On Food, Dinosaurs and Nuns – Best (and Quirkiest) Quotes from the 2018 WritingNSW Kids & YA Festival

Yes, it was that time again! Time for Australia’s kidlit writers to come out to play at last Saturday’s WritingNSW Kids and YA Festival.

It’s hard to believe two years have passed since the last Kids and YA Festival at WritingNSW (you can read my round-up of the last festival here if you’d like your memory jogged.) This year’s event was just as wonderful, with quotes flying left, right and everywhere. Some of you know how much I love a good writing quote, so I thought I’d base this year’s round-up on the best (and quirkiest) quotes I heard.

Here are a few of my favourites from the day:

KYAFest18 JacquieJacqueline Harvey, best-selling author of the Alice-Miranda, Clementine Ross, and Kensy and Max series (with me in left pic), on how to have a best-selling series – “Fall in love with your characters and have great plots. Don’t dumb plots down; they can be complicated.”

And Jacqueline doing a little cheeky name-dropping – “Marcus Zusak (author of the best-seller, The Book Thief) told me to think of the obvious and do the opposite.”

Belinda Murrell, author of the Lulu Bell, Timeslip, and Pippa’s Island series (with me in pic below), gave some cold hard facts – “In 60% of kid’s books, males are the central character. 20% had no girls who speak.” KYAFest18 BelindaAnd if that’s not disturbing enough, Belinda (who was also Festival Director) added that, “Boys speak twice as often in books as girls do.” Gender bias rears its ugly head again…

But on a lighter note from Belinda: “You must back your protagonist. And include yummy food.” 🙂

KYAFest18 OliverWhich led us to hilarious comedy writer, Oliver Phommavanh (in right pic). When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up – “A dinosaur.” 🙂

Yvette Poshoglian, author of the Ella and Olivia series, on growing that thick skin – “You never get the words to the page without critical feedback. Sometimes you just have to back yourself as a writer.”

Then there was writer, publisher and educational consultant, Louise Park – “Education publishing is a good way to get published. And it’s usually a flat fee so you know what (and how much) you’ll be paid.”

And YA writer, Megan Jacobson – “We do teen readers a disservice by not writing about the dark issues.”

As well as YA debut author, Eleni Hale – “Imagination is something we don’t talk about enough.”

And novelist and critic, James Bradley – “All writing is about vulnerability.”

KYAFest18 GarthBefore we came to Aussie fantasy writing legend, Garth Nix (in left pic). Garth on writing voices – “I’m often asked how I write women’s perspectives but never asked how I write the voices of fantastical monsters.”

And Garth on writing fantasy – “When I start out trying to work contemporary realism, something creepy always happens…and once I draw the map, it’s all over.”

KYAFest18 KateThen there was Kate Forsyth, Australia’s historical fiction queen (in right pic), on the business of writing – “An author needs to be the engine of their own success.”

And Jaclyn Moriarty (yes, one of those Moriarty sisters) on writing rules – “You often read rules about writing, like ‘write every day’, which makes me feel insecure, because I don’t.”

The very funny R.A.Spratt on earning a writing income – “Being a children’s author is like being a nun…you get no money and you’re basically doing it out of the goodness of your heart.” 😉

As multi-media creative, Graham Davidson, noted – “This is the age of digital disruption, after all.”

So what entices the reluctant reader? What drags kids away from their gadgets and devices?

Laughter.

Of the Top Ten children’s books sold in Australia last year , nine were humorous (all with male authors). The other was fantasy (with a female author). Go figure.

And the quote to end all quotes must come from Belinda Murrell: “I met my publisher in a pub”. Yes, people, it can be done…

On that note, until next time,

Happy writing, 🙂

Rebecca

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Books Are Just Books – Jacqueline Harvey on the KidLit Gender Debate

Hi all,

back in March, I shared a post from American author Shannon Hale, where she detailed her experience with gendered reading while on her book tour for her mega successful PRINCESS ACADEMY series. If you missed it, you can find it here.

Australian blogger, Megan Daley, recently interviewed Jacqueline Harvey, Australian author of the hugely successful Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose series, and the new Kensy and Max series, about the gender debate in children’s books. You can find Megan’s interview here on her literary wonder of a website, childrensbooksdaily.com.

NSWWCKIDSYA4I first met Jacqueline two years ago at WritingNSW’s Kids and YA Festival in Sydney, where I fangirled her on behalf of my daughter – that’s me with Jacquie on the right 🙂 (and I hope to catch up with her again at the same festival later this month).

Since then, we have connected through social media (which pleases my daughter to no end), and I can honestly say that, not only is Jacquie a wonderful storyteller but she is also a passionate advocate for children’s literary – and a lovely individual!

Anyway, back to Megan’s post…I was struck by the similarities in Shannon and Jacquie’s experiences. Both had visited schools where assumptions had been made by staff that boys would not be interested in their books so were, therefore, denied the opportunity to hear them speak.

As Jacquie says in Megan’s post:

“When I’ve asked where the boys are, I’ve been met with, ‘Well you know we didn’t think they’d enjoy your talk because your books are for girls.’ At which point my head is about to explode.”

This raises the question, so eloquently asked by Jacquie:

“Why do parents (and some teachers and librarians too in my experience) maintain that there are books for boys and books for girls. I tell kids that’s not true – there are just books – lots of them are great, some of them are not so great, some have a female main character and others have males at the heart of the story – lots of them have boys and girls in the cast. So why is it still such an issue?”

Why is that?

And are girls also denied access to school visits by kidlit authors of books with male main characters? I think not to the same extent (the likes of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson come to mind), but maybe I am wrong.

Or does it come down to kidlit books being “gender judged”, to some degree, by the artwork on their covers?

What do you think? I’d love your thoughts,

Rebecca

 

DD Time – Reading Aloud to Kids, to Preteen Years and Beyond

Hi all,

my husband has a ritual. Make that, my husband and my twelve-year-old daughter have a ritual.

Every night before sleep (or every night they can), they snuggle up on my daughter’s bed to read aloud. My husband reads a chapter or two, then my daughter.

It’s DD time, private Dad-Daughter time. Always has been.

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It’s the time when they share an imaginary world to which no one else has access – me included.

It’s a time where questions are asked and answers explored: What does that word mean? Why did she do that? What do you think will happen next? Did you see that coming?

According to the Read Aloud findings in Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report of 2016, only 17% of parents of kids ages 9–11 read aloud to their children. Yet 83% of kids ages 6–17 say being read to is something they either loved or liked a lot. What a disparity.

While the benefits of reading (enhanced literary skills, expanded world view and understanding of humanity, etc.) are obvious to most, it’s the relationship between the reader and the one being read to, that comes to mind for me as a key reason to read to your children. And while my daughter and I share many special experiences, I love witnessing the beauty and longevity of DD time (even if only by sneaking a look from her bedroom doorway).

pexels-photo-256546.jpegI wonder how long it will last, if my daughter will no longer want DD time once she starts high school in a matter of months. If it will not be cool.

I don’t believe she’ll stop reading novels. It’s in her psyche, part of who she is.

But I hope she’ll continue to be one of those 83% who enjoy being read too.

As much for her, as for her father. And for me.

Rebecca

Do you/did you read to your children? If it has stopped, at what age and why?

Blurring the Relationship – Agents Offering Pay-For-Service Editorial Critiques

Yes, it happens. We know it does.

After setting the first draft of my middle grade manuscript aside to ferment for a while, I’ve stepped up my agent search to find those most suitable to query my completed YA novel. And in this search, I’m discovering more and more agents openly offering to critique queries and manuscript pages. For a fee. pexels-photo-905877.jpeg

This has given me pause, for isn’t this in breach of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) Canon of Ethics? (Note: I am searching US agents, hence the reference to the AAR.)

For those unaware what the Canon of Ethics covers, here’s the link, but basically, #8 states that the AAR, the membership organization of more than 400 professional agents, believes that “the practice of literary agents charging clients or potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works (including outlines, proposals, and partial or complete manuscripts) is subject to serious abuse that reflects adversely on our profession. For that reason, members may not charge clients or potential clients a fee for reading and evaluating literary works and may not benefit, directly or indirectly, from the charging for such services by any other person or entity.”

More than one of the agents found to be advertising pay-for-service critiques are members of the AAR, yet only one of these AAR members makes it clear that subsequent queries will be refused from authors who have paid this particular agent to critique work.

But regardless of whether an agent is a member or not, isn’t this a case of ethics?

Whatever it is, it managed to leave an unpleasant taste in my mouth and make me wary. Put it this way, I’ve put too much ink, sweat, and tears into my writing career to trust it to an agent I may struggle myself to trust.

“They’re not worth your time,” a prominent US agent advised, when I asked for her opinion on agents who advertise pay-for-editorial/query critiques.

For me at least, it threatens to blur the author/agent relationship and what it entails. I want an agent whose integrity I won’t question, who invests in my career for the long haul. I don’t want an agent who sees me purely as a way to earn a quick dollar or two.

It reminds me of a quote from Janet Reid, literary agent with New Leaf Literary and Media: “Money should flow toward the writer.” In other words, not the other way. (I love Janet’s blog. If you don’t know it, it’s well worth checking out. She says it like it is with a cracking sense of humor. 🙂 )

So to all of you currently in the query trenches, please do your research.

I’m doing mine.

Wishing you every success,

Rebecca

Would love your thoughts. Is this simply a sign of cash-strapped times for the publishing industry? And what about paid-for critique sessions at conferences, workshops, etc? How do they differ? And do paid-for critiques to agents offer an unfair advantage to those most able to pay? That last one could be a whole new post 😉

Hallmarks of (Nearly) Half a Century

“We all have marks on our face,” Isabel tells her son in the big-screen adaptation of R.J.Palacio’s bestselling book, Wonder. “This is the map that shows us where we’ve been.”

Yep, I’ve got quite a few marks of my own. Like the grey hairs, they’re increasing every year. Unlike the grey hairs, they’re not as easy to hide (well, make up can only do so much).

But the lines on my face are not the reason I’m facing away from the camera in the photo on the right. Last weekend, my husband surprised me with an early birthday present, a long weekend away in New Caledonia (for those who are unaware, New Caledonia is a French territory of islands that lie a couple of hours flight time east of Australia). And it was here my husband took this photo, on a near-deserted beach late one afternoon.

I was studying the horizon, mentally reliving the map of where I’ve been and what I’ve experienced, following my map’s twisting contours and meandering pathways in my mind’s eye. And wondering where the next five, ten, fifty years will take me. For I’m about to turn fifty (hence the special trip away – hey, this is not normally something we get to do for a birthday 🙂 )

Switzerland hammockBut rather than lament the loss of my youth, although that is tempting, I appreciate that I’ve reached this age.

I know some who have not, as I’m sure you do.

I’ve had many ups and downs, as I’m sure you have.

My scars and blemishes, both visible and not, are hallmarks of my life so far. They are personal, unique.

They have been earned.

They are mine.

As for what else is in store, what other marks may be added?

We’ll see.

 

There’s Nothing Wrong with Princesses

Hi all,

rust-king-iron-bronze.jpgthought I’d share an interesting post on gendered reading from Shannon Hale, author of the hugely successful PRINCESS ACADEMY series. This post highlights her experiences while on tour for the latest book in the series.

While reactions to her book from some parents, librarians, and teachers are interesting (but not surprising), the reactions from some boys (Logan in particular) suggest that young readers are ready for change, a change long overdue.

As Shannon says in her post:

“Adults are the ones with the weird bias. We’re the ones with the hangups, because we were raised to believe thinking that way is normal. And we pass it along to the kids in sometimes  overt (“Put that back! That’s a girl book!”) but usually in subtle ways we barely notice ourselves.”

Food for thought 🙂

Until next time,

Happy writing,

Rebecca

 

When the Dove Flies – the Passing Away of a Friend

I’m in shock after hearing news of the passing away of a writer friend I met at the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City in August 2016.

I’m in shock, not only because she was such a beautiful spirit, taken so soon, but also because she was on the cusp of realizing a dream so many writers hold dear.

I first met my friend online, after joining the Facebook group established for the conference. Realizing I was coming all the way from Australia and that I only knew a few attendees, she invited me to a dinner she was organizing for the night before the conference opened. An informal get-to-know-your-fellow-attendees dinner, where we took up four long tables of a bustling Italian-style restaurant and talked, and talked. And talked.

It was a great night at the start of a wonderful conference of learning and laughter.

After I returned to Australia, we continued a long-distance friendship via Twitter and Facebook. Over time, our communication via tweets, comments, and likes became sporadic, yet I managed to stay informed of the progress of her dreams, as I believe she did of mine.

Her last Facebook post I remember reading was one where she excitedly announced that her Kickstarter campaign to fund the publishing of her picture book had raised more than 50% of its target on the first day. I was so happy for her.

Then life got in my way, as it does. The thought of checking in on her campaign slipped from my mind.

Yesterday, I learned from a fellow conference attendee that this lovely person passed away unexpectedly right after the launch of the campaign.

I couldn’t believe it. After twenty-four hours to digest this tragic news, I’m still struggling.

My heart aches for her husband, two children, and greater circle of family and friends.

And it aches for her, that she never lived to see her dream become a reality.

Life is often far too short. I guess that’s what makes it so precious.

Rest in peace, K.

How Many Self Published Books Have You Read over the Last Twelve Months?

How many self published books have you read over the last twelve months?

I was asked this question on the weekend.

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My answer, after much deliberation, (after all, I have read a LOT of books over the last twelve months) was:

None.

Yep, none. I’m pretty sure I have not read ANY self published books in the last year. Okay, I’ll hang my head in shame – or try to defend myself by saying there may have been one or two which were self published FIRST, but I only discovered and read them AFTER they were subsequently traditionally published.

And there lies the key word: discovered.

Most writers know that one of the main drawbacks of self publishing is discoverability, getting your literary masterpiece noticed by the masses (readers) when it is only one of the hundreds of thousands of masses (books) clogging the likes of Amazon. Make that, millions clogging the likes of Amazon. I remember a statistic from the Writer’s Digest Conference I attended eighteen months ago, that there are now (well, as of 2016) more than 3.5 million books up on Amazon.

pexels-photo-267447.jpeg

Now I don’t care how refined your search is, you’ll still end up with loads of books to choose from, loads of books all screaming for your attention (and dollar). A self publisher needs to be, or have in their corner, someone who gets their book noticed in among all that screaming.

Anyway, I’m getting off the point, and my point is, I like to read. Whether it’s traditionally published or self published is irrelevant. As long as the book’s premise grabs me, the prose is entertaining, and the quality high, I’ll consider it. But I need to discover it first.

So tell me, how many self published books have you read lately?

Have you read any you would recommend, and why?

And if you’ve self published, how has the experience been for you? (Feel free to plug your work in the comments below!)

However you get your creativity out in the world, I wish you the best of luck,

Rebecca

The Writing Break I Had to Have

Hi all, and a huge welcome to 2018,

sunset 2

The sun set on 2017 with me in desperate need of a creative recharge after a busy year of writing, editing, querying and travelling. When you’re a mother of three juggling work-from-home commitments with a family life reminiscent of an out-of-control octopus, the brain can feel a little fried come December – especially when you top off your year with a NaNoWriMo 50,000-word burst. Just to add more to an already full plate. 

Sorry to complain but, come December, I felt that I’d done a bloody lot of work with minimal result, other than a spreadsheet of queried agents for one manuscript (not to mention 50,000 words requiring major editing for the next).

You see, there was the querying for my completed YA novel. I’d extensively researched the publishing industry and picked agents I believed (and still believe) to be the best fit for my story. I’d prepared query letters specific to each agent, detailing why I was querying them, and had sent accompanying manuscript pages to those who preferred them. I’d received some partial and full requests for my manuscript, much to my excitement, and had promptly sent them off.

Fast forward to today: I’ve yet to hear back from several of the agents who requested my material, even after a polite follow-up many months after it was sent. Other agents have responded, all with a pass, but many with comments that implied I was close, soooo close. Two commended me on the strength of my writing, asked if I was working on anything else, and followed that up with a request to read my next work when it is ready. Positive stuff. But still a pass so far for my queried manuscript.

As the end of the year loomed, I sat back and thought about all of the work I had done in 2017 and on what had, and had not, come to pass. So to speak.

And I realized something.

For the first time in years, I wasn’t enjoying my writing. I wasn’t having fun. Why? Because my year had centered around output: what I produced, how much I produced, how many agents I queried. Yes, I’ve had many stories and feature articles published, but I yearned to be a published novelist. Writing became a pursuit of this goal, a goal I have yet to attain. It simply became work. And all work, no play, does not a happy writer make.

I remembered writing the first draft of my YA novel. I’d head to the library or cafe with no preconceived ideal of what I would achieve, not in terms of word count or completed scenes, not in terms of viability and publishing. Although I had an outline, I wrote the detail of my story from the well of inspiration that bubbles to the surface once words start to form on the page. I wrote for sheer joy. (Actually, most of my published work to date has been written from this place.)

I missed that experience.

And I realized something else. I wasn’t reading half as much as I used to – between researching and querying, there was little time for that. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE reading.

So I decided to take two months off, two months away from my self-imposed treadmill. Other than a couple of blog posts, I have not written ANYTHING since November. Or queried any more agents. I’ve done other things – celebrate Christmas, for a start, and take an interstate family trip. Things that remind me I am not only a writer.

And I’ve read. And read. And read. I’ve read a stack of novels, for the first time or the second, for fun or to examine. I’ve read writing books and taken notes on key points. I’ve also consolidated agent comments, and pinpointed areas in my writing to strengthen. And bookmarked upcoming conferences and workshops to help rectify weaknesses as well as build on my existing writing community.

I’m reminding myself what I love about writing.

I’m doing all this as, at the end of the day, any book of mine that is published is nothing without ME. It’s nothing without someone who relishes what she has created, who is confident in what she has created, and who enjoys the process of creating it.

Kallista sunset

When the sun rises on February, I’ll return from my self-imposed exile. I’m reinvigorated. I feel I’m ready. And I plan to have fun.

I hope you have fun, wherever your creativity takes you,

Rebecca

P.S. Apologies – this post is longer than most, but it was important to say 🙂

Have you ever taken a break from your writing or other creative pursuit? Why did you take it, and was it beneficial?

 

 

2017 – the Year I Accelerated my Leaps of Faith

Whew!

It’s hard to believe that the door will soon close on another year. For me, 2017 has many highlights, mainly because it’s the year I’ve accelerated my leaps of faith, trusting myself to take chances I’d previously hesitated to take.

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My watershed actually occurred in August 2016, when I traveled from Australia to New York to attend and pitch my first novel manuscript at the Writer’s Digest Conference. It was the first time I’d actively promoted my writing and myself as a writer, face to face, to industry insiders. My publishing success up to that date had all come from submitting articles and short stories via email (let’s face it, it’s easier to put yourself out there when cyberspace is between you and those you hope to impress).

I made countless friends at the conference, and learnt soooo much about the world of writing and publishing. I also realized how much more I needed to do, to practice, to learn.

And how much I wanted to do it.

Upon my return to Australia, I made a conscious effort, wherever possible, to eliminate the negativity that had previously attacked my self-esteem, and threatened to derail my hopes and dreams. I actively connected with writer friends, joined Facebook groups, attended more workshops and conferences, and discovered the world of podcasts.

Climbing into the query trenches, I sought strength from passes on my manuscript, considered constructive comments, and experienced joy with positive feedback and offers to consider my next work.

And I’ve continued to write.

Blog posts.

Short stories.

And a new novel, middle grade this time. I thrashed out its outline a few months ago and wrote most of a first draft during NaNoWriMo in November. I’ll revisit it – hopefully with fresh eyes – in the New Year.

The writing community, within Australia and abroad, has been wonderful in its willingness to support, advise, and encourage emerging writers such as myself. In turn, I have tried to pay it forward, offering whatever help I can to others on this roller-coaster journey. We’re all in this together.

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This time, my trip to the Colosseum included a visit to the dungeons and the third (top) tier. Incredible.

My other leap of faith this year was deciding the bills could wait and revisiting Europe, nineteen years after my first jaunt there and nineteen years after I met my husband (also there). We returned this time with our three kids in tow!

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The view from our Paris apartment – a special surprise for my daughter.

On this glorious seven-week trip, I met a nephew for the first time, re-experienced architectural and natural wonders through the eyes of my offspring, and even found some time for writing research 🙂

Leaps of faith can offer wonderful opportunities and experiences, even in a year where parts of the world appear to have gone mad.

Hope your year has been memorable, and your 2018 brings you everything you desire.

Chat then,

Rebecca

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Canal boat cruising across the Pontscyllyte Aqueduct in Wales, the highest aqueduct in the world. Cheers, while my fifteen-year-old son steers!