Sunday 15 December 2013


Kate is a recently released YA novel by Australian Kevin Burgemeestre about growth and mistakes. 

Kate is struggling to deal with her best friend leaving, a school bully and with the death of her mother. She believes that life is hard. Then a chance encounter with a battered, heroic hound she rescues from the streets, and Mal, a troubled young man with a dark past, leads Kate into more danger and excitement than she could have wished for.

She wonders about her unusual friendship with this damaged young man, but when things go really wrong, they’ll need each other ... and they’ll have to run!


Kevin is no stranger to readers. As an artist and illustrator with more than 25 years’ experience, he has a list of over 60 published books that contain his illustrations. Kate contains five illustrations which were exhibited at the Stonnington Literature Alive exhibition earlier in 2013.

Kevin has recently turned his hand to writing. Kate, his debut novel, was completed as part of the Copyright Agency residency at the University of New England in 2012.

Based in Melbourne, Australia, Kevin is well known for enthusiastic, informative and humorous approach to workshops with children and adults, as a children’s book illustrator, editorial writer and an illustration lecturer. Kevin is available for book signings and workshops.

ISBN:             978-0-9875434-4-8  

FORMAT:     Paperback – eBook coming soon.

EXTENT:        Pages: 200

                       Paperback: $22.00

PUBLISHER:  Morris Publishing Australia

PUB DATE:    November 2013


AUDIENCE:  Teen - Young Adult  


Morris Publishing Australia -

Dennis Jones and Associates:

James Bennett library suppliers:

The Nile Bookshop:     



Tuesday 3rd Dec - 10  writing tips

Wednesday 4th Dec - Interview

Thursday 5th Dec - Interview

Friday 6th - article

Saturday 7th Interview

Sunday 8th Dec

Monday 9th Interview

Monday 9th Interview

Tuesday 10th Review

Wednesday 11th Review

Thursday 12th Interview

Friday 13th Interview

Saturday 14th Article

Sunday 15th Dec Interview

Monday 16th Dec Interview

Tuesday 17th Dec Interview


Thursday 12 December 2013

Meet my main character

When you have published over 120 books as I have -- most of which are novels for young readers -- you have made the acquaintance of many protagonists over the years. Most of my main characters are based on or composites of real life people I’m acquainted with, including myself. I’m sure most authors incorporate their own experiences and emotions in their book characters, even when they are writing fantasy, sci fi or horror. The main genre of my novels (and the type of novel I most prefer to read) is social realism.

When I am about to start writing a new novel, I spend much time thinking and writing notes about characters and storyline. But first and foremost for me is character. It is a character with a problem or in a particular situation who decides the direction of the plot. Characters I’ve employed are Libby Bramble in my latest cross-over novel The Girl in the Basement (Morris Publishing Australia), a typical cheerful, enterprising girl who is kidnapped on the night of her sixteenth birthday by a serial killer. The story follows her capture, her captivity and her developing relationship with the man she calls Psycho Man from whom she attempts to escape.

In my latest (unpublished) book, an adult novel, The Freshest of Flesh, there are two protagonists who narrate their stories in alternating chapters: Dovey, a woman serial killer who hunts paedophiles, and Ray, recently released from prison who is battling his sexual proclivity for young girls. I really enjoyed writing this book but when I had it assessed recently by a freelance editor, I was appalled by her unfavourable reaction to it (mostly because of my portrayal of the paedophile whose thoughts she felt were too unsavoury for a general readership). So much for realism! Notwithstanding numerous pages of critical comment, I will re-write the book, taking the editor’s comments into consideration. Incidentally, over the past 30+ years I’ve been writing I still attend a weekly writing critique group which I find essential for improving my stories and for keeping me motivated -- highly recommended, especially for new writers.

My first novel, Terri, published in 1980 by Penguin, had as its main character a ten-year-old girl I met when I lived on a mountain in southern NSW, Australia. What most intrigued me about ‘Terri’ was her lifestyle. Her parents were divorced so she was shared between them, living for six months of the year with her mother in Melbourne and the other half of the year with her father, a well known stage and film actor who adopted a hippy lifestyle when Terri went to live with him on Dr George Mountain where I was his neighbour. I didn’t know all of the details of Terri’s story so I invented a story that fitted into her life scenario.

The main character of my second book Piggy Moss (Puffin), was based on my own experiences as a child living on a pig and poultry farm. I had always suspected there was a family secret and this was confirmed when my parents announced when I was ten that I had a half-brother, Jack, who was coming from England to live with us. Voila, I had a story I just needed to follow.

The only fantasy novel I’ve authored was my third book, The Belligrumble Bigfoot (Kangaroo Books) which followed the story of a mythical creature said to inhabit an outback town. The protagonist of this book was pure invention, a neurotic boy, Willie Macbeth, who has a powerful imagination that allows him to escape into fantasy when there are sightings of the creator. Willie mentally transforms himself into powerful characters who battle with and overcome the bigfoot.

One of the most difficult books I’ve written – and which won a Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Notable award – was The Shape (Allen and Unwin). This book was deeply personal for me and took a long time to write as it was based on the death of my second child, Kathleen Julia, at the age of two. Years after Kathleen’s death, her sister Claire told me that for a long time afterwards, she would lie awake at night looking at a shadow on her bedroom wall; she believed it was this ‘shape’ which was responsible for killing Kathleen – that it had ‘eaten’ her. Claire was four at the time of her sister’s death; she never told me about the shadow until she was a teenager. I felt so sad for her and wished she had told me at the time so that I could have explained death to her more clearly than I obviously had.

More recently my first verse novel, Nobody’s Boy (Celapene Press), also won a CBCA Notable Award. This book is based on the character and story of Paul, a nine-year-old boy whom my husband (award-winning YA author Bill Condon) and I fostered for three years. The story is faithful to Paul’s experiences, including how at the age of six he saved the life of his mother, a drug addict, and the life he led until and including the time he came to Bill’s and my life. Paul, now aged 22 years and a father, thought the book ‘amazing’.

My next book, a junior novel, A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press), due out mid-2014, is loosely based on a child Bill and I fostered for some years. Her drug- addicted mother often left Ashley alone for long periods; like Paul, she was a resourceful, cheerful child whom we loved. Happily, Ashley’s mother was able to overcome her addiction and presented Ashley with a baby brother whom she came to love, though at first being resistant to the idea of a sibling.

There have, of course, been many other protagonists in my books that I could write about, but hopefully I’ve been able to present a general idea of where my characters come from. One of the saddest things about finishing a book is closing the chapter on a book’s protagonist whom I’ve come to identify and care about so much. But then there is the next book to develop and a new protagonist to create and to ‘live’ with until the words The End are written.

 © Dianne Bates

Wednesday 27 November 2013


Today I interview Australian children's author, Elizabeth Klein, whose first book in series, Firelight of Heaven, was recently released. Book two, Green Heart of the Forest will be out in early 2014.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a daughter of refugees who fled the Russian invasion of Hungary in the fifties. I grew up in a small village with three brothers. We were quite poor. One day, someone brought us a box of comics. I wanted to read them so badly, I taught myself to read. I loved writing from an early age and spent all my time at the local library. I became a teacher and taught for 19 years, then left and became a tutor and writer of fantasy books. I live with my husband in Sydney.

2. When you were a child did you have a favourite book or books?

As a child, I was drawn to classical adventures such as Coral Island by R.M Ballantyne, Kidnapped by R. L. Stevenson. I also grew to love science fiction novels back then, but I can’t recall any that I read apart from those written by Ursula le Guin. There were also aspects of fantasy that I loved as a child, too.

3. Do you have a favourite genre to both read and write?

It has to be fantasy.

4. Did you have favourite authors growing up who have influenced you?

I definitely loved the classical authors whose writings are beautifully crafted. Lucy Maud Montgomery, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ballantyne and Daphne Du Maurier were just a few.

5. When did you know you wanted to be an author?

Early in life. I loved writing stories in Primary and I wrote my first book back then. It was quite a good science fiction story about a boy who discovers that he’s not human. Anyway, I thought it was good.

6. How did you go about becoming an author?

Lots of hard work, persistence and prayers. I joined my local FAW and also a small writers’ group where the veterans put my writing in its place. I learnt about show, not tell and many other aspects of writing about which I had no idea. I admired these old time writers and wanted my writing to shine like theirs did. I started to enter competitions and wrote for Viatouch, an educational online site that accepted lots of my articles and lessons. Then I had the wonderful Annie Hamilton mentor me for a week and I learnt so much from her. When I felt my manuscript was finally ready for publication, I sent it to Rochelle at Wombat Books, who accepted the first two books in my series.

7. If you weren’t a writer, what would you like to be?

I have no idea. I’ve never contemplated a life not writing. To me, writing is the best vocation. Perhaps a movie director might be something I’d consider as I love directing plays.

8. Beside reading and writing, what do you like to do?

This is probably a bit boring, but since I have hardly any time to sit and watch anything, I really love seeing a good movie such as Oblivion or After Earth or Narnia. I also love grabbing some take-away and going and sitting beside the sea with my neglected husband. We watch the waves, the dolphins and occasionally whales spouting in the blue. And no computers.

9. Do you have a place you love to visit or would love to visit?

One of the places I’d love to visit is Middle Earth, New Zealand and Britain.

10. If you could have a meal with three living people, who would you choose and why?

Just having dinner with my three best friends and having a normal conversation (not about writing).

Finally, can you tell us about your current books and/or any that will be coming out soon.

My debut book, Firelight of Heaven, will be out on 1 October, 2013. It’s a fantasy adventure involving two brothers and an elf girl seeking the lost crystals of the Morning Star and the boys’ missing parents. Their journey leads them into one of the perilous lost lands which is guarded by Queen Shara and her countless children. Very scary.

Book two, Green Heart of the Forest, will be out early next year and involves a mysterious elemental woman seeking her home tree in a dangerous community of cut-throats and pick-pockets. Book Three, Ice Breath of the Earth, hasn’t been offered yet to my publisher. I’m just finishing book four, Crown of Shadows. When it’s completed, I might work up courage and offer them both.  

Where can readers find you on the web?

Thanks again for your time and agreeing to be on my blog

Wednesday 13 November 2013


An Aussie Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Australian Kids by Tania McCartney, illustrated by Tina Snerling (Exisle Publishing, 2013)

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The author, illustrator and publisher ought to be very proud of this beaut book. The bright, well-designed cover shows Australian children – Zoe, Kirra, Matilda, Lily and Ned – of different ethnic origins who each has childhood adventures throughout the following pages.

Next to come are the fly pages: Wow, what a lovely introduction to what is to follow! They depict dozens of colourful, fascinating boxed illustrations of the five children enjoying their Aussie lives. After this, the children are introduced. Kirra, for instance, is an Aboriginal boy who wants to be an environmental scientist when he grows up. Matilda – whom everyone calls Tilly – was born in Ireland; she loves sewing and horse riding. Each of the children has a history, hobbies and an ambition.

From then on the book’s double pages tell what happens to each of these children during each month of the year. In January, for example, they play cricket, enjoy picnics, eat icy poles, swim during the school holidays and celebrate Australia Day. (Lily, whose father is Vietnamese, enjoys Tet, or Vietnamese New Year, which sometimes falls in February). In April there’s Anzac Day, the Royal Easter Show, the Easter Bilby and April Fool’s Day, and so it goes on.

As young readers turn the twelve double pages, they can relate to the various activities and events that the book’s characters engage in and enjoy. Each page is beautifully designed with lots of white space, lively variations of text and colourful cartoonish illustrations. After each of the months’ page-spreads, there’s a map of Australia with interesting and relevant facts: Zoe swims in the Great Barrier Reef, Ned surfs off the West Australian coast, Kirra fishes near Kakadu, Matilda builds a snowman in Tasmania in winter and Lily announces there are six states and two territories in Australia.

This is a truly delightful book that not only celebrates friendships and all that Australia has to offer, but which will reward young readers (and older ones, like this reviewer) with many hours of enjoyment. Writers for children are told not to preach to their readers, or try to teach lessons: any child opening An Aussie Year will not realise that there is indeed lots to learn from perusing this book; they’ll be having too much fun reading it and looking at the terrific pictures!

Sunday 3 November 2013


Bailey Beats the Blah
A new book for children by Karen Tyrrell illustrated by Aaron Pocock

Bailey hates his new school. His tummy aches. He has no friends.

His dog Fuzzy slobbers all over him. BLAH!

How can Bailey change his BLAH to HA-HA-HA?

Bailey Beats the Blah is an empowering picture book to help kids overcome sad days and worry thoughts. This emotive narrative boosts self-esteem, emotional awareness and action plans on how to lift a child’s mood. 


Bailey is aligned with Kids Matter program on the National Education Curriculum and supported by counselling service, Kids Help Line.

ISBN: 9780987274045

FREE children's activities and FREE teacher notes are available on

Bailey Blog Tour & Book Giveaway

Bailey Beats the Blah Book Giveaway
Help Stamp out the BLAH!
WIN:  Copies of Bailey Beats the Blah, a signed Bailey artwork by illustrator Aaron Pocock and a picture book assessment with chief editor at Book Cover CafĂ©.
Leave a comment on any of the 16 hops on the Bailey Beats the Blah tour Nov 3rd -18th. The more comments you leave the MORE chances to WIN.
WINNERS announced on Nov 20th at www.

Saturday 2 November 2013


Have you ever read a first chapter that took your breath away? Made you cry? Shocked you? If you can accomplish an emotional reaction in your reader that quickly — hopefully by a quick attachment to your protagonist — half your battle is won. When you think of all you have to accomplish in the first few pages of a novel, you really understand how writing a great first scene requires many hours of practice, and concentration. It takes examining successful, long-lasting novels to see how that first scene was constructed.

Without sending you into cardiac arrest by listing nearly twenty important items you need in that first scene, I’m going to concentrate on some important ones — the ones that really need to be considered. Some of them are essential “do not’s.” And the first one you may already know (but often feel so tempted to fall back on): No back story.

Briefly, back story is narrative explanation -- all the information you as the author know about your characters: their histories, where they came from, who they’re related to, how they came to be where they are now. In other words, information that belongs in your characters’ past.

In order to start your story with a punch and draw your reader in, you need to construct a scene with action happening right here and now. Some writing teachers say things like “no back story in the first fifty pages.” Some editors will be so bold as to say they would be happy if they saw NONE in the entire book. Maybe that won’t quite work for your book, but it’s sad to say that countless opening scenes start with a line or two in the present, and then, whoosh! There you are reading about the character’s early life or marriage or something she did right before the scene started. Which should make you ask…Are you really starting your story in the right place?

More often than not, the answer is no. That’s what second and third drafts are for — throwing out your first scene or two. As a manuscript assessor, I find that a good number of novel submissions I read should really be starting with chapter three or four. A lot of beginner writers spend one, two, ten or more pages just “setting up” the story by explaining a mountain of information they think the reader must have before the story can actually get underway. Kids want action in their stories! Not boring back story.

A helpful exercise to remove back story is for you to go through the first thirty pages of your novel and remove every single instance where you’ve used back story or informative narration, and then chose only three brief sentences containing a “back story fact” that you feel you really must include in the opening chapters so the reader would “get” the story. These three sentences can be conveyed by the protagonist in dialogue to another character (forcing you to avoid narrative and share back story via dialogue, which is usually the best way to do so).

Needless to say, when you re-read your story, you will surely agree that your novel reads much better without the back story. So think about weaning yourself off the need to explain. Your readers aren’t dumb—really! They don’t need you to explain everything, and they actually enjoy a mystery and being allowed to start figuring out the puzzle you are presenting.

Many books I read and edit don’t “get going” until page ten. All that up-front explaining, narrative, setting up the scene, etc., was all great back in Dickens’s time (A Tale of Two Cities, for example). But we don’t do that anymore. TV, movies, and video games have changed the modern reader’s tastes and readers -- kids in particular -- want cinematic writing.

Sol Stein in his book Stein on Writing says, “Twentieth-century readers, transformed by film and TV, are used to seeing stories. The reading experience for a twentieth-century reader is increasingly visual. The story is happening in front of his eyes.” This is, of course, even more true in the twenty-first century.

So how do you avoid the dreaded info dump and back story?

Think about the emotion, feeling, or sensation you want to evoke in your reader. You want to put them in a mood right away. You want to be specific to generate that mood, which means bringing in all the senses and showing your character in the middle of a situation, right off the bat.

And that’s the next essential element: establishing immediately the drives, desires, needs, fears, frustrations of your protagonist. Not only do you need to show her in conflict, in the midst of an inciting incident, but you need to reveal her heart, hint at her spiritual need, show her vulnerability, and what obstacles are standing in her way. In the first scene? Oh yes. Yes!

Now, go through your first scene and take out all the back story. If needed, come up with only one or two lines that tell a little important information you think the reader must know and use those in dialogue, if possible. Then read your scene over and see how much better it is. Because it will be better. Much better!


Sunday 20 October 2013


When I first began getting published thirty years ago, being an author was easy. You wrote your book, submitted it to a publisher and when it was published, you sat back and waited for the book’s publicist to work her magic. Sometimes your publisher paid for advertisements in magazines or took you the author on an all-expenses-paid book tour. You didn’t even have to write the blurb for your book! More recently authors have needed to become heavily involved in book promotion and even more recently traditional publishers are asking authors to help subsidise publication and/or pre-sell copies of their books. With the advent of social media, self-publishing via the use of crowd-funding is becoming more and more popular through crowd-funding sites such as Kickstarter, Pozible, Indiegogo, Zoshpit, and more. (As of 2012 there were over 450 crowd-funding platforms.)

Crowd-funding – sometimes known as crowd-sourcing – has been around since Shakespeare’s day when investors made it possible to stage his plays. Crowd-funding investors have helped make other projects viable, such as the Statue of Liberty or the Adopt-A-Classroom program to mention but a few. Basically how it works is lots of small investors (or several bigger ones) contribute to a nominated project by pledging x amount of money, for which they get y amount of 'perks' which, depending on value, range anywhere from a simple 'thank you' to copies of the work, merchandise, all kinds of things. Many thousands of people, including authors, have raised money towards their projects that way. Not only does it raise money, it also guarantees sales, readership, audience, and is a great promotion and publicity tool.

Motivation for consumer (“investor”) participation stems from the feeling of being at least partly responsible for the success of others’ initiatives (desire for patronage), striving to be a part of a communal social initiative (desire for social participation), and seeking a payoff from monetary contributions (desire for investment). There are, however, questions about the legality of taking money from "investors" without offering any of the security demanded by conventional investment schemes. Sites such as SellaBand hold funds in an escrow account as a failsafe. If the nominated target isn't reached, all funds are returned to contributors. In contrast, some sites such as ArtistShare allow projects to keep all the funds raised.

How you manage to excite investors depends on numerous factors, especially how clever you are in manipulating social media and talking up your project. It helps, too, if you have a writing reputation, a media profile and/or a wide range of contacts. Such was the case with Marcus Westbury, whom I heard speak at this year’s Ubud Writers’ Festival. Recently Westbury launched a crowd-funding project for a book he’s written; he gave himself six months to raise the requisite monies required to publish, but found to his amazement that his popularity as a broadcaster, media maker and festival director resulted in him reaching his goal only four weeks into his campaign. Another successful crowd-funding campaigner is Australian author Sophie Masson, who, with two artist friends, David Allan and Fiona McDonald, recently managed to self-publish a picture book. Sophie has a wide range of friends and writing colleagues and is well-known through her work as a journalist, print author and board member of the Australian Society of Authors. On the other hand, I know of a young woman who has been struggling to crowd-fund a board game she has devised but in the end has decided not to proceed with her project.

Interestingly, in 2012, crowd-funding websites helped companies and individuals raise $2.66 billion (from which $1.6 billion was raised in North America.) ‘Pozible’ is the biggest crowd-funding platform in Australia. Since its launch in 2010, it has already supported over 1,300 creative projects, raising over $2.5 million dollars in funding. The types of projects that are funded vary: it might be $60 for a university assignment pitch or $30,000 for a feature film.

Not every crowd-funding site is the same. With Kickstarter, the most famous of the sites, you need a US bank account so that is difficult for those outside of America who don’t have a US tax number.  Then there are different types of crowd-funding models, the 'fixed' or 'all or nothing' model, which sites such as Pozible and Zoshpit (for musos) work on, where you must reach your nominated funding target to be paid anything at all. (People who contribute to such projects get their money refunded if the target isn't met and the project doesn't get up); and 'flexible' funding, which Indiegogo functions on (though it also has a 'fixed funding' option if you want.)

Flexible funding means you get to keep the money raised, even if you don't reach your target, with a small commission taken out by your chosen crowd-funding site, of course—the commission is slightly higher if you don't reach your target than if you do.

Before you decide on your crowd-funding site, you need to work out how much capital you want to raise and the time frame for raising it. This means a budget for such things as editing, designing, illustrating, publicity and printing costs, depending on what it is exactly you want the money for. Then you sign up with your chosen site (it’s free to do so) at which stage you plan your campaign pitch. This consists of a written pitch introducing your project to your prospective financial backers and what exactly you're seeking support for (see above), as well as images and a pitch video. You don't need a pitch video, but all the evidence is that campaigns work better where there is one.

Some people have very elaborate clips, but you can do it simply and cheaply: using images from the book, a simple video-clip creating program (Windows Movie-Maker), a little bit of text introducing us and the book, and some music. The images speak for themselves!

You need to devise the list of the 'perks' to offer contributors, which is directly related to the amount they fund you for. For instance, a $25 contribution might give you a $25 perk of a signed copy of the book, posted (basically a pre-order for the book), while a $50 perk might consist of a signed copy of the book plus a signed limited-edition print of one of the illustrations; and so it goes on. English poet Salena Godden at the Ubud festival said that for a $300 pledge on her next crowd-funded book, she will take the contributor ‘for a night on the piss in London’ with her.  

In the crowd-funding process, you also need to decide on the length of your campaign. It might run from 30 to 60 days but Indiegogo recommends 45 days as being the optimum length. You also have to decide on such 'housekeeping' details as how your contributors might pay, such as credit card and/or Paypal, and enter all that information, for the benefit of Indiegogo or whatever crowd-funding site you decide to use (it is they act as the broker, collecting funds, and they who will deposit the funds into your nominated bank account, minus commission, at the end of the campaign.)

And then you take a deep breath, hit the Submit button, and your campaign goes live!

Helpful websites:

How to crowd-fund your film

Thirteen crowd-funding websites

Information about crowd-funding

Article on crowd-funding in Australia


Tuesday 1 October 2013


One of the funniest performers in Australian schools is children’s author DC Green. Widely known as a surfing journalist for many years, DC is now better known for his very funny, fast-paced novels that are peopled by highly inventive, zany characters. Here DC talks about his latest book, Monster School, the first in a series.
Can you tell readers about your latest children’s book Monster School?

DC: Monster School is, literally, about a school for monsters! Monstro City is the home of vampires, mummies, giant spiders, five different goblin types, four million monsters all up – every monster type from every human civilization. Humans are the endangered species. The human prince Thomas’s horrible life is no sooner introduced in chapter one, when WHAM! He’s attacked by a monster assassin – Bloody Mary.

Plus every chapter features fantastic monster illustrations by Danny Willis!

 What inspired the idea for the book – and the series?

DC: This is my attempt to write a Lord of the Rings for the Twenty-first Century! So there are goblins, ogres, trolls and yes, a dragon! The setting is an island metropolis in a flooded world, so the potential conflict levels are ratcheted high in every overcrowded suburb. After I came up with the original idea, I spent months planning the city, allocating monster types, jobs, populations and histories. Monstro City was like a giant writer’s play-pen. So, my main inspiration is simple fun. I had SO much fun planning and writing and even rewriting this story. Hopefully that sense of fun bursts through to my readers.

 This is book one of a series. How many books are planned and what is the next one?

DC: There are three City of Monsters books planned. Each will tell a self-contained story that also forms an over-arching trilogy. I have plotted this for a lonnng time (fiendish cackle). Book Two: Mafia Goblins Rule!

You have a very distinctive writing style. Can you describe it and what you do to maintain a story’s fast pace?

DC: First, thank you! When writing dialogue, I must carefully select words that mimic consistently the voice, style, prejudices, slang and sentence structure of whoever is speaking. My style also alters depending if I’m writing a first rather a than a third person narrative, or describing thoughts rather than action. But I do have personal style rules I try to follow (mostly). For example, I like to use short, punchy sentences in action scenes and more expansive sentences when describing or entering a character’s thoughts.

I believe maintaining a story’s fast pace is crucial to retaining the interest of boredom-challenged young readers. All authors need to plan carefully to maximise every scene and keep their narrative engine rumbling. If an exposition info-dump is required, turn the minimum wordage required into dialogue and sprinkle through a fight scene. It definitely helps to keep conflict levels boiling in every scene, and to constantly raise the stakes and make bad situations worse. Also essential: editing brutally. If a connecting scene is dull or not pulling its weight on multiple levels, then cull, or add spice.

How do you go about writing a book? Do you plot meticulously or does it simply evolve? As a general rule, what is your starting point – character, setting, etc?

DC: First comes the idea: a city of monsters. Then comes plotting. Lots of plotting. With an entire city of monsters, I knew I would need plenty of research time and world building. I wrote over 200 pages of background notes before I even started my story. I think that qualifies as meticulous!

Can you talk about humour and how you achieve it in your books? What do you think makes kids laugh?

DC: I’ve loved making people laugh since I was a primary school class clown. It’s an honour as an author to bring laughter and cheer into the lives of so many kids who might not otherwise have many such opportunities. As for what makes kids laugh? That’s the million dollar question! I believe, as children grow, their senses of humour become ever-more complex, requiring different types of humour. My Erasmus James books (for ages eight and up) had more word-play, slapstick, insults and the odd gross joke, while the humour in Monster School (ages ten and up) is more organic and dialogue-based. But then, I also thought Monster School was easily my most ‘serious’ children’s book and have been continually surprised when readers tell me how many laugh-out-loud moments they experienced through the story.

How do you keep coming up with preposterous ideas for characters and stories?

DC: If by preposterous you mean remarkable, then… easily! I love mixing different story elements (e.g. a school and monsters) to create something new. I have to force myself to stop thinking of novel novel ideas for fear my brain will drown and I will never live long enough to craft them all into stories.

 What sort of feedback have you had so far from readers and reviewers?

DC: As I type this, the book isn’t in stores yet. But, amazingly, the feedback I’ve received so far has been universally positive. Jenny Mounfield called Monster School ‘a beautifully illustrated and tightly-woven read… filled with snappy dialogue and wonderfully witty characters,’ while Ian Irvine dubbed the book, ‘A wild, wise-cracking ride. I loved it.’ Best of all, though, were the replies from my junior beta readers. I received multiple 10/10 scores and glowing praise. Many kids even wrote their own monster stories and sent me detailed artwork of their favourite monsters. Their inspiration has in turn inspired me.

 What other children’s books have you published so far?

DC: I’ve had five other children’s books published. Three Little Surfer Pigs is a fractured fairytale picture book with amazing artwork by Simon McLean. Erasmus James and the Galactic Zapp Machine is a funny and fast-paced fantasy, and is the first in a three-book series for primary school kids. Similar to Monster School, Stinky Squad is a slightly darker tale for ages ten and up. It is also features the world’s grossest teen superheroes, and an apocalyptic gawk at John Howard’s Australia.

Can you talk about the work you do all around Australia as a schools’ performer?

DC: Every year I hit the road (and airport) to perform for several weeks in schools. I’ve done the world’s worst rap in every Australian state and territory from Groote Eylandt to Australia’s southernmost school on Bruny Island. I think next year I’ll reach my thousandth show! I feel privileged to be an ambassador for reading and writing and always try to bring my A-game. I also try to balance my shows with funny material that will entertain and motivate the kids, while also introducing ample creative writing tips to keep the teachers grinning too.

What did you do before becoming a children’s author?

DC: I’ve worked in a range of jobs, but have always been at least a part-time writer. For many years I had a freeloading career as a surf journalist. I still can’t believe I was paid to surf exotic surf spots around the world and laze in hammocks with the superstars of surfing. The job also had bleaker times though with psychopathic locals, double shark attacks and covering the Bali bombings.

Do you have any advice for new children’s writers? How do you go about getting a book published, for instance?

DC: Two things. One: love writing! There is not a lot of money in children’s writing, but the community of children’s writers is wonderful and I’d rather be poor and happy doing what I love than rich and miserable. Plus, loving what you do, you’ll enjoy every step, and rejection will sting a little less. Two: keep learning. Join a writers’ group, do writing courses, read writing articles (you have much wonderful advice on this very site, Di!) and don’t give up without a fight.

Anything else you’d like to add?

DC: Yes, I have lots of links I’d like to share:

My blog, with all the latest blog tour updates:

My publisher’s site (for book orders):

My other publisher: (for a kindle Monsters):


Thanks for being the opening act of my Monster Blog Tour, Di!


Happy writing




Sunday 29 September 2013

Author Interview: Tania McCartney

Prolific and acclaimed children’s author Tania McCartney has recently published a book in New Frontier’s Aussie Heroes series. The fifth book in the series of junior historical fiction, Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend is an illustrated chapter book for children aged 8 - 12, and covers the remarkable life and work of one our Australia's greatest philanthropists. The book features beautiful illustrations by Pat Reynolds.

Here Tania talks about her research and writing of this book as well as other aspects of her writing career.

Why did you chose Caroline Chisholm to write about, or were you assigned her?

 I have always admired New Frontier’s Aussie Heroes series. I approached publisher Sophia Whitfield about doing one of the books for her, and offered up several suggestions, including Caroline, which was who Sophia eventually chose. I was delighted. In a way, I guess Caroline (via Sophia) chose me.

What impression did you form of Chisholm? Do you think you would have liked her if you’d met her?

Caroline was a woman of ‘pleasing disposition’. She was polite, pulled-together and proper, but she was also adventurous, gutsy, fearless and tenacious, with a deep passion for family, community and human rights.

In her portraits and in the newspaper articles written on Caroline, she comes across as a rather formal woman, but she was well-educated, well-married and well-travelled, so formality was indicative of her status as well as the time.

As I got to know her, however, I saw a real passionate side. Caroline was selfless and immensely courageous. She moved around a lot and dealt with tens of thousands of impoverished or displaced people and plenty of bureaucrats, so I’m sure she would have had a healthy sense of humour. And I also sensed an almost ‘playful’ side. She adored her kids.

 I think I would have loved her.

 What do you think was Chisholm’s biggest achievement?

 Oh gosh, there were so many. I guess her Family Colonization Loan Society was one of her finest achievements, most especially as it helped populate our country with strong, determined workers, who helped shape our farming land and towns.

 Emigrants received funding from the Society to cover part of their passage to Australia. Once the families were settled, they could pay back the Society with earnings. This allowed broken families to reunite, and helped so many people begin new lives that were a vast improvement on the appalling conditions they lived under in the UK.

How much research was involved in the book?
This book took a lot of research, even with its relatively low word count. I researched in depth because I owed it to kids to cover all bases of Caroline’s story but also because I found it vital in terms of getting to know Caroline.

When you write faction, and you spend time surmising certain scenes, you really do need to know the character well. I researched her life in many different places—I read existing books, I scoured newspaper articles and letters ( and I studied (authenticated) websites.

Rodney Stinson of was priceless—he shared much of his extensive knowledge with me.

Can you name five other Aussie Heroes you think deserve a book? Any in particular who interest you?

I have more than five! But I’d love to write a book on May Gibbs, Dorothy Wall, Miles Franklin, Florence Broadhurst, and Ethel Turner.

Yes, I know they are all women, but I find females so underrepresented in Australian history. When I was researching Australian Story for the National Library, it struck me how unbalanced the representation of male/female stories and achievements are. Yes, men achieved a lot, but so did women—they just received less press and less roles of status. There are many, many women who worked behind the scenes in our history, who will never be known.

With my choices, above, all but Florence are writers, and not much at all has been written about them (for children). I love that these women helped shape Australia’s literary scene. At one stage, Aussie kids had not much more than American and British books to read—May Gibbs was instrumental in creating Australian-themed books for our children.

How long did the book take to research and write?

This book probably took around three or four months of researching, writing, redrafting and fact-checking. Editing to and fros added another few months.

What are you working on at the moment?

 I’m so happy to be working on more historical books. The first is a classic narrative picture book on Captain Cook for the National Library of Australia (illustrated by multi-talented friend Christina Booth). The second is a book on the Aussie child called Australian Kids Through the Years, also for the National Library and illustrated by the divine Andrew Joyner.

 I’m working on some trade books, too—Tottie and Dot—my second picture book with dear friend Tina Snerling (for EK Publishing) and a junior fiction series called Ella McZoo: Animal Whisperer. I’m very excited about these books as they are really central to who I am as an author, and are fiction (which I write far too infrequently). I’m also hoping to start on a faction book on May Gibbs shortly.


What are some other non-fiction titles you’ve published?

Australian Story: An Illustrated Timeline is a non-fiction, high-image picture book for the NLA and my second book for them--Eco Warriors to the Rescue!—has just been released. It’s a cross between faction and fiction in that it contains much fact but with a fiction narrative. An Aussie Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Australian Kids (EK Publishing) is out this October and it is also a non-fiction book, hosted by fictional characters. I love blending genres!

My adult non-fiction titles include You Name It, Handmade Living and Beijing Tai Tai.

Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction? Why?

I love them both almost equally. I really subscribe to that old nugget: ‘fact is stranger than fiction’, and I find researching non-fiction and faction immensely rewarding. I also love the educational components of non-fiction books, and how attracted children are to them. Kids are on an endless quest of discovery, after all, and non-fiction books are like adventure/discovery guidebooks.

Having said that! I have to be honest and say fiction is my true love—an irony because I rarely write it, and so desperately want to. This is why Ella McZoo was such a joy to write because it really fulfilled me, and I’m feeling the call to write adult fiction again, too.

 I was at a school yesterday and the gorgeous teacher-librarian told the children I was unusual because I write across multi-genre. I found this really interesting because writing across genre is normal to me. I think there’s always a little bit of fiction in fact and a whole lot of fact in fiction. When you’re telling stories you love, sometimes the genre pales, and I must admit, I love that thought.

Tania McCartney is an author of both children’s and adult books, and has been writing professionally for over 25 years. An experienced magazine writer and editor, she also founded respected literary site Kids’ Book Review. She is passionate about literacy, and loves to speak on reading, books and writing. Her latest books include Eco Warriors to the Rescue! (National Library Publishing), Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo: A journey around Canberra (Ford Street) and An Aussie Year: Twelve months in the life of Australian Kids (EK Publishing). Tania adores books, travel and photography. She lives in Canberra with her family, in a paper house at the base of a book mountain.

Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend (New Frontier, Oct 2013, $14.95, paperback, 9781921928482)

‘If Captain James Cook discovered Australia––if John Macarthur planted the first seeds of its extraordinary prosperity––if Ludwig Leichhardt penetrated and explored its before unknown interior––Caroline Chisholm has done much more: she has peopled—she alone has colonised in the true sense of the term.’
—Henry Parkes’s Empire newspaper, 15 August 1859

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