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Smooch & Rose for real

Locals stand up for koala food trees

Locals stand up for koala food trees. Source: Redland City Bulletin

My first story, Smooch & Rose is playing out for real in a neighbourhood near me. Council has just voted unanimously to approve a development application which will include the removal of twenty koala food trees in an area where koalas live.

But what about the koalas?

Ormiston is an outer Brisbane suburb, where koalas are seen regularly, and has a lovely leafy feel. It’s not far from where I set Smooch & Rose, but like many recent developments in the Redlands, including the one which inspired me to write Smooch & Rose, the koala trees are set to go. Twenty koala food trees are in the way of future houses, and are not protected because “their location conflicts with infrastructure”.

Locals are up in arms. It’s a heart breaking result. But perhaps, just perhaps, there is time, and the koala trees can be saved. Can’t we have development but koalas too? Surely we can compromise?

You can write to the Redland City Council Mayor, Karen Williams, and request the trees be protected. Join me and all koala lovers out there to do a ‘Rose’, and stand up for what you believe in.

Redland Mayor Karen Williams address :

Redland City Council
Attn Karen Williams
PO Box 21
Cleveland Qld 4163

Redland City Bulletin article

How the year has flown …

signing a bookA year ago this month, a book with my name on it hit the shelves for the first time. Although Smooch & Rose didn’t fly off the shelves like Hillary Clinton’s new book (100 000 copies in the first month), it has done well for a first time author published by a small publishing house in Australia. I thought I’d use this space to reflect on the year gone by, answering 10 questions to explore whether being published has met my expectations.

Was seeing ‘Samantha Wheeler’ in print a dream come true? No, it was completely nerve wracking. I’m not being modest. I could hardly bear to open the package when I received my two ‘advance copies ‘. I held them in my hands, but couldn’t open their front covers for about a week. And when I did, it was like every word was wrong. It was as if it hit me for the first time that people, people I didn’t know, would be reading my story. Those nerves (peaking at my book launch) stayed with me for about three months, until I started doing school visits, and saw I wasn’t a fake. Children genuinely loved the story. That’s when I relaxed and finally allowed myself to feel proud of my very first book.

What has been the biggest joy? Connecting with readers. I’ve met lots of passionate kids, some barely older than seven, who, declaring Smooch & Rose their favourite book, plan to be wildlife carers when they grow up. I’ve heard of fridges with Save the Koala posters, schools doing fundraisers for koalas, and I’ve met many kids who love to write, inspired by the great books out there.

Did a first book bring any other ‘firsts’? Yes. I had my first radio interview, my first article in the Courier Mail, my first invite to speak at a Writer’s Festival. My first royalties pay check, however, is still to arrive …

What has been the biggest frustration? Probably the difficulty in getting local books into bookstores. Walking into a QBD or an Angus and Roberston with a huge stand of Enid Blyton books, (who’s fabulous, don’t get me wrong), when there are so many great Australian writers not on the shelves.

What’s been the hardest thing? Not comparing myself to others. Facebook in particular makes it hard for anybody these days not to feel inadequate. Some one somewhere is doing it bigger and better. However I’ve got better at travelling my own journey in the last two months, and think this quote helps sum up how I feel.

Forget all the rules. Forget about being published. Write for yourself and celebrate writing. Melinda Haynes.

And how about reviews? Initially I sweated on a three and a half star rating vs a four star one, and read all sorts of meanings between the lines, but now that I’ve met so many kids that loved Smooch & Rose, I don’t feel so worried about the ratings. The belief in my story has to come from me, not from others.

Advice for other writers still hoping to be published? It might sound weird, but my advice would be ‘celebrate the writing.’ The true joy in being a writer is the writing. Being published is just the icing on the top.

Was it hard to come up with another story after Smooch & Rose? I’ve always got a million stories zooming around in my mind, and the worst part is trying to get them to wait in line. But settling on the next story to follow Smooch & Rose was difficult. I tried way too hard and completely complicated the story. The editing was huge. My third story was probably easier to write than my second.

Has  life changed? Yes, I think life has got busier, and I spend more time on my computer, mainly due to edits, website updates, that sort of thing. I probably spend about the same amount of time writing, and thinking about writing as I did before Smooch & Rose. I still find myself avoiding the word ‘author’ when people ask me what I do.

Any new skills developed along the way? Thanks to Peter Ball at QWC, I now know what an author platform is, but I’m still no expert. I’ve learnt how to tweet and to load pictures on to Facebook. I’ve also learnt how to be more confident when asking people questions for research. People love the idea of helping when it comes to books.

So, overall, an amazing, rollercoaster year. Can’t wait to see how it feels to have a second book on the shelves, with Spud & Charli out in September. I hope it’s a whole lot less nerve wracking …

 

In the business of selling

Capalaba signing small sizeI’m very fortunate to have a fabulous bookshop near me, which not only stocks good books, but offers great reading advice too. They have been super supportive of  my first children’s book, Smooch & Rose, and of my second, Spud & Charli due out in September this year. I often pop in for a chat, and make sure I support them too, as good bookstores are getting harder and harder to find.

I asked them 10 questions about book selling, and this is what they had to say …

How many books do you sell in an average week? Between 500 and 600. (Wow that’s a lot: more than I thought to be honest). 

Which would be your most popular genre of book? Crime Fiction and Kids books. (Mmmm, I thought it would be cook books. Weren’t they all the rage?)

What age group are the most prolific book buyers? Adults (Figures). 

How many new childrens’ books enter the market a week?  There is a lot going on a month in regards with kids books. We only see a small percentage that come through to the Australian market, but to give you an idea in the UK and US there are thousands of new publications every month. Bookshops in Australia don’t reflect the full range that is published monthly. 

How long do you keep a children’s book for before you send it back unsold? Approx 3 months. 

06/12/2013 FEATURES: The Year My Life Broke by John MarsdenWhat sells a kids book? Is it the cover, the way it’s positioned on a shelf, or do the children/adults come in asking for it? A bit of everything: cover, price, well respected author and a good display is always a winner. 

Do adults come in and choose books for children aged 8-12, or do children come in and choose their own books at that age? A bit of both, word of mouth between the kids at school help them to know what is good and what is popular.

How many people ask for your recommendation and go on that alone? About 6 out of 10 (Wow, that’s a lot! So it’s good to get to know your booksellers and keep up a good relationship with them.) 

Is price a problem for many of your customers. Eg: do they think they want a book, but then put it back because of price? (in your opinion?) Yes, price is a major factor in the buying process.

 

going on a bear huntWhat has been your bestselling children’s book ever? Best ever, Going on a Bear Hunt.

And has there been one which has surprised you?  The Wonkey Donkey was a big surprise for us: it sold heaps.

wonkey donkey

 

 

So there you have it folks. Just in case you were wondering … that’s how it works on the cold face.

 

 

 

 

My turn on the dance floor

CAM00387My very first Blog Hop!

Now I feel like a teenager again. How can anyone resist an offer from the talented Michael Gerard Bauer, and then once accepted, not follow through? Not me, chickadee. So here we go, my blog hop about #mywritingprocess. It’s kind of like a chain letter, but via blogs. I get to answer 4 questions about my writing, and then pass the baton on to three others. But before you read on, if you’re not familiar with Michael’s amazing work, check him out at his site: http://michaelgerardbauer.com/ but then, make sure you come back. It’s my turn on the dance floor…

Question one: what are you working on at the moment?

Sam with tortoiseWell … let’s see. My latest children’s book, Spud & Charli, has gone off to the printers (yay!), so no point worrying about that for a while, (it’s out late August, in case you were wondering). My next story is with the people who make the important decisions, (fingers crossed) which leaves me … working on another children’s story! This one is about a tortoise and an old man who’s forgotten he has one. So, a swing to the left on this one – my previous three were all about vulnerable Australian animals, and somehow I don’t think a tortoise quite fits into that category. But I do love them! A lot.

Right, so question two: How do you think your work differs from that of other writers in your genre?852967248dd3e6cb3942a1fe6af42945_S

My stories are a bit different because, although they feature animals, the story is always about the protagonist first, adventure second, and then, by the way, did you know this particular animal (eg the koala, fruit bats) is in serious trouble? Rather than the other way around. They are just the type of story I like to read: where I’m caught up in the story, but also learn something while I’m at it.

Question three: Why do you write what you write?

I write children’s books because I seem to have the right writing voice for that 8-12 year old market. Whenever I’ve tried to write YA or adult fiction, I keep coming back to a younger voice instead. So I’m sticking with it. I also work with kids, so it make sense to write about them. And animals? I love them and having so many of my own, I feel comfortable writing about them, and sharing their stories with readers. It also means I get to meet some amazing, dedicated people along the way. Research is a fabulous gift for a writer.

And, finally, question four: What’s your writing process, and how does it work?

baby koala from facebookI usually swill an idea around in my head for ages before putting anything down. By the time I start writing, I usually have a firm beginning, a pretty clear idea of the characters, but often no real plans for the end. I get to know my characters first draft, and then improve them as neccessary in following drafts. I re-write a lot and my final draft often looks nothing like the first. But funnily enough, those first few opening lines hardly change.

Okay, that’s the #mywritingprocess blog hop questions answered. Phew, I’m exhausted after all that hopping and bopping! It must be someone else’s turn to take the floor? May I introduce the lovely Charmaine Clancy, charming Dimity Powell, and ever squishy, Katherine Battersby to take it from here.

 

Iphone June 2014 073Charmaine Clancy is an author of novels for kids and teens, tutors students for English and runs children’s writing workshops in Brisbane.
She has worked in education, marketing, publication and the film industry – plus she’s had some pretty cool part time jobs like baking cookies and grooming dogs. I was lucky enough to attend her recent book launch of Undead Kev: and was blown away by her enthusiasm and passion for writing. http://charmaineclancy.com

10418249_10152534032763690_3484902613418557195_nDimity Powell is a creator of children’s stories and picture books who says her qualifications for this include Professional Children’s Writing Courses, Motherhood, Director of Marketing in the Leisure, Boating and Hospitality Industries and travelling around the world a couple of times or maybe more. She explains that to read, write and inspire ranks as high for her as wining and dining. http://dimswritestuff.blogspot.com.au

katherine BKatherine Battersby is not only gorgeous, but she’s the critically acclaimed author and illustrator of Squish Rabbit, which was named a CBC Children’s Choice book in the US (2012). It was also shortlisted for the Crichton Award and was a Notable Book in the Australian CBCA Book of the Year Awards (2012). Her second book, Brave Squish Rabbit, was released in 2012 and was shortlisted in the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Awards (2013) and the SCBWI Crystal Kite awards (2013). Check out where she’ll be in her upcoming visit home to Australia, via http://wellreadrabbit.wordpress.com/

 

So, now, its time to fill my glass and kick back and watch the others on the dance floor!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A matter of write or wrong

It seems kids don’t hate maths anymore. Now they hate … English!

Abby with puppy jazzy

Abby with puppy Jazzy

A recent chat with a friend’s daughter, Abby, helped me understand. Abby told me that she hates English because she hates writing. I’ve heard this before. But why? Trying to get to the bottom of it, I ask Abby, ‘But you like reading right?’ Oh yes! What’s your favourite book? Well … a small shy tilt of the head …well that would be Smooch & Rose. My heart melts. Abby likes my book. She’s read it three times. She wants to be a wildlife carer when she grows up (like Rose). There’s no second option. Wildlife carer or nothing. She makes me smile. Other favourite reading titles include the National Geographic for Kids magazine which comes out every month, and of course, other animal books. Her favourite animal is the cheetah, because it is the fastest runner in the world. She’d like to go to Africa to see one in the wild one day.

So why do you hate writing Abby?

A pause. I prefer to draw, she says. Here’s the picture I’m drawing at the moment. Abby shows me a picture of a girl with stars in her hair. She’s gorgeous, wouldn’t you like to write about her? A tiny shake of the head. But say you did decide to write about this girl, and she had the job of telling all the kids in the Australia how to help koalas, what would you write? Oh, that’s easy. I would write that people should car pool to save carbon emissions, and people should drive more carefully at night so they don’t knock koalas over. They should definitely lock their dogs up at night … a pause while Jazzie, the 6 month old family puppy breaks inside and nibbles our plate of bikkies … and they should tell everyone how precious our koalas are.

Great! I say. There you go, you could easily write all that! Abby smiles and doesn’t look convinced. I think I’ve cracked the problem. Our kids are getting stage fright. They worry what they have to say might not be polished enough or exciting enough, so they get scared and resist putting words down on paper. After all, their world is full of amazing entertainment. What on earth could they possibly say of interest to anyone?

Easier to write nothing.

CheetahSo how can we help retrieve the love of writing? I think the answer is to take away the pressure. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to the imagination. Enid Blyton didn’t have to worry about Naplan narratives. Try writing a story out loud. No pens to paper, just starting big, letting our imaginations run wild. Wild like an African cheetah. It seems that free of all the restraints of actually writing, anyone can make a narrative sing. It’s about being brave enough to think big, without the fear of falling. And remembering the big five: the who, what, where, when and how of storytelling,

By the way, Abby’s favourite colour is yellow and she loves ice-cream.

Thanks to our teachers

Can anyone make a difference?

I’ve been privileged these last few weeks to speak in some local schools about koala conservation while talking about my book Smooch & Rose. What a delight it has been! I have attended koala consevation meetings and read articles about the rapidly falling numbers of koalas in SE Queensland, and I often find myself in a state of despair about the fate of our furry little friend. But after my recent school visits, a tiny ray of hope has broken through the gloom.

Welcome sign from Redlands State SchoolNot only have the students I’ve visited been well informed and enthusiastic about wildlife conservation, they are encouraged to embrace this passion by their wonderful teachers. When I ask students about what is killing our koalas, they know the answer. Habitat destruction, disease, dog attacks and car fatalities. Over 16,000 koalas have been killed in the last few years, which is way too many. Students as young as seven have great ideas about how to prevent these unnecessary deaths and they are confident and optimistic with their views.

This confidence comes from great teaching.

So thanks to the teachers and parents of our next generation. Thanks to you, I am starting to feel hopeful that our koala may have a future. If the students I’ve met these last few weeks are any indication, standing up for Australia’s favourite icon will be second nature to them. They haven’t lost their way about what is important and as one boy put it, ‘we need koalas because they make us happy’. Yes they do. Like many things in nature, koalas can’t be quantified in dollar terms or by a list of their useful products. Koalas make us happy and our children’s children need to have them in their lives.

When I wrote Smooch & Rose, I hoped that the message ‘anyone can make a difference’ would stick. I’m starting to see it will. I just hope it won’t be too late.

What can you do to help?

Koalas should be protected.

I declare this book … launched!

Sam and Michael Gerard BauerNerves jangling. Cup cakes iced (thanks Rachael). Bookmarks bundled up and interstate visitors collected. Several outfits later, (it was an unseasonably hot night and the previously chosen dress was too hot) and then … it was time!

The launch of Smooch & Rose!

Koala cupcakesBeautiful Krysi, from Riverbend Books, made us feel welcome from the start, and the talented Michael Gerard Bauer was very kind with his words of encouragement and praise.  Heart thumping, I looked over the sea of happy faces and felt immensely grateful for such a wonderful opportunity. All those smiles, thanks to books and writing. It was quite an emotional moment!

Smooch?A quick self conscious read of Smooch & Rose accompanied by an explanation of its roots, and lots of thank you’s and it was time to sign some books and chat. Smooch & Rose was officially launched! Thank you everyone for coming and for those who couldn’t make it, thank you for your support.