Julia Lawrinson is an award-winning writer of more than a dozen books for children and young adults. Her books are about friendship, family and the occasional Jack Russell. We’re very pleased to be chatting to Julia today about her latest book Mel and Shell.
From the publisher:
It’s 1979. Swedish pop group ABBA rules the airwaves, rollerskating is cool, and Mel and Shell are best friends. There’s nothing they like more than making up dances to ABBA songs, and there’s nothing they like less than Scary Sharon and Stinky Simon. But things are changing, fast. Confiding in her pen pal from 1829, Shell discovers she has a lot to learn about loyalty, honesty and rollerskating.
How did you come to write a book set in 1979?
In 1979 I was in year five, and it was a hugely exciting year to be a kid. ABBA was at its most popular, rollerskating was huge, Doctor Who with Tom Baker was my favourite show, and BMX was just taking off. It was also the 150th anniversary of English settlement in Western Australia, so everyone was given a diary with lots of olden day pictures, which fascinated me.
You incorporate two timeframes from history in the book – 1979, when the book is set, and 1829, which the main character is learning about in year 5. How much did you need to research before you began writing the novel?
A lot! I went to the State Library and looked at all the old newspapers on clunky old machines called microfiche, to see what was happening in the first half of 1979, and also to remember what television shows were on when. I also had to make sure I had the right information about who was on what ships coming from England, and what happened to them on the way.
OK, we have to ask – are you an ABBA fan yourself?
ABBAsolutely! I still have an ABBA calendar every year, sent to me by my best friend who lives in England. When we see each other we still dress up and pretend to be Anna and Frida.
If you found a way to time-slip back to 1979, what would be the first thing you’d do when you arrived?
Go rollerskating, buy a yo-yo, and watch Young Talent Time.
Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project?
My next project is my first picture book, set in 1962 in Perth, and features an astronaut. It will be out in June 2022 with Wild Dog Books.
Mel and Shell is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book shop or local library.
REVIEWED BY EMILY, 9, WA (IONA PRESENTATION COLLEGE)
Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows by Denis Knight and Cristy Burne, Hachette Australia, ISBN 9780734420190
Alphabet Soup provided a review copy of this book.
I found Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows to be a fascinating fantasy fiction adventure, but it is missing the absence of surprise when Wednesday made the portal back home. When Wednesday and Alfie fight off the laundry monster I imagined it wearing Alfie’s hat and I almost laughed so hard!
I enjoyed this story because of its detail and how each character showed perseverance and resilience to help family and friends. When I read Wednesday Weeks I had to notice its similarity to Scarlet and Ivy because both books try to help family and are about magic! I liked the skull, Bruce, because he was funny and helped Wednesday and Alfie.
Emily is a member of Iona Presentation College’s student reviewers’ team. This is her first review for Alphabet Soup. To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review,check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!
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.
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: … 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.
The Trials of Apollo: The Tyrant’s Tomb is a fascinating book. It is a fiction novel about mythological creatures, gods and other beliefs. Rick Riordan writes every one of his books with care. The initial storylines of these books are all set in the same world, but his stories and plots get more sophisticated as they continue on from the other stories within the series.
I really enjoyed this book, as it plays along with the main storyline of the series and refers to mythological elements from Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.
Overall, Rick Riordan’s books are all highly recommended!
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!
Okay – 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!
It’s Friday! And that means it’s time for Pass the Book Baton. Every week Alphabet Soup features a book creator who will answer one question before throwing a new question to the next Friday visitor. (It’s kind of like a book relay in slow motion.)
Today the book baton is passed to Deb Fitzpatrick.
Deb Fitzpatrick lives and works in Fremantle, WA and she writes novels for adults, young adults and children. Deb’s sixth novel, The Spectacular Spencer Gray, was published in mid 2017.
Last week Jen Storer asked Deb: “How long do you spend planning a book before you start writing it? Also, do you put people or animals you know into your stories? ”
I’m a pantser, I’m afraid, (that is: I fly by the seat of my pants and make it up as I’m going along, unlike a planner, who, well, plans and is sensible and orderly and grown up). So, I do very little planning for a book before I start writing it. I just launch on in and I love seeing what unfolds.
Teachers are often rather appalled when I admit this to kids, which I do at every opportunity. Kids seem to love that I’m barely more mature than they are. I make up my stories as I’m going along, and if, in the course of the writing, I need to stop and think things through, I just do it then. Of course, this does sometimes mean that I have to go back and rewrite bits of my story, but I’m okay with that. Can I tell you a secret? This must only be read in a barely-heard whisper … I get bored with writing a story that I have planned too closely. Writing to a plan, for me, takes away the magic of discovery that is creative writing. Shhhhh!!! Don’t tell your teachers!
I put versions of my two wonderful children in some of my books, but I always ask their permission before going ahead. Sometimes they don’t want certain things shared, and I respect that. I also get my kids to read a manuscript before I submit it to my publisher — so they can give me feedback, which I use!
Jacky Ha-Ha by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illustrated by Kerascoet Kerascoet, Little Brown & Co, ISBN 9780316262491
Jacky is known for her pranks, jokes and her stutter. Ever since she introduced herself as “My name is Jacky Ha-ha-hart,” in primary school, people made fun of her. She always played along, but middle school is a whole new area of trouble. She starts off with twenty detentions and is left with two options: get a double detention at home or go into a school play directed by a new teacher. But Jacky has another problem. Her loving mother is in Saudi Arabia because of war!
My favourite scene was the food fight at McDonalds. It started off as a rhyming competition and the loser was supposed to pay for all of the milkshakes. But in the end, everyone starts throwing pepper packets, squirting ketchup and mustard … even spraying Coke everywhere!
I also love the bit where Jacky and the people in the play put on a show for Jacky’s unwell Nona (her Italian grandmother) and the people in the old folks’ home. It is so heart-warming because her Nona is happy after the show. She couldn’t wipe the smile off her face.
The message of the book is that it’s ok to be yourself. Don’t let people mould you like some kind of clay. Cherish your personality because it doesn’t matter if other people don’t like it. I also learnt to not let the little things seem big. You have to let it go and just flip the page.
Demon Dentist by David Walliams, HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN 9780007453580
Cadence reviewed her own copy of this book.
David Walliams’ fascinating chapter book Demon Dentist combines horrific details, very cheerful endings with parts that would make you desperate to cry in an instant! Demon Dentist is a very emotional book. It includes petrifying moments, depressing chapters and pages that would blow your socks off by the way the mood changed from paranoid to like the way you just ate your favourite food! The interesting characters will dazzle you.
Alfie has already had an appalling time since he has lost his mother and now his father has been put in a wheelchair due to his shallow breathing. Now his extremely shy principal allows some new dentist — Miss Root — into their school. Ever since Miss Root arrived, the shortest girl in the school ‘Gabz’ has been stating that a witch had been flying around town stealing teeth and returning them with revolting items like ‘bats wings, fresh eyeballs’ and so on.
The first thing you noticed about Miss Root were her sparkling white teeth, and then to her black eyes that were as black as the darkest hour of midnight. With Alfie’s awesome eyes he even spotted a splat of red blood on Miss Root’s blinding white shoes. Although Miss Root sounds as nice as ever, why would she give away ‘MUMMY’S’ toothpaste that burned through stone and give free lollies that looked as if they were loaded with tons and tons of sugar.
This novel is really well written. This narrative gives you a bit of shock, happiness, and is yet very intriguing. David Walliams’ Demon Dentist should make you feel like you’re in the story. I would highly recommend this to people of all ages and even people who don’t like reading, because this fantastic book would definitely hook you in, make you want to just read and find out what’s going to happen and even want to read this whole novel over and over again.
Matilda borrowed this book from her local library.
Raymie’s father has run away with a dental hygienist. Raymie can think of only one way to get him back … she has to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire Competition so he can see her picture in the paper. She thinks that will make him come home. To win the competition she has to learn to twirl a baton, and she has to do good deeds.
Now she has a problem — how can she complete these good deeds? And her new friends Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski are also entering the competition. Louisiana really wants to win. And Beverly is planning to sabotage the competition.
Louisiana’s grandma is my favourite character, and I love the part where she yells, ‘Quick, get in the car, Marsha Jean is hot on our trail!’
This is the third book of Kate DiCamillo’s that I have read — I also enjoyed Because of Winn-Dixie, and The Tale of Despereaux. I recommend Raymie Nightingale for ages 8+. It shows that to have a good friendship you need to be a good friend.