Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Curly Tales: short stories with a twist

Bill Condon (text), Dave Atze (illus.),  Curly Tales: short stories with a twist,  Big Sky Publishing, 1 Sept 2017,  100pp.,  $12.99 (pbk),  ISBN: 9781925520590

Curly Tales includes fourteen very short stories for children eight years plus, ranging in length from a few pages to around twelve pages. Each story features an animal as its central protagonist, and concludes with a twist on a well-known proverb. For example, a story about a famous tv personality who happens to be a pig, and who fatefully changes his life based on the advice of the artist Van Geek, concludes with ‘Beware of Geeks bearing gifts’. The proper proverbs are included at the end of the book, along with an explanation of their meaning.
The characters in the stories are creatures great and small – worms, elephants, gorillas, fleas and more. They find themselves in some crazy situations, often because of their wish to escape the confines of their usual life: Gertrude the worm gets to fly, Wally the wolf plays dress ups and Fifi discovers what is so great about being a flea. Some of the stories don’t end well for the protagonists – they meet their ends eaten by a lion, flushed down a bath plug or set in concrete. For others the outcome is far better, and often they learn valuable life lessons.
Simple line drawings feature regularly, bringing the stories to life with a lot of humour and action. The print is large and broken up by occasional changes of font as well as a front page for each story, so reluctant readers will find it easy to move forward through the text.  The stories themselves often veer into unexpected territory, featuring funny characters and situations that will raise a giggle. It’s a shame that the gender balance is so uneven – nine stories feature male characters, whilst only three have a female at their centre, although these are clever, adventurous females. The remaining two stories feature a wife/husband couple, and the females at least are a masterful chef and a trapeze artist. Overall these are fun stories and would be a great way to introduce the idea of proverbs.
Reviewed by Rachel Le Rossignol

Friday, 15 December 2017

Letters from the Dead

Letters from the Dead by Dawn Meredith (Dingbat Publishing) PB RRP $18.50
ISBN 9781977720702

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Delia Fox is a nineteen year old university student who discovers she has a unique gift. During a horrific accident at the café where she works, she learns that she can read the last memories of the recently departed just by touching them.

Unfortunately for Delia this gift is a double-edged sword. It makes her feel empowered and she considers it ‘a privilege to be the recipient of a soul’s last memories’. However, most people are infuriated that she interferes with the dead. One of the very few people who appreciate Delia’s special gift is a police inspector, Jonah Rainbird, who seeks her assistance to solve complex cases. Delia happily begins working with Jonah but encounters more resistance than she bargained for. Her family, her boyfriend, Jonah’s colleagues and others, show their disapproval in a variety of hurtful and disturbing ways. Yet despite the negativity from most people in her life, Delia feels it is her duty to fight for the dead and let them be heard. But at what cost?

The story is written in the first person, told through Delia’s eyes. As Delia loved getting lost in Shakespeare’s sonnets, each chapter opens with a Shakespeare quote for readers to contemplate. This 400+ page fictional novel is targeted towards adults who love drama and suspense. It has themes of death, crime, corruption, revenge and love. Letters from the Dead is a page-turner definitely worth a read!

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Ms Runway and Australia’s next top merino

Ms Runway and Australia’s next top merino by Matt Porter (Celapene Press) PB RRP $16.95 ISBN: 9781925572124 (paperback), ISBN: 9781925572131 (ebook; epub), ISBN: 9781925572148 (ebook; kindle)

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Ms Southern, principal of Outback Creek school (school emblem a giant earthworm), is concerned about the fall in student numbers. But another problem facing the school’s sixth graders is that they keep getting crazy relief teachers. Their last teacher, Mr Crikey, headed outback to study the occurrence of double-yolkers in emu eggs but … drumroll! … enter the fabulously beautiful, globe-trotting Ms Jennifer Runway, Host of Australia’s Next Top Model. Immediately Runway sets the students a task – to work out ways of attracting more students to Outback Creek.

The result is Outback Creek’s Next Top Model; a modelling competition where the winner will star in a social media campaign to attract new students to the school.

The students of sixth grade are a stereotypical bunch from the bright boy (Nathan), the dumb kind (Pete), the bully (Radley, who is smitten with the new teacher), and the token tom-boy (Holly). Then there’s Radley’s off-sider Weasel and would-be model Brittany, who, together with the school assistant, Mrs Forbes, fronts up for the audition along with a now sartorial Radley. But what’s the fourth entrant? Here comes Pete Peterson with his pet sheep, Delta Goodram! Of course, there’s hot debate about whether a sheep can enter a top model competition, but sure, why not?

Throughout the book there is plenty of amusing banter among the students. Particularly funny (and witty) is an episode where brainy Nathan matches wits with his less-smart teacher about answers to questions asked of contestants about what to take to a deserted island. (Why not a speedboat to escape?) In fact, the author’s use of dialogue is the strongest aspect of this fast-paced, energetic and engaging novel.

It’s refreshing to find a book for children that has no literary pretentions but is sure to appeal to and be enjoyed by the average reader aged 8 to 11 years. This is the fifth book in the Crazy Relief Teachers series which surely indicates that the series has been popular. Perhaps there will be more to come?

Monday, 11 December 2017

Jemma Short Stories

Jemma Short Stories by Stefan Nicholson (San Publishers) PB RRP $19 ISBN 978-0-9804604-4-5

Reviewed by Stacey Gladman

Stefan Nicholsons Jemma - Short Stories contains four short stories in sequence from the first short story Jemmas Blues. Subsequent stories are Jemma and the Red Seal, Jemmas White Horse and Jemma and the Golden Eagle.

The four stories each reveal more about the central characters in the Palette family, with the lead protagonist, daughter Jemma, sister Deidre and Mum and Dad. Dad is a writer and his creative writing and influence Jemmas life and goals for the future.

In 'Jemmas Blues' - and my favourite of the four stories, Jemma and her sister are arguing about the boy next door who Jemma has a crush on. Dad uses the opportunity to tell a story about two unlikely people who happen to find love.

Each of the four stories, while being based in a lighthearted family setting, offers a life lesson for the reader woven into the background. As you read through the four stories the familys character quirks become more apparent.

Jemma: Short Stories would suit young readers in early teen years as the writing style is at times intricate, and I feel the themes and lessons would suit that age group.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Excerpt from Freefalling

by Maura Pierlot

(YA fiction, unpublished)

Carter walks down the aisle, nodding to everyone, in a friendly, gotcha kind of way, his peacock-blue eyes casting a spell upon contact. There’s too much to take in as my eyes dart from one fine feature to the next. His straight, well-proportioned nose, full lips and strong jaw coexist harmoniously on his enviable face; his broad shoulders complement his tall and lanky frame; and his tousled, sun-streaked locks give new respect to blonds worldwide. Eden is salivating; she keeps wiping the sides of her mouth like she can’t stop the drool from escaping. Talia smiles, having just spotted the same thing. She holds out a tissue for Eden, like a bib, but Eden’s too busy slobbering to notice.

It’s Carter’s walk that reels me in: he moves without ego, effort or entitlement, seemingly oblivious to Mother Nature’s many blessings. Nervous energy takes over. My hands have a life of their own, like I’m having a fit, so I quickly sit on them. My heart is racing, my chest feels tight, and there’s a weird tingling in my arm. I think I’m having a stroke – I remember these signs from a medical show Mum made me watch over the summer – but I quickly work out that my bum is cutting off circulation to my hands. Target locked: Carter’s eyes meet mine and his mouth is taken over by a wide grin, revealing killer dimples. Could this guy be any cuter?

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Jemma, Short Stories

Jemma, Short Stories by Stefan Nicholson (SAN publishers), PB RRP $19 ISBN 9780980460445

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

In his publicity blurb the author writes that this book is primarily aimed at YA readers and anyone above the age of twelve. Young readers are interested in stories about people their own age or a few years older. Even though this book is titled Jemma, who is the youngest daughter in the Palette family, the main character in all the stories is Dad, a middle-aged writer of fiction.

Early in the second story we learn that Mum is in hospital with some undiagnosed problem. The story then focuses on Jemma meeting an old sea captain who sets her a riddle. The riddle’s answer will explain how humans should spend their lives. The story is thus high-jacked by adults, with the riddle being solved by Mum. (Her illness had been caused by the family dog’s new herbicidal shampoo).  

The third story is a variation on Six Characters in Search of an Author, with the imaginary Palette family talking to the author.

The fourth story, which has the most potential for 8-12 year olds, concerns the theft of a golden eagle. Jemma plays more of a role here, but at the climax of the story, instead of being actively involved in saving the eagle, she and her friends retreat to eat pizza and wait patiently for news.

This book would probably work best for an adult audience.  

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

It’s your world

It’s your world a verse novel by Kristy-Lee Swift (guillotinepress), PB  ISBN 9780995399136Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

It’s Your World is divided into short poems which each progress the action, rather like the work of Steven Herrick. Kristy-Lee Swift experiments and plays games with language, using rhymed and unrhymed sequences and lots of puns.

I am not a poet so can’t comment on the quality of the verse, but I certainly enjoyed reading about Evie, an unhappy fifteen-year-old. Her mother has died soon after she was born. It’s rumoured that she committed suicide. Evie has a difficult relationship with her controlling father and religious grandmother, both of whom think she’s ‘bad’. Evie doesn’t believe she is evil, just up to no good. Her only hope seems to be to find free-spirited Aunt Ruth who moved to Sydney and has been out of touch for years.

When her father has a brain haemorrhage, Evie goes to live with her grandmother. This is worse than prison. She escapes with her brother, her crush Nigel and her two best friends to celebrate New Year’s Eve. They get drunk, and she spends the night in the cemetery with a boy who isn’t Nigel.  

Evie’s father comes home. Because he has mild brain damage and is not aware of what is going on, Evie feels she now has a degree of freedom. She invites friends over, including Nigel. When her father stumbles on the scene he is furious and physically attacks her.

Evie flees to Sydney and finds there an aunt who understands and can explain the true circumstances surrounding the death of her mother. Aunt Ruth offers this comfort: ‘’There’s no such thing as a happy ending. But there can always be/a happy/keep on going.”

The poems about Evie’s lost mother are deeply moving. Others are cute, clever and often funny. Though I would have liked one or two more sequences on Evie and her father when he was recovering, this is an intriguing read. Evie is a complex, always understandable character. Her confusion, desires and pain will strike a chord with many adolescent readers.   

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Little Witch: Hauntings and Hexes (Book 2)

Little Witch: Hauntings and Hexes (Book 2) by Aleesah Darlison (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781925520576

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Courtney Little is a teenage girl embarking on a new stage in her life. She has recently moved to the little seaside town of Mixton Bay with her family and is about to start at a new school. Naturally she is a little nervous and has some self-doubt, as many teenagers do, however she has a little more to worry about than most. Courtney is trying to keep the fact that she is a ‘witchling’ under wraps. With the position fairly new to her, she is still finding her way and letting very few people into her secret world.

Courtney’s grandmother, Delia, was a white witch who left her special skills and spells to Courtney when she passed away. Courtney now explores incantations, spells and potions using Delia’s ‘Little Book of Spells and Secrets’, but unfortunately she doesn’t always get it right. She spends most of her spare time practising her spells and relishes in the thought of what might be. Courtney is warned that ‘magic isn’t a game and it’s not fun. It’s extremely serious stuff’. Initially she disregards this advice but after making a big mistake she quickly realises she has a lot to learn. White magic and black magic soon collide with potentially dire consequences for the people of Mixton Bay.

Hauntings and Hexes is the second book in the Little Witch series of middle grade fiction. It would suit readers 8-12 years old who enjoy stories of magic and fantasy. If they haven’t already, readers are encouraged to check out Secrets & Spells (Book 1) and stay tuned for more books in the series.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Phantom Spies

Phantom Spies by Dawn Meredith, illustrated by Jae Tanaka (Shining Press) PB RRP $9.50   ISBN – 13: 978-1530305506  ISBN – 101530305500

Reviewed by Wendy Haynes

Meet Oliver and his family the Snatchers. The Snatchers aren’t your ordinary family their cat burglars. By night they infiltrate mansions and steal anything of value. Oliver’s job is to use his computer skills to cut the alarms. He is always nervous and worried that one day they will get caught and end up in gaol. His sister Vera is light on her feet and does acrobatics to get passed the infra-red security beams, while their mum plans the mission, and dad is expert at cracking safes.

This chapter book would appeal to 7-9 year olds, and, with varying sentence length, is action-packed, told in the third person, and deals with making decisions, and knowing right from wrong. Oliver’s best friend is the family Robot Roger: he is the only one he can really confide in about his concerns for his family, and he can’t tell his friends at school. He pleads with his family to stop but no one will listen.

After being caught on their last job they are offered work for a secret government agency PHANTOM, as spies. But, at the government headquarters, Roger is taken from Oliver, and reclaimed as a counter terrorism cyborg. The government has plans for the Snatcher family and prepares them for their first mission. Meanwhile the sinister Professor Withers has secretly altered Roger with his new program. When Roger returns to the family, he is not the same: he is no longer friendly toward Oliver or the rest of the family and is unpredictable.

This book is a page turner and will leave the reading wanting more.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Fergus the Farting Dragon

Fergus the Farting Dragon by Monique Mulligan, illustrated by Veronica Rooke (Serenity Kids) PB RRP $12.99    ISBN 978-0-9954104-3-5

Reviewed by Stacey Gladman

In life there are adversities and challenges around every corner: the real challenge is how we deal with them. Fergus the Farting Dragon introduces the reader to a sweet little dragon named Fergus, with rather a smelly little problem. 

Young Fergus the dragon was dropped on the head as a wee little dragon, and it soon becomes clear not all is well with Fergus. Unlike the other dragons, Fergus can’t breathe fire – he only snorts. Fergus’s uncle tries to teach him to create fire, but rather than coming out of his mouth, he notices smoke coming from his bum!

Fergus is mocked and teased by the older dragons, much to the dismay of Fergus who continues to try and breathe fire. However, Fergus does have one skill the older dragons don’t have - he can produce the most horrendous smells from his bum, with a fart even worse than a “sweaty old sock”. 

One day a cheeky young knight in a fire-proof suit manages to steal one of the dragons golden eggs much to the dismay and embarrassment of all the dragons. Protected from fire, the dragons have no hope of getting their treasure back, or do they? Fergus, knowing his skills are different comes up with a plan to retrieve the egg. But will it work? 

Fergus the Farting Dragon is a funny story which utilises lots of fart words which I think will appeal to children as they giggle their way through the story. But it also has the key messages of embracing one’s differences and figuring out a way to make them work for you in the end, much like Fergus did. 

The picture book is beautifully illustrated with colourful imagery that grabs the readers attention - both young and old alike. I also enjoyed have key words and phrases highlighted in colourful text as well, it added to the story in a number of sections to emphasise key parts. 

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Circle in a Spiral

Circle in a Spiral by Stefan Nicholson (Self-published) PB RRP $24.00 from ISBN 9780980460452

Reviewed by Janet Kershaw

This 56,000 word psychological thriller with its focus on climate change, robotics and the survival of the human race is aimed at the adolescent fiction market. Author and composer Stefan Nicholson has published seven books to date and a CD of original music: he is also the inventor of Symbolic Art Notation, a complete language in pictures.

The book’s cover is from abstract artwork by the author and while it is interesting and colourful, it does not serve the book well, giving no indication of what genre the book is or what is its subject matter. Inside there is a list of contents with chapter headings. Unfortunately the print type is very small which might be off-putting to some readers.

The first page, however, immediately engages the reader’s attention with fast-paced writing as a sister and her small brother, Lodi and Modnar, having attempted to raid the Xylon auto-farm for food and weapons, race to escape a fire. Before long they meet a being called Amgine who alerts them to the destruction of planet Earth caused by man. However, Lodi and Modnar are not the real names of the children: when they return to their home, they are known as Sarah and Max Robertson.

It is Sarah’s quest to fix the problem which affects the universe: she needs to find the ‘Krel Key’, a complex sequence of algorithms which prevent humanoids (developed by scientists and the military to become super-beings) from using their machines from destruction.  Of course, as in any quest dystopian fantasy Sarah’s quest is never going to be easy. Two universe sentinels, Amgine (see above) and Retibra try to use humans and others to stabilise the universe, but one of the sentinels becomes corrupt as does one of the human collaborators. Sarah, who is naïve in many ways, has a massive job to right wrongs in a world where everyone, including Life/Death Algorisms have their own interpretations of survival.

For an intelligent reader who enjoys fantasy and quest tales, and is able to navigate their way through a labyrinth of places, people, and events, this book is sure to be to their taste.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Teens’ top 10 books of 2017

In the US, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association, has announced the 2017 Teens’ Top 10 list of books nominated and voted on by teenagers across America. The top 10 books for 2017 are:
1.     Don’t Get Caught (Kurt Dinan, Sourcebooks)
2.     Scythe (Neal Shusterman, S&S US)
3.     The Sun is Also a Star (Nicola Yoon, Corgi)
4.     Lady Midnight (Cassandra Clare, S&S)
5.     This is Where it Ends (Marike Nijkamp, Sourcebooks)
6.     Heartless (Marissa Meyer, Pan)
7.     P S I Like You (Kasie West, Scholastic)
8.     Love & Gelato (Jenna Welch Evans, Walker Books)
9.     Genius: The Game (Leopoldo Gout, Square Fish US)
10.  If I Was Your Girl (Meredith Russo, Usborne).
Nominees for the Teens’ Top 10 were selected by members of book groups in 15 school and public libraries, with teenagers then being encouraged to vote online between 15 August and 14 October for their favourite titles.
For more information on the top 10, click here.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Max Booth Future Sleuth: Selfie Search

Max Booth Future Sleuth: Selfie Search by Cameron Macintosh, illustrated by Dave Atze (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9781925520880

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Max Booth escaped from a ‘Home for Unclaimed Urchins’ a couple of years ago and now lives/hides with his trusty robo-dog Oscar in the storeroom at the Bluggsville City Museum, where his best friend Jessie works.

The year is 2424 and Max assists Jessie by identifying old objects that come to the Museum, and earns himself a little bit of cash in the process. With the help of his beagle-bot Oscar, Max is able to problem solve like a professional. While Oscar’s favourite thing to do is to chase robo-rats he is truly Max’s ‘robotic super assistant’. Who wouldn’t appreciate an assistant who can project images into the air, make good use of their 3D printer, and activate their in-built metal detector whenever the situation calls for it?

Jessie comes across an old object she needs help with and Max’s initial disinterest turns to excitement when he discovers there’s more than meets the eye. They search through the ‘old’ 2017 phone’s photographs to find an abundance of pictures of a man who ‘definitely liked looking at himself’. The photos include one of the man holding a skateboard ‘an ancient one, with actual wheels on the bottom.’  Max and Jessie soon discover this photograph holds the key to a missing piece of Bluggsville’s past and a potential fortune…. and so, their ‘Selfie Search’ adventure begins.

Selfie Search is the second in a series of futuristic, humorous, fun-filled chapter books, suitable for readers 7+ years old. The book is written in the first-person and is set 400+ years into the future. A larger font, plenty of white space and scattered monochrome cartoon drawings target an audience just starting their journey with chapter books.

The future looks bright with the splinternet, zip-coasters, hover-skates and gigapixel cameras and no doubt young readers will be keen to follow more Max Booth adventures. If they haven’t already, readers are encouraged to check out Book 1: Tape Escape and stay tuned for more books in the series.

Monday, 13 November 2017

There’s A Crocodile on the Golf Course by Rachel Barnett

Can you tell readers about your latest book? Is it your first?                                                                There’s a Crocodile on the Golf Course is my latest book, and my first picture book. The picture book was released in February 2017. The story follows Croco as he plays a round of golf and gets into all sorts of trouble. He’s not the greatest golfer and is a quite impatient and cranky but his friends are there and help to save the day. The story is set on the Alyangula Golf Course on Groote Eylandt, which is a very remote part of the Northern Territory. 

Why did you choose to self-publish?
Firstly, I think I was a little impatient! I did send my manuscript off to a couple of publishers, but could not help myself continuing with the project! I kept editing and drawing and by the time I heard back the manuscript was almost unrecognisable. Whilst I am not sure that the process to publication happened any more quickly, I felt that I was actively moving forward with the project with every new step.

The opportunity to publish through another publisher did arise towards the end, just as I was about to send to the printers, but I decided to see the process through. I was able to make decisions around design and illustrate the story myself and since this book was originally intended to be for my children as a memento of living on Groote Eylandt this was important as I wanted the illustrations to be reflective of the actual place.

I also like a challenge, which is lucky as self publishing was a huge learning curve for me. I knew very little before I started, but enjoyed learning and developing my skills in so many different areas.

Why did you choose Holus Bolus Books as your publisher?                                                                    Holus Bolus Books is my own publishing business. I started it to facilitate self publishing for this project and the next that are coming along. I am also starting to work with others who are interested in creating books, mostly for personal reasons rather than as commercial ventures.
More information about Holus Bolus Books can be found at

If you had your work assessed and/or edited privately, can you give details please?
I was lucky to have some very talented friends who edited my work and critiqued my design and illustration: these ranged from teachers to graphic designers. I also approached a number of authors I had distant connections with who were already established and asked their advice. I was very lucky to find such generosity of time and to have the opportunity to learn from them.

How long did it take from starting the publishing process to receipt of advance copies?
Overall the project took about two years! Each step of the process involved a new learning journey and the second time around this should mean that, whilst there will always be a lot to learn, the road to publication should be more direct. I do think it was necessary to have that time to reflect and improve the story and illustrations however, so would not want to rush the next project either. From sending the final files to the printer and receiving the advance copies was relatively quick -- a little over a month.

How many copies did you get printed?
I decided to print an initial run of 1000 copies through Tien Wah Press. Because I live in such a remote location, the shipping for me was and continues to be a large cost.
I have also set up a print on demand option through Ingram Spark; however I miss the glossy look of the paper in this version, which I think is so important to children’s books. Also things like not being able to print on the end-papers proved to be a limitation. I am printing my colouring book through them though and I love how these have come up.

Are you happy about the quality of paper, design and printing?
Yes, I am very happy with Tien Wah Press. They were very helpful and the quality is great. But I chose them because I had seen other favourite picture books printed through them that I loved.

How will you distribute copies?
My books are for sale via my website, I will also use an Adelaide based distributor and will sell direct to some independent bookstores. Watch this space!.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Interview with Alison Reynolds

Can you tell readers about your book?

These are the latest two picture books in the Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds series aimed at children 4- 8. They explore social etiquette and positive behaviour in a light, humorous way. The Playground Meanies is about bullying and The Big Snow Adventure tackles respecting rules.

Each book features a Handy Guide to Good Deeds on the last page, which can be used as a discussion point for adults and children.

What is the book’s history to publication?
The Five Mile
Press commissioned these books as part of an ongoing series. The editor approved my initial concepts after a bit of toing and froing.
                                                                                            Do you have an agent?
I don’t have an agent, but having a husband who is an accountant helps me a lot. He is a whizz at examining contracts and chasing up royalties.

Why did you choose Five Mile Press as your publisher?
I’ve worked with The Five Mile Press for many years and value highly my relationship with them. They’ve offered me many wonderful opportunities to write many different style books. They’re perfect match for somebody like me who enjoys a challenge.

How long did it take from submission of your manuscript to receipt of advance copies?The whole process from initial concept to being edited took about five months.

Which editor did you work with? Was there a lot of work that needed to be done to your manuscript? How was the editing experience for you?
I worked with the super talented Melissa Keil at The Five Mile Press. She manages to point out where the text can be improved with tact and perspicacity. There was not as much work needed as for the first two books, because I know the characters now. With Melissa, I feel we’re working together to make the books the best books they can be.

Who is the book’s illustrator? Why do you like her work?
Mikki Butterley is a brilliant illustrator who lives in the north of England. She comes from a background of creating cards, and her attention to detail is extraordinary. I adore her work for the sense of fun she captures. Whatever wild whacky idea I come up with in the text, Mikki seems to be able to match it up with a gorgeous illustration. I also love her colour palette.

Anything else you’d like to say about your publisher?
I would recommend The Five Mile Press to illustrators and other authors. They produce a range of different fabulous products, which makes it an exciting company to work with.

Have you written other books for children?
I’ve had over 70 books published, including board books, picture books, chapter books, choose-your-own-adventure style books and even a non-fiction adult book.  I work for different publishers, which helps me maintain a flow of work.

Do you belong to a writing group?
I’ve belonged to a few writing groups in the past. One group has transformed into a lunching group of close friends as I’m the only one who still writes on a full-time basis. I firmly believe writing groups can be excellent especially when you’re starting out, but you need to be in one that suits you. If you find you’re in a toxic writing group that makes you feel bad, belittled and if you’re the one who is doing all the work, run. I’m lucky enough to be working with editors who give me thoughtful, excellent feedback, so I’m not in a writing group at the moment.

I had a few outstanding writing tutors/mentors when I studied, for example Janey Runci, Sari Smith, Rachel Flynn and Marg McKenzie. 

What are you working on at the moment? 
I have an idea that I’m playing with for a series for 6- 8 year olds. I’m not at the stage of sending it out to publishers yet, but hope to be there soon. I’ve had a variety of books published, including picture books, board books, chapter books, middle grade books and even an adult non-fiction book.

Anything else you’d like to add?
To aspiring writers out there: never give up; never give up; never give up.
I would love you to check out my website at

Thursday, 9 November 2017

A Christmas Menagerie

A Christmas Menagerie edited by Beattie Alvarez (Christmas Press) PB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9780994528049

Reviewed by Allison Paterson

Christmas is a time of sharing, a time for families to gather and a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the delight of a collection of short stories. A Christmas Menagerie contains twelve well-crafted animal tales, each with its own special touch of Christmas charm.

Written by both established and emerging authors, most of the stories are structured as fables with anthropomorphised animals and a moral to explore. Janeen Brian’s clever wombat discovers his perfect Christmas tree. Sophie Masson’s Barney Brown the bear has some trouble with the baking of his Christmas cake, that is, until he discovers the magical ingredients of sharing and friendship. From the environmental message of Victoria Nugent’s hatchling turtle, whose journey to the ocean is confused by Christmas lights, to the humour of A.P. Harper with Colin the sausage dog and his misadventures, children will enjoy the short stories that are perfect for an evening read in the lead up to Christmas.

I particularly enjoyed the originality of Michael Pryor’s dieting, slim, trim Santa in his lycra suit and his helper, an exhausted pig. Santa’s helper has been entrusted with the consumption of Santa’s snacks, but he just can’t eat any more cookies and milk! 

Included are entertaining stories from Gabrielle Wang, Sherryl Clark, Rachel Nightingale, J.A. Thorndyke, Michael Grey, Rebecca Fung and Michael McGoldrick.

Illustrated by Kathy Creamer, Fiona McDonald, Ingrid Kallick and Yvonne Low, the images add a touch of old-worldliness to the tales. The cover, which may not appeal to all young readers, does enhance the quaint nature of the collection and is reminiscent of times past. Lovely for sharing with children of early to mid-Primary years, A Christmas Menagerie offers the chance to dip in and enjoy each unique tale while adding to the seasonal cheer.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

When the Cat’s Away

When the Cat’s Away written by Donna Gibbs, ill. Lionel King (MoshPit Publishing) PB RRP $14.95 ISBN 9781925666434

Reviewed by Allison Paterson

Gussie and her well-to-do family have arrived at their new home, a charming and comfortable mouse house at Le Café des Chats in Paris. Both her twin brother Pierre and Gussie are eager to explore their new surroundings, but not before Papa Mouse reminds them of the dangers that could be about. Soon enough, Pierre falls victim to the broom of a waiter and is catapulted onto a delivery van distributing baguettes throughout the city. Gussie rescues her brother but they are now far from their new home and must find their way back. Gussie leads the way, but danger is ever-present. 

The narrow escapes of the mice as they trek the unfamiliar streets of Paris add a humorous touch to the tale, as does the final illustration. Just when Mama and Papa decide they will be quite safe living in their new home another danger is lurking just beyond the mouse hole.

With the delightful sites of Paris and its cuisine, combined with French words and phrases, When the Cat’s Away provides an opportunity to share both the culture and the experience of losing one’s way in Paris (yep, been there, done that …). The feeling of being lost could also be familiar to the reader and worthy of further discussion. The illustrations are varied in layout, capture the tone of the city and enhance the tale. An enjoyable read to share with children of the early childhood years.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Interview with Donna Gibbs

Can you tell readers about your latest book? Is it your first?                                          

My eighth self-published book, When the Cat’s Away, illustrated by Lionel King, is a picture book for young children. It is about Gussie and Pierre, twin mice, who have moved with their family into their new home in Paris beneath the Café des Chats. They are soon caught up in heart-stopping adventures that put their loyalty, quick thinking and courage to the test.
Why did you choose to self-publish?

While I regularly publish educational books with traditional publishers, I haven’t managed to have my children’s books accepted in that way. I have come very close – right up to the last marketing meeting a few times. But it is all very painful! Naturally enough they want full control and while I accept their ideas may be better than mine, they have often persuaded me to let go the things I most cared about. Self-publishing is also full of pitfalls but you do end up with a book you have created.

If you used a publishing service, what services did the company offer?

I used Reedsy, an online firm who have professionals who quote for the work you need done in editing, book and cover design and marketing. They offer plenty of expert, useful advice and a range of online courses, many for free. They employ professionals from around the globe. You pitch your needs to persons of your choice and it is up to them to quote for the work you want done. I chose an Australian professional to do the layout, design and cover for the book. She charged Cover HB $400, Internals $500, Press files $100 and archived final files $50 – a total of $950. It was quite daunting making a choice as there were so many great people available and charges varied enormously.

MoshPit Publishing did the printing for us. For around $1400 they provided a printed proof copy, publishing via Amazon and Ingram to their distributors for global print-on-demand sales (inc. Barnes & Noble, Booktopia, and more), publishing of ebook via Amazon and Smashwords to their distributors for global sales (inc. Kindle, Apple iBookstore, Kobo etc), 10 copies of the final published book and Legal Deposit copies ordered and posted to the relevant locations (universities, libraries). Jennifer and Ally Mosher were quick, efficient, responsive and knowledgeable. They make a very special team and I would certainly choose to work with them again.

How long did it take from submission of your manuscript to receipt of advance copies? 

It took around six weeks from submission to MoshPit until we received advance copies. There were some unavoidable delays not caused by Moshpit so it could easily have been quicker.

Why did you choose MoshPit?

I had read favourable things in a Foot in the Door article about MoshPit Publishing, an Australian company located in the Blue Mountains. I contacted them along with several other companies but found MoshPit gave the most useful answers. I liked their friendly tone and lack of a hard sell.

How many copies did you get printed? And what was the unit cost? 

Initially I had 150 copies (including ten free) printed at the cost of $7.00 each. I have just ordered another 100 with the cost going to $7.25.

Are you happy about the quality of paper, design and printing?

The quality of paper, design and printing is excellent. I did wonder if I should have made the book larger (it is 20 x 20) but now that I am used to it, it feels exactly right
How will you distribute copies?

Copies are available as a print book through contacting me on my website ( or from places referred to above such as Book Depository in the U.K ( ) (free postage) for $15.97; Amazon for $11.95 U.S plus postage; The MoshShop for $24.95 (free postage in Australia).

It is available as an ebook from Amazon and Smashwords for around $3.00.

Anything else you’d like to say about your experience?

The whole experience of creating the book was a delight. My illustrator was such a pleasure to work with and the finished product exceeded my expectations. We know children are enjoying the book as we’ve had many messages telling us so from parent and teachers. Self-publishing in my experience is not likely to be financially rewarding, but for satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment it can be very rewarding.