As my friend Jacqui and I wound our way down the steep road of Mount Hotham in Victoria after an already four hour drive, we were excited for the upcoming weekend in Bright. A whole weekend at the first Bright Creative Writing Workshop that was designed to help develop our skills in the field of creative writing. We didn’t know what to expect, but we were anticipating a fun filled, jam-packed creative weekend—and we were not disappointed.
It was a weekend spent with Merelyn & David from nationally and internationally awarded songwriters’ country music duo, Carter & Carter, my friend and guest blogger, children's book illustrator Ester de Boer, as well as poet and published author Sylvia Fraser.
The weather by Friday night may have been grey and dreary, however it did not dampen the enthusiasm of David and Merelyn, or the participants, of which there were around 20+. By the time we were having supper later that night, we were starting to get to know each other and the enthusiasm was rising in the room. We were all creatives, slightly left of center, and everyone was accepting of everyone else. We also all at different stages of our creative journey. Some were just dipping their toes into the creative arts. Others were already published authors. Everyone else was in between these two extremes.
You would think that if you got a bunch of introverts in a room there would be silence. Well that was far from the truth. By the time we were heading off into the deepening night to our respective accommodations, the excitement was high. The incredible vibe of willingness to share and learn from each other spread throughout the entire weekend.
On Saturday morning, there was a workshop by David and Merelyn to show us how to overcome writers’ block. They said that their proven technique would help story writers, poets, songwriters and bloggers, (there were two of us). Merelyn announced that by the end of the two hours we, as a group, would have written a song. The look of disbelief on all our faces was priceless. Yet we dived right on in and were presently surprised with a lovely and moving song by the end of two hours.
We couldn’t have done it without the talented duo of David and Merelyn however. David grabbed up his guitar and worked out a melody while we continued brainstorming. The brainstorming techniques would most definitely work for all forms of writing, as I often use a similar technique for blog posts and stories. Hmmm. Maybe another blog post on this technique will be coming.
Saturday afternoon Ester explained the complexities of children’s book illustration, showed us some of the processes, shared the illustrations of her latest book that she had been working and recently completed for David and Merelyn, To the Moon and Back: Grandma's Rocket Adventure. Then we tried our hand at a story board for a picture book manuscript.
After afternoon tea, we broke into groups. Sylvia took a poetry workshop, others had some personal writing time. Jacqui and I snuck off to buy a couple of things for Ester as it was her birthday the following day.
Late afternoon found us sharing various stories, songs and poetry, either written that day or what we had brought along to share. I shared Raymund and the Fear Monster. Two of the younger participants blew us away with their talent. Chloe Jade with her gorgeous acoustic guitar and lovely voice sang an original song. You can view the song here: Youtube
The writing of fellow blogger and fantasy writer Hannah entertained us with her story of a pigeon that came tapping Morse code at her characters’ window at 4:30 am every night for a week. It kept us all guessing until the very end not knowing in which direction the story would take us next. If you love fantasy, feel free to check out her blog, Tales of Ryllia where Hannah is the Shadow Master. For a younger persons’ perspective of the weekend, Hannah has also blogged about her writers' workshop experience.
On Sunday, we explored the business side—how to go about self-publishing or seeking a publishing deal. We learnt about options for recording, illustrating, graphic design, marketing and more, as well as getting out of the right ‘creative’ side of the brain and get into the left-brain way of thinking. We should think of ourselves as a business/brand. This concept was not new to me, though it was to many others.
I was surprised about the amount of information that I have already picked up in the past couple of years from various authors, conferences, workshops and blogs regarding traditional publishing, as well as self-publishing, prior to the weekend. By the end of the workshop I was even more assured that I will be self-publishing Raymund and the Fear Monster. I have learned all that I can to get started. I am sure that I will learn a lot more once I do take the plunge. I am now more inspired than ever to follow my dream and get Raymund published. Now to put my left brain into gear and do the business side of getting it published.
On Sunday afternoon, a showcase concert starring multi award winning artists Carter & Carter and the workshop participants was held. This was concert was open to the public to give us the opportunity to perform in front of a crowd. There were stories, poetry and songs shared to a large crowd of around 40+ people of all ages. I was able to share a picture book manuscript of mine, Ruby to the Rescue. The audience laughed and giggled in all the right places, and there was applause at the end, so I think that they liked it.
So, it was with a weary body that I left Bright on Monday morning for the long journey home, my mind and spirit buoyed up with the experiences and encouragement over the weekend. The best conversations had happened outside the workshops, and I have met and connected with an amazing array of wonderful people.
If you are thinking about attending a writers’ conference or a writers’ workshop, I highly suggest it. For me it was not only about what I learnt, but even more importantly, it was about the connections that I have made and the people I met that I would would never had the opportunity to.
This ties what David and Merelyn were talking about Saturday morning. My Top 5 First Draft Tips: by Wendy Orr.
For further information about the weekend: Bright Creative Writing Workshop
For further information about the main speakers:
David and Merelyn Carter from Carter & Carter
Ester de Boer on her website at Ester de Boer Illustration
Sylvia Fraser on her website at Life Works 4 You
Some group members:
A Letter from a Comrade. A moving letter that Hannah read out at the concert. It brought many to tears.
If you want to find out more information about Chloe Jade, and listen to her songs, you can find her on Facebook and Youtube.
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If two years ago that you had said to Leanne Lade that she would learn over 200 board games (and counting), she would have said you were mad. Yet that is what she has done. Why? Why would someone with severe Dyslexia even bother learning these games? And then, go out into the community—including schools and churches—to teach others how to play them?
Eighteen months ago, Leanne wanted to feel more connected with her husband. She discovered a blog by a woman wanting to experience more connectedness in her marriage. This lady had found the not your ‘run of the mill,’ board games. This lady from the blog and her husband, started playing board game for their Date Nights, instead of watching T.V. and not communicating. These games were not found in the usual stores like Big W, Target and K-mart. Intrigued, Leanne noted that in the blog the lady had listed the games. Leanne bought a couple of those games, thinking that they would also be fun for their kids to play too.
These games created the opportunity for connectedness and open the lines for communication between her and her husband, and their children got involved too. She discovered that these games challenged and encouraged team playing, and they were suitable for all different ages and abilities. In Leanne’s words, “It’s not about winning. It’s about having a go, and showing love respect, and co-operating with each other. With these games you learn to play together. The purpose of these games is to have fun, and connections are made between people.”
“It’s not about winning. It’s about having a go, and showing love respect, and co-operating with each other." Leanne Lade
Leanne found that she wanted to share this discovery with others. Struggling with the girls’ readers, but wanting to help out in class, her daughters’ teacher found out Leanne’s passion for board games. The teacher jumped at the chance to have her run a session in the class. Leanne showed them the games she thought were age appropriate, and, as they say, the rest is history.
Leanne now goes into her daughters’ class on a regular basis, to teach the students some games with the focus being on play. Her aim is that “the kids are encouraged and supported to succeed in having fun.”
Some children do not how to just simply play or how to positively interact with others, or how to be a good winner or a good loser. So they learn how to do this through play. They learn to work together, and it helps them develop socially, with all its ups and downs. At the same time, they (the students) are learning that they can read, and do maths.”
So how does this all work in a school setting? The students are split into small groups. Due to the small attention spans of this age group, as well as to keep things interesting, the games are rotated every twenty minutes. Leanne takes each group and teaches them a game, and tries to encourage everyone. She also makes sure that everyone is included, and succeeds in playing the game.
The kids are always excited. Leanne has broadened their gaming horizons with Superfarmer, Tenzi, and Qwikle. “They (the kids) get so excited and don’t want to leave,” Leanne said. “One student actually begged me not to go. He was having so much fun. And then he asked when I was coming back.”
"Don't go! When are you coming back?" A student from Leanne's daughters' class.
Leanne has taken this further than her daughters’ school. She has taken this into the community, running games nights at a local church, where they have people from ages four to eighty coming along. “We even have a blind lady coming along.”
Leanne has helped others learn the games, and they in turn have started teaching others. It is the classic ripple effect. Each person has gain confidence in themselves, and they in turn are feeling more connected to others in the community and are encouraging others.
All this from a woman who struggles reading and writing. I firmly believe that when you can find something that you are passionate about, no matter what age you are, you will find new ways to look at things, connecting with others and the world around you, learn new ways of reading, gain confidence and have fun.
Check out the interview from earlier in the year of Leanne and her daughters, to learn more about them, and how Leanne and her husband have fostered a love of reading even though two out of their three daughters have dyslexia.
Dyslexia doesn't go away. It is lifelong. However, with appropriate help, encouragement and intervention, it can get easier. I have heard it said, "Confidence is key!" I believe this to be true. And gaining confidence is so much easier when you are having fun and enjoying the experience.
Check out the Dyslexia Empowerment Week website for more about what dyslexia is, and links to the various organisations (if you live in Australia) that will give you further information and support.
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This week I'm excited to have Amelia Trompf on the blog chatting about her book, Who is Fitzy Fox?
"Who is Fitzy Fox? is about a furry animal who is feeling befuddled. He always thought he was a dog, but because everyone calls him ‘Foxy,’ he is a little confused. To solve this existential crisis, Fitzy sets out on an expedition that journeys from Melbourne to London to uncover the truth of his furry identity. Who is Fitzy Fox? centres on the uniqueness of each individual and being valued for who we are. It is about having the courage to identify and solve a problem as well as being willing to go to extraordinary lengths to do so."
Where did the idea for Fitzy Fox come from?
I was living in Scotland five years ago and was a little homesick for Melbourne. Wondering about my place in the world, I started writing about my home suburb of Fitzroy and, with alliteration in mind, I created the character Fitzy Fox. I felt there was a need for a picture book to be set in Melbourne as a celebration of our wonderful city and its character.
When we moved to Scotland for my husband’s job, I didn’t have a work visa. While at first I was excited about having some time off, I realised that I missed the structure of work, I missed having the daily feedback and engagement, I wasn’t earning money and I think I fell into a bit of a slump of feeling low and thinking about my identity without my career and what made me, me. Subconsciously this story came out. At the time I didn’t see any connection but on reflection I think there was a bit of me in Fitzy Fox trying to work out who I was.
How was the experience working with the illustrator? Did the text change at all?
It was at a drawing class in Edinburgh that I was introduced to artist and teacher Jennifer Bruce. Initially, I asked Jennifer to tutor me in drawing so that I could create some illustrations of Fitzy Fox myself to help turn my story into Christmas presents for my nieces and nephews. Later when I returned to Melbourne and was looking for a professional illustrator, I immediately thought of Jennifer. Working with Jennifer was the most exciting part of this journey. Seeing the process of her initial sketches develop into the finished artwork was just so exciting. We worked together from two different sides of the world, which is quite fitting given the story is set both in Melbourne and the United Kingdom.
The text didn’t change very much except that initially in Jennifer’s sketches, Fitzy was walking on all four paws and then as after long discussions with the editors, he ended up walking on two legs so a few little phrases had to change here and there. I love that Jennifer Bruce has brought Fitzy Fox to life and I am so excited for her because this is her first picture book and her talent is immense.
What are the lessons that you would like children to glean from Who is Fitzy Fox?
Drawing on my teaching background, I created Who is Fitzy Fox? to help children understand the uniqueness of each individual and the importance of valuing one another for who we are. It is also about having the courage to face your worries and being willing to go to extraordinary lengths to learn about yourself.
I wrote Who is Fitzy Fox? because after years of working with children as a primary school teacher, I came to realise that one of the most powerful ways of connecting with children is through story. Illustrated picture books start conversations and these are often conversations that wouldn’t normally be had.
In my first year of teaching, chasing my tail, I randomly picked up Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree from the library thinking it could be good to start a lesson about visual literacy. Well, when I asked the students if anyone could make personal connections to the story, I was completely amazed. One boy who had barely uttered a word for weeks put his hand up and said “Some days I feel like nothing good is ever going to happen to me but then usually it’s not as bad as it seems; just like in, The Red Tree." Something in the story allowed him to express something that not even he realised about himself. I wanted to write a story that might start an important conversation like that.
Three fun facts about Amelia:
More information about the book and the book's creation, as well teacher's notes and heaps of fun activities, can be found at fitzyfox.com
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Writing books is not an easy task. Ask any author who is single and no children, or has the space to just write for hours on end without interruption, it is a tough slog. What happens if you throw work and family into the mix, and then add being a single parent. How would you get any writing done? Recently I put the question to a few authors about balancing writing and family life. I received an insightful, real, and honest look into balancing writing and family life as a single parent from Robert Vescio.
So who is Robert Vescio?
Robert started writing children’s stories about eight years ago but he says that he has always enjoyed writing, even way back in high school. After leaving school he worked in the publishing industry for over 12 years and for eight of those years he was a Photo Editor working on a number of photographic Magazines.
However, it wasn’t until he left fulltime work in 2007, to become a stay-at-home dad, that he began to take writing more seriously. Now he had a great excuse to spend hours in the children’s section of bookstores. As he loved reading books, it made it easy to dive into the world of picture book writing. Robert also says that having his own children helped as well. All he had to do ‘was to observe them and the ideas started rolling in.’
So how does Robert get any writing done? Does he have a routine?
No. Robert does not have a writing routine per se. Rather, he writes either very late at night or early in the morning when the children are asleep.
“It’s tranquil and I’m left to my own devices with no disruptions. Writing demands thinking time, planning, editing and rewriting.”
Every day, Robert has to factor in work, distractions and chores. It is a real juggling act. This is especially evident when his children were younger and he was trying to keep on track with a writing project, and they were wanting his attention all the time. Now that they are older, it is getting easier. These days while Robert’s children work independently on homework and assignments, he fits in writing time while they are occupied with their schoolwork.
In a recent post on Facebook, one emerging author said that she is often made to feel guilty about taking the time to write while her son is playing. She was made to feel like he was missing out on time with her, even though he was quite happy playing by himself. I am sure many can identify, no matter what you enjoy doing, that, as a parent, when you are doing something that makes you feel fulfilled, you are happier as a person. And that has a knock on effect to the people around you.
Robert used to feel guilty about his writing and the time it took away from his children. Now listen to this…His children NEVER make him feel guilty. If he has been spending a lot of time writing, Robert reviews his schedule and commits to spending more time with his children later. He is now feeling pride at what his hard work is achieving.
Robert says that he is able to show his children, ‘that if you work really hard at something, not only will you become good at it but look what you can achieve. I’m living proof. They’ve seen that it’s possible, and so a great lesson has been learned.’
Roberts final thoughts on balancing writing and family life:
There has to be a balance between writing and family. My children always come first but it’s okay for me to enjoy writing. The more I enjoy writing, the more my passion will ooze and stand out. And the more my passion stands out, the more my children will learn and grow with me. If you love writing, you’ll find a way to balance the two.
Robert Vescio is a published children’s author. His picture books include:
Barnaby and the Lost Treasure of Bunnyville (Big Sky Publishing), Marlo Can Fly (Wombat Books) listed on the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge for 2015, No Matter Who We’re With (IP Kidz). He has more picture books due out in 2016 and 2017. Many of Robert’s short stories have been published in anthologies such as Packed Lunch, Short and Twisted, Charms Vol 1 and The School Magazine NSW. He has also won awards for his children’s writing. Robert enjoys visiting schools. His aim is to enthuse and inspire children to read and write and leave them bursting with imaginative ideas.
For more information, visit:
Robert on his website: www.robertvescio.com or on Facebook: www.facebook.com/RobertVescioAuthor
I have fabulous news. Robert has just had a new book released this month. Jack and Mia (Wombat Books). How fantastic is that? Jack and Mia are available to pre-order and purchase now through all good bookstores and Wombat Books.
Read the full interview with Robert Vescio over on Just Write For Kids where I also blog.
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