King Valley

 As promised, here are some photos. These were taken this past weekend at various sites around the King Valley in north-eastern Victoria.

 We had a convict dinner on the Saturday night and this couple (faces concealed to protect their dignity) won the prize!


This waterfall looked like not much more than a trickle from the viewing platform, but either that’s a leprechaun or it’s much bigger than it first looked.

Spot the fisherman. Then spot his supportive assistants …

It may seem that I’ve been very quiet lately and I guess in some ways that’s true. But it sure doesn’t feel like it! There’s been plenty going on. I’ve just sent back the edits on my next Walker picture book and been contributing to teacher notes for Carrum Sailing Club, ill Christina Booth, pub Windy Hollow Books due out September I think.

I’ve started a complete rewrite on a novel, sent off a picture book, started work on a fiction/nonfiction cross picture book. I’ve had blog visitors and negotiated school visits.

What I’ve not done, is taken many photos. And there were opportunities. Last week, I attended Edel Wignell and Mark Jackson’s launch of ‘Bilby Secrets’ (Walker Books Australia), volunteered at the State Library for a bookmaking session for children, listened to my son propose and debate bills in Youth Parliament in Parliament House, and attended family night at the Police Academy with another son.

And last night, I attended the opening of ‘A Show of Hands’ an exhibition of paintings and their stories at Chapel off Chapel in Prahan. Artist and illustrator Jacqui Grantford has produced a wonderful collection of ‘hands’ featuring well known and less well known Australians. Each painting is accompanied by a story, detailing the life of the subject. It was a wonderful event, partly because of Jacqui’s wonderful work, but also because there was quite a collection of people from the book world and a wonderful catchup was had.

So I might be quiet, but I’m not sitting still.
And I will soon post photos. Not sure yet what they’ll be …

Welcome Deborah Underwood!

Deborah was the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner for California/Hawaii.

Deborah Underwood worked as a street musician, puzzle writer, jewelry maker, and administrative assistant before embarking upon her career as a children’s author. Her books include The Quiet Book, A Balloon for Isabel, Granny Gomez & Jigsaw, and the easy reader Pirate Mom. She co-writes the Sugar Plum Ballerina chapter book series with Whoopi Goldberg, and has written over 25 nonfiction books on topics ranging from smallpox to ballroom dancing.

The Quiet Book, illustrated by Renata Liwska (Houghton Mifflin, 2010) catalogues the various types of quiets that fill a child’s day: everything from first one awake quiet to thinking of a good reason you were drawing on the wall quiet. A companion volume, The Loud Book, was published in 2011.

Twitter: underwoodwriter
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Welcome Sean McMullen

Sean is here today to talk about his new YA novel, Changing Yesterday. Welcome Sean.

I found Changing Yesterday hilarious. It brought to mind silent movies and the exaggerated actions of the stars. I kept wanting to describe it as ‘swashbuckling’ and to exclaim ‘egads’ and the like. Did you set out to write a humourous story or did it creep in as you wrote?

Humour finds its way into my work whether I want it there or not. If I had to write fiction that was deliberately serious I’d probably starve. I would say that Changing Yesterday a book with a lot of humour in it, rather than something written to be funny. I think back to when I was around fifteen and remember that a lot of what we did and said as kids was very funny, but back then it was just us being normal. Life really is full of fun and funny conversations, even when things are really horrible. Then fiction comes along, takes itself seriously, and leaves the funny bits out. Perhaps you could say that most fiction is too serious, and the Changing Yesterday is more like real life. I agree that the pace is pretty intense, but only in what the book deals with. You see the really interesting incidents in Daniel’s voyage on the Andromeda (like Barry’s animal act with the milk or the fancy dress ball), but not the long hours sitting in a deckchair reading or below decks, watching the ship’s engines.

Changing Yesterday is a steampunk novel. Can you define steampunk and talk a little about why you chose to write in this genre?

I define steampunk as retro science fiction, particularly when it is set in in the Victorian period. For example, my story Eight Miles is set in 1840, and is about a balloon flight that ascends about twice as high as was safe for humans. I invented an oxygen generator that engineers of the time could have built – but never did – so that the aeronauts could breathe and so survive the flight. The Victorians had the technology and engineering expertise to build a lot of things that were for them quite futuristic, and a lot of this shows up in their own science fiction. Steampunk authors are just putting themselves into the same period as H. G. Wells or Jules Verne, then writing science fiction as it would have been. Fantasy people do the same sort of thing with medieval romances, so maybe that sort of thing should be called elfpunk.

Liore comes from 2011, but she feels much more ‘future’ than most of the people I know (does that say something about me??). Did the 100 Year War provide the environment for development of her ‘enhancements’?

Liore is from a very different 2011 to ours. For her, Britain was invaded by Germany in 1901, and the British Empire has been fighting to toss them out ever since. This war has caused a headlong arms race that has driven technology and science to provide both sides with some horrendous weapons, including enhancements to the human body. Liore is one of a new “series” of soldier: heavily enhanced humans who are meant to be totally loyal yet highly independent and innovative when cut off from the command structure. Her retractable titanium claws are not technically difficult, the enhanced muscles can be arranged, and the medical marvels available in her first aid kit are only a few years away from our own science. On the other hand, her mobile phone is not all that different from an ipod, except that it does its positioning with astronomical radio sources instead of satellites – not as accurate, but they can’t be shot down by the enemy. The big mistake that they made with Liore was making her innovative. Once she started thinking about why they were fighting, the reasons for not fighting at all started to look really good and she decided to do something about it.

Although your characters spend most of their time in a ‘real’ place and time, they also accept Liore, Fox and the wonders of the future. Did you find it challenging to construct a future world and to convince your 1901 teenagers to accept its existence?

It was a challenge, but if it were easy, loads of other people would be doing it. I had to visualize the future wonders as the characters of 1901 would have thought of them. That was pretty hard at first, but then I realized that this period was not at all backward. In 1901 the first radios were operation, voices could be transmitted over telephones, movie cameras were in use, people could fly in powered airships, and X-Rays had been discovered. Their authors were pretty good at science fiction as well. H.G. Wells had heat ray weapons in The War of the Worlds, yet lasers were five or six decades in the future. It was a time when science and technology was not utterly alien relative to what we have today, so I think some bright, well educated teenagers from 1901 could have got their heads around the wonders that Liore and Fox brought from the future. Actually that sort of excludes Barry, who has enough trouble with even 1901 technology, but he just accepts that if Daniel says it’s true then it probably is.

Time travel is a wonderful idea, although Liore’s journey back in time sounded a little like a virtual trebuchet! Do you think time travel will ever be possible? Where would you go? Why?

Forwards time travel, definitely. The physics works (eg relativistic time dilation), and there are no paradoxes. Going backwards is a lot harder, but some theoreticians think it’s possible by using huge amounts of energy, wormholes and so on. Even if it’s not practical to build a real backwards time machine, the idea of a huge machine controlling vast energies appealed to me. It shoots small things like people back through time, but stays where it is. The people get a one-way trip, and power packs on the gadgets and weapons that they carry absorb a titanic amount of energy. That gave me the ending on a silver platter.

Where would I go in time? I do like the period from about 1890 to 1914, especially in France and Britain. It was the Belle Epoch, the old aristocracy was enjoying its last parties before the Great War put most of them out of a job, and the living was pretty good – if you had money. The Theory of Relativity had been announced, some famous art was being painted (and sold very cheaply), the first aircraft were flying, and so on. When you traveled, the biggest ships were like floating palaces – although you would not want to sail any further than Queenstown on the Titanic. It was a great combination of old-style romance and elegance, but with enough modern conveniences to make life familiar and survivable. The Middle Ages were romantic and elegant too, but the sanitation was pretty basic, the plague was not much fun, and trial-by-combat-to-the-death was a lot more extreme than just hiring a good lawyer.

If you could travel back in time and take one 2011 gadget with you, what would it be?

I think I’d take an iPod with a full charge and some carefully selected files. I could use it to record sound and images, while carrying a library of electronic books and files from the future in my pocket. The whole point of visiting the past from the future is knowing what is about to happen, so a really good list of things that are going to happen is vital to any time traveler.

If you had been back to 1901, is there anything that you’d bring back with you?

A Norman Lindsay sketch of myself would be pretty cool, because I like artwork that has an interesting background. In 1993 a promising young artist named Shaun Tan illustrated my story Charon’s Anchor for Aurealis magazine. I loved his painting, so I wrote to him and asked if I could buy the original. He wrote back saying that he had never sold an original before, and was a hundred dollars too much to ask? I sent him a cheque for a hundred dollars in the return mail, and the picture has been up on my wall for eighteen years. Then he won an academy award, and suddenly I have a hyper-special picture on mt wall. In the same way, a Norman Lindsay portrait of me done half a century before I was born would look really great beside the Shaun Tan picture.

Sean McMullen writes spec fiction for young adults and for adults. ‘Changing Yesterday’ is published by Ford Street Publishing

Welcome Tammi Sauer!

Tammi won the 2011 SCBWI Crystal Kite for Texas/Oklahoma.

Children’s book author Tammi Sauer has sold nine picture books to a number of major publishing houses: Bloomsbury, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling.

Bernadette was mostly monsterly. But underneath the fangs and fur she had a deep…dark…secret. She has (gasp!) a sweet side.

Mostly Monsterly won the 2011 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award and the 2011 Oklahoma Book Award. It has also been named a 2010 Scholastic Parent & Child Best Book of the Year.

In addition to writing, Tammi loves to visit schools, read, ski, spend time with family and friends, go to the movies, and eat out as often as possible. What is more, she is hopelessly addicted to checking her email. Tammi and her family live in Edmond, Oklahoma, with way too many pets. To learn more about Tammi, please visit

Welcome Kathryn Erskine!

Kathryn was the Crystal Kite winner for Pennysylvania/Delaware/New Jersey/Wash DC/Virginia/West Virginia/ Maryland for her novel Mockingbird

Kathryn Erskine, a lawyer-turned-author, grew up in six countries, an experience that helps her view life, and her writing, from different perspectives. While covering weighty topics, her books have warmth and humor, making difficult issues approachable. Her novel, MOCKINGBIRD (Philomel 2010), won the (U.S.) 2010 National Book Award, the 2011 International Reading Association’s Award for Middle Grade Fiction, the 2011 Crystal Kite Award, and other honors. Her latest novel, THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE (Philomel, June 2011) is a Junior Library Guild selection and ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults nominee. QUAKING (Philomel 2007) was a 2008 Bank Street Best Book of the Year and a 2008 American Library Association Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. She is a writing instructor and frequent workshop presenter. And she eats way too much chocolate.

MOCKINGBIRD is the story of tolerance and healing as Caitlin, a girl with Asperger’s, comes to terms with the death of her beloved older brother after a school shooting.

You can learn more about Kathryn at her website, blog, Facebook and Twitter


This morning about a dozen of us braved the elements (some better prepared than others) to gather in Mother Superior’s Chamber at The Convent in Abbotsford for Book Group.

The theme for this month was Happy Endings and the three books were: May Gibbs Snugglepot and Cuddlepie; picture books by Shirley Hughes; and the YA novel The Changeover by Margaret Mahy. The youngest of these was the Shirley Hughes Christmas book, the oldest the almost 100 year old Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.

It was fascinating to look not just at the content but the style of these three books and to talk about the way stories are told in different eras – what is the same and what changes. There was discussion about whether illustrations date more or less than text. Discussion also wafted into other territory including writing representing another culture, the difference between cultural respect and political correctness, all the way to epublishing and its challenges.

At lunch we also reorganised existing representative (or not) organisations into new forms that communicated with and supported all stakeholders in children’s literature.

Such is the power of the book group. 🙂

Newport Folk Festival

‘Twas a busy weekend in Newport this last.

There were events all over the place. Words, Words, Words was one and featured a mixture of spoken and sung words, poets, prose writers, non-fiction writers and singer-songwriters. I was amongst the spoken word crowd and read a pb ms I’ve been working on.

There were yodelling workshops, three-part harmony workshops, performances by many bands, including the Mercurials and a reformed-especially-for-the-night Bushwhackers. There was Kamishibai storytelling and open air choiring.

Sunday included a Choirs Festival – 13 choirs numbering 260 choristers in the almost-outgrown Substation Arts Centre. Each choir, including the one I sing in, performed three songs each, then together we sang two. It was sooo much fun.

This is the third annual festival, and it goes from strength to strength. It’s a great way to get to know the local talent, but also a supportive place for beginner and experienced performers.

Welcome Marsha!

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch’s novel Stolen Child is the Crystal Kite Winner for the Americas, which encompasses Canada, Mexico, Central and South America.

She has received numerous awards and honours for her dozen-plus children’s books.

In addition to receiving the Crystal Kite, Stolen Child was shortlisted for the Canadian Children’s Book of the Year, it is a starred CCBC selection, has been nominated for three provincial readers’ choice awards, and was named a best book of the year by both Resource Links and the Ontario Library Association.

Surprisingly, up until the fourth grade, Marsha did not know how to read! She says that after she failed a provincial test, she taught herself how to read with Oliver Twist– a large novel that took her a year to complete. Ever since, Marsha read as many books as she could get her hands on, and had a new dream of becoming an author. After completing an English and Library Science degree, backpacking across Europe, and working for an industrial sales company, Marsha eventually focused on writing. After a hundred rejections, her first book was published in 1996.

about the book:

Nadia arrives in Canada after the end of World War II, from the Displaced Persons’ camp where she has spent the last five years. But troubling memories and dreams begin to haunt her. Who is she really? She sees images of another family, Nazi uniforms, Hitler . . . but can she believe what her dreams are telling her?


Welcome Ann Angel

Crystal Kite Winner for Minnesota/Iowa/Nebraska/Wisconsin/Illinois/Michigan/Indiana/Ohio

Ann Angel believes it was amazing fortune that brought Janis Joplin’s music and style into her life when, as a teen, she preferred writing bad poetry and drawing to Janis’s songs over following along with the popular girls. It was that same influence that encouraged Ann to live her own life without compromise.

Since then, Ann has written many young adult biographies. She served as contributing editor for the highly acclaimed Such a Pretty Face, Short Stories About Beauty and is working on young adult fiction. In addition to winning an SCBWI Crystal Kite Award and this year’s Kingery/Derleth Award for Book-length Nonfiction from the Council for Wisconsin Writers, Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing has received the ALA’s 2011 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award as well as starred reviews and many other awards. A graduate of Vermont College’s MFA in writing for children and young adults, Ann lives in Wisconsin with her family and teaches writing at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee. She’s working on both fiction and biography these days. You can contact Ann through her web site: