Posted in authors, interviews

Samantha Wheeler and Devils in Danger

MEET THE AUTHOR

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

From the publisher:

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


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

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

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

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

Do you have a favourite Tasmanian devil fact?

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

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

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

Can you tell us about your next writing project?

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

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


AWESOME EXTRAS!

Read a sample chapter from Devils in Danger

Download the Teachers’ Notes for this book

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

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

Anna Ciddor and The Boy Who Stepped Through Time

MEET THE AUTHOR

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

From the publisher:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


AWESOME EXTRAS

Read a sample chapter from The Boy Who Stepped Through Time

Download the Teachers’ Notes for the book

WIN your name in Anna Ciddor’s next book!

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

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

Sherryl Clark and Mina and the Whole Wide World

MEET THE AUTHOR

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

From the publisher:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could you tell us a bit about your next project?

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

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


AWESOME EXTRAS

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

Download the teachers’ notes for this book

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

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

Teena Raffa-Mulligan and Just Write

MEET THE AUTHOR

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

From the publisher:

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


How did you come to write Just Write?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


AWESOME EXTRAS

Read our 2019 interview with the author

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

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

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

MEET THE AUTHORS – DENIS KNIGHT & CRISTY BURNE

Denis Knight and Cristy Burne
Denis Knight & Cristy Burne

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

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

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

From the publisher:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CRISTY: A what? Pardon?

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

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

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

CRISTY:

CRISTY:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


AWESOME EXTRAS:

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

Take a sneak peek inside the book!

Download the Teachers’ Notes

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

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

Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows
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