How I Became a #MGWave’r

It’s been a pretty crazy year, but one thing that helped keep me sane was #MGWaves. What is #MGWaves, I hear you ask? Let’s start at the beginning…

I’m an Australian writer who believes you only live once. Which is why I do things like this:

I’m also an Australian writer whose publishing success to date has mainly consisted of a series of short stories and feature articles I wrote over a number of years for an Australian parenting magazine (if you don’t include the writing of annual reports, press releases, and technical reports that I did for government…) Anyway, when the magazine’s income dried up, my income from the magazine also vanished.

Not to worry, what I really wanted to do was write for Younger Me, not for parents. So I wrote a young adult novel which I queried. It received multiple partial and full requests, but…after two years of trying, no agent.

Not to worry, what I really REALLY wanted to do was write for Younger Younger Me. Middle Grade Me (middle grade is, after all, my sweet spot). It just took me a while to muster up the courage to try. When I found this courage, I wrote a novel about a chatterbox twelve-year-old who must rob a casino using an unusual (ahem!) skill, in order to save his little sister. I was thrilled when it received runner-up this year in the WritingNSW Varuna Fellowship. More on that here. In the meantime, let’s move on.

On a high from my runner-up award, I submitted to Pitch Wars and guess what! I WON! Well, I wasn’t selected as a mentee but I still won.

Let me explain.

Through one of the many ways that one finds things in the writing community (AKA Twitter), I joined a chat group of Pitch Wars middle grade applicants. The group was called Magnificent MG and like all things that turn out to be magnificent, I did NOT expect this group to be so…magnificent. Here was a group of wonderful writers that really understood my need to write middle grade. They got me. They also like Zoom.

Over the last few chatty zoomy months, through the highs and lows of writing, critiquing, querying, applying, and more writing, we’ve become closer than the plethora of middle grade books on my crammed bookshelf. We’ve shared highs and lows, and more than a few pics of dogs, cats, cooking, and kids. Our writing endeavours have rippled out into the world, gathering momentum to become waves. Naturally, this led to a change in name for the group.

Welcome to #MGWaves!

(As an aside, I’m also now in a Facebook group that, like #MGWaves, offers so much it’s a writer’s Christmas. It’s early days for me with this particular group, but I hope to give back as much as I can once 2021 kicks in. Because let’s face it, we are all paddling through the life we choose as writers in the best way we can.)

So what is the real point of this post? It’s to tell you to go out and find YOUR community. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, to ask for help. Keep showing up, keep putting yourself out there. Many writers will have the same fears, concerns, and hopes as you. And they’ll be nice. You never know, you might even form a group with a hashtag name!

I am grateful to have met mine, and to be riding the writing waves with them. Who knows where it will take us?

Interested to know more? Comment below. And while you’re at it, check out some of the amazing #MGWave’rs I’m proud to call my friends:

Malia Maunakea

Jennifer Mattern

Anushi Mehta

Daria Pipkin

Thushanthi Ponweera

Beth Gawlik

Susan Leigh Needham

Maureen Mirabito

Taylor Kemper

Sabrina Vienneau

The Excitement of the Unexpected Runner Up

Hi all,

I’m thrilled to bits to announce that my quirky middle grade manuscript has been selected as Runner Up in the 2020 Writing NSW Varuna Fellowship. I can hardly believe it (and my bumbling blabbermouth MC has not stopped talking about it in my head)!

Photo by Pixabay on

A HUGE thank you to the judges, Writing NSW, Text Publishing and the Varuna Writers’ House for the opportunity this award brings.

Click here if you are interested in learning more about the fellowship, including the winners, my fellow runner up (who happens to be a writer friend of mine so double the celebration!) and the highly commended.

Massive congrats to them all and I can’t wait to read their work one day!


Things I Took Away From the Writing NSW Speculative Fiction Festival (Apart From Friendship)

On a fog-smudged morning last weekend, I headed to Writing NSW’s Speculative Fiction Festival to lose myself in the literary world of science fiction, fantasy and horror. While my writing is more contemporary in nature, with just a smattering of fantasy elements thrown at its characters, I was interested in what those writing more “hard core” fantasy and scifi had to say.

Fog, fog, everywhere…fitting for a SpecFic festival, huh!  👀

I thought I’d share snippets of the festival conversations, first on the subjects of world building, story structure and characterisation:

  1. Always ask: “What if?” Ask yourself basic questions about place, characters. World building starts with a sense of people and place.

  2. Clearly define the rules (those obvious and not) of any magic systems you invent. Make those rules plausible, then come up with ways to break them without losing plausibility. Implausibility jars readers out of a story.

  3. Small details loom large. When world building details are done well, such as those that drop hints of what will happen next, mood is created. For instance, a character notices a half-eaten sandwich on a bench in a deserted farmhouse… 

  4. The complexity of human nature is what makes a book timeless. Character always comes first (authors like Stephen King understand this well). For example, it is not the monster in the closet, but the family with the monster in the closet that creates the greatest interest. How far you immerse readers into your characters before speculative elements take over is important.

  5. What is your character’s main driver? Use it! For instance, a wanderer would hate to be locked up, so lock him up! 

  6. Don’t be cliche. For example, don’t create a religion that is a caricature of an existing religion. Don’t be overly critical of existing religions but, by the same token, don’t let them dictate the premise of your book.

  7. The past is a foreign country; treat it as such and do your research. For historical stories, newspapers are a great way to discover voice.

  8. Nothing kills tension like answers. Gaps in the narrative leave questions to be answered later in the story or right at the end (questions a reader may not have realised were there until they are answered).
  9. Ideas for great sentence structure include:

    • A punch line for imagery
    • Beats (__, __, __, punch)
    • Incomplete sentences
    • Changing tense mid-sentence – hard to pull off but if you can, wow!

  10. And remember, themes are universal to all genres.

Next came a few reminders on editing and publishing, thanks to a lovely chat with Abigail Nathan, freelance editor at Bothersome Words:

  1. Any genre fiction is currently hard to get published in Australia, but especially speculative fiction (sorry, but it’s the truth). 😦

  2. Editors should be viewed as a conscience, not a school teacher. They are not there to write your book for you, but to offer advice on what they think works/does not work, and why. As well as this, your proofreader should not be your editor. Fresh eyes are needed.

  3. The best ways to find an editor in Australia are through word of mouth reviews, reading book acknowledgements, searching online, or by contacting your state’s IPED (Institute of Professional Editors) and/or the Freelance Editors Network.

  4. All books in a series (and let’s face it, many specfic books are part of a series) must have their own story.

  5. One of the most common mistakes Abigail sees? Prologues. They must do something unique, not be an excuse for backstory.

  6. And a self-editing tip? Do a storyboard e.g. a sentence to describe each chapter. If several sentences sound the same, there’s work to be done!

From self-editing to self-publishing, these were the main points for me:

  1. You can’t choose to traditionally publish; you can choose to self-publish. Don’t let people tell you, you cannot have your dream.

  2. You must have grit to go down this path. It’s hard and marketing is the hardest part, but you really need more than one book for the most effective marketing. Don’t spend too much time and money marketing your first book. Wait until you have a few, then hit it hard!

  3. Social media is a great resource, especially Facebook groups (as we know, writers are such a caring sharing bunch). Group chats discuss everything from the best file conversion companies and cover artists, to how to get a Bookbub deal (Bookbub is one of the most effective promotional tools out there if you are successful in getting your book listed in a deal with them).

  4. Book covers must reflect your genre (check out the covers of bestsellers). 

  5. Don’t even think about doing audio unless you have a great narrator, which costs $$$.

  6. Successful self-publishers who offer helpful resources include Mark Dawson and David Gaughran.

Photo by Pixabay on

Festival day ended with an ideas generator session (which left my brain hankering for the wine, and networking, that followed on the verandah). 🙂

So many ideas were thrown into the air during the last session but three points, in particular, resonated with me:

  1. Like this quote: Humans are so busy asking if we can, we don’t ask if we should. Scientific ideas have both promise and peril. The scifi that lasts is not anchored by science but by human behaviour, the choices characters make (as mentioned earlier in this post). 

  2. The information stored on our planet is set to double “in a heartbeat” (well, by 2060 anyway). The information stored in the cloud will be as much as the information stored in our DNA.

  3. Humans are hard-wired to survive in conditions very different to those we now find ourselves in (we are engineered as hunter-gatherers). How does this place us for the future survival of us, as a species, and our planet?

Many words for thought. And yes, many friendships were rekindled or formed at this festival with members of said species (you can read how I fared at two Writing NSW Kids and YA festivals, here and here). It’s always great to meet others spellbound by this sometimes-crazy world of writing. 

On that note, hope your writing is crazy, but only in a good way 😉






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

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

It’s hard to believe two years have passed since the last Kids and YA Festival at Writing NSW (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?


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, 🙂


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,

NSWWCKIDSYA4I first met Jacqueline two years ago at Writing NSW’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,


Julie Koh’s Reality Rules for Writers (A.K.A. Koh Quotes)

Hi all,

I spent last Thursday soaking up words at Forest for the Trees, a whole-day seminar conducted by WritingNSW as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Forest for the Trees brings together writers, publishers, and industry representatives to discuss the state of writing and publishing in Australia.

The program commences with a writer describing their journey to being published and how they stay on their path through the forest that is publishing. While the speakers’ pathways to getting published are as interesting as they are diverse (in the three years I have attended, vastly different pathways have been revealed), it’s the quotes speakers use to push their point home that I remember most.

Julie Koh1
Lovely Julie Koh in action

So much can be relayed in a few well chosen words, and this year was no exception, with Julie Koh, author of Portable Curiosities and Capital Misfits, and one of The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists of 2017, dishing out quotes thick and fast, telling it like it is.

I thought I’d share them, along with my own two cents worth of comment 🙂 :

  1. It’s okay to start late, and it’s okay to fail (something I struggle to remember).
  2. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices (and don’t we know it).
  3. Learn about writing and the industry ie. from festivals, courses, reading, twitter, professional memberships (let’s face it, finding out how the literary world works can be fun, and painful).
  4. Butter your own toast ie. don’t obsess how other writers work (my new favourite writing, make that life, quote. This one’s going up on my office wall).
  5. Book deals can be accidental (don’t you all wish one would accidentally drop into your lap?)
  6. It’s all about connections (you connect with people who understand your crazy need to do something that may not make you much, if any, money).
  7. You gotta have the hunger and the hustle. (Julie also said: “Preparation meets opportunity”, another good line to remember. There’s no shame in approaching key people).
  8. “When the Lord closes a door, he opens a window” (one straight out of The Sound of Music. Julie – Koh – referred to it as the scatter gun approach, spreading your work out wide. I must admit, I had a fleeting picture in my head of Julie – Andrews – fleeing from her hilltop meadow at the sound of gunfire 😉 )
  9. Your first book is probably not a magic bullet (speaking of gunfire…but seriously, don’t we all wish for the first book to strike it big? Yeah, probably not gonna happen).
  10. Know that the joy of writing is in the writing. Everything else is noise (yes, yes, yes! And that’s why I blog, for the sheer joy of it – and to get out of housework).
  11. Say “Yes” until you can say “No” – but preserve your sanity first (in other words, do all you can in the quest for success but don’t run yourself into the ground for it).
  12. Get your financial house in order first (this is something I haven’t heard from many writers. Julie said: “You don’t know how hard it is until you try…I may become super famous or super homeless, or both”. It’s extremely hard to make a living from writing, so it is wise to ask yourself why you are doing it).
  13. Realize that the literary world is no mythic garden of noble unicorns (I wish, you wish, my daughter wishes…)
  14. Be savvy about publishers, agents, and contracts ie. what type of relationship do you want with publishers and agents? (Julie employed a publishing consultant to go through Julie’s first book contract).
  15. Don’t get sucked into the prize culture (it’s important to keep in mind the subjectivity that may come into play when awarding winners – each panelist has their own taste and bias).
  16. If you’re a writer of colour, know it will be harder for you eg. you may be defined by it when asked to appear on panels/as a speaker (and the times are not a-changing fast enough).
  17. Your book can be a business card (it may be the BEST business card for your writing career).
  18. “Writing is like driving at night in the fog.” (Ah, what a great one to end with, that famous quote from American novelist, E.L.Doctorow, the second line being: “You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”)

I’d like to add, and maybe make a career of it that way too.

juliekohtwitterHope you’re driving well,


P.S. Writing quotes that mention food strike a chord with me. For some reason, I’m more likely to remember them. Wonder why 😉

Do you have a favourite writing quote? If so, I’d love to hear it!


Things I Took Away From the NSWWC Open House with Penguin Random House (Apart From Valuable Manuscript Feedback)

Hi all,

Last Friday, I attended the New South Wales Writers Centre (NSWWC) Open House with Penguin Random House Australia (PRH). I thought I’d share some of the key points I gleaned from this day, as I know there were some who, unfortunately, were unable to attend due to the limited number of seats on offer.

After the introduction of representatives from the departments of publishing, editorial, sales, marketing and publicity – including an overview of their respective roles – the group launched into a mock acquisition meeting. Those stating their case on why a book should, or should not, be given the green light included (from left to right in the pic below):

  • Catherine Hill, Deputy Managing Editor, Random House Books
  • Belinda Connors, Key Account Manager, Penguin Random House
  • Karen Reid, Publicity Director, Penguin Random House
  • Sarah Hayes, Editorial Assistant, Random House Books
  • Lex Hirst, Commissioning Editor, Random House Books
  • Tom Langshaw, Editor, Random House Books, and
  • Meredith Curnow, Knopf Vintage Publisher, Random House Books

This session was very insightful – and entertaining! Key points included:

  1. When a manuscript reaches the acquisition stage, a lot of work has already been done to get it to the level required to offer (of course, this doesn’t mean the author will accept any offer made, and a project can still be shelved by PRH for a multitude of other reasons. So while a lot of work has been done, there are no guarantees, my friends!)
  2. An author’s ability to adapt is a definite plus when determining whether to acquire his or her work. Have they demonstrated this adaptability already?
  3. An editor may be passionate about a book, but if the sales or publicity team don’t share that enthusiasm, things can get interesting.

But saying this, acquisition meetings don’t usually end up in a war of words or a brawl on the carpet. Participants are really quite friendly to each other 🙂

The next session discussed children’s publishing with Laura Harris, Publishing Director with Penguin Random House Young Readers. I could have listened to Laura speak for hours, she was that enthusiastic about kids’ books. I was also interested to hear that Laura has worked with Mem Fox, Melina Marchetta and Morris Gleitzman, three of my favourite Australian authors.

Laura Harris

Key points Laura made:

  1. PRH receives about 3,000 children’s submissions per year in Australia, and publish about 100 (to be honest, the latter figure is higher than I thought it would be but I assume it includes agented submissions – I didn’t think to ask for clarification, sorry).
  2. The top four books for 2016 were all children’s books. And all for middle readers.
  3. Four times as many middle reader books were sold last year in Australia compared to YA (yet YA gets the lion’s share of attention in the children’s book sector).

Then it was on to discussing the editorial process, with Catherine Hill, Tom Langshaw and Lex Hirst returning to the stage to discuss books they have worked on. Key points included:

  1. A “really, really good book” can still require pages and pages (15 was mentioned in the example) of initial editing notes.
  2. Cover design should never be underestimated – it should communicate in a glance what the book is about.
  3. Editors love spreadsheets and graphs. Or so it appeared 🙂

Next was the art of promotion, with Karen Reid back in the chair. The key message for me from this was “SUB PLUS THREE”. What does this mean, I hear you ask? It means that the most effective time to promote your book is from submission until three months after publication. It’s much harder to achieve good results after this time. Something to do with modern society’s short-term memory problem, perhaps?

Now, where was I? Oh, that’s right. Karen’s other key points were:

  1. Authors must be able to speak in front of an audience, and must be able to describe their book succinctly. They should also have a professional photo taken for inclusion in promotional packs, review pieces, etc.
  2. Sale projection numbers influence the extent and breadth of any book tour to be undertaken.
  3. Never underestimate the influence of SEO (search engine optimisation)/SEM (search engine marketing) and Google ads.
  4. Write other pieces to place in newspapers and magazines – remember what was said about adaptability above? Include your blurb at the end with your online contact details. It’s another way people can learn more about you and your work.

The last session before lunch covered rights and distribution with Nerrilee Weir, Senior Rights Manager for PRH.

Nerrilee Weir

Nerrilee had a key message of her own: that your narrative must resonate with readers world-wide. You must “find the universal” in your work, so that it is able to travel. Other points I took away from her talk included:

  1. Selling rights to international publishers is all about pitching. This involves a lot of rejections which read similar to the ones you or I may receive as authors such as, “We didn’t fall in love with the voice” or, “We didn’t feel passionate enough about it”. Sound familiar?
  2. Audio is everywhere now and the Australian film industry is on the rise, providing other avenues for income.
  3. There are clauses in contracts to ensure that “lost in translation” issues do not arise when rights are sold to non-English language markets.

After lunch, I sat in a YA break-out group with four other YA writers, where we had an informal 30-minute chat with Zoe Walton, YA and children’s publisher with PRH. Zoe would have to be one of the nicest publishers I’ve met – and I’m not just saying that because she had good things to say about my writing in our individual session (see below). Anyway, in the group chat we discussed:

Offers – her recent YA offers are split 50/50 between agented and non-agented submissions, and most are contemporary by nature. Fantasy offers are scarce.

Synopses – she recognises how difficult synopses can be to write, and dislikes the style of All Caps when introducing a character’s name for the first time.

Trends – doesn’t see any dominant trend at present.

Individual fifteen-minute sessions followed the break-out group chat. One month previous, I had been asked to submit the first twenty pages of my YA manuscript, along with an author bio and synopsis, to Zoe. Although my manuscript is geared toward the US market, I was keen to hear Zoe’s thoughts on its merits.

I was extremely pleased that Zoe took the time to prepare assessment notes, which she discussed with me during our session and gave to me at the conclusion (thank you again, Zoe!) Her wonderful feedback was fairly consistent with that from US agents, who had received partial or full requests of my manuscript following my pitch to them last August. For those who don’t remember, it was at the Writers Digest Conference in New York City. Read more about it here:

So, where to now?

Zoe’s comments spur me to continue riding this roller-coaster life of writing. Although I’m still to hear back from three of the agents in NYC who requested partials/fulls of the same YA manuscript, I’ll continue to refine this piece and query elsewhere in the US market.

I’ll also complete my current WIP, a middle grade novel with a very unreliable narrator, to say the least. As Zoe seemed to like my writing style, I might even submit this project to her in due course 🙂

For now, and until next time,

Happy writing,


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,