Posted in authors, interviews

Cristy Burne and Fiona Wood: Inventor of Spray-on Skin


Cristy Burne writes fiction and nonfiction and her books are bursting with adventure, friendship, family, nature, science and technology. Cristy has worked as a science communicator for nearly 20 years across six countries. She has been a science circus performer, garbage analyst, museum writer, and atom-smashing reporter at CERN, but her all-time favourite job is working with kids to embrace the intersection between science, technology and creativity.

Cristy’s latest book is the first book in the new Aussie STEM Stars series – Fiona Wood: Inventor of spray-on skin. 

Fiona Wood Inventor of Spray-On Skin by Cristy Burne

From the publisher:

With her invention of the revolutionary spray-on skin, Fiona Wood changed the way burns were treated forever. 

Fiona’s story is one of hard work and hope, of vision and direction, of stepping up, not giving in, and helping people rebuild their bodies and their lives.

Now – on with some questions about the book!

You’re a science writer, children’s author and presenter. Do you have a favourite subject area when it comes to Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM)?
My favourite part of STEM is creativity. Every single scientific breakthrough or invention or innovation ever in the whole history of the planet is the direct result of creativity. Our world is a better place because someone imagined a solution to a problem, because someone dared to dream of a new way. So being a scientist is all about being creative.

And science is all about making a difference in our world… solving mysteries, discovering knowledge, inventing fresh ways of doing things. It’s EXCITING, and we can all be part of it.

Your latest book is part of Aussie STEM Stars – a new series for kids celebrating Australia’s experts in Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths. How did you come to write about Fiona Wood?
I was very lucky to be asked to write this book about Fiona Wood, which is just an incredible honour.

I’d interacted with Fiona twice before: I’d seen her speak at a conference and LOVED her energy and passion immediately. Years later, I contacted her for an article I was writing for Double Helix magazine about The Great Unknown … I wanted to know what Fiona’s ‘Great Unknown’ was. I didn’t expect someone as busy as Fiona to answer, but she did, and once again I was overwhelmed by how generous she is, and how much good she does for the world. (She said she had many ‘Great Unknowns’ and finding answers to her questions is what drives her every day.)

So the chance to work with Fiona, to learn more about her, to share her incredible story with the world … it was one I just couldn’t pass up. I’m still pinching myself.

If I could have chosen any living scientist to write about, I would have chosen Fiona Wood. It’s such a huge responsibility to write someone else’s life. I totally recommend that you read this book … and your parents too. And your grandparents. And your teacher. I want to shout FIONA IS AMAZING to the rooftops.

How did you go about your research for writing the book?
I started by trawling the internet for all the pre-existing interviews, videos, articles and book chapters that featured Fiona. I listened to hours of radio, watched loads of YouTube, ordered books featuring great Australians, and read everything I could get my hands on.

I had 15,000 words of research before I started writing a thing. Fiona is SO busy doing incredibly vital research and life-changing work, I didn’t want to waste a minute of her time by asking questions she’d already answered in a zillion other interviews.

Also, because I had prepared, when it came time to chat with Fiona, I could focus on more personal questions, or ask about details I needed to bring a particular story to life. I then divided and ordered all that research chronologically and thematically to see if any story structure naturally appeared.

Do you have one tip for kids who’d like to write nonfiction?
Writing non-fiction is incredibly fun! Find something you’re interested in, and learn as much as you can about it. What a great job! My big tip is: don’t be afraid to ring or email someone to ask them for information or an interview. Getting your facts directly from an expert adds so much to your work. And most people, even busy people, are happy to help. (And most scientists, even busy scientists, are passionate about their work, so they love to share it!)

What’s your next writing project? 
I’m putting the finishing touches on a chapter book adventure called Beneath The Trees, which is based on the true story of an epically awful hike my family and I did in the Queensland rainforest … it was an incredible adventure, complete with blood and tears and mud and really cute platypus. Perfect for reading while cuddled in bed!

Fiona Stanley: Inventor of spray-on skin is out now! Ask for it at your nearest bookshop or library. 

Fiona Wood Inventor of Spray-On Skin by Cristy BurneAWESOME EXTRAS:

Click here to download Teacher’s Notes for the book. 

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

Hear Cristy Burne read an excerpt from the book.

Read an earlier interview with Cristy Burne 

Posted in authors, interviews

AL Tait on writing The Fire Star


AL Tait is the bestselling author of the middle-grade adventure series The Mapmaker Chronicles and the Ateban Cipher. Her latest novel is The Fire Star (A Maven & Reeve Mystery).

From the publisher:

A maid with a plan.
A squire with a secret.
A missing jewel.
A kingdom in turmoil.

Maven and Reeve have three days to solve the mystery of the Fire Star. If they don’t, they’ll lose everything.

The Fire Star is book 1 in an adventure mystery series set in Medieval times. How much research did you need to do before you began writing?

I have a strong interest in the Medieval period and I describe my novels as ’not quite history’ because they draw from that time but are then pivoted to create a whole new world. So I have a solid grounding in the flavour of the period, which allowed me to start writing The Fire Star, and then I research particular details as I go.

Sometimes, when I’m working on my first draft, I might even just put a note that says something like [insert description of Medieval kitchen here] and then go back later. That allows me to keep the story flowing. Story always comes first.

This is probably not the most efficient way to write a novel, but it works for me.

Characters’ names are an important part of their identity/personality. How do you choose the names of the main characters in your books?
Names are very important, particularly for the main characters, so I take my time to get them right. I look for names that are meaningful to the main traits of the character in question. So, as an example, I chose Reeve because it’s a Medieval word meaning ’sheriff’, which works really well for a mystery story! Maven, on the other hand, is a Hebrew name meaning ‘one who understands’, which describes Maven as a character perfectly.

If you found yourself living in Medieval times, what would your occupation/role in society be?
I like to imagine I’d be Queen of the land, but in reality I’d probably end up a peasant, running a small-holding with my husband and kids. That was the reality for most women, and it’s one of the reasons The Beech Circle exists in Cartreff, the world of my novel.

Do you have a tip (or a challenge) for kids who’d like to try writing an adventure mystery?
Writing a mystery story is a major challenge in itself. But I think my best tip is just to keep asking yourself ‘why?’. If this happens, why? If that happens, why? If you can get to the ‘why?’ of a mystery story it helps you to plot out the who, what, when and where of the crime.

So, in my novel, The Fire Star, a fabulously valuable and dazzling jewel goes missing. Instead of asking myself who took it, I looked at why someone might do it – and there were lots of reasons. So I chose the LEAST OBVIOUS answer and the story flowed from there.

Can you tell us a bit about your next project? 
I am writing a new Maven & Reeve Mystery and I am so thrilled to be back in Cartreff. The ‘why?’ of this one is a doozy!

The Fire Star is out now – ask for it at your local bookshop or library!

The Fire Star by AL TaitEXTRAS:

Click here to visit AL Tait’s resources page on kings, castles & secret societies.

Click here for Teachers’ Notes.

Read our 2015 interview with AL Tait.

Find out more about AL Tait and her books at her website.

Posted in authors, interviews

Kitty Black on writing A Crocodile in the Family


Kitty Black

Kitty Black is a Western Australian author of picture books and children’s novels. Kitty currently lives in Perth with her husband, two children, two cats and a puppy, but she has also lived in Melbourne, Hong Kong and Mt Isa. Kitty’s first picture book was Who’s Afraid of the Quite Nice Wolf? (illustrated by Laura Wood), and her latest picture book is A Crocodile in the Family, illustrated by Daron Parton.

From the publisher:

A family of birds stumble across an egg in the bush and take it home with them. The family are thrilled when a little crocodile hatches from the egg, but the other animals are a little confused.

‘Why do you keep him?’ they ask. ‘Is it because he’s helpful?’

‘He is helpful,’ replies the family, ‘but that’s not why we keep him.’

A crocodile in the Family by Kitty Black and Daron Parton

When you’re writing a new story – pen & paper? or computer?
Always pen and paper for a picture book. I have a few writing books and while they’re meant to be used for different things if a story shows up then I grab whichever one is closest. My last picture book idea was written in the margins of a middle grade novel writing book. Never underestimate the audacity of ideas, they don’t care what you’re meant to be working on!

I swap between laptop and paper for the novel, just because typing is faster and there’s a lot of words. But if I get stuck on what happens next I always swap to paper. Paper just feels friendlier. Plus it doesn’t run out of battery and if you leave it in the garden overnight it’s probably okay.

Both of your picture books include animal characters who don’t seem to fit in – at first glance. Is this a theme that’s common in your writing?
Definitely. Growing up with undiagnosed ADHD meant that at school I always felt a bit different and I couldn’t figure out why. I have an affinity for the different kids, the ones who don’t pay attention to the ‘right’ things or get rowdy or spend loads of time day-dreaming. I want them to know there’s a place for them, just as they are. I’ve realised in hindsight that I also chose tough/creepy animals? Wolves and crocodiles! My next picture book in 2021 is about a bat. I guess I like different animals too!

Did you communicate with the illustrator of A Crocodile in the Family? Or did you each work separately?
We worked separately. I’ve never spoken directly to him! However, my commissioning editor at Hachette would tell me nice things he said, and also pass on nice things I said to him. So we knew we liked each other’s work. Despite the not talking directly we were both involved in all the choices and I think we worked really well together.

Do you have a tip for kids who love to write?
A tip that I’m using at the moment is to think about what my main character doesn’t want to happen – and then do that.

Can you tell us a bit about your next project?
I was lucky enough to receive an Arts Grant to develop a middle grade novel, so I am deep in a fantasy world with witches and magic and talking bears and monsters. It’s fun! Although not for my main character at the moment because that thing they didn’t want to happen, just happened.

I’m also working with the illustrator from Who’s Afraid of the Quite Nice Wolf? on our next book – Mr Bat Wants A Hat. She likes creepy animals too.


Posted in authors, interviews

Katrina Germein: Tell ‘Em!

Katrina GermeinToday’s visitor is Katrina Germein: an award-winning picture book author. Her books have been published all around the world and even read during story-time on television for Play School. You might have read some of her books already, like Big Rain Coming, My Dad Thinks He’s Funny, or Thunderstorm Dancing. Today we’re talking to Katrina about a new picture book called Tell ‘Em!, a collaboration with the children of Manyallaluk School, Rosemary Sullivan, and illustrator Karen Briggs.

Tell 'Em by Katrina Germein, the children of Manyallaluk School, and illustrator Karen Briggs

From the publisher:

A joyous and exuberant picture book about life in a remote community Tell ’em how us kids like to play. We got bikes and give each other rides. Tell ’em about the dancing and singing, and all the stories the old people know. In this book, written in conjunction with children from Manyallaluk School in the Roper River region in the NT, the voices of Indigenous children sing out across the land to tell us about their life in a remote community.

Time for some questions!

You wrote Tell ‘Em! in collaboration with Rosemary Sullivan, the children of Manyallaluk School, and illustrator Karen Briggs. How did the collaboration come about?
I met co-author Rosemary Sullivan when I was living in a remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory. I was working as a teacher and Rosemary was also teaching at a nearby school. We quickly became friends. After returning to my hometown of Adelaide I drafted an early version of Tell ’em! So when Rosemary mentioned an idea to create a book with the children of Manyallaluk School we decided to work together.

How did everyone communicate with each other during the book’s creation?
Rosemary used the early draft of Tell ’em! to workshop story ideas with the children of Manyallaluk. The students shared their ideas with Rosemary while they were at school and then they emailed the ideas to me. The story went back and forth like this for several months until it felt finished. The children held the final say on what was included in the text. The book is their story. It’s about them and 100% of author royalties go directly to Manyallaluk School.

A sneak peek inside Tell 'Em
A sneak peek inside Tell ‘Em

From initial idea to published book, how long did the process take?
Once the story was accepted by a publisher, Indigenous artist Karen Briggs joined the team and completed the stunning artwork for the illustrations. The whole project took over five years, and it’s exciting to now see the book in libraries, shops, schools and homes. (Picture books often take a long time!)

Can you tell us something about your next book?
My latest book (illustrated by Tom Jellett) is called Shoo, You Crocodile! It’s for young children and is a zany story about a crocodile on the loose in a museum! I’m always working on new stories. One I’m writing at the moment is about some little piggies who have the job of washing dishes in a busy restaurant. The fourth book in the My Dad Thinks He’s Funny series, My Dad Thinks He’s Super Funny, is coming out in 2021.

Do you have a tip for young writers who would like to collaborate with other creators on creative projects?
Hmm. Good questions. Every book I make is a collaboration. I can’t illustrate my own stories so I’m used to working with people. I think  it’s fun seeing what ideas other creators have but some people might find it difficult not to be in control the whole time. My advice is to remember that the project is ‘shared’; it’s not ‘yours’. The people you’re working with deserve the chance to make decisions about how the project will turn out. I think it helps if you really appreciate their talents. Think about how they’re making the project better.

Tell 'Em by Katrina Germein, the children of Manyallaluk School, and illustrator Karen BriggsAWESOME EXTRAS:

Check out previous interviews with Katrina Germein.

Click here for Teachers’ Notes.

Visit Katrina Germein’s website for more about her and her books.

Posted in authors, interviews

Kaye Baillie on writing The Friendly Games


Kaye Baillie holding her book THE FRIENDLY GAMES

Kaye Baillie writes picture books, novels and short stories. Her latest book is a nonfiction picture book The Friendly Games (illustrated by Fiona Burrows.)

From the publisher:

John Ian Wing couldn’t be more excited about the upcoming Melbourne Olympic Games. It’s 1956 and from his parents’ Bourke Street restaurant, John swells with pride watching the hive of activity as the city prepares to welcome its guests. But when world tensions threaten to overshadow the good nature of the Games, John knows he must do something to remind everyone of the meaning of friendship and peace.

Based on a true story, The Friendly Games is a fascinating tale of one boy’s role  in one of Australia’s most significant sporting events.

The Friendly Games by Kaye Baillie and Fiona Burrows

How did you first hear about John Wing?
I was researching the introduction of television in Australia. My idea was to write a story about a fictional family getting their first TV. I found out that television was introduced to Australia in 1956 in time to televise the  Melbourne Olympic Games. And of course the internet brings up stories related to what you’re searching for, so John Wing’s story came up. I read about a boy who wrote a letter to the Melbourne Organising Committee suggesting how the closing ceremony for the Olympic Games should break with tradition and allow all athletes to march as a mixed group behind one Olympic flag — as a kind of peace march. I was amazed by what he did and that his letter worked — all within three days of the closing ceremony. I gave up on the introduction-of-television story and began working on John’s story instead.

How did you go about gathering research for writing the book?
I researched old newspaper clippings on the government website called Trove. I also trawled through microfilms at the State Library in Melbourne.

I watched the official Olympic promotional video made for the 1956 games.

I read sections of the official Olympic report which detailed every part of the Games from its preparation to its final moments.

I purchased a CD from the National Library in Canberra containing an interview with John. This was great because I could hear his voice and listen to how he spoke.

On the City of Kingston’s website there was information and photos detailing John’s early years at a Children’s home.

I tried to find John by emailing his last known email address and I also wrote a letter to his last known home address but I didn’t receive any response.

I visited John’s address where much of the story took place. His bedroom window in Bourke Street, Melbourne is still the same today as it was in 1956. It’s important to get a feel for your subject and their surroundings through first-hand experience.

Did you have any interaction with the illustrator (Fiona Burrows) while the book was being created?
Not in the beginning. Fiona was chosen by the publisher as Fiona had already illustrated one book with MidnightSun. When Fiona was about to begin work on the illustrations, the publisher put us in touch so if we had any questions, we were free to talk to each other. We often emailed each other and Fiona invited feedback from me. Because the story is non-fiction we had to make sure the illustrations were a true reflection of the era, 1956 and the location, Melbourne. Usually illustrators and authors do not have any contact with each other during the book’s process. This is because the illustrator must have freedom to interpret the text how they see it.

Do you have any tips for children who would like to write about real events from history?
Make sure your subject is something you are really interested in. Research can take a long time so it’s important to enjoy the process.

Gather as much research as you can. The more information you have, the more interesting facts you will have to choose from.

Your story will be much better if you can show that you have a good understanding of the facts.

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project? 
I’m currently researching another non-fiction story. This one is set in America so it’s a little less familiar than researching in Australia. But I have found lots of information and the best part is that I am regularly talking to the daughter of the woman I am writing about. This makes the project very special. I am planning to finish the story within 2-3 months. It takes a long time to do the research and then to write the best story possible.

The Friendly Games is out in bookstores and libraries now!


The Friendly Games by Kaye Baillie and Fiona Burrows

Look inside some of the pages from The Friendly Games

Read a review of the book (review by Anishka, age 10)

Click here for Teachers’ Notes

Visit Kaye Baillie’s website for more about her and her books

Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

Meet the author: Gus Gordon


Gus GordonGus Gordon grew up on a farm in northern NSW Australia and, after leaving school, worked on cattle stations all over the country before deciding to pursue a drawing career. He has since illustrated and/or written nearly 80 books for children. His writing is always anthropomorphic (animals take the place of humans in his stories). Gus lives in NSW with his wife and three children. His latest book is Finding François.

From the publisher:

Alice wishes she had someone her own size to talk to. Then one day her wish comes true.
Through hope and chance, love and loss, two little ones who need each other find each other.
A heartwarming story from award-winning author and illustrator Gus Gordon about loneliness, saying goodbye and the value of life-affirming friendships.

Finding François by Gus Gordon

Alice Bonnet (the main character in Finding François) lives in Paris. Are the places where Alice lives and visits based on places you’ve visited in France yourself?
Yes. It’s no secret that I love France, particularly Paris. It is an incredibly inspiring city. I have spent a great deal of time there, wandering the streets aimlessly. Much of the story is based around the river that flows through Paris; the Seine river. In the background of many of the illustrations, you can see the historical buildings that sit beside the river, including the Institut de France and the Musée D’Orsay. The bridge Alice throws the bottle from is the famous Pont Des Arts pedestrian bridge.

Alice and her grandmother live up the hill in the 18th arrondissement village of Montmartre. It is where I always stay when I’m in Paris. It is well known for its artists community and many famous artists have lived and painted there.

The illustrations include snippets that look like they’re cut from the pages of French catalogues, magazines or books. Do you cut up real pages, or do you find these images online?
Most of the images I use are from actual old French Catalogues. Sometimes I source material online if I can’t find what I’m looking for in my collection. Very rarely do I actually cut or tear the pages out of the catalogues. They are far too old and precious (many are well over 100 years old). I also used old postcards, receipts, stamps, letters, labels and advertisements. I scan the image I need into my computer, essentially ‘cutting’ out the image (or paper) and ‘pasting’ it into the artwork. This is all done digitally. Aside from this, every element of each illustration is hand-drawn, painted and collected, then scanned-in, bit by bit, into my computer. I assemble the whole thing, like a glorious puzzle, on the screen. This is good and bad (but mostly good). It allows me to move things around and change my papers and tweak my colours if I need to. Unfortunately I’m not left with any originals so I do prints instead. Everything takes an awful long time but it seems to work out in the end so I’m happy.

Alice likes to write lists of what she plans to do each day. Are you a writer of lists? What’s on your list of plans for today?
Like Alice, I love writing lists. I have to really as I forget things otherwise. Today I am filling out questionnaires like this one, emailing my publisher and others, collecting a framed print and hopefully I’ll have time to do some writing later today.

Have you ever sent (or found) a message in a bottle yourself?
No, I haven’t but I’d love to find a message in a bottle on the beach one day.

Do you have a tip for young artists/illustrators?
My tip for young artists would simply be to keep doing what you’re doing. Do what feels right to YOU and no one else, no matter how unique or peculiar your art is. Stick at it and good things will come your way in time.

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project?
My next book is about an anxious robot named, Gerald.


Finding François by Gus Gordon

See Gus Gordon working in his studio (YouTube – Paper Bird Home club video)

Click here for Teachers’ Notes for Finding François

Visit Gus Gordon’s website for more about him & his books

Posted in authors, interviews

Meet the author: Tristan Bancks

Tristan Bancks (photo Amber Melody)MEET THE AUTHOR

Tristan Bancks tells stories for the page and screen. His books for kids and teens include Two WolvesThe Fall and the Tom Weekly series. Tristan is currently working with producers to develop several of his books for the screen. His latest book is Nit Boy, which is illustrated by Heath McKenzie. 

From the publisher:

Meet Lewis Snow. He has the worst case of nits in world history. Everyone wants him to shave his head. But Lewis thinks of his nits as pets. He’s determined to keep his hair and his nits, whatever it takes.

Ned lives on Lewis’s head. He’s the first-ever jumping nit. His dad wants Ned to help nits take over the world. But Ned likes it on Lewis’s head. Ned’s vegan and hates the taste of human blood.

And you thought you had problems.

Nit Boy by Tristan Bancks and illustrated by Heath McKenzieOkay … how much scratching did you do while you were writing Nit Boy?
I scratched my head till it was raw. It’s so weird how reading or writing about itchy things makes humans need to scratch. I love reading Nit Boy chapters to kids at events just to see the ocean of scratchers in the audience.

Nit Boy is fiction and features headlice and fleas as characters, plus some quick quizzes for readers. How did you go about your nit/flea research?
I watched disgusting YouTube videos of nits feeding on kids’ scalps and presenters like Michael Mosely giving themselves head lice on purpose for the sake of science. I considered doing this but I had young kids at home, so I didn’t need to try to get nits. I had them anyway. I also read everything I could and I tried to remember what it was like having nits as a kid and having my deputy principal pick through my hair with a razor-sharp lead pencil.

Jumping competition! Who wins: Ned the-first-jumping-nit or Sahaj the flea?
Sahaj is an elderly flea and his knees aren’t what they used to be, so he mainly walks these days. Ned has been genetically engineered to be the world’s first-ever jumping nit, so I’d say Ned definitely wins the jump-off!

Do you have a writing tip for young writers?
It’s more of a challenge than a tip. Try writing a story from the point-of-view of a non-human character. So, a nit or a flea or a cicada or a dog or a guinea pig or a lion. It’s fun and takes lots of imagination to put yourself inside the perspective of another creature. It’s a good one for the Book Week theme of ‘Curious Creatures, Wild Minds’, too!

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project? 
My great great uncle, Jimmy Bancks, created a comic strip called Ginger Meggs in 1921. It’s now Australia’s longest-running comic strip, in newspapers all over the country, every day. I’m writing a 100th anniversary book of short stories for release in 2021! It’s a project I’ve dreamed of for many years and I love telling stories with the characters. My Tom Weekly books and Nit Boy have been great training for tackling Ginger Meggs. I’d love to write another Nit Boy book, too.

Nit Boy is available from bookstores and libraries now!


Watch the book trailer:

How to draw Ned the Nit (YouTube video)

Read Chapter 1 of Nit Boy

Click here for Teachers Notes 

Visit Tristan Bancks’s website for more about him and his books!

Posted in authors, interviews

Meet the author: Michelle Kadarusman


Michelle Kadarusman. Photo by Micah Ricardo RiedlMichelle 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 own voices novel The Theory of Hummingbirds. Like Alba (the main character), Michelle was born with the condition talipes equinovarus (commonly known as club foot) and underwent operations when she was still young.

From the publisher:

Alba has been best friends with Levi since forever. They’re both obsessed with hummingbirds and spend their lunchtimes hiding out in the school library. Alba normally doesn’t mind that Levi’s got a science theory on just about everything. But when he becomes convinced the school librarian has discovered a wormhole in her office, Alba thinks maybe he’s gone too far.

Then there’s Cleo. That’s what Alba calls her left foot, which was twisted in the wrong direction at birth and has been strapped in a brace for most of Alba’s life. With the final cast about to come off, Alba is set on running in her first cross-country race. But what if Levi doesn’t believe she can do it?

The Theory of Hummingbirds by Michelle Kadarusman

How long did it take you to write The Theory of Hummingbirds, from first draft to final draft?
The Theory of Hummingbirds took two years from first draft to finished book. When I initially submitted the first draft to the publisher it was a little short so I had to add more chapters to plump it up. Then I worked with the editor on revisions for many months before we felt completely happy to send it off to press.

Did you already know a lot about hummingbirds before you wrote the book?
The first hummingbird I ever saw was at a friend’s lake house in Canada. I grew up in Australia where we don’t have hummingbirds, so when I saw my first hummingbird, I was very excited. They are so tiny and dart around like fairies. I was mesmerized and knew that I wanted to include them in a story. I read all about them for research before writing the book.

Alba and Levi are both committed and persistent in working towards their goals/theories. Were they inspired by anyone you know in real life?
Like most fictional characters, both Alba and Levi have traits of real people I know, but mostly they are from my imagination.

Can you tell us a little about your next writing project? 
My current work-in-progress is a middle-grade novel set in my father’s homeland of Indonesia. It centres around a captive orangutan and two middle schoolers. One is a budding animal and environmental activist the other is the orangutan’s keeper. It will delve into palm oil deforestation, the black-market exotic pet trade, identity and belonging.

Do you have a writing tip for young writers?
 I have three tips! The first is: read a lot. Read, read, read. Reading is what all writers do to learn and become inspired.

The second tip:  let yourself be bad at first. Don’t expect to be able to write like your favourite authors right away. It will take time to develop your craft. Keep working at it and let yourself make mistakes.

My third tip: listen to feedback from people you trust, the feedback will always help you become a better writer.

The Theory of Hummingbirds is out now, and available from bookshops, libraries, and the publisher!

The Theory of Hummingbirds by Michelle KadarusmanAWESOME EXTRAS

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

Check out photos of hummingbirds on the National Geographic site.

Posted in authors

Meet the author: Janeen Brian


Janeen Brian

Janeen Brian is an award-winning children’s author and poet with over 100 books published. Janeen lives in South Australia and writes poetry, short stories, picture books, nonfiction, and novels. Her first book was published in 1984, and her latest book (June 2020) is Eloise & the Bucket of Stars.

From the publisher:

Orphaned as a baby, Eloise Pail yearns for a family. Instead, she lives a lonely life trapped in an orphanage and is made miserable by the cruel Sister Hortense. Befriended by the village blacksmith, Eloise soon uncovers some strange secrets of yesteryear and learns that something terrible may be about to happen to the village. As troubles and dangers mount, she must learn who to trust and choose between saving the village or belonging to a family of her own. Unless something truly magical happens …

Eloise and the Bucket of Stars (cover)

How long did it take you to write Eloise & the Bucket of Stars, from first draft to final draft?
Including all the research, brainstorming, planning, and first drafting, re-working after a manuscript assessment, and many more drafts, it would’ve been over 2 years before the ‘final’ manuscript was finished — and accepted.

The book is set in the early years of the nineteenth Century — did you need to do any research before you wrote the book?
Whenever I travel, I always take dozens of photographs of anything that interests me, because I never know when I might need them for referencing or as an idea for a story or for poetry. So, I had many pics of English and Irish orphanages and workhouses that were built and used in those earlier times. From previous trips, I had photos of walled cities which also came in handy for the story setting. I always collected or bought pamphlets, brochures or from museums. I jotted in my diary too. Even an odd word or two can jog the memory of something you saw or experienced. I’d walked on cobblestones, I’d been inside old houses that lined narrow streets, I’d been in tiny market squares, seen what were used as toilets in those days and so much more. Apart from my own experiences, and photographs, I also used the internet for pictorial references. If I needed any extra information as I wrote, I scoured books or did further exploration on the internet.

If you lived in the village of Whittering, what would your occupation be?
Great question!
I would’ve been the flower-seller! Not only because I love flowers, but also because they would’ve masked the smell of animals and their droppings, rank drains, pit-sewerage and unwashed bodies! Most people had few clothes which were not washed as often as we do today, and nor did they wash very often. Hygiene was not a top priority but also houses had no running water and water needed to be heated on a stove.

How did you choose the title of the book? 
The earliest title was Girl in a Bucket, and that came as a suggestion from a Year 6 girl at a school I was visiting. It remained as that until the publisher commented that it could tell more. I thought about the main character’s name and what was important to her. And so then I had ELOISE and STARS. But I also wanted to use the original situation, of her being left as a baby in a bucket. So, finally it all came together, and the title was born.

Can you tell us a bit about your next project? 
My next project is a picture book which I’ve been working on for several weeks. It’s to do with a waterhole, the competition between several African animals and the funny set up before the animals realise what is most important.

Do you have a tip for young writers who want to try their hand at magical-realism or fantasy?
First of all, you have to believe in the story idea yourself. In this book, I used an everyday situation and setting and then created the element of fantasy and wove that into the story. I didn’t have to create a new world but I still had to make the magic believable in the story.

Eloise & the Bucket of Stars is out now and available from bookstores and libraries.


Hear Janeen Brian read an excerpt from Eloise & the Bucket of Stars (YouTube)

Eloise and the Bucket of Stars (cover)

Click here to download Teachers’ Notes for the book

Click here for more writing tips from Janeen Brian

Visit Janeen Brian’s website for more about her and her books

Posted in authors, interviews

Meet the author: Jacqueline Harvey


Jacqueline Harvey (credit Jenni Bradley)

Jacqueline Harvey is the author of the popular Alice-Miranda series, Clementine Rose series, and Kensy and Max series. Her books have sold over one million copies in Australia alone.

Jacqueline speaks to thousands of young people at schools and festivals around the world, and says the characters in her books are often made up of the best bits of children she’s met over the years. While she is not a twin, like Kensy and Max she does have excellent powers of observation and has always thought she’d make a great spy.

Jacqueline’s latest book is Alice-Miranda in the Outback (book 19 in the series).

From the publisher:

Alice-Miranda and her friends are off to the Australian Outback! They’re going to help an old family friend who’s found himself short staffed during cattle mustering season. The landscape is like nothing else – wide open and dusty red as far as the eye can see. It’s also full of quirky characters, like eccentric opal miner Sprocket McGinty and the enigmatic Taipan Dan.

As the gang settles in at Hope Springs Station, mysteries start piling up. A strange map is discovered indicating treasure beneath the paddocks, a young girl is missing and there are unexplained water shortages. Can Alice-Miranda get to the bottom of this desert dilemma?

Alice Miranda in the Outback by Jacqueline Harvey

Alice-Miranda is a well-travelled girl! Have you been everywhere Alice-Miranda has been?
Yes Alice-Miranda has travelled a lot. I’ve been to most of the places she’s been, although I haven’t ever travelled to Spain and that’s where Alice-Miranda at Sea begins. I had to do a lot of research about Barcelona particularly and in that instance I find Google Maps, Google Earth and Google Streetview invaluable. I have been to a few places in the Australian outback but Coober Pedy isn’t one of them (and part of the new book takes place there) so I have had to do a lot of research on the town and the landscape and the mines before and while I was writing the story. I find it easier to use places I’ve travelled to as it helps create the atmosphere but as I said – you can do your homework too.

Alice-Miranda in the Outback is the latest book in the series. How long did it take you to write Book 19, from first draft to final draft?
I spent a few weeks plotting and planning over the Christmas New Year period then sat down with a goal of having the draft finished in 6 weeks. I basically wrote just over 10,000 words a week for that time and achieved the goal. There would have been about another six weeks of rewriting, editing and proofreading after that. I knew that I would have to write quite quickly to meet the deadline but I found it such a fun story that it was a joy to work on each day.

When you wrote Book 1, did you write it as Book 1 in a series?
I originally thought Alice-Miranda would be a picture book. How wrong I was. Once I started to write the first book as a novel I thought it would be a series – I had ideas for about five books when I initially submitted it.

How do you keep track of all the characters across multiple books in the series?
Spreadsheets! I have a spreadsheet with the characters in all of the series so that I don’t accidentally give someone the same name. It’s a very helpful reference.

What’s your next writing project?
At the moment I am writing Kensy and Max: Full Speed which will be out in October 2020. It’s set in London and Switzerland and takes the children back to the days when their parents worked in ski resorts all over the world. I’ve wanted to write a book where they can exhibit their extraordinary skiing and snowboarding skills and this is it. I have also just finished a short story Kensy and Max: Spy Games for the Australia Reads campaign which will be out at the beginning of November. I have been working on a couple of side projects as well but they’re still top secret so unfortunately I can’t share just yet. Suffice to say I’ve been keeping busy in lockdown.

Alice-Miranda in the Outback is available from bookshops and libraries!


Alice Miranda in the Outback by Jacqueline Harvey

Click here to download Teachers’ Notes for the Alice-Miranda series

Click here for Jacqueline Harvey’s writing tips

Visit Jacqueline Harvey’s website for more about Alice-Miranda, colouring-in sheets & activities