Monday, December 28, 2009

Adopting a Koala


My family and I recently returned from our annual holiday. This years trek was to Port Macquarie on the North Coast of New South Wales. One of the brochures at the resort where we stayed had information about the Koala Preservation Society of NSW and the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie.

We decided to visit the Koala Hospital and take their free tour. The Koala Hospital is run by volunteers and they get very little funding to carry out their work. The hospital has koala admissions of between 200 – 300 sick and injured koalas each year. Most that recover are nursed back to health and released into their home range. However some, like Seaview Farida, a juvenile female koala will probably need to remain at the hospital or a similarly protected area for the rest of her life.

Farida’s story.

Farida was brought into the hospital in August 2009. She was found on the ground in Seaview Avenue, Port Macquarie, with a wound to her right wrist and forearm. Little Seaview Farida had suffered a rather gruesome dog attack that left her with extensive damage to her right hand, part of which needed to be amputated.

By mid-September, Farida’s wounds were healing well and she was healthy enough to be moved to one of the outside yards. Although she survived her ordeal beyond all expectation, it is unlikely Farida can ever be released. She can use her injured hand to help with manoeuvring in her tree, but it is useless for climbing. Without the ability to travel easily and quickly between trees and to climb high to seek food and shelter, Farida would likely become the victim of another predator.

So Seaview Farida is now a permanent resident at the Hospital.

The Koala Hospital has an adoption scheme to help raise the money needed to look after the permanent residents and to continue their great work. We were so touched by Farida’s story and those of the many other koala’s in their care that we decided to become part of the adoption scheme.

It is amazing how good it feels, just doing this small thing to help one of Australia’s iconic animals and the people who look after them.

For more information about the Koala Hospital, you can visit them at the Macquarie Nature Reserve, Lord Street, Port Macquarie. (Definitely worth a visit.)


Check out their web site -


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Updates to Web Site

I have just spent some quality time updating my personal website.

The site is a place where I can showcase some of my work. It is split into two sections, WORDS and PICTURES.

WORDS is where my children's writer persona lives and PICTURES is where I keep my art gallery pages.

It is easy to display my art on the internet but much harder to do so with my writing. Posting stories on the net is technically self-publishing in an electronic format. This could cause major problems when trying to negotiate sales of those stories to publishers. I have however added some short excerpts from several of my writing projects.

I have also added some new paintings to my galleries.

Drop by and take a look.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

NaNoWriMo - Winner

50,349 words!

I was actually doubtful that I was going to make the challenge this year. I kept up there with the daily word quota but I was hoping for a couple of 3000 or even 4000 word days to get me over the family holiday and 21st Wedding Anniversary that also fell in November. I had to take the laptop on holidays with us but I did scrape home with a win.
The most surprising thing this year, I was planning to work on three junior novels in a series, planning for about 24,000 words each. I was hoping there was enough story in each book to reach that length. After 50,000 words, I found I still have about 5000-6000 words more to do to complete the storyline for the first book. (It will be shorter than that once edited).
The other cool thing is that I came up with a surprise ending, much better than the one I planned. The characters just led me there. Now, it's time to put the story away for a month or two and finish editing my Chapter Book - 'Paper Magic'
Next year, I'm booking our holiday in some other month. November is not for lounging by the pool. It's for writing. 9Actually, every month is for writing but November especially.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

NaNoWriMo - Week One

NaNoWriMo Week One

Ok. Week one of (NaNoWriMo) National Novel Writing Month is over and I am sitting at this moment on a respectable 12699 words. This is despite the fact I have just come back from a wonderful 21st wedding anniversary weekend away with my wife.

Now it’s time to get back to writing. In 2007 and 2008, by this time into the challenge, my stories were starting to take strange, unplanned turns.

I found out about NaNoWriMo toward the end of October, 2007 and entered the challenge with the simple image of the main character returning home from the cemetery where he had put flowers on his dead girlfriends grave. She had been killed a month earlier when a drunk classmate ran her down in a car. On the way home, he meets his girlfriend who begs him to help her save the boy who killed her. I had no other ideas about the story and basically explored what happened next to explain her appearance. The seat-of-the-pants method was quite fun but the final product, though it had some interesting concepts, was a complete confused mess.

I planned a little more in 2008 and did much better. Thanks a lot to the book cover art I created as an inspiration to keep writing. I still use it as my desktop graphic. It’s also the main reason I want to try and break into the book cover design industry. 2008’s effort was much more cohesive, but still ran off on several tangents that took me away from the story I envisioned.

This year, not only am I on track with my word count, I am on track with the story too, without the problem of losing the freshness of the story by over planning. There have been a couple of surprises for my with the story, some interesting new characters who have turned up out-of-the-blue and two of my bit part characters seems to have pushed their way to the front of the stage. But the main storyline is still true to the plan.

The above picture is of Clang, one of the bit part characters. He was an AI computer program placed inside a robot cat. Clang decides he likes being a cat a little too much and conveniently loses his vocal programming and now only obeys the commands he wants to obey.

This year I didn’t set out every scene in the outline, I picked the major plot points of the story and made signposts to use as a guide. I know I have to get the main character from where he is to the next signpost and I work out what events would believable get him to that point. It seems to be working and I have come up with some interesting events I couldn’t really have planned in advance.

Interesting times, but enough of this for now, I’m going back to my writing. I’ll post another update next week.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

NaNoWriMo Preparations

I like to have a good image in my head of the characters I'm developing for my stories and books. This years NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) effort is a young adult Science Fiction / Mystery / Adventure titled 'Strangeway's Mind Ship'. I decided to introduce two Alien races to the story. This is an integral part of the novel because the main character, Horatio Hornblower Strangeway (a human) is a part of the first Space Service Academy class to accept alien and modified human cadets to the Officer Corp. The growing Purity Faction is opposed to this decision.
So in a round-a-bout way, the novel will deal with issues of prejudice, intolerance and fear, but the main theme is about the choices we make and the consequences of those choices.
I’ve never designed an alien before but I thought it would be cool to have a race, evolved from a creature similar to Earth foxes. I wanted the Vorpal to be bi-pedal and more humanoid than vulpine but still have a distinct Fox-like appearance.
I thought the best way to get the image in my head was to draw a picture of Vix Sorrell, one of my main characters, and a Vorpal character to boot. They do say, ‘a picture’s worth a thousand words’. I had a heap of fun painting her. She is not at all like I first imagined her but I think I like her better now.
These aren’t my only preparations for this years NaNoWriMo. I have been plotting out the major events in the story. This is my Sign Post Method of plotting. In the past, I’ve tried winging it and writing the story to see what happens – NOT really a success for me. I end up getting sidetracked and lost and giving up on the idea. And I’ve also tried doing detailed outlines of every scene but found the story lost it’s freshness as I tried to colour between the lines.
For this novel, I’m trying something in the middle of those two extremes. I have started to map out the major plot points along the way. These will be my Sign Posts to keep me on track – or at least help me find my way back to the path – but I will still have the creative freedom to tag along behind my characters and write about the things they get up to along the way.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Great Books Week - Friday


When I want to give someone a special gift, I give them [name of book] because…
So here goes…

OK. This is another one of those difficult questions to answer.

It really depends on the person.

My wife is three quarters of the way to becoming the Mad Cat Lady so if I buy her a book, she gets a CAT book. In fact, the last three books I bought her were; 'Dewey - The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched The World' by Vici Myron, 'What My Cat Has Taught Me About Life' by Niki Anderson, and 'Cats' by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.
My oldest son is a mad Star Wars Fan, so when I buy books for him, they are the latest titles in the many Star Wars sagas.
But, I think this question is about, if you had to pick just one book to give as a gift - what would it be.

So if I have to choose, it has to be Jay Asher's 'Thirteen Reasons Why'
I blogged about this book earlier in the year. About why I think it is such an important book and why I believe it should be mandatory for all high school students to read.
I would hate to be in Jay Asher's shoes. For a debut novel, it is definitely going to be hard to top.
The novel deals with teen suicide and taking responsibility for your actions. Clay Jensen, a high school student receives a mysterious package containing seven audio tapes from Hannah Baker. Only Hannah committed suicide two weeks earlier. The tapes contain her recorded message to the thirteen people responsible for the thirteen reasons why she killed herself. Clay is devastated to discover he is one of those reasons.
The book is a transcript of those tapes and Clay's reactions to them but it is written as a mystery for the reader to work out along side Clay.

Great Books Week - Thursday



I hated … when I had to read it in high school, but when I read it on my own later, I loved it because….

Sorry, but this is not a question I can answer. There were plenty of books we were forced to ... read ... while in high school that certainly fit the category. However, I have never even contemplated revisiting any of them to check if I still hate them.

It might be an interesting experiment though. If I had to choose one book, the one I hated the most, it would have to be Wuthering Heights.

Usually, I liked books that had movies based on them. Armed with a little skimming and the video fresh in my mind, I found I could cobble together a more than passable book report - as long as was careful not to mention any of the actors names in the report. Once bitten...

Wuthering Heights was the exception to the method. I loathed the movie even more than the book. I made it fifteen minutes in before I turned it off.

Visit the original Great Books Blog Tour blog post located on the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) web site.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Great Books Week - Wednesday

I’d write my autobiography, but I don’t need to, because my story has already been told in…


The only book I could come up with that resembled my story is Peter Maas's, Serpico.

Not because I worked Vice or Homicide in my cop days and not because I discovered rife corruption in the force or had fellow cops wanting me dead...
I do however feel a strong affinity with Frank Serpico - morally and ethically. My integrity ended up being my downfall in the Force.
I joined the police to help people and it was a career I thought I would spend my entire working life. I strongly believe I did help people along the way and there were many positive things to come out of my 21 years as a Police Officer.
But there were bad things too. Lots of bad things.
I don't sleep well most nights. There are things inside my head I don't want to see again but when they are on the inside, you can't close your eyes.
In the end, my bosses - through their petty minded interference and politics - made my life so miserable when I refused to compromise my integrity and tow their version of the line. A line, that did not include helping the people that needed help the most.
However, on a brighter note, I'm doing much better now. Those little angel figurines with no faces don't freak me anymore - well not completely. And I have nights now when I don't dream...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Great Books Week - Blog Tour - Tuesday


When I was a child, my favorite book was… because….

This is actually a very hard question for me. When I was a child, I found it difficult to read especially aloud in class. This was partially because I did find it hard to pick up reading, partially because I was a shy child and partially because the things they made us read in school were so damned awful.

I would have to say, my favourite book as a child was "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" by Beatrix Potter.

I had a set of Beatrix Potter books and I liked them all. The text was simple and poetic, but the illustrations were a marvel to me. These books sparked my interest in art. I was determined to one day paint as well as Beatrix. Sadly, I haven't got there yet.

I'm still trying though.

Great Books Week - Blog Tour

.....Great Books Week

In honor of Great Books Week, a holiday that is celebrated annually the first full week in October, NAIWE is hosting a Blog Tour with a specific daily topic Monday through Friday. The Association is a major sponsor of this event, and we fully support its goals.
If you’d like to participate, write a post on your own blog on the appropriate topic each day, then visit the appropriate post (linked below) on the NAIWE blog to leave your post title and link in the comment section so that others can enjoy what you’ve written. Be sure to share your posts in Facebook, Twitter, and other social media!
The original post is located on the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) web site.
Here’s the schedule of topics:

Monday: If I were stranded alone on a deserted island with only seven books to read over the next few years, I would like to have…

Tuesday: When I was a child, my favorite book was… because….

Wednesday: I’d write my autobiography, but I don’t need to, because my story has already been told in… [what classic book?]

Thursday: I hated … when I had to read it in high school, but when I read it on my own later, I loved it because….

Friday: When I want to give someone a special gift, I give them [name of book] because…
So here goes…


If I were stranded alone on a desert island with only seven books to read they would have to be:

Book 1: SAS Survival Guide

(How to survive in the wild, in any climate, on land or at sea)
For purely practical reasons.


Book 2: Robinson Crusoe by William Defoe
So I didn’t feel like the only sap to get stranded on a desert island.


Book 3: Legend by David Gemmell
His first but still his best book. It is all about heroes and holding on despite the odds. It was also one of the first fantasy books I read where the author was realistic and actually killed off some of his main characters.

Book 4: The Edge of Light by Joan Wolf
I don’t know why but it a book I keep going back to read and I enjoy it as much or more each time. It’s a novel based on the life of Alfred the Great.


Book 5: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
It was probably the first novel I actually read, in my teen “I loath reading days.” Oh what I missed during those years.
.. .
Book 6: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Because it is the best book I have ever read. It made me laugh and cry and it made me so angry I wanted to punch something. It is the only book to effect me so strongly.

Book 7: A very thick blank journal.
So I could still write my own stories.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

First Leaves of October

It is the first day of October and the second last day of term. These two leaves were painted for two of the Year 4 girls, both named Mekaela. They were desperate to get their leaves before the end of term.

"Otherwise we have to wait a whole 'nother two weeks!"

I didn't want to disappoint so I set up this afternoon to finish off both paintings.

The first Mekaela wanted a white kitten with a pink bow. Since I had already painted one kitten for Sophie, I decided to do something a little different this time. I painted the kitten sitting up among the toys on the toy shelf.

The other Mekaela asked for a koala. That seemed quite appropriate, painting a koala and some gum leaves on a gum leaf.

It also seemed appropriate because my family and I are off on holidays in November to Port Macquarie and we are planning visits to the native animal sanctuary and the koala hospital during the trip.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Three More Leaves

Here are the latest three leaves in my Leaf Art project.

The most interesting - not surprising - thing I have learned doing these leaves is how the tastes of the kids differ. It is easy to see which of these paintings was for a boy and which were for girls.

The leaf on the right was for Adam, a Year 5 student who spent most of his math lessons drawing super cool guitars in his note book. His request for me to paint the coolest guitar ever was no surprise at all.

The only real choice was Gene Simmons Axe guitar, although the model playing it is not Gene. It is the girl they used in the Guitar Hero promotional ads.

Sh...Don't tell Adam.

The leaf below was painted for Lilly. She is the first Stage 1 student (Year 1) I have done a leaf for. Her request was for a dolphin swimming under the water. To make the painting more interesting, I decided to do a split picture showing both above and below the waterline.

Lilly loved the painting.

Sky is a Year 4 student who was desperate for a painting of a puppy. Her only stipulation was that it had a blue bow.
I'm sure her choice was made from her even more desperate desire for a real puppy.
On a very positive note. I have had a commission from a visitor to my blog for a leaf painting of a seascape with a lighthouse, for her mother's birthday.
If there is anyone else interested in a unique gift for someone. Just drop me a line.
I am only too happy to oblige.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Life On Mars

Only joking!

Although after seeing this scene of the Sydney Harbour Bridge this morning you couldn't be blamed for thinking this was a scene from some science fiction movie. As I watched the morning news, about the bigest dust storm to ever hit the country, I could hear the sound track from War of the Worlds playing in my mind. I pictured everything covered in the Martian red weed. It was a very spooky feeling.

When I went to bed last night, my car was white. When I woke up it had become a powdery rust-red. When I picked my son up from work tonight, there was still a line up at the car wash. I think they are the only ones who appreciated the dust storm.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Andy Griffiths - Robot Riot Tour

Author Visit.
Any children's authors who want to do author visits of schools would be well served by following along with Australia's #1 children's author, Andy Griffiths and taking notes.

Andy is an amazingly funny writer who takes mundane situations and twists them to levels of absurdity that kids can’t help laughing at. With book titles like; ‘The Day My Bum Went Psycho’ from the BUM series, ‘Just Disgusting’ from the JUST series and ‘The Pencil Of Doom’ from the SCHOOLING AROUND series, you can imagine how popular Andy’s books are with those reluctant boy readers.

Children can be hard critics at the best of times. And if they are not interested in what you have to say, they will let you know. From the moment he took the stage, Andy had a large audience of somewhat unruly upper primary kids eating out of his hands. His stories and extremely bad jokes left them in hysterics.

Andy talked about where he found his ideas. A lot of them involved exploring own fears, like his dread of escalators. He had the kids revealing their own secrets and fears with him. One boy’s fear of having his head peed on by possums ended up being a whole story on its own. (I wouldn’t be surprised to see that in one of Andy’s books some day.)

One of the main reasons for Andy’s visit to Bathurst was to promote his latest book in the SCHOOLING AROUND series, ‘Robot Riot’ in which - Henry discovers that the new student at the school, Roberta Flywheel is actually a robot bent on destroying everyone in the school. All he has to do now is convince his friends of the truth.
By the number of copies of the book I saw being carried out of the hall, I think the talk was very successful.

I haven’t read ‘Robot Riot’ yet but it is definitely next on my to read list.

Thanks Andy for a very entertaining visit.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I Don't Get John Marsden

Today, I found myself in the position of reading John Marsden's picture book 'Home and Away' to a small group of Year 5 students. I have to admit, before I go any further with this post that I have never been a huge fan of Mr. Marsden's writing. I applaud him because he tackles difficult subjects in his writing, and looking at his sales figures and multitude of loyal fans, he must be doing something right. But I honestly just don't get him.

Home and Away deals with the issue of refugees by placing the reader in the position of thinking, 'What if there was a war in Australia and we had to flee and leave ourselves to the mercy of authorities in a neighbouring country.'

I can see where he was going with the premise but to me, it seemed overdone. More importantly, the kids didn't get it! And I had to explain to them what the story was about. The book didn't spark questions from the kids about how we treat the refugees coming to Australia and it didn't leave me feeling outraged at our treatment of refugees. It just left me feeling dark. Sure, the kids said how bad it would be if we had a war and had to flee from Australia but they didn't connect with the issue.

If the aim of the books is to enlighten children to the plight of refugees, I think the shock value of the story actually detracted from those issues.

Last year, I read Gabiann Marin's picture book, 'A True Person' which also deals with the plight of refugees fleeing a war torn country to find a new life somewhere safe. Like 'Home and Away' it is written from the perspective of a child refugee and deals with hardships, fear and questions why Zallah and her family were forced into a detention centre. But that is where the similarities end.

I found I had a much greater emotional connection to 'A True Person' It was written with hope and compassion. It left me with a much greater empathy toward the circumstances of refugees than 'Home and Away'

I know comparing the two books it is a lot like comparing apples to oranges. But for me, sorry John, I'll take the oranges.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Painting Workshop

So far, my leaf painting project at the local primary has been an unbridled success. The students involved have been more than happy with the process and the results.

The process being, those children selected to participate search for a leaf they want painted and then request a picture - usually their very favourite thing in the world. That is where my part in the process starts.

I trace the leaf shape onto paper and sketch my interpretation of their request for their approval. Once I get the go-ahead I paint the design onto the leaf.

Of the six leaves I have painted so far I have only had one request for changes at the design stage. And all the children have been delighted with their finished leaves.

The only problem I have encountered is that at this stage, I can only commit to doing eight paintings for each of the Stage groups. So four female students and four male students each from Stage 1 (Kindy, years 1 & 2), Stage 2 (years 3 & 4) and Stage 3 (years 5 & 6) have been selected for my project. This has left a lot of kids disappointed at being left out.

The best solution I could come up with was to run some workshops to teach the students to do their own leaf paintings.

Last week, I held the first of the workshops with the two Year 6 classes at the school. As they were in the middle of their Aboriginal studies, it was decided to combine the two by designing and painting the leaves inspired Aboriginal art.

I started the workshop by explaining how I did my paintings and giving them examples of my design sketches and finished works to look at. My biggest piece of advice to the class was to keep their design simple because without a lot of practice, trial and error, complicated paintings rarely turn out as well as you imagine them. Where simple designs usually turn out at least presentable even for people who insist they don't have an artistic bone in their bodies.

The kids then picked their leaves and went to work.

Due to time constraints we had to paint the background colours on the leaves before doing the designs, to allow the leaves to dry enough to complete their paintings.

The kids worked brilliantly and had heaps of fun during the workshop. As did I.

You can see for yourself the results of their efforts.

I’m planning a second workshop with Year 5 in the last week of term. The only change I think I will make is trying to source some better quality paint for the kids to use. The acrylic poster paint we used for the first workshop was serviceable but not exactly ideal.

Here are a few samples of the students work.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Life is a Jungle (well more like a Savannah)

Book Fairs are such wonderful things.
Seeing how excited the children from my local primary school were at the book sale in the library today, made it an even greater pleasure.

We hear so much about how books are on the same path as the dinosaurs. How video games and technology are killing children's love for books.

I did not see any sign of this today. And, if the look of delight on the faces of the kids as they picked out the books they were going to buy is anything to go by, books are going to be with us for a long, long time.

Book Safari was this years book week theme and the children and parents of Eglinton Public School did themselves proud today. The Book Week costume parade offered up an amazing variety of African animals, safari guides, witch doctors, Zulu warriors and traditionally dressed African girls. There were also a couple of young tigers, obviously on holidays from India, a wookie, a ninja turtle and even Herbie the Love Bug made an appearence to make the parade a true spectacle.

Today was a good day!

Friday, August 28, 2009

How to Judge Your Children's Book Idea


I was just checking out the new content at the Children's Book Insider ( and there was an interesting topic. "How To Judge Your Children's Book Idea" The article list five questions to ask yourself to test how strong your story idea actually is.

The Children's Book Insider is a wonderful resource for children's writers and well worth the few dollars a month membership to gain full access to the site. The site is American but it still has enough great content relevant to non US writers to make the cost worthwhile.

This is a timely article because at the moment, I am in the position of editing a completed manuscript and having a number of ideas simmering in my mind for my next work in progress. I'm not certain which one of the three candidates to concentrate on.

I have a Science Fiction story "Strangeway's Mind Ship" where the main character, Horatio Hornblower Strangeway is forced into the position of standing up for a group of alien and modified human cadets even though he knows it will tear apart his relationship with his best friend and make his life at the Liberty Space Service Academy miserable. To make matters worse, a terrible personal discovery about his namesake, leaves his father so ashamed he can no longer look Horatio in the eye.

I have a YA speculative thriller, "The Zoo" about Mira Sheridan, a fifteen year old a foster child just trying to blend in and be unnoticeable because she know just how different she is to other teens. On the first day at her new school she makes an enemy of the most popular girl in school. When a prank against her goes wrong during a field trip to the local zoo, Mira comes under the notice of an unscrupulous man from her past who believed she had died as a baby. He is determined to get her back or make her disappear to protect his secrets.

I also have an idea for a junior novel - possible series, "Witcher's Way - Red Ranger Gold." Ben Witcher is small, timid, afraid of the dark and clostrophobic. His class go on a camping trip to 'Bushranger Caves Adventure Camp' The kids are excited to learn about a real treasure rumoured to be hidden in the area but frightened by stories of the caves being haunted. When Ben's pet rat escapes inside the cave, Ben must find the courage to face his fears to find him. Ben discovers there are more dangerous things than ghosts when he stumbles across a family of serious treasure hunters who will stop at nothing to find the gold.

The questions the article put forward were:

1) Does the story excite you?

You will be working on the story for months are you excited enough about the idea to stay passionate about it.
2) Why do you want to write about this idea?
Is it something you want to write or are you writing it because you think it will appeal to publishers and reader? You need to write for yourself.
3) Is this the first idea to pop into your head?
Have you taken the time to let the idea develop? Have you expanded it with 'What if' questions?
4) Are you qualified to write about this idea?
Are you an expert in the subject or are you prepared to do the research necessary to do justice to the idea?
5) Are you writing a story or trying to send a message?
Having a message is fine but if you don't concentrate on story first, it can become condescending and preachy.
So, now I am going the run through the questions for each of these ideas and see which one comes out on top.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What is Tersa? Competition

What is Tersa?

That is the question. Personally, I thought it was quite obvious and I'm actually a little worried about some of the opinions I have heard. It made me wonder if it was literally time to go back to the drawing board.

The sketch was done as an illustration of one of the characters in my YA novel manuscript ‘Eyes In The Dark’ and I was very pleased with the result. The picture was one that I showed at my ‘Bless the Beasts and the Children’ exhibition. During the evening, I overheard several people discussing the picture and they all had differing opinions as to what exactly Tersa is.

Frankly, it doesn’t leave an artist with a great feeling when people can’t figure out what the subject of their picture is. It’s not such a problem if you are an abstract artist but in art I like cows to look like cows and trees to look like trees and Tersa to look like … well Tersa.

So I have decided to run a little competition to get a consensus of what people think Tersa actually is.

The Prize
A signed, limited edition print of the picture with certificate of authenticity.

I will select two correct entries at random. The winners will be announced on the 1st of September and both will receive a prize.

So please, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Being fairly new to the blogging scene, I was quite surprised when I was asked to host children’s author, Sandy Fussell on the final leg of her blog tour. The tour is celebrating the release of her fifth book, Monkey Fist, the fourth instalment in the Samurai Kids series.

Sandy assures me she has absolutely no artistic talents but it amazes me how she can paint such vivid images on the pages of her books with just a few simple words. I flicked open Monkey Fist to a random page and this is one of the gems I found.

Edging away, the man frays into the fringe of the crowd. It folds around and over him. One moment he was there. And now he is gone.

Sandy’s books are rich with imagery and as a very visual reader, they are a dream to read. Being an illustrated novel makes it doubly so. That relationship between the writing of her books and the illustrations used in them is what I will be talking to Sandy about today.

Q1. Every author is different in their approach to the writing process. What comes first for you, plot or character?

I begin with setting but that’s a result of the fact that I have given myself a thematic project - writing around the world in different countries at different times, following where my interest in ancient times takes me. Once I have chosen the setting, it is definitely character before plot. My characters talk to me and when I find out who they are I can imagine what sort of situations they would have got themselves in to and how they would have handled them. They create their own plot with just a little help from me.

Q2. The Samurai Kids books are in essence, historical novels. How have you kept the stories relevant to children today?

The time and place is historical but the stories are universal – about overcoming difficulty, meeting challenges, confronting villains and bullies and believing in yourself. Samurai and Ninja is a variation on the ever popular Cowboys and Indians, Cops and Robbers, Good Guys and Bad Guys - although in Samurai Kids some of the ninja are good. Everyone secretly wants to barrack for a ninja.

I have purposely combined eastern and modern expressions to create a sense of the recognisable but exotic. The two words of the series title are an example of this. I also take familiar idioms and sayings, giving them a Japanese twist like “flatter than a rice pancake.”

Q3. Your first novel, White Crane was released in 2008. We are only just over half way into 2009 and you have released Owl Ninja, Shaolin Tiger and now Monkey Fist in the Samurai Kids series, as well as your CBCA shortlisted book Polar Boy. I also have it on good authority there are also a number of other titles coming in the near future. This makes you a fairly prolific writer by any standards. How do you manage your writing schedule? In other words, can you run us through a day in the writing life of Sandy Fussell?

I am a very disciplined person and I work best with a schedule and a deadline. I think this comes from my professional training as a project manager. I’m also realistic about the time available to me. I am a wife and mother. I have a day job although I generally work from home. If I want to write I have to use those hours at the end of the day when everyone else is in bed (although I have learned not to use them to sound my Japanese gong when brainstorming onomatopoeias). My writing day begins at 10pm and ends at 1pm. I have set word count that I always write (calculated form the deadlines for the project I am working on) or a set number of pages to edit. I may not keep the work the next morning but I like to produce something on a daily basis. I shut my laptop down at the end of the Japanese hour of the Rat. It has an appropriate feel as not only was I born in the year of the Rat, but apparently rats make good writers. I hope so!

Q4. When you started to write the Samurai Kids books, did you have it in mind from the beginning that they would be illustrated novels or was that a decision originating from the publisher?

It was the publisher’s decision but I was very excited about it because… (see question 7)

Q5. Do you think the illustrations help young readers visualise the characters and action in the books?

I do. And I also feel with a historical novel it helps provide a more accurate picture in their mind. Not that the accuracy is important in itself but sometimes in not getting the right picture, some of the story loses its impact. When kids flick the pages of one of my books and see the illustrations, their faces light up. So younger readers themselves definitely feel illustrations enhance the reading process.

Q6. Rhian Nest-James is the illustrator for the books. What is the process of choosing an illustrator for a book?

In my experience, the author is not involved in the process. Children often ask me if Rhian and I worked on the book together as they usually think the words and pictures were created at the same time. While I have input regarding the historical accuracy of images, I am glad I don’t make the more artistic decisions. I am not a visual person and when the first folio of illustrations was complete I was pressed to admit which picture I didn’t like. Not only did it go on to prove a firm favourite with all the readers (I collect opinions at school visits and hardly anyone ever agrees with me), the illustration inspired two whole pages of text in the subsequent book, Owl Ninja! I have total trust in the team at Walker Books and in Rhian. I’m happy to leave the illustrations in their safe, capable hands and get on with what I do best –words.

Q7. When I write, I have a very clear image of my characters in my mind. How close has Rhian come to capturing your image of the Samurai Kids and Ky-Yaga?

I am often asked this question and the answer always surprises people. I had no mental pictures. I am not a visual person and part of my excitement about having the series illustrated, was being able to see what my characters looked like.

I see in words. I had heard musicians say they saw in sound but never an author say anything similar. Then one day I was in the crowd listening to Ursula Dubosarsky speak – and she said she didn’t see in pictures! I admire her work immensely and was thrilled at the thought we shared a similar perspective.

I do think though, I would have instinctively known if one of the pictures was not right.

Q8. How important do you believe the cover art is to the success of a book?

Very important. Initially I thought Samurai Kids would suit a manga style cover but Walker Books’ vision for the series had a more traditional and historic tone – while keeping the look and feel very modern. The cover is also very age independent – it appeals to both younger and older readers. This has proven to be a wise approach as many of the fans who write to me are boys in Year 7 and 8 and I know from my experience as a parent, this age group are very conscious of book covers.

Q.9 The covers of your Samurai Kids books have a very distinctive style. What was your reaction when you first saw Rhian’s covers?

I love them. They are a truly visually stunning package. I probably shouldn’t admit to a favourite but I like the cover of Shaolin Tiger best. Burnt orange is the perfect colour for a story set in a Shaolin monastery (where the monks where orange robes) and the figure with the sword between his teeth is very striking. But then again purple is my favourite colour and when I was a kid I always wanted to be a ninja, so I like the Owl Ninja cover a lot too.

Q.10 I understand with children’s picture books, many illustrators dislike authors passing on their ideas or directions when it comes to the illustrations for the book. In your experience is it similar for illustrated novels or is there more interaction between the author and illustrator?

I don’t want to contribute illustration ideas. I know where my skills lie and they don’t extend to anything graphical. I can’t even colour co-ordinate furniture. Or my wardrobe. I enjoy seeing the pictures as a finished product. It’s like getting a special present. I do however happily provide input on how a sword is held, city defence layouts or hairstyles. History is my comfort zone. I have a strong trust in my editor and my illustrator’s feel for the story. Rhian Nest-James does a wonderful job of bringing my words to life. I never feel excluded from the process and have been consulted about possible choices of pictures for chapter and headings. But I gladly leave the artwork decisions to those who know best.

Q11. How important is the relationship between the author and the illustrator in the success of the book?

I don’t think the two roles need to work physically close together. The collaboration could be successful even if the two parties were on either sides of the world. I think what is more important is how the illustrator relates to the text. Can they take the story and bring it to life in a meaningful way? Rhian does exactly this with Samurai Kids. I love the authentic traditional Japanese ink element of her drawings. The illustrations are readily accessible to the wide reading age of the series’ readers – seen as neither too young or too old.

Rhian and I keep in email contact. She is not only a talented illustrator but a wonderful person with a quirky sense of humour. There is an interview with her on the Samurai Kids website.

Q12. Finally, if there is one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you first started writing. What would it be?

I think I was fortunate to have excellent advice from the very beginning. I am indebted to my mentor Di Bates, who guided me through so many decisions. One of the key elements of her advice was to be active in the writing community. She told me: if you want to write, be professional about it from the start. So I went to seminars, assessments, conferences, workshops and I wrote every day. I am a prolific writer and can always be found playing with words.

After I had been writing for a year, Di sent me an email that said: it is time to stop writing anything and everything and decide what it is you want to be known for when you look back in ten years. And that’s how I came to write historical fiction. I still have that email taped up in front of the desk where I write. It continues to give me direction and never fails to inspire me.

Thank you Sandy, it was a pleasure to be part of your tour.

Now, if you have been following Sandy's blog tour or just reading this interview and are still wondering if you should go out and buy a copy of Monkey Fist? Do yourself a favour, buy the entire Samurai Kids series.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sandy Fussell's Monkey Fist Blog Tour

It is now day four of Sandy's blog tour celebrating the release of 'Monkey Fist' her fourth book in the Saumrai Kids series.

I have been following the tour each day and have discovered a great deal about how Sandy writes, her inspiration for the series, her research methodology and some intriguing insights into the characters she has created for the series, especially the narrator character Niya who dropped by on Monday for an interview with poet and children’s author, Dale Harcombe.

I am looking forward to hosting Sandy on Monday the 10th when I will talk to her about the wonderful artwork in the books and working with an illustrator.

The remainder of the tour links are listed below.

Wednesday 5/8/09
Tales I Tell – Storyteller and author Mabel Kaplan interviews me about how my interest in Japanese and Chinese history has influenced the series. Mabel uncovers the meaning of Monkey Fist.

Thursday 6/8/09
Sally Murphy’s Writing For Children Blog – I will be visiting Sally Murphy (author of many books for children including the verse novel, Pearl Verses the World) to talk about book promotion and how to harness cyber resources.

Friday 7/8/09
Writing Children’s Book with Robyn Opie – I will be visiting Robyn Opie, author of more than 75 books including "How to Write a Great Children's Book" and the novel “Black Baron”. I will be discussing Zen and the Art of Writing for Children – my view on why the series has been so successful.

Saturday 8/8/09
Alphabet Soup – Magazine editor Rebecca Newman will be interviewing me about my research techniques and asking questions to discover whether all that historical research is really any fun

Sunday 9/8/09
The Book Chook – Writer, reviewer and children’s literature advocate Sue Stephenson will be interviewing me about how my children’s reading experiences have influenced my writing

Monday 10/08/09
Words and Pictures – Writer and artist Jefferey E Doherty will be interviewing me about writing illustrated novels – the artwork, graphics and working with an illustrator.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Butterflies, Mermaids and Cats

Here are three more leaves for the collection.

The butterfly was actually the first leaf painting I completed for the kids at the school. The Butterfly was a request from Amy. She wasn't particular about what type or colour. She just wanted a butterfly.

The cat was painted for one of the Sophie's. I took her a couple of sketches and she liked the kitten in the teacup more than the one in a basket wearing a straw hat.

The other Sophie's brief was, a brown haired mermaid with a blue tail swimming under water. She needed to have a starfish in her hair and a shell bikini top.

...... ......

All three girls were delighted with their leaves.

Preliminary sketches.
I only have one more leaf to do now from the original group of students who brought me leaves and asked for paintings. That is a surfboard with a tiki on it and a palm tree for Roan, the only boy in the group.
I think there is a bit of a theme going on here. Butterflies, kittens, fairies, and mermaids for the girls and a surfboard for the boy. I might have to extend the project and ask a few more of the male students to request a painting. Just to see how the trend of what boys like compared to what girls like, progresses.