Kat’s Bush Poetry – On the Wallaby

Continuing my posts of bush poetry from my pre-kids poetry days, today I’m sharing one inspired by our first caravan holiday. For sure, this was an express a stress poem, turning disaster into laughter; the time that hubby took us ‘On the Wallaby’.

On The Wallaby

It’s half the distance on the map – and I can drive on dirt.
We’ll save some time and fuel as well… What’s it gonna hurt?


The road was like an old tin shed; all corrugated rust,
that rattled teeth and eyeballs as it billowed clouds of dust.
A caravan we had in tow, pulled by a Commodore;
a brand-new, fam’ly kind of car – no bloomin’ four-by-four!
The stop ’n’ go bloke thought the rough stuff wouldn’t be for long.
He said the track got better but I tell you – he was wrong!

That road was stretched before us like an unrelenting curse.
Two hundred k’s of gravel, never better – sometimes worse.
We rode those corrugations ’til our vision blurred and spun,
with one eye on the pitfalls and the other on the sun.
Three hours we were bounced about, the popcorn in the pan…
But got the biggest shake-up when we peered inside our van.

No bomb could cause more chaos, nor an earthquake devastate.
Such carnage in the caravan – I don’t exaggerate!
The brakes had disconnected, while a curtain was defaced,
the oven door had come adrift, and hotplates were displaced.
The cupboards had swung open with the contents all flung out;
utensils, food and crockery were jumbled all about.

Like flotsam cast upon the beach, our clothes were strewn around.
The wardrobe door that ripped right off was buried in the mound.
Red dust had coated ev’rything! It blew in through a vent,
where wall and floor had parted to reveal a two-inch rent.
And seeping through the rubble that had cluttered up the floor,
were streams of milk that flowed from the refrigerator door.

Beside that far-flung roadway we attempted a repair,
suppressing thoughts of panic and a longing for despair.
We closed then locked our caravan – with no time to delay.
Our journey wasn’t over – we were only just halfway!
We’d joggled for three hours down that rippling, rutted track,
but had to press on forward, cause I wasn’t going back!


The road was stretched before us like an unrelenting curse.
One hundred k’s of gravel and believe me – it got worse!

© Kathryn Apel 2003 – All rights reserved.

This poem courtesy of the Kennedy Development Highway, from Charter’s Towers to Hughenden. To this day, I regret that I didn’t take a photo of our van – either at this point, or at the end of the journey, when the dust and carnage was worse. But here is a pic of both, taken on a later caravanning holiday. (Reason #101 as to why you marry a grazier/handyman. He’s real good at fixing stuff up! (Even if he ‘can’ drive on dirt!))

A caravan we had in tow, pulled by a Commodore; a brand-new, fam’ly kind of car – no bloomin’ 4×4.

On the wallaby is an Aussie slang (that has almost slipped into oblivion) meaning, on the road; taking to the road for an extended time.

Loved our little abode!

Now it’s time to hit the road – on the trail of poetry. Karen is hosting the link-up at Karen Edmisten*. Thanks, Karen!

Kat’s Bush Poetry – Flaming Fish & Chips

Before I wrote poetry for kids I wrote bush poetry – usually to express a stress about a somewhat climactic event in our lives; turning disaster into laughter. I haven’t written any bush poetry for years – but I’ve often thought I should go through my files and share some on my blog. A twitter conversation with Allayne Webster last night jogged my memory – so here is the first. Reason #1001 as to why I’ll never be a cook.


Flaming Fish and Chips

Our takeaway for easy tea – a not-too-common treat –
was snugly wrapped in butcher’s paper, near a gentle heat.
I walked into the kitchen as I sniffed and licked my lips …
What the blazes! In the oven … Flaming fish and chips!

The paper pack was well alight as orange tongues leapt higher,
the likely fate of our hot tea – consumed by raging fire.
“No! Not my fish and chips,” I cried. It went beyond a joke
to stand and watch our dinner just go wafting up in smoke.

I didn’t stop to reason then, just wrenched the warming drawer.
It skidded off its runners, landing on my clean tiled floor!
I thought I’d douse or smother it, in tea-towels wet with drips,
but couldn’t bear the thought of eating soggy fish and chips.

So then I tried to rip the burning paper off our tea,
which tore in two, as flames leapt up, and tried consuming me!
Of course, I dropped the flaming sheet, which fluttered to the floor,
and smouldered down to ash and stains – but troubled me no more.

And still inside the warming drawer, our tea was in the pyre,
eluding further efforts to extract it from the fire.
The metal shelf was hot to touch, and mitts inclined to flare …
burnt offerings, I wryly thought, were likely dinner fare.

But then the blazing monster slowly slumped and petered out,
relinquishing our takeaway, charred paper strewn about.
My kitchen was a sooty mess – quite like a fireplace –
with warming drawer and tiled floor both blackened to disgrace …

Four smoked fish portions, served with chips and sprinkled liberally
with flecks of soot as seasoning, were salvaged for our tea.
But while we had our takeaway to nourish us that night,
we found the food just turned to ash each time we took a bite …

My husband has a laugh with mates and tells them it’s real crook,
when wifey burns the dinner that she didn’t even cook.
I won’t repeat the comments this has sparked about my hair …
but ‘dumb blonde’ jokes are guaranteed to make my temper flare!

© Kathryn Apel 2005 – All rights reserved.

Never put your takeaway fish and chips snuggly wrapped in butcher’s paper in your warming drawer. Just don’t. No paper. At all. The end.

That red fire blanket we had hanging on the kitchen wall, after an earlier smoking Christmas cooking experience? This would have been a good time to remember it.

And one final note… Please don’t judge my hubby on my poetry. Poetic license may be employed – though not without some justification.🙃

Happy Poetry Friday. You’ll find the full round-up at Library Matters, where Cheriee is sharing a fascinating interview with a poet I have not heard of. I’m going back to read more! (I saw her mind-boggling acrostic!)

Like Moths to the Bogong Plains – A Poem

I have to start this post by saying that on Wednesday we had 70mm of rain – or 2 and 3/4 inches – and at long last, the dams have started to rise. More rain is definitely needed – but praise the Lord, it is so good to see water levels rising!

Turtley awesome weather!

As a part of my contribution to the recent #AuthorsForFireys auction, I offered a new-for-you poem about an Australian animal. The winning bid was for a poem about a Bogong moth. There were in fact two bids for a Bogong moth poem – which sparked my curiosity. I mean, we’ve* all heard of a Bogong moth – but what exactly is it, and what makes it special? I thought it might be one of those gianormous (takes up the palm of your hand) moths that I have seen on rare (two) occasions – but no! It’s the common, average-sized brown moth that we see fairly frequently. So – what is special about the Bogong moth, that two people would be requesting poems about it?

I started digging around… and tinkering with poems. I didn’t write one poem, but three; a nonet, a free verse and a mini-mouthful – that may require a dictionary to decode! I had to write three, because the free verse alone felt unfinished. And I’d started playing with a nonet – which I really liked. And actually, those near-rhyming mouthfuls of words were just too perfect to ignore! And the Bogong moth is deserving of three poems!

Since the auction item offered a signed version of the poem, and I had no appropriate pictures to hand to pretty-up the page, I drew a Bogong moth… and actually, if I’m honest, I’m quietly chuffed with it… (Since I’m definitely not an artist!)

This new-for-you creation is for Ivy and Aida, from Brian. (I sent a signed version off to them last week. Though I just made some tweaks – including to the page orientation. Why am I always changing things??!?)

So – what makes a Bogong moth special? Read on…

© Kathryn Apel – All rights reserved.

An amazing pic of tiles of Lepidoptera is here.

Moths tend to pale into insignificance beside brighter butterflies – but this little achromatic aviator is amazing. I’m glad I got to research and write about it! Thanks Bren and Brian, for the inspiration!

The lovely Laura Salas is hosting the Poetry Friday round-up at Writing the World for Kids. Be sure to check out her blog – and then follow the links for today’s poetry goodness.

*In Australia, at least.

Poetry Friday Round-up, 24th January 2020

Welcome to Australia (twice in the one month!) for another round-up of Poetry Friday. Since Sally hosted, a lot of Australia has received rain, so dust has settled, and many fires have also been checked back. But what a horrifying month it has been! And it is not over. Even as I write this post (Thursday), the news comes through of the large air tanker crash, killing 3 US crew members. And we are once again reminded of the many different ways people risk their lives in our service. And how precious – and fragile – life is.

Our Queensland property is far from the fires, but we have been contending with drought, and have empty dams all around us. Two inches of rain in the past 2 weeks has brought a wash of green creeping over the paddocks, for which we are so thankful – but we are praying for much more rain to fill those dams!

I am proud of the Australian kidlit community – who, led by Nova Weetman and Emily Gale, and joined by much of the world – raised more than $500,000 in the twitter-based #AuthorForFireys auction. One of my offerings was a new-to-you poem about an Australian animal. (Thank-you to my beautiful PoetryFriday friends who jumped in to bid for that.) The winning bid was for a poem about a bogong moth, for $200. I’m still working on that one! (Fascinated, from what I’ve learnt thus far.)

When I signed up to host today, I had thought I’d have a Month of Poetry to share with you, to make your visit to my blog interesting – but I started the year in a sad place, following the loss of my beloved Amber – and just didn’t want the commitment of a joyful play with words. It has been a productive month none-the-less, with time spent polishing and submitting picture book manuscripts and writing new poems for a project I’m hoping to be involved with. One of the poems was about a selection of Queensland animals, and on a night-time wander this week, I snapped this pic of mama and bubba possum, high in an ironbark tree along our track – so I thought I’d include my stanza about the possum for my poetry offering today.

© Kathryn Apel – All rights reserved.

What have you been working on? Who has news to share? I look forward to catching up on your happenings through the round-up, and comments below. Hoping your weekend is wonderful! Last weekend before the new school year starts in Queensland! (I’m sure families will be cramming every last moment with holiday-feels!) I’m reminded of this trimeric I wrote in January during Month of Poetry 2014, when I had kids on school holidays…

Clockwork Holidays

The clock has stopped. The bus has run.
School bags lie in wait, lunchboxes packed,
while uniforms hang about in dishevelment
and kids run free!

School bags lie in wait, lunchboxes packed
and stacked
away at the back of the cupboard.

While uniforms hang about in dishevelment,
waiting to be pressed into shape,
rumpled, crumpled comfy clothes are donned,

and kids run free!
No HW. No bedtimes. No alarms.
Unwinding as the clock… ticks… down… to… school.

© Kathryn Apel – All rights reserved.

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https://fresh.inlinkz.com/js/widget/load.js?id=c8cd94ed6d171cb9d89dSneaking in for an unexpected bonus extra … This little video was released this week, by Newport News Public Schools, following my visit to Riverside Elementary, in November. Oh the wonderful memories! (Why does it seem so long ago?)

Gunnedah to Gayndah

This is a quick post to share some pics from my trip to Gunnedah last week, for the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards Presentation Ceremony. I know many of my Poetry Friday friends are keen to see the winning poems – and if you click across to Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Award Winners (my previous post), not only will you see the poems, but you’ll meet the amazing poets, too! For today – pics of Gunnedah! Thank-you to Laura from Writing the World for Kids for hosting our Poetry Friday round-up this week.

I arrived Wednesday evening, to run poetry workshops on Thursday for children from Gunnedah and surrounds. (There are so many sites and towns with delightful names, including the nearby Boggabri.) Thursday afternoon, award winners and the secondary judge (Meredith Costain) arrived – though there were some hiccups with delayed flights, lost luggage and a broken-down bus… But we still managed to squeeze in a whistle-stop tour of Gunnedah, which is a town that has so much to offer tourists! Two lovely lookouts – with amazing vistas. (Pensioners Hill also includes stone carvings which are impressive.) I tried twice for a pic with Dorothea on her horse, opposite the Mackellar Centre but alas, Thursday evening I was too rushed, and Friday morning, the wind was gusting… (I look a fright!) I’ll have to go back again to try a third time for a better pic. (Sentiment runs strong on this!) But you can spot Dorothea on horseback in the collage below.

I’d printed a small canvas of my golden shovel inspired by Dorothea Mackellar’s iconic ‘My Country’ as a thank-you gift for the committee. I was touched by how much they loved it – and a little blown away to hear that it will find a place on the wall in the Mackellar Centre. It resonated with committee members who are also feeling the grit of dust, as they pour their lifeblood into this vast sunburnt land – and love her.

Less than 24 hours after announcing the award winners at Gunnedah, NSW, (and three chock-full, sometimes turbulent flights later) I was presenting a writing workshop for artists at Gayndah, Qld, where I was delighted to meet a young lass who rates ‘Bully on the Bus’ as her favourite book – has read it double-digits times and perhaps knows it better than me! She now has ‘On Track’ and ‘Too Many Friends’ to complete her collection…

After the dust of Gunnedah and Gayndah, I arrived home to more dust – and smoke. Numerous dams dried up in my absence, and grass is tinder-dry. We are all yearning for the drumming of the army, that Dorothea writes of;

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When sick at heart, around us,
We see the cattle die –

But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady, soaking rain.

From My Country, by Dorothea Mackellar

Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Award Winners

Last Friday I was in Gunnedah for the prestigious Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards Presentation Ceremony. It was an honour to be asked to judge the Primary category – and a joy to meet and mix with committee and community members, award winners, and their families. I am so proud of these amazing kids, and I’m thrilled to be able to share the winning poems and poets with you. (Shared with permission.)

Lower Primary Winner:  Lincoln Cecil -“The Beat

The Beat

Harsh rays on wrinkled skin.
Lungs suffocated, breathe out.
Callused hands scarred deeply.
Vision forced through cracks.
Hope strangled and choked.
Life turns lifeless.

The heart beat stops.
Joyful rhythms pour down.
Drops dancing on rusted hope.
Falling from prayers passed down.
Veins of water stretch out flowing.
Ancient arteries filling,
Bringing family trees to life.
The heart beats again.

Judge’s Comment: So many phrases take my breath away. The imagery, vocabulary and maturity in this evocative poem is astounding – especially in such a young poet! A poem written from the heart of experience.

Lower Primary Runner-Up:  Eric Qiu -“Dark


I’m not scared
Of many things:
But I don’t like
The dark.

It’s always there,
Inside boxes, waiting
To get out,
Waiting patiently
For the day to go
So it can seep down
From the sky;
It’s there,
Under my bed, waiting
For me to turn out
The light
So it can jump out
And frighten me…

It even follows
Me around.

My shape

A sound.

Judge Comment: A deceptively simple poem with a clever twist to end. Well crafted!

Upper Primary Winner: Sanu Kariyawasam -“The Earth is in Good Hands

The Earth is in Good Hands

Earth is in good hands…
It’s not
it’s too late now.
Don’t tell me
We can still save our earth
We can take a step forward
That we can still stop
You know
It’s too late.
They say
We’re getting there.
You know
It’s a lie.
We’ve gone too far.
We can’t stop now.
Every day you hear how
Animals are killed.
Wildlife is burned.
We need to take-action,
We can’t just hope.
That’s what they say…

Earth is dead. It’s the end.

(now read from bottom to top)

Judge’s Comment: I am in awe of this young poet, who has crafted a reverso that reads fluently both ways. The form is perfect for this topic – first portraying a bleak reality, then rereading it with shades of hope. Having attempted a number of reversos, and completed three, I fully appreciate and admire the skill that went into crafting this masterpiece.

Upper Primary Runner-Up: Henry Maning -“I think my teacher is Cinderella

“I think my teacher is Cinderella”

It’s not just
that she drives to school in a carriage,
or that she wears a tiara.

It’s not just
the way she mops the floor
and lets us treat her like a slave.

It’s not just
the way she talks to mice
or when she chats to the prince she blushes.

What gives her away
at the end of the day
is how she leaves
her glass slipper at the gate.

Judge’s Comment: Perfect use of repetition and rule of three. Every word working to earn its place. The rhyme to build to climax. And humour! Simplicity at its finest.

Assisted Learning Primary Winner: Felix Liu – “Untouchable


The apricot on the table was my heart’s desire,
But there was no right way this extravagant fruit
Could ever enter my covetous mouth.
I tried, I dared.
I resisted, I stared.
Like a diamond just out of reach.
As rare as gold.
However, I couldn’t give in.
Until finally …
Temptation overcame me.
I felt as black as the devil,
Yet as rich as a king,
It was as sweet as honey,
As soft as marshmallows,
As astonishing as the universe.
This amazing fruit,
Had corrupted my mind,
And made me forget,
That it wasn’t mine.

Judge’s Comment: This poem is delicious! It weaves similes, rhyme, alliteration and rich vocabulary into a tightly controlled poem, with the inevitable ending looping neatly back to the start.

Assisted Learning Primary Runner-Up:
Jasmine Safrglani – “Artistry


When the rain falls from the sky
A rainbow appears.

The sun grabs the rainbow
And uses it
As its pallet.

Judge’s Comment: There is beauty and poetry in the simplest, quietest moments. This poem makes me look at rainbows in a different light.

David Maher Award for Small Schools Winner: Lachlan Spence -“Forgotten Tree
Awarded to the best individual entry from a small school (less than 25 enrolled students)

Forgotten Tree

I hear a loud noise to my side,
I fly towards it, using sound as a guide,
The land is barren and no good for crops,
Then all of a sudden the noise stops,
I land on a branch so I can see,
Alone in my forgotten tree.

A rusty ute was making the sound
A man steps out, onto dry ground,
His ute must have run out of fuel,
I notice his finger bares a jewel,
It glitters in the sun so I see,
Alone in my forgotten tree.

If I could swoop right down with speed,
I’d grab that jewel a prize indeed,
I need to think of a masterplan,
To steal it from this lonely man,
It would be easy I can see,
Alone in my forgotten tree.

I see his face and it looks sad,
if I steal that jewel, I will feel bad,
I realise that this man is alone,
And a long way from his home,
His life is the same as mine I see,
Alone in my forgotten tree.

For days on end I watch this man,
I see him suffer, his face is bland,
The process is so very slow,
Oh how I wish he would just go,
In the night he dies, I see,
Alone in my forgotten tree.

I watch the Goanna’s feed on him,
The foxes too, when the light is dim,
His memory is haunting me,
Alone in my forgotten tree,
There I see his bones sink in,
I choose to leave the ring with him,

Alone in my forgotten tree.

Judge’s Comment: A complex poem from a bird’s eye view, exploring the use of symbolism, rhyme and repetition.

Chatting to Lachlan over breakfast, I was so pleased to hear that his poem was written outdoors – when the class was taken out to the long paddock to sit and be inspired by nature as they wrote. This is such a valuable exercise, and I am so glad there are schools who still see worth in it! And look at the poetry it produced! I know my first national competition win came with poems I’d drafted on a Yr 10 school writing excursion; scratching away in my notebook whilst poised on a rock in the middle of a trickling stream, as others perched in tree branches, or sprawled on the grass. If we value writing and creativity, we will value excursions that release their creativity! I spent considerable time tramping paddocks with my nose in my phone screen (thankfully not snake season!) and propped up under a tree, judging the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards. As an author, I head for the hills if I’ve got a mental block or need to ponder plot problems. Fresh air and country vistas release word snarls.


Award winners at the ceremony – with Dorothea Mackellar Memorial Society President, Juliana McArthur, Kate Neasey (Cottage School, Tasmania – winner of the Primary Schools’ Award) Primary judge Kathryn Apel, Secondary judge Meredith Costain and guest speaker Gabrielle Chan. (Photo credit: nvi.com.au)


Don’t forget to read the Secondary Award Winners poems from 2019. Janiru Liyanage brought tears to my eyes with his stirring presentation of his winning poem, whilst Amelia Neylon blew me away with her slam poetry performance. Don’t miss the full list of Secondary poems, as judged by Meredith Costain. Wonderful works!

The Dorothea Mackellar Society is already in planning for next year’s competition. Start writing now – and watch this space for more information.

Two Aussie Verse Novels – and Picture Book NEWS!

How lovely to be with you all again – and have you gathering at my blog for the Poetry Friday link-up.

Today I wanted to share two recent Australian verse novels with you, both published by UQP – and both written by friends.


‘Leave Taking’ was written by Lorraine Marwood, whose earlier verse novels, ‘Ratswhiskers and Me’ and ‘Star Jumps’ (which won the Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award for children’s fiction) were amongst the earliest verse novels I read and loved. I’ve known Lorraine online for more years than I can count – and finally met in 2014.

‘Leave Taking’ is a story about grief and farewells; letting go – of places that are a part of the fabric of our lives; of people, forever in hearts and memories. Leaving any home involves a tearing away, but a farm that has been in the family generations surely leaves a bigger hole. And a farm where your little sister once played with you … that your Mum and Dad need to leave, to make new memories … Such a bittersweet letting go.

‘Leave Taking’ is a quiet, story about a country kid called Toby – but the underlying grief constantly tugs at your heart. We never had a chance to know Leah – but through Toby’s memories, and Lorraine’s words, we do.

‘Little Wave’ was written by Pip Harry, her first verse novel – and foray into the younger market. I connected with Pip in 2014, when our UQP books released the same day, and it is always lovely to cross paths online. Even lovelier to meet in real life in Singapore last year, when we celebrated the announcement of our books on the CBCA Notables list. Pip mentioned ‘Little Wave’ during our catch-up, and I was eager to read it.


‘Little Wave is the story of Noah, Lottie and Jack – and a city school’s endeavours to bring a country class to the city for a beach visit. Each child has challenges they are dealing with – but as the story ebbs and flows, beautiful friendships are formed, and characters stretch and grow.

‘Leave Taking’ and ‘The Little Wave are two very different verse novels that I highly recommend.

Never give up on your dreams!

To close my week of hosting, I am so excited to share some good news!

More than 10 years ago, my rhyming picture book, ‘This is the Mud!’ released … and this week we signed the contract on my second picture book – another rural rhymer featuring … beef cattle! (And a bird in the herd.) I’m super-thrilled to be working with the talented and lovely illustrator, Renee Treml, and the beautiful team at UQP. There is a CYA connection … but that’s for another day! (Yay, CYA!)

It’s been a long hard road to a second picture book contract – with some lovely verse novel diversions along the way. This cumulative tongue-twister story was written for my toddler farm boys, way back in 2002. (They’ve grown a bit, since then.) Maybe one day they can read it to their own kids – with illustrations! (Those kids might be down the track a bit, yet.😆)

If you’re joining in the Poetry Friday Party, please leave your link below. I’m looking forward to doing the rounds and seeing where you are all at.

Have a great Friday – and into the weekend.

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CYA 2019 – Everything’s a Genre

This post is the third (and final) in a series, feeding-back from my attendance at the 2019 CYA Conference. Click the links to read last week’s post with the CYA notes, or a sum-up of the PB Bootcamp. This week we cover ‘Everything’s a Genre’.

Opening Panel

Lucy Bell (Pantera Press)
Considers all adult commercial fiction and issue-based non-fiction

Anna Solding (Midnight Sun)
Chasing international sales at Bologna/London book fairs

Danielle Binks (Jacinta di Mase Agency)
Mostly what they do is the contract stuff. Yes submissions/quality control.
Join QWC and ASA.

Carolyn Martinez (Hawkeye Publishing)
Recommends ‘On Writing’ – Steven King

Angela Meyer (Echo – Aus imprint of Bonnier Books UK)
Particularly fond of crime fiction and historical fiction

Sophie Hamley (Hachette)
Mostly open to adult submissions
Involved with mentorship programs

Julia Carlomagno (Black Ink – Quarterly Essay)
Non-fiction that contributes to national conversation. Includes history.
Also small literary fiction list.
Not a lot of YA.

Belinda Murrell – The Reality of publishing from an author’s perspective

Despite the doom and gloom, more books are being published than ever. (Nielsen Book Scan)
Book industry was worth 1.18billion dollars in Australia in 2018
CYA 29% of the total market, with 28million children’s book sales in Australia.
5000 new titles in Australia (kids/YA/adult) in 2019

Big W is closing 30% of its Bookstores

(Shared during other sessions …
Market down 2.6% but children’s writing up 1.2%.
Middle grade has been booming for 4-5yrs. Is doing really well.
YA is down. Publishers trying to bring YA down to your middle grade.
Stand alone beautiful middle grade.)

Picture books are becoming cheaper to produce.
Heart, hope and humour – PBs
Penguin Random noted that 80% of submissions received are for PB alone.
YA is currently the toughest field to get published in.

Bologna – (April 2019) Publishers actively seeking – trends for next year:

  • diversity
  • #metoo
  • feminism
  • teenage thriller
  • gritty realism (YA dark/edgy contemporary issues – refugees, homelessness)
  • friendship & kindness
  • environment
  • girl power

Growth of micro publishers and self-publishing:

  • 2,200 micro publishers in Aus (1 book/yr) – independent authors
  • 1300 small (2-5)
  • 200 mid (5-100)
  • 28 large (100+ titles)

Big Publishers – Belinda’s experience

  • The Top 5 have 72% of total market, Penguin Random (20%)
  • They are publishing new and aspiring authors.
  • Big publishers have efficient distributions
  • More money for marketing/promotion/support (bookmarks/standings/banners/bunting/craft activities/crafts/merchandising, etc …)
  • Publishers are not the enemy! They are passionate, kind – and don’t get paid much.

Writing fulltime:

  • Belinda suggested you need 10 books to make a living from writing.
  • Children’s sales are driven by school visits.
  • Things to do to promote your books:
  • Teacher notes
  • Character Profiles
  • Recipes
  • Activities
  • Things you didn’t know about me

Christine Well – Bringing History to Life

What is historical fiction?

  • A fictional account of real events
  • journey of a real person from the past
  • fictionalised characters against background of real events
  • fictionalised characters in a fictionalised past
  • speculative fiction – with a thread running through the past

There are no historical fact police.

Developing a Story Idea:

  • Write about something that evokes emotion in you
  • Use a real person as inspiration
  • Sticky facts – quirky twists to bring to the narrative
  • personal interests, eg; medicine, law, parenthood, women’s rights
  • write a brief synopsis
  • read round the era / test/refine

Immersion: (Gaining confidence in the period)
Traditional research … (Primary sources/secondary sources)
Watch movies/documentaries to immerse yourself in the era. Use it as an idea spark , then VERIFY through research. History texts don’t bring in textures/aromas/etc …
Read fiction and plays that were written AT the time!
Think about social class, region, background , personal history, eras before and after the ‘present’ of the story. (Manners and morals)

Questions to anchor your writing:

  • Who are you writing for?
  • What is wonderful about this era?
  • What’s frightening about the era?
  • What’s romantic? What will heighten romantic conflict?
  • What is fascinating?
  • What has not changed since this time?
  • Is this the right historical period for you story and your voice?

Characters are key! Write strong, vital characters with agency.
Leave out the bits people skip.

Edwina Shaw – Writing Memoir

Focus it around some segment of life
What is the central question – to propel the reader through.

What is this story about?
What is this story really about?
What is this story really about?
(Ask it three times – to get to the heart of the story)

When you start writing – just start writing.
When rewriting, look for the shape/theme.
Think in scenes. Showing – and a little bit of telling.
Characters – and you are one of them.
Dialogue doesn’t have to be exact. The gist …
Doesn’t have to be chronological. You can reorganise structure to give narrative drive.

Formula for Narrative Drive:  Suspense = Hope + Fear

If others are involved, you need to get them to read it as well.


Allison Paterson – Writing Non Fiction in the Adult World

Lesson One: Know your audience.
What do you want this to be?

Elements of Non-fiction

  • Facts – about real people, things events and places.
  • Has a major idea
  • Contains aids to reading – glossary, headings, maps, charts, diagrams,
  • Come in sub-genres, but contain elements borrowed from fiction.
  • Purpose is to inform, entertain – and perhaps convince

* some narrative nonfiction blurs the line between fact and fiction.
(Author may create dialogue based on fact.)

Your idea:

What is your purpose? Inform/entertain/persuade/all
Who is your audience?
Competitors – unique selling points?

Finding the inspiration/detail and emotion – the research:

  • Listening/observing/conversations
  • Writing – journal
  • reading nonfiction and fiction – immersing yourself
  • TV documentaries/movies – can bring settings to life
  • indulge your writing. Go there. Engage your sensors – visualise, imagine, walk the scene take in sounds and scents, take photos – interpretative boards
  • Google: books, maps, You/Tube
  • real people – oral histories
  • libraries – librarians love the thrill of the hunt!

Meticulously record your sources – to verify.
Know when to stop researching and start writing. (That will then drive further research.)

Apply the Elements of Fiction:

  • Engage the reader. Hook.
  • Plan – bend reality into a story arc – develop a captivating plot.
  • How do I end?
  • Think of the people in your writing as characters.
  • Develop your own unique voice.

The challenge for a nonfiction writer is to achieve a poetic precision using the documents of truth but somehow to make people and places spring to life as if the reader was in their presence.

 Simon Schama

Closing Panel – Chaired by Tina Marie Clarke

“Where on the spectrum of genre does it fit? How is your manuscript unique? What is your particular angle or hook?” (Julia Carlmagno – Black Inc)

“Genre is a reader promise which we writers have to fulfill.” (Amy Andrews)

“Genre is a slippery concept – even for those who write it.” (Isobelle Carmody)

“Genre targets readers and ensures the reader is satisfied. But a good book is more important than genre. Write a good book.” (Lucy Bell)

“Know the rules, the trope, so you can break them.” (Lucy Bell)

For some months I’ve been pondering what to call my Antarctic verse novels. I’m quite okay with them sitting across numerous genres – actually think that’s part of their uniqueness. But CYA has confirmed that they are indeed historical non-fiction verse novels. The name doesn’t changes the work! But it is good to know that’s where they sit on the spectrum.

I am grateful for the Bundaberg RADF Grant that made attendance at all these conference events possible. The networking and knowledge gained far exceeded my expectations (as did the notes and blog posts!) and has given renewed purpose, passion and direction in my writing. It was a privilege to represent the Bundaberg region at the conference, and feedback information via these blog posts, and the session at Bundaberg library, last weekend.

Thank-you also to Tina and the crew at CYA. I appreciate the time you all put into organising this conference and competition. With three competition wins over the years, and numerous placings, your conference has had a significant impact on my writing career – and my confidence. I value the friendships as much as the knowledge gained. Connections made at that first conference are still strong, and I wonder where I would be, without the impact of the CYA on my writing life.

Heidi has the Poetry Friday link-up for us today, so click over to my juicy little universe for lots of fresh-squeezed poetry goodness!

CYA 2019 – Conference & NEWS!

Part Two – CYA Conference Notes

Following on from last week’s post about the three-day CYA Event recently in Brisbane…

The actual CYA Conference started with a buzz! Competitions winners were announced and I was thrilled (and even relieved) to find that my trio of rhyming PB manuscripts won the published author competition, judged by Luna Soo (Hardie Grant) and Alyson O’Brien (Little Hare). A CYA win is a massive injection of confidence and affirmation, and I was so thrilled! It was wonderful to later have time one-on-two with Luna and Alyson, discussing my work, and hearing their thoughts/feedback. (They are both so lovely!) Thank-you to Alyson and Luna for their belief in my work, and to the whole tribe of CYA organisers and volunteer judges who bring this competition to fruition!

Photo credit: Peter Allert/CYA Conference

From there I went to my first editorial one-on-one, which was insightful, but also discouraging. It was a story I heard from a number of publishers throughout the conference – and have heard often before – about a reluctance to publish in rhyme. Rhyme is lost in translation – so it’s hard to ‘sell’ to Sales & Marketing. But kids (and parents!) love rhyme! And there are a lot of English-speaking countries in our world! And having written rhymed and unrhymed picture books, I know the time and tenacity taken to get rhyme right! I loooong for a Sales & Marketing department who will love (and value!) rhyming PBs like I do.

Then onto the sessions of the day – when I wasn’t popping out for one-on-one editorial interviews…

Dee White – Pitch Perfect

I have had the benefit of Dee’s attention to details in pitching. She knows her stuff – and nails it!

Elements of an Effective Pitch:

  • Hooks the reader
  • Connects the reader with MC
  • Hints at what’s to come
  • Sets context – genre/readership
  • Shows where it might sit in a bookshop / comparative titles

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Don’t introduce too many characters.
  • Hint at story arc.
  • Don’t try to tell the whole story – MC, story problem & why it’s getting worse.
  • Include themes.
  • Clear & coherent
  • Why it’s unique and appealing to readers
  • Establish personal connection – why you and why now?
  • Be proud/passionate
  • Be prepared for questions
  • Practise your pitch
  • Be prepared to take on feedback
  • Try not to read too much if asked to read a sample. (Start at the start – and edit the text so that it is punchier than the actual start to the novel.)

Photo credit: Peter Allert/CYA Conference

Belle Brooks – Self-Publishing
This was the most enabling presentation I have seen about self-publishing. I took pages of notes, and started to see how it could be a viable option for me and a number of manuscripts I believe in, if I run out of options (or heart) with traditional publishers. Much of my notes would only make sense in context, but here are some takeaways…

• You must have a professional editor, who hears your voice and doesn’t try to change it – but helps you bring the story out.
• Don’t fluff your book with ‘content’.
• Know your strengths. Accept your faults.
• Not everyone loves your stuff. And that’s ok. Everyone judges.
• There’s a market for every book.
• Own your voice. Own your style. You are YOU.
• When you get bigger, Amazon works harder for you – because you make them money.
• Always work on your backmatter … Leading them where they need to go. Constantly leading them to your best work.
• Three stars is a good review.

Belle’s tips on blurbs:

  • A blurb is critical to success – You can change your blurb on platforms.
  • Appeal to your reader – not yourself. (Belle writes the blurb before she writes the books – which means there is no temptation to include too much detail.)

Photo credit: Peter Allert/CYA Conference

Isobel Carmody – Writing YA

Isobel spoke freely, with no notes. Some of the gems gleaned:

To write is to be. We are a tapestry of everything we’ve ever written.

  • Or job is not to be constrained, but to stretch out beyond the edges.
  • What do you want to give the world? Nothing.
  • How do I write like a child? The child in me it’s still there. Same for YA.
  • A relief to let go of the adult world.
  • Write to your deep-seated questions.
  • Write about the ideas that are in you!
  • In children’s books, children grow – but they don’t grow up! (Margaret Wild)
  • The choices we make as children/young adults inform the choices we make as adults.
  • Writing is an attempt to believe that humans can get better.
  • Issues books – Approach your craft/subject with a humility. Don’t use it to push an issue.
  • Write your first draft. Then look for themes/issues.
  • Write inwardly. Write the book. Worry about where it lands afterwards.
  • If the story’s not working for you, don’t push through. Step away. Give your mind the fallow times.
  • Editing is an essential part of the creative process. Dig down into it for themes, nuance, etc… Create the sense of reality.
  • If you’ve written deeply from yourself, you will not get bored during editing.
  • Go deep. Into yourself. Into the moment. In your writing.
  • A great book will make it through.

CYA Closing Panel

General Takeaways:

  • Market down 2.6% but children’s writing up 1.2%.
  • Middle grade has been booming for 4-5yrs. Is doing really well.
  • YA is down. Publishers trying to bring YA down to your middle grade.

Alex Adsett (Agent):

  • It’s not an easy industry for author/illustrators. It’s not an easy industry for agents/editors either.
  • Always write what’s in your heart. Let us worry about how to fit it into the market.

Debbie Lee (Ingram – Sparks)

The Bundy Connection!

  • Wherever you’re at, work with professionals.
  • You are a business.

Davina Bell (Affirm Press)

  • Looking for more junior fiction.
  • Trends: girl power / child activism/climate change / diversity

Mary Verney – Sydney office. (Penguin Random House)

  • Lots of buyers are asking for good non fiction for kids.

Lucy Bell (Pantera Press)

  • Has mostly acquired from the slush pile.
  • Looking for activism/climate change. Haven’t published many PBs, but possibilities with non fiction/activism books.

Indie is often a stepping stone. It’s not an us and them. We’re part of the same conduit and can coexist.

Thank-you to the Bundaberg RADF committee that made attendance at all these conference events possible. There is still one day of notes to catch you up on – from the Everything is a Genre day of conference. Tomorrow (Saturday) from 10-11am I will be feeding-back in person at the Bundaberg Library. You can register here.

Margaret is collecting Poetry Friday links a Reflections on the Teche – with a teaspoon and a bit of string.

CYA 2019 – Bootcamp Notes

Part One – Bootcamp

The first weekend in July, with thanks to an RADF Grant from Bundaberg Regional Council, I attended the 14thannual CYA Conference in Brisbane, for authors of Children’s and YA books. I attended the first CYA Conference, in 2006 – and it has grown a lot since then. Not just in numbers, but in duration. This year it transitioned from a one-day conference, to a three-day event – expanding into the adult market, with one day devoted to ‘Everything’s a Genre’ – and writing Bootcamps offered over three days. I am mightily thankful for the Bundaberg Regional Council RADF committee for awarding a grant allowing me to attend the full three days, and meet one-on-one and in small groups with publishers and editors. It was the best professional development I have ever received and I am sincerely, heartfelt thankful!

On Friday, I took part in the inaugural bootcamp – authors working with an editor in small groups to gain feedback on a manuscript; editing suggestions, and opportunity to rework the manuscript, to then receive further feedback. I was in a picture book group with Lisa Berryman, children’s publisher at Harper Collins. Over the course of the day, we shared in our small groups, but also came together for two large panel discussions, hearing insights from all the editors in response to questions posed by ‘head ranger’, Dee White.

Friday’s Bootcamp editors: Clare Hallifax (Omnibus), Elise Jones, (A&U), Lisa Berryman (Harper Collins), Kristy Bushnell (independent), Maryann Ballantyne (Will Dog), Sarah Davis (Walker) and Lauren Clarke (independent).

DW: What makes you want to read further?

CH: I need to fall in love with a character. (Author voice is character, as well.)
LB: Very much the idea – setting/genre.
EJ: A book with heart.
LC: Proactive characters
SD: Narrative. Storytelling in an image. Potentiality. What happened and what is going to happen?
MB: Always looking for the bigger story.
KB: Character and personality onto the page. The emotion. Show (don’t tell) straight away.

“Voice is a writer who is in control of his craft.”

There was some discussion about author voice. And what makes it distinctive. And if it could be taught/developed. Someone shared a Paul McDermot quote, “Most things are fixable – except voice.” Nearly everything about this discussion sparked thoughts of poetry, for me. You want to develop your voice? I say play with poetry!

Other Takeaways:

SD: Your first idea isn’t usually your best. It’s too obvious.
SD: Write an evocative text that creates atmosphere.
EJ: Place the reader – at the start of the book and at the start of each section break.
CH: Write a story – not a list. And read it aloud.
KB: Know your characters and your problems and feed them in as necessary. (Not TMI too soon.)
LC: Set the scene and give need-to-know. And a hint of tension. Peril or dissatisfaction.
KB: Personified settings. Sets the mood and tone of story. An emotional connection. (And again I was thinking … poetry!)
?: Stage directions moving the characters around. Write it subtly. (Writer in control, with the help of their publisher and editor.)

On Submissions:

LB: Stating similar titles is helpful for Sales & Marketing – and how to pitch it. Compare for things like tone/feelings.
MB: Doesn’t want illustration notes.
LB: Illustrator notes are often helpful/necessary.
CH: If the narrative hinges on illustrations, include notes.
LB: Likes an elevator pitch – the essence of the story, like a mantra.
LB: Feedback is a gift. It’s not personal. It’s not about you.

Brittany, Kat & Meredith – the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards connection.

Friday Night was the first of the Networking Dinners, with kidlit creatives converging from all over the country. Networking is so important! And also so much fun! I did a double take when I thought I recognised the face across from me at dinner… and first name matched… and indeed, it was Brittany, Poetry Awards Officer for the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards, who I have had much email/phone contact with in recent months, in my role as judge. (Another reason why I have been very busy of late – reading almost 5000 poems and judging across four categories! Almost finalised. And what a task – a joyful task – it was!) Brittany and I had never met, (had seen photos) and needless to say, we each had no idea the other would be at CYA! Also in attendance was the Secondary School’s judge, Meredith Costain.

Day One done! Watch for more blog posts to follow, including … my exciting news!

If you’re in the Bundaberg Region, I will be sharing fast facts from CYA in a one hour session at Bundaberg library, on Saturday 27th July, at 10am. I’d love you to join me!

For now, head across to Carol’s Corner and muscle up on poetry… or melt on puppy love. Thanks for hosting Poetry Friday today, Carol, and sharing Rooney (and your poem) with us.