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!