Reading Matters

The Reading Matters Conference, held in Melbourne every two years, is a celebration of youth literature. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to meet people, renew acquaintances and generally immerse yourself in books and be with book people.

International guests Cassandra Clare and Rebecca Stead shared insights about their research process. Warning: helping Cassandra Clare research has the potential to get you into BIG trouble! Others talked about landscape or setting as character; monsters and more. Karen Healey talked about pre-stressing your protagonist (so that when you deal them more strife, they’re already primed!). Brenton McKenna from Broome sees graphic novels as being like an oral story. His graphic novel ‘Ubby’s Underdogs’ is the first of a trilogy and sold out in the bookshop before lunchtime. Paula Kelly reported that although ebook uptake is increasing, Australia’s books sales in this format are at around 3 % in contrast to 25% in the US. There was speculation by other speakers that IPad v12 might well grab you by the scruff and pull you into the adventure in a very literal way! Other guests included, Ananda Braxton-Smith, Cath Crowley, Richard Newsome, Oliver Phommovanh, Denis Wright, Kirsty Eagar, Leanne Hall, Lucy Christopher and many many many more.

Cassandra Clare talked about ‘urban exploration’, looking at parts of the city no longer being frequented/used at all for settings, citing an abandoned smallpox facility just off Manhattan as an example. Others talked about the same idea, of fixing themselves in their fictional landscape by using existing landscapes, so the eventual book landscape feels very authentic. There was discussion of landscape as character. Cassandra also described writers as people with a bizarre group of interests that become obsessions. Nice.

Kate Burridge, language guru from Monash Uni, shared a great deal of bad language with us and introduced us to some new terms: verbal cuddling…eg ‘hello, you mangy old bugger’ where the words were perhaps considered swearing but the tone of delivery removes any offence. Another new term was the ‘infix’ (as apposed to suffix and prefix) eg absa-bloody-lutely, and said there are rules about it’s use…no one ever says ‘ab-bloody-salutely’!

Others talked about family cultural ‘tics’ sayings and behaviours that can cue character in meaningful ways.

There were morning teas and lunches, afternoon teas and receptions, dinners and early morning coffees. It was exhausting. My children sent me to bed early on Saturday night, because I was making no sense. I can’t promise that I’m making much more now, but the information is hopefully filtering through now and I can begin the week, impelled by the formal and informal conversations of the weekend.

National Simultaneous Storytime

Today I went to Point Cook for National Simultaneous Storytime to – you guessed it – simultaneously read a story! The story was ‘Feathers for Phoebe’ by Rod Clement. It’s a lovely story, very OTT in some ways, but fabulous (or should that be fabulous, fabulous, fabulous Darling?). The same book was being read all over the country in libraries and classrooms.

I just happened to have a fabulous feather mask that doubled as a crest (doesn’t everyone have one at home?) Storytime at Point Cook’s 2 year-old library is apparently always an energetic affair, and today was no exception. There were many, many small children and parents/grandparents/carers, and a whole kinder class. Michele, the children’s librarian was living her inner performer and jumped and swung and dingled and sang and more!

Afterwards, the children made their own Phoebe crests and could be spotted flaunting their gorgeousness all over town. Of course the whole point of the story is that gorgeousness is inside, not outside, and is different for everyone.

But a little bit of bling never hurt anyone!

Geelong and Femme Fatale

I went to Geelong yesterday, to see the Femme Fatale exhibition at the Wool Museum. The exhibition was interesting. There were some scary ladies sharing their stories. But also there were several women who seemed to be at worst victims of circumstance. Some very unflattering photographs too. To lighten up, the exhibition included magazine covers with some very glamourous ‘bad girls’ and also movies excerpts. Worth seeing, but no photos allowed. So I took photos of the carpet-making loom and a sculpture on the foreshore. Managed to drive home snagged on the rain front. Sorry Melbourne.

Imagine if they get tangled!

SCBWI Kilmore

SCBWI Victoria has quarterly meetings and each year one of them is in the country. It’s a bit tricky trying to site it somewhere that’s not too far away for Melbourne members to attend, while being accessible to as many non-urban members as possible. These meetings are also open to non-member local writers, illustrators, teachers, librarians, bookshoppers, and any interested others!

This quarterly meeting was in Kilmore. We met in a circular room attached to the library and shire offices. Our first speaker was Lorraine Marwood, talking about the impact of winning the Prime Minister’s Award for her verse novel, Star Jumps.

Second speaker, Kim Rackham, has recently qualified as an early childhood teacher and how her approach to story has been altered by both looking at books in an academic and educative way, and by working so directly with young children. She is new to speaking about her work, although not to writing. She spoke as if she’d been doing it for years!

Corinne King invited all to share in my recent Crystal Kite win. It was a lovely way to celebrate, with cake and sparklers in the midst of book people. The Crystal Kite Award is a peer-voted award, and ‘There Was an Old Sailor’ wouldn’t have won without the votes of SCBWI members. Thank you to them all. Thank you to Corinne for making me cry with her lovely words!

After a luscious afternoon tea, we reassembled to listen to Carole Wilkinson. She talked about her almost accidental introduction to writing fiction and non fiction. We heard about her writing practice (disciplined) and how she moves from idea to story. She also divulged the challenge of research – knowing when to stop researching and to start writing. Her Dragonkeeper books are wonderful and her non fiction fascinating. The afternoon, as always, sped by.

A group of us stayed after the meeting to share dinner then a smaller group travelled to Monegeetta for a writer/illustrator sleepover, and to solve all the problems of the book-related world.


What a great word! It’s an adjective, describing animals who emerge at twilight.

It’s also the title of a new exhibition at City Gallery which is part of Melbourne Town Hall. We went to the opening on Thursday night but will go back for a proper look soon. The launch was packed, packed, packed!

The exhibition is curated byJohn Kean, artist and curator formerly of Melbourne Museum but now freelancing. The exhibition celebrates familiar and not so familiar crepuscular urban dwellers. I took photos of just a few of them…

It was a busy week for John and partner Jackie Kerin. While John was celebrating the living (okay, so with some taxidermied, photographic, painterly assistance), Jackie was in the hills celebrating the first showings of a film about a lady and a lyrebird in the 1930s. More details on Jackie’s launch here.


Today, when I was running late to catch a train to Storytime at the State Library, a butterfly caught my eye. It was in the park near my house, sitting on the grass. It allowed me to pick it up and I took it home. Our dog, usually keen to eat whatever I might have in hand, seemed to understand that the butterfly needed to be left alone.

The markings were striking and I have no recollection of ever seeing one quite like it. It sat on my hand while I unlocked the house, unharnessed the dog, collected my camera and went outside again. Indeed, it didn’t seem at all keen to leave my hand!

The up side (what do you call the top part of their wings?) was just like the under side, except that it had no red or yellow. Almost as if waiting for the painter to return and finish the flipside.

I have no idea what sort of butterfly it is. Anyone help me out?

Oh, I did make my train, just.