Things I Took Away From the NSWWC Kids and YA Festival (Apart From Books)

Hi all,

last Saturday, I attended the New South Wales Writers Centre Kids and YA Festival. I thought I’d share snippets from each of the sessions I sat in on, as well as the pitch session at the end of the day at which I pitched (!!!)


YA and MG author, Tristan Bancks, opened the festival with a keynote address which had the audience laughing.

Tristan at work

Key (serious) points of his address for me were that:

  • writers that don’t wish to connect with their readers will not being published as often as those who do; and that
  • book trailers are effective in keeping kids engaged during presentations as they break up the talking and are visual.

The first of the split sessions that I attended was “Turning Facts Into Fiction” with Jan Latta, Pamela Rusby, Kylie Fornasier and Libby-Jane Charleston (chair).

Jan, Pamela, Kylie and Libby-Jane get the facts straight

Key points of this session include:

  • the importance of finding an angle no one else has covered
  • the importance of connecting your characters (and your readers) to the facts
  • the need to develop a system whereby you bookmark where you found a fact for future backtracking
  • not including a fact unless it moves the story forward; and that
  • research is like an iceberg – you only want to include the bit above the water (great quote from Pamela!)

Next was the session, “Writing For The World Stage”, where I grabbed a quick pic with Jacqueline Harvey, one of my daughter’s favourite authors (see below):


Jacqueline was a member of this panel, along with Sophie Masson (chair), Michelle Worthington and the ever bubbly Susanne Gervay.

Sophie, Michelle, Jacqueline and Susanne conquer the world

The key points of this packed session were:

  • the need to expose yourself as an author i.e. to get out there and let the market know who you are and what you have to offer
  • the importance of writing using an international language – books like the Dr. Seuss series do this well
  • the need to keep in mind cultural differences when writing – what is acceptable in one region may not be so in another more conservative part of the world; and
  • to be prepared to travel and make yourself available for promotion (this was a big point in my book, pardon the pun).

After a lovely lunch outside in the winter sunshine, I attended the session, “I Wrote A Series”. I was particularly interested in this session as I had never attended a festival or conference where story series had been discussed in any detail, even though series make up a large part of the MG and YA genres. The panel consisted of Wanda Wiltshire, Jodie Wells-Slowgrove, Chrissie Perry, Meredith Costain and Jessica Owen (chair).

Wanda, Jodie, Jessica, Chrissie and Meredith get serious about series

Key points include that:

  • non-sequential series are easier to sell than sequential (publishers often don’t put numbers on books now for this reason)
  • series are seen as less literary but more commercial
  • one of the key reasons series are popular is because kids love collectibles
  • it’s not uncommon to be contracted only for the first book (publishers will wait-and-see if it sells); and
  • authors who write series usually work on more than one book at a time eg. you may be writing the second while the first is still being edited by the publisher).

All that remained was the last session of the day (other than the pitch session – more on that soon). It was called “YA All The Way” and covered, yep, you guessed it, YA! Yay! The panel included Adele Walsh (chair), Steph Bowe, Will Kostakis, Tristan Bancks (the keynote speaker) and David Burton.

Adele, Steph, Will, Tristan and David compare their teenage years

The biggest point to come out of this session for me was that:

  • YA books are like their characters i.e. they include lots of firsts, extreme highs and lows, are honest and lean, and have the overriding belief that anything is achievable. Escapism is the key.

I loved the quote made during this session that YA books are popular because they are “ordinary books that people read”.

So this left us with the pitch sessions. Attendees were invited to drop their name and manuscript title into a box and, if drawn, were asked to deliver a three-minute pitch which included the first page of their manuscript. The listening panel included Tara Wynne (agent with Curtis Brown), Chren Byrng (ABC Children’s Books publisher), Holly Toohey (Random House publisher) and Dianne Bates (About Kids Books publisher and the panel chair).

The pitching panel of Dianne, Chren, Holly and Tara

On a whim, I decided to enter and, low and behold, my name was drawn out second (meaning I pitched straight after the winner of a recent twitter pitch competition also run by the Writers Centre!)

Here I’m waiting to be told to start (breathe…)

Was I nervous? You betcha!

Am I glad I did it? You betcha!

Did I win? No! However, having never pitched to agents and publishers before, let alone to a room full of wonderful writers, those three minutes and the feedback I was given was gold. It was also a great dress rehearsal for my August trip to New York City where I’ll be undertaking 90-second pitches of my YA manuscript to American agents (yikes!)

So that brought us to the end of the festival, closing with drinks and networking on the verandah.

What’s the biggest thing I took away? The new friendships I made. This writerly community is a close one, with encouraging mentors and wonderful support. I’m blessed to be part of it.

With Belinda Murrell, Jacqueline Harvey and Marie Davies (a fellow NYC-bound friend)

Until next time, I trust your writing makes you happy,






Top Ten Things Ten-Year-Old Girls Would Like to See More of in Books

Last week, a group of thirteen-year-old boys told me what they’d like to see in books. If you missed it, you can read it here:

Today, girls get their say.

Rhiannon Reading on Trampoline1

Only this time, I chose a slightly younger age. Not only did I want to see if gender made any significant difference to the requests, but also if middle grade preferences were vastly different to young adult.

So I gathered a group of eight ten-year-old girls and, after they’d had their fill of cupcakes and cookies, asked them to come up with their top five answers to the same question I’d put to the boys:

“What would you like to see more of in books?”

These are their top responses, from tenth to first:

10. Magic spells

9. Scary setting, like haunted houses

8. More pictures in chapter books

7. Sport stories – netball and equestrian were specifically mentioned

6. Bad guys not losing so easy (one girl even wanted the bad guys to “sometimes” win in the end)

5. Mysteries, not only in terms of plot but also in settings

4. Humour

3. Princess stories

2. Fashion industry settings

And the top answer was…

1. More drama (conflict) between friends, especially best friends

So there you have it. I must admit, I thought the top answer was very interesting. While the young adult boys’ top answer was humour and wisecracking jokes, the middle grade girls wanted friendships to be tested. Make of that what you will.

Happy writing,


The two groups used for this purpose were quite small, both only being eight in number. Do you think their answers accurately reflect the thoughts of young adult boys and middle grade girls in general? And why do you think their top answer is so different?

Top Ten Things Thirteen-Year-Old Boys Would Like to See More of in Books

Hi all,

Welcome to my Ten On… series, where I pose a question to a group of readers for their top ten answers on a topic.

Ten On

The manuscript I am currently working on is a contemporary fantasy novel targeted at the lower end of the young adult market i.e. twelve to fifteen-year-old readers. After being told by a publishing industry insider last week that, “Boys don’t want to read the same ‘types’ of books boys read twenty years ago” (a big generic statement, I know), I thought I’d get a group of thirteen-year-old boys together and put one question to them. I chose eight boys and asked them to each come up with five answers, without talking to or showing their companions, to the question below:

“What would you like to see more of in books?”

These are their top responses, from tenth to first:

10. Settings in out-of-space, but not necessary including aliens

9. Heroes and villains that aren’t too obvious/stereotypical eg. one boy said they could have similar personalities (this one I find especially interesting)

8. Settings in fantasy worlds reached through portals

7. Protagonists with major anger issues (another interesting one)

6. Medieval settings with dragons and knights

5. Race against time quests

4. Action fights

3. Twists that aren’t obvious – like to try to solve them

2. Protagonists they wish they could be like eg. due to their special powers or to their brains, courage or strength

and the top answer (drum roll please….)

1. Humour, humour, humour (yep, including that down-in-the-gutter type)

Hmm, now I don’t know about you, but I’d say that pretty much all of the above can be found in books dating back…forever?

Books really are timeless, don’t you think?

Happy writing,