Today I’m chatting with children’s author, Renee Price. Renee is the author of the Digby Fixit series, founder of Create-it-kids, musician, performer, and puppeteer (though she informs me she is still working on that). Renee is an inspiration to me. Nothing holds her back from achieving her goals. She just goes for it.
Megan: Hello, Renee.
Renee: Hi Megan, I've managed to be child-free for about 20 or so minutes. Hoping that's enough time!
Megan: We might have to do it over a couple of days. The interviews usually take about an hour to an hour and a half. How quick can you type?
Renee: Oh sorry! Did I miss that piece of info? I'll see how I go.
Megan: Shall we dive right on in then?
Renee: Sounds good
Megan: I’ve been watching your journey over the past three years with great fascination. I’ve followed your journey as you’ve self-published not one, but two picture books that seem to be doing really welly and kids are loving them. Digby’s Moon Mission came out in 2014, and you followed it up with Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? in 2017.
1. Can you tell me why you decided to publish these books yourself, and how did you go about it?
2. Can you tell me what your process was like to create Digby’s Moon Mission and the second book, Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who?
Renee: Thanks, Megan! It's definitely been a challenging, yet rewarding journey. 1. I’d submitted stories to traditional publishers for about two years with either polite rejections or no response at all. After drafting Digby’s Moon Mission, I had the story professionally assessed and edited.
I also had a wonderful mentor who had pursued self-publishing for some of her own work. My mentor and illustrator saw great promise in the story and character concept. I didn’t want Digby to become another manuscript tossed aside or overlooked by trade publishers. He was different. He needed to share his voice. The best way to ensure this was to self-publish. I researched for 12 months, the processes, challenges, pitfalls, and benefits involved with creating a trade-quality children’s book.
Megan: And you certainly have produced quality books to be proud of. You ended up going with Taadaa Books. What was it like to work with Anil and Orzan from Taadaa Books?
Renee: Your question two: The process started by commissioning an illustrator, and I found the amazing Anil through a Facebook author/illustrator page. I then worked with my editor through many revisions of the first book - once the manuscript was ready, Anil and I worked on the storyboard together then her and her husband, Ozan (Tadaa Book) worked their magic - Anil with illustrations and Ozan with design.
Anil and Ozan are fabulous - so incredibly helpful with all aspects of the self-publishing process. I couldn't have done it without their guidance, and the source of information, Tania, my mentor provided.
Tadaa Book were familiar with the printing company, Ingram Spark, which is who I used for Digby's Moon Mission. They are a print-on-demand service, so it was good to know I could print as many or as little copies as needed. They offer online distribution as well, and I also sourced my own distributor here in Australia, Dennis Jones & Assoc.
Megan: It sounds like you have a wonderful team around you to guide you through the process. I don't think a lot of people realise how much hard work goes into creating a picture book.
Renee: This is true! It takes a village to make a book!... or something like that. Haha! My second book followed a similar production path, except that this time, I printed offshore rather than through Ingram Spark. Quality and pricing were much better.
Megan: You have the whole performer package going on too. You sing, write your own music, even do puppetry. Does music influence you when you write your books?
Renee: I do! I wanted to offer a unique 'service' to help market my books, and I've had a life-long dream of being a children's performer - I just love creating for kids. I love that I can combine my passions - writing stories and songs, and utilise these to communicate, interact with, and engage young children.
Music plays a significant part in my writing process, and I was so excited to publish Digby and the Yodelayhee Who? as it brings my two writing loves together. I have some other manuscripts in the works where music is involved.
Music plays a significant part in my writing process, and I was so excited to publish Digby and the Yodelayhee Who? as it brings my two writing loves together. I have some other manuscripts in the works where music is involved.
I love uniting the two artforms — I feel they credit each other so well — especially in early childhood, language development, imagination and creativity can really flow.
Although I'm still working on refining the puppetry skills! Haha
Megan: I’ve seen the video you did with Debra Tidball with her new book, The Scared Book. It was great.
You are also the founder of Create It Kids as well as (and I’m quoting from your website here) ‘a qualified early childhood teacher, music educator, children’s author and performer, with 13 years collective experience in early childhood education, writing and entertainment. What response have you had to your performances and books?
Renee: Thank you! It was a delight to work with Debra on the video - such a fabulous opportunity and so fun!
Megan: I’ve also seen other videos of you performing with some kids. I say ‘with’ because they were all in there dancing around, totally involved with your singing and music.
Renee: My performances are where I really feel at home — I love how interactive they are, and I can be totally crazy, and it's a good thing. The kids respond well to the high energy and interactive nature of the performances, and it leaves a lasting impression — on them, and me. Schools and preschools have been really happy with what I offer for their kids/students. I hope to broaden the audience next year with shows further from home.
The response I've had from my work has been so positive and incredibly encouraging. It's a big risk being an indie author, so when your book babies are out in world, you just hope they are well-received. My books have had quality reviews on sites such as CBCA Reading Time, Boom Books, Kids' Book Review etc., and continue to do well. My second book was recently listed on the NSW Premier's Reading Challenge which was wonderful.
Megan: Wow! Congratulations. I did see your second book listed on the reading challenge. I’m sure there was some happy dancing around the house for that. Your self-published book on a list like that.
Renee: Oh, yes! I was thrilled! Such a huge achievement (and great reassurance to have recognition such as this).
Megan: On your website you share that both you and your eldest son and have a rare, genetic condition, called Cleidocranial Dysplasia. Can you tell what sort of obstacles you’ve overcome to get to where you are today with your writing and performing?
Renee: I spent a lot of time in hospital as a child — either attending specialist appts, having tests, surgery, treating fractures - reading, writing and music were my escapes and comfort. Having physical limitations such as short height, weak bones, and muscles, I couldn't do a lot of the 'normal' physical activities kids could, so I found ways to overcomes this through creative involvement - music lessons, theatre performance, and writing. In a way, my condition has helped pave the way, and I love everything about what I do.
The trickiest part though, has been the last 10-12 years where I've gradually lost my hearing (due to the bone fragility of my condition). I now have moderate-severe hearing loss, so without hearing aids, I'm lost!
Thankfully, because of the hearing aids, I can still enjoy my music, though it does have its challenges in the recording environment (and even with hearing aids, I still miss some sounds). Does have its bonuses though when I'm being annoyed by certain sounds — I just take them out to get some peace!
Megan: So often it is those very things that we think are obstacles are the very means to pave the way towards something we may never have discovered about ourselves.
Renee: So true!
Megan: This year was the second year that Create It Kids has donated money for Jeans for Genes Day which supports research into genetic diseases, birth defects and cancers at Children’s Medical Research Institute (CMRI). How important is to you that you can use your author and performing platform to be able to get the word out there, and hopefully one day see medical breakthrough in these areas?
Renee: I often feel overwhelmed with people… people's stories and challenges — being so close to home for me, and having something I can use to help increase awareness mean so much, I just hope if my tiny level of involvement can reach even just one new person, it will create a ripple effect.
Sorry - the wording there is all weird. Couldn't express it very well!
Megan: That's okay. I thought something was wrong. Sometimes when something is close to our hearts it can be hard to express, no matter how good with words we are.
Renee: Hit the nail on the head there.
Megan: And I’m sure that what you’re doing will have a long-lasting effect on many people.
Renee: Thank you - so many creatives have had long-lasting effects on me. I love this industry.
Megan: You blog for Just Write for Kids. Last year in June you wrote a blog post entitled, This message will self-destruct. http://www.justkidslit.com/this-message-will-self-destruct/ .
In this blog post you said, ‘And now, here I am, doing it all over again. Fearing the opinions of others. Comparing myself and my ‘failures’ to others, seemingly endless success. So much wasted energy!
You know what?! I’m done. Done with fear. I’ve spent the better half of my life living with it, now it’s time to lay it to rest. I don’t expect this to be an easy journey, but I’m tired of the alternative. Tired of enduring the ‘F’ word. I know deep down I’m one of the awesome ones… we all are! It’s time to kick fear to the curb and let courage step in.’
I love that last part, ‘It’s time to kick fear to the curb and let courage step in.’
What differences have you seen in your life since you’ve made that commitment to yourself?
Renee: You know, it's enlightening to sit and re-read this passage (thank you). It's a commitment that, I will be honest, has softened at times, but I think the difference is since making it I'm now more aware of when the 'F' word starts creeping in, and I know how to manage it better — I'm in a more confident space, and I'm able to zoom out and look at the bigger picture when I'm feeling doubtful or a little anxious about where things are headed, what I'm up to etc.
I also have a newfound outlook that anything is achievable if we want it badly enough — we just have to work hard to get there, and never miss an opportunity for growth.
Megan: That is so true. It’s amazing what we can achieve if we know how to address fear, look it in the eye, and say, ‘Get out of my way! I’m doing this.’
What next for you? Will there be another Digby Fixit?
Renee: That's a great question! I'm working on some more Digby stories; however, I want to spend more time on 'non-Digby' work so that I can continue building my body of work, and submitting to traditional publishers. I'm unsure I will self-publish again, so that is the biggest question regarding Digby books — but I will continue to spread the word of his stories with performances, perhaps scriptwriting as well — I'd love to see his stories on the big stage.
Megan: That would be fabulous. Any last words of advice to your fellow creatives?
Renee: Dream big, work hard!
Megan: Great words of advice.
Three fun facts about Renee:
My favourite colour is purple.
I'm the eldest of five in my family - all of us are musical.
The first concert I ever went to was John Farnham when I was eight-years-old.
Megan: Thanks for taking time out to chat with me today, Renee, and being willing to share your journey with us.
Renee: Thank you so much for the awesome interview - I love the personal nature of your questions - it really gives insight into the 'person' behind the creator.
It's been my pleasure to share. I'm really grateful for the opportunity.
Megan: Bye, bye for now. I can’t wait to meet you in person at KidLitVic in Melbourne next year.
Renee: Thanks again! xx
About Renee: Renee is a children’s author, songwriter and performer, from Newcastle, New South Wales. She began writing in 2010 after teaching in early childhood and primary school settings for eight years.
In 2012, she held the role of Editorial Coordinator at Newcastle’s Child magazine, working within various aspects of the publishing industry, including reviews of children’s books and music, and composing articles for the publication.
In December 2014, Renee released her first picture book; Digby’s Moon Mission, through her brand, Create It Kids, and performs a dramatisation of the story for preschool and young primary school audiences, incorporating theatre, song, storytelling and puppetry. Renee has developed a series from her first publication, with Digby’s second book due for early 2017 release.
She will continue adapting each story for dramatisation.
Renee is a current member of CBCA NSW and Newcastle Sub-Branch, Australian Society of Authors and Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Where to find Renee on social media, links to places she blogs, and her website.
Social media - www.facebook.com/DigbyFixit & www.facebook.com/CreateItKids
Twitter handle @CreateItKids
Websites - www.createitkids.com.au & www.digbyfixit.com
Some of her songs for kids are recorded here.
Renee's Digby performance promo video link.
She is also on the team at www.justkidslit.com and am an admin for the Just Write For Kids Facebook group.
YouTube clip of Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who?
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I'm happy to introduce Elizabeth Foster and her debut novel for tweens, Esme's Wish, as a part of her Books On Tour promotion. Esme’s Wish is a fantasy novel, which I had the privilege read prior to release and I adore it.
Megan: Good morning, Elizabeth. Shall we begin?
Elizabeth: Hi! Fire away with the questions.
Megan: When did you know that you were a writer?
Elizabeth: I always knew I wanted to do something creative, but didn’t know what, so I put it on the back burner and focused on raising my children instead. I loved books but never dreamed I would write one.
When I first started writing Esme’s Wish, my sister, who was also writing at the time, asked me if I thought I was now a writer. I said I didn’t really know. What I did know, deep inside – don’t ask me how – was that if I worked hard and never gave up, I would get there one day.
Megan: Wow! So, Esme’s Wish was your first book. I just wanted to let you know how much I loved Esme’s Wish. As I wrote in my review on Goodreads, Esme’s Wish should come with a warning not to start reading before bed, especially if you have to get up early.
Esme’s Wish, published by Odyssey Books, is your first novel. Where did the inspiration for Esme’s Wish come from?
Elizabeth: Thanks, Megan. I feel both guilty and glad that you lost sleep over it! I first got the idea after I finished reading the Harry Potter series. I loved that series so much that I didn’t want to leave the world J.K. Rowling had created.
As I wrote, my own world started to evolve: an oceanic realm enchanted by the gods, that blended elements of Greek mythology with a Venetian aesthetic. I love Venice, and imagined a similar dreamy canal city for my story. Venice is already a magical place, so it wasn’t hard to add in a little magic of my own.
Megan: I love how such a different book to the Harry Potter series was inspired by it.
How long did Esme’s Wish take to write?
Elizabeth: Around eight or nine years ago from first idea to finish. I wrote about things I enjoyed – the ocean, magic, dragons – so it was intrinsically interesting to me, otherwise I would have given up long ago. I was really obsessed for a long time – just ask my long-suffering family!
Megan: I love that you were obsessed over it. The fact that you were passionate about what you were writing shows through in the incredible world you’ve created.
When you started writing Esme’s Wish, did you realise how long it would take and how much determination it would take to finish?
Elizabeth: I was a complete novice and had no notion of what it would take to bring my book to publishable standard, or the immense effort it would take to find a publisher. I thought it would take a few years, not nine!
My writing journey was full of false starts and wrong turns and plenty of tears. I suppose it was a combination of determination and pride in my craft that kept me going. I also knew that once the book was published, it would be my calling card – so I was determined to give it my best shot.
When I felt it was ready to fly, I entered Esme’s Wish in competitions, mainly so I could get it read in full by publishers! It didn’t win, or get shortlisted, but positive comments from a leading commissioning editor gave me a much-needed confidence boost. I kept polishing, working especially on characterization and pace, and was still tweaking it right up until publication day.
Megan: Your dedication to the story, and you constantly improving your craft certainly shows in your novel. And you’re right. When you first start out and think about writing a novel, or a picture book — anything really — you really don’t know what you are in for, or how much dedication, and sometimes just plain stubbornness and refusing to give up, it will take to see your book published.
Elizabeth: Yes, a certain amount of stubbornness is required. And grit, and patience. I admire anyone who manages to get a book published.
Megan: Writing fantasy is so freeing as it leaves so much scope for the imagination. Some of the ways you approached the various fantasy elements such as the tidal pool, and how the locals of Aeolia interact with their environment, as well as the local laws, customs, and festivals was wonderful. Even down to the way you dropped clues all the way through, and tied up everything neatly by the last page of the book. I was screaming for more, but at the same time I was deeply satisfied by what I had read, and experienced.
How did you create such a rich world?
Elizabeth: Megan, I'm blushing from all your compliments. Thank you! These are the sort of words an author hopes to hear but isn't sure if they ever will! I know that some fantasy writers plan out their world meticulously before they even start to write, but I am more of a pantser (making up things up as I go along) than a plotter when it comes to the fantasy aspects.
Much of the detail comes as the story evolves. Some ideas come from everyday life and experiences. For example, my family and I used to go on holidays to the N.S.W. South Coast and would often swim in a rock pool there. That little pool sparked my imagination and a version of it ended up in the story.
Megan: I write the same. I'm an organized person so I thought I would plan my story, my novel. But, I couldn’t. So, after asking Jen Storer in her Girl and Duck Q & Q Friday, about where should I start, as I only had about three scenes written and nothing else, and her telling me just to write, play and have some fun learning about the story as I go, I just dived right in.
I recently listened to an interview with Kate Forsyth. It was on the So You Want to be a Writer podcast, episode 204. When Kate was asked if she was a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’ she said she didn’t like the term ‘pantser.’ Rather, she prefers to say that she writes intuitively. I like that phrase better myself. It certainly sounds like you write that way too.
So, will there be a sequel to, Esme’s Wish?
Elizabeth: Esme’s Wish is the first of three books in the Esme series. I am presently working on the sequel, Esme’s Gift. It continues Esme’s adventures in the world of Aeolia and ties up unfinished business from book one, as well as introducing more complications, of course.
Megan: Did you always know Esme’s Wish was going to be a series?
Elizabeth: Yes, and I am very glad that I planned it that way. Everything is now in place for the sequels, which is making writing them so much easier. Writing series seems to run in the family, too. My son is also writing one.
Megan: I'm sure planning the overarching story would certainly help. And that’s great that you have inspired your son too.
Writing can be a lonely occupation. Do you have a cheer squad to spur you on? Do you belong to a writer’s group, or similar?
Elizabeth: I haven’t had much success with critique partners but fortunately I live with a secret weapon, my son, Chris. I rely heavily on his advice. He has not only edited many drafts of my book but has also been a fantastic help for brainstorming plot ideas or helping me climb out of plot holes. Now I am editing his first novel, a mammoth but awesome epic fantasy, the first in a series of five. While I am desperate to get back to writing my own sequel, debts must be paid!
Megan: That’s wonderful that you have someone that can help you so much. And wow! A five-book series. A mammoth task indeed to edit an epic fantasy novel.
What advice do you have for authors?
Elizabeth: Apart from the obvious one – write a lot – take time to read books where the prose is of an immaculate standard. If you do, your own writing will improve in leaps and bounds. Read widely - classics as well as contemporary, and non-fiction, too.
I like these words by Steve Martin, words which helped tide me through. The quote was in fact serendipitously pinned to the twitter feed of my publisher, Odyssey Books, when I was offered a publishing contract with them.
"Be so good they can't ignore you." ~ Steve Martin.
Megan: Brilliant advice, Elizabeth. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Elizabeth: Only to say thank you for taking the time to find out about my writing life so far. And for liking my book!
Megan: My pleasure, Thanks for your time, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: Thanks Megan.
Three fun facts about Elizabeth:
I’d love to own a cat, but I’m allergic, so I put them in my books instead!
One of my most prized possessions is my space pen, with which I can write upside down in bed. (Yes, I know I can use a pencil.)
A lot of my inspiration comes from nature, especially the ocean. I’ve always lived close by water.
About the Author
Elizabeth Foster read avidly as a child, but only discovered the joys of writing some years ago, when reading to her own kids reminded her of how much she missed getting lost in other worlds. Elizabeth lives in Sydney, where she can be found scribbling in cafés, indulging her love of both words and coffee. Esme’s Wish is her debut novel. Find out more about Elizabeth at www.elizabethfoster.com.au
For more information on blog tours at Books On Tour please visit www.justkidslit.com/books-on-tour.
Follow the tour:
Monday November 20 - Friday November 24
Thursday November 23
Megan Higginson - www.meganhigginson.com/blog
Friday November 24
Teena Raffa-Mulligan - www.teenaraffamulligan.com
When fifteen-year-old Esme Silver objects at her father’s wedding, her protest is dismissed as the impulsive action of a stubborn, selfish teenager. Everyone else has accepted the loss of Esme’s mother – so why can’t she? But Esme is suspicious. She is sure that others are covering up the real reason for her mother’s disappearance – that ‘lost at sea’ is code for something more terrible, something she has a right to know.
After Esme is accidentally swept into the enchanted world of Aeolia, the truth begins to unfold. With her newfound friends, Daniel and Lillian, Esme retraces her mother’s steps in the glittering canal city of Esperance, untangling the threads of Ariane’s double life. But the more Esme discovers about her mother, the more she questions whether she really knew her at all.
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Anne is chatting with me today about her new book series, Ori the Octopus. Her second book in the series is Ori’s Christmas.
Megan: Hi, Anne.
Anne: Hi Megan.
Megan: Well, let's get stuck into the interview, shall we?
Can you tell me a bit about your new book, Ori’s Christmas?
Anne: Having young children myself, I understand how difficult it is to get them to compromise most of the time. I decided to use this as a theme for a book. And given Christmas is a time when most kids get spoilt, that would be a good example of the perfect time to compromise.
Also, as with the first book in the series, Ori the Octopus, the book has actions in it, so children can participate in the story telling and the four craft pages in the middle can be pulled out to keep little hands busy for a little while.
Megan: So, you had a theme, and the Christmas season. I love hearing the stories behind the stories. How did you come up with the idea for a picture book series featuring a helpful Octopus? I mean, it could’ve been any creature.
Anne: The first book, Ori the Octopus, is about Ori helping his friends all at once. As he is using all of his legs he gets confused and drops everything. His friends see him sad, so they step in and they all do the tasks together. The original inspiration truth be told, was the multi-tasking busy mum. It grew from there into a story of friendship, helping others and teamwork.
Megan: The eternal wish of mothers that they had another pair of hands, or four.
Anne: Around the house when I'm being pulled this way and that I say "Hold on, I'm not Ori the Octopus!"
Megan: That’s hilarious!
Anne: Although other messages can be derived from Ori. Once I was reading at a library to a group of young kids and their mums. Afterwards one mum said to me that my book told her that we all need to ask for help sometimes. So, we all get messages even from a simple preschooler book!
Ori is also helpful in Ori's Christmas in that he plans the day's celebrations, but his friends figure out how to compromise so the day is enjoyed by all.
Megan: Your website is super interactive. It has videos of Ori the Octopus, free printable activity sheets which include colouring sheets, mazes, counting and matching sheets, drawings, and even some sea themed Christmas Carols. What was the idea behind your website?
Anne: I wanted free and safe entertainment for the younger children. I am aiming to be selling a book that is followed up with more...I call the activity sheets '5 minute fillers' - to give mum a break to hang the washing out or what not.
Also, the first book has cut out puppets in it. The kids can watch the puppet videos on my website then get inspired to make their own shows with the puppets from the book.
With the second book, there are loads of Christmas activities to do as you said, carols, cards, mazes etc.
Megan: That is amazing. I’m sure there be plenty of parents and teachers very happy with the activities, and I’m sure the kids would enjoy them.
Have you done any author visits?
Anne: Lots of author visits. I have done about 49 events for the first book and have just started with visits for the second.
Megan: Wow! That is a lot. What is the most gratifying thing about reading your books to children?
Anne: I do libraries, book shops, schools, and many preschools. Lots of fun -great fun - I love it. I get to act like a kid myself.
Megan: Any fun experiences you want to share?
Anne: Here is one of the funniest moments...at a preschool during book week. We stand up for the dancing. One boy is having a good look and then announces, "You're really short like my grandma" — priceless! You can't buy that humour and candidness.
Megan: That is so funny!
Anne: I also want to share one that is coming up and I am excited and nervous. When I arrived here from Malta my parents took us to live in Mt Druitt and I went to a local primary school there from year 2 to year 6. I have organised, through a not for profit org called Paint the town REaD to go and read at the school next month. I will read to the playgroup, then to kindy. They also want me to talk to the parents about what I experienced when I first came here, it wasn't all good and I think sharing it might reach someone.
Megan: I love how telling our stories can help other people.
So, you’ve self-published your two books. Why did you decide to go down the self-publishing route?
Anne: Self-publishing. Well, it is difficult to get trade published, no lie in that. I was really passionate about wanting to do this, text and ills. I read up for about a year then started to retrain and off I went!
Good and bad point of self-publishing. The worst problem is that your book doesn't always make it on that elusive shelf space. you have to work so much harder for that shelf space.
Megan: Why did you decide to illustrate the book yourself?
Anne: I love to draw! Always have. I have got some good feedback on the illustrations but I know my style will not fit all books. But for this series I think it fits well. Simple, cheerful, colourful characters, with faces that can easily portray emotions.
Megan: You’re on the right track. Illustrators have told me is that the illustrations need to show the character, emotion, movement, and to extend the words on the page.
What experience have you had in illustration? Did you learn as you went, or did you do a course?
Anne: I completed two illustrator courses, one on-line and one in town (Sydney). I also had to get some training in photoshop as I use that in my illustrations also. My illustrations are a mixture of painted objects and illustrator pictures.
Megan: What made you decide to do the courses and not just dive in and illustrate your books without doing the extra work? Considering you’ve always drawn.
Anne: I did at first. I painted the whole book but wasn’t happy with the result. So, I retrained and used a mixture — much happier with the results.
The illustrations definitely look better with the mixture of illustrator pics and painted, so after I did the course yes. But even then, I had to play around with it. I ended up having nine versions of Ori before I had one I liked. Now I've got loads of images I can play around with.
Megan: What are the most valuable lessons have you brought away from this experience?
Anne: The illustrations you mean or the whole getting a book out there?
Megan: The whole experience. You can break it down if you want.
Anne: I've learnt lots at every stage but the message I keep telling myself is — persevere and keep trying new things. If you fail, you will learn something.
My husband and I are both trying new careers right now. Before this I worked in health management and so did he. I am now writing books for kids and loving it and he is starting his own business in law. Even if we don't succeed, life is short, and you've got to try things while you can and, I figure we're being good role models for our kids.
Megan: So, Anne, what’s next for you? Is there another Ori book on the horizon?
Anne: Sure is - hopefully out for book week next year. This one is with another special message that is close to my heart — taking care of our environment. So, stay tuned.
Megan: Well, I think that about wraps it up. Thanks so much for your time today, Anne, and for participating in my 'In Conversation' series.
Anne: Thanks Megan - that was easy peasy lemon squeeze as Lola would say (of Charlie and Lola). Thank you for doing this interview. Bye!
Three fun facts about Anne — here they come… (drum roll).
1. Anne likes to do accents (see her Ori Octopus puppet videos) and impressions of famous and not-so-famous people.
2. Anne loves to dance. However, with the closing of her teen-hood night clubs and other responsibilities, Anne doesn’t get out dancing anymore. So, she struts her stuff at home in the living room, the study, and kitchen…anywhere there is space really.
3. Anne’s philosophy: “The best thing about having children is that it allows you to still act like a child yourself.” Examples: watching kid’s movies, going boogie boarding, fishing, ordering kid’s meals, lots of art and craft and generally acting silly.
Anne lives in Sydney with her husband and her two young children.
She has taught dance, been an entertainer at children’s parties, and she reads and teaches art and craft to children. She paints children’s canvasses and makes greeting cards.
Anne has been encouraged to share her story-telling, her illustrations and her creativity resulting in her Ori the Octopus series. The first book Ori the Octopus is closely followed by Ori’s Christmas, both released in 2017.
Website: Anne Donnelly.com
Facebook: Anne Donnelly
Ori’s book blog tour:
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Today I'm chatting with Melissa Gijsbers, single mum of two chronically ill teenage boys, Melissa has crowdfunded, and self-published two books, and her new book, Lizzy’s Dragon was recently released with Stone Table Books.
Megan: Hello Melissa.
Megan: I have watched your journey for the last couple of years and have been blown away by your tenacity in the face of so many obstacles. However, even though times have been tough, you haven’t given up on your dreams of writing and publishing your books.
Can you share a little about your journey as a writer, and how being a single parent with two chronically ill teenage boys have impacted your writing journey?
Melissa: I have always loved writing. It's something that I could do that I was good at, that was mine. My siblings are very musical, and were heavily involved when we were teenagers, but it wasn't my thing. When I was in high school, I won some writing awards, but being an author wasn't considered an 'acceptable' career path and I was encouraged to look at other things.
Life got in the way for a while - I ran my own business for over 9 years, and was a blogger since before it was popular, so I still wrote, but not creative writing.
When my youngest son turned 7, I was told I had to return to work, so I closed down my business, and discovered creative writing again.
In 2012, I joined the 12x12 in 12 and Chapter Book Challenges, and things have gone from there. Through the Chapter Book Challenge, I discovered that I really like writing in that format.
Four years ago, my younger son came down with Glandular Fever, and that turned into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, last Easter, my older son was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.
It's a hard road, but many things we've been through have sparked ideas for stories, though when things are really hard, it gets overwhelming, and sometimes it can be hard finding the energy to write.
I've been a single parent for nearly 12 years now, and I often go away to my favourite cafe and spend a blissful couple of hours writing, but I haven't been able to do that lately with my older son in and out of hospital.
Although we do have a reputation around the hospital, all the staff ask me how my latest book is going.
Megan: That is amazing. You’re single. You work. You're looking after your teenage boys, taking them to hospital and doctors’ visits, and you also run writing workshops for kids.
How do you find time to write, besides the blissful couple of hours here and there?
Melissa: I do my best to fit it in around everything! I carry my iPad with me most of the time so I can add to stories when I have a minute. I have found the Scrivener app useful for writing snippets. I also have a notebook with me at all times so I can jot down things if an idea hits me.
For editing, I print out my manuscript and carry it with me so I can edit on the go rather than having to make sure I have my laptop or iPad with me
Megan: Wow! You certainly make sure that you make the most of every minute that you possibly can.
You’ve self-published two books. Where did the ideas come from for those books?
Melissa: The first book, Swallow Me Now, came about because my kids were being bullied, and they wanted a story that had a realistic ending, rather than one where the bully and victim become best friends, or the bully magically goes to another school. It's based on experiences I had as a missionary kid struggling to fit in, and experiences my kids had of being bullied.
The second book, 321 Done, was inspired by something my son did. My older son is a speedcuber, this means he solves the Rubik's cube very, very fast. Shortly after his brother was diagnosed with ME/CFS, he did a fundraiser at his school to raise money and awareness about ME/CFS to see how many times he could solve a cube in half an hour. This book is a fictionalised version of this event.
Megan: I’ve seen your older son solve those cubes. His fingers are like speed lightening. How have the books been received? And has anything about that surprised you?
Melissa: The books have been well received. The biggest surprise is how many parents & kids have told me how much the books have helped them - they have enjoyed the strategies for bullying in Swallow Me Now.
And how much the cubing community has embraced 321 Done - it was the first book that features a speedcuber that has been published.
The biggest surprise with my books is how much people are enjoying my story.
Megan: It must feel wonderful for your books to have been so well received. Especially all the hard work you put into it, as you also crowdfunded to get them published too.
So, what has kept you following your dreams despite the difficulties?
Melissa: Writing is something I feel I have to do. It's something that excites me. Sharing my love of writing and books gives me a buzz. In the midst of all the difficulties, it's something that feeds me.
I often have people ask what I'm doing to look after myself, I reply that I write. They often look at me as if I'm crazy, but it's what I do!
Megan: I totally get it.
Melissa: So many people don't!
Megan: You also have a new blog, Diary of a Chronic Mum. Can you tell me about it, and why you started that blog?
Melissa: I started it so that we could follow our own journey and see how far we've come, as well as sharing some of the strategies we use to cope.
I hope that it will help others in a similar situation, as well as being a way to help me cope - writing about it all!
Sometimes, in the midst of a difficult situation, you forget about how much things change and how far you’ve actually come.
Megan: So very true. It’s really wonderful that you can use your own experiences to help others.
You have a new book coming out, Lizzy’s Dragon with Stone Table Books. Can you share how that opportunity came about?
Melissa: That came about as a result of a friend reading Swallow Me Now! He got a job as an editor at Stone Table Books and they were looking for middle grade books and he asked if I wrote fantasy. I said I'd give it a go. We came up with the idea for a water breathing dragon and the rest, as they say, is history!
Megan: I love the fact that this opportunity came about because of a book you had self-published, and your friend was able to get a taste of writing style, and like it enough to ask you to write for them.
So, tell me. What is Lizzy’s Dragon about?
Melissa: Lizzy is a girl who really loves reptiles and wants a lizard as a pet, her parents won't let her. Her annoying little brother, Joey, seems to get what he wants! One day, she finds a strange looking egg. When it hatches, Lizzy finds the most unusual lizard she has ever seen.
Megan: Sounds fantastic. Where is Lizzy’s Dragon set?
Melissa: Somewhere in country Australia during a drought. There is no town name mentioned, so it could be anywhere.
Megan: So many fantasy stories are set overseas in places like England and Scotland. Why did you pick Australia for the setting?
Melissa: When we came up with the idea for a water dragon, we thought of bushfires! I lived in country Victoria during the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires and my Dad was a forester and fought the fires. It's something I was familiar with, so setting in Australia was an obvious choice for this book. Plus, as you say, there aren't many fantasy stories set in Australia.
Megan: So, it sounds like you worked closely with the editor on this book. How was that experience compared to writing your previous books and having total control over the end product?
Melissa: I really enjoyed the process. I find I do my best work when I'm working closely with an editor. The publisher found an amazing illustrator who brought my words to life.
Megan: A good editor is wonderful. They really do help you bring your story into a whole other realm don’t they?
Melissa: They do. They are able to see things that I missed, and help to turn a good story into an amazing story.
Megan: Do you have any current projects you are working on?
Melissa: My 4 year old nephew has asked me to write him a story about a boy and a unicorn! I am also working on a couple of stories for adults, not sure if they will be novels or novellas.
It's fun playing around with different formats and genre.
Megan: It certainly is. I love just writing whatever story comes in my head. I think about the audience when I rewrite.
Well, it sounds like you have plenty of stories to be working on. I look forward to seeing what you come up with. Good luck on the launch of Lizzy’s Dragon.
When and where will Lizzy’s Dragon be available?
Melissa: Lizzy's Dragon is available now through Stone Table Books and on Amazon, or request your favourite bookshop or library stock it.
Megan: That sounds great. Well, I think that about wraps it up. Did you have anything else you want to add?
Melissa: For anyone who thinks they don't have time - if writing is what you really want to do, then go for it. Even if you can only get the occasional 10 minutes here or there. You don't have to write for hours every day to be an author. I don't, and I'm making my dreams come true.
Megan: And that is the crux of it. No excuses! Just go for your dreams and make everything that seems like an obstacle and opportunity. An opportunity for growth.
Thank you so much for your time today, Melissa. I'm sure that your story will inspire a lot of people.
Melissa: Thank you for the interview and the opportunity.
Three fun Facts about Melissa:
Melissa Gijsbers lives in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne with her two teenage sons and their pet blue tongue lizard. She is an avid reader and writer and runs a group for writers at her local library. She currently has three books available for purchase and is looking forward to adding to this list. You can find out more about Melissa at www.melissagijsbers.com and www.melissawrites.com.au
Follow the blog tour:
Just Write For Kids: Character Q & A: Interview with Lizzy's Dragon, Bubbles.
Tales to Tell Me: Lizzy’s Dragon by Melissa Gijsbers.
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I’m excited to welcome Cameron Macintosh to my blog today on his book blog tour for his new book series, Max Booth Future Sleuth.
Cameron Macintosh was born in Melbourne and has lived there ever since, apart from overseas backpacking jaunts whenever he’s been able to fund them. He studied Psychology and Italian at Melbourne University, and Professional Writing at RMIT. Worried that no one would ever publish any of his own books, he became an editor so that he could interfere with the books of others.
Then, in 2008, a lovely publisher asked him to write a book about the Beaconsfield mine disaster. This was an excellent introduction to professional writing.
Since then, he has written more than 80 books for primary and early secondary students. He has also honed hundreds of books for teachers and students in his other life as an editor for high quality educational publishers. In the few minutes per week that he isn’t wrestling with words on the laptop, he loves singing and playing the guitar, and reading music biographies.
Cameron: Good morning Megan!
Megan: How are you today? Are you ready to be interrogated...? I mean interviewed?
Cameron: Thanks very much for making the time to chat - I hope I'll have a few brain cells working - anything could happen.
Megan: Hehe. We shall soon see. It should certainly make things interesting. Let's begin.
You have more than 80 titles in print throughout the world, which is incredible. I’m keen to hear what your journey into publication looks like.
Cameron: Thanks Megan, it’s been a long journey and I definitely took the scenic route! Like most aspiring authors, I have a ream of rejection letters and emails to prove it. But I finally got a break into publishing by doing a work placement for an educational publisher – doing proofreading and photocopying (mostly photocopying, truth be told!)
But… they were wonderful people and they eventually gave me a job as an editor, which I used to worm my way into authoring books for the educational market. And now the Max Booth books are my first foray into mainstream publishing, which is extremely exciting.
Megan: Was this after you did the Creative Writing course at RMIT?
Cameron: That's right - I actually did the work placement as a unit of the RMIT course. I'd really recommend aspiring authors and editors take any chance they can to do work placements. The personal contacts and experiences have made a huge difference. Although of course there are so many other interesting paths to publication - that one just happened to be a great springboard for me.
Megan: That must have been an amazing opportunity that has certainly lead to many open doors for you, and it must have given you a lot of insight into the publishing industry. I read that one of your first books was to cover the Beaconsfield Mine disaster. How did you go about researching and writing it?
Cameron: That was a really interesting and challenging first commission. The publisher wanted as much of it as possible to be based on primary sources and media coverage from the time of the incident, which allowed me to weave in a lot of authentic detail. But I felt the need, very strongly, to tread very carefully, as so many lives were impacted by the disaster and are still living with its aftereffects today.
Megan: That must have been difficult, and you achieved it. What are some of the lessons you learned while researching and writing that particular book that has helped you since?
Cameron: In terms of the research, I definitely took away a strong message about the need to double- and triple-check sources when writing non-fiction! And to do my utmost to respect the people who are being written about.
As far as writing goes, that was my first experience of writing to a strict brief - which is standard in educational publishing - and to leave any hints of ego on the doormat. The goal in that situation is to give the publisher what they need, and that usually means producing a manuscript that will sit neatly alongside other books in the same series.
More broadly though, it was a very practical way to learn the value of drafting and redrafting. I still have the ream of paper I went through to get that manuscript in order!
Megan: You really took many valuable lessons away from that experience.
So, you got your publishing break writing for the education market. You have written a lot for them. What is it like? For instance, do you choose the subjects that you write about? Or do you get a brief?
Cameron: I really enjoy the educational writing. It's very much brief-driven, but all of the publishers I've worked with have been fantastic in their willingness to allow as much creative input as possible.
I've definitely noticed some big differences between fiction and non-fiction commissions. With fiction, usually I've been asked to come up with my own story idea, but one that works with a particular theme or area of study. The trickiest parameter to deal with is the levelling - trying to stick to word lists and sentence lengths without suffocating the story!
Non-fiction tends to be more prescriptive - the publisher will usually have a very specific idea about what they need from the manuscript - often with a bookmap - and I'll mostly be fleshing it out and trying to find interesting details to add. Both present their challenges but it's a fantastic industry to be a part of.
Megan: That is really fascinating.
You have a book that came out in July this year, Max Booth Future Sleuth: Book 1 - Tape Escape. It’s been illustrated by Dave Atze and is published by Big Sky Publishing. Can you give me a little spiel has to what the story is about?
Cameron: Certainly! The premise of the story is that it’s the year 2424, in a city called Bluggsville. Our hero Max is an 11 year-old street kid who sleeps in a packing case in the city museum’s storeroom. He survives by identifying ancient artefacts that the museum staff haven’t been able to identify themselves, and gets paid some pocket money for each artefact he identifies.
The objects he identifies are from the 20th and 21st centuries – things that the reader would know about but that are now mysterious to people in the year 2424. In Tape Escape, Max is given a weird lump of plastic to identify – a cassette tape from the 1980s. He discovers that it contains lost recordings by a still-famous rockstar. The recordings are so valuable that when a dodgy musicologist finds out about them, Max’s discovery suddenly gets him into all sorts of trouble (DOT DOT DOT!)
Megan: It certainly sounds exciting, Cameron. I love hearing the stories behind the stories. Where did the idea for this particular story come from?
Cameron: Thanks Megan. Well the spark of the story definitely came from a visit to Pompeii and the amazing archaeological museum in Naples. Seeing so many everyday objects that had survived a catastrophic volcanic eruption and centuries of burial was a real mind-blower.
Cups and spoons that probably would've been quite uninteresting to the people of Pompeii were completely spellbinding to me - and this made me wonder how people of future generations might look at items that we commonly use today.
This thought seemed to offer a lot of potential for story ideas, and I was eventually able to tease the idea out into a solid concept about a future detective, Max, who investigates objects from today, or recent decades, and is completely fascinated by them - even things that might not seem so interesting to us in the here and now.
It's great fun choosing the present-day objects, and I must say that the illustrator, Dave Atze, really understands and manages to amplify the wonder, and humour, of Max's discoveries.
Megan: That is so cool. I love how you didn’t just think about it and dismiss it, but continued that train of thought until a story emerged. Did the experience of writing your own novel prove different from writing to a brief? If so, in what way?
Cameron: Great question! It was definitely a very different experience to writing to a brief. Just being able to let the story take its own shape and length was quite liberating after having written for the same age group, with so many limitations.
At the same time, I think subconsciously it probably benefited from all of that brief-driven writing too - I really wanted the Max stories to engage both enthusiastic and reluctant readers, so it was helpful having a few parameters at the back of my mind in terms of vocab and sentence length. I really hope they've helped make the stories as accessible to as many readers as possible.
Megan: That is really wonderful. I have dyslexia and it is one of them, as you say, perimeters, in my mind as well as to make sure that my book is accessible to as many readers as possible. I could seriously go off tangent here and start an in-depth discussion about engaging reluctant readers, but maybe another time.
Back to your Max Booth book. How was it working with the illustrator? Did you have much input into the whole process?
Cameron: That would be a really enjoyable discussion to have. I'd love to see your book!
It was a real treat to work with Dave Atze on the two titles we've produced so far. He's incredibly versatile and really brings out the humour and pathos in the stories. I included illustration ideas in the manuscript (way too many!) but was more than happy for Dave and the publishers to work out which ones were worth pursuing.
I was lucky enough to see Dave's roughs and throw in a few comments, but he's such an intuitive artist who really 'gets' the characters, so I was happy to keep out of the way as much as possible and let him work his magic - which he did incredibly well.
Megan: That would be great to have another conversation, Cameron. I’d love to have a chat about my book, and writing fun and engaging stories to encourage children to read.
I’m a huge sci-fi fan so I couldn’t help noticing that a few of your books have the sci-fi theme. What draws you to writing Sci-fi?
Cameron: It's funny because I haven't read a lot of sci-fi as an adult, but I find it a really rich source ideas for kids' books.
I think that's because it offers limitless possibilities of setting, in terms of time and physical location, as well as imagined technologies that you can use to shape and colour your stories. And who doesn't enjoy a bit of speculation about how the world might look in the future, as scary as that can be?
And you can also get away with much more craziness - story wise - than you can in a story that requires realism or strict historical accuracy. A lifelong fascination with robots has definitely been an influence too!
Megan: That’s so true. I think that’s why I love sci-fi and fantasy. The pure escapism into other worlds; other realities.
So, Cameron, what do you think makes a good story?
Cameron: Boiling it down to the simplest level, I think it comes down to interesting character/s, dealing with an interesting, and seemingly insurmountable, problem. As a reader, I love seeing how characters react when thrown into the deep end, and learning from how they sink or swim!
I don't mean to imply that a good story needs to deal with high drama - the problem at the heart of the story can just as easily be an internal, emotional conflict. It's all worth sharing with the world.
Megan: Those are really great tips, Cameron.
What advice do you have for emerging authors? As you worked as an editor, could you please tell us from an editor’s point of view, and then as an author.
Cameron: Wow, really interesting question. As an editor, I'd advise aspiring authors to look very carefully at publishers' submission guidelines and make sure you tick all of their boxes, as most publishers who accept unsolicited submissions deal with a huge volume of manuscripts - make sure you give yours every chance of being read.
I used to do a bit of 'slush pile' reading (as much as I hate that term!) and found that so many of the submissions didn't match what the publishers had requested. And obviously, take the time to polish your work as much as possible before you send it out. One of the best ways to do this is to join or start a writing group with people whose opinions you can trust.
As an author, I wish there was a magic formula but really, it’s all about persistence and self-belief, and humility is a useful attribute too – because you’re going to need it! I’ve known so many brilliant writers who faced a few rejections and gave up.
I can't state strongly enough the need to have some kind of supportive writing community around you, too. I've been in a small but wonderful writing group for more than five years and the mutual encouragement and kind criticism has helped each of us beyond calculation...
Megan: Thank you so much for being so candid about the submission process. As an author, you certainly need to be persistent and not give up in the face of rejection. And finding a supportive writing community is super important.
So, Cameron, what’s next for you?
Cameron: Well, I'm currently drafting the third Max Booth adventure and enjoying that very very much. I've just started scribbling down the bones of a 'grown-up' book too. I'll find out find very soon if I'm grown-up enough to see it through!
Megan: That’s brilliant, Cameron. I’m sure you’ll learn a lot about yourself in the process.
Okay. I always do three fun facts. So, what are three fun facts about yourself?
1. I love toy robots from the 1980s, especially Dingbots and Omnibots (definitely worth Googling!)
2. I spent so much time in my teens and early 20s listening to the Beatles that I still consider Beatle-ologist as a viable fall-back career.
3. I cook at least two curries a week but will never refuse an invitation to dinner at an Indian restaurant!
Megan: Where can we find you?
You can find more about me and my books on my website: www.cameronmacintosh.com , and on Big Sky Publishing website, and on Facebook as Cameron Mactosh author.
You can check out the book trailer for Max Booth Future Sleuth: Book 1 - Tape Escape on my YouTube Channel.
Max Booth Future Sleuth - Selfie Search is also now available.
Megan: Thanks for taking the time to chat today, Cameron. It's been wonderful.
Cameron: Thank you so much Megan! It's been a real pleasure.
Follow the Book Blog Tour:
Boomerang Books: Interview with Cameron Macintosh. Max Booth Future Sleuth
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I recently had the privilege of meeting Leigh at a recent visit not far from where I live. He was on his whirl wind tour of the various schools and libraries across Australia, as well as overseas. He delighted the audience with his tales of being an art teacher, and pursuing children’s book illustration, as well as other artistic pursuits.
Today, I welcome Leigh to my blog.
You’ve been asked this a lot, but how did you get started in illustrating and writing your own books?
Around 1992, when I’d been illustrating other people’s stories for a couple of years, I began to lose interest. Primarily because I felt disengaged from the characters I was being asked to illustrate. Then an editor suggested that I create my own character which turned out to be Old Tom. He’d been hanging round and taking shape in my head subconsciously for a while. Originally, he looked like a gangster but I toned him down a tad, without making him look too goody – two – shoes. Naughty rather than nasty. Four publishers rejected Old Tom before an eagle-eyed editor at Penguin nabbed him.
You say your stories are character driven. Who are they inspired by?
I don’t think my characters are inspired by any person or ‘persons’ in particular. They’re a mixture of characters who I’ve met, or taught, even aspects of my family. There’s a bit of me in each one I suspect.
How do you road test any new characters you create?
I showed a couple to my mother earlier on. She was appalled, particularly when it came to Mr Chicken. I knew at that point I was on to something. I have an aversion to ‘cute’. I’m simply not interested in cute books, not that I pay too much attention to children’s books in any case. However, I admit I am a bit of a romantic at heart, hence the underlying good heartedness of my characters and the relationships between them…. or most of them. I never road test characters with kids. Every kid is different and ultimately a writer or artist needs to rely on their instincts. Well I do anyway.
I had the privilege to attend one of your talks at my local library in Gippsland. During your talk, you said that you write from the heart. Does what come out ever surprise you? If yes, can you give an example?
Yes. I’ve surprised myself on a few occasions. The first time was when, about twenty years ago I was asked to give a lecture to fine art and graphic art students at my old art school (Caulfield Tech. now Monash University) I’d only written a couple of books at that point and some students asked me to select a few pages and read them from my first book ‘Old Tom’. My voice cracked at a certain spot and I realised that I’d strayed into autobiography. The students picked it up as well.
Your illustrations are so loose and immediate. What do you do to create that effect?
It’s just how I draw. The drawings evolve on the page. I work hard to make it look effortless. I feel I’ve failed if a drawing looks laboured. I’ve always had better eyes than talent. Which means I’m nowhere near as good as I wish I were. My limitations all too often stare back at me from the page.
That can be a healthy thing for an artist. To keep striving for ones own idea of perfection even though you know it’s all too often unattainable. My primal goal when drawing is to get to the essence of the subject, be it a character or a building.
How long does it take you to complete an illustration?
It varies. Sometimes a drawing works straight off and it looks fresh and spontaneous and it’s done. However, there’s usually a spoil sport part or illustration where I have to battle to get it right….and then disguise the considerable effort along the way. Then it might take a day or days to finish. Often in this case I rip it up and start again, in a sort of frenzy because by then the deadline is looming.
I noticed in your books that you include well known buildings in the illustrations. I’m aware that you have a passionate interest in architecture and history. How important is it for illustrators to create from the heart?
I’ve no idea what’s in anyone else’s head, I just know that the enjoyment and satisfaction I get from creating these books comes from creating a genuine sense of place. An authentic sense of the atmosphere in London, Paris, or Rome.
You are working on your art in its various forms all the time. How do you feed your creativity?
I read a lot. Books about architecture, History, Baroque, Georgian, Tudor. English or German architecture interests me most. I read history books often. Biographies too. At the moment, I’m reading David Marr’s biography of Patrick White. As well as a history of London. I travel quite a bit too. I’ve been to London over thirty times.
Horrible Harriet has been made into a stage show. How did that come about?
I was approached by the producers who were, in consultation with me, offered the stage rights by my publishers. I had some input but stepped back after a point. I have learnt not to get too emotionally involved in the translation into other mediums of my books or characters.
What is it like to see your work interpreted in that way?
Unnerving and strange. My ‘children’ have left home. It’s ultimately flattering in spite of a degree of anxiety I inevitably feel.
I’ve watched a lot of interviews of you. Some show you going into schools and talking to the kids, engaging with them, and the students totally engrossed in every word, especially when it comes to the drawing segment where you show them how to draw Old Tom. What do you like most about school visits?
I enjoy engaging kids, especially when I sense that they are loosening up and creating for the pleasure of it. It’s satisfying too when kids who may not be used to drawing or writing creatively end up being completely engaged.
You are the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016/2017. What does that mean for you?
It’s been a great honour and is and has been a wonderful experience.
What would you like to see change in the schools of Australia, and why?
Every school needs a Library and school Librarian. Misguided schools are, or have already done away with their school Library. I’ve heard dreadful stories about Librarians retiring or being put in excess and the school library, carefully built up over many years completely emptied with books thrown out or delivered to op shops. Libraries, good ones are carefully calibrated to the needs of the students and teachers at the particular school. They are more than just books. And I’d like to see art and music as a ‘definite’ on the primary school curriculum.
What’s next for you?
Mr Chicken’s next adventure: ‘Mr Chicken all over Australia’
Would you tell us ‘Three Fun Facts’ about yourself?
Well, here’s just one…. I’m allergic to cats.
Australian Children’s Laureate 2016-2017
“Leigh Hobbs, best-selling author of more than 20 books, including the iconic Old Tom, Mr Chicken Goes to Paris and Horrible Harriet is the Australian Children's Laureate for 2016 – 2017.
His subversive humour has delighted children for more than two decades.
Leigh Hobbs was born in Melbourne, grew up in Bairnsdale and has lived and worked in Sydney, Sale and London. He is an artist who works across a wide range of mediums, as well as writing and illustrating his children's books.
Many of his cartoons have appeared in the Melbourne Age newspaper. He is best known, though, for his children's books featuring his characters Old Tom, Horrible Harriet and Fiona the Pig and Mr Chicken, as well as the Freaks and their teachers in 4F for Freaks and Freaks Ahoy.
Old Tom has been adapted into an extremely popular TV series. Leigh has three times been shortlisted for the CBCA Picture Book of the Year Award (for Mr Chicken Goes to Paris, Horrible Harriet and Old Tom's Holiday) and his books have won every major children’s choice award in Australia. Leigh’s books are published by Allen & Unwin.” Quote from Children's Laureate website.
You can find more information about Leigh Hobbs on his website, about his role as the 2016-2017 Children's Laureate here, and his books and toys (you can buy Horrible Harriet, and Mr Chicken soft toys) through Allen and Unwin.
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Michelle Worthington is an international award winning children's author. She released her first children's picture book in November 2011. Since then she has released ten picture books, two within the last six months. Michelle is also the founder of Share Your Story Australia.
Persistent and tenacious , Michelle joined me for a chat about overcoming rejection, what’s her ‘why’ and how that impacts all she does, and how now she is available to help and mentor aspiring, and emerging authors .
Megan: Can you give me a brief overview of you journey to publication of that first book in 2011?
Michelle: Goodness me, that seems like a million years ago. After ten years of trying, I had all but given up on my dream of getting my picture book published. I had made every mistake, got a contract that was cancelled during the GFC and not had any clue there were people out there that could have helped me.
It was timing that got me my first contract in the end. I found a local publisher who had just finished an Australian animal book when I emailed my manuscript and were looking to use the same illustrator. Timing and luck, I'm not sure how much talent had to do with it, but I hope a little bit too!
Megan: I'm pretty sure talent had a lot to do with it. So much has happened since then. What publishing experiences have you had over the years since? What publishing experiences have you had over the years?
Michelle: I have had the absolute pleasure to work with some amazing publishers and illustrators and learned so much along the way. I'm still learning. I think you always do as a creative in such a dynamic industry. I love working as part of a team so the publication process suits me, both traditionally and independent. I am mostly traditionally published, except for The Pink Pirate.
That makes me what they call a hybrid. I really don't like that term. It shouldn't matter what pathway to publication you take, as long as you have something to say that makes a difference.
Megan: That's so true. Do you think that it is because for a long time self-publishing had a bad name because of a lot of not well made books were put out? Though that has changed so much now. These days you often can't tell traditionally published books from many of the self-published books
Michelle: I think so, but times are changing. Opinions are taking longer to change but the focus has to be on quality and author branding, no matter what publishing channel you choose.
Megan: You have had your share of rejection letters and emails. What have you learnt from those experiences?
Michelle: Over 300 to date. It showed me how passionate I was about doing this. Each rejection was an opportunity to learn and improve my writing or figure out what sort of writer I wanted to be. I still get down about rejections, especially when I really thought my story would be a good fit for that publisher, but it won't stop me. My motto is, "not this story, not them, not now" and move on.
Megan: And that is the key to the whole journey in the end, isn't Michelle? Digging deep and discovering and articulating your 'why.' And your passion for what you believe comes out in everything you do too.
Michelle: Absolutely, if you don't know your why, stop right now and figure it out for two reasons. to keep you going when times get tough and to make your life so much easier when it comes to marketing and promotion, a very tricky element of being an author.
It’s easier to market your why than yourself. I don't like talking about myself, but I can talk about my books until the cows come home. I think a lot of authors miss the point when it comes to marketing, especially via social media.
Megan: That is so true. One of the first things I did before I set up my website, and my Facebook pages was to articulate my why. This helps steer every conversation, and everything I get involved in. It has certainly helped me avoid some nasty virtual reefs.
Speaking about being able to talk about your books... as authors, we often put aspects of ourselves in our characters who we write about. What character do you identify with the most out of all the books you’ve read, and those you’ve written?
Michelle: Of the books I have read, I am Anne of Green Gables, Laura Wilder, Silky from the Far Away Tree and a hobbit, but the only book I have ever written with myself as the character was Hootie the Cutie. It was the trickiest book to write. All my books have elements of my upbringing, my beliefs, and my experiences in them. That is what children connect with, authentic stories.
Megan: I love Hootie the Cutie. One of my fav's.
You’ve mentioned a couple of times about you as an author having something to say, and finding a way to say it. How important is it for us to share our stories with the wider community?
Michelle: It is how we have passed down knowledge from generation to generation from the beginning of time. It is what makes us human, the ability to share stories with each other in order to teach, inspire and create. Everyone has a story to tell, and sometimes you have to show real bravery to tell it.
Megan: Telling stories is a wonderful way to communicate a message, to pass on a story that happened long ago, or yesterday. All sorts of things. You’ve recently started Share Your Story. Can you explain what it is, and how it came to be, and why you started it?
Michelle: It started out of my desire to help aspiring authors have an easier journey to publication than I did. There is so much amazing talent in Australia right now and so many stories that can inspire change for the better in our community.
But with the publishing industry becoming more and more daunting, I wanted to create a tribe of new writers and experienced authors who could work together to bring a new voice to the Australian arts scene. We are not a writers group. We are an organisation aiming to educate, inspire and empower writers to publish their stories and grow their author business. My goal is for authors to outgrow us and come back as guest speakers and mentors.
Megan: Wow! That is amazing. I love your heart Michelle. And you are right. It is daunting these days. I find it difficult in that, for someone unpublished like myself, I hear so many conflicting bits of advice. It is wonderful you have someone, like yourself, being willing to show and to guide aspiring and emerging authors, to help them grow their brand, their business, and to grow as a writer too.
You’ve been so giving of your time today. Thank you so much. Are there any final words you have for any emerging authors that are looking to get published?
Michelle: If you know in your heart that your story matters, never give up. I'm always here to help if you need me. My email inbox is always open.
I think that about wraps it up. Thank you so much for today. I've thoroughly enjoyed our chat.
Michelle: Thanks for having me.
3 fun facts about Michelle:
I love wearing old socks
I'm allergic to dust
My next husband will be Jamie from Outlander, that's why my current husband won't let me go to Scotland
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Karen Tyrrell Author is a Brisbane award-winning writer of empowering books for children and grown-ups.
Karen’s books are inspirational page turners, often humorous, showing how to live strong and be resilient.
Karen’s childrens’ books Bailey Beats the Blah and STOP the Bully are endorsed by Kids Helpline.
Harry Helps Grandpa Remember won a RADF grant.
Jo-Kin Battles the It, Jo-Kin vs Lord Terra and Song Bird Superhero share positive messages. Her messages include self-belief, resilience, team building, problem solving and STEM science.
Karen has just released Song Bird 2: The Battle of Bug World: Can Song Bird stop the bully, save her sister, the bees and environment … before it’s too late?
Welcome to the blog today, Karen. I’ve had you on the blog a few times now, and yet I always have new questions for you. This time around I would love to get your thoughts on writing junior fiction.
1. What drew you to writing junior fiction? And what do you enjoy most about it?
I loved reading junior fiction to my primary school classes, watching how engrossed they became with child-centred stories and characters they cared about.
I love creating humour and fast-paced action for my superhero, Song Bird AKA Rosella Ava Bird. She’s faced with dramatic challenges to save her sister from the bully … and save the environment and the bees.
Well, you’ve certainly achieved a fast paced book with lots of action with Song Bird Book 2.
2. What is the hardest part of writing junior fiction?
Combining all the layers of the story into one cohesive whole. My favourite layer is adding humour into the final storyline. I love watching the hero trip over and crack jokes about his dorky parents. I weave the child-centred humour into the final draft of the hero’s journey.
3. What are the most important elements to include in a junior fiction novel?Humour. Action packed adventure. A relatable kid hero and his/ her side-kicks. Yummy, delicious food.
We can’t forget the food, can we?
4. When did you get inspired by the idea for your latest book, Song Bird 2: The Battle of Bug World?
In 2016, I created version #1, Song Bird 2: The Battle of Hero World with a stop the bully and hero theme. Then I changed up the story line to add an extra plot line about saving the bees and the environment as well as the original bully theme. Bug World is a unique fantasy world, existing on two levels: the visible Bug World theme park and the mysterious world below the earth’s surface.
There’s certainly a lot going on in such a short book.
5. So, what are your top tips for writing junior fiction?
A: Junior novels or junior fiction: Primarily for 8-12+ years. Generally, a paperback with very few line illustrations (B&W) and the word length from 10,000 to 25,000 words depending on the series it suits. Books for young readers who are confident.
B: Create brick wall challenges, struggles, and conflicts for the relatable hero character to solve.
C: If your book is humorous, add hilarious humour to the very last draft. Think up crazy names. Create scenes to show-off slapstick humour and nerdy dorky parents who do ridiculous, embarrassing things.
D: Make the story child-centred with loads of delicious food, tons of action-packed adventure and dialogue that is punchy and creates tension.
Thanks for coming on the blog today, Karen, and sharing your tips for writing junior fiction. And don’t forget to check out the special prizes and giveaways that Karen has for readers at the end of the post. It’s some pretty cool prizes that you don’t want to miss out on.
A superstorm destroys Rosella Ava Bird’s flower garden.
All the bees are disappearing.
A giant sink-hole cracks open beneath Rosie’s school bus, and mysterious voices rise up from the depths.
A tornado blasts the house of Frank, Rosie’s sinister next-door neighbour, threatening Rosie’s family.
And Rosie’s sister, Raven, has gone missing.
Should Rosie lead a mission into Bug World to rescue Raven?
Or stay home and save her family?
You can find Karen on:
Facebook: Karen Tyrell
You Tube: Karen Tyrell
Instagram: Karen Tyrell
Check out the rest of the Blog Tour to win some AWESOME prizes:
From Mon June 26 AMAZON LAUNCH Battle of Bug World Amazon Releasewww.karentyrrell.com/amazon-release-battle-bug-world/
From Mon June 26 Battle of Bug World AMAZON LAUNCH
From Tues June 27 CURLY Q’S Kids Book Review
From Tues June 27 REVIEW Just Write For Kids. A New Eco Adventurefrom Karen Tyrrell
From Wed June 28 REVIEW Georgina Ballantine review
From Thurs June 29 Writing Junior Fiction with Megan Higginson
From Fri June 30 REVIEW & interview http://www.readilearn.com.au/blog/
Just leave a comment on any of the posts in the blog tour, to win a copy of The Battle of Bug World (Song Bird 2). Add initials SB2
FREE Children’s Book Assessment!
Win a free children’s book assessment (up to 10 pages) by the author Karen Tyrrell. Just comment on any of the posts in the blog tour and add the initials CBA
Win signed artwork by illustrator Trevor Salter. Add initials AW
Remember the more you comment, the more chances you have to win The Battle of Bug World. Good luck 😊
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Today I welcome Robert Vescio onto the blog, to chat about his latest book, Ella Saw a Tree. Welcome, Robert!
What was your inspiration behind Ella Saw the Tree?
My children are easily distracted with television and video games that it can be difficult for them to focus. We often tell our children to ‘pay attention’ but we don’t often teach children HOW to pay attention. So I wanted to write a story that does that in a fun way.
Mindfulness is about training yourself to pay attention in a specific way. We spend so much time thinking over stuff that happens, or worrying about things that might happen in the future, that often we forget to appreciate or enjoy the moment. Mindfulness is a way of bringing us back to experience life as it happens.
What message do you hope this book will bring its readers?
Ella Saw the Tree is an entertaining story about mindfulness and living in the moment. It teaches a simple but important lesson. By taking a moment to slow down and really appreciate your surroundings even the simple things can be surprising and fun.
Mindfulness can help treat people with anxiety and depression. When a person is mindful they are focused on the present moment, not worrying about anything that went on in the past or that might be coming up in the future, concentrating on what’s happening around them and to them and not being judgemental about anything they notice.
When you’re mindful it gives you a clear head, slows down your nervous system, lets you relax and helps you cope with stress.
Ella Saw the Tree will delight all readers. Teachers and parents alike can use this story as a starting point for discussing the concept of engaging all senses and being mindful of the little things in life.
For children, reading this book will open new perspectives on the world and being present in the moment. This is a great book to be shared with children of all ages.
Can you share a bit of your journey of Ella Saw the Tree, from the initial spark of inspiration, to signing the contract, to release date?
Parents have told me that they’ve seen their children read a book and realise they have no idea what they’ve just read. They’re there in person, but their mind is elsewhere.
I’m sure a lot of parents can relate to this as well. In today’s society, children are bombarded with so many distractions that it can be difficult for them to pay attention and focus on what is important.
The hardest part about writing Ella Saw the Tree was trying to write a story that was fun and exciting for children. I didn’t want to write a story that pushed children into seated meditation and sounded too much like a lesson.
So, I started writing my story – a story that would appeal to children and make the practice of mindfulness fun. In the story, Ella interacts with a tree and sees the beauty of life through her own eyes. So, in a way, the tree is actually Ella’s teacher.
When I felt comfortable enough with the story, I plucked the courage and submitted it to a few publishers who I thought would be interested in this topic. Then out of the blue, I was contacted by Diane from Big Sky Publishing who loved the story. The story appealed to her and she felt that it was a good fit for her list.
A few months later, I received the contract and Cheri Hughes was appointed as the illustrator. It was great to work with Cheri yet again.
Between signing the contract and waiting for initial character sketches, there was some editing and tweaking done to the story to suit Big Sky Publishing’s in house style. There are always changes to be made to manuscripts. It’s to be expected.
Cheri went on to complete the internals for the book. Once they were approved, the text was added to the pages and the overall design of the book, including the cover, was finalised.
The whole process from acceptance to publication took just under a year.
The journey was both magical and exciting. Just like all of my other picture books.
You’ve had a number of books released in the past two years. What has been the most exciting part of this particular book launch?
Sharing my story and its journey to publication. I’ve really enjoyed working with Diane and Sharon from Big Sky Publishing again on this one. As always, I was involved in every step of the way. They listened and supported me. Sharon was always there when I needed her.
It was a wonderful creative collaboration between myself, Cheri Hughes, and Big Sky Publishing. Everyone has their own views and ways of generating ideas and we all learn a little something. Collaboration is an important part of the creative process because it leads to the birth of powerful ideas and products like picture books – yay!
Also, it’s great to see so many of my fellow authors keen to help, share, support and promote my work. Asking for support can sometimes feel intimidating, so it’s great to see writers and authors go that extra mile to help out when someone asks for support. We are very fortunate and blessed to have a thriving community of writers in Australia that are willing to help and support and promote our work which is just AWESOME! I am so grateful to each and every one of you. I cannot thank you enough.
What else do you like to do?
Apart from writing and spending time with my children, I love to read.
I am obsessed with Disney.
I love chocolate cake with chocolate icing.
And … I love gelato!
Ella Saw the Tree is available now to purchase through all good bookstores and Big Sky Publishing: http://www.bigskypublishing.com.au/Books/Children/Ella-Saw-the-Tree-HB/1172/productview.aspx
You can follow Robert's blog tour:
Just Write For Kids: Robert Vescio’s Story on Mindfulness Opens our Hearts
Kids Book Review Giveaway: Giveaway: Ella Saw the Tree
Kids Book Review: Review: Ella Saw the Tree
Emma Middleton: Sharing 'Ella Saw the Tree' With Robert Vescio
Pass It On: Ella Saw the Tree - Blog Tour
Boomerang Books: Doodles and Drafts - With Robert Vescio
Creative Kids Tales: Tour at the Tales. Ella Saw the Tree
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If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to like and share.
I'd like to welcome the lovely Lisa G. to my blog today.
Who is Lisa G.?
In a nutshell…
I was born in Melbourne, lived in Beaconsfield Victoria then moved to Tassie at 6 yrs old. 8 years on, my family returned to Melbourne, before relocating to Gippsland, Traralgon as I entered my last year of high school. I have been here since and have no plans to leave other than for lots of holidays. I quite like not moving.
Married for 27 years, there are three cheeky boys in our home – one is my husband, and we all dote over our adorable Cheweenie, Lilly.
I am always thinking, creating and, even if I have no idea how to do it, on to a new project – which sometimes drives my family crazy.
I guess, I’m a little gypsy like. Other than writing, I have trouble sticking to one career – there’s just so many choices and too little time. I want to do it all and usually, in my own stubborn way! Retail, hospitality, banking, finance, managerial, legal, medical and education (Literacy and integration) have my name on them.
Though I enjoyed them all – and for different reasons, I can easily say, other than witnessing that light bulb moment when a child realises they can really do `it’, none have come remotely within coo-ee of the happiness, contentment and reward writing brings me.
How long have you been writing for? What did you first write? What genre?
Forever! It started with political poems based on my opinions of justice as a 12 year old. Inparticular, poverty and the lack of compassion in a world that has enough money that everyone can live well. At 14, I was writing lyrics and rhyme about heartbreak and love. For some time and after my first real boyfriend was killed in a car accident, poems of loss prevailed.
But my first serious foray into writing was with the emergence of rhyming children’s stories which turned everyday situations into magical adventures. That was at 16. The very first story is now the first in a series of five I have written, which I hope to one day publish.
Not until my early twenties did I attempt a novel. ‘Changing Faces’ was unfortunately corrupted by a virus and subsequently lost and I gave up on writing for a while. But being that writing is part of who I am, the moratorium wasn’t to be for long.
Writing took on a whole new meaning with the arrival of my first son. Composing during midnight feedings I fell totally in love with the beauty of night and the escapism of writing. And there spurned the pivotal moment my mind began the constant whirred of ideas, busy with creative projects, submitting editorials to papers (some published) and reigniting my desire and dreams, to not only write a “world class great read” novel but to be respected for my work.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Describe your light bulb moment?
Sitting under canopy of the large snowball tree at our Booran Road Caulfield home, a skip, hop and jump from ‘The Heath’ (Caulfield Racecourse), I dreamed of writing a novel. Emerging as I leaned back against the trunk admiring the blossoms, I was scribbling down prose for what was, unknown to me at the time, to be my first ever children’s book. I was 16. Every chance I had, it occurred to me that I was writing something, anything.
So, it wasn’t so much of a light bulb moment but a realisation that writing and I were synonymous – it felt very natural and words just seemed to come together for me. Writing was my home… where I felt totally at peace and free.
The fact that I didn’t think I was worthy or good enough to really pursue writing seriously when I was younger, I regret somewhat. Life would have certainly taken a different path if I had. Though RUMLA may have never happened – so the regret is not deep… RUMLA has given me great joy.
What are your core beliefs around reading and writing?
In short, I believe literacy is to life as air is to breath!
I am deeply entrenched that it is non-negotiable that everyone should be supported in developing the skills and literary comprehension to read, and of course, write. In addition to the daily challenges of living, a life without literacy robs our minds of idea’s, imagination and personal growth.
Reading and writing are powerful tools. They take us places, actions will never achieve. They propel us forward, drive our ambition and open our eyes. They provide entertainment and fulfillment. At times, they even console us. Literacy elevates everyone’s ability to communicate, to articulate and enriches our well-being, gifting us amazing journeys to share and providing a life beyond what we see.
Now to your book, Rumla. Where did the idea come from for this book?
Tricky question! Short answer – there was nothing specific. The words just came. RUMLA evolved.
RUMLA’s is however, a culmination of childhood experiences that birthed adult fascinations for the history and mystic of ancient old worlds and an admiration of strong, self assured characters; more specifically, those who see beauty and freedom of embracing their ‘you-ness’. These ingredients came together after spontaneous literacy task during a professional development session and much to my surprise, a strange little tale that had both my PD trainer and myself wondering.
Where the idea came from initially, I have no idea other than that the gloomy sky overhead gave me a starting point. It was some 12 months later I actually decided I’d see where this unique little story would go. Continuing on from where I’d left off, the ideas started flowing, the plot developed and the reasons for my motivation, the messages to deliver, defined themselves. Research followed, building depth and RUMLA became a kaleidoscope of purpose.
'A life without literacy robs our minds of idea’s, imagination and personal growth.' Lisa G.
Why did you write Rumla?
Originally, RUMLA was just for me.
I believed for the first time, I could maybe write that novel. The desire to make my teenage dreams a reality was strong. I literally thought, it wouldn’t hurt to try. Letting my imagination take me on a journey, there was never originally a higher moral purpose nor a deeper message.
In saying that however, I do love the simplicity of ancient wisdoms and it just happened that while researching Ashanti Twi culture, I literally stumbled across Adinkra; proverbial symbols which set were the original moral compass of ancient life for the Twi people. The ethics of Adinkra perfectly encapsulated the tone I wanted to covey. Incorporating the African symbolism as chapter headings (and an English translation of the Ashanti Twi name/proverb), Adinkra defines each chapter’s underlying message.
So there are many beautiful subtleties trailing throughout RUMLA and they are very much what makes RUMLA uniquely special and individual to each reader. Being that the messages are a part of the mystery, I will let you unravel them for yourself.
You have a lot of African mythology woven it throughout the story. How long did Rumla take to research and write?
From initial pen on paper to published – 8 years. Never did I have a self-imposed time line to realise my dream. A working wife and mum with quite a few commitments, writing fitted in very nicely around the goings on of family life. But really, RUMLA was my little escape and I enjoyed so much that part of me dreaded finishing.
With no direction and initially just writing to see where RUMLA would go, researching the historical, mythological and cultural kicked in about 18 months into writing. Investigations from then on never really stopped. This was predominantly because I was intrigued, but also because the ending wasn’t clear until it was almost upon me. So I was always searching, looking to add more depth and credibility to RUMLA– all be it on the pages of google!
What do you hope that people will take away from Rumla?
As they turn the last page of RUMLA, I hope readers have been intrigued, entertained and have felt a part of the adventure as if they were written into the story.
I hope that somewhere along the way, a little something is discovered that resonates, making it personal in a way that is unique to them.
In the end, my deepest wish is they get as lost in my imagination and in the world of RUMLA as I.
You love to encourage people and inspire people. What is your favourite life motto?
In my usual style, I am bucking the trend. I have two!
It always seems impossible until it’s done; a dreamer is a winner who never gives up!
In a world where you can be anything, choose to be kind.
3 fun facts about yourself:
1. I dance in the shower - every day, every time
2. I always, always, mix up aphorisms i.e. His room is like a pig’s breakfast. Dogs might fly!
3. I can NEVER be trusted with your chocolate - ever!
Thanks heaps, Lisa, for coming on my blog today. It has been entertaining and enlightening.
For more information on Lisa and her book, visit her website: www.lisagbooks.com
Like her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/LisaGbooks and join the conversation.
You can also find her on:
What could she have to do with African tales of myth and legend, serpents and curses, of royal lines, the armies of rulers past, and a trail of clues hiding secrets of a
predestined prophecy? Absolutely everything!
Though she does not know, there are others that do. A sequence of exceptional events, see her desire to escape the boring grind of Rumlalian life granted with the adventure of her dreams. Though fearing where it may lead, an insatiable appetite to know all propels her deeper into the mystery in search of the secrets.
Before long, she comes to realise there was never a choice for her and that Rumla, protected by a complicated series of connections, was far from ordinary.
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