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

Saturday 8 April 2017

Newcastle Writers Festival Family Fun Day 2017

I'm on a high this evening after just finishing my MC role at the NWF Family Fun Day.

What a day! The sun was shining (thank goodness after all the rain over the last few weeks!) and people came from everywhere to help us celebrate books, reading, story telling and illustrating.

I had spent weeks making sure I had written every guest a very personalised introduction. I'd made sure I knew all the equipment that was needed. I'd checked the sound and the visuals. And finally I made sure the volunteers knew where and how they were needed most. I wanted to make sure everything was as perfect as it could be for everyone.

And I'm proud and honoured to say it was a HUGE success!

The day started with local illustrators Liz Anelli, Gwynne Jones, and Kirrili Lonergan making a new picture book live on stage - a world exclusive! Even though it can take 12 months to illustrate a picture book, these ladies nailed it in 30 minutes. Kids helped contribute collage pieces to the production and the overall result was amazing. What clever ladies!

Newcastle Region Libraries had amazing craft activities set up just outside the marquee so children could wandering in and out and use their creative juices to contribute to a large illustration which will be displayed at the library after the festival.

Next, John 'Stinker' Clarke shared personal stories that helped contribute to his debut children's story, 'The Adventures of Stinker and Stinkpot'. John was funny, educational and very engaging.

My heart skipped a beat when our next guest entered the marquee - the extremely inspiring Jackie French. Jackie and I had met earlier in the Green Room and I was delighted with how she loved coming back to Newcastle and re-experiencing its industrial flavour. We chatted about our mesmerising harbour as she signed some books for me. She even asked me if we could have a selfie! Of course I accepted. She may post that photo on her social media later.

Jackie won hearts and minds in the marquee as she talked about wombats and more wombats. She dramatically read, 'Diary of a Wombat' and then chatted about the pleasure of reading. She had the audience in the palm of her hands.

My heart skipped several beats when our next guest, Richard Roxburgh, visited our space. We were madly setting up clipboards, paper and textas so the kids could draw along with him. Richard drew some of the characters from his new children's book, 'Artie and the Grime Wave'. He was very engaging - you could hear a pin drop in the room. I think Richard would have stayed drawing with the kids all day if we could have let him. I heard a rumour all his books in the festival bookshop sold out too.

Nick Earls was up next and had a hard act to follow - but he nailed it. He shared the origins of several words inspired by his research for his 'Word Hunters' series. It is based on twins Lexi and Al Hunter who find an old dictionary and then their world as they know it changes forever.

The Newcastle Youth Orchestra entertained us next with beautiful orchestral music. The people involved in the orchestra are aged between 10-25 years. Their talent and music filled our marquee with delight - we were in awe :)

And lucky last, Professor Francesca Falconette (Nadia Sunde) had an amazing time entertaining children as we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the release of the first Harry Potter book. Professor Falconette (Professor Frankie for short) was funny, engaging and made every child feel important and special. It was the most perfect way to end such a beautiful day.

Congratulations to everyone involved in making the NWF Family Fun Day come alive. Without every piece of the puzzle it would not have come together so beautifully.

I have heard a rumour late this afternoon there is a very high chance the Family Fun Day will be back next year and I will be the first person to jump on board and help make it happen.

Friday 7 April 2017

Appreciate! Announce! Applaud! Event - Book Week Shortlist Announcement

Sarah Foster, Me, Judith Ridge, Sue Whiting
The Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book Week Awards are always a talking point for so many people each year. From the announcement of the long list known as 'The Notables', to the shortlist, and then onto the winners, people of all ages are talking about books. This makes every book a winner!

The Notables (long list) for each category was announced late February and so many beautiful books made this list. I had the pleasure of being at Dymocks, George St, Sydney when they were announced. I have a blog post about that event, 'The Night of the Notables' here.

A month later, the shortlist (6 books from each of the categories in the Notables list) was announced at midday at the annual 'Appreciate! Announce! Applaud! Event' (AAA) hosted by the CBCA NSW Branch at Rydges Central, Sydney on 28th March. Freya Blackwood, illustrator extraordinaire, was the keynote speaker. She shared with us her work ethic and work process and told fascinating stories about how work and family life blend and crash into each other while trying to work to deadlines.

At this annual event, a range of book loving people are asked to read all the notable books in one category and then share their own shortlist on the morning just before the official shortlist announcement.

This year those people were:

Early Childhood: Victoria Roberts
Picture Books: Me
Younger Readers: Sue Whiting
Older Readers: Judith Ridge
Eve Pownall & Information Books: Sarah Foster

So, in January I started to hunt down and read about 130 entered picture books before The Notables list was released. All these books were published in 2016 but not all of them were easy to find.

In the end, with the help of Newcastle Region Libraries, I found 70 of them. I had never borrowed so many books in such a short amount of time, but I had so much fun reading the most diverse range of picture books that were of such a high quality. My children found the process fascinating and they read most of these 70 books with me.

When The Notables list was announced in February, the picture book list reduced to just 42 books.

So which ones did I pick?

I certainly didn't like all of them. Some of them I just didn't understand and some of them made me wonder how they ever got published - especially when I'm actively seeking publishers for my own unpublished picture book manuscripts.

But I loved so many that I found it excruciating trying to narrow my list to 6 titles.

In the end I made two lists. One list was full of my favourites, and one list was for the titles I thought may be shortlisted. The two lists were completely different.

I didn't expect anyone to agree with me on either list - especially the judges. As long as we're talking about and reading books, it doesn't matter. In fact, when the shortlist was announce about an hour later, my list went out the door. My entire shortlist guess was wrong - but 3 of the official shortlisted books were on my favourites list. I don't know what this says but I found it interesting.

Here the lists I shared:

List 1: The 6 books I thought may be published in the picture book category:

1) Cyclone by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley
2) Desert Lake: The Story of Kati Thanda - Lake Eyre by Pamela Freeman & Liz Anelli
3) Molly and Mae by Danny Parker and Freya Blackwood
4) Circle by Jeannie Baker
5) Welcome to Country by Aunty Joy Murphy and Lisa Kennedy
6) Something Wonderful by Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair

List 2: My anticipated picture book shortlist:

1) Big Sky Yellow Kite by Janet A. Holmes and Jonathan Bentley
2) The Patchwork Bike* by Maxine Beneba Clarke and Van T Rudd
3) Out* by Angela May George and Owen Swan
4) The Fabulous Friend Machine by Nick Bland
5) One the River by Roland Harvey
6) Snail and Turtle: Rainy Days by Stephan Michael King
7) Pandamonia by Chris Owen and Chris Nixon
8) One Photo* by Ross Watkins and Liz Anelli
9) Colours of Australia by Bronwyn Bancroft

*The titles that were actually shortlisted

And here are the real shortlisted winners of the CBCA Book Week awards for 2017:

Congratulations to all the book creating teams behind each book on either the CBCA Notables List or Shortlist. You can find all the CBCA 2017 book lists here.

The winner of each category will be announced on Friday, 18th August, the first day of Book Week. Good luck!

Book Week 2017 poster designed by Freya Blackwood