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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 …

 

Yes … I do my own stunts.

writing spot So you thought writing was for bookish types? People who like to sit in front of a computer with their uggies on – day in, day out? Or perhaps you thought writing was for stay-at-home mum’s who have run out of Mills and Boons and are looking for something else in life?

That’s where you’re wrong.

Penning a great story involves hours of planning, internet roaming, library stalking, book reading, sleepless nights and copious cups of tea or coffee – depending on your weakness. Until finally sitting down in front of the laptop, fingers poised, mind racing, it’s time to start that great new story. Exciting stuff. Definitely not for the faint hearted, or nerdy types prone to hovering in the aisles of your local library.

We writers are adrenalin junkies!

That’s right, writing involves adrenalin. Lots of it! Not dissimilar to high risk sports like white river rafting and base jumping. But the adrenalin of writing doesn’t begin with the first brush of the keystrokes. No, the excitement has started well before that, during an event loosely called research! And doing research means, in my case, that new Hollywood trend, doing your own stunts.

Bats in trees from ShelleyFor example, how else would I find out about deadly bats* for my newest story, Spud & Charli?  Yes, that’s right, I had to tromp through a bat colony myself, trying to ignore the smell, the noise, the mossies and the risk of getting any number of the infamous bat viruses that the media believes are rampant in all bats.

All in the name of research.

Then there were the cassowaries. Braving the bats was nothing compared to tackling cassowaries. They’re not listed as the world’s most dangerous birds for nothing. Have you seen the size of those giant claws? I could have been ripped to shreds in seconds – that is if I’d actually seen a wild cassowary **.

And I assure you, it was only for research, that I braved the wilds of Ecuador to get up close and personal with the famous Galapagos tortoise. Those babies were massive! Slow moving I know, but easily able to crush a girl with one giant death roll.

100 year old plus some

So, I’ll leave you with this thought. Harlan Ellison is quoted as saying “Anyone can become a writer … the trick is to stay a writer … ” I think we all know what he’s saying, right?

To write is to live on the edge.

 

*Note to readers: the author of this blog is prone to exaggeration. The bats were not actually deadly. Very few bats actually carry Lyssavirus or Hendra virus, and seeing as she didn’t touch any, and wasn’t bitten or scratched, she is unlikely to have been in any risk.

** Perhaps we should clarify … the author thought she heard something like a cassowary, while visiting the rainforests around Mission Beach, and although she wasn’t 100% sure it was one, she ran like the clappers back to the car. She will be unlikely to admit this, even if hard pressed.

Jumping to conclusions

BatThe idea for my new story, Spud & Charli came about when the Hendra virus crisis was at its peak, in 2011. This deadly disease, spread by flying foxes, had left four people dead, along with many horses. The fear among us horse owners was raw: both for our horses and for ourselves. The dearth of misunderstanding and rumours filling the media had us all jumping to conclusions.

 So, what are flying foxes?

map of batsLouise Saunders, bat guru, explained that bats are divided into two important groups. micro bats (which eat nasty insects that spread disease), and mega bats, bigger bats that can fly very long distances. The term flying fox refers to 4 mega bats that live in Australia. There are the Spectacled flying fox, the Little Red, the Grey Headed flying fox, and the Black flying fox. These bats like to eat fruit, and are important pollinators of our native forests. When however, we disturb their roosts, or plant delicious fruit trees in our backyards, they can often become a ‘pest’ by hanging out with us in the burbs.

And what is Hendra virus anyway?

According to the CSIRO: Hendra is a zoonotic disease, meaning it is able to move from animals to humans. It is closely related to the Nipah virus, which does not exist in Australia, and the evidence to date shows Hendra can be transmitted from flying fox to horse, from horse to horse and from horse to human.

Fruit bats show no sign of illness when infected with Hendra, although when they shed the virus, it is highly virulent. In fact, Hendra has been described as one of the most virulent viruses in the world.

How do you know if you have it?

Hendra causes a range of symptoms in horses; which are typically fast acting and death comes rapidly from either respiratory or neurological symptoms. Of horses infected with Hendra, 75 per cent die as a result of the virus. Horses found to have Hendra are typically euthanized to minimise any further spread of the virus. While the transfer of the virus from horses to humans is rare, four of the seven human cases since 1994 have resulted in death.

So, should we be scared of bats?

grey horseMany people campaign to remove bat colonies, using disease scare tactics to help their cause. None of us want bat poo on our cars and on our washing, nor do we want to be disturbed by their racket at night. But a world without bats would be an ecological disaster. Bats have been around for millions of years, and people like Louise say they are probably the most important wildlife in Australia.

No, instead we need to be bat wise. As horse owners, we should vaccinate our horses. As home owners, we need to avoid planting introduced plants that will attract bats to our backyards. And as responsible adults, we need to report sick and injured wildlife. Never touch a bat, even a dead one. Leave it to the experts.

Most importantly, we need to be informed. Find out more about bats and what they do for our environment. You will be amazed! Don’t let media scare tactics fool you into jumping to the wrong conclusions.

Useful websites:

All about Bats

Bat Conservation & rescue Queensland

Wildlife Queensland

CSIRO

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

blog 66: In which I take part in a BLOG HOP.

michael gerard bauer - author

My friend and super-talented Brisbane-based poet, critic and editor Zenobia Frost has invited me to take part in a blog hop. It goes like this: I ask myself the following four questions, answer them and then pass the baton on to three fellow writers to do exactly the same, thus keeping the blog hop rolling for all eternity!

I first met Zen when I presented her with a poetry prize at the 2004 Literary Awards for school students. She was brilliant then and since has become even more dazzlingly brilliant. Check out everything about her here: A Storm of Tea Cups.

Anyway here I go answering my own questions:

  1. Michael, what are you working on at the moment?

Well Michael I don’t usually talk much about my current projects but I like the cut of your jib so I’ll answer you. At present I’m working on completing three stories for younger readers concerning the adventures of Secret Agent Derek…

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Slow and steady wins the day

100 year old plus some

100 years old plus some

My first ever pet disappeared into someone’s soup. No, he didn’t fall. We were fresh out from England and didn’t know that in Africa tortoise was a local delicacy. I had him about a year until he was fat enough… I mean, until he ‘disappeared.’

In that year, I fell in love.

Most 6 year olds girls I knew played with dolls and prams and nice clean girly stuff. But not me. My tortoise and I were best mates out in our red soil yard. We played doctors and nurses (that’s another story – sorry Blackie the rabbit) and made pretend houses from mud, sticks and grass. We nibbled home grown peanuts and took turns on the swing. Until the shock discovery of the empty pen.

He’s run away, said my mum.

A tortoise. Run away? But I believed her, and grieved like only a 7 year old can, with a private memorial service of course. I never stopped hoping he’d come on home, and it was only many years later I found out about the soup.

Sam with tortoiseSince then, I’ve always had a thing for tortoises. Perhaps it’s their smiley faces. Or their ungainly gait. Either way, it led me to Ecuador last month to see the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands. And they didn’t disappoint. I was surprised how active they were for such heavy animals (they weigh on average 250kg), and how tolerant they were of us snapping cameras in their faces. The ones we saw were over 100 years old, living completely in the wild. The Darwin Research Institute collects most of the eggs (each female only lays one egg per year) and raises the tortoises in captivity until they are three years old. After that, the introduced predators, like rats and dogs, won’t eat them, they’re released in the area they came from, and they thrive.

The Galapagos is certainly worth a visit, if you happen to be passing! Some of the other treats were beautiful Boobie birds, dinosaur like iguanas and bright red chested frigate birds. I can feel a story coming on …

Boobie Bird of the Galapagos

Boobie Bird of the Galapagos

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Land based iguana

Frigate bird

Male Frigate bird