The Eastern Barred Bandicoot

Last night I went spotlighting. Thank you to Amy, who hosted me at Mt Rothwell. Amy is part of the recovery team for the Eastern Barred Bandicoot (EBB), trying to bring it back from the brink of extinction. A tough and ongoing challenge.

As soon as dark permitted (and animals were awake) Amy drove and I wielded the spotlight, in the search for the elusive EBB.

There was nightlife aplenty. We saw Pademelon, Bettong, Southern Brown Bandicoots, Red-necked Wallabies, Brush-tailed Rock Wallabies, Eastern Grey Kangaroos. We also found ten EBB, the location of which Amy logged with GPS.

This morning we were up before dawn ready to check the traps Amy had laid out yesterday. Again our target was EBB, but Bettong

(who nest in these so-invisible grassy beds that we were almost on top of them before they shot off)

seem to like the sweet and chewy bait, as did Quoll

and Southern Brown Bandicoots.

We did find two EBB

and Amy weighed, measured and health-checked them before releasing them. Some of the captured animals were keen to leave and hop-raced away as soon as the cage door was lifted. Others were happy to stick around for photos.

Fantastic. There was also an amazing sunrise.

…and east. These sunrise pics were taken in this order, with less than half an hour from first to last. Difficult to believe how the colours change.

See the traps in the foreground below? They are laid out in patterns calculated to catch not only the early-dusk emerging animals, but also the later-rising EBBs.

What a place! The Mt Rothwell site is fenced to keep out foxes and feral cats. It’s almost completedly rabbit-free too. I reckon we’ve driven past this place with no idea of the population within. I’m hoping I’ll have a chance to visit again.

Welcome to Tiffany

Tiffany Mandrake is guest blogger here today. She has just released the first two titles in her new ‘The Little Horrors’ series. I asked her to explain the difference between pitching a single title and a series.

Thanks, Claire, for inviting me to be guest blogger at your blog! As a resident at Hags’ Abademy of Badness, I’m something of an expert on logs and bogs, but blogs are somewhat of a mystery. (I just started my own, so this is good practice for me.)

Today I’m going to talk about the difference in pitching a single title and a series. My closet cousin (who helped me with my pitch to Little Hare) says I’m not allowed to talk about hexing editors and sending my cat, Speedwell, to wee on their keyboards, so I’ll pretend I’m an ordinary writer instead of an extra-extra-inordinately-unordinary one.

When pitching a single title, you need to pitch a high concept of about 25 words that makes your book-to-be sound like the best thing since pickled nightshade. It should sound like something a reader just HAS to read. Consider these high concepts.

Boy quarrels with his friend and gets lost in the bush.
After a fight with Jim, Brady gets lost in the bush.
Boy quarrels with his best friend and spends a scary night in the bush.
A quarrel might finish a friendship, but night in the bush could finish Brady’s life.
The end of a friendship or the end of a life? Only Brady will find the answer.
The fight with Jim was bad, and Brady is lost in the bush. Will he live to make amends?

They all refer to the same story, but some sound much more dramatic than others. Pick the one that hints at page-turning potential.

The pitch for a single story also needs a brief synopsis, character outlines, target audience, length, theme and tone and, depending on the publisher’s individual requirements, one-to-three finished chapters. Easy peasy, really.

When pitching a series, you need to consider, and specify, the kind of series you propose. Is it a series where a protagonist moves from adventure to adventure, learning, aging and changing, or one in which the protagonist stay the same age and never change? Will the episodes be self-contained, or will each end on a cliffhanger as they build to a final goal or ending? Will the protagonist(s) be the same in each book, or will heroes and heroines come and go?

Some series are “closed” from the start, such as the type which tell virtually the same story from different points of view. Some are planned as trilogies, or as seven-book cycles. Others are open ended. If you plan a finite series, or an open ended one, you should mention this in the pitch.

In most cases, rather than just a plot, you’ll pitch the environment for a series. Your setting, or “series world” is generally a constant in each book, and it must offer variety and plenty of possibilities for more than one story. The world might be as small as a house (remember The Royle Family? Almost every episode took place in a single room) or as large as a galaxy or time. If the series world is large, it will almost invariably have a small constant as well. Consider Doctor Who. The Doctor can go anywhere and to any time, but his “constant” is the TARDIS. It is the environment to which he returns, and in which readers/viewers find him most recognisable. The characters in Sally Odgers’ Space Sports series might travel to another planet, but they will always return to Space Station Nova, and the social politics of Nova will always affect their actions. Remember these examples in your pitch for a series, and think it through before you send it off to ! an editor.

Begin with a concept such as “dog wandering the galaxy”, “country child in the city”, “new girl at progressive school” or “survivors on an island” and then move to series specifics in character and plot. For example, “dog wandering the galaxy” might be fleshed out to become “genetically altered dog, sole survivor of a meteor disaster, joins the star ship Valkyrie and proves his worth in every new adventure”, or “dog, accidentally left behind at a check point, continually boards new ships seeking his master”. In each case, the dog is alone, but in one it has a new constant environment (the Valkyrie) from which to have adventures, and in the other, the ships and companions change in each story while the constant is the dog’s search. In one, the adventures are the point of the stories. In the other, the adventures are almost incidental to the main quest. The series pitch could go either way, or take a completely different track! , but the pitch should make the commissioning editor aware of what the constant will be.

As well as a place, time or situation constant for series characters, there will often be characters (villains or friends) which will reappear from book to book. If Zac meets his rival Henry in Book 1 of a series, and befriends him, then Henry may appear thereafter as a friend. However, if Zac and Henry remain rivals (or enemies) at the end of Book 1, then Henry will reappear from book to book as a rival or enemy. This is something else to consider in a series pitch. Will relationships remain steady (protagonist + sidekick + mutual enemy + killjoy cousin) or will they change and develop, so an acquaintance in one book may become a good friend in another, then fall out with the hero in a third and be a distant enemy in a fourth?

It is in these variables that the true difference between pitching a single title or a series lies. A series may make readers feel comfortable as they adjust to the rhythm of the storytelling and recognise the constants, but it may also stretch belief almost to breaking point. If a ten-year-old protagonist escapes kidnappers in Book 1, readers might swallow his one-off display of skill and luck. If he escapes an earthquake in Book 2 and a shark attack in Book 3, the pattern emerges, and the adult reader, if not the child, starts to wonder how many death-defying adventures this kid will have before his putative eleventh birthday. If he has a broken leg at the end of Book 3, and is abseiling up a mountain in Book 4, many readers will start counting on their fingers to see if he has had enough time to heal.

To make this kind of series even slightly believeable, the author must pitch the constant convincingly. WHY does Ben get into these hair-raising situations so often! ? The constant must answer this. Perhaps Ben is a millionaire’s son, an intelligent and top secret robot, an alien, heir to a pirate king, under a curse, a political orphan, a young crusader, a fugitive from villains… the answer could be just about anything, but it must be strong enough to override the disbelief. It must support not one single story, but as many as the series will bear. Obviously, the more domestic and low-key the adventures, the less fictional time need pass between each one. The series set up can be adjusted to allow for as many adventures as necessary.

Fantastic answer Tiff. Now I’m off to fix up my series pitch…

Guest blogger

Tiffany Mandrake will be guest blogger here on Tuesday as part of her blog tour to promote her new series, ‘The Little Horrors’. The first two titles are ‘Flax the Feral Fairy’ and ‘Mal the Mischievous Mermaid’. The series is published by Little Hare.

Other stops on her tour:
Saturday 21 February: BJ Cullen – The Writing Life
Sunday 22 February: Sally Murphy’s Writing for Children Blog
Monday 23 February: Robyn Opie ‘s Writing Children’s Books Blog
Wednesday 25 February: Dee Scribe Writing Blog


Some things are hard, some things are easy. The boy who helped me with my kitebuggying article is home again and fortunately still has the same email.

The magazine is on its way.

Premier’s Reading Challenge

I was in the library yesterday, copying the roughs for Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate to use in school visits. I always check in the picture book section to see if my books are there. If so, I make sure they are visible. If not, I smile because it means that someone has borrowed it.

Anyhoo, there was a mother madly foraging through the chapter books with a rolled up newspaper beneath her arm. She pulled the newspaper out and checked it. That’s when I realised it was the Premier’s Reading Challenge list for 2009. I remembered then that the list was to be included in 15 Feb’s Sunday Age, and went scurrying home to drag the paper out of the recycle bin. I found the list and checked it for my titles and for those of friends.

It’s a great thing for readers this challenge, listing so many books they might like to read. It’s a great thing for writers/illustrators to have their titles included on the list. Not sure librarians are so excited by the list, as no list can be completely inclusive and there are plenty of other good books on the shelf. But any initiative that guides a few more children into a longterm reading habit is a good one I reckon.

One Week Later

The smoke has spread now and covers the whole city –
all the way from the still-smouldering hills
to my seaclose home.
I welcome the smoke, inhale it
taste what the televisionsradiopapers feed,
seek to share some tiny association
with those who have lost everything and more.

It’s not possible. I know that
and the page 5 piece from the survivor of another fire
makes sure I don’t forget it – her no longer numb-or-dumb anger
spills forth to damn me and all my neighbours.

Newspapers and radio
people the wasteland with details
of near-deaths and near-escapes.
It clears the air and any connection
I may, for a second, have imagined.

There is no link
I have my home, my family, my neighbours.
I close my eyes and breathe the smoke one last time
before the lifeheavy breeze carries it away

I received my copies today of Orbit, a School Magazine title. It includes an article I wrote on kite buggying. It’s great to see that the image on the cover relates to my article.

Now I have to track down the young boy who generously answered my questions about his new-found sport. At the time, he and his family were travelling around the country, and my emails found him in several different states. I promised him a copy of the article and the magazine it appears in.

How hard can it be to find a no-longer nine year old who may or may not still be travelling and may or may not still have the same email address?

The Big Blowie

Welcome to Sally Murphy, on day 2 of her blog tour. She’s dropped in to talk about her latest book, ‘The Big Blowie’ and to share a little more about herself.

The Big Blowie

Every afternoon, tourists visit beautiful Lake Blowie. They have afternoon tea at Syd’s place and buy postcards and souvenirs. But the drought has made the lake dry up. The tourists have stopped coming. A new attraction is needed — and Syd knows just the thing!

How many of the ‘big’ things have you visited around Australia? Which is your favourite? Did any of them inspire this story?

When I wrote this book I had only seen a couple if big things – both in WA, but at the end of 2008 I travelled through South Australia, Victoria and parts of NSW and saw a heap – including the Big Orange, Big Galah, Giant Ned Kelly, Big Lobster, Big Orange Tree, Big Merino – I’m sure there were more. I made a point of stopping at each and getting a photo. I’ve always been quite intrigued by the big thing phenomenon and using a big thing (albeit fictionally) for my story was lots of fun.

How can readers get a copy of The Big Blowie?

The Big Bowie is distributed by Blake education and can be purchased online directly from Blake for just $9.95 by clicking here . It is also available at educational bookstores. For kids, the Aussie Aussie Aussie series is in loads of school libraries – so ask your school librarian,

‘Blowie’ is great Australian vernacular. Are there other examples of particularly Australian language in The Big Blowie?

For those readers who are outside Australia, a ‘blowie’ is a blowfly. It’s very common for us Aussies to shorten words – except when we lengthen the really short ones (such as changing the name Doug to Dougie, one of the characters in the book). The word ‘mate’ – which isn’t uniquely Australian, but seems to be used differently here in Australia, is used several times. Dougie also drives a ute, which is a very Australian vehicle – overseas a ute is called a pickup. Dougie also uses the word ‘struth’ an exclamation of surprise. I also wanted the main character to have an Australian name and struggled for a little while, before settling on Syd, short for Sydney. Not

a common name for a child, but reflecting our most famous city. Very Australian.

You’ve lived in a few different places. Are you aware of regional differences in language and does this affect your writing?

Mostly I’ve lived around Western Australia. I think the differences between parts of my state are slight, although I’ve been aware since I was a teen that I had what I call a ‘Collie accent’ – I tend to sound quite ocker compared to a lot of people, having grown up in Collie, in the south west of Western Australia. When I’ve gone interstate, or even read books set in other states, I’m aware of different word usage for common items. For example in WA we call swimming costumes ‘bathers’, while in other states they are variously called swim suits, togs, swimmers. I don’t think these differences affect my writing greatly, but I do sometimes check with friends if they ‘get’ what I’m talking about.

When writing for an overseas market, there are bigger differences. In one of my (unpublished) stories I have a character dive under his doona to hide in his bed. A publisher from England emailed me to ask what a doona was. The English word was duvet. It just doesn’t have the same ring to me.

After writing stories that are designed to appeal to (or to be understood in) both local and international markets, can you describe the experience of writing a particularly Australian story?

I loved it. It was a lot of fun. Having the freedom to bring in as many Australian things as possible and trying to make a story out of it was great. The story sprang from a bit of a brainstorm after reading the Aussie Aussie Aussie series guidelines. They were looking for uniquely Australian stories exploring Australian issues. I came up a list of Aussie things including blowflies, the outback and big things, threw in an Aussie issue – drought – and very quickly came up with an idea to bring them all together in one story. I didn’t find it hard to plot and write the first draft, though of course it still needed lots of reworking to get it just right.

What’s coming up this year for you?

Lots! I’m really excited that my first verse novel, ‘Pearl Verses the World’ will be published by Walker Books in May. I’m really proud of this book, and delighted with the illustrative work of heather Potter, who has bought Pearl to life. Then in November I have a picture book, ‘Snowy’s Christmas’, being released by Random House Australia. This one is being illustrated by my wonderful brother in law, David Murphy, who is a talented illustrator. It’s proving fun to work with a family member. I also have two other picture books in production. ‘Constantine and Aristotle’ (to be illustrated by Ben Wood) is nearing completion, but I don’t have a release date yet, and ‘Let Us Rejoice’ will be published by new Frontier in 2010, so during this year I’ll be working on the editing process on that one.

And of course I’m hoping to write and place lots of new stories, as well as promoting these books, hopefully doing some school and festival appearances (I’m open for bookings) and lots of reviews for my review site.

I like being busy.

Thanks Sally, it’s been great to have you here. Enjoy the ride!

Sally Murphy is a Western Australian author, mother, wife, teacher, book reviewer and website manager. She has twenty seven children’s and educational books in print and another eight titles in production. Her most recent book is ca chapter book, The Big Blowie, and her first verse novel, Pearl Verses the World, is due out in May from Walker books Australia.

Sally runs a book review site,, which reviews Australian books across all genres, and a blog, for children’s writers but, fo course, her first passion is actually writing for children.

Yesterday 8th February, Sally was here:

This is where she’s visiting next:

10 February

11 February

12 February

Welcome Sally

Sally Murphy is a Western Australian poet and author of children’s and educational books. She is also a teacher, book reviewer and mother of six. Pearl Verses the World is her twenty eighth published title.

I asked Sally about promotion, starting with the challenge of promoting her work in a town of less than 1000 residents…

Welcome Sally. You live in a small West Australian town. Do you see any benefit, tangible or otherwise, in promoting your work locally?

The benefit of promoting locally is that when people know an author in person, they are more likely to seek out and buy the books. So, yes, there’s a tangible benefit – promoting locally can and does lead to sales of my books. There’s also a less tangible benefit. When people know that I’m an author, they tend to be supportive and interested in my work. This doesn’t just make me feel good about myself (which is nice, of course) but also helps keep me writing. When people ask about my writing, and know I’m an author, then that’s motivating to keep writing, so I can honestly say I am an active author.

Having said that, there is a risk of over promoting. I live in a town of less than a thousand people. To be constantly advertising my books to them, or trying to handsell to them would lead, I think, to author fatigue. I’m particularly aware of that in my local school – where I also teach one day per week. I want t the students to be excited by my books, so that their love of reading grows, rather than jaded by over-exposure to me. So, I try to use my books and my writing only as a special thing rather than a regular part of classes.

Some of the things I have done locally to promote my books include running writing workshops, talking a Rotary Club dinner, and presenting at our local Young Writers’ Festival.

What’s the most rewarding promotion activity you’ve been involved in? The least rewarding?

Most rewarding – school and festival visits. I love talking to (and with) kids about my books, and about reading and writing. I am a bit of a performer, and although I get nervous, I get a real adrenalin rush and tend to be very energetic in my presentations. I love drawing kids in with readings, telling them stories about my life and the writing life, and responding to their questions. I love walking through a school or festival and hearing a child say ‘there’s Sally murphy’ like I’m someone famous. It makes me feel valued – and keeps me doing what I do.

I honestly can’t think of a least rewarding activity. I tend to think of any promotion being good promotion – even if you don’t always see the benefits instantly. If it gets your name out there and tells people about your books, then it is probably good.
Does ‘rewarding’ equal ‘successful’ in promotion?

Not necessarily. I’ve mentioned things like school visits which are really rewarding. But it isn’t easy to measure whether these have been successful in terms of generating sales. The reward comes from knowing you’ve inspired or motivated children, or, if you conduct writing workshops, seeing the children working hard to produce something.

In fact (and I’m drifting towards the next question here, I know), it is hard to measure the success of most promotional activities, but you can know whether they were rewarding in terms of gaining feedback, intrinsic motivation and so on.

How do you measure the success or otherwise of a promotional activity?

As I’ve just said, it is hard to measure success. I suppose the true measure might be in whether a promotional activity results in increased sales. Unfortunately, for the most part, sales figures only come once or twice a year (with royalty statements) and so it is hard to know which sales were the direct result of a particular promotional effort. Mostly, I think good sales figures will be an indication that the combined promotional efforts for that book have worked – but can also be in part a sign of whether your name is becoming known and people are seeking out all of your books.

There are, however, times when you can measure success more directly, through sales figures. If you present at a festival or conference you can usually see the sales figures tied to that event – either by studying your royalty statement when you get it, or by speaking to the booksellers at that event.

When I promote online using my blog, I use my stat counter to track whether a particular activity has resulted in more hits (visits) to my blog. Stat counters also allow you to see where visitors came from and where they went after visiting your site, so you can see, for example, if they go from your blog to an online bookstore.
Does emotional success of an activity always equal the more tangible book sale success?

No. Some events will result in lots of good feedback, back slapping, nice emails and so on – but few book sales. And I have had the experience of working hard to promote a book, and getting good feedback, but that book not selling its initial print run. The problem there was that I was working to promote it (as was the publisher) but there were problems with distribution. All the promotion in the world won’t lead to sales if people can’t find the book in bookstores. That was really disheartening.

You are developing quite a body of work, which will increase in the next year or so with several more works in production. Are you feeling a change in the way you promote…promoting yourself as an author rather than promoting an individual project? Or is your promotion project-based? How do the two approaches differ? How much do you feel they overlap?

A body of work – I like the sound of that. Pearl Verses the World is my twenty eighth title, but with many of those 28 being educational titles, and Pearl and my forthcoming titles all being trade titles, there is a shift happening in the way I promote. I haven’t tended to promote my educational titles very much, because these are generally hand sold as series straight into schools. There is little point promoting them to the general public as they can’t easily access them.

My previous trade titles – Doggy Duo (2003), The Floatingest Frog (2004) and Pemberthy Bear (2006) came out far enough apart for me to really need to promote each title by itself, although certainly with the second and third I was also still promoting the earlier titles. Now I have four more titles coming out in the next two years, and I find that promoting myself as an author is really important so that all my books benefit – backlist, current titles, and forthcoming. So, I try to keep my name ‘out there’ as much as possible – through my blog and website, through contributing to newsletters, through school and festival visits and so on. I want people to be looking forward to reading the next book by Sally Murphy, and to be seeking out my past titles.

At the same time, each new title needs and deserves its time in the sun. At the moment, for example, the majority of my promotional efforts are going to promote Pearl Verses the World because it is brand new and exciting and I want to give it the best shot at success that I can. It’s also important that the uniqueness of each title is recognised. The way I promote Pearl, which deals with some serious topics, will differ from the way I’ll promote my Christmas picture book, Snowy’s Christmas, later in the year.

The two do overlap because every time I promote a book I am still promoting myself as an author. You just need to look at this interview as an example – this interview is part of my blog tour to promote Pearl Verses the World, but I have talked about several of my other titles and LOTS about myself, too. Talking about any one book requires a look at the writing process and myself as author, which in turn does promote my body of work.

Promotion often requires an author to step outside their comfort zone. How do you manage any nervousness when promoting your work in person? Is promoting on line more comfortable?

I think nerves are a good thing. I use the nervous adrenalin to fuel my presentations. I find if I’m not a little bit nervous then I feel flat, and wonder if that shows in my presentation. Having said that, being over-nervous can be damaging, so I try to keep calm by being organised, dosing myself with Rescue Remedy (a Bach Flower remedy for nerves and trauma) and some deep breathing.

Promoting online can be comfortable because you don’t have to face people in person and you can often do things at your own pace. Online promotion is also very convenient for me because I live in the country.

What promotional activities have you planned for Pearl?

Most of my promotional activities for Pearl are online and centred around my blog. I am aiming to post something new on my blog every day this month, focussing on poetry in all its forms. This blog tour, spanning ten days, is also a key part of trying to build some interest in the book. A fellow author, Kathryn Apel, is joining forces with me to run a verse challenge on both our blogs. I’ll use my blog also to link to reviews and interviews so people can keep in touch with any publicity (hopefully there’ll be some).

The wonderful publicity people at Walker Books have also been busy sending out review copies to newspapers, magazines, websites, radio stations and so on. As a result of this Pearl is being featured in an article in Practically Primary magazine next month. Walker have also produced wonderful teacher’s notes (which I contributed to) and a letter to teachers and librarians. These will be available on my website and Walker’s website, as well as at conferences and so on.

In person, I have school visits coming up, where I’ll promote Pearl alongside my other books. I am also presenting at the Corrigin Young Writers’ Festival alongside Matt Ottley, and am looking at officially launching Pearl there.

Hopefully all these things will get Pearl noticed and out there.