Maranoa Gardens

Rather than cram it into the pre-Christmas crowdedness, a few friends and I met today for our annual picnic. When 36 deg was forecast, we revised our meeting time earlier. 

We met at Maranoa Gardens in Balwyn, a lovely oasis in the midst of suburbia. 

It was delightful, and cool under the trees, although we enjoyed the bright day.

The only other people we saw were a couple rehearsing their wedding vows with their celebrant and – as we were leaving – park employee on the mowing tractor.

I’m recommending it to my family as the site for our next family picnic. It was also much easier to find a park than at the Botanic Gardens, our normal gathering spot.

Posted by Picasa

New beginnings

What’s the connection between these two images?
The first is Grandma Poss from Possum Magic.
The second is Queen’s Hall, part of the original building of the State Library of Victoria.

Grandma Poss has most recently been resident in the gardens of Dromkeen, a wonderful place for immersion in children’s literature, particularly the art of children’s literature.

Sadly, Dromkeen is for sale.
Fortunately, the SLV has become the new custodian of the amazing collection of original picture book art that was housed there.
Even more fortunately, the SLV is interested in continuing the work of Dromkeen, that of bringing readers and creators together.

On Wednesday, writers, illustrators and library experts gathered to begin the discussion about just how to keep alive some of the Dromkeen programs, and how to shape and develop them in the future.

Stay posted.


ps Our meeting on Wednesday was in this glorious space, Queen’s Hall.
pps Grandma Poss is now in Melbourne .

The First Tuesday Children’s Book Club…

…has arrived! Or begun…or birthed…

Late last year I posted a note on PIO calling for interest in a children’s book discussion group. There were lots of responses and suggestions, and the result is – ta-da! The First Tuesday Children’s Book Club (FTCBC).

I met with Jen Storer on Wednesday at The Abbotsford Convent (in Abbotsford, Melbourne) to nut out details.

The FTCBC will meet monthly on a Tuesday 10.30am – 12.30pm and talk about children’s books. We plan to discuss a picture book each month and also two other books, alternating junior fiction and young adult books. This first meeting will be to discuss the various incarnations of ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ – original text, film and Dave Eggers novelisation.

The group is open to anyone interested in children’s literature, not just writers/illustrators.

First meeting is Feb 2.

Contact me for more details if you’re interested…

Double sunshiney day…

Today I trained it down to Frankston for the YABBA (Young Australian Best Book Awards) announcements. There were students from about ten schools there (I think) in the Frankston Art Centre and about 16 or so authors and illustrators. Also teachers, publishers and the wonderful group of people who administer the awards.

We authors and illustrators were asked to prepare a little (90 seconds we found out as we spoke!) piece on our first publication. It was fascinating to hear the variety of responses and indeed interpretations of the request.

Awards were presented to the winners of the inaugural Write On! writing competition and then the YABBA’s were presented.

After morning tea, we all reconvened in the vibrant Frankston Library for book signings. Great fun.

Well done YABBA committee. Well done YABBA voters. Congratulations YABBA winners. Go here for details.

And in late breaking news…well late to me as I didn’t get home until late…

The Australian government has voted…Parallel Importation Restrictions are to be retained…Australian copyright holders will continue to be protected. For more info on this wonderful news go here

Last Friday was the Spring meeting of the Victorian SCBWI group. We had two member speakers (both illustrators) Marjory Gardner and Andrew Plant – and a guest speaker, Kaye Keck who is the Director of Dromkeen. Usually we hold these meetings on Saturday afternoon and this was our trial of a Friday night alternative.

Marjory and Andrew inspired us with their passion and their experience and then once more with the examples of their work. It’s fantastic to hear how others work, how they started, how they continue. It’s also interesting to learn of the myriad pathways into our industry, Marjory through Graphic Design, Andrew through Zoology.

We build in a long break in the middle to facilitate that wonderful beast ‘networking’. Call it what you will, there’s a chance to catch up with familar faces, match faces to known names, and to meet new people. At this meeting we had visitors from NSW and New Zealand and a medical illustrator in addition to mostly familiar faces. And sometimes, as occured this time, attendees happen upon people they’ve known in a ‘previous life’.

Kaye Keck spoke about Dromkeen, wonderful house and gallery in Riddell’s Creek, just out of Melbourne, and their collection of children’s picture book art. The collection includes more than 7000 items and includes sketches, roughs, dummy books, storyboards as well as finished artwork. Kaye brought some amazing miniatures (detailed dummy books, sometimes in colour) that stand as art pieces in their own right. Dromkeen is well worth a visit, with sculptures scattered around the grounds and galleries inside. Kaye also mentioned they are establishing links with ‘Seven Stories’ in Newcastle UK and the Eric Carle Musuem in the US.

…and the point of the pic above? None really. I just like it.


I’ve just returned from Canberra after a week in our capital. It’s a long time since I’ve been there and the first time I wasn’t just a tourist. I had Author talks in several schools. Most were primary school, but I also did one session with Year 12’s…a new experience for me.

I had a great time. Rachael, from the ACT CBCA had everything organised, from the jug of water, the transport from school to school, and even food. The children were great, full of questions, curious and bright. The CBCA also included me (and other visiting authors and illustrators) in a Lu Rees Archives event, a panel session with Margaret Wild and Ann James, and a Children’s Seminar which was a bit like a literary version of speed-dating.

It was great to spend time with other creators too. The only down-side is that we don’t get to hear each other present. I’d love to have sat in on some of the other speaker’s sessions. Not sure how that could happen, but I reckon it would be great. Great to hear what they’re doing and how they do it, but also as a way of improving my own skills in presentation.

Canberra is reputed to be a cold place, but for the most part the weather during the day was great, with the nights and early mornings quite cool. But staying in hotels, being transported by car and working in heated schools, we were mostly immune to the weather. Except for that one morning I decided to have a pre-breakfast stroll wearing my long-sleeved tshirt…on the coldest winter morning for some years (-6C). Then I really knew I was alive. And man did I walk fast!

CBCA Conference Melbourne

This past weekend, Melbourne hosted the CBCA Conference. Biennial, this gathering of writers, illustrators, publishers, editors, teachers, librarians and others involved in, or interested in the world of children’s literature moves around the states. This year was Melbourne’s turn.

This was my fourth CBCA Conference and I enjoy each one more than the last. That’s partly I think because I know more about how they work but also because I know more people.

What I enjoy most is the chance to talk to people who also work in this wonderful, frustrating, challenging industry of children’s books. Each conference there are presentations on the challenges faced by the book in a changing world. Some are upbeat, others downright gloomy. But there are other speakers who inspire by sharing their own creative experience. Shaun Tan talked about his journey, showing examples of his work including a drawing from his first day of school and another from when he was around 8 years old. His ability was apparent even then. Neil Gaiman interspersed his address with long narrative poems. I had a ‘zing’ moment when he spoke about going back to favourite childhood books and how they sometimes have lost the magic they once had. He says that a reader brings their experience to their interpretation of a story and that as our experience changes so does how we view the words and bring the story alive. I’m sure I’ve not said that as well as he did, but it made a lot of sense. Certainly I’ve been really disappointed when rereading some of my favourite childhood books. However, I loved rereading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ recently. It’s many years since I first read it, but it had lost nothing of its power, perhaps because I brought different experiences to it as an older reader.

Wendy Cooling, involved with a UK program aimed at getting books to the very young, and Jan Ormerod, writer and illustrator were both inspiring speakers. I also attended a number of panel sessions including ‘Real Girls or Dream Girls’, ‘What Version of History do we give our Children?’, ‘Toddlers or Teens: Who are Picture Books For?’ and a session moderated by a publisher discussing the relationship between editor and writer. So many conversations and ideas to absorb. Poor old brain!

It’s always fascinating to watch others as they check out displays and meet-and-greet. I’m not ever very comfortable pitching spontaneously but even if I was, for me conferences are the wrong time and place. I did have some conversations with various people about opportunities but they’re always very general. I like watching publishers, editors and publicity people working. I eavesdrop on conversations, and often the questions I’ve not been able to formulate are answered.

Its great to have the chance to sit and just chat with interstate colleagues and friends. It took me most of the conference to get around all the trade displays as each time I’d begin or continue, I’d be sidetracked by friends, colleagues, launches and more. Wonderful stuff.

I’ve come home with lots of books, many business cards and a number of opportunities to follow up. I don’t measure the success of the conference by the quality or variety of the program. It’s much less tangible than that. Poetry describes it well when it says that the power of poetry is as much in the white spaces as in the words. Conferences are wonderful, not just for the program, but for all the ‘stuff’, planned and unplanned, that fits in between.

Roll on Brisbane 2010!

Sydney SCBWI conference

I spent the past weekend in Sydney at the Hughenden Hotel for the 2nd SCBWI Conference. Organised by Susanne Gervay and Chris Cheng, this conference for writers and illustrators was a blast! It featured appraisals, publishers, editors, case studies, fine food and wine, trend-spotting, trend-setting, 2 min pitches, new voices, experienced voices, sunshine and laughter.

The program was designed to facilitate plenty of chat time. It also allowed delegates to absorb the content of each presentation without feeling like heads might explode. I met several people I’d previously only ‘known’ via email. It’s always good to match the faces with the names. Interesting too, who is like their on-line self, and who surprises.

What is the best thing about a conference? The chance to be with people who share your passion, to learn how to improve your craft, to take a break from the solitude that is so necessary for creating, to see new books. They reinvigorate, re-enthuse, recharge and totally exhaust you. They are fantastic.