Story telling has existed throughout cultures around the world from the beginning of time. Primarily, stories were passed on through the generations with oral language, points of interest in the environment and body actions all committed to memory.
In the modern day, stories are conveyed less through voice, as humans became better at writing them down for others to read; and more recently they are listened to via audio books and podcasts.
In education, a child develops holistically with the integrating of reading, writing and oral language skills. With the advancement of technology, some of the most important tactile hands on learning for early childhood development is lost and the ability to recall and retell stories decreases.
Felt stories and rhymes are a colourful tool to engage learners of all abilities, ages and cultures in the act of language acquisition and literacy learning. Together children and adults can retell common shared stories by manipulating felt crafted characters and settings to make the scenes enacting the events, problems and solutions. As children develop, they can recall the stories with minimal support and perform the stories for adults and siblings. They can then extend their imaginative processing by creating new stories with the characters and share them with peers within their families, classrooms and communities.
Photographs by KRC Photography.
You may be asking: How do felt stories connect communities?
Many years ago, my study buddy, turned friend and Early Childhood Mentor, Fran Fitch, was diagnosed with Neuroendocrine Tumours (NET cancers): the cancer that took Steve Jobs and Aretha Franklin from our world. Five years ago, Fran decided to raise funds and awareness for the Unicorn Foundation (who support NET cancer patients and their families) and pass on her love of rhyme and stories through felt creations. I have been helping bring her favourite rhymes and stories to life by hand making characters and settings from blank felt canvases. We have been sharing our passion for early language and literacy development at the annual Quota Craft Fair and have raised many hundreds of dollars each year for the charity.
In this case, felt stories are a bridge that connects cancer patients with the wider community. When families visit the Unicorn Foundation stand at the Craft Fair held each October, not only are they being inspired by Fran’s exuberant retelling of the rhymes from memory to then share with their own family, they are becoming aware of the plight of NET cancer patients, how the Unicorn Foundation provides support and last but not least, the money raised from the selling of the hand crafted felt stories and rhymes goes directly to the Unicorn Foundation and their front line programs.
Felt stories are not just amazing for language and literacy development within the home; they have long been a popular instructional resource for teachers and educators. Felt rhymes and stories cater for all 8 of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences: musical-rhythmic; visual-spatial; verbal-linguistic; logical-mathematical; bodily-kinaesthetic; interpersonal; intrapersonal and naturalistic intelligences. They can be used for whole class, small group, individual and differentiated learning tasks to retell familiar stories and create new ones using a tactile play-based learning philosophy.
Felt rhymes and stories can also connect communities across cultures as they share their traditional stories with each other and other members of the wider community and can assist in the language and vocabulary acquisition of another culture’s language through the shared understanding of common imagery of the felt characters and objects.
The fun, joy and excitement we see when a child chooses their own felt set makes all the hours, glue covered fingers and felt covered furniture all the more worthwhile.
The fun, joy and excitement felt intrinsically from helping my friend going through cancer, spreading the word about the Unicorn Foundation and the amazing work they do, is priceless. This year I lost count at over 20 hours of crafting, motivating my friend through her daily battles and helping put a laugh in her days. No amount of money can be put on the time I have spent with her when she has been in need.
I highly recommend being a volunteer for a charity and connecting with your community as it is not only paying the goodness forward, you are being the voice for those who can’t or don’t often speak up for themselves and studies have shown that doing works of charity also helps your own physical and mental wellbeing. In an ever-increasingly busy world, I understand it can be hard to find the time to invest in others. However, it can be as simple as a tax deductable monetary donation; spending time on the frontline generating awareness and raising funds; spending time in the background by offering your skill set by volunteering in a charity’s office; sparing a few moments to hit like and share on social media to spread the word through your digital networks or communities and it can be as simple as buying something as a gift for yourself or others, knowing the funds are going to a worthy cause. Every little bit helps!
In the words of Mother Teresa: “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
For more information about World NET Cancer Day on 10 November 2018, the Unicorn Foundation and the support programs they run, please visit their website: https://www.unicornfoundation.org.au/
For more information about the Quota Craft Fair to visit the Unicorn Foundation Stand on 13-14 October 2018, please visit the event website:
Blog written by KR Clarry.
Brochure by The Unicorn Foundation.
Photograph by Special Memories Photography.
Author Bio of KR Clarry:
KR Clarry is an OP1 graduate of Logan and a Teacher of 13 years’ experience with a strong passion for life long learning. She has taught in State, Catholic and Independent schools as well as having roles with a University and an International Education Company delivering ICT professional development to school administrators, staff and students.
KR loves to read, write and bring stories alive through modelled and shared reading and writing experiences. She is currently working on many exciting projects.
When she isn’t lost in a world of creative imagination, KR likes to do ballroom dancing, bush walking and photography, as well as volunteering for a range of different community charities.
KR’s ultimate goal is to make a positive difference in the world and works to inspire children to aim high to be the best versions of themselves that they can be.
How to present at a Festival or School
An insightful presentation by Jenny Stubbs a Teacher Librarian and Story Arts Festival organiser shared some insightful tips for authors considering talking at festivals or schools.
Before you are booked:
TIP 1 - Find out what they want!
It could be educational or curriculum based. It might be about how you inspire children to read, how writers write and create or it might be how your book has links to the curriculum. They could book you for a special week such as Under 8’s, Book Week or Science week. Whatever you believe your talk can deliver; ensure your promotional flyer and website portray the same message.
You can have a YouTube video of yourself presenting your book and a bit about you. Make sure you have an introduction to what book is about and why you wrote it on your website.
Ask the age of the children and duration of sessions as well as the number of sessions the school requires. Is it to one small group or to a large cohort e.g., all year 2’s. It is important that you set times limits you don’t want to be at a school all day for the cost of a teacher’s wage but it needs to be value for money. So ensure your flyer details length of session and what they can expect in the session. Make sure you add something about the audience participation and how you intend to do that, e.g. young kids love humour or puppets, older children might be more engage with drama or power point. All children love music, so if you can play an instrument or your book includes music in some way then ensure you bring your music or cd player.
“There’s nothing worse than not being prepared!”
The size of the group dictates where will it be held, e.g. classroom, library, hall and this will determine how you present your session. A small picture book might not work with a large group, so you need to consider how you can enlarge the book for example copy it onto A3 pages to create a Big Book or scan as a pdf and share it as a slide show on a projector as you read or talk about the text and illustrations.
TIP 2 - Timing is very important!
It needs to be right; not too short and not too long for young children. Find out how long each session will be 30 min or 45 or Ensure that you don’t go over time either, children have a busy school curriculum they might have staff waiting for them for other lessons, lunch and play time are all important routines that are scheduled in the school day.
You should know the amount of time each section of your talk will require, so you can schedule each activity in time increments. Regardless of whether you are reading the entire book or just a chapter; time it and make sure that you have the page marked. How long will your audience participation task take? If you are doing a quiz and are awarding prizes at the conclusion, ensure that you set time limits for the quiz or your Q & A session might become rushed. You want to end your presentation talk on a high so make sure it runs smoothly.
If you get the timing right it could secure you more referrals to other schools and result in more bookings.
TIP 3: Practice.
Find a friendly school, perhaps one your children attend, or friend’s children attend so that you can do a FREE practice run to check your timing in return for honest feedback from the staff.
TIP 4 How do you stand out from the crowd?
What you wear can make an impact with the audience or children; whether it’s a wig, coloured hair, character clothing, or masks. You need to be interactive and involve the audience, you could have; props, puppets, or something that the children could act out or say in the story, where they help with sound effects or acting out one of the images in the book. Children love drama so a reader’s theatre might be easy if the text could be turned into a script or use the dialogue to make it into a play. If you’re an author/illustrator draw something with the children to engage them. If you can play an instrument that’s a bonus as you could get them to sing the chorus of a song with you that relates to the book.
Humour is also good getting the children to laugh makes it a memorable experience.
TIP 5 Make sure you ask if there will be a bookshop at the event. This is a good way to generate sales. Never underestimate the cost of an author autographing a book, take a few copies of your book with you and promotional material e.g. a flyer or a bookmark with your website. If they want autographs, make sure you stipulate autographs are only available with a purchase of your book.
Do you need a lot or equipment?
Well that’s entirely up to you but if you don’t have the equipment such as projectors then you need to ask if the organiser is able to supply it. Specialised drawing visual boards might be difficult to source at short notice, so you might have to provide your own. Check that the school or library has your book in its collection, so that children can have had a chance to read it prior to your visit.
After you’ve been booked what’s next?
Ask if they will be promoting your session and offer to send them an image for promotion which would include the copy of the book or books. You might write a short article for school newsletter or local paper.
Tip 6 Ask for feedback from the teacher’s & the kids, questions about what did they like? Ask if you can use any of their testimonials on your website or your promotional material. You could have a follow up activity for the students that compliments the book in some way, a handout, colouring in sheet or writing task.
Jenny has shared a document “Author in schools Guide it’s in the Write Links Folder.
Luise Manning grew up in Brisbane and began her career as an Early Childhood teacher. She has been teaching for over 20 years and is passionate about children’s literature and making books come alive. In 2014 she wrote her first children’s book “Hold My Hand” to help teach children about driveway and car park safety. In 2015 she wrote and produced a play “For Sophie’s Sake” about domestic violence and its impact on young families. Luise has received a number of awards for projects to raise awareness of issues affecting our society and in 2017 received an Australia Day Citizen of the Year Award for her city of Ipswich.
Illustrations by Inda Ahmad Zabri
Mini fest – 3 authors, so different but with so much to offer their transfixed audience.
Shaun dished out the treasure from the passionate and brave Isobelle Carmody.
Rebecca tamed the hilarious ideas flooding from the gregarious Dave Lowe.
Lucy will spill the beans on what's under Peter Carnavas’s Cap!
The authors all shared their different paths to full time writing. While Isobelle has a Batchelor of Arts and experience in journalism, Peter and Dave were teachers before they became full time authors and in Peter's case an illustrator. Their motivations however, are similar.
When asked, Peter Carnavas revealed that his motivation was an urge to be creative, to tell a story and to be heard.
Well your audience was certainly listening and we loved everything we heard … even when you made us cry!
Peter put together a new masterclass for us as he knows many of the Write Links members have been to previous workshops. He even wrote two stories for us to practice with. Just like that! Sigh. One of which, Maggie and Frank, made many of us just a little bit teary.
Peter wasn’t precious about his stories. He just wanted to share with us how to make them better. It was fascinating to hear Peter critiquing his own story and invite suggestions from us. Published picture book author, Jacqui Halpin, bravely suggested that the ending was too long and breathed a sign of relief when Peter agreed.
Peter challenged us to think from the perspective of an illustrator. Using planning tools such as a story board. He really believes this will pay off in the long run. Peter asked us to be mindful of how illustrations will help to tell the story. Remember it’s OK if your story doesn’t stay the way your story board it. Tinkering is part of the process.
Peter loves the jigsaw process of putting the pieces together. For example he feels there is a great opportunity to lift the spirits after the 'blue page'. He urged us to think about the layout of the pages, make sure that we have suspense on the right hand page to encourage the reader to turn over.
Peter certainly doesn't have any trouble getting his readers to turn the pages of his books!
What is under his cap? Peter is just like his books, sensitive, generous and genuine with a subtle humour to delight.
Thank you for sharing so much with us Peter, especially Maggie and Frank.
Lucy McGinley lives in a house where dinosaurs roam the bathroom, chess pieces invade the dinner table and drawings of the weird and the wonderful carpet the floor. Words wrap around her like possums clinging to telecom lines, plop onto pages steadily like koala droppings and dart into the grass like blue tongue lizards! She spends her days captivating kindergarten children and her afternoons marvelling over birds feathers, seedpods and occasionally snake skins, with her son.
Photos of Peter Carnavas by Lyn Halliday
Dave Lowe on Middle Grade Humour
Dave Lowe is the author of several funny series, such as Stinky and Jinks, Squirrel Boy, The Unbelievable Dadventure and The Mumbelievable Challenge. During Dave’s masterclass at the Write Links Mini Fest, he generously walked us through the world of middle grade humour.
Dave explained the difference between early middle grade and middle grade.
Early Middle Grade Middle Grade
Reader aged 6-8 Reader aged 9-12
Main character is 9-11 years old Main character is 11-13 years old
Shorter chapters (around 800-1200 words) Longer chapters
Often illustrated Sometimes unillustrated. Black and white line drawings.
Series is very common Standalones / series
Word count: 4000 – 30000 words Word count: 30000 +
Stinky and Jinks books are 7000 – 9000 words
Nevermoor is 30000 words Example: Harry Potter
He gave 15 helpful tips for writing a middle grade book.
1. Grab the reader at the start.
2. You must know the cast of your characters really well.
3. Your main character needs a strong, authentic voice.
4. Middle grade is high paced. Think of your character entering the scene late and getting out early.
5. End each chapter on a cliff-hanger.
6. Dialogue must advance the story or character. Keep it short.
7. Read your book aloud to find the rhythm.
8. Show, not tell.
9. Humour can work in all stories.
10. Be a ruthless editor.
11. Keep descriptions short, to match the fast pace.
12. Read widely, beyond middle grade.
13. Write a lot.
14. Be persistent. Dave’s first book published was his fifth finished manuscript.
15. Get help and get involved in the writing community.
Dave shared many funny anecdotes, his knowledge of the industry, got us working on some fun group activities and answered our many questions.
It was a pleasure to have Dave come along to Write Links to share his experiences and we all had a real hoot! Thank you Dave and we’d love to have Dave back another time.
Rebecca Sheraton is a primary school teacher and children’s writer. If she was allowed, she would teach English all day long and she loves sneaking books into her other lessons.
Rebecca writes picture books, junior fiction or middle grade and short stories. Her articles and short stories have been published in The School Magazine, anthologies and websites.
She is a member of SCBWI, Write Links Children’s writers group and several other organisations.
When she’s not writing, you’ll find Rebecca exercising, reading, drinking tea or waiting in her car for the audio book chapter to finish.
Photograph of Dave Lowe by June Perkins https://gumbootspearlz.org/
Other Worlds and Book Promotions with prolific author George Ivanoff and Penguin Random House publicist Talie Gottlieb
A spotted bow-tie. A big grin. A blood-curdling scream.
George Ivanoff had just wrapped up a tour of schools in Queensland, and had obviously kept a bit of that magic for us. We were thrilled to have him at our August Write Links meeting where he took us on a tour of his career as a children’s author, which includes several successful middle grade series. Accompanied by Penguin Random House publicist Talie Gottlieb, they also gave us pointers about promoting books.
Although George started his career authoring a collection of YA short stories, he only hit his stride thereafter, spending a decade writing almost exclusively for the education market, amassing a staggering 86 titles, and counting!
In 2009, he found his way back to the trade market with the Gamer’s Quest trilogy, published by Ford St. Though it performed well, it was mere an inkling of the success that would come with the incredibly popular ‘You Choose…’ series, published by Penguin Random House.
It was interesting to explore the interactive format of the ‘You Choose…’ books, written in the 2nd person point of view, allowing the reader to direct the course of the story by choosing one of 2 options when they faced with a conundrum or a fork in the road. Their chosen path is assigned a page number further along in the book, and they navigate their way through a progressively exciting plot, or end up in a dead end.
On the author’s part, it requires complex planning by way of plot points written out on cards, pasted on a white board and connected with different coloured markers. I did see George grinning nervously at a picture of one of his storyboards, strung together with bits of string and looking suspiciously like a crime investigation.
The ‘You Choose …’ books cover a range of topics from dragons to spiders to footy, and have shortlisted and won R.E.A.L awards based on nominations from avid readers four years in a row.
Series seemed to agree with George. He went on to produce the RFDS series in conjunction with the Royal Flying Doctors. Having been a history major, he relished the intensive research of medical conditions and locations of his stories, many of which he visited during an extended family road trip.
He followed this up with the picture book ‘Meet the … Flying Doctors’, illustrated by Ben Wood.
It was surprising to learn that George was not a voracious reader as a child. He agreed with teachers in the group that some students are such reluctant readers that just finishing a book would give them a huge sense of achievement. George says that it motivated him to write books that were immediately engaging, rather than intimidating.
His newest ‘Other Worlds’ series explores the concept of portal fiction in some of favourite sub-genres. ‘Perfect World’ is set in a utopian future (or dystopian, depending on whose side you’re on), ‘Beast World’ holds a cast of steampunk animals, ‘Game World’ is his video game alter ego let loose, and ‘Dark World’ is his take on a zombie apocalypse.
Once again, he was exuberant about his research, and clearly revels in casting light on a subject in a way which enriches the story, his own life and the experience of the reader. Even the characters’ names had been imbued with significance, such as the name Keagan to symbolise holder of a key, and a sidekick whose name in Vietnamese means ‘to conceal’.
George is an advocate for diversity, and he has weaved it beautifully into his stories without ostentatiously planning to. Aside from ensuring that the main protagonist in his series are alternately male and female, his books also feature characters from other cultural backgrounds and include a protagonist with a physical disability, recognising the importance of young readers being able to identify with characters in mainstream media.
Both George and Talie gave us helpful advice regarding book promotions. Talie advised communicating regularly with the publishing house publicist, as there is no single formula that works for every author. Blog posts, launches, reviews and school visits do help, as well as engaging directly with bookstores and libraries, as hand-selling is so important. When answering a query about book trailers, they both cautioned against length and DIY!
‘Capitalise on anything that’s slightly unusual about yourself,’ George added. He reported that earlier in his career, many publicity pieces focused on his role as a stay-at-home dad, and I am guessing that his self-acclaimed Doctor Who obsession may have worked into his promotional persona as well.
We gained a lot from this session, and a thread that ran through George’s myriad achievements was the passion for his stories and the great connection with his readership.
By Inda Ahmad Zabri
Inda Ahmad Zabri believes in a world of wonder. She lives in Brisbane where she writes and illustrates for children. Her stories are inspired by natural and cultural gems curated from her travels and lovingly added to her Malaysian heritage. She is also a surgical doctor, swapping her writer’s hat and paintbrush for scrubs and scalpel when duty calls. You can find her at www.indabinda.com where she regularly blogs about the treasures of nature and her love of books.
Karen Tyrrell chatted with Lucy McGinley about the Indie publishing process of Karen's latest book in the Songbird series, Rainforest Rescue.
Karen defines Indie Publishing as setting up your own imprint to the highest industry standards and subcontracting editors, illustrators, designers, formatters and printers to produce a quality book.
Write Links junior fiction group critiqued Karen’s Tyrrell superhero eco fantasy novel, Rainforest Rescue (Song Bird 3) chapter by chapter, month by month. Karen rewrote Rainforest Rescue based on their suggestions and positive feedback.
1. What was your editing process for Rainforest Rescue?
I sent out my completed manuscript to Beta Readers who gave me more suggestions on how to further improve my story. I re-drafted and rewrote my story to make it the very best it could be. My aboriginal cultural advisor, Uncle Barry Watson read my manuscript to check the indigenous content: Gondwana rainforests, mythical creatures and bush tucker. Next, I sent my manuscript to a professional editor (ex-Penguin) for an intensive structural edit. The editor asked me over 100 questions to draw out character development and the story line. I addressed these questions, inserting those new sections back into the manuscript. Finally, my editor line edited my manuscript so my book was ready for publishing.
2. After editing Rainforest Rescue what happened next?
I brainstormed cover ideas with my business partner and husband Steve Tyrrell at Digital Future Press. (my publishing imprint). Steve and I developed a precise brief for my cover illustrator Trevor Salter. As an indie publisher, I sub-contracted a book designer and formatter through Book Cover Café. I print my books POD via Lightning Source, the largest printer in the world.
3. How do you organize your book launch?
Six months before the release date, I booked a launch event at a local library. I planned my launch so that Uncle Barry Watson could present ‘Acknowledgement to Country’ and my illustrator could attend. Steve and I brainstormed ideas for a multi-media launch presentation.
4. You have about 8 characters that are in every story. How do you keep your characters consistent throughout the series? Do they have a character arc where they are changing much?
For my main character, Rosella Ava Bird (bullied), and her side-kicks Amy Hillcrest (disabled) and Ben (low self-esteem), I keep detailed character notes and interviews, keeping tabs on their appearance, description, back story, flaws and favourite expressions. As the series progresses, I give them increasing self-confidence and problem-solving abilities. I do the same for Rosie’s family and class teacher, Miss Darling AKA Wonder Girl but to a lesser degree.
5. Looking at your themes you are obviously conscious of environmental concerns. Is this because it is a hot topic or is this something you are passionate about?
I’m an ex-teacher. Environmental issues were part of my class teaching and my personal lifestyle. For over twenty years, I have hiked through Gondwana rainforests and national parks from Mt Tamborine to Springbrook and Lamington National Park behind the Gold Coast.
You can learn more about Karen at http://www.karentyrrell.com/
Karen Tyrrell writes empowering books to help kids live STRONG through humour and self-belief. She’s an experienced Brisbane teacher, workshop presenter and motivational speaker. Her acclaimed books include Song Bird series, STOP the Bully, Bailey Beats the Blah, Harry Helps Grandpa Remember, and Super Space Kids series. Karen won 3 awards, 4 literary grants, 2 sponsorships and a mentorship through the Society of Editors.
Isobelle Carmody, the acclaimed writer of science fiction, fantasy, children’s and young adult literature, presented an insightful workshop on authentic characters: voice, diversity and character arcs during Brisbane Writelinks Minifest on 11 August 2018.
She emphasised that the most important aspect of a novel, particularly in the young adult genre, is character. A story needs to encapsulate a central idea or question and the protagonist is used as the vessel to carry this idea or question. Isobelle revealed three important questions she often asks which helps to form her unique characters:
• Why do people do the things they do?
• Why do we act in such extreme ways?
• Where do these actions come from?
The seeds for the above are planted during adolescence which is why Isobelle is so drawn to characters in this age group. We, as human beings, react and make choices and take on persona’s to the outside world and so must our characters.
“The first journey for an author is the journey inwards.” For Isobelle Carmody, this is how original and authentic characters and storytelling are created. It is not a projection outwards but a journey about the self and of self-discovery.
Isobelle revealed that she draws inspiration for characters from certain aspects of people she knows. She mines these aspects which allows her to ground her characters in a sense of realism even when her story takes on fantastical elements.
Isobelle, during her presentation, also stressed that setting is a character. For her first published novel, Obernewtyn, she formed the post-apocalyptic setting as a mirror for her grief and dark feelings at the time. Sadly, she lost her father during this time and she imbued her story and her characters with this sense of grief, malaise and darkness.
In the second half of the presentation, Isobelle passed around a series of photos. Each person took a photo and was asked do the following writing exercises, as a stream of consciousness:
• What is the person in the photo thinking?
• What do I believe in i.e. what are my values?
• What does the person in the photo believe?
• What would my “opposite” self believe?
• Place your “opposite” in a scenario where he/she is beside a pond. What does he/she hear, feel, smell, see etc. It rains. What does the opposite do? The “opposite” meets the person in the photo. What is the “opposite’s” reaction?
By practically exploring different characters through a journey “inwards”, we learned how to construct aspects of authentic characters and create authentic voice. Isobelle asked everyone in the workshop to read out their stream of consciousness and we were able to hear how many different aspects of character and voice were created from the same set of exercises.
In summary, Isobelle Carmody believes that the creation of authentic characters is achieved via the journey inwards, by asking a key question or exploring an idea and by experimentation.
“Creating character is alchemy.”
here to edit.
Shaun has always loved stories, whether on the page or up there on the screen. A genre fiction nut - he loves sci-fi and horror but his first and abiding love is fantasy, particularly urban fantasy.
Shaun loves to write stories aimed at Young Adult readers whilst also being drawn to write for a New Adult audience - characters over 18 but under 25. His publishing goal is to give voice to diverse characters and to create authentic stories he's yearned to read his whole life.
Shaun is currently studying for his Masters in Creative Writing at UQ.
Shaun recently was shortlisted for the 2018 CYA Competition - Young Adult Section for his novelette: Hamelin.
A lot of teachers are members of Write Links and other writing groups. Their career has obviously been helpful as they know their audience. How has your career influenced your writing?
The jobs I've done in the past have been a big influence when it comes to my author path and my writing. I actually think that everything I did before I became an author was setting me up for this career, and is a massive help now.
For example, I worked in publishing, for Pan Macmillan and for Taltrade Books (now called Hardie Grant Gift). At Pan Macmillan, I was initially a publishing assistant, working for the Publishing Director, two different publishers, and the Production Supervisor. I worked on editorial tasks; chatted with authors; learnt about how print runs and reprints are decided; interacted with the sales, graphic design, marketing and publicity teams; and just generally learnt about how books are commissioned and published. Later, as a sales rep, I got to see how things worked on the other side of things, for bookshops and department and discount stores. After that, as a sales rep for Taltrade Books, I repped into non-bookstore outlets, such as gift shops, clothing stores, toy shops, chemists, hospitals, nurseries etc., and learned how books also get sold in non-traditional ways.
During my career I worked in marketing and PR roles, too, which taught me about how to work with journalists, plan and host events, create marketing materials, and research relevant media outlets. For five years I also ran my own online gift store. During this time I learned about setting up websites, search engine optimisation, online advertising, selling online etc. I also did a lot of writing and marketing, including pitching to journalists to get press placements.
My career has also included stints spent working in chain, independent, and second-hand bookstores. Plus, for the past five years I've been a full-time freelance writer, creating content for companies around the world.
All of this experience has had an impact on my author journey, as you can imagine. It effects both how I go about writing, and what I choose to write about. I think I come at things with a more business mindset than a lot of authors…which can be both a good thing and a bad thing!
Since you are so knowledgeable about the industry, do you ever have a battle between your heart and your head, over which way a story should develop?
Sometimes. Honestly, though, I pretty much think about how things will sell whenever I’m working on an idea or writing or editing a story. If I don’t think something has enough commercial appeal (in that it will be popular with both kids and adults, for a particular reason), I usually won’t spend time working on it further.
I have so many ideas, and not enough time to write, that I don’t have a problem with dropping things I don’t think will ever be published. Plus, as a freelance writer I’m very used to writing to someone else’s brief, and thinking about what others are looking for, rather than myself, so I think this makes it easy for me to be more objective.
Sometimes I wonder if I would be better off just writing purely from the heart (and I know a lot of authors recommend this), but I feel that facing commercial realities will help me to become a full-time author sooner than if I didn’t.
Someone else, with very different goals, will probably look at the writing process in a very different way, though. We all have an individual path to take, so I think it’s important to be aware of what yours is, and follow it. An approach that’s natural and works for me won’t be suitable for someone else, and vice versa.
Is your freelance writing work for children?
Most of my freelance writing work over the years has been corporate, so writing for businesses and individuals for a professional reason. However, I have done some freelance work that has been specifically for children, whether for a potential TV show, as part of a marketing campaign for a children’s product, or for apps and stories and the like. I hope to increase the amount of freelance work that is specifically kidlit related as time goes on.
Has your experience prepared you for being on the other side of the slush pile when you are sending your work in?
Definitely! I understand how publishers and bookshops (and other sales outlets) work, and what kinds of things they're looking for, plus I have an idea of how to pitch a story and what things to focus on. I’m aware of how important marketability and being commercial is, and I don't take rejections too personally because I understand all the steps involved.
During my career I always felt like I was searching for something, and not quite fitting in or finding exactly what I was after. I’d also been interested in being a writer but, to be honest, after working in publishing I saw just how hard it is to become a full-time author, and this put me off writing for around a decade.
Looking back now, though, I think everything I did over the years in my career prepared me to become an author now. I spent close to 20 years getting ready, lol! I don’t think I would have been ready earlier, and even though it took me a long time to start actually believing in myself enough to write my own books and put myself “out there”, once I did things moved along reasonably quickly.
I think the more aspiring authors can learn about the publishing industry and all the facets that are involved in being an author besides writing (that is, the business side of things), the easier their journey will be.
In your recently published picture book, the Cloud Conductor, the main character, Frankie, is very optimistic, despite her circumstances. Do you call on some of this optimism to deal with rejections and other complications in the journey to get your current works published?
Yes, for sure. I like to think I'm an optimistic person in general. I have worked hard to hone this trait in myself. I think, naturally, I can be quite melancholy at times, but I've learned how to take care of myself better, and how to handle down times and challenges more effectively than I used to. Truth be told, I actually probably spent more time working on my mindset before I picked up a pen to write a manuscript, then I have on the words and ideas themselves.
I think you have to build up your confidence, self-esteem, and resilience if you want to become an author, because there are always plenty of rejections to handle along the way. I was fortunate in that my first book contract happened quickly, but since then, I've had plenty of rejections, disappointments and other challenges to cope with.
If I hadn't worked on myself beforehand, I think I would have given up on certain manuscripts, and perhaps not even kept working on new ideas and stories either. Happily, I've found the confidence to try new styles, formats and techniques, writing wise. I wouldn't have done this if I didn't have ways of reminding myself that it's okay to "fail" as I go along.
ieanielle Freeland recently reviewed Cloud Conductor on Story Links https://storylinksau.com/2018/06/27/cloud-conductor/ and had some questions to ask Kellie.
What was your motivation behind writing Cloud Conductor?
Cloud Conductor was the first real idea I ever had for a picture book. It came about from reading an article about a sick child. It immediately hit me how hard it must be for kids who are unwell and who can’t do the things they normally love. From here, I thought about how their imagination would be one of the best things they could use to cope with this challenge.
I know how important creativity is to me, and how the imagination can help with tough times, so I thought this would be a good topic to address in a picture book. Kids need to be encouraged to see their imagination as a wonderful thing, not a bad thing!
I think we live in a society where, in general, a lot more focus is put on supposedly practical subjects and practices; creativity is often looked down upon. Kids often come out of school having lost a lot of that wonderful imagination they had when they were little, which is so sad.
But the fact is: creativity is a very important tool. It has been proven to help with both our physical and mental health, plus of course it aids us to solve problems in life and at work, and much more. I’m loving the fact that with Cloud Conductor I can spread the message to children (and hopefully remind adults, too) that the imagination is a gift to cherish.
Frankie doesn't appear to get better in the book. Is Frankie terminally ill?
Well, that’s a matter of opinion! Different people see this differently after reading the book. It was purposely left up to the reader to decide. I know how I originally saw this story in my head, but I’m not going to talk about it here, as I think it’s good for each reader to interpret things in the way that works for them.
What were you most hoping to achieve in sharing Frankie's journey?
A big goal for this book was, as mentioned above, showcasing how wonderful the imagination is. I also hope the book can be a source of hope, inspiration, and entertainment for sick children. In addition, I think the story can serve as a prompt for discussions in schools, libraries, and at home for all children about topics and themes such as illness, empathy, resilience, supporting others, mindfulness, the seasons, and much more. From the feedback I have received so far, I think my hopes are being turned into reality, which is wonderful!
Interview by Lucy McGinley https://www.brisbanewritelinks.com/lucy-mcginley.html
Write Links Meeting 29 June 2018
Blog by Tyrion Perkins
Rainforest Writing Retreat
Each year a large group of authors head for the Scenic Rim hills, to stay at O’Reilly’s and top up their writing skills, while immersed in the beautiful rainforest environment. Some love it so much they attend every year. Charmaine Clancy created it five years ago, so she could go, and it has been running each May ever since.
She showed us photos from 2018’s retreat which included talks by Kylie Chan, Brian Faulkner, and Founder of Book Cover Café, Anthony Puttee. Queenie Chan gave a workshop on graphic novels, and Robert D Gennari showed how to fight and write about it. Kaz Delaney acted as a mentor to attendees, and we drooled at the food baked by another Write Links member, Christine Titheradge.
Charmaine reported that they have now set it up as a non-profit organisation, and created a Facebook group for everyone who has attended in the past. She is also working on publishing an annual anthology. As a past attendee I can highly recommend it.
Go to http://www.rainforestwritingretreat.com for more information.