Tag Archives: Aussie Author month

Encouraging Children to Write (Guest Post)

Today’s guest post is a timely post for the school holidays. If you’re looking for a way to encourage your children to get into writing or you are looking for an activity for them to do while you write, Melissa Khalinsky (a fellow 12×12 participant) has some great advice.

Encouraging Children to Write

I have been a writer almost as long as I’ve been a reader, at least, it feels that way. Recently I discovered some stories I wrote when I was in primary school, and my love of writing has never left me.

Now I am the mother of two boys, both of whom are avid readers, however, writing is another thing altogether. Neither of them have been bitten by the writing bug, at least not yet. I’ve tried to get them interested in writing stories and diaries and anything else I can think of, but it just hasn’t happened, until recently.

Last year, I read a book of letters and it raised the question about whether or not modern kids would write letters and, if they wrote them, if people would reply, and started writing a fictional story. I couldn’t come up with an answer to whether or not people would reply, so the fictional story stalled.

My 8 year old, Mr Z is left handed and struggles with handwriting, and finds those handwriting books boring, writing letter after letter. So, at the start of this year, I set my children a challenge – to write a letter to someone every week during term time.

The challenge has been hit and miss, however, it has got my boys interested in writing. It’s got their creative juices flowing. While they are having fun writing letters, they haven’t quite got to stories…. yet!

Things I’ve learned about getting children interested in writing:

  • Make it fun – writing shouldn’t be a chore
  • Turn it in to a competition – my children are incredibly competitive, especially with each other, so having a challenge to achieve is helping keep them interested
  • Make it regular – my children are now writing every week as their challenge is to write weekly. This means they practice regularly and I can already see an improvement in their writing, even after such a short time
  • Reward them for efforts – rewards can be saying “well done” or a gift of some sort. After every few letters written, my boys get a small reward, such as stickers
  • Keep copies – quite apart from the fact that it’s fun to look back on the work that I did as a child, I’m enjoying reading back the first letters the boys have written, and am looking forward to comparing them at the end of the year
  • Have fun – I can’t say this enough. Writing is fun, so find a way to make writing fun for your children. For us, it’s writing letters, your kids may enjoy writing reviews or stories about their soft toys, or keeping a diary

Writing isn’t just about writing stories, it’s much more than that. With children, find something they are interested in writing, something that inspires them. Currently, letters are what are inspiring my children to write. What inspires your children?

Melissa Khalinsky is a pre-published author and the mother of two boys, aged 8 and 10. She challenged the boys to write a letter a week during term time – you can read all about the challenge at www.letterwritingchallenge.com.au

A note from Jo:

Don’t forget April is Aussie Author Month. Australian author John Marsden’s book Letters from the Inside is a great read and may just inspire you to try a letter writing challenge for yourself or your teenager. If you’re looking for a holiday read for a younger child, try Greetings from Sandy Beach by Australian Children’s author Bob Graham.

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Author Interview with Fleur McDonald

I’d like to welcome Australian author Fleur McDonald to my blog. Fleur is the author of the novels Red Dust and Blue Skies and is one of the authors featured in the soon-to-be-released anthology Australian Literature: A Snapshot in 10 Short Stories.

Can you tell us what inspired you to write the short story ‘Gone’, which will be appearing in the anthology Australian Literature: A Snapshot in 10 Short Stories?

I was wanting to branch out a bit from my normal farm/rural type stories, but still with a mystery/crime basis. It took me a little while to come up with the storyline and I was hesitant about my short story writing skills, having not written many before. It took a lot more drafts than what my novels do!

(You have nothing to be hesitant about, I loved reading your story ‘Gone’.)

 ‘Gone’ is quite an emotional story. As a mother it really hit home for me as it plays on every mother’s worst fears. Did being a mother yourself make it easier or more difficult to write this story?

I’ve lost quite a few family and friends to cancer and I know the difficulties faced by the families and friends of the dying. Trying to imagine my own children in that situation is quite frightening and the whole time I was writing Gone, there was this terrible sinking feeling, sitting in my tummy.

Because of that, it did make difficult to write, but the experiences I’ve already faced, with this type of situation, meant I could make it realistic and in turn that part was easier to write.

 In ‘Gone’ you write from Detective Indy Sullivan’s point-of-view. What made you decide to write from Indy’s point-of-view, rather than the parents or even fellow detective, Jack?

I’m not sure. Indy sort of jumped into my mind and stayed there. Writing it from Jack’s point of view would be an interesting experience. Maybe I should try that!

 How do you balance writing with being a mother and living on the land?

Well, it’s always a juggling act, especially this time of the year, when it hasn’t rained and we’re busy feeding animals every day. I often only write once a week, on my day in town. If I get any more time than that, it’s a bonus.

(I can totally relate! We’re lucky to have had a lot of rain this season on this side of the country, which isn’t always the case. It’s great you can make that time for your writing.)

Your published novels, Red Dust and Blue Skies, are both based on the land in rural Australia. How much are your own experiences living on a farm reflected in your novels?

Well, I guess the most experience I draw on is the setting – living where I do, makes it easy for me. The plots that I put my characters into, thankfully, I’ve never experienced.

As it’s Aussie Author Month this month, can you tell us about some of your favourite Australian Authors and how they’ve influenced/inspired your own writing?

Tamara McKinley, Belinda Alexandra, Rachael Treasure, Monica McInerney and Tony Parsons are just a few that have influenced me. Tamara, Belinda and Monica all write such wonderful sagas and I wanted to be able to do that in a rural setting – that’s where Rachael and Tony come into it – but with a crime influence (most of my crime favourites are American or English).

There’s many more that have inspired me, since I started to write and I’ve met them, either face to face or through the social media. Katherine Howell would now be one of my favourite crime writers.

 What are you working on at the moment?

My third book Purple Roads is due at the publishers in July and I’m nearly finished. I’m heading to Perth this week as my daughter is having a large operation and I’m hoping to finish it while I’m up there.

 (I hope all goes well with your daughter’s operation.)

Any words of advice for aspiring authors?

Never ever give up. Just because your MS isn’t wanted one day, doesn’t mean it won’t be wanted the next.

Fleur McDonald grew up among the farming communities of Orroroo in SA and now lives east of Esperance, on 8,000 acres. Here, she cares for a husband, two children and a menagerie of dogs, cattle, sheep and a bit of crop, not to mention tractors and other machinery!

Fleur is the best selling author of Red Dust and Blue Skies, both published by Allen and Unwin. When she has five spare minutes, she is writing her third and forth books, Purple Roads and Silver Gums.

For more information visit www.fleurmcdonald.com or follow her on Twitter @fleurmcdonald or Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fleur-McDonald/204949640064?ref=ts

For more information on Australian Literature: A Snapshot in 10 Short Stories visit The Australian Literature Review.

Aussie Author Month – Graeme Base

I have long loved Graeme Base‘s books; they are amazing in both prose and illustrations (of which he does both). Although I focused on a picture book author last week, Graeme Base writes for older readers (from upper primary school children to adults).

Fantastic Detail

Before I discuss his writing, I just have to pay tribute to Base’s stunningly beautiful and detailed illustrations. These highly detailed illustrations are not only beautifully drawn on a surface level, in many of his books they include hidden pictures, intricate details and even clues. Some examples:

The Waterhole

(Notice the hidden monkey in the bottom left or the tarantula on the right? There are ten hidden animals on this page worked into the detail of the trees, etc.)

The Eleventh Hour

(Why yes, the numbers on the game board are out of order… a clue perhaps?)

Clever Prose

The detailed illustrations are complemented with clever, and often witty, prose, including well-written rhyme and alliteration.

Diabolical dragons daintily devouring delicious delicacies.” (Animalia)

Now Bertie knocked at Number Four… but silence reigned supreme.

The door swung open soundlessly, as if it were a dream,

For this was where Miss Poodle lived, ‘The Mademoiselle of Mime’,

And for an hour, without a sound, she acted out the crime.” (pg. 14, Enigma)

Picture Books for Older Readers

With the exception of The Waterhole and perhaps Animalia (as they can both be enjoyed by younger readers), the majority of Graeme Base’s picture books are aimed at older primary school readers (or even adults). They include complex language, mysteries to get the reader thinking and a sense of adventure. They often also include historical and geographical references.

Sorry to hear the raid was a bit of a flop, but I don’t see how it was my fault. I can’t help it if the Ancient Britons are onto us and have moved inland. Frankly I think the bottom is falling out of this Viking business and we should look at reindeer farming or something instead.” (pg. 6, The Discovery of Dragons)

That night Sprocc played his music as he never had before,

A sea of sound that rose and fell upon a rhythmic shore.

‘Nice meshing, Sprocc-groob!’ Stickman called. ‘You’ve really got it down!

This joint ain’t heard a mesh like this since SkatMan came to town.’” (The Worst Band in the Universe)

Graeme Base’s books need to be experienced in person to fully understand how clever and beautifully illustrated they are. It is easy to spend hours immersed in their pages.

A side note in regards to Aussie Author Month:

One of the aims of Aussie Author month is to raise awareness and funds for the Indigenous Literacy Project – a project that aims to raise Literacy levels amongst Inigenous Australians living in rural and remote communities. You can learn more here: http://www.indigenousliteracyproject.org.au/ and you can donate to the project as part of Aussie Author month here: http://www.gofundraise.com.au/page/ausbooks

Aussie Author Month – Mem Fox

In Australia we are spoiled for fabulous picture book authors (and illustrators). From the clever prose and gorgeous illustrations of Graeme Base (Animalia; The Waterhole) for older picture book readers to the endearing storylines of Margaret Wild (There’s a Sea in My Bedroom; Kiss, Kiss!) for younger picture book readers. From Australian picture book classics which Australian children have been reading for generations, such as May Gibbs’ Snugglepot and Cuddle Pie, to newer picture books, such as Kathryn Apel’s This is the Mud. A favourite picture book author of mine, and of my children, too, is Mem Fox. We have many of her books on our bookshelf and they are much requested at bedtime. So what is it about Mem Fox’s books that makes both parents, teachers and children alike keep reading them over and over again?

Rhyme

Many of Mem Fox’s books are written in rhyme. As a writer who loves to write picture books, I know just how hard rhyme is to pull off effectively. It’s not just about finding the right words to rhyme, it’s also about rhythm and flow. Mem Fox’s rhymes always flow naturally and beautifully, giving her stories a lovely lyrical quality.

It’s time for bed, little fish, little fish,

So hold your breath and make a wish.” (Time for Bed)

Here is the near sheep. Here is the far sheep.

Here is the moon sheep. And here is the star sheep.” (Where is the Green Sheep?)

Australiana

Mem Fox’s use of Australian animals as characters—characters who personify the Aussie spirit— tied in with other pieces of Australiana (food, places, slang terms), make her books feel like home to Australian readers, who can relate to familiar images and language evoked by Fox. International readers are introduced to peculiar creatures and new experiences from the land ‘Down Under’.

Later, on a beach in Perth, they ate a piece of pavlova.

Hush’s legs appeared. So did her body.

‘You look wonderful, you precious possum!’ said Grandma Poss. “Next stop—Tasmania.’

And over the sea they went.” (Possum Magic)

One night, beside a low camp fire,

They heard the men talk loud

about a boatrace way out west

That’d make all Aussies proud.

One said he’d give his two eye teeth

To be there at the race.

‘My oath, too right!’ the other said,

With longing on his face.” (Sail Away: The Ballad of Skip and Nell)

Repetitive Language

Young children love books with repetitive language and, when reading aloud, children will often join in because they can pick up on the repetitiveness. They can predict what will be said on the next page. My preschooler son will sit down with a Mem Fox book and read the book to himself from memory because the repetitiveness of the text, combined with the pictures, means he can easily remember the story and the words. This is a great precursor to learning to read. Mem Fox’s books are perfect for this pre-reading stage.

“‘Good grief!’ said the goose.

‘Well, well!’ said the pig.

‘Who cares?’ said the sheep.

‘So what?’ said the horse.

‘What next?’ said the cow.” (Hattie and the Fox)

And her sister said,

‘I’ll get you a sweater when the weather gets wetter,

to go with the blouse with the ribbons and bows,

to go with the skirt that won’t show the dirt,

to go with the socks from the local shops,

to go with the shoes from grandpa.’” (Shoes from Grandpa)

Page-turning Storyline

Mem Fox’s stories are written in such a way that the reader just has to turn the page to find out what happens next. The stories often build to the climax. Where is that green sheep? What can Poss eat to make her visible? Will Skip and Nell make the race in time?

If you’re a writer of picture books, check out this very interesting article on Mem Fox’s site about her process for writing Where is the Green Sheep? http://www.memfox.com/green-sheep-secrets.html There are some fantastic gems of advice in there, including this:

” After twenty one years of writing for children, I’ve come to appreciate that the books young children like best fall broadly into two categories: either short books with a pattern, based on rhyme, rhythm or repetition; or short books with a really good story. They don’t like nostalgia books. They don’t like first person books. And they don’t like long books. Stories, or patterns: that’s it.”

For a great overview of Australia’s most popular children’s book authors, have a look at this article: http://www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/childrensbooks/

A side note in regards to Aussie Author Month:

One of the aims of Aussie Author month is to raise awareness and funds for the Indigenous Literacy Project – a project that aims to raise Literacy levels amongst Inigenous Australians living in rural and remote communities. You can learn more here: http://www.indigenousliteracyproject.org.au/ and you can donate to the project as part of Aussie Author month here: http://www.gofundraise.com.au/page/ausbooks

And don’t forget to check out all the other exciting things happening for Aussie Author Month.

Aussie Author Month – John Marsden

As part of Aussie Author month I’m going to be doing a series of blog posts focusing on some of my favourite Australian authors—authors who have inspired me in my own writing.

For the first post I want to focus on one of my all time favourite authors: John Marsden. I started reading John Marsden as a teenager and he immediately became my favourite teen/YA writer. He also inspired me to really strive for my writing dream; knowing that an Australian could become such a well known author, not just here, but overseas as well, was a big push for me.

Marsden has written a multitude of books over the years, primarily aimed at teens. At one stage I had read every book he’d ever written. In year eight, my English teacher read our class Tomorrow When the War Began (which I’d already read by then)—every student in my class loved it and there was an influx in the library to borrow the next book in the series. Even the boys.

So how is it that Marsden, nearly a decade before the Harry Potter phenomenon, inspired teens, including reluctant male readers, to get reading?

Voice

This would have to be the number one factor in the appeal of Marsden’s books to teens. Marsden has a way of writing teenage voice realistically that draws teens into the story. Teens feel like they’re reading about someone their own age—they can relate to the feelings and thoughts of the character, because it’s how they think and feel. In particular, I find his ability to write in the voice of a teenage girl particularly brilliant (how many grown men could channel the voice of a teenage girl so realistically?).

To be honest, which I swore I’d be, we’d all had those delusions at times. They were only daydreams, to liberate our families, to fix everything, to be heroes… In reality the prospect of doing something like that was so horrifying and frightening that it made me ill to think of it.” (Tomorrow When the War Began, pg. 232)

I was giving your ear an erotic experience and you were giggling and pushing me away. The only thing that stopped me going further was all the people around, and Mr. Rossi. Like, he might be a good bloke, but if he finds two of his students having sex in the middle of an excursion he’s not exactly going to give us a pat on the head and an A in Art.” (Dear Miffy, pg. 75)

Characters

The characters in Marsden’s books come alive from the first page and make you want to know their story. Part of that is their voice, which I mentioned above, but it is also the layers of depth each character possesses. In books like Letters from the Inside and So Much to Tell You, the stories of the main characters unfold layer by layer. From the beginning the reader knows there is more to this character, some secret, and as the story unfolds we get glimpses of the secret, until we find out the whole story. In other stories, such as the Tomorrow series, we see the main character put in tough situations and continually growing as a character through these situations.

I don’t blame you for being scared of me. I don’t like it but I don’t blame you. I’m scared of myself sometimes.” (Letters from the Inside, pg.96)

…I started trembling and sobbing and hugging myself. I leaned against the wall then slid down until I was on the floor. It seemed like something outside me had taken control. It shook me like I was a washing machine. I knew what it was of course. The image of Shannon, lying there naked and tied up, her blood, the death that I saw in her eyes: Where was I supposed to put that?” (While I Live, pg.266)

Description

Part of what makes Marsden’s descriptions so effective is the way they’re written from the character’s perspective. His descriptions give the reader a clear picture, while showing the reader how the character views his/her world. He very rarely alludes to the characters’ physical descriptions, unless it’s relevant.

…Lisa came in, went to her bed and lay on it face down. And after a few moments she began crying! I could hear her. And I could see her shoulders shuddering. Lisa, the strong one, who never cries! It got worse: her crying became louder, uncontrolled, sobbing. From deep, deep down… I fluttered around the dorm wanting to help her.” (So Much to Tell You, pg.39)

… we ran the way rabbits do when they get a sniff of the warren and think they can just make it. We put our ears back, kept close to the ground and went for it… The fence loomed up at me. I dived to go under it. Still like a rabbit. Beside me Fi did the same. As we went down, the first shot wailed above our heads.” (Darkness, Be My Friend, pg. 234)

If you (or your kids) have yet to pick up a book by John Marsden, I highly recommend picking one up.

If you have (or write for) preteen boys, try Staying Alive in Year 5. For teen girls, try So Much to Tell You. For teen boys, try Dear Miffy. And everybody should read Tomorrow When the War Began at least once in their lifetime, it’s a Aussie literature must-read.

A side note in regards to Aussie Author Month:

One of the aims of Aussie Author month is to raise awareness and funds for the Indigenous Literacy Project – a project that aims to raise Literacy levels amongst Inigenous Australians living in rural and remote communities. You can learn more here: http://www.indigenousliteracyproject.org.au/ and you can donate to the project as part of Aussie Author month here: http://www.gofundraise.com.au/page/ausbooks