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Wish upon a southern star book cover

Member News – Graham Davidson

By | Member News, News, Writing Groups

Wish Upon a Southern Star is an anthology of re-told fairy tales for a YA audience. The work of 21 authors from Australia and New Zealand was chosen, including HWC member Graham Davidson’s 10,000 word story, The Tale of Krinkle-myst, Cinderella and the Prince: The True Cinderella Story. The re-telling is set in modern-day Sydney, with Cinderella and the Prince having failed to realise their destiny 1500 years in a row.

 

Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWC

Australian Literature Part 4

By | Australian Literature, News

Different Voices: new and emerging writers – blog by Susan Francis

My relationship with Newcastle, the city of my birth, was always problematic. Years were spent away from the place. And now? Well, I have to admit, hand over my heart, I’m in love with it. I discover myself residing in the kind of community that facilitates and supports me in something fundamental to my life: my writing. Here, I engage with other authors, attend local workshops and live a life I’d always, in the folded recesses of my heart, somehow imagined. Despite the personal cost, I’m thankful I’m here. I’m thankful that writing was a love I held in reserve. Because the local writing community encouraged my first peek over the barricade of grief.

My debut book, a memoir, being published by Allen and Unwin, is due out early next year. It’s my tale of love, loss, secrets – it’s about finding identity. And most recently, several of my short stories have been shortlisted in Australian and overseas competitions. Some even published. These days, I’m always meeting promising local or established novelists, playwrights and poets. In Newcastle, I constantly feel like I’ve dived face first into a deep bowl of words.

Volunteering for the Newcastle Writer’s Festival began the journey. That year, I also met the indomitable Wendy James, joined a writing group and signed up for the Hunter Writer’s Centre. Three years later and I attend launches and workshops listening to resident shining lights like Barry Maitland, Keri Glastonbury, Ryan O’Neill, Claire Albrecht, Michael Sala, Jaye Ford and Jean Kent.

And all of a sudden, I’m an emerging writer. At 58! My first book to be published at 59! Who’d have thought? Australian literature, at a neighbourhood level, is a garden-fresh, fascinating experience.

Simultaneously, on the national stage, I watch a wave of Australian literature explode – with the relatively new voices of indigenous writers, women writers, disabled writers, the words of refugee Australians and LGBTQ+ writers. These composers now shift in the direction of the mainstream. Behrouz Boochani, a refugee writing from Manus Prison won two prizes this year at the Victorian Premier’s Literature awards. Carly Findlay’s memoir about growing up disabled challenges everyone who reads it, to see our Australian selves differently. Holly Ringland and Nigel Featherstone create worlds reflecting identities never written about before, never shared, never even acknowledged.

Thus, as an older, white, middle-class woman – I have to ask myself – what do I have to say that is new or even helpful?

When I began writing my book, I remember my late husband said, Suz, write about the love we share and the fact that we are older. Write about our adventures, the emotional and the intimate. He believed one of the remaining marginalised groups within Australian society was us.

So, what do I have to say? Because for a few years I did buy into the idea that I was no longer relevant. 

Surprisingly, I have much to say. I have a love discovered later in life to describe. I have grief to express. Images of homeless, elderly women to draw. Or that slumping you suffer under immovable menopausal weight; the creeping, loneliness of ageing; a search for a meaningful life when you live alone, and you’re limping into your sixties with asthma making it hard to breathe in the winter dark. I have the bravery and stoicism of my elderly mother to respect and write about. I have friendship to celebrate and coffee on Thursday mornings in Beaumont Street. I have the sunshine.

Ageing is a difficult, often painful subject to explore. Which is why, sometimes, people don’t like to hear or read about the matter. 

But what I’m learning as I grow older is actually something I’ve always understood – about the gift of identifying yourself on the page. When I recall being a young girl and discovering hope for my plain self because I read about other plain girls – that aha moment – that moment when reading made me realise I was not alone – that moment is equally significant now. 

Australian literature is no longer theoretical for me. Australian literature is alive and circling around me. It’s local. It’s real. And I’m a part of it. Australian literature. Does such a thing exist? Seems like an irrelevant question.

 

Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWCSusan Francis’ memoir is to be published by Allen and Unwin and will be available early next year. She discussed a brief part of this book on ABC Conversations. You can listen to that here:

https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/conversations/susan-francis-rpt/10467926

Susan has been published in various anthologies, most recently The Newcastle Short Story Award 2019. Her work has been short and long listed for competitions around Australia, including the E.J. Brady Award and the Margaret River competition. Susan has a Masters Degree in Australian Literature and a half finished PhD sitting in her garage. She is a former High School English teacher. Susan is currently working on her second book.

Poetry Writing Part 4

By | News, Poetry

Poetry Process by Professor Christopher (Kit) Kelen

I want to write a poem about the different modes of process I encounter in drafting poems. I started these posts with what I call the peripatetic mode; that is, drafting while walking. This is something I do all the time (almost daily), but particularly in a place like Norway, where the walking is so spectacular – so spectacular in fact that the Norwegians see themselves as being ‘on tour’ whenever the opportunity arises.

So here’s how I started…

where is a poem from?
(towards a catalogue of modes)

out of an ache or an itch?
from habit, difference, repetition

o say can you see

there is the peripatetic
else how are we here?
a sauntering and sidle up

of the weather
now and then lightning strikes

go breathlessly
tumble to wash
the poem with topic, theme
tune, temper

tell only the truth
that way more truth comes
it’s epic
and it can be sung

the poem of its politics
the wake-up

no two suns the same

here’s day or could be dreaming
there is from sleep with pen beside
and often over/under scrawl

in annotation mode
(so in, let’s say, the presence)

climbs out from under a pile of words
and sometimes sorry for itself

the here-and-now diaristic
glad of a season and stretch
a catalogue of fancies

no moment like this

you should have seen the other fish

the temperate
all wise saws

and there is the tropic
everything is something else
so let the poem be
building
body
beast
it’s lovely to be naked
playing under the sprinkler

how rainbows have fallen
there isn’t the ice now to hold up the poem

in all innocence
how hungrily it leaps now
there isn’t the night to hide


So that was the plan for last week
however

landing in Hong Kong on my way home
put me firmly in the political mode
because of what’s happening there
… so I drafted this

1303
old play book
(poem for Hong Kong)
26.vii.2019

remember this!

thugs show up from nowhere
but they were always here
there and everywhere

because the people rose

they were waiting for the signal
ours and among us

where are the police today?

could be anytime
anyone
anywhere

they cart you off for what you believe
they call a bullet law

what does that sound like to you?
something like this has happened before

this is the city that will remember
these millions are just themselves

see them on the street to say

dress all the same today
it’s white shirt and chopper
(Yuen Long fashion)

someone stands up says
democracy
justice

where do we empty out the words?

the ones making history won’t know it

and the mocking laughter comes
are they anyone’s brothers, sons?

the ones in the uniforms
the ones who improvise
buy a steel bar in the hardware store
flash mob, pop up anywhere

loyal to what they are told, to a dollar
they are the terror today

with cudgel, with chopper
we know the kind of world they wish

where are the police?
when will they come?

‘I have the right’ somebody says
‘I know what things are over the border
how they are’

will you know a fascism when it comes?
can you hear the hot breath of how it has been?

the monsters are out on the streets again
long leash they have
and feel so free
(does not require intelligence
but they feel their love is true)

could be anywhere now, tomorrow

the big monsters and the little
the ones who pay
those who are paid
see them shaking hands
what a great job everyone’s doing

and the people are out to be themselves
to simply say ‘it’s us
don’t forget’

the border is shrivelling up now
the border is almost gone

it is a ceremony ¬– difference

do you know how this ends?

names in a book
summary justice
not justice at all

they cart you off for what you believe
they call a bullet law

we know how it is over there
there is no information

tyranny leads away from truth
from rights
reporting

how prosperous we’ve been
it was a cure for poverty
to smog the sky
beyond a breath
but everyone believed

so sad
so sad so wrong

we have been too many
now so small

the thugs are out again to say
‘don’t dare
don’t think this place is yours
or that you will decide’

how weary the world is with this story
and here we come
the monsters are out again

something sharp in the hand
they hospitalise
strike like a storm
where you won’t know

we know how things are handled here

will you be among those who stood?
or hide, like me, at home in words?

somewhere to otherside the world
in a future no one can foresee

I hear it
a murmur
they are adding to a long list of names
poor poor old Hong Kong

I remember how it ends
how the tanks roll over all who stand

stand up!
they are coming again

tribes of ‘don’t know’
brigades of forget
thugs who thrilled with the kill

here is the city that will remember
fly in the ointment
thorn in the inside

and go about your business
pretend

the point however is to change the world

do you think they’ll let it go this time?

it’s only a simple thing to wish
everyone fights to be free

and someone says
‘get real
politics is an art of the possible’

they cart you off for what you believe
they call a bullet law

will they leave flowers?
will you be among those who stood?

to save ourselves from dictatorship
this is everyone’s lifework

some take to the streets
some creep in a poem

whichever way you witness
remark
protection from tyranny
injustice

the song says ‘stand up’
won’t you?
won’t we?

or is it just a song?

so sad
so sad
so wrong
poor, poor Hong Kong

*

so
more on the modes
and particularly the annotation mode
in my last post
next week

Storytime lane

Story Time Lane

By | Member News, News

HWC member Graham Davidson and Emily S. Smith have created “Storytime Lane”, a YouTube channel with regular storytelling webisodes in response to the declining literacy rates in Australia. They hope their project will support the development of young children’s literacy skills by providing adults and children with access to visual storytelling and free resources and activities that extend on those stories. The webisodes will have an Auslan interpreter signing the stories so more people have a greater access to the content. Storytime Lane

Ronald McCuaig poet

Australian Literature Part 3

By | Australian Literature, News

Reality Rhymes – blog by Susan Francis

Who’s your favourite Australian poet? This one’s easy! Because I think the ideas explored in Australian poetry, post colonisation, are more unconventional than some of the broader subject matter written about in our fiction. Since settlement, there’s been a long tradition of poets reflecting on marginalised experiences (Robert Southey, the first poet to write about Australia, focussed on the plight of convicts). Later, think of Lesbia Harford, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Komninos and the Avant Garde movement: writers who all sought to capture more intimate, more diverse aspects of Australian life.

Therefore, in the spirit of the unorthodox, let me introduce you to the Australian poet I admire most: a gentle giant of a man, who, in creating a style combining 17th century French lyricism with modernism, set out to examine the lives of quiet desperation led by Sydney women in the 1930s. He represented the battered women; the lonely, frail, discarded women, and the typist from the bank conducting an affair with her boss. The poet is Ronald McCuaig. Born right here in Newcastle.

Ronald McCuaig poet

McCuaig grew up in Mayfield, a few streets away from where I currently live. In 1915, when he was seven years old, his mother died. Afterwards, father and son relied more than ever on each other and his father used to read Ron the poetry of Banjo Paterson. Later, much of McCuaig’s working life, was spent in Sydney, as a newspaper journalist. For many years he worked at The Bulletin and at Smith’s Weekly. He was also a literary critic, editor, short story writer, and poet. These days, most people, if they know of him at all, know of McCuaig because of the two children’s books he wrote, Gangles and Tobolino and The Amazing Football Boots. He was also admired for the light verse he wrote, and the work he produced at The Bulletin under the pen name ‘Swilliam’.

I began a post graduate degree on McCuaig’s work over twenty years ago. During one interview in 1997, with the late, great Geoffrey Dutton (another extraordinary Australian writer), Dutton told me he believed McCuaig had come earlier to the modernist style than Slessor. I was happy with this response because for me, the power of McCuaig’s portrayal of women in his book Vaudeville broke with the idea of representing the mainstream.

McCuaig wrote the Vaudeville poems between 1933 and 34. But the collection was considered too controversial for Australian audiences, and refused by seven traditional publishers. So, in 1938, McCuaig hand printed the book in his living room. Peter Kirkpatrick, writing in Southerly in 1991 states … the sexual candour of many of these poems of urban life meant they were unacceptable to the conservative literary journals and presses, so after four years of trying to find a publisher the author decided to publish them himself…

When you read the following poem from Vaudeville, titled The Letter, it’s clear why McCuaig was forced to publish his own work.

The opposite flat is dark and dumb,
Yet I feel certain he will come
Home to his love as drunk as ever 
And, in a slowly rising fever, 
Noting the whisky bottle gone, 
Will trip and curse and stumble on 
Into the bathroom, pull the chain, 
Fumble the cabinet, curse again; 
Will ask the slut where she has hid 
His toothbrush; blunder back to bed, 
Find his pyjamas tied in knots 
And give her, as he puts it, what's 
Coming to her. 
She won't escape 
Her deeply meditated rape.

 

Betty by the Sea, another poem in the collection, offers a frank comment about women and old age through the figure of Betty, living a life no longer perceived by society as meaningful.

Her drooping flowers dabble upon 
Drooping breasts of crisp cretonne 
The thirsty sun has drained her breasts of milk of human interests…

 

McCuaig only published 150 copies of Vaudeville and I’m lucky enough to own one. Lucky, because I think it’s remarkable, the way McCuaig draws attention to marginalised women by employing irony to evoke empathy. And once again, I’m remined, of Henry Lawson – in this instance, his poem about the prostitute standing under the street lamp.

Australian literature. Does such a thing exist? Absolutely!

[picture of McCuaig sourced from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_McCuaig]

Susan Francis’ memoir is to be published by Allen and Unwin and will be available early next year. She discussed a brief part of this book on ABC Conversations. You can listen to that here:

https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/conversations/susan-francis-rpt/10467926

Susan has been published in various anthologies, most recently The Newcastle Short Story Award 2019. Her work has been short and long listed for competitions around Australia, including the E.J. Brady Award and the Margaret River competition. Susan has a Masters Degree in Australian Literature and a half finished PhD sitting in her garage. She is a former High School English teacher. Susan is currently working on her second book.

Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWC

Poetry Writing Part 5

By | News, Poetry
the last post    
in my last blog entry I listed a number of ‘modes’ for the composition of a poem the peripatetic, the here-and-now view, the political – the bearing witness mode (was where I got stuck) 

it seems like a hundred years ago I was in Hong Kong, worrying about Hong Kong… though we should still all be worried about Hong Kong 

… and now I’m home – and that is a very distracting way to be (more on that in a minute)… nevertheless I promised  a poem in the annotation mode 

what is it, you ask, a poem in the annotation mode? It is a response drafted on the page to an existing poem, already in print … i.e. it’s scribble in the margins you could type up later to make a poem and that new poem would have some relationship to the original poem from which you were working / to which you are responding 

a lot of people worry that this kind of thing will lead to plagiarism and of course it could if you were careless or that way inclined … my principle with this kind of work is however simply ‘in the presence so a poem comes’ i.e. spend time with good poems in order to make a good poem yourself 

…a lot of what I produce in the way of annotations is only vaguely connected with the original poem… however when I think there’s a chance of an actual response I could call a response, then I put the word ‘after’ at the top of the page I’m working on 

let me give you a quick example almost at random from out of the mighty pile of already annotated books of poems that need attention (need their annotations typed up to see if they can be poems), seeing the word ‘after’ at the top of the page I picked from Shuntaro Tanikawa’s lovely little Vagabond book (thanks Michael Brennan and friend) a little poem called ‘Mere Words’, which starts 

Having turned into mere words, 
the mountain is dimly squatting. 
The port under an overcast sky 
is thinking of something. 

and so now, for you, let’s see if I can conjure up a poem from my annotations responding, more or less, to this idea

 

after the words 

things, happenings
silences more brutal

dinner
lunch
breakfast
back to sleep

came from words to here
but fold in
armed with sweet saying

somewhat less the record shows
like a world spun once too many

breath after breath staged
so much of it has gone on in words
despite
over
and
under

mute truth of themselves
reflected in a page
pale air

there’s nothing proud about the mountain
and it’s all standing still
testament – our admiration

but everything on it’s moving, alive
thinking – where next, where’s home

that’s pretty close to just the notes of the page
but I’ve played with their order a bit
… it’s now a draft to come back to
and I think I can call it a response because it does speculate along the lines Tanikawa was speculating
…
so I think this gives you an idea of how the annotation mode could work for you
… maybe you want to respond to my response?
you see how this is a kind of open-ended conversation?

I guess the thing about the modes is that the best thing is to invent your own
if you can afford to…

people who say that they don’t read other people’s stuff cause they don’t want to be influenced … well, they’re not really poets… to be a poet you have to be constantly studying the craft… the only way to be a poet is to make poems; the only way to make poems is to be constantly learning from everything around you and especially from the poems that are everywhere around you if you care to listen and look …

and be discerning of course… remember there’s more good poetry being written in the world today than ever before (reams of it every day) and as a natural consequence, there’s more bad stuff too… it would be caveat emptor if anyone ever got paid for the stuff

*

anyway with being at home, here’s the thing, I did truly distract myself… for instance
I wrote a recipe poem which I was going to include here, but there wasn’t room…
but that led me to think what a nice anthology that could be … a collection of recipe poems by Australian poets… one thing leads to another… and remember Sterne –‘digression is the sunshine of the text’…
because I kept coming back to the to-do list … very important … that’s how I remembered to do the annotation work for you…
and
here to finish
(and to emphasise the importance and value of distraction
and how often you should just go with it)
are two drafts (from last night and this morning)
which are simply in the here-and-now observation mode
(or observation and action, I could say, in the case of the fire poem)

1307
pile burning 
(midwinter thing)

little sun we make
to chase around
and backs to
can revolve

could chase a fire like that all day

better to start with dusk
clocks gone home

hard to know what to let
no hard edges here
but that the day runs out

watch
stand smoke aside
and mainly just be watchful
breeze attentive
have a bucket for the symbol

you don’t want this in summer
don’t want the fuel around

the pile gets going
you think
what can we add?
what has to go?

stars fall
and stars spin up
(other poems are full of them ­–
throw old poems on)

it falls in on itself
needs feeding

we find a leant-up
decaying door

I suspect original
the 1948 door
through which cows must have come
generations

a little ragged round the edges
damp
but the fire was hot
we threw it on

that door was a way in
we burnt it
now it’s gone 

adventure in feathers

and overcast, no matter

well into the morning
when this swamp hen
takes to the roof
one is tempted to think
because it is there

what use a roof to almost flightless?
 pond traipser –
the white-arsed swampy Jesus of birds

one wonders if the tribe will follow
but no, a solo show

they haven’t much of a tune
but you could always hear them
issues of territory, love quarrels

now a clatter too

at least this one is
who holds the roof
for decoration

and from there
gets up in the touching tree
half flutter
could say climbing

precarious to perch
its moment swaying

then
nothing like a thunderbolt
it glides
to pond

spectacular
at least to me

*

now, if after all of this you want more of me, you can go to my website
it’s kitkelen.com
or find me on facebook
or on the 366 blog
https://project365plus.blogspot.com/
where you can find draft stuff I and others put up every day
or howsabout you buy a book of mine
like for instance my latest
Poor Man’s Coat – Hardanger Poems 
https://uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/poor-mans-coat-hardanger-poems
or
if you’re interested in taking the complete course in poetry writing
you could grab yourself a copy of my workbook
Throwing Words Together – 101 Poetry Making Exercises
(rare as hen’s teeth)

at a pinch you can message or e-mail me
at KitKelen@emeritus.umac.mo

don’t’ you hate the way poets promote themselves so shamelessly?
but really what’s a bear to do?
bump bump bump on the back of the head
coming down the stairs
there must be another way
but now he’s introduced to you

think back
Pooh says ‘I do remember, and then when I try to remember, I forget’
The Olley Poems book cover

HWC Poetry Group

By | Member News, News, Poetry at HWC, Writing Groups

Hunter Writers Centre funded the publication of the HWC poetry group’s series of poems that pay tribute to Margaret Olley. Olley was an iconic figure in Australian art whose main focus on landscapes and interiors turned everyday objects and scenes into bursts of colour. As the model for one of Australia’s most recognised Archibald Prize-winning portraits by William Dobell, she looks out towards the viewer, a serene presence with a hint of mischief in her eyes. The book can be purchased from the Newcastle Art Gallery for $15.

Writing History Part 2

By | News, Writing History

‘You can’t change the date of the Battle of Waterloo’

Writing Historical Non-Fiction with Christine Bramble

Some years ago I attended a workshop on Creative Non-Fiction.  When I mentioned this to a friend who, like me, was working on a biography, she looked puzzled.  How can nonfiction be creative? Doesn’t “creative” imply “imaginative” and therefore not factual?  The friend who, also like me, sometimes struggles with the fact that citing references is actually more time consuming than the writing itself, commented tongue-in-cheek that her project would be so much easier if she could occasionally just make it up!

Put at its simplest creative nonfiction is a good story well told – generally about people and events so not a genre that suits a thesis on a technical subject.  It uses the same literary techniques as writing fiction, eg, lyrical style, arranging a story other than chronologically, highlighting the dramatic or the amusing.  But it must always be factually accurate and its characters and places must be real.

The authenticity of the story is paramount.  Writing the story of a family member might be your first foray into nonfiction after years of writing poetry or short stories.  You want the family at the very least and possibly others to enjoy reading your efforts so aim at making your work a piece of creative nonfiction rather than a list of events and dates.  Perhaps you have started with some family papers that have been gathering dust in someone’s garage since a great grandparent died – letters, certificates, photographs, even shopping lists. Yes, such apparently inconsequential bits of paper may get saved by accident but hint at what people were buying a hundred years ago.   You can then supplement these with research on the individual from official sources such as Births, Deaths and Marriages.  Don’t take what is in front of you for granted. A caption on the reverse of a photograph could have been added later by someone who wasn’t on the scene – here it’s useful to identify samples of handwriting from family members, although this can be tricky – the teaching of handwriting in the past could produce a class of students with very similar styles.  I have come across this in my own research and sometimes have difficulty distinguishing one sibling from another.

Even official documents may not reflect the truth.  I came across this in researching the story of Matron Ida Greaves.  Her application form to join the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve 1916 (pictured, and thank goodness it gets abbreviated to QA) gave her date of birth as 1878.   I knew this wasn’t right. Sure enough, I confirmed that her birth was registered in February 1875 and baptismal records showed that she was baptised in March 1875.  The “mistake” in the application form was almost certainly deliberate as she would otherwise have been too old to join. But I cannot say for certain – the previous sentence is a supposition, not a fact. So if you have a theory but no proof, you need to say so.  You also need to research the context – the time and place that the documents were created. What were the important local, national and global events of the time? How did people eat, dress, travel, work, learn? Library and museum collections are great resources to get a feel for these things – local libraries has online material from the region, Newcastle Historical Collections and Lake Macquarie Libraries to name just two.  The Victoria and Albert Museum in the UK is great for a sense of the global picture.

What about the relationship between the historical novel you might be working on and historical fact?  In some ways this is a tricky one – you have the liberty to create your own imaginary characters and places but the best historical fiction is deeply researched in the facts and the background and just like writing your family history, this takes time if you want to create a really credible world for your characters.  One reason I love reading Winston Graham’s Poldark series is that the world he creates has indeed been deeply researched to create credibility.  I have often been heard to say in connection with historical novels, ‘You can’t change the date of the Battle of Waterloo’, ie something so very easy to check.   Next time I’ll talk a bit more about this and about planning your historical nonfiction.

Christine has been a teacher of History, a museum education officer and a cultural planner. She assists Lake Macquarie libraries with the planning of the History Illuminated Festival each year during History Week – September.

Christine Bramble - staff member and blogger

Writing for Children Part 3

By | News, Writing for Children

I’ve just written a picture book.  What do I do next?  How can I learn more about writing for children? by Katrina McKelvey

Inspiration can hit anyone at any time. But getting an idea down and crafting it into a polished manuscript takes work and time. No one gets it right this first time. First drafts are rubbish and need polishing. Remember when I mentioned rejections in an earlier article? Some of those rejections are due to manuscripts being sent off too early—before the story has had time to be crafted, redrafted, revised and reworked. I have some simple steps all authors should take before sending anything to a publisher.

1) Research the market

Remember I mentioned Read! Read! Read! in article 1? Well this is when it kicks in. Read anything and everything you can in the format you want to write in. Go and see what is on the shelves of your local bookshops and public libraries. Borrow heaps of books. Subscribe to Australian publishers’ newsletters. Follow publishers, authors and illustrators on social media. (Authors tend to hang on Facebook and Twitter, Illustrators tend to hang on Instagram. Some like me hang in all of them—ha!)

2) Educate yourself!

Go and do courses in your format—educate yourself! Be a learner. Ask questions. Listen. Observe. Admire. Appreciate the help you receive along the way. You will make mistakes but learn from them. I have made many!

Early in my writing career I went to every learning experience I could. I threw myself in head first. A lot of these experiences were in Sydney. I car pooled, I used the train, I flew interstate, and I did late nights on the M1. Use these opportunities to meet people and learn! Oh, and they make great social opportunities too.

Here are some conferences to keep in mind:

Kidlitvic (Melbourne) in May—annual

CBCA (Sydney or Canberra)—biannual

CYA (Brisbane) in July—annual

Writers Unleashed (Syd) in August—annual

CKT (Sydney) in April—annual

SCBWI National Conference (Sydney)—biannual

SCBWI State Conferences—vary when and where

Festivals and conferences hosted by your state’s writers centre

The Hunter Writers Centre offers a writing for children workshop annually too.

If you don’t have access or the ability to attend in person, online courses are also great:

Australian Society of Authors (ASA)

Australian Writers Centre (AWC)

Writing NSW—you can join in some workshops via live online meeting forums

The Scribbles Academy (Jen Storer)

Faber Writing Academy

3) Research potential publishers

This is important as not all publishers publish children’s books. In fact, a huge amount of Australian publishers don’t want anything to do with picture books. If you send the wrong type of manuscript to the wrong publisher, it’s a waste of time for everyone and an instant rejection.

Find the submission guidelines on each publisher’s website. These can be hard to find. Use the search tool on their website, or look under the ‘Contact’ or ‘FAQs’ tabs if they don’t have a ‘Submissions’ tab. Once you have found them, bookmark this page. Then make a spreadsheet. Use this spreadsheet to track when they are open for your type of submission. Note: some publishers are open all the time, some are never open for unsolicited submissions, some are only open if submitting via an agent, and some are only open at certain times of the year. Hint: follow their social media pages—they often use these to advertise when they’re open.

As a side effect, you’ll start to get a feel for what types of books each like and publish, and what new releases are popping into the market. Your book needs to be unique and compete with these, otherwise you’ll get rejected.

4) Edit, rewrite, and repeat until . . .

No one gets the story right on the first draft. NO ONE! You’re going to have to get used to editing—multiple times—maybe even tens of times—maybe even for years until it is polished enough to be sent to a publisher. And you’re going to have to get feedback from more than your family and friends. They either love everything you write because they love you, or they may feel uncomfortable telling you the truth if you need to be guided to do a heavy rewrite.

Editing is a process that takes time. There is no easy way around it.

A lot of children’s books are read aloud so, during the editing process, read your writing out aloud, or have someone read your writing back to you. This will help you hear whether your rhythm and flow are working. Make a dummy book too – see if you can work out where the page turns go.

But when does an author know their work is polished enough? Good question! Read points 5 and 6.

5) Join a critique/writing group (online or in person). If you can’t find one, start one.

When I started writing for children there wasn’t a local writing group I could attend through the Hunter Writers Centre. Karen started taking names until there were enough to get one up and running. In 2012 we met. And about three months later I began facilitating the group. We are still going today—seven years later. I cannot recommend joining a writing group enough. All my published manuscripts have been critiqued via my writing groups. If you’re unable to attend one, there are several online groups.

SCBWI: https://scbwiaustralianz.squarespace.com/online-critique-groups

CKT: https://www.creativekidstales.com.au/services/ckt-writers-workshop

 6) Get professional feedback before you submit anything!

I have all of my manuscripts professionally edited by a freelance editor before I submit anything. I know and trust her as she understands picture books. But this isn’t compulsory.

My first four accepted picture books weren’t professionally edited before I submitted them.

Getting work professionally edited before submitting it lets a publisher know you’ve invested in your work and you believe in yourself. It makes you look professional and could save everyone valuable time.

And remember, if you do get your story over the line, it will be edited again inhouse before it’s published.

Organising a mentor is another option. Mentors can help you with your writing as well as guiding your submissions. Some of the associations mentioned in the next article offer mentorships. Some authors offer mentorships too.

7) Network—build connections!

This sounds formal but it’s actually fun. I turn it into my social life. Networking can involve going to book launches, attending festivals and conferences, having a coffee with fellow authors, or attending meetings of industry organisations.

Writing can be isolating and lonely. Get out and meet people! They’ll become your new circle of friends.

8) Use your social media to follow children’s publishers, authors and illustrators.

There are some wonderful online groups full of authors and illustrators learning about the industry. I’ve met many of the members of these groups. Now they’re my friends. I highly recommend these Facebook groups:

Just Write For Kids

Creative Kids Tales

The Duck Pond

9) Join associations

It can be hard at first to know which ones to be members of—especially if you have a tight budget. The first thing to do is see what their core business is and whether it suits you at this point in your career. Here are a few memberships I recommend:

Hunter Writers Centre

Australian Society of Authors (ASA)

Writing NSW

CBCA NSWhttps://www.cbcansw.org.au

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)

If you can’t afford membership, join their online newsletters anyway. You can still do their courses—you’ll just have to pay the ‘non-member’ price.

10) Attend and volunteer at writers’ festivals

Attending and volunteering at festivals gives you a huge dose of inspiration and education. And you may also meet people who inspire you. I’ll never forget the first time I meet Andy Griffiths at the Sydney Writers Festival. I have also had the most amazing experiences being part of the Newcastle Writers Festival. Oh the people I have met! Join in!

11) Become friends with your local public children’s librarians and bookshop owners/managers

These people love literature more than you do. Make them your friends. These are the people who will support you when your book is out. They may even help you launch your book. I had two book launches this year. One was in conjunction with Newcastle Writers Festival, Newcastle Libraries and MacLean’s Booksellers. The other was a dog picnic in Lambton Park in conjunction with Newcastle Libraries and MacLeans Booksellers. There’s no way these events would have been as successful as they were without the support of all of them. They helped advertise my event, organise activities and the legal stuff, and provided book sales.

12) Listen to podcasts

One More Page

So You Want To Be A Writer

The Happy Book

Wow! What a long list of simple steps! But I promise you, if you take your time, be thorough and work hard, you can do it. I have done everything on this list. EVERYTHING! You can too. I wish someone had made this list for me eight years ago.

So, are you ready to submit? Promise me you’ll read article four before you do anything.

 

Katrina McKelvey author

Katrina McKelvey is a children’s author with over ten years primary school teaching experience. She’s currently working on her first chapter book series while developing new picture book stories. She’s highly involved in the Children’s Book Council of Australia, literary conferences and festivals, and loves visiting schools. No Baths Week and Up To Something are Katrina’s recent publications, after her successful debut picture book, Dandelions. Two more picture books are coming in 2020. She loves chocolate but doesn’t like chocolate cake. She’s left-handed but plays sport right-handed. She loves tea, but dislikes coffee. Katrina lives in Newcastle, Australia with her family and a naughty puppy. Google her or visit her website: www.katrinamckelvey.com

Writing for Children Part 1

By | News, Writing for Children

Writing for children is easy—right? Wrong! by Katrina McKelvey

a baby readingWriting for children is complex. After all, the readership is complex. To put it simply: kids are smart!

Children deserve stories that are compelling, breathtaking, and authentic that will make them think, empathise and wonder. Childhood is about learning, exploring and growing—mentally, physically, emotionally, socially—and the literature we present to them should contribute to this. We need to raise thinkers with the help of good quality literature.

Now, if you think writing for children (especially those books with all the coloured pictures) is easy, all you need to do is write a story in less than 500 words. Easy, right? Let’s take a closer look.


‘Picture books provide a beautiful experience that leaves 
the reader impacted, changed and empowered.’  
Essie White, US Agent

 

Australian publishers know children are complex and deserve the highest quality literature. They know and respect how clever children are. They don’t want to present literature that is preachy, repetitive and boring. That’s why only around five in 1000 picture book submissions make it through to publication in Australia every year.

Over these four articles, I will share a little about my publishing journey, as well as offer ways you can start your own journey to publication. It’s a long one. In fact, there are many paths, and no one can predict how long each path will be. There are NO overnight successes. It took me four years to get my first book published and another four years for the second and third.

It’s well known that authors and illustrators need the 6 Ps—patience, persistence, practise, perseverance, passion, and positivity. If you’ve got these, you’re ready to start.

Following this post I will discuss: The different ways you can write for children; How to learn more about writing for children; How to find an illustrator, a publisher and how to submit your manuscript to a publisher.

Loads of people decide they’d like to write a children’s book. Some people believe they have something to say. Some want to record family stories. Others want to fulfil the dream of having their name on the cover. All these reasons are valid, but the core reason will be what drives authors through the hard times and towards a published book. Is wanting your name on the cover enough? I don’t believe so.

But all beginning authors need to ask themselves, ‘Why do I want to write for children?’.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • What are your childhood memories of reading and books?
  • Read like crazy! Read as many books as you can in the same format as you want to write in.
  • Take note of the author, illustrator, and publisher of the books you like. Why do you like some and not others?
  • Who will be your inspiration? Who do you admire in the industry?
  • Observe children. Listen to their dialogue. Take notes.
  • Write down ideas as soon as they come to you. They flutter in fast but leave at the same pace.
  • Watch illustrators of picture books. Observe how they tell stories visually.
  • Not all ideas become stories and not all stories will be published. Stories, characters and ideas evolve over time.
  • Ideas come from everywhere! Be observant! Be ready!
  • Follow your passion and not trends! Stories take years to perfect, so by the time your story is published (which could take years), that trend is long gone.

As you begin to write for children, here are a few questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Are you a reader? Read! Read! Read!
  • What are children reading?
  • Have you scheduled in writing daily? How often can you write?
  • Can you accept feedback? And not just from family and friends.
  • Have you heard of ‘show, don’t tell’?

And there are decisions that need to be made:

Before you start:

  • Who will be in my story? Great characters are crucial to keeping the reader interested until the end.
  • What structure will I follow? Structure needs planning in my opinion as the word count is limited. And kids love a twist.
  • Who is my intended audience? How old are they?
  • Will it rhyme?
  • First or third person? Past or present?
  • What is my word count?
  • What is the conflict in my story? Or is it a concept book?
  • What language devices will I use?
  • Do I need to do some research on my topic?
  • Is there a book already published similar to my idea? If so, how will mine be different?

During the writing process:

  • Do I know the themes of my story? Are they universal, complicated, sensitive, social?
  • Have I developed interesting, relatable, authentic characters?
  • Do I have excellent plot, dialogue, pace, mood?
  • Do I have a great ending? Have I left my reader satisfied?
  • Does my story have heart? Does it have an emotional core?
  • Can my story be enjoyed over and over again?
  • Do I have a great hook?
  • Does my story resonate? Is it engaging for children and adults? Is it memorable?
  • Do I have a strong, authentic voice? Write from the perspective of your deep, inner child.
  • Is every word needed? Make every word count. Delete unnecessary words.

Reality check: Beautiful writing doesn’t mean it’s publishable. Beautiful writing can win competitions, but this doesn’t mean it’s publishable. All my published books have been entered into competitions and haven’t won a thing. I have friends who have won competitions, but their books have never been published.

Another reality check: The industry is subjective. Different stories are magic to different people. One publisher could love it, while the next doesn’t. This can cause frustration and confusion. But you need to want it! Hard work, a strong belief in yourself, and a dose of stubbornness can get you through—that’s how I do it. Oh, and I keep going back to my original question, ‘Why do I want to write for children?’

It’s OK if you feel a little overwhelmed after reading this. It takes years to get your head around it. I feel like I have completed the equivalent of a university degree over that last eight years with the amount of educational opportunities I have completed in this industry. I believe learning the craft of writing for children is ongoing, but the basics remain the same.

And as they say in this industry, once you learn the rules, then you can go and break them.

So, is writing for children easy? Nope! I know—I’ve got the 200 rejections to prove it. But I also have five traditionally published books to show for the hard work I’ve put in over the last eight years. Each book was like starting all over again. Each of my books took 3 – 5 years of writing and submitting to finally get through. I currently have others out there trying to find homes. Others are being edited, others being written, and others swimming around in my head. It’s a juggling act but I’m where I want to be and I’m happy.

 

Katrina McKelvey author

Katrina McKelvey is a children’s author with over ten years primary school teaching experience. She’s currently working on her first chapter book series while developing new picture book stories. She’s highly involved in the Children’s Book Council of Australia, literary conferences and festivals, and loves visiting schools. No Baths Week and Up To Something are Katrina’s recent publications, after her successful debut picture book, Dandelions. Two more picture books are coming in 2020. She loves chocolate but doesn’t like chocolate cake. She’s left-handed but plays sport right-handed. She loves tea, but dislikes coffee. Katrina lives in Newcastle, Australia with her family and a naughty puppy. Google her or visit her website: www.katrinamckelvey.com