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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:


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

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

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…
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)

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

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

a little ragged round the edges
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

nothing like a thunderbolt
it glides
to pond

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
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 
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 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

Red Cross nurses WW1

Writing History Part 3

By | News, Writing History

Thomas Keaneally’s Error

In my last post I referred to the writerly error of “changing the date of the Battle of Waterloo”, i.e., getting the facts wrong in relation to a topic that’s easy to check.  I was disappointed when I read Thomas Keneally’s Daughters of Mars, a novel of military nursing in the Great War. The Great War is my specialist subject, specifically the stories of the hospitals, nurses and doctors who did their best to patch up horribly wounded men.  On the one hand Daughters of Mars is undeniably a page-turner, just as you would expect of a writer of Keneally’s stature, enjoyed by millions of readers.

But the novel contains a fundamental error.  Keneally’s novel uses the name of an actual hospital – The Australian Voluntary Hospital – and draws inspiration from some aspects of its story.  On the one hand this might be perfectly acceptable. But the real hospital opened in 1914 not 1916, thus the novel undermines its significance as the first Australian unit in France in the Great War. It would have been so easy just to give the hospital a different name.  On a more positive note, I revel in the novels of Winston Graham (and not because the actor who plays Ross Poldark in the TV series is so gorgeous!).  He doesn’t change the date of the Battle of Waterloo, an event that features in one of the novels in the Poldark series, and does paint a credible picture of English society in the period of the Napoleonic Wars.

But back to historical non-fiction.  If you are venturing into writing the history of your street, suburb or family it is important to first write a plan, not a book – the book comes later.

You need to create a reading list. Here are some terms used by historians: History is based on sources and sources come in two flavours (pun intended) – primary and secondary.  The primary sources are original documents from the period you are researching – a birth certificate is a primary source.  Official documents, personal letters, diaries, headstones, books written at the time, newspaper articles (caution – do you believe everything you read in the papers?) – are examples of primary sources.  You find them in libraries, museums and archives or on their websites.  Start by talking to your Local Studies librarian. The task is made easier – and cheaper! – these days because of the amount of original material on-line.  Military service records on the National Archives of Australia website is one example – a trip to Canberra can be an expensive exercise.  That said, there is nothing quite like reverently holding in your hands an ancient dog-eared, musty-smelling piece of paper.

Secondary sources are written after the event, based on primary sources – history books and articles that will help you build a picture of the local, national and global background.  As a rule of thumb, start with the more recent publications as you would expect these to reflect the most recent research on a topic.  Here again, your librarian can point you in the right direction.

I alluded in an earlier blog to “supposition” as opposed to fact.  Sometimes when researching primary sources you come across something that hints intriguingly at an amusing story or a mystery. Just because you don’t know exactly what happened doesn’t mean you can’t use this, but you need to make it clear in your writing that you don’t know. I’ll finish with an example of this from my book Sisters of the Valley – First World War Nurses from Newcastle and the Hunter (2011):

Red Cross nurses WW1

World War 1 Red Cross nurses, photo courtesy of Time

On Christmas Day 1918 an accident occurred at a military hospital in Salonika.  The accident was, luckily, slight in its consequences but could have been much more serious and would surely have resulted in a telegram to Walter Godfrey in East Maitland to notify him that his daughter, Staff Nurse Leila Godfrey, had been injured.    The injury was nothing to do with enemy action.  In filling out the Report of Accidental or Self-Inflicted Injuries Leila stated that “at Christmas dinner while off duty I was burnt on the face, slightly, by blazing spirit which fell from the plum pudding.”  Christmas dinner in 1918 held a special significance for everyone involved in the conflict.  An Armistice was now in force and there was reason to hope the fighting was over and that next Christmas they would all be back home.  Perhaps the celebrations got a little boisterous.  We can imagine Leila making a grand entrance to the brightly decorated Sisters’ Mess. She is carrying the pudding aloft, ablaze with the burning brandy, perhaps a little careless in her excitement, perhaps even affected by a tipple from the brandy bottle!  In the commanding officer’s opinion no one was to blame and a commission of enquiry was not necessary.  Leila was lucky that the burns were not more serious.

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 2

By | News, Writing for Children

What are the different ways I can write for children? by Katrina McKelvey

Becoming a children’s author can happen in many ways. I’ve heard loads of unique stories which included a combination of hard work, strategic moves, and luck. And just like any journey, some who start make it, and some don’t. Some take one direct path, while others weave around for years before they can see the direction they want to take.

I’m a children’s picture book author. I have five picture books—three on shelves, and two being illustrated as you read this. But I’m about to diversify into writing early chapter books. A lot of children’s authors write in different formats. The trick is to find the right one for your writing style. Each format has a criteria authors generally follow to meet the needs of that readership.

When we say ‘writing for children’, this could mean anything from board books to young adult literature (YA). This range is HUGE. So, what are the formats of children’s literature? Note: ‘format’ is different to ‘genre’.

Picture Books

Picture books (PB) are usually less than 500 words. But with everything in literature, there are exceptions. I honestly believe picture books are for everyone. And the reader’s age and life experience will determine what will be achieved with each reading. However, authors often have children aged 4-8 in mind when writing in this format.

Authors need to keep in mind the adults that will be with the child while they read these books. It’s the adults that will buy these books, and most often will do shared reading with them. They need to get something out of the reading experience too.

PBs are complex. Usually, an entire story (with a beginning, middle, end, complication, resolution, character journey/growth) will need to be told in less that 500 words and on 32 pages or less. It’s a very strict format but this is what makes it challenging. Picture books can be fiction, non-fiction, a concept book, or a combination.

PBs are also costly to produce. Those big, glossy, colourful pages are expensive so publishers have to truly adore a PB for it to get through to publication. This is why so many picture book manuscripts don’t make it through.

Let’s talk illustrations. It may take years for an author to get 500 words perfect—but it also takes an illustrator hours and hours which leads to months and months of long days to illustrate one book. The author and illustrator team are crucial to the success of the book. The story-telling style and illustration style have to match. The illustrations need to add another layer of storytelling to the text—known as visual literacy. Illustrations need to do more than mimic the text. And it can take a while for an author to understand they need to leave room for the illustrations to do their job. Authors don’t need to describe a character or setting. Illustrators help convey a character’s personality and feelings. Words and illustrations need to work seamlessly together.

In addition, authors need to hand over their story without telling the illustrator how to do their job. This is a BIG issue for some authors. I can relate. It took me a while to trust my publishers and illustrators and let their talents add to mine.

Picture books need to be surprising, challenging, fun, engaging, clever, relatable, and authentic. Oh, and did I mention all this needs to be done in less than 500 words?

Junior Fiction (JF):

Young boy readingJunior Fiction (JF) has three main categories: early chapter books, middle grade (MG), and young adult (YA).

1) Early Chapter Books

Children who are reading early chapter books are becoming independent readers. They are moving away from reading with guidance, so they need to feel successful. They need to be able to decode while also comprehending and enjoying the story. Early chapter books are full of lovely, easy language, have a simple action-packed plot, and have wonderful characters that will help the reader experience an amazing journey. Humour is often used as well. The word count can be as low as 1500 words and up to 10 000 words. This low word count lets the reader finish a book in one – two sittings. Generally, the readership is from 7-10 years old.

2) Middle Grade (MG)

These books can be 10 000 – 50 000 words long. Kids are usually 8-12 years old (Years 3 – 6). The themes are usually more complex. Wonderful, strong characters are woven in good, slightly more complicated plots, with loads of action and adventure. Pace is fast. There will be more secondary characters too.

3) Young Adult (YA)

This format can be between 60 000 – 90 000 words. This readership is mainly high school aged children though some older primary aged children will be reading these. These stories contain very deep, confronting themes but without detailed descriptions. Loads of adults enjoy reading these too as they tend to be shorter than adult fiction but fast paced with challenging and thought-provoking themes. Fantasy and Science Fiction tend to be popular genres with this readership.

When writing junior fiction, authors need to work out a few things:

  • Am I writing a series or a stand-alone title?
  • If I’m writing a series, can my books be read out of order?
  • If I’m writing a series, will I have a narrative and/or character arc across all books?

Publishers are offering many different contracts for series at the moment. Some are signing up books one at a time waiting for sales before they commit to another. Some are offering a 2-3 book deal, then offering to extend it if successful, sometimes with an extremely short deadline for following books to be ready.

Anthologies/Poetry/Plays/Magazine articles

There are loads of opportunities to write in these formats. These are often advertised in online subscriptions such as Pass It On and Buzz Words.

Education market

The Education market is different to the books you find in the bookshops. These books are often sold directly to schools. This is a hard market to get into at the moment. However, loads of established Australian authors started their career writing these types of books. But from what I can see from my research, you only usually get into this market by being commissioned.

When you combine loads of reading children’s literature with lots of practice, it should start to become clear which format your writing style sits best within. And you don’t have to have the same publisher for the lot. You may have one publisher producing your picture books while another is doing your JF. Is there a format described here your writing style fits within?


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

Grieve Writing Competition Opens Valentine’s Day

By | Grieve, News

The Grieve writing competition opens every year on Valentine’s Day – you know the measure of your love by the weight of your loss.

Grief is the human response to change and loss in our lives, such as the death of someone we love. It is a natural and normal response, which has a physical impact on our bodies as well affecting our emotions and our thinking. This statement is from Good Grief, an Australian organisation that awards a $250 prize in the annual Grieve writing competition.

One of the programs that Good Grief delivers is the Seasons for Growth program to children and young people who experience significant life changes. The aim is to normalise the experience of grief like giving them clear, factual, age-appropriate information about the loss they have experienced; help build protective factors and minimise risk factors that affect mental health.

If you are interested in facilitating the Seasons for Growth program you must be an accredited companion which involves a 2 day training program – learn more about the training program on the Good Grief website.