Coming up

This weekend I’m speaking at ‘Words at the Warrandyte Cafe’ on why and what I write, what I read, and particularly the world of Act of Faith.

It’s 4pm to 6pm Sunday 6 May at 61 Yarra Street, Warrandyte. It’s one of a series organised  by the lovely people at the Warrandyte Neighbourhood House, and bookings are through them on 9844 1839 or email


Next up (or not, as the case may be)

UPDATE 9/2/2012: THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED. Will post new date when it is confirmed.

It’s Words at the Warrandyte Cafe on 12 February, where I’ll be talking about reading and writing, and perhaps a little about research.

Words at the Warrandyte Cafe is a new regular event organised by the Warrandyte Neighbourhood House – local author Corinne Fenton was the first speaker late last year.

It’s from 4pm to 6pm at 61 Yarra Street, Warrandyte (that’s in north eastern Melbourne, Victoria) or you can contact the Neighbourhood House for details on 9844 1839.

Appearances and residencies

I’m proud to appear in the Word is Out program this year, part of Melbourne’s Midsumma festival.

I’ll be reading a snippet from Tragédie in Works in progress: other times on 19 January. Makes me a tad nervous – nobody but my uni colleagues have heard or read it before.

Then on 22 January I’m part of a panel (in excellent company) called Truth, dare and promises: issues in youth literature. Here’s the blurb:

Could Young Adult fiction be better described as ‘trauma’ fiction? Has it become too dark, or has it always been that way? If pressure on some writers, by agents and publishers, to ‘de-gay’ their characters is just about increasing sales potential, is this homophobic? Have supernatural themes gone too far? What ‘facts of life’ should young people be exposed to?

Sounds pretty good, eh? Wish I could just go along and listen but instead I’ll be trying to either get a word in edgeways or sound like I know what I’m talking about.

Right now I’m blogging as the author in residence on inside a dog, the teen reading website of the State Library of Victoria. (That’s where I work part-time, too – but the residency is part of my author life, not my day job. I know. It’s complicated.

So over there you can find me rambling on about writing and reading and other stuff for the rest of January. Go take a look. Even if you’re not a teen reader. You know you want to.

Now some residency announcements.

I feel both honoured and very lucky to have been awarded residency fellowships for 2012 by Varuna Writers’ House and the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust.

Both are precious and named in honour of some of the country’s best loved writers. Varuna is Australia’s national residential writers’ house in the former home of writers Dr Eric Dark and Eleanor Dark, author of The Timeless Land. Varuna is in the Blue Mountains, and I’ll be there in April working on Tragédie

The May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust supports writers and illustrators of books for children and young people by providing residencies in apartments in Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra. Its purpose is:

… to ensure that the high quality of work attained by May Gibbs in her time is achieved by contemporary Austrailan children’s authors and illustrators; that they are able to retain the Australian voice and to develop the literary heritage of the future.

What better?

Thanks to the Trust, I’ll be spending a month in Brisbane working furiously on The Sultan’s Eyes over April/May.

So it’s a big year. And we’re only three weeks into it.

Tips for new authors: school visits

This morning I’m off to read my one and only (so far) picture book to a kindergarten class.
I love talking to the littlies. They ask such wonderful questions:

  • What’s your favourite colour?
  • Do you have a dog? Why not?
  • Did you write Thomas the Tank Engine? Why not?
  • Are you married? Why not?
  • I went to the beach once.
  • Why is the sky?
Ever so easy to answer.
It got me thinking about what makes a great school or bookshop visit; for the author and especially for the kids. I can still remember the day Ivan Southall came to my primary school. That’s the day I decided I wanted to be a writer.
Now, I’m no big expert, but if you’re just starting out, maybe this practical list will help – it includes things I’ve watched others do and need to work on too:
  • If you’re going to read from your book, practice reading out loud, at home, and slower than you think possible.
  • Ask the teachers if there’s anything specific they want you to cover – any topics being discussed in class, or queries about your own work or process?
  • Ask yourself why you’re doing it. If the answer is that your publisher wants you to, that might not make for the most gripping speech the crowd has heard. So ask again. What do you want to share? Encourage? What have you got to say? Why did you write the book in the first place? Why do you write books at all? Why would anybody read them?
  • Make sure you are agreed and clear on all details: where, when, what year level, payment (if any), tech requirements.
  • It’s work. A professional appointment. Dress respectfully.
  • Pose yourself a few sample questions (eg, someone will always ask: ‘where do you get your ideas?’ so your reply to this impossible question would be…?)
  • Allow time to get lost on the way or stuck in traffic, arrive, find the right room, cool down/warm up.
  • Take a bottle of water.
The big talk
  • Say thanks for having me – it’s an honour and a privilege to have readers, and you have the opportunity to tell them so.
  • Start with confidence, even if you don’t feel it. You are the ultimate authority on your own books. Shine.
  • Make sure everyone can hear you.
  • Move around a bit, if you can. You don’t need to pace the stage, but try to present a relaxed body language that invites engagement.
  • Slow down. Breathe. Look up. And again.
  • Ask them a few age-appropriate questions: favourite books, films, X-Box games, characters – who likes Harry Potter? 
  • Some of those present have dreamed of becoming a writer or illustrator one day – target a few comments at them. 
  • Remember: one of them may be the next you, and this may be the day they decide what they want to be when they grow up.
  • It’s OK to ask people to sshh, but if they are getting a bit too ratty (hot day, hard wooden floor, long talk) get them to stand up and have a stretch or play a little game. 
  • Take note of the room – feel what’s happening as you speak, and adjust your tone and pace as best you can.
  • Look around you, make sure you appear to be making eye contact with people all around the room. And actually do it.
  • Don’t go overtime. It’s kinda selfish. If there’s no clock, ask someone to warn you when you have three minutes left, and then wrap up fast.
  • End with a bang – even if it’s just a big thank you, a call to action as simple as “Keep on reading”, and a round of applause.
  • Enjoy yourself. Yes, really. 


  • Don’t use it if you’re not utterly comfortable with it – or coping without it if there’s a technical hitch.
  • Powerpoint is great to give structure, present images and embed video. Handy for people who are visual. That’s all. Don’t rely on it.
  • You don’t need to put everything on the slides. Images, maybe a few bullet points – not your whole talk.
  • Try not to look at the big screen, or even at the monitor or laptop – know the slides so well that you don’t even have to look. It’s your story. Just tell it.
  • Take the concept of each slide as the jump-off point for that bit of your talk, then have a chat about that concept. What you say should be different to the points on the slide – don’t read the words out loud. 
  • Repeat audience questions or incorporate them into your answer, in case nobody heard it.
  • Ask people their names when you select them to ask a question and say hello.
  • If it’s a complicated or hard question, ask the group if they have any ideas or experience of it – on some issues, more than one perspective is handy.
If you can, take something along you can leave with the bookseller, teacher or librarian – it might be a poster you can sign, or some bookmarks for them to give out later. That will help the kids remember your name and your book title after you’ve gone. Offer to sign the library’s or bookshop’s copies of your books.

Be happy if kids want you to sign books, posters, arms – anything. Ask them questions about themselves as you sign, check how they spell their names if there’s nobody there to help you.

Over the years, I’ve watched world-famous authors (who shall remain nameless) at festivals and events not bothering to engage with kids at all, grizzling about signing their own books, gossiping with their publicists while kids are clamouring to ask them questions, blanking staff members, or getting volunteers up on stage and then humiliating them in front of the whole group.  You don’t want to be that person – no matter how famous or rich they are, they probably won’t get invited back.

On the other hand, I’ve watched amazing writers like Margaret Mahy, Antony Browne and Jacqueline Wilson (and closer to home the likes of Andy Griffith, Richard Newsome and Sally Rippin) really engage warmly with a group of kids, then do it all over again – just as genuinely – an hour later.

You may not be a big name. You may be shy. You may feel nervous. You might not be the person who cracks jokes and works the room like a US President.

But you might be the person who changes someone’s life.

Busy hands, etc

Got a few things on over the next couple of weeks.

This Saturday, I’ll be at Eltham Festival, telling pirate stories and making pirate hats and doing pirate stuff.  (3pm, November 12.)

School visits: next Tuesday I’ll be at Manor Lakes in Wyndham – there’ll also be a performance of some scenes from Act of Faith, which will be kinda strange but wonderful. Then a few days later I’ll be at Lowther Hall. Looking forward to meeting everyone at both schools.

Also looking forward to talking to the folks from Victorian public libraries next week, about writing and research and, of course, reading.

Then it’s up to Byron Bay, with my PhD hat on (actually, I don’t have one of those yet) to present a paper at the annual conference of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs.

Coming soon, to a City of Literature near you

I’m honoured to be part of this year’s Emerging Writers’ Festival (note the apostrophe) as a “Living Library” on 4 June. That means you can book a fifteen minute one-on-one session to pick my brains on how to create characters.
Or you can quiz Paddy O’Reilly on structure and narrative (which I do over lunch on a regular basis).

  • Criticism & reviewing: Geordie Williamson, literary critic
  • Poetry & performance: Julian Fleetwood, poet & playwright
  • Editing: Jo Case, editor
  • Drafting & planning: Alan Bissett, novellist & screenwriter
  • Creative collaborations: Warwick Holt, joke writer & freelancer
  • Writing online: Simon Groth, If:Book director & digital writer
  • Translation: Leah Gerber, academic specialising in literary translation
  • Freelancing: Kevin Patrick, freelance writer.

What a line-up, and what a smart idea. You treat us like books you can borrow for fifteen minutes. Ask us anything. But please remember to return all books to the trolley.

And in my day job at the State Library, we’re gearing up for the Reading Matters conference, with guests this year including Cassandra Clare, Lucy Christopher, Ursula Dubosarsky, Rebecca Stead, and Markus Zusak. Can’t wait.