Thursday, 19 October 2017

Cameron Macintosh and his Max Book Future Sleuth Series

Today I’m talking with Cameron Macintosh, author of the recently-released Max Booth Future Sleuth series.

Let’s start with the most obvious question – what’s your new series about?
So far we’ve got two books out in the series: Tape Escape and Selfie Search. They’re both set in the year 2424, and are about a street kid, Max, and his hazardous missions to identify artifacts from the distant past – which just happens to be our present day, or hereabouts. Max makes a very humble living from identifying these objects, but there’s always a greedy adult or two wanting to take advantage of his hard work.

Is there a particular reason you tend to gravitate towards science fiction when you write for children?
Sci-fi isn’t the first genre I lean towards as a reader, but I find speculation about the future to be a really useful inspiration for fun story ideas. It also offers the chance for all kinds of meaningful discussions between kids and parents or teachers – whether it’s about ways technology will evolve, or about how our present-day lifestyles are impacting on the planet’s future.

The Max Booth books are your first leap from educational writing into the world of mainstream trade fiction. How has the experience varied for you?
In terms of writing, there’s a lot more freedom. Educational writing usually involves quite a strict brief, but that’s not necessarily a problem – those parameters are very helpful in guiding a manuscript towards completion. When it’s you who’s setting the parameters, the process can be a lot slower!

The other main difference is at the promotional end of the process. With my educational books, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to be part of the promotion. If they’re part of a successful series or reading program, it’s generally the reputation of the series that sells them, as much as I’d like to take all the credit! Now, with Max, I’m doing interviews, interacting with blogs and doing a bit of hustle to support the sales. It’s a new world to me, but I’m really enjoying the ride.


What do you think is the biggest trap that people should beware of when writing for children?
Relying too much on inspiration from books you read as a child can be a problem. I constantly have to mentally detach myself from certain key books. It’s really important to keep up with what’s being published and what’s being enjoyed out there in 2017. For me, though, the big one is to avoid writing down to anyone. Kids are incredibly savvy and they know when they’re being patronised.

How do you avoid that?
On a first draft of anything, I just imagine myself in the main character’s place and try to experience his or her main emotions in that situation as honestly as possible. Hopefully by the end of the first draft, the text has an emotional and conceptual integrity that will survive the redrafting process. On the second and third drafts I think more consciously about the age of the reader, and how they’ll interact with the words. It’s then that I make any changes to sentence construction or concepts to bring the text into line.

So how does that work when you write the Max Booth stories?
Fortunately, I find it gets easier the older the central character happens to be. Max is 11, an age I have very vivid memories of being – it’s the cusp of great change and the dawning of a lot more world-awareness, so it doesn’t tend to take too much conscious effort.

What are some of your favourite kids’ books on the market at the moment?
I really love the Tom Gates books by Liz Pichon, and anything by Shaun Tan. Another favourite at the moment is Ickypedia by the Listies (Matt Kelly and Richard Higgins) – a dictionary of disgusting new words. It really is laugh-out-loud funny.

Are they similar to the kinds of books you enjoyed as a child?
There are definitely some parallels in terms of their off-centre humour and slightly odd settings, but I tended to gravitate towards longer books by authors like Roald Dahl, Judy Blume and Paul Jennings. My most beloved book for years was Under Plum Lake by Lionel Davidson, about a child who visits a wondrous civilisation beneath the bottom of the sea. I know a lot of people find it too dark, but I still reread it every few years to try to relive the magic of it.

Is humour important in your own writing?
I always try to get some humour in, especially when dealing with more serious subject matter. Humour is a great door-opener for exploring darker topics – in the case of Max Booth, I tend to use it when Max is dealing with the extreme class snobbery in his future world. I also think that when you’re trying to excite reluctant readers, action is important, but giggles will do even more to keep the pages turning.

Is it hard to judge what a child reader will find funny?
I’m blessed with a very childish sense of humour, which definitely helps! It’s always slightly dangerous trying to judge what anyone else – of any age – will find funny, but as long as I’m getting a giggle from a line or a situation, I’m fairly confident that most of the readers will enjoy it too. It’s really important to keep up with the kinds of humorous books today’s kids are reading, and to seek feedback from the kids in your own family or social circle.

Writing can be a precarious way to make a living: what keeps you going?
It comes down to a very strong belief in the power of stories – the ability of this craft to remind people how intertwined, and how similar, we all really are. Stories have the unique ability to remind us of this without specifically reminding us of it – and to let us walk in other people’s shoes temporarily too. It’s a real privilege to be part of an industry that values these possibilities.

On that note, thanks for the chat, and all the best for the next Max Booth adventure.
Thanks very much. Book 3 is roaring into shape as we speak – only slowed down by overly frequent coffee breaks!

The Max Booth stories are available at bigskypublishing.com.au or through your local bookshop.

Cameron can be found online at www.cameronemacintosh.com.au, on Facebook as ‘Cameron Macintosh, author’, and on Twitter @CamMaci99.



Wednesday, 18 October 2017

My Dog Socks

My Dog Socks by Robyn Osborne, illustrated by Sadami Konchi (Ford Street Publishing) HB RRP $24.95 PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781925272826

Reviewed by Brook Tayla

Sometimes the most simple of stories can portray the most depth and My Dog Socks is a testament to this.  The interplay of story, illustrations and concepts all have layers that give depth of meaning to this beautiful story of a boy and his dog – some obvious, others quite subtle.

Firstly, the story, written from the boy’s perspective, is penned in poetic prose, which flow seamlessly from one page to the next in an enticingly fun and totally intriguing style.  The emotions attached to strong relationships are explored, showing the unconditional love and acceptance of the many sides of all living beings – the ups and downs of life and being there to support each other through the good and not so good times and also the acceptance of differences that comes with such a strong bond.

The abstract elements of the watercolour illustrations cleverly convey the author’s words and add depth by the use of an extremely clever shadowing technique that depicts each stage of the story.  The dog is painted in a deep navy blue-purplish colour to make it stand out from the natural settings – I learnt this from the illustrator herself.  It adds to the layers I mentioned at the start – stunningly so!

My Dog Socks is based on a real dog that belonged to the author before he moved on from this world.  It is, no doubt, the invisible layer of love that undertone Robyn’s words.  Socks lives on posthumously on Facebook and avid dog lovers would enjoy this site: https://www.facebook.com/Sox-The-Philosophical-Pooch-Osborne-162936030398385/

This book is not only for lovers of ‘man’s best friend,’ but for those of us that love all animals - and you just might be surprised at how many other animals you can actually find throughout this book!


Brook Tayla writes a picture book review blog at telltalestome@wordpress.com and would love you to drop by, read some reviews, leave a comment and subscribe.  Brook also offers editing services for beginning and emerging writers.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Curly Tales: Short Stories with a Twist

Curly Tales: Short Stories with a Twist by Bill Condon, illustrated by Dave Atze (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $12.99 ISBN 9781925520590

Reviewed by Sandy Fussell

A wonderful array of crazy, oddball characters fill the pages of this book. Meet Professor Julius Brigg, a brilliant pig with ‘a mind like a steel trap wrapped in bacon’.  Meet Big Charley, a mangy cat, so mean he doesn’t use kitty litter. And Doddie Q Moo, a cow who likes two read signs. “Go back, you are going the wrong way” makes her heart flutter.

Each of the thirteen stories is based on a proverb with a twist such as ‘curiosity chilled/killed the cat’ (poor Big Charley) and ‘every Doddie/everybody makes mistakes’ (you can’t force your family to join a sign reading club). Short explanations of the proverbs are included at the back of the book. The illustrations are as humorous as the text. Imagine an anaconda trying to squeeze an armour-plated armadillo (you can’t squeeze/please everyone) or a father and daughter flea fun day out (the best things in life are flea/free). 


The generous illustrations, large print and use of different fonts will appeal to young, independent readers. This book is humorous and clever, for those who like short stories, a good laugh and lashings of quirky wordplay. It will suit readers aged 6 to 11 years. 

Friday, 13 October 2017

Georgie Donaghey on Clover’s BIG Ideas

Being the smallest in the paddock isn’t easy. Clover is always being teased. When three naughty lambs go too far, Clover and her big ideas step in. Discover how Clover shows being little makes her more determined and clever than they could ever imagine.

This is the background to Clover's Big Ideas, Georgie Donaghey's latest picture book, illustrated by Emma Middleton and published by Little Pink Dogs. Here Georgie is interviewed by Di Bates of Buzz Words.

Please tell us about yourself.
I am a full-time working mother with three gorgeous kids, all at various stages of their life. I began writing from a young age, even winning an award in the Sunday Telegraph at the age of eight, for a poem about the dentist.
Life took many turns over the years and my writing was pushed aside while I explored other paths.
After the birth of my first child, 19 years ago, I felt inspired to play with words again and began writing for children. That’s where I have called home ever since. My little writing nook is littered with story ideas, my computer bulging with WIP’s and even more ideas.
My first steps in the world of children’s publishing were with the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) where I served as President of the Sutherland Shire Sub-branch for three years.
It was during my time with the CBCA, I discovered there were many emerging children's authors that needed a voice. They needed somewhere they could share their work, network with others and utilise tools and resources to assist them on their journey to publication.
In 2011, as a commitment to help others and with the assistance of my husband, Creative Kids Tales was born. Now an industry recognised site, CKT has become a valuable resource for Australian emerging children’s authors.
In 2013, I stretched my creative wings and The Author's Shelf hit the airwaves on 2SSR. After a year of chatting with authors like Captain Underpants author; Dav Pilkey, Jackie French, McLeod’s Daughters creator; Posie Graeme-Evans, Andy Griffiths, Susanne Gervay, Kate Forsyth, Belinda Murrell and other extraordinarily talented authors, I decided to put The Author’s Shelf ‘on the shelf’ and focus on my writing. It paid off.
By 2014, my dreams of becoming a published author became a reality; I signed my first contract. In 2015, my first picture book was published with Dragon Tales Publishing. In 2016 I signed my second contract with Little Pink Dog Books for Clover’s BIG Ideas, illustrated by Emma Middleton. Lulu was also re-released this year through Wombat Books. I’ve also re-signed with Little Pink Dog Books to publish my next title, In the Shadow of an Elephant due out in 2018.

How did the idea for Clover’s BIG Ideas come about?                                                Clover’s BIG Ideas will speak to all who have endured teasing at some time in their life. I wanted to share that it doesn’t matter how we look on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Clover showed through her passion, determination, courage and of course her BIG ideas, that by standing up to those naughty little lambs she is powerful.

Who is your target audience for this book?                                                                This book is suited for 3-7-year-olds. I find of the different age groups I share this story with, each takes away something different. The younger kids want Angus to crush the bullies and the older kids like the antics of the three naughty sheep. No matter what the age, they can all relate to Clover. It’s great to be able to share the subtle message of how the words we choose to use on a daily basis can either hurt or heal.

The audiences also love Emma’s illustrations. I am so happy with the added level Emma has brought to this story. Her illustrations are simply divine and tell a story of their own.  The classic style will definitely resonate with lovers of picture books past. 

What aspects did you find challenging about this book?                                              This book hit many firsts for me. The partnering with Emma Middleton, my first publication with Little Pink Dog Books and the wonderful friendship I now have with editor, Emma Cameron.
In my goody bag from a NSW Writers’ Centre Kids and YA Festival a few years ago was a voucher. It was for a kick start mentorship. I sent Clover off to be assessed and the assessor, Emma Cameron loved it! She helped me develop the story and the rest is history.

I loved the whole process of bringing this story to publication. Although towards the end it was both exciting and bittersweet as Emma M and I knew we were getting closer to having our book baby published, but we also knew it would be the end of our partnership for this project.

Peter and Kathy Creamer were dream publishers to work with. They allowed Emma and I to just run with our ideas and were very supportive of every step.

What does Clover’s BIG Ideas offer the reader that differs from others covering similar subjects?                                                                                                 
Clover’s BIG Ideas invites the reader into a world of gentle story-telling and demonstrates that looks are not always what they seem. Clover’s BIG Ideas celebrates friendship and instils the importance of understanding and acceptance.
You can visit Georgie at: georgiedonaghey.com.au     

Title: Clover’s BIG Ideas
ISBN: 976-0-9946269-6-7
RRP $24.99
Age group: 3 – 7 years.
Published by: Little Pink Dog Books www.littlepinkdogbooks.com
Instagram: georgiedonaghey    
Twitter: @CKidsTales



Wednesday, 11 October 2017

The Chronicles of Jack McCool: The Amulet of Athlone

The Chronicles of Jack McCool: The Amulet of Athlone (Book 1) by R.E Devine (Bauer Media) PB RRP $14.95   ISBN 9781742459202

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Jack was an ordinary teenager with a regular life until one night, hiding from his brother in the attic, it all changed. Jack is transported back in time to find that he is the Prince of Tara. Not only does this regular school boy have to wrap his head around news of his elite status, he also comes to learn that the Fianna clansmen are relying on him to rid them of the evil High King’s reign.

The amulet that Jack finds in an old wooden trunk in the attic is pivotal to the story, hence the title. (Amulet, noun: 1. a small object worn to ward off evil, harm or illness or to bring good fortune; protecting charm). This gold bracelet permanently attaches itself to Jack’s wrist. Unfortunately, it is missing the six precious gemstones, ‘cut from the mines of the magical city of Athlone’, imperative for its magical powers. Jack soon discovers that all the gems must be replaced for an ancient curse to be broken – and it’s his job to find them! In his quest to seek the valuable gems Jack teams up with warrior Finn McCool, ‘the hero of the book of Irish folk tales he’d loved to listen to his mother read when he was younger’. Jack must find the strength and courage to do things he’s never attempted before and overcome many obstacles including one of the King’s evil and deceitful banshees.

The Amulet of Athlone is suitable for middle grade readers who enjoy tales of adventure and fantasy. This novel is the first in an upcoming six book series to be released over the next six months. An enticing first chapter of Book 2: The Tomb of the Emerald Scarab is included at the end of this book. For further information and exclusive news visit
www.jackmccool.com


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Authors Diversifying

A Q& A with Authorpreneur Hazel Edwards, who has recently taken up a life of crime writing.

You’re best known as the author of the much loved children’s classic ‘There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake’. Why have you turned to writing adult crime mysteries?                                                                                                                I’ve always written in a variety of genres, but it’s just that the cake- eating hippo picture books are better known.  Motives interest me most whether I’m writing for children or adults and so mysteries were a natural progression when I was trying to improve my plotting. The technicalities of viewpoint and why someone might have acted in that way intrigues me. Diversity and coping with being different have been common themes in my stories for all ages.  The tension comes from doing something which is different from the values of the society in which the character lives. For a child, the society is the playground. And humour is often a way of coping.

In adult non-fiction, I’ve co-written ‘Difficult Personalities’ with psychologist Dr Helen Mc Grath and that has been translated into Chinese, Russian, Polish, Korean, audio, Braille and even American. ‘Difficult Personalities’ deals with motives but also with strategies. So does our co-written ‘Friends’ book. Writing factual strategies makes a fiction author conscious of outcomes.

Thus crime was the natural progression of extreme motives. But my type of crime writing is ‘softened’ with humour or irony. Often things don’t work out and the bumbling narrator-sleuth is revealed as inept. So getting the tone right is a challenge.
Brief crime or crime-lettes (my term) meant I could use varied settings and different narrator-sleuths. I chose first person, to get the reader onside quickly through the first character they meet. Later, readers may re-consider whether they wish to remain emotionally involved from that character’s viewpoint.

To what extent is ‘brand’ important for an author? What is your ‘brand’?                  In the last decade the term  ‘brand’ has been thrown around, but I was writing and getting published in my late twenties when I wasn’t even aware of the concept.   Authors were writers of the books. They weren’t ‘brands’.  Originally an author was associated with one publishing house and that publisher was the brand. Now authors move with each book, and they are the brand.  Versatility is vital for survival.  A self- employed writer needs a portfolio of skills.

My marketing manager daughter Kim ‘re-branded’ me with a new self -managed website about ten years ago. That was because readers expected I wrote only fanciful hippo books.  But I had a variety of publishers and kinds of books. She wanted to indicate the back-list range and also that I was a conference speaker on subjects such as ‘Writing a Non boring Family History’ or ‘Authorpreneurship’ which related to my non- fiction adult titles. Plus I was moving into diversity issues such as gender with ‘f2m; the boy within’, or ‘Hijabi Girl’. And there was the adventurous Antarctic literature after my expedition experience.

Inbetween, I’d been co-writing with ‘experts’ from different cultures and skills. Readers were getting confused.

Kim isolated my ‘brand’ to three descriptors, ‘Quirky, Issues-based, Authorpreneurial’   my aim is to take the reader into a different world and values (culture) for the length of that story, and maybe beyond, and to be known as an author-speaker as well as a writer. But I decided to stay with the one name.

Have you ever used a pseudonym or considered using one?                                           Yes.  I’ve been 25% of A.K.Aye, four women who co-wrote ‘Formula for Murder’. We chose the pseudonym mainly because our four names were too long to fit on the cover.  A.K.A means ‘also known as’ in police circles. Our collaboration was a fun hobby, until Maryse was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and so finishing the mystery became therapy. We self-published our adult novel to enable Maryse to have her copy.

How long did your current novel ‘Celebrant Sleuth’ take to write?                                About a year. I’d write from 6 am until 8 am every day, even weekends. Plotting was complicated as I was experimenting with new techniques and voices but my brain was clearer early in the day.

Apart from a print book, where would you like ‘Celebrant Sleuth’ to go?                    Television. I’ve had the experience of abortive TV and film options before, and often the project is not completed due to lack of finances. But I think ‘Celebrant Sleuth’ is especially suited to television because of the episodic stories around specific funerals, weddings and diverse cultural and aged groups linked by the celebrant’s role as a problem-solver.

Having a country town as the setting, enables continuity of roles and overlap of the florist, caterer etc.

I’d like an audio version. Plus there’s the niche of  LBTQI readers as Quinn is asexual. And currently same-sex marriage is topical. I did not predict that.

Why have you also released a collection ‘Almost a Crime’ on Kindle?   These were my apprenticeship in self publishing online. The adult short stories were written over a long period and there’s sufficient variety in settings based on places I had researched. Antarctica. French barge. Maximum security prison. Suburban Pokies venue.
As the stories were short, I called them ‘Crime-lettes’ as most suited to time- poor readers who use their devices intransit. A short story read in one trip can be satisfying.

How do you describe your occupation?                                                   Authorpreneur’ on my business card is a talking point.

What is meant by a ‘Hybrid author’?                                                                         One who is simultaneously self and traditionally published. A ‘hybrid’ author can be published by traditional ‘big’ publishers like Penguin Random House with a contract, advance, royalties and the support of distribution and marketing rights internationally. But the writer can self-publish other titles for niche markets or special projects which big publishers consider uncommercial or culturally difficult. Then the author is the publisher and has to handle the distribution but sub- contracts professional editing, cover design etc. Still has to publicise. And pay the bills.

This is NOT Vanity publishing where a na├»ve amateur-writer just wants something in print and an unscrupulous, low quality printer rips them off at a high cost with no quality control nor distribution.   Author publishing is comparable quality but where the writer under-writes the costs. Distribution is still a challenge, but often a speaker-writer will sell at workshops and talks. They have calculated whether there is an existing market before they publish.

Circumstances have changed. The means of publishing digitally is more accessible and faster.

What gives you the most satisfaction in the writing process?                                    The initial idea.

With the exponential changes in the publishing industry, what digital/new skills have you had to learn?                                                                                                                Updating a web-site even when I’m not a visual person. Social media is a challenge. I try to learn one tiny digital skill per day, even if just how to upload the appropriately sized photo.  And the fine line between ego and business PR when sharing life as an author.  Legal stuff like important clauses in contracts. Going to a ‘dummies’ class on updating Ipad skills and how to use photos on various devices for PR.

At a launch, making sure a generic photo is taken of co-authors and book which can be labeled for quick finding, also allowing time for administrivia, deciding which events are strategic and when to say ‘No’.

What proportion of your time is spent in original writing?                                              About 20%

What is your next project?                                                                                         Children’s theatre, and for my existing books to travel into new mediums, especially audio.
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Hazel Edwards OAM has published 202 books including ‘There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake’ series currently touring as ‘Hippo Hippo the Musical’  ‘Hijabi Girl’ co-written with Muslim librarian Ozge Alkan about a feisty 8 year old who wants to start a girls’ footy team, is her latest junior book. A cultural risk-taker, Hazel co-wrote ‘f2m: the boy within’ a YA novel about trans youth. A believer in participant-observation research, Hazel has been an Antarctic expeditioner .She mentors ‘Hazelnuts’ writers and was a director on the Australian Society of Authors’ board.
 ‘Not Just a Piece of Cake: Being an Author’ is her memoir based on anecdote as a creative structure. Her books have been translated in ten languages and adapted for other mediums. ‘Difficult Personalities’ (PRH) co-written with Dr Helen Mc Grath is available in Russian, Polish, Korean, American and audio.  Currently writing adult mysteries including ‘Celebrant Sleuth’.

MEDIA Resources  (downloadable hi res author photo & bio)
https://hazeledwards.com/book-day-resources.html