I'm a children's author, wife and mum in no particular order. I perform these jobs simultaneously and I love them all!

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Craig Smith - Illustrator Visit

People who know me well know how much I love listening to children’s authors and illustrators talking about their work. More and more are coming via Newcastle and I got the chance to catch one not so long ago.

Craig Smith visited the Newcastle Library on Wednesday 17th September and entertained children and adults with his illustration skills and tales. (Not ‘Craig Smith – Wonky Donkey’ fame)

His collection of published books is impressive and includes titles such as, ‘The Windy Farm’ by Doug MacLeod, ‘I Was Only Nineteen’ by John Schumann, ‘Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns’ by Doug MacLeod, and ‘Where are you Banana?’ by Sofie Laguna. But his list is extensive. More information can be found on his website:


Craig showed us several original illustrations from his published books including ‘Billy The Punk’. Looking at finished illustrations for picture books always leaves me in awe. I don’t have the skills to draw a cat out of two circles, so I find it hard to comprehend one person having so much talent.  

Then Craig asked us to pick up a pencil and come on a dramatic illustration journey with him from his book, ‘Doctor Frankenstein’s Other Monster’. Me - pick up a pencil and draw? Oh no!

As he showed us how to interpret a piece of manuscript as an illustrator, he also guided us on how to draw the main character. As this mini workshop unfolded, so did a drawing on my page. I know you want to see it but lucky for you I can’t find it anywhere. This is what it was supposed to look like and there was a resemblance if you squinted a little:

I had a quick chat to Craig after his presentation. What a lovely person! I walked away feeling very inspired by all of his successes and a little shocked he had me drawing.

I have had a copy of ‘Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns’ for over 25 years. My edition was published in 1986. I hadn't made the connection until Craig's presentation.

Thanks Craig for your time. It was a pleasure meeting you.

Monday 3 November 2014

Julia Gillard - In Conversation

I had the great privilege of meeting Ms Julia Gillard last night as she stopped in Newcastle during her ‘My Story’ Book Tour.

I was one of 700 people who filled the Concert Hall in Newcastle City Hall. We were all very excited to be in her presence and listen to what she had to say. Her autobiography titled, ‘My Story’ is 504 pages long so she had many juicy stories to tell.

MacLean’s Booksellers, our local independent bookseller hosted this amazing event and I was lucky enough as a Newcastle Writers’ Festival committee member to be invited as a VIP for the evening. FRONT ROW SEAT!

Pre-presentation drinks with Ms Gillard were top secret – even the press was not allowed in. I can’t tell you any of my secrets but I will let you know she shook my hand as we were introduced and she touched my shoulder as she left the room. She had a wonderful presence about her and she looked fabulous! What a classy lady.

During her conversation with Rosemarie Milson, director of The Newcastle Writers’ Festival and a Newcastle Herald journalist, Ms Gillard was captivating. I’m not interested in politics generally, but I listened to every word. She spoke with careful confidence and was interesting, inspiring and graceful. She spoke on many issues, but the issue that resonated with me was gender equality. She explained how she believes men should stand up alongside women and support gender equality in our society. The supporting applause was deafening.

I was quite teary at times as I listened to her account of her time as PM. Ms Gillard and Rosemarie discussed her growing resilience and how she used it to navigate her way through the tough times (and there were many). It was an honour to join the audience in giving her a standing ovation as we thanked her for sharing her story. I WAS IN AWE!

I’m now a proud owner of a signed copy of her autobiography and I have that moment in time when we met (twice actually). This was a very moving experience for me. If you get a chance to listen to Ms Gillard, you won’t be disappointed.

This photo just will not face the right way!

Tuesday 15 July 2014

From an Idea to a Publishing Contract - the journey of 'Dandelions', my first picture book publication

I remember very clearly the morning I ran out of the shower dripping wet with a towel around me. I had to type up a new story idea before I could forget it. It was the 26th July, 2012 and my story was titled ‘Dandelions’.

I roughly knew the cycle of the dandelion plant, but when I started researching, I became fascinated. I learnt they were edible, their leaves can grow up to 25cm long, pigs love eating them but sheep and horses prefer not to. I no longer dig them out of our lawn and I’m often found in random gutters picking puff balls for my children to blow. I love the shape of their leaves with their jagged teeth and the fluffy softness of the petals and puff balls. I often imagine sleeping covered by a doona full of dandelion fuzziness!

There is a cafĂ© in Newcastle that serves dandelion tea. The waitress advised me it is an acquired taste. One day on a special occasion I’m going to go and sample this intriguing brew.


I have become so fascinated by the dandelion plant, I’ve made a pinterest board full of dandelion images, craft ideas, artwork samples and jewellery. You can have a sneak peek or follow it here: http://www.pinterest.com/katrinamckelvey/dandelions/. You’ll also see the odd dandelion photo popping up on Instagram.

In October 2012, after many drafts, I decided to start sending my new manuscript to Australian publishers. By November the rejections started filling my mailbox.

• Unfortunately yours has not been chosen
• Unfortunately, we do not feel that your manuscript fits with our current publishing list
• Unfortunately we cannot find a place for it on our list
• And so on and so on. OUCH!


But I received some golden feedback:

• I read it with interest
• It is well written with some lovely imagery
• You have a great writing style
• Dandelions is a very imaginative description of a young girl’s love of dandelions
• This is a beautiful, descriptive piece

This rare feedback gave me some hope even after all the rejection. I was left wondering what to do next.

The opportunity came for a manuscript assessment through the NSW Writers’ Centre with Margaret Hamilton. I sent her two manuscripts and went to Sydney to hear her wisdom. Margaret didn’t like my first one (which will remain nameless) but she offered some great advice for ‘Dandelions’. I’ll never forget her saying this manuscript ‘had potential’. We worked on the text a little and then she wished me well.

A new version of ‘Dandelions’ was entered into the CYA Conference Unpublished Picture Book Competition around the same time. It came 59th out of 148 entries. Not bad. I received some more priceless feedback:

• There is something beautiful and ethereal about your work
• I enjoyed the poetic phrases you incorporated
• Something else to consider is whether there is a problem at the heart of your story or not
• A lovely idea for a story, incorporating an element of science and empathy for nature
• Some work on the ending will transform this manuscript into one that will stand out from the slush pile.

From this I could see a few things clearly. I had a little feeling in the back of my mind I would have to break my main character’s heart. So I rewrote ‘Dandelions’, added a new character and I broke that little girl’s heart (which translates to my husband breaking our daughter’s heart). As I wrote the words, I cried. I was completely emotionally attached to this manuscript now.

Sadly, I decided to shelve ‘Dandelions’ for a while. I still don’t know why exactly. But looking back, it wasn’t the right time to continue to fight for it. I needed to distance myself from it for a while.

One year later, a little writing competition popped up on my computer - ‘The Hub: KBR Short Stories’ competition. It was part of the Kids’ Book Review website (http://www.kids-bookreview.com/). In November, 2013 the monthly theme was ‘yellow’. From the website:
As part of KBR's brand new Literary Hub initiative we are putting out the call for creative short stories aimed at children aged 4 to 10.

That's right. We want your short stories to share with our KBR readers, who just happen to comprise a rather impressive array of children's book industry professionals, from Australia and around the world. Want your work to fall under the watchful eyes of publishers?

I was intrigued. I could enter. I was tempted. The website went on:
Each month, you will have until the 25th day to get your stories in, to the THEMES listed below. We will choose and publish four stories per month, with each one appearing on the Friday mornings of the following month. In the case where there are five Fridays in the month, the stories will commence on the second Friday.
Which stories will we choose? Will one of them be yours??

You will also have the opportunity to provide a short bio and a link to your chosen website. How exciting is this?

Yes, very exciting! I was hooked. Dandelion flowers are yellow. What would I have to do? From the website:
• short story text must be no more 500 words long (501 words+ are ineligible)
• be sure your story fits the central theme and doesn't just 'include' it
• stories must belong to you, be original, and be unpublished anywhere else, in part or in full
• anyone can enter, anywhere in the world, so long as they are over 18
My story was less than 500 words. My story fitted the central theme. My story was original and unpublished. I was definitely over 18.
So, on the 15th October, 2013 I woke up a sleepy ‘Dandelions’ manuscript and sent it. This manuscript had been quiet for too long. By the 28th October, ‘Dandelions’ was chosen as one of the four stories that would be featured on the KBR website for November. Happy days!
But this journey doesn’t end there…in fact it is just the beginning.
On the 4th November my world flipped. I received an email from a publisher who was linked to the Kids’ Book Review team. She was interested in my ‘Dandelions’ story and was interested in publishing lots of children’s picture books. She said she was hoping to hear from me soon. How soon? I thought. Was today too early? A publisher had emailed me? What? WOW!
A week later ‘Dandelions’ was beautifully rejected – again. This time I was given very specific reasons why. But I was close – very close.
But my mind went crazy. Rejected again? I thought she loved it. I’m confused. I was quite emotional for 24 hours. I only let myself get upset for one day after a rejection. I believe it’s ok to be upset but there’s no need to let it consume you. Then it was time for the question – what next? Move forward.
I gave myself a week to rewrite it using the guidance supplied and then resubmit it. I had nothing to lose. I sent it off with a broken-hearted little girl and a new ending just perfect for a magical illustrative impact.
I’m proud to say it passed through acquisition and distribution meetings with the full support of everyone in the publishing team.
In the meantime, my friend Kirrili was being considered as the illustrator. Is it possible we would be working together to bring my little story to life and into the hands of children? Could it really be possible for a new author and illustrator to be contracted together as a creative team? On the 16th April, 2014 we found out it is very possible.
In the foyer of the National Library in Canberra, on the eve of the CBCA National Conference, Kirrili and I toasted those 350 words with champagne having found out only hours earlier our dream had come true. 
Photo: Tania McCartney

With the opportunity Kids’ Book review offers new authors, and with Anouska and the EK Books publishing team believing in my story, my children’s author career has begun. I have privately expressed thank you to so many people who have been involved in this publication journey so far. The list is endless. Big public acknowledgments will come later.
With contracts now signed and exchanged, I’m proud to say ‘Dandelions’ by Katrina McKelvey and Kirrili Lonergan, published by EK Books (imprint of Exisle Publishing), will be released early 2016. It will be colourful and magical. It will touch your heart and make you see relationships in a different way - all thanks to a couple of dandelions and years of patience and persistence!
You can follow the rest of the ‘Dandelions’ journey on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/katrinamckelveyauthor

Monday 26 May 2014

The Sydney Writers’ Festival 2014

My little family went on an amazing adventure to Sydney yesterday for the SWF2014 Family Day.

We started with some cut-out photography fun on our way to Cornelia Funke’s official ‘Family Day’ opening speech.

At story time, I revisited my childhood as I listened to Damon Young read his funny picture book, ‘My Nana is a Ninja’. Deb Kelly was a superstar as she shared ‘Jam for Nana’ and ‘The Bouncing Ball’ with excited festival munchkins. Deb also shared the chair with Gus Gordon, Jane Godwin, Grug, Ursula Dubosarsky and many more.

Following story time, we shared morning tea with some very well-known children’s authors. (Somehow we missed you Jacqueline Harvey – sorry!)

I was a little awestruck listening to Jane Godwin share an exclusive peek of her new picture book illustrated by Anna Walker titled ‘What Do You Wish For?’ due for release Christmas 2015. She promised us we were the first to see her ‘dummy book’.

Ursula Dubosarsky explained how she felt excited to have her picture book, ‘Too Many Elephants in this House’ chosen as the 2014 National Simultaneous Story Time book. On the day, she shared her book with an intimate audience at the State Library.

Funny man Oliver Phommavanh chaired the ‘greatest drawing showdown this side of the harbour’.  Eight children’s illustrators including Gus Gordon, Tony Flowers and the ‘The Bouncing Ball’ illustrator, Georgia Perry entertained us as Oliver picked random topics from the children in the audience. Very funny stuff! (Gus, Tony or Georgia didn’t win)

Tony Flowers drew this wonderful dragon on the footpath outside the ‘Big Top’ as part of his new picture book series, ‘Billy is a Dragon’. The 3D effect this 2D chalk drawing reflected was amazing!

My treasured ones then tried some illustration techniques guided by the very talented Dav Pilkey, creator of the unique children’s character, Captain Underpants. Their attempts were not too bad!


To finish off we hung around for Vivid Sydney. Words cannot explain how amazing this is. You must go to Sydney and experience it for yourself. Lights/projections/displays are turned on at 6pm and are turned off at midnight.

The SWF2014 Family Day was wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing the children’s book industry with my family. It was a very busy program but we all had a great time.


Tuesday 20 May 2014

Highlights from the CBCA National Conference, 2014

The CBCA National Conference, 2014 is an event I will remember fondly for a long time. I loved mingling with respected children’s authors and illustrators for two and a half glorious days. Here are ten of my favourite highlights. I could have listed a hundred!

1) Meeting Stephen Michael King and Glenda Millard

Glenda Millard, Kirrili Lonergan, Katrina McKelvey, Stephen Michael King

Stephen and Glenda are such a gentle yet powerful team. The themes in their stories run deep into my heart and touch me profoundly. 

2) Drinking champagne in the foyer of the National Library with much loved children’s authors and illustrators

Photo by Tania McCartney

What a way to start a conference! There is no better place to host literary events and toast wonderful publication news than here. Can you find me in this photo?

3) Watching Bob Graham sign my first edition of ‘Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten’

I was given this copy while I was at university studying my Bachelor of Education degree in the early 1990’s. My copy is very worn as it has had many children inside its pages. I attended Bob’s workshop at the Sydney Writers’ Festival two years ago and he talked about the story behind his latest picture book, ‘Silver Buttons’. Now I have my own signed copy. 

4) Canberra in Autumn

Photo by Tania McCartney
Photo by Tania McCartney

The colours were amazing! I enjoyed sharing breakfast Sunday morning on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin while chatting to Canberra’s local authors and illustrators. Every colour of the rainbow was represented in the trees that surrounded the lake. A breathtaking site indeed!

5) Dinner in the Australian War Memorial

Words cannot explain the atmosphere of this night. Being in the Australian War Memorial seated in a dimly lit room underneath the tail of a war plane was incredible. We were moved to by war stories by Jackie French. Morris Gleitzman’s ‘Loyal Creatures’ (a war horse story) was dramatically performed by a solo artist. Very moving!

6) Andy Griffiths - legend

I ‘accidently’ ran into Andy in an empty foyer. What else could his biggest fan do other then ask for a photo? See – he is happy to see me! We made a date to cross over at this year’s Byron Bay Writers’ Festival. Now I can’t let the man down can I?

My copy of ‘The Bad Book’ was signed by Andy at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival in 2012 (For Katrina, the very bad teacher) and ‘The Very Bad Book’ was signed at this conference (For Aidan, the very bad son). I could go on and on about how bloody amazing this man is but I won’t. You should already know!

7) Catching up with people who I have connected with on Facebook

There were many people I chatted with who I follow on Facebook, but it was just beautiful to especially catch up with this talented one  – Tania McCartney.

8) Mixing with respected children’s authors and illustrators

Freya Blackwood, Katrina McKelvey, Libby Gleeson

Katrina McKelvey and Julie Vivas

Jackie French signing one of my favourite picture books, 'Queen Victoria's Underpants'

Lynn Jenkins, Kirrili Lonergan, Choechoe Brereton, Katrina McKelvey
I lined up for a long time across the weekend (often while eating my lunch with a knife and fork standing up) to see Libby Gleeson, Freya Blackwood, Julie Vivas, Glenda Millard, Stephen Michael King, Bronwyn Bancroft, Choechoe Brereton, Bob Graham, Barry Jonsberg, Michael Gerard Bauer, Jackie French and Andy Griffiths. I managed to get no less than 36 of my books signed (most of them I bought from home). Is that a record?

9) Being inspired by Jackie French

Jackie's passion for children’s literature is contagious, inspiring and overwhelming. No wonder she is the current Australian Children’s Laureate. My only regret is that I couldn’t go on the visit to her property on the Monday.

10) Taking some time out of my life as a busy mum, wife and volunteer to refocus and be reinspired to write my little heart out.

It was so luxurious to take a few uninterrupted deep breaths. Thank you to my beautiful family for helping me take some time out and be self-indulgent – even if it was only for a few days. I feel like a new person.

Quote of the conference for me: ‘You cannot be all things to all people, but you can do the impossible.’ Thanks Erica Wagner (Allen and Unwin publisher) for this reminder I needed to hear.