaut. The story that became Stellarphant grew from there. 

I’m also a massive nerd who loves learning things, and I was reading about all the species that have been to space. The back endpapers of the book were another early image I couldn’t get out of my head. 

The endpapers showcase the huge number of animals sent to space since 1947. Was there a particular animal you were surprised to discover had been to space? 

I was most surprised that the first earthlings to circumnavigate the moon were not humans; it was some tortoises, mealworms and wineflies, sent by the Soviets! I also loved that there was an experiment that sent fertilised chicken eggs to space – it was called ‘Chix in Space’ and was sponsored by KFC. 

The endpapers in Stellarphant aren’t even the full number of animals that have been to space, they were just a bunch of the most fascinating ones. 

Stella shows resilience, persistence and creative problem solving skills in the face of repeated ‘no’s. Have you ever been told it’s not possible to do something and persisted anyway?

I was really lucky that when I was younger, and being a writer/illustrator was still just a dream, I didn’t have anyone tell me I couldn’t do it. My parents and siblings and friends were all very supportive of my creativity. Though I can be incredibly stubborn, so maybe they knew that they couldn’t stop me if I really wanted to try.

Sometimes it’s your own head that is telling you no; that often happens to me when I’m in the earliest stages of a new project, or even just starting a new page. The little doubting voice flares up, and I wonder if I’ll be able to finish the task ahead. When that happens, I find that my fear of not meeting my deadline usually trumps the fear of failure, haha! I know that I just have to get the work done. 

The book is definitely about determination, but for me it’s also about discrimination, and diversity, and equity, and feminism. And it’s also about learning to let go of what other people think of you; to stop looking for approval from others, and to realise that you are good enough the way you are. 

Can you tell us a bit about how you went about creating the book? Words or illustrations first?

The whole story grew from that image of the elephant and penguin spacewalking. 

That’s how it goes with my stories, most of the time; they start with an image (either in a sketchbook or in my head), then the plot grows from there. 

When I first started trying to write the text for Stellarphant I was pretty inexperienced at writing. The manuscript was, uh, not great, haha! It took me a while, and it took writing a bunch of other stories, to figure out how to make Stellarphant click.

Now I’ve learned from experience that it’s best for me to hold off on writing down a new idea until I’ve thought about it for a really long time; I need to let the ideas percolate and simmer in my head until I’ve got all the plot beats. I’m definitely a planner; I need to know the beginning, middle and end of the story. I won’t start writing unless I know where it’s going. 

As I’m brainstorming and writing, I’ll get pictures in my head. So once I have the story completely written out, it doesn’t usually take too long to scribble out a sketchy little storyboard for the whole thing. From there I can edit, improve, rearrange, until the words and pictures are fitting together just so. 

That’s how it worked with Stellarphant. I did one scribbly little version of the storyboard; then maybe two full-size black and white rough versions of the book. Then I figured out the colour scheme and did a colour rough for the book. Then I did the finals. It was a fairly straightforward process compared to my first book, where I made 13 different storyboards! 

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?

I’ve got two projects on the go – the first is a comic short story which will be published in 2022.

The other is a MASSIVE project that I’d love to talk about, but it’s still super secret! It’ll come out in early 2023. 

Stellarphant is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Meet James Foley: Come to a free book signing + drawing workshop! 13 November 2021 [WA event]

Take a peek inside the book!

Download the Teachers’ Notes

Download fantastic Stellarphant activities and templates [click & then scroll down the page]

Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

Peter Carnavas and My Brother Ben

MEET THE AUTHOR

Peter Carnavas is an award-winning author-illustrator. You might have read some of his many picture books, such as The Children Who Loved BooksLast Tree in the City and A Quiet Girl. His novel The Elephant won a Queensland Literary Award and was shortlisted in four other national awards. Peter lives on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, with his wife, two daughters, a dog and a cat. Today we’re thrilled to have Peter Carnavas visiting to talk about his latest children’s novel, My Brother Ben.

From the publisher:

Luke and his big brother Ben spend the summer on the banks of Cabbage Tree Creek. Quiet Luke sketches birds, while Ben leaps off the Jumping Tree. The boys couldn’t be more different but they share the same dream: winning a boat so they can explore the creek properly. Then Ben starts high school and the boys drift apart. When Luke catches Ben sneaking out at night, he knows his brother’s up to something, but what?


When you were growing up did you have a big brother or sister?

I have two big brothers and one big sister. One of my brothers is just a few years older than me so we grew up doing everything together: playing backyard cricket and soccer, playing computer games and drawing silly pictures of each other.

In the book, Luke chooses soul birds for himself and considers soul birds for his various family members too. Which bird would you say was your soul bird?

I tend to do things slowly so I think I’d be a slow-moving water bird, like a white-faced heron.  I’m not a very good swimmer so it suits me that these herons only go ankle-deep into the water.

How long did it take you to write My Brother Ben – from the start of the first draft to the final draft?

It probably took me about year from start to finish.  Every time I thought I’d finished it, my editors pointed out ways to make the story even better, so I did many drafts. That’s the great thing about editors – it’s similar to the way teachers show you how to improve your stories. The illustrations didn’t take too long – probably only a few days to draw all the birds – because they are black and white pen drawings, and I didn’t have to paint them.

Do you have a tip for kids who might be interested in watching birds?

The main character, Luke, has an aunt who teaches him all about birdwatching.  She tells him to keep still and let the birds come to him, and this is something I’ve discovered when birdwatching myself.  I’ve found that if you walk through a bush track or a forest, you probably won’t see many birds straight away. But if you slow down and keep quiet for a while, you’ll notice small movements and sounds, and then you’ll notice more birds. Also, when you keep still, birds will be less afraid. Another tip is to start by looking for water birds in lagoons or ponds, as these birds keep quite still themselves, so they’re easier to watch and identify.

Could you nominate a children’s book you’ve recently read that you would recommend?

I have loved reading Sara Pennypacker’s books this year, particularly Pax and Here in the Real World. Pax is a wonderful story about a boy trying to reunite with the fox he once raised – great for upper primary students.

My Brother Ben is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Watch Peter Carnavas talking about the book (YouTube)

Download the Teachers’ Notes for My Brother Ben

Read two more interviews with Peter Carnavas here and here

Visit Peter Carnavas’s website for more about him and his books

My Brother Ben by Peter Carnavas

Posted in authors, interviews

Julia Lawrinson on Mel and Shell

MEET THE AUTHOR

Julia Lawrinson is an award-winning writer of more than a dozen books for children and young adults. Her books are about friendship, family and the occasional Jack Russell. We’re very pleased to be chatting to Julia today about her latest book Mel and Shell.

From the publisher:

It’s 1979. Swedish pop group ABBA rules the airwaves, rollerskating is cool, and Mel and Shell are best friends. There’s nothing they like more than making up dances to ABBA songs, and there’s nothing they like less than Scary Sharon and Stinky Simon. But things are changing, fast. Confiding in her pen pal from 1829, Shell discovers she has a lot to learn about loyalty, honesty and rollerskating.


How did you come to write a book set in 1979?

In 1979 I was in year five, and it was a hugely exciting year to be a kid. ABBA was at its most popular, rollerskating was huge, Doctor Who with Tom Baker was my favourite show, and BMX was just taking off. It was also the 150th anniversary of English settlement in Western Australia, so everyone was given a diary with lots of olden day pictures, which fascinated me.

You incorporate two timeframes from history in the book – 1979, when the book is set, and 1829, which the main character is learning about in year 5. How much did you need to research before you began writing the novel?

A lot! I went to the State Library and looked at all the old newspapers on clunky old machines called microfiche, to see what was happening in the first half of 1979, and also to remember what television shows were on when. I also had to make sure I had the right information about who was on what ships coming from England, and what happened to them on the way.

OK, we have to ask – are you an ABBA fan yourself?

ABBAsolutely! I still have an ABBA calendar every year, sent to me by my best friend who lives in England. When we see each other we still dress up and pretend to be Anna and Frida.

If you found a way to time-slip back to 1979, what would be the first thing you’d do when you arrived?

Go rollerskating, buy a yo-yo, and watch Young Talent Time.

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

My next project is my first picture book, set in 1962 in Perth, and features an astronaut. It will be out in June 2022 with Wild Dog Books.

Mel and Shell is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book shop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Read a sample chapter from Mel and Shell

Download Teachers’ Notes for this book

Read our 2019 interview with Julia Lawrinson about another of her books, Maddie in the Middle

Visit Julia Lawrinson’s website for more about her and her books

Posted in authors, interviews

Meg McKinlay on Bella and the Voyaging House

MEET THE AUTHOR

Meg McKinlay is an award-winning children’s writer and poet based near Fremantle, Western Australia. She has published eighteen books for young people from picture books through to young adult fiction. Today we’re thrilled to chat to Meg about her latest book Bella and the Voyaging House, a sequel to Bella and the Wandering House, both illustrated by Nicholas Schafer.

From the publisher:

Bella’s house likes to travel, setting sail across the ocean while everyone sleeps. Bella’s parents don’t mind as long as the house is home by daylight. One night, Bella has a wonderful idea for her grandfather’s birthday. She wants to find a figurine he made of her grandmother, lost overboard in an accident. Bella and the house go in search, but things don’t quite go according to plan . . .


Bella’s house is drawn to the sea. Is sailing something you like/have liked to do? Did you go sailing for the writing of Bella and the Voyaging House?

I have no interest in sailing myself but I do love watching sailboats, which is what I was doing when I got the idea for Bella and the Voyaging House. I didn’t need to go sailing as research for the book because the descriptions of the house sailing aren’t technical at all. I just needed to know enough to get the feeling right, and I’ve been on boats enough to have that covered.

I do have a deep love of the ocean though – I love swimming and wave-staring and just generally floating about. Actually, it was after finishing this second Bella book that I realised that in many ways, the house is me. As a child growing up in a carless family in Central Victoria, the ocean was a kind of mythical place to me. On rare visits, my father, who grew up on the coast in WA, taught us to bodysurf, and my older brother and I made a quiet pact – that whenever we were near the ocean, we would hurl ourselves into it, regardless of the weather, conditions, or whether or not we had bathers. These days, I live a 10-minute bike ride from the beach and have vowed never to move away from it. I may not be made from the wood of an old boat, but I think I’m made from my father’s love of the ocean, and long to be near it, just as the house does.

If your own house could wander/sail off to somewhere, where would you hope it would take you?

Hmmm. I think I’d quite like a trip to Antarctica. I love the idea of the white and the silence and the solitude. I generally find that the further I am away from the noise and clutter of life, the happier I am. I’d also love to see a penguin sliding on its belly!

This book is the sequel to Bella and the Wandering House. Did you find it a quicker (or slower) project to write a sequel?

Well, the first book took about 12 years from first draft to final manuscript* so I can confidently say the sequel was quicker. It still took about 18 months though; no matter what I do, I just can’t seem to write quickly. In writing the sequel, it did help that I already knew the characters and the world of the story so I didn’t have to build everything from scratch. On the other hand, my love for the characters may have slowed me down a bit; I really wanted to make sure I wrote a story that would do them justice and give them room to shine.

(*This includes 10 years when the manuscript sat in a drawer, abandoned. I’d written it as a picture book but it wasn’t working and I didn’t know how to fix it, so I eventually gave up. Ten years later, I realised it needed to be a chapter book and rewrote the whole thing; it was published about two years later.)

Will there be any more books in this series?

I have no plans to write any more. Then again, when I wrote Bella and the Wandering House, I wrote it as a standalone book, with no intention of ever writing a sequel. Then again again, I love the way Bella and the Voyaging House ended – that final image feels very satisfying to me – and I think I’d be very happy leaving Grandad, Bella, and the house right there.

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

I’m working on an odd sort of picture book at the moment. I say ‘odd’ because it’s not really a story but more like a series of instructions or guidelines. It’s hard to explain but I think it’s going to be great. It’s called Always Never Always, at least for now, and will be illustrated by Leila Rudge, who I’m very excited to be working with again.

I’m also in the home-ish stretch of the sequel to A Single Stone, and once that’s finished, I’m pretty keen to jump into some shorter novels that have been percolating for a while. They’re both fun and whimsical and I think I’m going to really enjoy writing them.

Bella and the Voyaging House is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Read a sample chapter of the book

Download the Teachers’ Notes

Read a 2015 review of Bella and the Wandering House (Book 1 in this series) by Matilda, age 9.

Bella and the Voyaging House by Meg McKinlay illust. Nicholas Schafer
Posted in authors, interviews

Samantha Wheeler and Devils in Danger

MEET THE AUTHOR

Samantha Wheeler fell in love with animals when, at the age of six, she received a tortoise. She went on to study agriculture, work with dairy farmers and teach science, until writing her first children’s book, inspired by koalas, in 2011. We’re thrilled to be able to chat to Samantha about her latest book, Devils in Danger.

From the publisher:

Killarney discovers a wild Tasmanian devil, denning under the house! Killarney is excited, but many of the locals are terrified. When rumours about dangerous devils begin spreading, Killarney is determined to protect her precious visitor. But can she convince an entire town these wild creatures are worth saving?


Have you ever seen or heard a Tasmanian devil in the wild yourself?

You bet! I first had the idea for writing this story when I saw Tassie devil footprints and scats on a path I was walking on in the Tasmanian wilderness. I was so excited, but sadly didn’t get to see that particular devil. Once I’d started planning the book though, I went back to Tassie and watched wild devils eating a carcass in the dark. It wasn’t as disgusting as it sounds, it was amazing! Killarney gets to do this in Devils in Danger and I know just how excited she would have felt! They are beautiful creatures, especially their red ears.

How did you know when you’d done enough research to start writing Devils in Danger?

 I usually go and find out what the issues are for the particular animal first (Tassie devils in this case) and what my main character needs to do to help them. This gives me a rough idea of what the story might be. Then I begin to write but always find I need more details, like how big are the animals when they’re 3 months old, 6 months old, adults, what do they eat, what do they smell like, how many teeth do they have etc. So these details I usually have to google or go and see the animals, or ask an expert once I’m already writing the story. There’s always a lot of research to do, so luckily I love it.

Do you have a favourite Tasmanian devil fact?

Absolutely. I think the fact that they are creating their own immunity to facial tumours is simply incredible. They are saving themselves. So clever. But a funny fact is the pongy smell they emit when they’re frightened, kind of like a skunk. Who would have thought? They look too cute to be stinky.

How much do you find you need to change in a book, from first draft to final draft?

Oh my goodness. Nearly everything! My first few drafts are usually very bad and I have to change them a lot to make the story any good. One thing that happens with me is that I have too many ideas and can lose the central theme of the story by going off and getting distracted by little subplots. It’s often hard to know what I’m really trying to say. It can be a little frustrating but it’s worth it in the end.

Can you tell us about your next writing project?

I’m playing with a few ideas. I’d love to write another one like this about sharks (I feel really sorry for them, they need our help) and I’m also writing a junior fiction series about a family who inherit a farm but are useless at farming. It’s so cute. Then there’s a  story I’m working on about a boy who gets left behind on a tropical island. So many ideas!

Devils in Danger is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book shop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS!

Read a sample chapter from Devils in Danger

Download the Teachers’ Notes for this book

Visit Samantha Wheeler’s website for more about her and her books

Devils in Danger by Samantha Wheeler
Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

Anna Ciddor and The Boy Who Stepped Through Time

MEET THE AUTHOR

Anna Ciddor has always been fascinated by the past. It would be her dream come true to step through time! Instead, she immerses herself in research and hunts out the tiniest details so she can bring the past to life in her imagination. Anna has written and illustrated over 50 books on topics as diverse as Vikings, Irish druids, Australian history, travel, and toilets. Today we’re thrilled to talk to her about her latest book, The Boy Who Stepped Through Time.

From the publisher:

When Perry steps into a crumbling ruin while on holiday in France, he is not expecting to be transported back 1700 years to Roman times. While he hunts desperately for a way home, he must blend in as a slave in a grand villa – even if it means eating mice for dinner! He dodges the perils of Roman life. And all the time there is the danger that he will be trapped in the past forever …


How did you come to write a novel about Ancient Rome?

Well, it’s a long story because I actually started writing it when I was ten years old! You see, I read a book about Ancient Romans and I was fascinated by the idea of people lying around on couches eating with their fingers and spitting out their pips and bones on the dining room floor! I decided to write a novel about a boy from Roman times. I described him running down a stone-paved street dressed in a tunic. (A tunic was a type of dress that Roman boys used to wear.) I got stuck trying to work out what would happen to him though, so I stopped writing and went back to playing with my sisters. When I grew up, I became an author and illustrator, but it wasn’t until nearly fifty years after I started it, that I finally went back and finished the story about the Roman boy.

You joined forces with a researcher to help you with the accuracy of historical elements of the book. Could you tell us a bit about how you worked together?

I really needed help with the research because Roman times were so weird and different from the world we live in now. Romans cleaned themselves with olive oil instead of soap, they ate food like peacocks and dormice, they all got in a huge bath together, and they even went to the toilet together! The researcher and I worked for about a year researching the book and planning what was going to happen in every chapter. When I started writing and picturing the scenes though, I discovered I still needed more information. What sort of spell words did the Romans use? What medicine did they use to cure a sore throat? I kept sending the researcher text messages and she found me the answers but sometimes they were a big surprise. One Roman spell word was ABRACADRA. And one cure was to drink horse saliva!

You also illustrated the book. How did you go about the illustrations?

Again, the researcher helped me by finding Ancient Roman sources of things I was illustrating. For example, my granddaughter asked me to put a cat in the story so of course I did, and when I wanted to draw the cat, the researcher found me mosaics of real ancient Roman cats. They turned out to look exactly like my granddaughter’s two cats. Hers are tiger striped – one is orange and one is brown.

Is there an aspect of ancient Rome that you wish was still around today?

No! There are lots of things I am glad are NOT around today. The Boy Who Stepped Through Time is about a boy called Perry who goes back in time, and one of the things he hates most about Roman life is the toilets. The first time he needs to go, he opens the door and sees there are three toilet holes all in a row on a wooden bench, and a woman is sitting using one of the holes already. Even worse, instead of toilet paper they all share a sponge on the end of a stick.

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

At the moment I am planning a sequel to The Boy Who Stepped Through Time. You can enter a competition for a chance to win your name in it! Click here to enter.

The Boy Who Stepped Through Time is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book shop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Read a sample chapter from The Boy Who Stepped Through Time

Download the Teachers’ Notes for the book

WIN your name in Anna Ciddor’s next book!

Visit Anna Ciddor’s website for more about her and her books

The Boy Who Stepped Through Time by Anna Ciddor
Posted in authors, interviews, poetry

Sherryl Clark and Mina and the Whole Wide World

MEET THE AUTHOR

Sherryl Clark is an award-winning writer, editor and writing teacher. Sherryl has been writing poems and stories for children for over twenty years. We’re pleased to be chatting to her today about her latest verse novel – Mina and the Whole Wide World, illustrated by Briony Stewart.

From the publisher:

A powerful story about a young girl, Mina, and how she copes when her family take in a refugee boy and give away what was meant to be her first very-own bedroom.


What brought you to write Mina and the Whole Wide World?

I have been thinking about it for several years. I wanted to write something about refugees and also about what kids learn from their parents, and about how hearing someone’s story can change us and change how we perceive the world. But I was very conscious of appropriating stories – that stopped me in my tracks and the book just stalled after about five poems. Finally I went on a writing residency to Finland, and I realised one day that it was Mina’s story, and I could tell it from her point of view. Then the book just burst out – I wrote it in about five sittings of two to three hours at a time.

You write for a variety of ages and the style across your writings and books is also varied. Can you tell us about how you approached the writing? Did you set out to write it as a verse novel?

Yes, it was always going to be a verse novel. I think simple poems with lots of imagery and ideas allow the reader into the spaces and gaps, and they can then imagine and feel the story for themselves. Not all stories work in verse (and not all verse works). I’ve actually tried to write a fantasy novel in poems and I just got bogged down by the world-building and the plot details! On the other hand, Motormouth started as a prose novel and was really flat and stuck until I turned it into a verse novel.

How long did it take you to write the book from the first germ of the idea, to the final draft?

I think I wrote the first five poems about four years ago. They just sat in my notebook and I couldn’t keep going. I didn’t know how to tell the story. When I got to Finland, the silence in my writing room and the fact I was there to write and do nothing else seemed to allow my brain to expand and “see” better. It’s hard to explain. I went there to write a crime novel! And I did, but Mina and the Whole Wide World kept pushing in and the poems just kept coming. As soon as I had Mina’s voice, I started writing madly. So it was finished in less than three weeks (and the original five poems were back in Australia so I had to start from the beginning). I did another draft when I came home but it was mostly refining and changing a few things.

Do you have a tip for young writers who would like to try writing a verse novel of their own?

Think imagery and story, and put them together if you can. Having a clear story idea or a plot is really helpful. It acts like a beacon to keep you on track. I’d also think a lot about voice – who is telling the story? Who do you imagine is speaking through the poems? And keep the poems tight – don’t over-explain. It’s a balancing act!

Could you tell us a bit about your next project?

I’m writing another adult crime novel at the moment. I was a bit stuck because I had to do some important research about private investigators to help me sort out some plot problems. I finally found someone I could interview so now I have to do some rewriting before I can work on the rest of it. Sometimes it’s like that. You stop because you know something is missing or wrong, and you have to go away and solve it before you can keep writing.

Mina and the Whole Wide World is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book store or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Visit Sherryl Clark’s website for more about her and her books

Download the teachers’ notes for this book

Listen to Sherryl Clark reading another of her verse novels Sixth Grade Style Queen (Not)

Mina and the Whole Wide World by Sherryl Clark and illustrated by Briony Stewart
Posted in authors, interviews

Teena Raffa-Mulligan and Just Write

MEET THE AUTHOR

Teena Raffa-Mulligan writes poetry, short stories, picture books and novels. She has also worked as a journalist and editor. Today we’re pleased to welcome her to Alphabet Soup to chat about about her latest book, Just Write – an easy guide to writing stories.

From the publisher:

Just Write can help to kick-start the process for kids who are stuck at the start. Find out how to come up with ideas, create interesting characters, paint word pictures and more in this easy-to-follow guide full of activities and helpful examples.


How did you come to write Just Write?

I never had any trouble writing stories when I was a kid. My pen flew over the page and I could barely keep up with the ideas spilling out of my imagination. I had a head full of stories and would even run home from the park to write them down. When my children were in primary school, I became a parent helper in the classroom and realised there were lots of kids who struggled with story writing.

Around the same time, my first picture book was published and I did some school visits. The idea of putting together a book for children about writing took shape as I had more books released and continued to share my love of stories in talks and workshops. The first version, which was called What Comes Next? Story Writing Made Easy for Children, was accepted for publication but that never happened so the manuscript stayed in my filing cabinet for years.

Last year I had extra time at home because of the COVID lockdowns and restrictions but I didn’t feel like writing anything new. I did need a project to work on so I decided to take another look at some of my unpublished manuscripts. You Can Be a Writer came out in January and is a picture book for early primary children that is based on a talk I give in schools. Just Write is the next level up, so it’s for mid to upper primary age.

I hope the books will encourage children to see story writing as a fun activity. There’s a blank page waiting for our imagination to take us on an exciting adventure and we don’t know where it will lead until we start out.

What’s the WORST writing advice you’ve ever been given?

Be disciplined, write for set hours every day, work on one story from start to finish, and stick to one genre so readers know what to expect.

This may be excellent advice for another writer – I’ve learned it isn’t a fit for me, so I don’t have a set routine. I’m always working on a range of different stories and I don’t work from start to finish. A lot of the time my stories come together like jigsaw puzzles.

You write poetry, picture books, children’s novels, novels for teens and novels for adults. Which do you find easiest to write?

Anything short that I can write quickly and move on to the next bright, shiny new idea! It takes a lot of focus to write a novel and I am easily distracted so sometimes it will be months between writing one chapter and the next. I used to get really cranky with myself for not being more disciplined and concentrating on one story at a time. I’ve now realised this stop and start approach to novels works really well for me because when I return to the story after a break it will head in unexpected directions.

You love reading as well as writing! Can you recommend a book you’ve enjoyed recently?

Maddie in the Middle by Julia Lawrinson kept me so engrossed in the story I read it in two sittings. I had to stop for lunch! It is all about friendship and breaking the rules and Julia captures Maddie’s voice brilliantly. Another story I loved recently was Catch a Falling Star by Meg McKinlay, set in 1979 when the world was waiting for pieces of Skylab to fall back to Earth. Meg is one of my favourite authors and everything she writes is exceptional, from the language she uses to her vividly drawn characters and understanding of human nature.  

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

I’m working on a novel about a kid who finds a mysterious object at the local quarry the night after his next-door neighbour claims to have been chased by a flying saucer. That night Callum notices his toes have turned red and as the days pass the bright stain creeps steadily up his body. He can’t let Mum know or she won’t let him go to his first ever school camp. Lara from up the street has a secret too, and when the aliens turn up in search of the missing bits of their spaceship, the two kids have to decide what to do. It’s the sort of story I like writing because I let my imagination run free and until I write each scene, I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

Just Write is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book store or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Read our 2019 interview with the author

Visit Teena Raffa-Mulligan’s website for more about her and her books

Just Write by Teena Raffa-Mulligan
Posted in authors, interviews

Denis Knight, Cristy Burne and Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows

MEET THE AUTHORS – DENIS KNIGHT & CRISTY BURNE

Denis Knight and Cristy Burne
Denis Knight & Cristy Burne

Science fiction and fantasy author Denis Knight is a computer programmer who grew up geeking out about the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. He has also worked as a technical writer, a delivery boy, a tutor, and, for one glorious summer, a tour guide on Rottnest Island.

Cristy Burne has worked as a science communicator for nearly 20 years across Australia, Japan, Switzerland, the UK, US, South Africa and beyond. She has performed in a science circus, worked as a garbage analyst, and was a reporter at CERN when they turned on the Large Hadron Collider. Her books include To The Lighthouse, Off The Track, Beneath the Trees, and a non-fiction book, Zeroes and Ones. In 2020, she told the story of the inventor of spray-on skin in Aussie STEM Stars: Fiona Wood.

Denis and Cristy decided to collaborate on a book and the result is a hilarious new series featuring the adventures of a girl named Wednesday Weeks. Today Alphabet Soup is super excited to have Denis and Cristy visiting to tell us about co-writing Book 1 in their series – Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows.

From the publisher:

Wednesday Weeks never wanted to be a sorcerer’s apprentice. She’d rather study science than magic. But when her cloak-wearing, staff-wielding grandpa is captured by a power-hungry goblin king, Wednesday must find a way to embrace her magical heritage and rescue him from the dreaded Tower of Shadows.


One book, two authors. What was it like trying to write a book using two brains?

DENIS: Writing a book with two brains! I love that. It’s actually a great way to describe it. Although sometimes it feels like we only have half a brain between us. Ouch! Cristy just kicked me under the table.

CRISTY: Only because you kicked me first! It was actually really exciting, writing with Denis, because I could never predict what he would write, and I was always literally laughing out loud to discover what Wednesday and Alfie had been up to while I was away.

DENIS: Right. It was a lot of fun. But it was challenging, too – in a good way. When you’re working on your own, you can let yourself get away with stuff. But when you’re writing with a partner, you can’t do that any more. You have to level up.

How did you come up with/agree on the name for your main character?

CRISTY: Denis came up with the concept of Wednesday Weeks, a reluctant sorcerer’s apprentice, and in that very first chapter, he invented many of our favourite characters and names: Wednesday Weeks, Alfie, Mrs Glock … and of course, Abraham Mordecai Weeks (otherwise known as Grandpa).

DENIS: That’s true. Although, Wednesday’s character started out as something quite different from where she ended up. Cristy doesn’t know this, but my first idea was for a space bounty hunter named Serenity Weeks.

CRISTY: A what? Pardon?

DENIS: Then she was going to be a paranormal investigator named Wednesday Weeks. Wednesday’s character and voice started to develop when I wrote some short scenes where she and Alfie were searching for Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. Then the reluctant sorcerer’s apprentice idea popped into my head, and that was kind of the final piece of the puzzle.

CRISTY: More like the first piece of the puzzle. From there, we started writing. At first, it was literally a game. Denis wrote Chapter 1, and after reading this chapter, I wrote Chapter 2, and then Denis wrote Chapter 3. And we just trusted the story to evolve.

DENIS: I think the lesson here is to give yourself the time and space to play with an idea and see what develops. Also, that space bounty hunters are awesome. What do you think of the name Serenity Jones?

CRISTY:

CRISTY:

CRISTY: … I hope you’re not asking me?

How did you know/agree when Book 1 was finished and ready to submit?

DENIS: We wrote our first super-quick, super-short draft of Book 1 in early 2018.  

CRISTY: That first draft was only around 25,000 words long, but it was enough for us to get to know Wednesday and her world, and to know we wanted to write more.

DENIS: We had the first ten pages critiqued by a publisher in June 2018, and she gave us some really good feedback.

CRISTY: Over the next year, we both worked on other projects, but we kept coming back to Wednesday.

DENIS: We rewrote the opening chapters based on the publisher’s feedback, and we fleshed out the middle section, adding in the Sword of Reckoning and the laundry kraken. In June 2019 we had the opening chapters critiqued again by a different publisher, and she loved it. So that’s when we knew it was ready to submit.

CRISTY: Later, as we worked with Hachette to progress the manuscript through the various editing stages, we had three different editors all offering their advice, and there were thousands of new notes on each fresh edit that we completed. Getting the story just right was a whole lot of work!

Do you have any ‘Must Do’ or ‘Must Not Do’ tips for young writers who might like to collaborate on a story?

CRISTY: Respect for the other author’s creative brain is really important. A big part of the game we play as we write each Wednesday Weeks book is to take up the reins from where the other author has left off, and to then drive the adventure where we think it needs to go.

DENIS: Be open to your partner’s ideas, and have fun.

CRISTY: Another Hot Tip is to trust. As you write, remember that you teamed up with this other creator for a reason, and although smooshing two brains into one story can be difficult, the results will be worth it.

DENIS: Also, don’t expect it to be brilliant right away. It won’t be! But if you keep working on it, you’ll get there.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re writing next?

CRISTY: We’ve just finished putting the finishing touches on Book 2 of the Wednesday Weeks series.

DENIS: It’s called Wednesday Weeks and the Crown of Destiny and it’s out in September 2021.

CRISTY: We love it because it has all our favourite characters, plus more page-time for Adaline, our punk faery-friend from the laundry.

DENIS: There’s also some advanced magic for Wednesday to tackle, a hippo-bugamus, a giant pinball machine of death, a visit to outer space and, of course, some snarky Bruce-jokes.

CRISTY: And don’t forget a whole lot of dirty-rotten evil-doing from Gorgomoth.

DENIS: Right. Oh, and also, Grandpa gets turned into a frog for a while.

Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

See Denis Knight & Cristy Burne talking about the book [YouTube]

Take a sneak peek inside the book!

Download the Teachers’ Notes

Visit Denis Knight’s website for more about him and his books

Visit Cristy Burne’s website for more about her and her books

Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows