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
Posted in authors, interviews

Kate Gordon and The Ballad of Melodie Rose

MEET THE AUTHOR

Kate Gordon grew up in a very booky house, in a small town by the sea in Tasmania. Now she’s the author of picture books, children’s novels, and novels for teenagers. We featured Kate at Alphabet Soup in 2020 with the publication of The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn. Today we’re pleased to have her back again to chat about the second book in this series about Direleafe Hall, The Ballad of Melodie Rose.

From the publisher:

When Melodie Rose is abandoned on the doorstep of Direleafe Hall, she realises she must be a ghost. Strangely, she is not sad. With the three other ghostly girls who haunt the school and a gloomy crow on her shoulder, Melodie has never felt more at peace. Finally, she has a place to call home. So when the Lady in White arrives with plans to flatten the beloved school, Melodie Rose must act fast to save all she holds dear. But what can one powerless ghost do?

On with the questions!


The Ballad of Melodie Rose is your second novel set at Direleafe Hall. Was it your original plan to write a series set in the same school? Or did you decide Direleafe Hall had more stories to tell after you wrote The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn?

It was always my intention to write it as a series. I wanted to explore Direleafe Hall almost as a character – how it was in the past, present and “future”. I wanted to show the hall ageing, growing old, falling apart and being pieced back together again. When I started Wonder Quinn, the hall was as much of a character in my mind as she was. I was travelling through the Midlands of Tasmania and looking at the old buildings there, in the middle of nowhere, and the line, Wonder Quinn sat on the roof of Direleafe Hall popped into my head. From there, the series came to me, almost fully formed. One book would be this dark-haired girl, Wonder. The next would be a girl with hair like flames (Melodie Rose). And the last would be a boy who was there in the past (The Calling of Jackdaw Hollow will be out in March 2022). I never imagined Wonder would be published. I’m so thrilled that UQP have decided to publish all three books.

The titles of both books reference singing in some form – do you like to sing?

I do but I’m terrible at it! This used to bother me, but it doesn’t now I have a kid. We sing together, loudly and joyfully and I don’t care any more what I sound like. Everyone should sing for the joy of it and not care what they sound like. People have been singing almost since people existed. It’s part of our souls. To deny yourself the right to express that because you can’t carry a tune seems really sad. Of course, I don’t inflict my voice on anyone else but my daughter.

You’ve mentioned before that The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn took five years to write. Was this second book faster to write? Do you find it easier to write when you can revisit the setting and some of the characters?

All of these books have taken years to write! I was tinkering with Melodie Rose and Jackdaw Hollow while I was writing Wonder! Of course, I had to revisit each of them and revise as I made changes to the other books. They feel a bit like living beasts, constantly transforming. None of them have been quick to write but all of them have come easily, if that makes sense? It’s never felt like a slog writing this world. I feel like it’s the story I’ve been wanting to write forever.

Can you tell us the title of a book you’ve read recently and enjoyed?

A picture book I adored was The Bad Bassinis by Clair Hume. It’s a bright, colourful, funny book that still seems to contain so much poignancy and the essence of parenthood and how having children changes us fundamentally. It makes me cry every time! A wonderful novel I’ve read recently was Paws by Kate Foster. This book is so chock full of heart and life-affirming joy, I wanted to hug it! But that would look a bit weird on the bus.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next? (Will there be more Direleafe Hall books?)

Yes! The Calling of Jackdaw Hollow will be out in March 2022. I don’t think I’ll ever properly leave that world. I’ve also written a spin-off novel to Direleafe Hall, set in a circus of ghosts. I don’t know if it will be published. It was one of those “just have to write it” things. I’m also working on two more books in the universe of Aster’s Good, Right Things, another middle grade I had out last year.

The Ballad of Melodie Rose is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Read our earlier interview with Kate Gordon about Book 1 in this series.

Visit Kate Gordon’s website for more about her and her books

The Ballad of Melodie Rose by Kate Gordon

Posted in authors, interviews, poetry

Kristin Martin and To Rhyme or Not To Rhyme?

MEET THE POET

Kristin Martin writes poetry for adults and children. Her poetry has been published in poetry collections as well as in magazines in Australia, UK and Ireland.

Kristin lives in South Australia in a house near the sea with her husband, two children, three turtles, lots of goldfish, and a bearded dragon named Ash. Her latest children’s poetry collection is called To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme? (illustrated by Joanne Knott).

From the publisher:

A stunning collection of  children’s poetry with a focus on the natural world. Poems truly are all around us, and in this collection Kristin Martin shares her love of nature and sense of fun on each and every page. Joanne Knott’s exquisite illustrations bring the animals and natural environment to magical life.

On with the questions!


When you’re putting together a poetry collection, how do you choose which poems to include and which poems to leave out?

When I was putting together my children’s poetry book, To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme? (which is published by a small independent publisher called Glimmer Press) I decided to only include poems that have something to do with nature: animals, plants, the sea or clouds. As most of the poems I write are inspired by nature, this was easy. I wanted roughly half the book to be made of rhyming poems, and half of non-rhyming poems, so I picked out my favourite rhyming nature poems, then actually had to write some more poems to have enough poems that don’t rhyme. It is much easier to write poems that don’t rhyme.

Do you have a tip for kids who would like to write rhyming poetry?

My tip for writing rhyming poetry is to read lots of rhyming poetry, and work out what the poet has done. Look at the syllables, and where the beats are in the words (where the natural stress falls when you read it aloud). I also suggest you ask someone else to read your rhyming poem aloud to you – then you can hear if it sounds right, or if there are any ‘clunks’ in it.

Do you have a favourite poem for performing/reciting to an audience?

My favourite poem changes all the time, but my current favourite is this, as it is fun to read aloud and have children guess what it is about. It is actually a (mostly) true poem, based on our family pet, Ash.

There’s a Dragon in my Bedroom by Kristin Martin

There’s a dragon in my bedroom
with a long and scaly tail.
She has spikes around her collar
that are sharper than a nail.

There’s a dragon in my bedroom
with four sets of razor claws.
She has rows of sharp incisors
set inside her fearsome jaws.

There’s a dragon in my bedroom
who’s out tracking down her prey.
When she’s hungry and she’s hunting
then I stay out of her way.

There’s a dragon in my bedroom
who adores her daily meal.
When she finds those jumping crickets
she just snaps them up with zeal.

There’s a dragon in my bedroom
who’s the nicest one I’ve met.
She’s a baby bearded dragon
and she’s my beloved pet.

(from To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme? Published by Glimmer Press, 2019)

Do you have a tip for kids who would like to try performing/reciting poetry themselves?

Before Covid, I used to help organise a poetry performance evening at the school I teach at called ‘Rap, Rhyme and Rhythm’. My tips for the students performing, and any other students who want to perform or recite poetry, are to make sure you understand the poem when you learn it, then recite it to put across the meaning, rather than focussing on the rhymes. If it’s funny, make sure the audience can hear the jokes and have time to laugh. If it’s sad, make sure the audience hears the sadness in your voice.

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

I’ve just completed my next poetry collection, which has 75 rhyming poems in it. The illustrator, Joanne Knott, is working on the pictures – I can’t wait to see them. It should be out next year. I am currently working on several rhyming picture books. I am at the editing stage, which is my favourite part of writing.

To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme? is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore, at your local library, or you can buy a copy from the publisher.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Learn how to write your own poems

Download Kristin Martin’s Teachers’ Notes for To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme?

Read some more poems by Kristin Martin on her website

To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme by Kristin Martin and illustrated by Joanne Knott
Posted in authors, interviews

Michelle Kadarusman and Girl of the Southern Sea

Michelle Kadarusman (photo by Micah Ricardo Riedl)

Michelle Kadarusman writes novels for children and teenagers. Michelle grew up in Melbourne, Australia, and has also lived in Indonesia and in Canada. Her books have been translated into Spanish and Turkish. Today we’re chatting to Michelle about her recent children’s novel Girl of the Southern Sea.

Girl of the Southern Sea by Michelle Kadarusman

From the publisher:

Nia longs to attend high school so she can follow her dream and become a writer, but her family has barely enough money for food, let alone an education. Nia’s days are spent running their food cart and raising her younger brother. Following a miraculous escape from a bus accident, Nia is gifted with good-luck magic. Or at least that’s what everyone’s saying. Soon their family business is booming and there might even be enough money to return to school. Then a secret promise threatens everything she’s hoped for. 

On with the questions!



What brought you to write a novel set in a slum in Jakarta?

When I was twelve, and on a family holiday to Indonesia, we took a train ride from the capital, Jakarta, to my father’s hometown of Bandung in West Java. It was on this train journey that I saw extreme poverty for the first time. Along the train tracks were shanty towns and people living in conditions that seemed unimaginable. But still, the children in these shanty towns would jump and wave and smile joyfully to us as we sped by. This journey was a pivotal moment for me and the images stayed with me. I wanted to give a voice to children, like the ones I saw that day, who opened my world view all of those years ago.

Your writing helps readers to picture Nia’s world – you include the sights, smells and food of her everyday life. When you’re writing your novels do you have any tools you use to help you disappear into the world where your story is set?

I wrote this story in Toronto, Canada, during winter, so it couldn’t have been more different to the location! I relied on memories and photographs from my years of living in Indonesia. I also cooked some yummy Indonesian dishes to fill the house with the smells and tastes of the delicious food. I talked to my sisters and brother a lot about our times together in Indonesia as children – this helped a lot. Somehow childhood memories evoke the richest details.

Nia tells her younger brother stories she’s written based on a tale her mother told her when she was little. Was this a tale you heard yourself when you were growing up?

When we were young, my dad used to tell us not to wear green if we went swimming, he said it was the favourite colour of the Queen of the Southern Sea, so wearing green would tempt her to take us. We knew this was just a superstition, but it always intrigued me. It wasn’t until I was older and living in Jakarta that I learned more about the mythical character. 

In an earlier interview with Alphabet Soup (about your book The Theory of Hummingbirds) you recommended that aspiring young writers read as much as they can. Which writers do you think have influenced your own writing?

Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, inspired me a great deal to become a writer. In fact, I named the main character Louisa in my book Music for Tigers, for her.

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

My current writing project is a middle-grade novel set again in Indonesia. It centres around a captive orangutan and two middle-schoolers who want to save it – one a budding activist and the other is the nephew of the orangutan’s owner. It will also delve into deforestation and the illegal exotic pet trade, identity and belonging.

Girl of the Southern Sea is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Read another interview with Michelle Kadarusman about her previous book The Theory of Hummingbirds

Download the Teachers’ Notes for Girl of the Southern Sea

Find out more about Michelle Kadarusman and her books on the publisher’s website

Girl of the Southern Sea by Michelle Kadarusman
Posted in authors, interviews

Meg McKinlay on How to Make a Bird

Meg McKinlay, author, sitting in a library

Meg McKinlay is an award-winning children’s writer and poet. She has published seventeen books for children, ranging from picture books through to young adult novels. Meg lives with her family near the ocean in Fremantle and spends most of her time cooking up books. Her latest book is How to Make a Bird, illustrated by Matt Ottley.

From the publisher:

We shadow the protagonist as she contemplates the blue print of an idea, collects the things that inspire from the natural world to shape a bird. And breathes life into it before letting it fly free. It shows how small things, combined with a little imagination and a steady heart, can transform into works of magic.

How to Make a Bird by Meg McKinlay and Matt Ottley

On with the questions!


How long did it take you from the start of the idea for this book to the book being published?

Sixteen years! That may be some kind of all-time record and in this case it’s not because I’m such a slow writer. I actually wrote this manuscript quite quickly and the published version is almost identical to the original. The problem was simply that publishers didn’t want it. I sent it to lots of places in Australia and then in the US but got no interest at all, just lots of rejection letters telling me it was ‘odd’, ‘not a picture book’, ‘not relevant to children’ and ‘unillustratable’. Although I didn’t agree with those comments, I couldn’t do much but put it away in a drawer and sigh from time to time. Then in 2017, I pulled it out of the drawer, sighed a little more deeply, and thought I’d give it another shot. There was a new publisher at Walker Books, one with a particular love of lyrical language and perhaps a different sort of vision, and she signed it up on the spot.

Did you meet with the illustrator (Matt Ottley) while he was creating the illustrations? 


Matt and I had an informal catch-up before he started working on the book. We didn’t talk directly about the illustrations, but about the ideas behind the book. He wanted to get a sense of where it had come from for me, my personal connection to it and what I saw as being at the heart of it. We chatted over coffee about philosophy and creativity and all sorts of vaguely related things, and both came away feeling like we were very much in synch about what was important in the book. Matt was working on other projects at the time and it wasn’t until much later that he started his first sketches for this one. After that initial chat, conversations about the process and the nitty-gritty of the illustrations took place via the publisher, in consultation with their editor and art director.

You write books for a variety of age groups – picture books, junior fiction, novels for upper primary, and YA novels. Do you like to work a little on many projects at the same time, or do you focus on one book at a time? 


What I usually do is work on one longer project – usually a novel for upper primary or YA – and a bunch of other little bits and pieces such as picture books and poems. I always have a couple of picture books at various stages and there are hundreds of poems clamouring for attention. I’m not good with structure and story – narrative does not come naturally to me – so being able to dip in and out of these shorter or less structured fragments is really important creatively.

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


At the moment I’m working on a sequel to A Single Stone, though I’m honestly not sure if I’ll ever get it over the finish line. It’s been a very disrupted few years and has been a real struggle to make progress. I also have some picture books in the pipeline and am currently putting the finishing touches on one that’s coming out next year. It’s called Ella and the Useless Day and is about a journey to the rubbish tip that doesn’t quite go according to plan. It’s a collaboration with illustrator Karen Blair, who has brought so much genius energy to the story; I’m so excited for it to hit shelves.

What are you currently reading? 


I recently got to read an advance copy of Peter Carnavas’ new middle-grade novel My Brother Ben and want to give it to everyone. It’s about brothers and birds and boats and it’s just absolutely beautiful.

How to Make a Bird is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or your local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Hear Meg McKinlay talk about the book (YouTube)

Download teachers’ notes for How to Make a Bird

Take a look inside the book

Visit Meg McKinlay’s website for more about her and her books

Visit Matt Ottley’s site for more about him and his illustrations.

How to Make a Bird by Meg McKinlay and Matt Ottley
Posted in authors, interviews

Oliver Phommavanh and Brain Freeze

Oliver Phommavanh is the author of many books including Thai-riffic!, The Other Cristy, and Con-nerd. He loves to make people laugh, whether it’s on the page writing humour for kids or on stage as a stand-up comedian. He also shares his passion for writing with kids, using his experience as a primary school teacher. Oliver has performed at various comedy and writers festivals around Australia and Asia. His latest book is Brain Freeze.

From the publisher:

A crazy collection of funny short stories. From a dog who accidentally becomes the first animal on Mars, a hopeless chess player dealing with his sports-mad dad, and a girl whose dreams are getting too big for her bed, to a boy who has had 1000 names – so far. Not to mention, the strange boy who never seems to get brain freeze (until…), these short stories will blow your mind.

On with the questions!


You’ve written nine novels – how did you come to write Brain Freeze, a collection of short stories?

I’ve always been a fan of short stories and have been writing them since I was a kid. I do love contributing to anthologies and collections, but I’ve kept some of my personal favourites for me, to one-day include in a short story collection. So, when I had enough stories, I wanted to bring out a collection. 

If you had control of the app in the first story in Brain Freeze, would you opt to change your name? 

I’m a big Turtles fan, so Donatello would be the name I would choose haha. I’m also a Sonic fan, so Sonic Phommavanh would have been the best too.

How do you decide what sort of stories to include in a short story collection? Did you have extra stories that were left out of the book?

The original title for this collection was The Odd Bunch, so I wanted to include stories that had characters who were odd, but had to step up and be brave. So, with that theme, it was easy to pick the stories that would make the Odd Bunch. I wrote 20 short stories so there were a few stories that didn’t fit that ‘odd’ description. Maybe I’ll put them in another collection or use them for an anthology.

Have you read any books recently that you’d recommend?

I loved Pawcasso by Remi Lai. It’s a graphic novel about a dog who manages to be a neighbourhood hero. I’ve also enjoyed Huda and Me by H. Hayek too, it’s a tender-sweet tale of a brother and his savvy sister who hop on a plane across the world to see their parents. 

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

Yes, I’ve just finished a story called What About Thao? It’s a story of a kid who moves to a tiny country town and enjoys being the new kid for once. 

Brain Freeze is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Take a sneak peek inside Brain Freeze

Hear Oliver Phommavanh talking about Brain Freeze (YouTube)

Read one of our earlier interviews with Oliver

Visit Oliver Phommavanh’s website for more about him and his books.

Brain Freeze by Oliver Phommavanh
Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

Kylie Howarth on Fish Kid and the Turtle Torpedo

Kylie Howarth is an award-winning, internationally published children’s author-illustrator from Western Australia.

Kylie Howarth swimming with a turtle
Author-illustrator Kylie Howarth swimming with a turtle.

Kylie has swum with whale sharks, manta rays and humpback whales in Ningaloo, piranha and pink dolphins in the Amazon, braved scuba diving with lionfish in Egypt, marine iguanas and hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos Islands and encountered great white sharks in South Africa!

Kylie not only draws inspiration from her underwater travels but also her own two fish-kids who are ocean explorers too. The textures in Kylie’s book illustrations are created during their backyard art sessions. 

We’re pleased to have Kylie visit Alphabet Soup today to talk about her latest book Fish Kid and the Turtle Torpedo.

From the publisher:

Fish Kid’s friendship with bestie, Emely, soon hits a snag during a tricky sea turtle rescue. Secretly wishing for powers of her own, Emely’s strange behaviour leaves Fish Kid wondering if their friendship and the super-sick turtle will survive. And if things weren’t bad enough, another turtle from the sanctuary goes missing. Can this super hero-in-the-making use his fishy powers to save the day?


Have you been to all the places Fish Kid visits?

Yes! It’s tough work having to visit amazing places like the Galapagos Islands, Ningaloo Reef and the Maldives! Visiting these places allows me to meet the sea creatures that feature in my books. It was my scuba dive with 20 hammer head sharks that actually inspired the Fish Kid series.

Do you have a favourite sea creature?

I LOVE humpback whales. I was lucky enough to fulfil a dream recently, and swim with humpbacks as part of my research for Fish Kid and the Mega Manta Ray. I collect humpback whale sculptures, books, paintings and my favourite pair of earrings are humpback whales!

Each book in this series includes some featured pages with Fish Kid Facts about sea creatures. How do you go about researching for the books?

I try to meet all the creatures in my books face-to-face to learn about them. If I’m on a snorkelling tour, I’ll quiz the local instructors and underwater photographers to find out what they have observed about each sea creature. I then follow up with library and internet research, checking several different sources to ensure each fact is correct.

The Fish Kid books also include black-and-white illustrations scattered through the story. Can you tell us a bit about how you create your illustrations?

For the first book I used pencil and ink to create the illustrations. I’ve since taught myself to illustrate on an iPad using a program called Procreate. You can use pencil and ink looking ‘brushes’ drawing directly on the screen, so the second and third books in the series were done using this technique on my iPad. See if you can spot the difference!

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

I have just completed final illustrations for a picture book I’ve also written, which will be released next year. Although most of my books have an ocean theme, I’ve branched out a little and this one features some Australian bush animals!

Fish Kid and the Turtle Torpedo is out now! Ask for is at your favourite bookshop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Watch Kylie Howarth share some facts from the Fish Kid books (YouTube)

Learn how to draw a Hammerhead shark (YouTube)

Download some classroom activities

Make a woven turtle torpedo!

Visit Kylie Howarth’s website for more about her and her books.

Posted in authors, interviews

Emily Gale on Gisela Kaplan: Bird and Primate Scientist

Today’s visitor is author Emily Gale, author of books for children and teenagers. You might have read her the Eliza Bloom’s Diaries series, or the novel The Other Side of Summer. Emily Gale’s latest book is Gisela Kaplan: Bird and Primate Scientist, part of the Aussie STEM Stars series.

From the publisher:

Gisela Kaplan’s story begins in post-World War II Germany. Despite incredible challenges as a child, she retained a profound curiosity, care and compassion for all living things. Her captivating, ground-breaking scientific research on Australian magpies, tawny frogmouths and other iconic bird species, as well as primates, make Prof. Kaplan a world-leading expert in animal behaviour, especially of Australian birds. Professor Kaplan is on a mission to spread the word about how intelligent and surprising birds are, before time runs out for many of them.

How did you go about your research for writing about Gisela Kaplan? 

I love research and all the different pathways it can take you down. The first thing I did was to listen to a radio interview in which Gisela Kaplan talks about how she became so interested in Australian birds that it changed her life (Conversations, ABC: Talking magpies, grieving tawny frogmouths and canny galahs). She’s written several books on birds and animals so I got those out of the library and made plenty of notes. I searched the internet for research articles that she’s written, and I also found a clip from a documentary about her work rehabilitating birds (google Compass: Paws For Thought if you want to see some clips of Gisela with a tawny frogmouth and some juvenile magpies). To immerse myself in what Gisela’s early life might have been like, I watched documentaries and movies about Germany in the 1940s to 1960s, and I spent hours and hours walking by the river near where I live so that I could observe to birds, listen to their sounds, and make notes on their behaviour. Most importantly, I had lots of phone calls with Gisela. I asked her dozens of questions about her life and work. All the research helped me to know which questions to ask.

Have you meet Gisela Kaplan in real life? (And Pumpkin?)

I’m very sad to say that I have not met Gisela, or Pumpkin the sulphur-crested cockatoo, or the lovely tawny frogmouth who has lived with Gisela for over twenty years. I wrote this book during lockdown in Victoria when we weren’t even allowed to go more than 5km from our homes, whereas Gisela lives in NSW. While I was writing the book we spoke for two hours at a time over several sessions. The time would go so quickly because Gisela is a wonderful storyteller and has had such an interesting life. We also emailed each other regularly throughout the process, and we still keep in touch.

When you’re writing an autobiography about someone like Gisela (who’s had such a broad range of experiences and achievements), how do you choose what to put into the book and what to leave out?  

As the book is for children aged 10 and over I wanted to include plenty of information about what Gisela was like at around that age. She was born during the Second World War, in Germany, and had a challenging childhood in many ways involving poverty, hunger and bullying, so I wanted to spend time showing how she overcame those struggles. 

You can’t always guess what career a person will go into, or what twists and turns there will be along the way, and I wanted to show young people that even if the journey to being a great scientist doesn’t start when you’re very young, or if it gets off-track, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to get there in the end. Gisela’s career path has gone from opera singing to teaching to roaming the jungle in search of orang-utans, and that’s all before we get to her world-famous research into Australian birds. So my aim was to write about those life-changing decisions. 

Of course, life also contains boring bits, or sad times like losing loved ones and suffering illness. In science there can be long periods of time when your research is frustrating or slow. I skipped all of that and focussed on the highlights and plot twists.

You also write fiction for young readers and teenagers. Did you find it a faster or slower process to write a nonfiction book?

I wrote the book quickly for two reasons: first of all, I had a tight deadline, and there is nothing like a deadline to make me get on with it! Second, when you’re writing fiction the possibilities are endless. In one way this is an incredible freedom and something I enjoy, but it also means you can go down all sorts of wrong pathways or tie yourself in knots finding the story (you have a sense of what that is, but it’s like playing hide n seek without knowing what you’re looking for). But when you’re writing about someone’s life, the possibilities are limited and you have to work with the facts. So it’s a case of collecting the facts, looking at them and shaping them into a narrative that people will enjoy reading just as much as they’d enjoy a made-up story.

What are you working on next?  

I’m working on another middle-grade novel similar to the one I’ve just written with Nova Weetman (Elsewhere Girls) in the sense that it takes place now but also has a strong connection to the past. The story is about a girl in Year 6. It starts during 2020 and the setting is a Melbourne school, so I’m writing about lockdown and all the upheaval of remote school, and how strange our lives were during that time. And then come the ghosts . . . I’ve written novels with ghost-like characters before and it’s something I keep coming back to because I loved stories like that when I was roughly 10–14: this one is a little bit more creepy and mysterious than The Other Side of Summer, but there are three lovely dogs, two cats and an eccentric grandmother to balance out the haunting. Since writing about Gisela Kaplan, I decided that the novel also needed a bird or two.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Take a sneak peek inside the book

Hear Emily Gale talking about the launch of the book (YouTube)

Listen to the call of a tawny frogmouth (Wild Ambience YouTube)

Visit Emily Gale’s website for more about her and her books

Gisela Kaplan Bird and primate scientist, story told by Emily Gale (book cover)
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Posted in authors, interviews

Rebecca Lim on Eddie Woo: Superstar Maths Teacher

Today we’re pleased to have award-winning author Rebecca Lim visiting Alphabet Soup. Rebecca Lim is a writer, illustrator, editor and lawyer based in Melbourne, Australia. She is the author of nineteen books for children and teenagers. Her latest book is Eddie Woo: Superstar Maths Teacher, part of the Aussie STEM Stars series.

From the publisher:

Eddie Woo has already packed a lot into his short life. Australian High School Maths teacher, education ambassador and advisor, author, TV Host and YouTube sensation, Eddie has been putting the magic in maths for the past ten years, allowing students to learn in creative and practical ways, and being at the forefront of school-based integrated STEM education. His is an inspiring story of empathy, generosity, mentorship, personal connection, and overcoming adversity.

How did you go about your research for writing about Eddie Woo?

I was lucky, because Eddie has a huge social media presence and footprint and I could get to know him from his Maths videos as well as talks he’s done (like his 2018 Australia Day Address and TED talk) and TV and radio interviews he’s given, even before I actually got to speak to Eddie himself. He kindly let me ask him loads of personal questions over the course of several emails and phone calls. 

Did you watch any of Eddie Woo’s YouTube videos before writing this book?

I did watch some of Eddie’s YouTube videos including footage of Eddie spontaneously running over and giving the winner of the 2018 Top 10 Global Teacher Prize, Andria Zafirakou, a huge congratulatory hug. It was a prize that he was also shortlisted for, along with 9 other teachers from around the world. It told me that Eddie is exactly like he is in all his videos – spontaneous and warm and human. All great things in an educator, advisor and industry expert.

You moved to Australia from Singapore when you were a toddler. Were there similarities in your school experiences and Eddie’s?

I copped lots of casual racism when I was in primary school, even from ‘friends’, and experienced a brief, intense period of bullying when I started at a new school in Grade 6 because I was the new, very tall, very dorky Asian kid in class. I don’t think I’ve forgotten a single instance of racism that I’ve experienced in this country from the 1970s onwards – I can tell you where it happened, who I was with, how old I was. As recently as 2020, during the second Melbourne COVID-19 lockdown, I experienced racism from my neighbour’s extended family while I was standing in the ‘safety’ of my own backyard. So there are definitely similarities between Eddie’s school experiences and mine, but I didn’t get ‘roughed up’ like he did, which I’m very thankful for.  

Do you have a tip for children in primary school who’d like to try writing nonfiction?

Some key skills for writing non-fiction are:

·         being able to work through a lot of data, pick out the high points or themes and pull them together into a compelling narrative 

·         being observant about your subject, about the time that they live(d) in and how the things in their wider environment might have contributed to making them who they ended up becoming

·         being empathetic – you might not agree with the subject or the subject matter that you’re writing about, but you need to be objective and be able to step into your subject’s shoes or see things from their perspective 

·         being truthful and factual – whatever you write, you need to be able to argue it, defend it, back it up

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

Something with a bit of fantasy and paranormal in it because I love setting things in our world but then having the characters and the story go completely off road, into unexpected places. Like lots of writers I have three or four things on the go at the moment. The story with ‘legs’ will win out eventually!

Eddie Woo: Superstar Maths Teacher is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book store or library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Take a peek inside the book

Find out more about the books in the Aussie STEM Stars series

Eddie Woo Superstar Maths Teacher story told by Rebecca Lim
Posted in authors, interviews

Nadia L King on The Lost Smile

MEET THE AUTHOR

Nadia L King

Nadia L King was born in Dublin, Ireland and now calls Australia home. Nadia writes for children and adults. She believes in the power of stories and that stories can change the world for the better. When she was a little girl, Nadia rode an ostrich. When she was older, she rode a camel. One day she hopes to ride an elephant! Nadia is currently a postgraduate student in English and Creative writing. She lives in Western Australia with her family, two tabby cats, a beautiful black Labrador and a vast (and growing) collection of books. The Lost Smile (illustrated by Nelli Aghekyan) is her third book.

The Lost Smile by Nadia L King and Nelli AghekyanFrom the publisher:

When Zaytoon wakes up sad, she goes on a search to find her smile. From the kitchen to the garden, Zaytoon searches high and low. Themes of cultural diversity, emotional intelligence, family life and the importance of connecting with nature and animals make this a perfect book for our times.

On with the questions!


Finding the best name for characters in a story can be challenging. How do you choose names for your characters?
Choosing names for characters is HARD. One of my favourite places to visit is the local cemetery (I know that sounds creepy!), and I like to read inscriptions on the tombstones. Sometimes they give me ideas for naming characters and I write names from tombstones down in my little book which I carry everywhere with me.

Did you meet/talk to the illustrator of The Lost Smile while it was being illustrated?
The illustrator of The Lost Smile is an artist called Nelli Aghekyan who lives in a country called Armenia. It’s very far away from Australia, about 12,000 kilometres away. Nelli and I spent a lot of time emailing and chatting about the illustrations for The Lost Smile and consequently, became friends.

The Lost Smile deals with themes about sadness and emotional intelligence. What are your ‘go-to’ activities if you’re feeling sad?
I don’t like being sad but I know that feeling sad won’t last forever. These are some of the things I do to help make me feel happier:

  • Have a cup of tea and a nice biscuit;
  • Go outside for a walk;
  • Look at the plants in my garden and sniff the flowers. I love smelling flowers.
  • Have a cuddle with my cats (if they let me), or with my dog Pippa who always lets me cuddle her.
  • Read a book. I love reading.

Nadia L King at the launch of The Lost Smile
Nadia L King at the launch of The Lost Smile

Do you have a tip for young writers who’d like to write a picture book?
If you want to write a picture book, first you need to find ideas. Not just one idea, but a few because each story needs a few ideas. Think about a beginning and then think about an ending. In the middle, think about what could go wrong, what challenges and obstacles could your hero face? Congratulations, you’ve just mapped out a three-act story, well done!

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project? 
I’m very excited about my next writing project which is a short YA novel being published later in 2021 (somewhere around August). The book is called Can the Real JR Stand Up, Please? and my favourite character in the book is a yoga-loving, talking dog called Baba Ami (I didn’t see that name in the cemetery. I made it up after researching Indian gurus on Google!). I can’t wait for Can the Real JR Stand Up, Please? to become a real book because it took me a very long time to write.

The Lost Smile is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or library.

The Lost Smile by Nadia L King and Nelli AghekyanAwesome extras: