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Diving into Dysart

Diving into Dysart

Have you ever been to Dysart? Even know where it is? I found it, a few hours drive inland from Mackay. Not much to see as a tourist, but a whole lot to find out as a guest. When I was invited to visit as part of a Theiss community project, here are the things I discovered in Dysart:

  • You can run a curry takeaway from your one bedroom unit.
  • The local IGA says it “knows what locals want”. But does it? Turns out blondes in Dysart want blonde hair toner more than anything. Oh, and single carrots (what does a single gal need with a whole 1kg packet?)
  • The teachers in the high school and primary school are working tirelessly to create a passion for reading and writing in a town dominated by mining families. And they’re winning. Grade 3 studentsThey embraced our the short story competition developed to spark local interest.

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  • Sleeping in a mining donga is quieter than sleeping in most motel rooms.
  • Miners from the Lake Vermont mine site volunteer in Grade 3 classrooms to listen to reading on their days off.

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  • The kids in Dysart will steal your heart away!

Want to come with me when I go back? Thanks Dysart for making me feel so welcome!



7 lines from page 7

It’s not every day you get a sneak peek of an author’s work before it’s ready. We’re far too self conscious for that. But thanks to the “Sneak Peek” blog tour, that’s exactly what you get to do! What a thrill to peer into the work of fellow writers and see what they’re up to.

I’ve been tagged by Kathryn Apel, author of the gorgeous Bully on the Bus, recently released by UQP. Now I must share 7 lines from page 7 or 77 of a current WiP, and then tag 3 other writers to continue the game.

So, here we go. 7 lines from page 7 of a story that is very close to my heart, and was the one I was lucky enough to receive a May Gibbs Trust Fellowship for. That means I get to work on it for one whole month in Adelaide next year. Yippee!

Mum only half listens when Nic tells her she’s organised a sleepover. She looks tired as she feeds me and I try to swallow without choking. There’s enough tension in the house today without choking.

‘Grace can go to Nan’s, right?’ asks Nic.

Mum starts to say something but then my arm shoots out and grabs my apple juice popper. I watch, as in slow motion, it tips and spills across Nic’s toast and vegemite. I try not to laugh – it’s made an apple and toast smoothie.

Okay, that’s enough sneak peeking from me for now. Now its someone else’s turn. I tag: Caylie Jeffries, Michelle Worthington, and Sheryl Gwyther!

Happy peeking!

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.

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.

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.