Sunday, January 25, 2015

A new year, a new story.

So this blog has been very quiet of late. Life has taken over in scary, wonderful and unpredictable ways, as it is wont to do, but I feel like I am finally emerging out the other side again, a little battered and worn, but feeling excited about the future.

Two big boys have moved out and three little girls have moved in and we are all living in a great big old house on a hill with a view over the city and an attic and a secret staircase and our same lazy dog who is not quite sure what to make of the whole thing. When the sun goes down we can watch the bats soar across the darkening sky from our bedroom balcony. It is a house I have always dreamed of living in. A house of stories. And when the kids all go back to school next week I plan to start something new and magical, starring three little girls, a boy, a dog and a big old house on a hill.

But 2014 wasn't all about moving house and collecting children. I have been working, too. Promise. Here is the proof of it, above. A new Billie series. (What, Billie again?) No, this is for younger readers. Picture books. Illustrated by the wonderful Alisa Coburn in her inimitable warm and groovy style. Inspired by Where The Wild Things Are my favourite book of all time, Billie arrives at kinder each morning and immediately leaps into her imaginary world of the day: underwater wonderlands, sandy deserts, tangled jungles and has to confront whatever scary monster or catastrophe she finds there. Of course she does all this with aplomb, always getting back in time for fruit snack.

I loved writing this series. While a picture book text is limited by word count, the vocabulary can be as lush and evocative as poetry. The original Billie and Jack series - and even the Mysteries, to some extent - were very much written with the emerging reader in mind, so every word had to be the simplest, every sentence structure as clear and concise as possible. After four years of writing within these strict parameters, it felt like a real luxury to be able to use words of more than two syllables and sentences of more than five words again. The first two books will be released in March this year. Then another four books over the next twelve months.

Last year saw me become involved in another exciting venture, too. Which is kind of completely different to children's books, but not altogether as far removed as you might think. It is a performance space that packs away into a bike. A roving story-teller's tent, hand-sewn and lovingly constructed by my beau. It is a true work of art, born from a crazy idea and a sketch on the back of an envelope. You can find out more about it on Facebook under The Story Peddlers. A website is on its way.

Other than picture books and story tents, I have loved accompanying Kulja Coulston on 3RRR's The Grapevine. I had no idea how much I would love radio, especially being the one to ask the questions after years of being in the hot seat myself. We have another fabulous year of children's book people lined up (well, at least our first guest is confirmed) and I will strive to remember to post my monthly segments on Facebook for anyone who isn't able to tune in on a Monday morning. If there is someone fabulous (and local) in children's books or publishing you would like to hear from, let me know, and I'll see what I can wrangle.

Lastly, my favourite summer read would have to be We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler, though admittedly I am not alone in this nomination. Now I have just started The Woman Upstairs by Clare Messud, which came highly recommended by a friend, and so far, only a couple of chapters in, I feel like I am reading a description of MYSELF. Spooky. I would love to hear anyone's else's tips for books I can't go past. I plan to make up for having fallen off that bandwagon last year. Well, not to be too hard on myself, it was a BIG year and something had to give.

Happy happy 2015. May you never find weevils in your muesli.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Billie B Competition!

Billie B Brown has a new series, Billie B Mysteries and YOU could win the chance to star in the next book!
Billie, her bestie Jack and a group of their buddies are solving mysteries at school and around the neighbourhood and they need your help!
Use your detective skills and track down one of the Billie B Mysteries standees. Then get your mum or dad to snap a pic of you with Billie and the gang and upload it to Instagram or Facebook with the hash tag #BillieBMystery along with the reasons you would make the best new member of the Mysteries gang. Author Sally Rippin will then choose the best answer and that person will appear in the 6th Billie B Mystery book publishing in September 2014!
For more details ask mum or dad to visit the Bookids Facebook page and check the notes section. You can also find the locations of the Billie B Mysteries stand on the Bookids Facebook page.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Playground Detectives - Billie B Mystery Number Three!

I've had a few enquiries lately about the release date for the next Billie Mystery so thought I should put a little sneak peek up here.

Billie and her friends have a brand new Secret Mystery Clubhouse, high up in the apple tree. Now they just need a brand new mystery to uncover. Billie comes up with an idea. Only last week Rebecca found leaves in her sandwich and Benny was immediately blamed. Lola says she even saw him loitering in the corridor that day. Everyone agrees it has to have been Benny. After all, Benny always does stupid things like that. But this time Benny is adamant it wasn't him. And, to Billie, something feels not quite right. But then, if it wasn't Benny, who was it? It's up to the Secret Mystery Club to find out!

Playground Detectives should be available at the beginning of March. So for any keen Billie readers, that's only fifteen more sleeps!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Happy New Year and Five Non-Resolutions

So, everyone knows how hard it can be to keep New Year's resolutions. You wake up on the first of Jan, full of good intentions and determined to do things differently, but more often than not the most ambitious of those resolutions have well and truly slipped by the wayside by the end of the first week.

So, this year, I thought I'd try something different.

Five Things I Resolve NOT To Do In 2014:

1) I will not take on more work than I know I can handle - no matter how interesting it sounds - and no matter how much I convince myself I can squeeze it in. Too much work means not enough play time and we all know that makes Jack a dull boy.

2) I will not feel guilty about my pyjama days. Days when I am not really sick, just pretending, so that I can spend a day in bed napping, drinking tea and mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. After all I've found that one fake sick day can often ward off a real one.

3) I will not skip my yoga class, book group, singing class or piano lesson because I have too much work to do. (See no.1) I will also not feel guilty about a long lunch date with a friend. I work enough Sundays to justify the odd weekday tryst.

4) I will do my very best to be at all my kids school performances, parent-teacher interviews and fundraisers, but will not beat myself up if I miss one for whatever reason. There are plenty of other parents at the school who are better bakers than me. I am much better on the book stall anyway.

5) I will not forget to stop whatever it is I am doing and just enjoy those brief moments when my rapidly-growing sons want to share something funny with me they have seen on the internet, talk to me about their day at school or just sit with me in the kitchen when I'm cooking. The older they get the more it becomes clear to me that these days are numbered and I don't ever want to regret spending more time checking emails on my iPhone than being present with my kids. If I can only manage to keep one non-resolution this year, I think this might be the most important one for me for 2014.

Hope you are having some success in sticking to yours!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Code Breakers - Billie Mystery 2

One thing you may not know about me is that I used to be a detective. From about seven to nine years old, my friends and I kept a faithful watch over our neighbourhood, to make sure things were running just the way they should. At this time, I was living in Perth, Western Australia, in the supposedly quiet suburb of Mount Lawley, but you have no idea how many astonishing things went on under the inattentive gaze of our parents; things that went missing, unexplained noises in the night, mysterious stains on our clothing that would appear out of nowhere. I can tell you, if my friends and I hadn't been keeping careful watch over our parents and younger siblings, who knows what tragedies may have struck.

Obviously, when you're a detective, you can't have everybody knowing this. It's very important to remain undercover and to find ways to communicate with your fellow neighbourhood detectives in a way that is indecipherable to others. So, my friends and I would develop new languages and complex codes, that sometimes became too baffling to even decrypt ourselves.

Something as simple as Meet Me In The Park After School would become:



Teemay emay inay ethay arkpay afteray oolschay

or, worse still (because numbers were never my forte)

13-5-5-20 13-5 9-14 20-8-5 16-1-18-11 1-6-20-5-18 19-3-8-15-15-12

Often, to my chagrin, by the time I had cracked the code the meeting would be well and truly over.

Fortunately, Billie and her friends work together a little more constructively than my friends and I ever did and manage to crack a series of curious codes that appear one after the other in little envelopes all around their neighbourhood. The code in each envelope relies upon a child's particular skills; Mika's ability to read other languages, Alex's talent for numbers and Jack's technique for memorising tricky words. Billie begins to despair that she may never crack a code herself, but the last note they find requires a particularly imaginative thinker and Billie is able to work it out, thanks to a few clues she has gleaned along the way. They follow its instructions which lead them to discover something completely and unexpectedly glorious, hidden in Billie's very own backyard. Something just perfect for a Secret Mystery Club to ponder their next impending mystery.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

100 Story Building* launch

A great deal of people have crazy, beautiful dreams, but very few of them have the tenacity or enthusiasm to actually realise them. Yesterday, many years of hard work came together in one glorious moment when the 100 Story Building's actual building was launched.

I remember Lachlann Carter and Jenna Williams sitting at my kitchen table several years ago, fresh out of Melbourne Uni, telling me their dreams of starting a writing centre for kids inspired by the Valencia 826 model Dave Eggers had begun. Yesterday the doors to that centre were finally opened. Standing amongst the crowds of people who had turned up for the launch, I felt as proud as a mother hen.

Here are a few highlights of the launch in photos:

Lachlann gave a tour of the building, which you can see mapped out on this builder's blueprint below.

He explained that the other 99 stories were still in construction and while they were accessible through this trapdoor in the ground, it was still a dangerous work in progress so warned people to steer well clear.

Other than strange noises and smells coming from below, the only sign of the other residents were the occasional note they left each other on this pin-board.

Out front, storyteller extraordinaire, Bernard Caleo, entertained the crowds with a traditional Japanese tale on chalkboard, and did a tremendous job, especially as he was competing with the noise of the Ethiopian new year festival only 500 metres along.

Soon it was time for the formal proceedings. We heard first from Lachlann, then after the Welcome To Country...

we listened to a radio play put on by students...

then heard from the delightful Alice Pung, fellow ambassador and board member.

Co-founder, Jess Tran, cut the ribbon around the bookcase to declare the building officially open, only to discover it  swung open to hide a secret room - and access to the bank vaults next door! They left the money in the vaults for now, but handed out lucky-dip books to the kids instead...

who then went back to the activities set up for them...

which included drawing comic strips...

and pitching story ideas to the editorial team of Early Harvest including the brilliant and beautiful Davina Bell, wearing her bespoke paper editorial glasses.

It was a truly beautiful launch, so much love in one small building, and such a testament to all the hard work that Lach, Jess and Jenna have put in over the years. I know they have an extraordinary future ahead of them.

I couldn't be prouder to be associated with such a fine bunch of people.

* Now with 100% more building!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Aki in Melbourne!

I am very excited to let you know that the fabulous Aki Fukuoka, illustrator of the Billie B Brown series, will be in Melbourne for one very busy week in August. She will be joining me at the Melbourne Writers Festival to help launch Spooky House the first of the Billie B Mysteries. If you haven't had the chance to see Aki draw live - you are in for a treat! From rabbits in top hats to dinosaurs in trousers, I have yet to find something she can't draw.

As well as the writers festival, Aki and I will have three bookstore events over the week where you can come and see her draw and be among the first to hear me read from Spooky House. We will also have lots of prizes and fun things to give away. Hope you can come! 

Here is a list of our public events:

- Saturday 24th August: 

The Reading Hour, The Edge Federation Square, 4pm

- Sunday 25th August:

Drop in and Draw, Artplay, 2.30pm.

- Monday 26th August:

The World of Billie and Jack, ACMI Cinema 1, 11.15am.

- Tuesday 27th August

Creating Characters, Artplay, 10am (this one is just with Aki).

- Wednesday 28th August

- Thursday 29th August