All posts in the Authors category

Rock Star Writers

Published June 4, 2014 by electricbluegaloo

rock star writers  I’ve just come across a fabulous article featuring the fabulous Tristan Bancks (Thanks Belinda Murrell for sharing).

The gist of this article is that children’s authors are able to pull rock star like crowds – which is fabulous news, not just for myself as an aspiring author.  It comes back to the question of what is an author’s job.  To write books, duh.  But how do you manage to sustain yourself, and possibly a family, while writing said books.  This is not like the old days when only a few were published.  As you know many a book is self published through Amazon etc, which makes your book just one tree in the forest.  Have you ever noticed that people still refer to a hugely successful author as “the next JK Rowling”.  Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published 17 years ago, a phenomenon like that does not come around every day.  Also, I think the general public would be horrified to discover how little of the cover price goes to the actual author.  You must realise that  there are a lot of links in the chain that gets a book from the brain to the bookshop.

So how does an author make some cash, to be able to give up the day job and keep writing.  By building a brand, for more on this, please take a look at Authors and the Marketing Conundrum

A lot of authors’ work these days consists of public appearances.  Many years ago now, Mal Peet spoke at a CBCA NSW International Connections dinner in which, I’ll paraphrase and possibly exaggerate, he told us:

“I became an author because I wanted to shut the door and write in privacy.  Today I have spoken to 600 students at 3 schools, and am up here speaking in front of you now.  Please buy my books.  The CBCA will receive 10% of books sold here tonight, and so will I.”

And with the advent of piracy in the digital age, the notion that authors can write a book and kick back, living off the royalties is even more out-dated  Check out the Facebook group Authors v Pirates if you want to read a real horror story.   This dilemma was discussed at the #SWF2012 #Forestforthetrees seminar.  I asked the panel if they thought there was anything that could be learned from the music publishing industry, to which the answer was “We can’t live off concert ticket and t-shirt sales”.  Well maybe, just maybe, we can! Can you imagine a hipster walking around with Roald Dahl’s mug on his tummy?  Or William Kostakis in his gym wear?  He he he! I can just picture it!  Oh yay for the rock star book writer in lycra.


As I muse in previous post, “Stories by the Digital Fireside“, the rise of social media has not lead to the decline of good literature, in fact making authors, and other fans of said literature, more accessible has obviously had a very engaging effect on the community.  I was going to use the word youngsters, but if you take a look at the crowds at a literary festival you will see a great diversity of age.

I hope that, as Tristan Banck’s article alludes, we will one day see stadiums full of crowds cheering for their favourite wordsmiths (there was a National Poetry Slam entry circa 2010 who spoke about this, but unable to find the clip I have instead included one of my other favourites below)

In my future, authors will be recognised on the street, hopefully not mobbed by paparazzi, but I think we are on our way to achieving the rock star status of the article above.

I once proposed a community service announcement to promote the CBCA/Book Week in which authors briefly described their memories of book week as a child.  Very sensibly, my CBCA colleagues suggested we approach footballers, actors and other celebrities to do the talking and appear  in the CSA.  Authors, you see, were just not cool.  Ok, we maynot be totally cool yet, with the exception of Oliver Phommavahn, but thanks to the work of people like Tristan Bancks, who recently appeared on breakfast TV as an expert giving his opinion of Disney’s Frozen, we may be on our way to being, well, hunter



Lincoln Hall

Published March 21, 2012 by electricbluegaloo

Dear Everyone

This is a very difficult email to write as it conveys extremely sad news. Lincoln Hall passed away at 11.45pm last night at RPA hospital in Sydney with close loved ones at his side. He had been battling mesothelioma for many months and we had all thought he would beat it, as he did a night in the open near the summit of Everest. The world will remember him for many things, but particularly for his mountaineering achievements: the first Australian ascent of Everest in 1984, then his successful climb to the summit in 2006 and subsequent near death experience. His bestselling books which included WHITE LIMBO, then DEAD LUCKY, and the children’s book ALIVE IN THE DEATH ZONE, which won the CBCA Eve Pownall Award For Information books in 2009, were an inspiration to all who read them.
Margaret Hamilton AM
Pinerolo, the Children’s Book Cottage
Partner, 2012 National Year of Reading

The Doo-Doo’s in the Details

Published December 12, 2011 by electricbluegaloo

This week when I heard a ten-year old passionate writer tell her friend “I’ve written 16 pages and I’m not even up to the complication yet!” I thought it was deja vous.  This type of writing is only interesting to the writer, not to the reader.  They don’t know what’s going to happen after all this introduction. Why should they stick with it?

It sounded exactly the way I used to write.  That was until I met Mark MacLeod, editor and children’s author.

I met Mark at a publishing consultation at the NSW Writers’ Centre about a week after my first child was born.  I thought at the time that was why he was so gentle with my other baby – Isa Ines and the Monkey Man.  He was gentle, but I went home and murdered all my darlings.

In my first drafts of Isa Ines and the Monkey Man I lovingly laboured over every languid lexicon.  And then I forced my friends to read it.  I even made the pretence of leaving the room, but listened at the door as they ooh-ed and aaah-ed over my poetic potential.  I also made my students read it and they loved me so they said they loved my story.

And then Mark basically told me my writing was crap!

Well, not in so few words but I could tell from the pained expression on his face that I was going about it all wrong.  Actually, I’ll revise that.  I was going about it all old fashioned, and also a bit . . . well, crap.

Mark gave me two pieces of advice which have vastly improved my writing (I invite you to look at “My Writing” posts and decide for yourself).

1. Verbs increase the pace of the story and make it more interesting.  Adjectives slow it down.  I was drowning in adjectives.  I now know that you have to think about the effect you want to create.  Basically, I do the modern thing and only add adjectives if they serve a purpose. 

A great example of this is in John Flanagan’s The Burning Bridge in which he described a character as having blonde hair.  Ok, no biggie, lots of people have blonde hair.  But till that point his physical descriptions of characters had always been so purposeful – Will is little, Horace is big, Halt is shaggy and unkempt, and these all add to the plot in some way.  I will not spoil the story if you’re mad enough not to have read it yet, but let me say the blonde bit was perfectly positioned.

Sadly, I don’t think primary school teachers really understand this point.  When I teach creative writing the first thing I do is point to all the details and ask “Why?”.  Why have you told me this?  Why is this important?  Why can’t it be in the evening instead of the morning? If you can’t justify it, don’t waste my time with it.  Also, Stephen King makes a good point in On Writing when he says if you give too many details about whatever character you’re describing, you can actually destroy the mental image the reader was creating.  By the way, you must, must, must read On Writing no matter which genre you write, or teach other people to write.

2. The second jewel of advice from Mr MacLeod that day was dialogue.  This will help if you’re trying to use ” show me the glint of moonlight on broken glass” to argue against the first point.  Dialogue is fast, it is interesting and it shows moonlight in a much more interactive way than a string of adjectives any day of the week.  For a first class example of how this is done read the conversation between Harry and Dudly at the start of The Order of the Phenix and just about every other section of dialogue published in any book in the series.  I personally think this is why I was able to read Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki.

So in conclusion, don’t let the details make doo-doo of your darlings.

And please, if you teach passionate writers, ask them why?

Broken Hill ALOUD Dinner Speech 2010

Published December 7, 2011 by electricbluegaloo

This speech was written in 2010 for the CBCA NSW ALOUD Children’s Literary Festival (Broken Hill)

Welcome Gatekeepers and thank you for coming to our little literary festival dinner.

This festival dinner and the activities which have taken place over the past 2 days have been brought to the community of Broken Hill thanks to the work of volunteers with the Children’s Book council of Australia, NSW Branch and through funding from Arts NSW and ASLA NSW.

So who are the Children’s Book Council of Australia and what do they do? Well, the annual CBCA Awards and Children’s Book Week are the two most well known aspects of the national organisation, but there is so much more happening at a state and regional level.

I wonder how many of you here tonight can tell me what the slogan for the Children’s Book Council of Australia is?

The slogan is “Engaging the community with literature for young Australians”.

Whenever I’m at an event people ask me “So, what do the CBCA do?” and to me the slogan really sums it up. We engage the community, young and old, with literature for Young Australians”.

Throughout the year we provide opportunities for children and adults to meet and work with real live authors celebrating the wealth of amazing Australian children’s literature that many of us take for granted.

In NSW alone, our programs include writing masterclasses, author afternoon teas, a glitzy film award ceremony, celebratory dinners, annual mini-conferences, Frustrated Writer’s Mentorship Programs and of course travelling to a whole different time zone to make sure as many members of the community as possible are engaged with literature.

This word “engaged” stands out to me in particular after reading John Cohen’s editorial in the August 2010 Reading Time. In this editorial he lamented the browsing approach to reading that has developed through the use of internet and computer games. To quote John:

We live in a world of sound and reading bites that never challenge the reader to think in any depth. The information glut results in a demand for the quick summary of news items that rarely ask for any discrimination on the part of the reader, viewer or listener.

His suggestion that readers are lacking not only the skills, but also the opportunity to discriminate and to delve deeply into text is a concern.

Fortunately this ailment in society can be cured in the most enjoyable way.

By engaging in literature!

By engaging in literature we find we are not the only ones who think, feel and act a certain way. By engaging in literature we are challenged in the way we think, feel and act. By engaging in literature we learn that there are many ways to think, feel and act.

But the key here is the act of engaging with literature. Sure, I read every Babysitter’s Club book there was, and I believe there is a role for those pink fairy books as fodder for emerging readers who are developing fluency.

But don’t you remember those books that changed your life? Books like Letters From the Inside, Possum Magic, Amy and Louis and I Came Back to Tell You I could Fly? These are stories that really engage Young Australians.

These are stories that capture you and make you use a torch under the bedsheets because you couldn’t bear it if mum made you stop reading before the end. These are books that took us away, far across the storybridge. We can still remember what it was like living in that world, even for the briefest of times.

As a mother of two small children I am now looking at children’s literature from a new perspective. I am amazed at the way even the simplest of text and illustrations prepare children for the challenges that lie ahead.

Take for example Cheeky Monkey written by Andrew Daddo and Emma Quay. This was the first proper, paper-page book my daughter didn’t eat. For her this was a life changer, and the change came here: “Not how you like it, grizzly grump”. She realised she was not the only one in the world who hates having her hair brushed.

My daughter doesn’t know what the word literature means, but she doesn’t need to. She’s already engaging with it.

Along with “engage” and “literature” there is another word in the CBCA slogan that really stands out and that word is community. Without community what is the point of engaging in literature?

So I thank you again, gatekeepers, for coming along tonight because you are the ones who provide those all important Young Australians with access to the literature which will change their lives, and by helping them engage they will develop the skills to question and challenge the soundbites they are fed.

Now it is my great pleasure to introduce our guests, authors Libby Gleeson and Oliver Phommavanh.

Oliver will speak first tonight.

I first met Oliver about 2 years ago at a writing workshop. Our teacher, Robin Morrow, told us to write a story or story-outline for an object we had brought along with us. Oliver had brought, sorry to say this, a rather scruffy looking blue Care Bear pencil case. When he stood up at the front of the group to share his story-outline about the pencil case whose belches disturbed the whole class he literally had the rest of us in stitches.

And over the past 2 days Oliver has used a whole collection of soft toys, from the famous care-bear Grumpy to Mario, and even super-water-bottle-woman with the power to quench thirst, to delight, entertain and inspire Broken Hill children in their creative writing.

Oliver’s debut novel was launched in June this year, and it is a Thai-riffic read. He is a man of many talents, including stand up comedian, so I knew the book would be funny, but I should have also known it would be thoughtful, smart and very moving.

Having met Oliver as an unpublished author I feel an enormous pride and privilege to have attended his book launch and to be working with him as a professional writer.

I now hand over to Oliver Phommavahn, children’s author.

(Oliver’s Speech)

As preparation for this visit I have researched everything I could about “Libby Gleeson”, and I have come to two conclusions.

  1. Firstly, Libby is completely fabulous as an author, advocate for children’s literature, Indigenous literacy and literature, a voice for refugees, women, girls, Australians. She is a voice for freedom, empowerment, belief and most importantly a voice for children who cannot put into words the bittersweet beauty of having a best, best, best friend who lives on the other side of the world.
  2. The second conclusion I have come to is that Libby is far too modest. Libby is embarrassed when I probe her about her amazing achievements. But I am not the only one who recognises Libby’s outstanding talent as a storyteller and for her services to children’s literacy and literature.

So please indulge me just a moment longer as I very briefly list some of Libby’s achievements. Libby has been writing for 35 years and has 35 books published. The first of these, Eleanor Elizabeth, won the Angus and Robertson Writers for the Young Fellowship. Eleanor Elizabeth was also Highly Commended Australian CBC Awards, 1985 and Short listed South Australian Literature Award, 1985. She has been shortlisted or won state, national and international awards ever since, including being shortlisted 13 times for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards . Among the most prestigious of these is the Bolonga Razzi Award in 2000 for her incredibly powerful picture book The Great Bear (recently reprinted). Libby was the first Australian to win this award.

She has also been honoured for her services to children’s literature – receiving the CBCA Lady Cutler Award in 1997 and an Order of Australia medal more recently.

As I say, this is just a summary of Libby’s achievements so please do as I have and google Libby Gleeson, and ofcourse read as many of her books as you can.

Please welcome, Libby Gleeson, AM.

(Libby’s Speech)

To see and hear excerpts from both Libby and Oliver’s speeches join the CBCA NSW facebook group.  Apologies for the poor sound quality.

Jessica Francis, October, 2010

For a more recent discussion of Libby Gleeson’s groundbreaking work with Armin Greder please take a look at this link 

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