Posted in authors, interviews, teachers' resources

Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire: an interview with Nat Amoore

Nat AmooreMEET THE AUTHOR

Nat Amoore is a Sydney-based writer and podcaster (if you haven’t heard of the One More Page podcast, you’d better check it out here). Nat is an accomplished entertainer and presenter for children, and has been a trapeze artist and circus performer for the international resort chain, Club Med. Her first children’s novel is Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire:

Finding a million dollars in your backyard – every kid’s dream, right? That’s what me and my best friend Toby thought too.

Jumping castles at school. Lollipops for our adoring fans. Wearing sunglasses indoors (‘cos that’s what all the millionaires do).

There’s a lot you can get with a million dollars . . . including a whole lot of trouble.

We’re thrilled to be chatting with Nat Amoore at Alphabet Soup today!


Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire by Nat AmooreOkay – what would YOU do with a million dollars if you suddenly became a millionaire?
Oooooohhhh, this is such a hard one even though I get asked it all the time. One of my favourite things about writing Secrets Of a Schoolyard Millionaire was being able to explore all the things I could/would do with a million dollars. But in the end, I think I’d divide it into three. First third would be to go wild with. Spend on whatever I wanted. Rent out Wet’n’Wild for all my friends so we didn’t have to wait in line. Buy heaps of books. Get a bed shaped like a race car. Take a holiday. Just get a little cray-cray! The second third I would put away and save for something responsible when I grow up, like buying a house or something adult like that. And the last third I would spend on other people who need it more. There are a lot of great charities out there and a lot of ways to help people who need it.

Did you base the characters in Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire on anyone you know?
I think A LOT of people who know me will tell you that there is a lot of me in Tess. My friends say when they read the book, they can hear my voice in their head as Tess speaks. A lot of the things Tess does in the book, I did when I was a kid.

Then with the other characters, there are a lot of ‘bits’ of them that come from real people. Toby has some elements about him that are based on a friend of mine. So does Kathy. I actually have a brother called Dane who had a dog just like Butthead when we were kids. So I think when I write, I’m a little bit like Doctor Frankenstein. I take bits of different people I know and then sew them all together to make new characters.

Writing a book: Pen and paper? Or write it straight onto the computer?
OMG, I CANNOT write with a pen and paper. Even when I was at school, I always got in trouble for my handwriting. I was the LAST kid to get their pen licence and if you go back and read my school reports they say ‘Nat still does not join her writing’. To this day I cannot do running writing, I always print. I always write in capitals and when I write in a birthday card, my hand aches for a week after. The only way my writing can keep up with my brain is if I’m typing. If I was born 100 years ago I would never have written a book because I would never have been able to do it with a paper and pen. So without a doubt, I’m a straight-into-the-computer kind of gal!

What’s your million-dollar tip for young writers?
Just write! Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation for now. Just get the idea out. You can come back later and fix all that stuff up. I’m not the greatest writer, I know that. But I have really great ideas. Fortunately I have editors and publishers who help me put all the commas and stuff where they are supposed to go. And you have people to help you with that too. But you’ll have nothing to fix if you don’t write it first. So get your idea down on the paper/screen and don’t let all that other stuff stop you. I still, don’t know, where all, those, pesky commas are, supposed to go,,,,,,

What are you working on next?
Right now, like RIGHT THIS SECOND, I am working on the follow up to Secrets Of A Schoolyard Millionaire. It is called The Power Of Positive Pranking and it’s coming out in June 2020. It’s not really a sequel so much, but it does happen in the same world as Secrets Of A Schoolyard Millionaire (the town of Watterson and Watterson Primary School) and you will see some of your favourite characters make a comeback. It’s a story told from the perspective of a very minor character who made a small appearance in the first book — ooooohhhhh the mystery!


Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire by Nat AmooreAwesome extras:

Click here to read a sneak peek of the book

Click here for Teachers’ Notes by Melissa Kroeger at Children’s Books Daily

Click here to visit Nat Amoore’s website

Click here for the One More Page podcast (where Nat Amoore is one of the hosts)

Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire is out now! Look for it at your nearest bookshop or library. 

Posted in interviews, poetry

100 Ways to Fly: an interview with Michelle Taylor

Michelle TaylorMEET THE AUTHOR

Michelle Taylor is an award-winning poet and has been writing and publishing for over twenty years. Michelle tells young people that poetry is like making magic with words, and her sessions typically involve audience participation and a lot of interaction. Her latest book is 100 Ways to Fly, her third poetry collection for children.

From Michelle:

Poetry is not meant to be scary! It’s the opposite! It can make you laugh, make you feel normal, even brave, especially if you feel sad or alone. When I set out to write 100 Ways To Fly I wanted this book to be a little different to the others. After five years of careful crafting, multiple test runs of poems with children and exercising my imagination muscles until they ached, I bring you these 100 (or so) poems! Poems to celebrate our amazing senses and sense of humour, poems to twist your tongues and thoughts, poems about creatures that live in the land of nonsense. 

We are very excited to welcome Michelle Taylor to Alphabet Soup today!


100 ways to fly. A poetry book for children.When you were putting together 100 Ways to Fly, how did you decide which poems to include, and what order to put them in?
That’s one of the trickier jobs. For 100 Ways to Fly I set out to write lots of different kinds of poems – ones about our senses, scary poems, gross poems and nonsense poems, serious poems to help us feel more confident. I did what I do with every collection. After writing for about a year, I printed all the poems and laid them out all over the lounge room floor. Then I started to look for patterns. It’s messy but it’s very exciting. From here I saw the themes that kept coming up and these formed the sections of the book such as, ‘The Word Zoo’, ‘How Many Noses In a Nostril?’, ‘A Pocket Full of Poems’ and so on. Then I could think about which sections I needed to write more poems for. The hardest part is the order. For this I imagine being the reader of my collection. What I want is to start on a high and be hooked in straight away. I also want to end on a hopeful note that invites me to go away and keep reading or writing poems. Then all the poems in between need to go up and down, a bit like a rollercoaster to keep me reading through the whole book.

How do you like to go about drafting a concrete poem (a shape poem)?
I don’t have any rules for a concrete poem but I am very visual and I love art. So for each poem I think to myself, ‘What shape or form will work best?’. A concrete poem is just an exaggerated way of echoing the words with a shape on the page. A concrete poem seems to help my brain ‘get’ certain ideas better and as a bonus I can enjoy looking at it. I had fun writing ‘Summer Lies’, finding shapes for each separate idea as I wrote the poem. It’s an example of how just a few spaces can bring words to life. With ‘Hope’ I wanted to see what hope might look like. We talk about hope a lot but what might symbolise it? Even if I don’t remember all the words – I don’t have a great memory! – I know the feeling of that poem and think of going up the steps.

Do you have a favourite from this collection for performing/reading aloud to kids?
A favourite poem to read is ‘I Wish For You’ because it’s like giving a present to the people listening, and afterwards I invite kids to write their own wish poem for someone they care about. I naturally like sharing poems that get big reactions, so the section ‘Spooky and Sick’ is very popular, and we also have a load of fun when we do the actions for ‘Boom Crash Poem’. We do things like patting ourselves on the back and giving ourselves big hugs!

Your collection includes rhyming and unrhymed poetry. Do you find one comes more naturally than the other?
Rhyming is more of a challenge. When I say rhyme I mean rhyme at the end of lines or end rhyme. Some of my poems contain end rhyme. For ‘The Termite Rap’ I deliberately chose end rhyme schemes to reinforce what this poem is about – the repetitive sounds of termites! Internal rhymes come more naturally for me though. These are similar sounds occurring within and across the lines and which have less tendency to follow a pattern. Maybe that’s because I’m not so fond of rules, or because some of my poems are expressing uncertainty and choice and internal things like our feelings.

Do you have a writing tip for young poets?
Be kind to yourself. Let the writing of a poem be your friend. It may not be perfect or easy. It might take lots of tries. Your teacher or another reader may not like it the same way you do, or they may not think it’s important at all. That will happen so you need to be prepared for this because it’s a normal part of writing. Sometimes the best writing is the writing that gives us a way to think or talk about confusing or hard or wonderful things. The main thing is to start, write something, write anything and begin! Who knows what it might lead to!

Michelle Taylor signing copies of 100 Ways to Fly.


Awesome extras:

Click here to WIN a copy of the book

100 ways to fly. A poetry book for children.

Click here for a review of the book. (Review by Julie Thorndyke for the Reading Time website.)

Click here for Teacher’s Notes.

Click here to visit Michelle Taylor’s website.

100 Ways to Fly by Michelle Taylor is out now! Ask for it at your nearest bookshop or library. 

Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

I Would Dangle the Moon: an interview with Amber Moffat

Amber MoffattMEET THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR

Amber Moffatt is a writer and visual artist based in Perth, Western Australia. If you live in WA and you’ve been to the AH Bracks library in Melville you might have been lucky enough to see her illustrations decorating the windows for Book Week 2019! Amber recently launched her first picture book, I Would Dangle the Moon, in Western Australia and in New Zealand. She regularly runs art workshops for children inspired by the artwork from the book.

What would you do if you could pluck the moon from the sky? Would you scoop it up in an ice cream cone, or ride it like a snail shell across the night sky? This picture book will spark your imagination. 

Today Amber Moffat stops by to chat to Alphabet Soup about creating I Would Dangle the Moon.


I would dangle the moon by Amber MoffatYou’re an author AND an illustrator. When you were creating I Would Dangle the Moon, which came first – the words or the illustrations?
The words came first, but I did have a sense of the images in my mind too. The idea of a snail taking the moon for its shell and slithering across the night sky was the seed the story grew from.

How long did it take you to go from the story idea to the published book?
It took a really long time – three years! The initial text was developed quite quickly but it took a much longer time to develop the storyboard and find the right style of illutstration. I was really lucky to have author and illustrator Briony Stewart as my mentor for a year, and that helped me get the concept ready to submit to publishers. From when my publisher, MidnightSun Publishing, contracted me, it took nine months to complete the final artwork for the illustrations.

What have you been reading recently?
I’ve been enjoying Trouble in the Surf, written by Stephanie Owen Reeder and illustrated by Briony Stewart. The way Briony has used colour in the illustrations is really beautiful, and I keep going back to it to admire her technique.

When you’re doing illustration work, what’s your favourite medium?
Acrylic paint is definitely my preferred medium. I like the way it dries fast and you can paint over it easily. I also like to be able to scan images and alter them digitally. I often use computer editing to piece different paintings together and play with scale and composition.

Are you able to tell us something about your next writing project?
The picture book I’m currently working on explores the science of light, and it’s been a new experience for me to convey scientific ideas in the form of a picture book. I am also working on a novel for young adults, in which medical science is important to the story, so that seems to be a theme for me at the moment.

Amber reading with some helpers at the book launch
Amber Moffat (with some helpers) at the book launch.

I would dangle the moon by Amber MoffatAwesome extras:

Click here to WIN a copy of the book

Click here for a little peek at some of the illustrations from the book.

Click here to read a review of I Would Dangle the Moon (review by Anishka, age 9)

Click here to visit Amber Moffat’s website.

I Would Dangle the Moon is out now! Find it at your nearest bookshop or library.

Posted in authors, interviews

The Australia Survival Guide: an interview with George Ivanoff

George Ivanoff holding a copy of The Australia Survival GuideMEET THE AUTHOR

George Ivanoff is the award-winning Melbourne author of over 100 books for kids and teens, including the Gamers trilogy, the interactive You Choose series, the RFDS Adventures, and the Other Worlds series. His latest book is The Australia Survival Guide. 

Australia has its fair share of dangers: sharks, snakes, cyclones and crocodiles can be a serious threat to your life! But don’t worry. This book will help you by providing the knowledge you need to survive in all kinds of Aussie conditions – in the bush, in the desert or even at the beach!

So get out there and look around! Even if you think Australia is trying to kill you, The Australia Survival Guide can save your life!

Today we are pleased to have George Ivanoff visiting Alphabet Soup to chat about books, writing, and The Australia Survival Guide.


Do you go about writing a nonfiction book differently from how you go about writing your fiction books?
Oh yes. The difference is in the research. While fiction will often require some research, it’s nowhere near as much as with non-fiction. With fiction, the research is usually for specific elements, such as setting, and is mostly about filling in detail. But with non-fiction, it is the cornerstone of the whole thing. You can’t even start without the research.

How long did it take you to go from the story idea for The Australia Survival Guide to the published book?
We had a reasonably short timeline for this book, so I delivered it section by section, so that the editor and designer could get started on their parts. There was about six months worth of work in this book for me. And then another six months after I was done before publication.

Do you have any children’s books (fiction or nonfiction!) you would recommend?
Oh, there are so many that I could recommend, but I’ll restrain myself and go one fiction, one non-fiction and one picture book.

Fiction:
Final Storm by Deborah Abel. This is the third book in the trilogy which began with Grimsdon. It’s a wonderfully adventurous science fiction series with an important environmental message.
Non-fiction:
How To Save the Whole Stinkin’ Planet by Lee Constable. Everything you ever wanted to know about garbage and what happens to it after we throw it out.
Picture Book:
Pippa, written by Dimity Powell and illustrated by Andrew Plant. Delightful story about a young pigeon’s first solo adventure, with gorgeous illustrations.

Do you have any advice for young writers who want to write nonfiction?
Get the research right. So many people think that in this age of computers and the Internet, research is just a matter of Googling your topic and following a couple of links. But so much of what’s on the Internet is questionable. So you need to verify the information. As you gather information online, you need to check the source. Is it reputable? And Wikipedia is not necessarily a reliable resource, as anyone can add or change the information it contains. Then you need to confirm your information, making sure you have more than one source. Never rush the research.

Are you able to tell us a bit about your next writing project?
I’m sticking with non-fiction for the time being. I’m working on a new Survival Guide, but with a very different topic. I’m hoping to announce the topic and title soon, so keep an eye on my website if you want to know more. http://georgeivanoff.com.au


THE AUSTRALIA SURVIVAL GUIDE by George IvanoffAwesome extras:

Click here for a sneak peek inside The Australia Survival Guide.

Click here to read a review of the book (review by Rory, age 7).

Click here to visit George Ivanoff’s website. 

The Australia Survival Guide by George Ivanoff is out now! Find it at your nearest bookshop or library.

Posted in authors, interviews, teachers' resources

Cryptosight: an interview with Nean Mckenzie

Nean McKenzieMEET THE AUTHOR

Nean McKenzie is a children’s writer and optometrist who lives in western Melbourne with her husband and two teenage children. When not writing or testing people’s eyes, Nean enjoys travelling to interesting places around the world. She also likes bush walking and reading books, especially ones for 8-12 year-olds. Earlier this year she published her first children’s novel, Cryptosight.

Rafferty Kaminski is a 13-year-old who believes in facts. Not like his Cryptozoologist father, who searches for creatures not proven to exist.

When their father disappears in the Flinders Ranges, strange things start happening to Raff and his younger sister Zara. They learn that their father belongs to a secret organisation and they are suddenly being pursued by bunyip hunters.

Today Hannah (age 13, QLD, and one of our regular book reviewers) interviews Nean McKenzie about writing Cryptosight. Over to you, Hannah and Nean!


Cryptosight by Nean McKenzieWhat inspired you to write about the wonderful world of cryptozoology?
Cryptozoology is a weird sort of world between fantasy and reality, which I thought was great to write about. While the likelihood of any of these crypto-creatures actually existing is really low, it’s still not impossible. I have had people talking to me since the book came out about things that they’ve seen, but no-one believed them! And the creatures are uniquely Australian.

Obviously a lot of research went into the creation of the novel. Can you describe how long the research period took and how the it impacted the overall story?
I like to go to the places I write about to get a feel for them, so we went to the Flinders Ranges and Mildura on family holidays. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Grampians – it’s one of my favourite places. I also went the Wombat State Forest, especially for story research. I really find it helps me to get ideas and also to describe smells, sounds, etc. I research as I write really, so it’s all part of the process.
.

When was the first moment you discovered you had a passion for
writing and it would be your career?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, since I was about seven. I wrote my first novel when I was fifteen, an adventure story set in 16th century Scotland. I did a professional writing and editing course as an adult, which further inspired me to write. I have written quite a few books, but this is the first one to get published. I do have another job, as an optometrist which is good as it is not always easy to earn money as a writer! But when I write I can escape to other worlds and it makes me happy. I think I will always love it.

What advice would you give young writers?
The best advice I’ve been given is that writers need to write. It sounds obvious, but it’s not always easy to do. There are many things that get in the way of writing, but making time to do it and doing it often, makes the writing better, I think. I also think reading a lot is important as it feeds the mind and the imagination.

Can we expect a sequel or even a series for this novel?
I wanted Cryptosight to finish with a few unanswered questions as  cryptozoology is all about mystery and never really finding out what’s real. So I think that is the end of Raff and Zara’s story but I have written another story set in the cryptozoology world with different characters and creatures, and am working on a third. There is so much to write about!


Awesome extras:

Cryptosight by Nean McKenzie

Click here for teachers’ notes.

Click here to read a book review of Cryptosight (review by Hannah, age 13).

Click here to check out Nean McKenzie’s website.

Cryptosight by Nean McKenzie is out now! Find it at your nearest bookshop or library.

Posted in authors, interviews, teachers' resources

Maddie in the Middle: an interview with Julia Lawrinson

Julia LawrinsonMEET THE AUTHOR

Julia Lawrinson was born just after the first moon landing and grew up in the outer suburbs of Perth. Julia is an award-winning author of books for children, teenagers, and adults – her latest book is Maddie in the Middle.

Maddie Lee is in year six. Her best and oldest friend Katy is busy with school duties and music and scholarship plans, and Maddie feels lost and lonely. Then a new girl starts at school. Maddie wants more than anything to become friends with her. And she does. But Samara’s friendship comes at a high price, with consequences Maddie could never have imagined.

Today we’re thrilled to welcome Julia to Alphabet Soup to talk about writing books.


Maddie in the Middle by Julia LawrinsonWhat sparked the idea for Maddie in the Middle?
The novel was sparked by a friend telling me how her daughter was caught shoplifting. It was something completely out of character for this girl, and I began thinking of all the reasons good kids might do bad things. Then I began wondering what would happen if a kid was doing bad things for a good reason. And so Maddie and her story were born!

How long did it take you to go from the initial idea to the finished manuscript?
It took a couple of years. I work full time so I write in half hour blocks early in the morning, or on weekends, so progress is slow. Also, every book seems to take at least three re-writes before I have a grip on point of view and character development, and then what feels like a million edits after that! The team at Fremantle Press [the publishers] were wonderful to deal with – direct but sensitive with suggestions.

Pen and paper, or computer?
I prefer writing with pen and paper, but I am a fast typist, due to time constraints (see above!) all my drafts are done on the screen. I am still very fond of keeping a pen and paper journal, though.

Do have any advice for young writers?
Start writing! Practice writing – anything, from fake hashtags to parody lyrics to poems, short stories and scripts. Write and don’t worry about what will happen with it. Have fun!

What are you working on next?
Its working title is The ABBA novel’ – it’s set in 1979, features roller-skating, Countdown, horses, glitter pens, and prank calls, as well as letters to someone from the past. I am having the best fun writing it.


Maddie in the Middle by Julia LawrinsonAwesome extras:

Click here to WIN a copy of the book

Click here to read a sneak peek of the book.

Click here to read a review of Maddie in the Middle. (Review by Hannah, age 13)

Click here for Teachers’ Notes.

Click here to visit Julia Lawrinson’s website. 

Maddie in the Middle by Julia Lawrinson is out now! Find it at your nearest bookshop or library.