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

Follow the Caroline Chisholm tour! Full schedule at:






Sunday 22 September 2013


Note: An asterix * indicates Australian authors or organisations

1.    The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass. Not aimed at children’s writers but applicable to chapter books.

2.    *Mem Fox's website talks about creating picture books -

3.    *On Writing Books for Children by Jenny Wagner

4.    *Joining professional organizations such as – Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), Australian Society of Authors (ASA), Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA), Local Writers’ Centres

5.    *Richard Harland put this website together - also available as downloadable PDF

7.    *Hazel Edwards’ website has lots of useful information for new writers -
or or
8.    *Jill McDougall - has a terrific e-book that can be downloaded from her website called Become a Children’s Writer

9.    Andrea Shavick has also written a book called Get your picture book published

10. Nancy I. Sanders' award-winning book—‘Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children's Books’ - Published in 2009 by E & E Publishing.

11. Rachel Burke’s blog - has 27 different categories of writing info listed, with new stuff added all the time.

12. Writing for children by Pamela Cleaver

13. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

14. *How to Become a Children's Writer’ by Bren MacDibble is published by Australian Associated Publishing House for Australian College QED Pty Ltd as part of their TopJob Guide series.

15. * How to Write a Great Children's Book by Robyn Opie;
Also available as a published book, too. The URL is:;

16. * The Australian Writers’ Marketplace

17. *John Marsden:  Everything I know about writing

18. Tom Chiarella: Writing dialogue

19. Tracey Dils: You can write children's books

20. Jean Karl: How to write and sell children's picture books

21. Joan Aiken: The way to write for children

22. *Hazel Edwards: The business of writing for young people

23. Celia Warren:   How to write stories

24. Revision – a creative approach to writing and rewriting fiction by David Michael Kaplan.

25. *Mentoring Your Memoir by Goldie Alexander

26. *Reason to Write and Ideas to Go’and several other writing manuals by Sally Odgers, available as e-books or from  as paperbacks. The list is up at

27. *Libby Gleeson's Writing Like a Writer

28. *Dianne Bates: How to Self Edit (To Improve Writing Skills) $22 posted and Wordgames (Activities for Creative Thinking and Writing) $20 posted. Both books have many writing or editing exercises. Available from . Di’s most recent novel is The Girl in the Basement, available from



Sunday 15 September 2013


Many "Publish Your Book" ads look alike -- yet some are for subsidy publishers and others are for printing companies that help authors "self-publish" their work. How can you tell them apart?

A commercial publisher (such as HarperCollins and Penguin Books) distributes books under its own imprint. It purchases manuscripts from authors and handles the cost of producing those manuscripts such as cover and interior design, typesetting, printing, marketing, distribution, etc. The author is not expected to pay any of these costs. The books are owned by the publisher and remain in the publisher's possession until sold; the author receives a portion of sales in the form of royalties.

A subsidy publisher also distributes books under its own imprint. However, it does not purchase manuscripts; instead, it asks authors to pay for the cost of publication. Any publisher that requests a fee from the author is a subsidy publisher. As with commercial publishers, the books are owned by the publisher and remain in the publisher's possession; authors receive royalties.

A self-publisher, on the other hand, is an author who pays for the cost of designing, printing, and distributing his or her book. Frequently, the author invents and registers a publishing "imprint." Self-published books are the property of the author and usually remain in the author's possession; all sales proceeds belong to the author.

Regardless of whether you choose subsidy or self-publishing, the author is largely responsible for promotion of her book. In fact, even if one is published by a reputable commercial publisher, the author is expected to be proactive with publicity.

More recently, in a worrying trend, some Australian commercial publishers have turned into subsidy publishers. In the past 12 months I have submitted manuscripts in good faith to such publishers, and had them ‘accepted’ but only on the condition that I pre-purchase (or pre-sell to organisations) copies of my titles for amounts from $2,000 to $5,000.

In both cases I have withdrawn my manuscript, but I know of well-known authors who have published their books under these co-payment agreements.  One of them told me they agreed to the pre-purchase condition the first time, but when they wanted to purchase fewer copies for subsequent books, the (same) publisher said the same large amount would need to be purchased, as a requirement for publishing the book. ‘I felt pressured and disappointed,’ they said.

Another author was told by an editor that she would recommend her manuscript for publication. However, when the publisher contacted the author, he wanted her to pay half the publishing cost, which came in at $10,000. She told him no thanks; partnership publishing isn't for her, to which he replied that his company was NOT a partnership publisher. Really?

Wanting to further explore this publishing trend, I placed ads in several magazines asking writers to contact me with their experiences. I also approached several authors on the ASA board. The ASA representatives referred to subsidy publishing as ‘collaborative publishing’, though I prefer the term ‘co-publishing.’ Another author called it ‘partnership publishing.’ 

When I sent the publishing proposal for my manuscript to the ASA, I was offered the following information: ‘Basically, this publisher is asking $5000 and you get 500 copies to sell yourself, with a much reduced return on the others based on net receipts which could be very high discounts, so likely to be a small return, but you get the editorial/cover and publisher listings etc. For some authors who do lots of regional speaking and sell books there, the volume may be viable. For others it's a form of self publishing for which they are paying a minimum of $10 per copy.  For a one-off specialist book it may be viable for some, but not as a general practice for professional authors with many titles.’

A third author wrote to me saying, ‘My (former) publisher is asking for more manuscripts but I'm not going down that (subsidy publishing) path again. He is good in many respects but alas, if you don't look after the creators financially, they don't come back. It worries me for newer and desperate-to-be-published authors who have no representation.’

She went on to say that in future she would be staying with the bigger publishers under the watchful eye of her agent. 


Finally, I heard from a writer who, if she published collaboratively, the total costs including an initial 3,000 book print run, would be approximately $18,000 for a chapter book and $24,000 for a picture storybook. 


Every author who wrote to me asked me not to name them or the publishers who had offered them subsidy publishing deals. A writer, of course, is placed in a very difficult position when they are wronged by a publisher: they don’t want to be seen to be rocking the industry boat as they are fearful of being ‘black-listed.’


It seems to me that the ASA ought to be going public on who the publishers are and warning its members not to proceed with publication unless they are 100% convinced they cannot get published elsewhere by a commercial publisher who does not resort to subsidy publishing.




Thursday 5 September 2013


Most jobs in life are noted for their sameness - you do the same thing day after day, week after week, or things go in cycles but are usually predictable. While many people declare they hate their jobs (95% according to a recent survey), they would probably say what they hate is the boredom and sameness. Yet, paradoxically, this is the very reason why they don't quit. Sameness is safe, predictable, secure. You work your hours and you go home at the end of the week with a nice pay-check that pays the bills and buys food.

Writing? Never the same. Just because one story or novel worked out well, that's no guarantee that the next one will be easier, or even work at all. If you write the same story over and over, the critics will lay into you and you'll be labelled unadventurous or boring or predictable. If the new book is deemed of a lesser quality than the previous, you'll get it in the neck for that too.

Money comes and goes. Usually, it goes. Last year's bestseller is this year's remainder, and that healthy royalty cheque dwindles alarmingly, so that you start to think about going back to waitressing or driving taxis.

You are told you need to have a platform, a website, to engage in social media and market yourself, but that seems like a waste of good writing time, or it sucks up too much energy. It becomes another procrastination tool.
Or you decide to start teaching writing, and eventually (or soon) discover that it sucks away your creativity and energy, and it’s depressing to see how many people think they want to be writers.

Output surges and dies. One year you produce three books, the next year(s) you strike a story that just won't work and several years later you have to abandon it. No product, no sales, no advances, no royalties.
The exciting flush of the first draft dies under rewrite after rewrite after rewrite. Your agent stops answering your calls. But you have to keep writing. What else can you do?

No one is knocking on your door, begging for your latest manuscript. No one cares much whether you write or not. Your mother keeps hinting that you should get a real job.

Depressed yet?

Maybe, but it comes with the “job” and learning how to deal with it or work through it is a crucial part of being a writer. There are times when I yearn after my old waitressing job (except now I'm such a cranky person I'd probably be a reincarnation of Carla from 'Cheers', only worse).

Actually, you can stop. Mostly, writing is a job like any other, so you can resign. I've known several writers who have written three or four novels, then gone off to do something else. I've known talented writers who decided it was all too hard. Some people go back to writing just for the enjoyment and decide they will never send anything out again.

What keeps me going? The lure and promise of the story idea not yet written, the vision of the story that haunts me for several years until I just have to write it no matter what, the high that comes from having written, the way in which my own words can surprise me at times as if it wasn't really me who wrote them ... there are many reasons not to give up, and they are all to do with writing. Not with getting published.

What keeps you going? Is it the drive to tell a meaningful story, or record life? Is it a love of language? As writers, like any artists, we are driven to create. Eric Maisel’s books often discuss creativity and how to decide “what matters”, especially when you are feeling overwhelmed by all the parts of your life that are NOT writing. He also talks about how those who do not feel the need to create don’t really understand it, or how it feels. Take heart! Follow your passion, create so you feel alive. Know that hard work will help you achieve your dreams more than anything.
© Sherryl Clark

Wednesday 4 September 2013

WELCOME TO THE LITERACY LADDER by Australian author Donna Smith

Good morning Di, thank you for inviting me along today.

Q. What is the Literacy Ladder reading series?

Donna: Literacy Ladder is a reading program by the Victorian College of Literacy Arts, that I am delighted to be apart of.  The Literacy Ladder program has several facets to it including The Literacy Ladder Reader Series© consisting of  ‘Ready’ (Yellow: Prep- Grade 1), ‘Set’ (Green: Grade 1-3) and ‘Go (Gold Star: Grade 3-5) readers for children within the normal range of reading and comprehension development.  


The Literacy Ladder Enhanced Reading Program© is especially designed for children in Prep to Grade 3 who are participating in a literacy intervention program.   The program focuses on specific areas of literacy development, speech and sound and comprehension to develop solid foundation skills to enhance their literacy abilities.  The roll out phase is currently underway and will continue over the next three years.   The Literacy Ladder Reader series has several contracted titles by various authors within the Ready, Set, Go levels.


Q: Can you tell the readers about your book Jazmine Montgomery Toy Detective: The Magic Glasses? Is it a part of the Literacy Ladder series?


Donna: Jazmine Montgomery – Toy Detective ‘The Magic Glasses’ is the first in this exciting new series.  Yes, the Literacy Ladder ‘Green’ box is located on the back cover of the book.  The target audience is Grade 1-3.


Q: Where did you get the idea for the Jazmine Montgomery story?


Donna: Jazmine Montgomery, the character is based on my daughter Jazmine (who is twelve in a couple of weeks), Jazmine has a wonderful ability to see the magic in everything around her. I just love that.  Jazmine also loves games, puzzles and mystery challenges, the toy detective just happened to come to me one day when she was going a puzzle.  At the time Jaz was young, as I write the story a few years ago.


Q: Who designs and illustrates your books?

Donna: My books have been illustrated by various artists.  Matthew Shires painted the beautiful cover of Delightfully Haiku, Aaron Pocock illustrated A Christmas Tail, a picture book co-authored with Helen Ross and released earlier this year and Sharyn Madder illustrated Jazmine Montgomery – Toy Detective ‘The Magic Glasses.’ 


Artists have their own style and different styles are suited to different projects.  Matthew Shires was chosen for Delightfully Haiku because he had recently spent time living in Japan and captured the essence of Japanese culture in his painting.  Aaron Pocock was chosen by Helen and I because we wanted a timeless, English feel to the illustrations and Aaron’s samples showed that quality.  


Sharyn was chosen for the Jazmine Montgomery series due to her ability to produce illustrations which matched my vision so accurately.  I loved her samples and found they were very detailed.


Q: What is Sally Odger’s role in your publishing house?


Donna:  Sally has been my writing mentor for some years and provides MS assessments for all of my stories followed by editing.  Sally is wonderful to work with, she is very patient with my ‘backward sentences’, generously shares her writing knowledge with me and genuinely has a love to help others in their writing ability and is very easy to approach for advice.  Sally plays a big role in the Jelli- Beanz Publishing house!


Jazmine Montgomery and Yapps will be sharing their next case file mid 2014, keep your eyes out for that. 


You can follow along all of the updates at the Jelli-Beanz Publishing blog site  and


I post lots of updates and specials on my blog.  There are also details of my other books there too.


Thank you Di for inviting me along today.