Posted in authors, Events, info, teachers' resources

“Lights Out!” (Sue Walker)

Today we welcome Sue Walker to the blog to tell us about what she used to read after lights out when she was growing up. In the past Sue has worked in a bank, a school, a bookshop, and a cemetery. She now works from a studio in her backyard in Sydney, where she lives with her husband, three children, and a scruffy white dog.

Her book Tilly’s Treasure is part of the Aussie Nibbles series, and Best Friends is a Children’s Book Council Notable Book. Sue’s latest title is Arnie Avery – a novel for children 9-13 years.

"Tilly's Treasure (cover)" "Arnie Avery (cover)""Best friends (cover)"

"Sue Walker photo"
Sue Walker

When I was young, I had a bed with a light built into the bed head. It was great for reading after lights out. I’d read books by Enid Blyton – The Magic Faraway Tree, The Enchanted Wood and The Wishing Chair, and I’d imagine it was me visiting all those strange lands and flying in the wishing chair. I shared my room with my sister, and she’d complain because the light kept her awake at night, so sometimes I’d use a torch instead of my bed light. The best book I ever read was The Shark in Charlie’s Window. It was about a boy who had a flying shark for a pet.

As I grew older, I became an avid romance reader, and I loved super scary books too. Sometimes I was so tired in the morning it was hard to get ready for school, but it never stopped me from reading after lights out. Somehow, it was more exciting when I knew everyone was sleeping except me, and the house was dark and quiet around me.

Even though I’m an adult now, I still read loads of children’s books. If I had a lights out curfew, I’d read the kind of books I loved as a child. Books with a little bit of adventure and fantasy – they’re great for the imagination.

© 2010 Sue Walker

Visit Sue Walker’s website for more information about the author and her books!

"Undercover Readers logo"Alphabet Soup magazine is celebrating the launch of Undercover Readers (our new reviewers club for kids)!  If you’d like to join the Undercover Readers Club, you’ll find an information pack you can download from the Alphabet Soup website. As part of the celebrations, we have a different children’s author or illustrator visiting Soup Blog each day until 29 June 2010 to talk about what they used to read after ‘lights out’ when they were growing up.

Posted in authors

Meet Leanne Davidson, author of Quizzical!

Leanne Davidson wrote her first book, Quizzical, and decided to publish it herself. After it won joint first prize in the 2006 Australian Best Self-Published Book Award for Fiction, it was picked up by The Five Mile Press, and re-released in 2008. The sequel, Money Bags, followed in 2009, and The Five Mile Press also published chapter book, Alby and the Cat. We asked Leanne to visit us today to talk about her success story!

What do you like most about being a writer?

There are so many things I like about being a writer, it’s hard to choose the one I like most!  I really enjoy visiting schools, though, and meeting the children who read my books.  I find that really rewarding.

Are there any downsides to being a writer?

Not for me.  I would happily write for the rest of my life if people continued to enjoy my books. I just wish I had more time to write, and that I was better known so that I could write full-time instead of having to work as well!

What brought you to write your first book?

I have always loved to write, ever since I was a young child. As I grew older, it became a hobby I loved to do in my spare time.  I have a very bad habit of starting stories and not finishing them, so one day I decided to write a story from an idea that had formed in my head, and finish it.

My mum and dad had a racehorse, and whenever it raced we would go and watch it.  My dad is blind, so I used to read the paper to him and tell him the names of the other horses in the race. I noticed that a horse called ROYGBIV often raced at the same races our horse raced at and I thought, ‘What a strange name for a racehorse!  I wonder how it got that name?’  Only a couple of weeks later a story appeared in a Melbourne paper about that very horse and how it was named after the colours of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. I thought to myself: ‘What a great way to remember the colours of the rainbow’ and thought what a good idea it would be to write a story using similar methods that might  help children remember things in their everyday lives. That’s how ‘Quizzical’ was born.

At the moment I prefer to write for children, possibly because I have three of my own, but one day I might consider an adult novel.

Why did you decide to self-publish your first book?

It was always a secret ambition of mine to actually have a book published so that people could read it, but as a young girl I lacked confidence, and I didn’t think that could ever happen, although I continued to write for the mere enjoyment of it. Then, I married and had children, and when they became involved in their various sporting pursuits I became involved in committees and generally helped out on a voluntary basis, which helped my confidence.

By the time I reached the age of 40 I had the ‘Quizzical’ idea in my head and one weekend I sat down and wrote it as a short story. I sent it off to a major publisher – I don’t know what I was thinking! – and although they wouldn’t accept the manuscript for publication, they did send back a very nice letter saying the story was very well written and they had enjoyed it very much. I refused to give up, and instead put it aside for a bit, trying to think of a way to make it better. I decided to expand it into a novel, with the characters and story expanded.

I also decided to do a writing course, the Diploma of Professional Children’s Writing, by correspondence, not only to learn more about writing for children, but also to have an unbiased tutor look at my writing. The course was brilliant. I used some of the chapters of my book as assignments, and when my tutor told me I was very talented, that was all the inspiration I needed to finish my book. I thought about sending it in to publishers, but it can be such a long process waiting to hear back from them, usually with a rejection, and I didn’t want my confidence dented. So, I spoke to my husband, who was very supportive, and we decided to self-publish it.

Although ‘putting myself out there’ was a very scary prospect for me, I felt very confident that things would turn out okay. I can’t explain it, really. I am a very motivated person, and I’m not afraid of hard work, so I was prepared to do whatever it took to get the book out there for kids to read.

Fortunately, we have a book distribution company in the next town on from us, and I initially made some enquiries there. I was put on to someone who ‘might be interested’ in helping me, and that someone was Allan Cornwell, who lived in Melbourne at the time. He was a small member publisher with the Australian Book Group, and had self-published his own books as well as those by other authors, including Michael Salmon. He read my manuscript and wanted to help me publish it. He also suggested I have it edited, and forwarded it onto a lady named Nan McNab who, as well as editing some of Allan’s work, also edited for Penguin, Pan McMillan and The Five Mile Press. She now edits all of Bryce Courtenay’s books, so I feel very privileged that she wanted to edit my work, too! The result was Quizzical, a book I’m very proud of.

Five Mile Press then took over as publisher of Quizzical and Money Bags. Can you tell us about that?Puzzle Palace cover

In 2006, Quizzical won the ‘Best Australian Self-Published Book Award for Fiction’, a competition run through the NSW Writers’ Centre. Subsequently, Five Mile Press contacted me and offered me a contract to re-release it with a new cover, along with the sequels, Money Bags and Puzzle Palace. They also published a short chapter book I wrote called Alby and the Cat as part of their Ripper Reads series.

Where do you get your ideas?

As any author would tell you, you can get your ideas from anywhere. Some ideas are inspired by events that happen in your life, but things happen all around us every day that would make great stories.

Of your own books, which is your favourite?

Hmmm.  That’s a tricky one. Quizzical would rate highly because I never thought in a million years I’d put myself out there by self-publishing a book and be prepared to be ridiculed if the book was a failure. Thankfully it wasn’t, and I’m surprised at the number of people who’ve come up to me since and told me how much they admire my courage. Then there’s Alby and the Cat. That was written from the heart. My dad was blinded in an industrial accident many years ago and had a beautiful black Labrador as a guide dog for 13 years. Ever since, I’ve wanted to write a story about guide dogs so that people were more informed about what they do, how important they are in society, and what a difference they make in the life of a visually impaired person.

Are you working on a book at the moment? Alby and the Cat: Showbusiness, cover

I spent most of last year writing, with two upcoming books being released in April/May: Puzzle Palace, the third in my Quizzical series, and Alby and the Cat: Showbusiness, the second of my books about Alby the guide dog.

Do you have any advice for young writers?

Keep writing, about anything and everything.  Enter competitions, and subscribe to groups such as the Fellowship of Australian Writers or the NSW Writers’ Centre, both of which have writing competitions aimed at all age groups. Last, but definitely not least, don’t give up and never be afraid to dream, because dreams do come true – I am the perfect example of that!

You can find out more about Leanne Davidson and her books at her website,

Posted in authors, Events

A picture book’s journey, with Claire Saxby

Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate

Australian author, Claire Saxby, is on a blog tour with her new picture book, Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate (illustrated by Judith Rossell.) Today we are talking to Claire about how she goes about writing a book, the illustrations in a picture book, and how long it takes for a picture book to be published.

How did you get your idea for the story of Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate?
I don’t actually remember where the original idea came from. I think it started with the creaking gate as I liked the idea of the silence and tranquility of the countryside being interrupted by the grating sound as Sheep became dissatisfied with her lot.

Where do you write your stories?
I generally write directly to the computer. I always travel with a notebook and will jot down ideas but I’ve become so accustomed to drafting on computer that I seldom draft on paper. However, when I’m stuck, I do use paper and pen, or even pencil. I just write and do the ‘what if?’ thing over and over until I work out where I need to take the story. When I do use a notebook, I only write on one side of the page, using the other side for notes, or facts I need to research

What do you do with drafts of the book once the book is published? Do you throw them away?
I tend to keep drafts. I’m not good at throwing much away although I do usually file them quite neatly! I’ll print out really different drafts, or save them as separate documents, particularly if the new draft is going in a really different direction. It’s like insurance, in case the new draft just loses its way. It’s always interesting to look back at the early drafts and see how a story has changed.

How do you come up with a title for your books? Does the title come to you before you write the story?
I love titles. I love finding the right title for each story. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes the title even comes first, but not always. Then I do use paper and pen/pencil. I write down words or potential titles and keep doing it until I find the perfect title. If the story has changed a lot, often the title needs to change to reflect that. For Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate, the title came quite early although the story changed a lot through the drafting. I toyed with the idea of using specific names for the characters, but returned to the generic ‘sheep’ and ‘goat’. I’m not really sure why, but names can sometimes be too specific.

Do you ever change the title after you’ve written the story?
Sometimes, as above. But sometimes a publisher will suggest that the title change. There can be many reasons for this. For one book I did, the title was too similar to the previous one. Not in subject or style, but just in how they sounded. The title I had was also similar to another book still in print and the publisher felt this could cause confusion. That was an interesting process as I also decided to change the name of the character … even harder than changing the title. It took several weeks before I found an alternative character name that was a good fit. Then the title was easy.

Did you meet with an editor in person, or discuss your book via email?
There’s a bit of both, depending on where the publisher is. For Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate I met once with the editor face-to-face, but then we were in touch via email. Roughs (pencil sketches) and proofs (full colour art with some or all layout) are either emailed or posted to me and then there are phone and/or email discussions.

What does an editor say to you?
It varies with the project. Sometimes it’s global things, like ‘The text is a bit long, can you look at tightening it?’ Other times it can be very specific. I had an email conversation (several emails) about the placement and use of punctuation. After sketches and proofs the discussion will be about the relationship between text and illustrations and also about the layout.

Is it hard to make changes? Do you have to make the changes that an editor suggests, or can you say ‘no’ sometimes?
It can be hard, but producing a picture book is a collaboration despite the writing coming first, then the illustrations. Sometimes the changes are easy because a fresh set of eyes can point out something which then seems really obviously out of place. Other times, the changes will be about being clearer about my intention. Then I’ll clarify in discussion what I was trying to say, and the editor/publisher will say whether or not that’s been clear. Sometimes that leads to changes, sometimes tweaks, occasionally more. Editing for length can be tricky, but it’s all about making the book as strong as possible and leaving room for the illustrator to work their magic.

Do you make suggestions for the illustrations, or leave it to the publishing team and the illustrator to decide?
I generally don’t have a sense of what my characters look like unless it’s relevant for the plot (and it often isn’t). I am always very excited to see the first sketches to see what my characters look like from the outside. I write looking out through their eyes so don’t see what they look like to others. Most publishers prefer not to have any illustration suggestions, as it may limit the illustrator. There are times where I might put a very brief ‘Note for illustration’, but not often.

Do you see the illustrations before the book is published?
It varies but usually I’ll see a rough outline of the whole book. Then I’ll see coloured images, sometimes one or two, and then proofs when some layout and design has been done. Sometimes I’ll see a character sketch first, before the roughs are done. It’s always very exciting and I generally wear out my family and friends showing them everything!

When you’ve written a story, how long does it take before it is published?
Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate was accepted in mid 2007, so it will be just over two years from acceptance to release. That might seem a long time, but is fairly average in the world of picture books. It can take much longer. I have several other projects that have been longer in production. The timing has many components. Once the publisher accepts the manuscript then there is the search for the illustrator. Then the illustrator has to schedule in the time (up to six months or more) that it might take to do the illustrations. Next there is design and layout time and then printing. It’s a long process.

Are you working on another project now? Can you tell us anything about it?
I’m always working on several projects at once. They will generally be at different stages and of different length. Some will be at the research and reading stage, others in first, second, tenth draft form. For example, I’m working on a poem about a beautiful old tree in our street that has just been cut down, a picture book manuscript about a critically-endangered Australian animal, a historical novel set in early Melbourne and a non fiction biography.

Do you have any tips for budding authors?

Claire Saxby
Claire Saxby

Read and write. Simple as that, hard as that. Read widely because it helps a writer understand their world. Read for fun. Just read. And write. Know that your first draft will not be perfect, but by practising a writer will discover their voice. Write shopping lists, write letters, write novels and poems. Eventually you will learn how you most want to write and to make your work sing.

You can find out more about Claire Saxby and her books by visiting her website.
Ebi's BoatA Nest for KoraAmazing Humpback Whales

And follow her on her blog tour!:

Monday 17August:
Tuesday 18 August: (You’re here!)
Wednesday 19 August:
Thursday 20 August:
Friday 21 August:
Saturday 22 August:
Sunday 23 August:
Monday 24 August:

Posted in authors, Events

Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate!

Have you ever wondered how long it takes for a picture book to be published? Does an author have to make the changes that the editor suggests? Does the author need to tell the illustrator what to draw?Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate

Come and visit us on Tuesday 18 August when we are talking to Claire Saxby, the author of picture book Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate. She’ll be answering those questions (and more!).

Claire is taking the book on a blog tour. Here are the other stops on her tour:

Mon 17August: Dee White

Tues 18 August: Rebecca Newman (You’re here!)

Wed 19 August: Mabel Kaplan:

Thurs 20 Aug: Sandy Fussell:

Fri 21 August: Dale Harcombe

Sat 22 August: Sally Murphy

Sun 23 August: Robyn Opie

Mon 24 August: Sally Odgers:

Claire Saxby
Claire Saxby