Wombat Books Blog

Wombat Books blog is the place to keep up to date with all the goings-on in the world of Aussie kid's books.

A Personal Note from Wombat Books Director

rochelle manners publisherI’ve been running Wombat Books for over ten years now.
Through that time, I have met so many wonderful people from the Australian author and illustrator community. Many different people have worked with us as we’ve grown—from new creatives, to bestselling and well-known creatives. Each has brought their energy and their talent to the publisher. I just love being around people in the publishing industry: those that love books.
I wanted to host the first and only Wombat Books Conference as a way to say thank you for ten years of books, support and Auslit. But also to create a collective think tank of our authors and illustrators to show how much we’ve learned, and how much we can learn from each other. Having a chance to give back to the writing community that has supported us is important to me.
I’m excited to meet emerging authors and illustrators in this professional development format, and hopefully share Wombat Books' ten years of knowledge with everyone. We’ve also got a stellar line up of industry greats, from award-winning Kate Forsyth, to local heroes like Aleesah Darlison and T.M. Clark, to illustration superstars like Giuseppe Poli and Renée Treml. It’s just so much talent jam-packed into this one day. Creatives teaching creatives; creatives meeting creatives; creatives learning from creatives.
I hope to see you there and please don’t hesitate to introduce yourself to me on the day.

Yours sincerely,
Rochelle Manners
Director of Wombat Books

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Invest in yourself with Georgie Donaghey

Georgie Donaghey headshotCan you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you've been in the industry?

Since beginning in this industry over 20 years ago, I've had the privilege of wearing many hats: published author, editor, mentor, festival director, radio host and founder of Creative Kids Tales. To make it in this industry, I knew I would have to invest. I began my training as President of a local chapter of the Children's Book Council of Australia. After three years I left and Creative Kids Tales was born. Fast-forward to today and CKT is almost 10! It's been an amazing journey, and I love provide the kid-lit community with support and resources.

I've also had time to write and publish a number of books, including Lulu (now available on Virgin and QANTAS entertainment channels!), Clover's Big Ideas, and In the Shadow of an Elephant. My stories have also been featured on Kinderling Kids Radio. You can read more about me here.

Describe your typical work desk.

Unfortunately, my workspace has become more a dumping ground for files, books and merchandise. I like to think of it as organised chaos.

I'll write wherever I can find a spot. On the train, in my garden or at my dining table. My favourite place to write is in the shower. I have a waterproof notepad and pencil stuck to my wall. A lot of my ideas come to me when I'm in the shower (probably because it is the only space I can be truly alone with my imagination).

What is most important for an author to remember when marketing themselves?

I immediately think of the big no-no's I see instead! When an author bombards sites trying to sell their books, or when they respond to posts and spin the topic around in an attempt to sell. Marketing should not be 'in your face'. Apart from any initial launch, it should be gentle but long-term. Get involved with groups both online and in person, especially where your book might be a good fit. This is also a great networking opportunity, but don't push your book on people.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

I don't think there was ever one purchase. It's all about long-term investment: going to festivals, upskilling through workshops and so on. Anything you can do to expand your knowledge in your chosen genre is beneficial. Reading extensively in the genre you write for and being aware of trends with publishers helps too.

What is the most memorable approach you have seen to promote a book?

Merchandise is great! However, this is not always possible. Kids love getting something that ties into the book, and parents love freebies for their kids. It can be a stuffed toy, kid's watch or a bookmark or poster. This week I received an emoji pile of poo with a smiley face, that smells of chocolate. My kids love it! Launches with giveaways, book readings and signings are great promotional avenues. Kids love meeting their writing heroes.

Describe your panel for the Wombat Books conference.

Writing is only the first step in your investment. You need to network, market yourself, build your brand, polish your work and so much more. Participants will learn how to INVEST to build a healthy return. This session will equip you with the tools needed to take your writing journey to the next level, with topics spanning from the value of critique groups and writing competitions, building your author platform before publication, and social media.

For more great workshops like Georgie's, book your tickets for the conference now! Click the image below for more information.

Conference Tiles Invest the write way

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The heart of the story with Giuseppe Poli

GiuseppePoliCan you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you've been in the industry?

I'm an artist and creative who has been making things for years. The journey to children's picture books has been a long one and being a children's story creator was not what I wanted to be when I grew up (see my website for more details!) My break into the industry came in 2014 when my first book was published. Today I am working on my tenth and have many other stories in development.

Describe your typical work desk.

Like many aspiring artists, I'm still in the process of making my ideal studio. At present, I have my computer adorned with things that inspire me. Next to that I have a makeshift lightbox and all my colour pencils on display. The best thing I've done so far is group my pencils and inks into colour groups. They look delicious! They are like little fields of flowers and grass and woodland...and they beckon me to pick them up and play. Recently I've drawn portraits of my characters and have them around my monitor too.

I've learned something interesting in the pursuit of a perfect workspace. When I'm in the thick of creating, I'll use whatever space I can find (the floor, dining table, wardrobe doors). When I feel the urge to have my own studio I use it as a trigger to ask myself 'Should I be creating? Am I procrastinating?' and once I get back to work, my workspace angst is no longer a problem!

There is one key way I use my work desk. I finish my night thinking about a creative project and what I'd like to do next, and leave one note of action on the desk for the next day. When I wake up, bleary and tired, I don't need to think, I just do.

What made you want to become an illustrator?

I love making art but I love story more. I'm inspired by films and games and when I looked for a way to build skills in visual storytelling, I found that I had all I needed in a pencil and a piece of paper. From this, I realised children's picture books were an incredible medium and a wonderful opportunity to master my ability to captivate, inspire and grow.

How do you go about designing a character when working with picture books? How does the collaboration between author and illustrator work?

For me, all my design and characters for the book come from my intentions for it. I don't bring my past work into my present project, and try and clarify what the heart of the story is. If the story calls for something I don't have in my tooklit, I work to discover how I can deliver that.

I want people to feel something and there will always be movement in my art. It's at this intention level where I think authors and illustrators collaborate best. The beauty of the author and illustrator collaboration is that we give each other room to shine and together we amplify the story.

The other collaborator that's important to acknowledge is the publisher. There is a reason why you as the illustrator have been chosen. That's the magic of passing over the story-baton to the visual storyteller and seeing where they fly.

Who are your illustration idols?

I admire what Shaun Tan has done for the medium of the picture book. Shaun has walked to the top of the hill of high art and literature, planted a flag for picture books and laid out a picnic blanket for all others to join him. I see picture books as galleries and curated exhibitions, each page a blank wall, curated towards a special experience.

I also love Quentin Blake and think his knighthood for his service to illustration is very cool. Both he and Shaun have opened our eyes to the medium as something that is more than 'just for kids'. A picture book is a moment in time.

Which children's book would you love to have illustrated?

The newly illustrated Harry Potter books by Jim Kay. Wow! I can't wait to get that good. Quentin Blake's illustrations of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are also enchanting.

Describe your workshop for the Wombat Books Conference.

At the heart of each of my books is my desire to reach a win-win-win: a win for me as a storyteller, a win for the author/publisher and a win for our readers. That pursuit is not easy and I love it, because it forces us to be really creative and in this pursuit we all grow.

I believe that a book that satisfies all these elements can exist, and that product is worth searching for. Finding our way there can be difficult, and this uncertainty is where I feel I can help.

My best successes have come from when I produce work that I love, aspire towards and am proud of. It's not the product, it's the revision that makes art, with taste and with clarity for what you want your audience to feel and you, as a creator, to feel. That's where we push our boundaries.

Every drawing, every thought, every word we write or say is a single step. As a visual storyteller, you are going to be walking a long while. Some of that might be a steep climb, but the beauty of a steep climb is that you are always rising. I can't wait to see you in my workshop, and rise together.

For more great workshops like Giuseppe's, book your tickets for the conference now! Click the image below for more information.

Conference Tiles How to Make Art

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Sending good messages with Cecily Paterson

PatersonCecilyCan you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in the industry?

I feel like I've been doing writing-related stuff for a while. My first job out of uni was learning to be an editor with the Law Book Company. It was stringent and useful, but boring. I moved on to a far more interesting job as a communications officer for a non-profit organisation where I got to write, which was always my first love. My first book, a history of the organisation, was written in that job. My second book was the biography of my boss from that job. He had been adopted as a four year old in Palestine during the Second World War. He had no papers, no identity and never knew exactly how old he was. It was a story that wrote itself really. It wasn't until I was 37 and had just had my fourth child that I knew I was ready to write fiction. I'm currently working on my eighth novel for girls.

Describe your typical work desk.

I work daily at my desk, which is set up in the corner of our lounge room. The bigger the desk, the more room for mess — and I have a big desk. My husband makes 'tsk' noises at it, but I clean it up twice a year, which is more than enough for anyone. I can sit to write or press a button to use my standing desk. I also have a treadmill set up for walking while writing. It was exciting at the start, but I'm a little lazy these days.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I learned to read when I was three by listening to my older brother sound out his words, and like Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, reading was as natural to me as breathing. At the same age, our family went to live in Pakistan for a period. The caretaker family on our property sent their children to school, but neither parent could read. One of my mum's first tasks was to run a literacy program in a slum area, teaching women their letters and sounds. I was intrigued by the idea that a grownup was unable to read and do this most basic thing I loved so much. At the time, I tried to imagine a life without access to stories and other worlds from books, but it seemed impossible, or at least remarkably small.

How do you balance making the plot engaging with providing a strong message?

Nobody wants to be told what to think, so I don't 'preach' directly in my books. My characters, however, go through hard times, learn difficult lessons and have challenging conversations with their friends and mentors. The messages come through their discoveries. When a mentor is giving advice to one of my characters, I try to write the dialogue so it's natural to the ear, to avoid having indirect preaching take place.

What advice would you give to parents wanting their children to be more accepting of others?

Model kindness in your own words and actions. Apologise to others, be quick to listen and slow to get angry. Give other people the benefit of the doubt. If your kids are angry with people, listen and validate their experiences, but help them to find ways through the anger. It's really useful to help your kids understand the power games that often play out in groups. If they can recognise manipulation, they can either avoid it or shut it down.

What's your favourite under-appreciated novel?

That's almost too difficult to decide. Growing up I loved the twentieth century children's author Rumer Godden, whose voice was tantalisingly vivid and delicious. Why was she not acclaimed? I just adored A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth when it came out, probably for its Indian flavour, which was very similar to my experience in Pakistan.

Describe your panel for the Wombat Books conference.

It's called 'Social awareness in books'. As all my novels tend to feature some kind of issue that the character has to navigate, I'll be talking about how to be serious while still staying engaging. Extreme honesty will be mentioned, as will staying true to my characters and their points of view. Basically, it's how I try to write in story form all the useful advice that my kids won't listen to if it just comes out of my mouth the normal way.

For more great panels like Cecily's, book your tickets for the conference now! Click the image below for more information.

Conference Tiles Social Awareness


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Keeping it short with Emily Larkin

LarkinEmilyCan you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you've been in the industry?

My mum read to me a lot when I was young, and I grew up with a love of reading, writing and animals. I studied Creative Writing at university in 2010, and loved being exposed to different types of stories. In 2012, I wrote the text and descriptions of images for a picture book as one of my assignments and, three years later, pitched this idea at the CYA Conference. I was thrilled when Wombat showed an interest in my story and Helene Magisson has created such beautiful illustrations for The Whirlpool!

Describe your typical work desk.

My work desk is usually cluttered with scribbles on paper, and pens that don't work that I've forgotten to throw away.

What makes the short story genre so special?

I think that short stories have a powerful capacity to illuminate character and capture a moment of change. In our busy lives, it is wonderful to be able to read something in one sitting that has a lingering influence.

Have you read anything that makes you think differently about fiction?

Chekhov is credited with the line: 'Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass'. I think that is beautifully evocative, and a reminder of why showing is often more impactful than telling in narrative.

What are some great examples of short stories, for anyone not familiar?

Some of my favourite short stories include Kaleidoscope (Ray Bradbury), Bullet in the Brain (Tobias Wolff), Singing my Sister Down (Margo Lanagan), No Is Yes (Paul Jennings), After the Strider, the Stranger (Mireille Juchau), and An Act of God (Gary Crew). These stories became reference points for me and stayed in my head long after I'd finished.

What is your favourite childhood book?

I know this is a popular choice, but I love the Harry Potter series! Rowling's magical world has everything ours does, from sport, to chocolate, school friendships and rivalries, homework, bigotry, tolerance, and love. I also grew up reading (and re-reading) Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series. Colfer's blend of magic and technology is clever and compelling; the banter between characters and the narrative's humour leaves me chuckling every time, and Artemis's emotional growth brings me back to the series again and again. Other childhood favourites include everything by Emily Rodda (what a legend!)

Describe your workshop for the Wombat Books Conference.

My workshop explores what makes a great short story, including structure, characterisation, dialogue, and editing. Participants will learn about the short story form by discussing exemplars, and be guided through writing exercises to hone their skills and share their work with others.

For more great workshops like Emily's, book your tickets for the conference now! Click the image below for more information.

Conference Tiles Short Stories

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Talking science and the autism spectrum with Kathy Hoopmann and Josie Montano

kathyjosieauthorpicIs there a personal story behind this book?

We met in 1999 at the Ipswich Writers Festival and have been friends ever since. We have both written extensively on Autism Spectrum Disorders (Asperger Syndrome) and publish in other genres as well (Josie also writes as Josie Santomauro). We had thought about working together, but once Kathy moved back to Australia five minutes away from Josie, it felt like an omen! Over coffee, we came up with the concept of the Secret Science Society and had a blast creating a bunch of quirky, lovable rascals who get up to all sorts of mischief, whether they mean to or not. With our combined understanding of mental and developmental diagnoses that have a lot of letters (ASD, GAD, ADHD), we hope that the book will delight, entertain and educate our readers.

Many kids and YA books deal with mental health these days. Why do you think it's become a common theme to explore?

Awareness of mental health in our society has been raised significantly over the years. There are non-fiction books on various topics available, although mostly for an older audience. As children and youth especially suffer from mental health issues, it is vital they have access to literature that is aimed at them. A great example from our book is Kiki, who has anxiety. Readers may be able to see themselves on the page and relate, realising they are not alone and that others out there experience life like they do. That's a huge step for many. Often the greatest quandry for those with mental health issues is that they feel noone could possibly understand what they're going through and can see no way out of their dilemma. However, seeing that Kiki is capalable of stretching herself and contributing will show them she is valued for who she is.

Why did you choose to focus on a character with ADHD?zanesecretscience

We didn't set out to write it that way originally. We threw a bunch of very diverse children together and stood back to see what happened (for any teachers out there gasping in horror at our lack of planning, rest assured we did have a plan; we just weren't rigid in how it played out). The best part of writing is allowing your characters to come alive and do what they want. Zane quickly took over and because he was such an endearing and interesting character, we let him dominate.

One of the main themes of this book is putting aside differences to work together. How can we do that in our everyday lives?

Listen to each other. It's that simple. Throw away preconceived ideas and take a moment to step into someone else's shoes. Once you know where a person is coming from and why, it's so much easier to accept them for who they are and enjoy what they have to offer. You never know what amazing friendships can emerge from that.

secret science societys spectacular experiment small72Do you think there is still a long way to go with educating kids about good mental health?

There are many great books/programs available already that can offer support. The issue at the moment is providing a conduit for that information to reach those who need it. Parents, teachers, health professionals and the government all have their part to play in accessing resources and promoting good mental health.

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Social awareness in fiction with Katrina Roe

Katrina RoeCan you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been in the industry?

Being in media, I've always written for work, but only got serious about creative writing once I had my first child. I started toying with kid's books in 2009 (Gasp! Ten years ago!) and published my first book, Marty's Nut-Free Party, three years later in 2012. I work 5 days a week and have 3 kids and it's a real struggle to find time to write.

Describe your typical work desk.

I think I have written all my stories at my kitchen table, usually when one of my kids has been taking a nap. It's usually a mess. As I write this, I am surrounded by a mug of half-drunk Milo, a bowl of sugar, tomato sauce, babushka dolls, a box of tissues, my four-year-old's drawings, a Lynette Noni novel, Kat Colmer's YA romance Can't Beat the Chemistry, a Hope 103.2 waterbottle, the school newsletter, a pack of playing cards, a painted ceramic mermaid, my to-do list and a bunch of flowers. By the time I finished writing the list, I'd drunk the rest of the Milo. I really need to clean up!

Accepting difference and social awareness are prominent themes in your books. What interests you most about these topics?

I've thought about this and find it hard to articulate why I come back to these themes. Somewhere along the way I just became sensitised to the idea of people being excluded or misunderstood. Growing up with a brother who had a severe disability, then having a daughter with anaphylactic food allergies probably heightened my awareness of the need to care for those with extra needs. Since reading To Kill a Mockingbird as a teenager, I've been acutely aware of the power of books to build empathy and I seem to gravitate towards books about outsiders in my own reading. So I guess that just naturally comes out in my writing. And I love seeing the way kids respond emotionally to these stories.

What research do you do when writing from personal experience? Do you try and get a broader understanding, or make it uniquely your own?

I tend to write first from my instinct and experience, then research later to make sure what I've written stands up to the research. At times I have had to tweak or amend what I've written to fit the research. For example, when I wrote Gemma gets the Jitters, I initially had Gemma taking a photo from the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Once I researched the BridgeClimb and the techniques they promote for tackling a fear of heights, I discovered that no cameras are allowed on the BridgeClimb. So I had to amend the story to reflect that reality.

Writing can be a great emotional outlet, but can conversely be a mentally draining process. What is your advice for anyone struggling with this?

For me, the writing itself is always a joy, it's the rest of the process that is mentally draining. The constant promotion, worrying about book sales and publicity and the constant rejections. Sending off your very best work to a publisher and waiting months to hear anything back is the most agonising part of the process for me. Every time you publish a book you never know if you will ever be published again! Having so little control over editorial decisions can be tough on authors as well. It hasn't happened to me, but I know many authors find it tough when the publisher's ideas for the title or cover conflict with their own creative choices.

My advice would be to keep your writing in its place in your life. Don't let it take over your life. Make sure you're enjoying other activities and hobbies, a good social life and prioritising your non-writing friendships, your health and your family. You won't be a great writer if you don't live your life to the fullest.

If you could live a day in a literary character's shoes, which one would you choose?

Anne of Green Gables! She finds so much joy in everything!

Describe your panels for the Wombat Books conference.

I'm going to be discussing resilience for writers on a brilliant panel with Penny Jaye, Kate Gordon and T.M. Clark. We'll be looking at issues of mental health, bouncing back from adversity and work/life balance. I'll also be looking at social awareness in books with Josie Montano, Cecily Paterson and Kathy Hoopmann.

For more great panels like Katrina's, book your tickets for the conference now! Click the image below for more information.

 Conference Tiles Resilience for Writers

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Resilience and research with Penny Jaye

Penny Jaye 2017 largeCan you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you've been in the industry?

I've been writing for children for almost 20 years now and have more than that number of books in print (writing as both Penny Reeve and Penny Jaye). I write picture books, children's non-fiction and YA novels, and love not having to stay in one box with my writing. When I'm not writing I like reading, admiring a glorious sunset, spending time with my family and pretending I can garden.

Describe your typical work desk.

My desk is an antique leather-topped desk my husband bought me as a gift. It's lovely, but more often than not appears rather cluttered. I usually have a stack of papers to the left (my current WIP), two rows of books against the wall (one for study, the other a moderate 'to-read' pile) and a space for pens, mouse and a cuppa to the right.

Does writing energise or exhaust you?

Can I say both? Creating, writing and even editing can be a real treat, but long slogs at the desk also wear out my brain. I need to refresh regularly.

Do you find characters in your research, or do you research around your characters?

I often start with a notion of a character in my imagination long before the research allows me to know them. It's my curiosity about their story that drives the research: all the wonderings about who and why they are.

When writing on challenging topics, how do you keep yourself grounded?

By taking care not to let the difficult stories be all I think about. This can be especially challenging when the topic area demands hours, week or even years of research. But I find I have to pace myself and take care of mental health. I need to let my mind dwell on other things when I'm writing the tough stories. I need to deliberarely seek out joyous things, beautiful things, stories with happy endings.

Do you hide any secrets in your books, or like to lay everything out in the open?

I'm not sure I deliberately hide 'secrets', but often there are little details I'll include that mean a lot to me but will probably go under the radar for most readers. It's usually got to do with characterisation.

Describe your panel and workshop for the Wombat Books conference.

My workshop will explore how good research contributes to the construction of authentic storytelling. We'll discuss the pitfalls and difficulties of thorough research, as well as workshopping our WIP (work-in-progress) for research priorities, angles and appropriate strategies. I'll also be participating in a panel on resilience for writers, and am excited about sharing some of my coping strategies for writing with longterm goals/dreams in mind.

For more great panels like Penny's, book your tickets for the conference now! Click the image below for more information.

Conference Tiles Doing you Research


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The writing industry with Rosanne Hawke

rosanne hawke young adult authorCan you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been in the industry?

My first book was published in 1995 and I’d been writing (or trying to) 5 or so years before that, learning how to write from reading. My 30th book has just been published and I’ve had the joy of rewriting earlier titles. I was an aid worker in Pakistan and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) for 10 years which had a huge impact on my life and creativity. That, and my daughter’s influence, catapulted me into writing.

Describe your typical work desk.

I have a 100-year-old desk that was owned by a late icon of our country town. I like it because it has writing slopes that pull out on each side where I can rest research, the pages I’ve done when editing, or my lunch. There’s a cup of herbal tea and a flask of hot water to keep topping it up. My last few day books are lined up in case I need to know what I said I’d talk about. A glass of sharpened pencils just because I like using them. A pretty stubby holder my daughter made filled with pens. A box of important notes. 

What do you think is the most important aspect of a manuscript?

The characterisation and the voice, which of course has to be conveyed on the first page. If the character is genuine and interesting and the voice distinctive it’s probable the writing will be good as well.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given as a writer?

Write whether you feel like it or not. Once you have the draft in your hands, you won’t be able to tell by the writing which days you had to push yourself and which days you were on a roll. This came from author and academic Eleanor Nilsson, a huge influence on my early career.

Has your writing process changed or stayed the same over the years?

It has changed remarkably, from me just writing to see where the story took me to getting to know my characters so well that they write it for me. Over the years I have developed a process that works for me, but it is always growing and transforming. 

If you weren’t a writer, what job would you love to be doing?

Probably a teacher-librarian. At one point I wanted to be an archaeologist or a historian and work in a library and research things. Or dig them up. As a child I used to write sentences and put them in tins, so I could dig them up again. I like finding things and exploring, which is a lot like writing.

Describe your workshop for the Wombat Books conference.

I have been in the industry now for 25 years writing and teaching and I will share the ‘big picture’ of what it's as an author writing for YA and children (a bit like riding the wind). I’ll share highlights, what I’ve learned and those tips/advice that I’ve gleaned, and maybe a writing secret or two.

For more workshops like Rosanne's, book for our conference now! Click the link below for more information.

Conference Tiles My Writing Journey

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Writing the personal with Lora Inak

DSC 4091Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you've been in the industry?

I've been writing stories since I was a little girl, but I seriously took pen to paper in 2005/2006 and wrote my first middle-grade fiction called Celia Snoop the Fairytale Detective. Of course, this never saw the light of day, but by then I found I couldn't stop writing. I wrote countless middle-grade and picture books, but it wasn't until I won a place in the 2011 Maurice Saxby Mentorship Program and found my voice as a YA writer that I started to write my first YA novel, Unspoken Rules, which was later published by Rhiza Edge in 2017.

Describe your typical work desk.

My typical work desk is pretty much my laptop, which often lives on my dining room table, but also at times travels to my favourite cafes. Between fulltime work, two young children and the chaos of life in general, I often write when and where I can, so you might see me having a latte at my favourite cafe on a Sunday morning, or at my local library after hours. Basically, it's an hour here, a few hours there, and anytime I can find in between. It's not ideal, but for now, for me, it works.

Culture and identity are prominent themes in your book. What interests you most about these topics?

These topics interest me because they are strong themes in my own life. My family immigrated here in the early 1980s from Turkey, and I spent my youth and teenage years walking a swaying cultural tightrope. I often found myself conflicted, attempting to understand where I fit in the world, at school, at home, within my community.

For these reasons, cultural conflict is close to my heart and I love exploring all the implications and impacts of culture and cultural differences within a YA setting in my work. Culture encompasses so much from food, to celebrations and traditions, to family expectations and religion — the scope is broad with endless fodder to ponder and explore.

How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader, especially with a teenage audience?

I'm always mindful that teenagers are on the cusp of adulthood yet are often still somewhat naïve and innocent about life. They come to things fresh, with so many firsts, a great deal to learn and experience. I instill this, in differing degrees, into my characters. I will of course always sense-check my work through my wonderful writerly friends, who I trust will be honest with me. All this helps me to shape my characters and stories so that I'm not overstepping or oversimplifying.

What is your top tip for writing stories that draw on personal experience?

I believe that every writer, to some degree, needs to delve into themselves, into their own experiences, feelings, beliefs and thoughts to find that topic or idea that energises them the most. For some, these ideas/thoughts will become a paranormal romance, for others a picture book, but regardless, my tip is to fearlessly delve right in. Find what turns your dial and then build characters and worlds to explore that.

If you could live a day in a literary character's shoes, which one would you choose?

I grew up wanting to be Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables so I would 100% choose her. Her ability to stay positive and hopeful even when the world around held so much bitterness and ugliness, so many scrapes and drama, so much judgment and tribulations, was amazing and inspirational. I've always tried to approach my own life with the same attitude.

Describe your panel for the Wombat Books conference.

I am so honoured to be on a panel with Aunty Ruth Hegarty and Kate Gordon that discusses the role personal experience has played in our writing. I was a massive fan of Kate's Girl Running, Boy Falling, which deals with the confronting topic of youth suicide, and I was fascinated by Aunty Ruth's Is That You, Ruthie?, an account of her time as a dormitory girl. They are both amazingly talented and beautiful writers.

For more great panels like Lora's, book your tickets for the conference now! Click the link below for more information.

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Shaping your antagonist with T.M. Clark

TMClark updated headshot for blogCan you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you've been in the industry for?

It is 20 years now that I have been actively involved in the writing industry. From the moment I wrote my first article that sold...it has gone so fast! It was a pipe dream when I left school, and though I wrote about three chapters longhand of a Mills and Boons at the beach, it was put in the drawer and the dream forgotten. Only after I had my kids and lived in England did the dream resurface, and I'm so glad it did! I can't imagine my life now without all my story characters in it.

Describe your typical work desk.

Messy — seriously — drives my hubby crazy. I seem to always accumulate paper! But generally I know where things are in the mess and that does his head in more.

Who's your favourite antagonist?

The one I didn't kill, MaNtuli (from Tears of the Cheetah). She has to come back and be as diabolical as she can be in another book.

What makes a great antagonist in three words?

Love to hate.

Can you describe one of the antagonists you have placed in a story before? How were they 'antagonistic'?

The dictionary describes an antagonist as 'showing or feeling active opposition or hostility towards someone or something'. So going back to MaNtuli, she isn't hostile towards a specific thing or person, but if you get in the way of her own agenda, you're in trouble. She doesn't do anything to harm the hero or heroine's journey, but manipulates the people around her to do that for her. Once you know her, you actually feel sorry for her, and in your empathy towards her, you can easily forget that she is the main antagonist in this story.

Is an antagonist always what people perceive? Or are antagonists sometimes a surprise?

For me, my antagonists are not a surprise — you know from almost the get-go that they are the baddie in the story. I would love to write a book with a surprise antagonist, but I think that would be fairly difficult. In saying that, the journey of the antagonist could sometimes be surprising, and the amount of empathy you feel towards someone so horrible can take the ready by surprise. For example, in My Brother-But-One, Rodney is the antagonist. However, I had a reader send me an email saying to him, Rodney was the centre of the story.

Describe your workshop for the Wombat Books Conference.

How to have fun finding your villain/antagonist. As much as we all love the superhero, the antagonist is just as important as they make you love the heroic deeds of the protagonist more. By building a supervillain, you can make the reader love your hero even more, so my time will be spent making sure you have the ying-and-yang of these characters and the balance is there to make them become real 3D characters in your reader's mind.

You can book your tickets to T.M. Clark's masterclass now! Click on the link below for more information.

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The First Chapter with Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth minCan you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been in the industry for?
I've been writing as long as I can remember. I wrote poems and stories from 4 onwards, and my first novel when I was 7. I was 16 when I first tried to get published, and 30 when I managed it. This year is my 22nd year of being a published author, and my 44th book will be published in July.

Describe your typical work desk.
I have a study at home. It's looks out on to the garden, is painted pale green, and is lined with book and art. My desk usually has a cup of tea, my diary, the notebook for whatever book I am writing, my glasses, assorted pens and pencils, and a pile of books. I also keep a collection of poetry books on my desk, to browse through whenever I am stuck or waiting for my computer to power up.

What first chapter of a book hooked you the most?
Any book that I've actually read. If the first chapter fails to hook me, I put it down and find a better book.

What makes a good first chapter?
A powerful first line. Instant immersion into the story. An engaging and believable voice.

How do you go about writing a first chapter? Do you usually write it first or last?
I always write it first - but I don't begin writing until I have a strong sense of my story's shape and voice, and my characters have come to life in my imagination. And it will be rewritten many times.

How important is the first chapter when submitting a manuscript to a publisher?
Utterly crucial.

Describe your Wombat Books Conference workshop.
It's a full day workshop, with the morning spent discussing what makes a brilliant first chapter and then the afternoon working on your manuscript. Everyone will get 10 minutes one-on-one time with me to talk about their project and what problems they are having. Everyone needs to bring their fist chapter, plus coloured pens and highlighters. Hopefully it will be a really interesting & informative day!


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Aleesah Darlison on Writing, Editing and Submitting the Manuscript

Darlison Mar15 029Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been in the industry for? 

I write picture books, chapter books, novels and series for children from the age of 3 – 14 years. I’ve been published for nine years. My first book was Puggle’s Problem and it was published by Wombat Books. Since then, I’ve had 44 other books released. It’s been a wonderful experience so far.

Describe your typical work desk.

L-shaped to give me plenty of room. Nice and tidy; everything in it’s place. A To-Do List that always has things on it (sigh!), laptop and large screen. I usually have artwork from my kids all around, notes and images from my current writing project and often a writing schedule to ensure I meet deadlines.

What’s your favourite children’s book? 

So many too choose from! I’ve always read anything I could get my hands on, even as a kid. Z for Zachariah, Lord of the Flies, A Rag, a Bone and a Hank of Hair, anything by Victor Kelleher, The Once Series by Morris Gleitzman … the list goes on.

How important is it to proof your manuscript before submitting to a publisher? Or should the work speak for itself?

It’s incredibly important. I find that if a manuscript isn’t proofed, polished and well set out, then the work isn’t going to speak for itself. A publisher won’t even look at a story if the document itself doesn’t adhere to minimum professional standards. The story won’t flow and won’t be written well enough because poor layout often shows poor research of the market and an uneducated writer. One tends to flow into the other.

DSC 6173 minShould authors submit multiple manuscripts or a single manuscript to a publisher at a time?

It depends on the publisher’s guidelines, which should always be followed to the letter. Having said that, life is short, and if you wait months or years for a publisher's response, you might find that life passes you by. With anything, it’s common sense and a sensible medium. Don’t swamp publishers, but don’t be prepared to wait forever before you send your stories elsewhere.

What’s the biggest tip you can give authors hoping to submit to a publisher? 

Research the market. Don’t rely on others to do the work for you. It takes time, knowledge and effort to be successful as an author. Also, develop a thick(er) skin. This industry certainly requires resilience, but the rewards are definitely worth it! 

Describe your workshop for the Wombat Books Conference. 

Being an author is a multi-faceted job, from writing to editing to submitting your manuscript. In this intensive masterclass, I’ll provide an overview of the Australian publishing industry and give invaluable tips for authors. I’ll also work with participants on their manuscripts to target areas for improvement such as structure, voice, language, character, tension, formatting and more. Participants will read their work out for group feedback and if time allows they will receive personalised feedback on their manuscript from me.

You can book your tickets to Aleesah Darlison's masterclass now! Click on the link below for more information.


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In Conversation with the Mum/Daughter Team about their Latest Picture Book

What inspired the story behind Chandani and the Ghost of the Forest?DSC00087

Rosanne: We saw children forced into labour when we lived in Pakistan. Some children worked from necessity for a small wage as they wouldn’t have eaten otherwise. But this picture book is a voice for those children who are sold into domestic labour and their suffering is unheard. The charity, Compassion, states 168 million children are trapped in child labour. This is almost 11% of the world’s children.

Lenore: Stories may have a message but they are meant to be enjoyed. When my youngest daughter was 5, her favourite animal was a panther. She so wanted to have a picture book about a panther and a little girl.

Why did you think it was important to collaborate as a mother/daughter team?

Lenore: I so enjoy working with my mum. The opportunity to collaborate with her on The Wish Giver and Chandani has been such a privilege. For these projects, I've had the idea and wrote the first draft and then my mother waves her magic wand and transforms the story into a work of art! Together we have created special memories working on these projects that have knit us closer together as friends.

Why do you think people should listen to fables in today’s current political climate?

Rosanne: Originally, fables were often written to show how to live morally. In today’s society most people believe morality is outdated and people should just do what they think best as long as they are not hurting others. Even though Chandani’s story doesn’t have an obvious moral like the older fables, I do believe that it is not moral to enslave children; it’s not moral to mistreat children and it isn’t moral to trap and kill endangered animals.

Do you believe you have a Ghost of the Forest watching over you?

Lenore: Yes, to me The Ghost of the Forest is a symbol of God in some ways. He is constantly watching over us. He doesn't always take our painful situations away, but He sure does lead us through them and helps us to make hard decisions and teaches us to be overcomers rather than remain victims. He gives us the strength we need to stand up for what is right.

IMG 0814 minWhat is your connection to the Himalayan Mountains? 

Lenore: I saw these mountains every day through the windows of my boarding school. The backyard of the boarding house was a forest, which was the inspiration for the setting of Chandani.

Rosanne: We lived in the Himalayan foothills in Pakistan when we were aidworkers. We often took the children higher in the mountains during school holidays. It was beautiful and we saw not only the Himalayan Mountains but the Karakorum Mountains and, in the distance, the Hindu Kush guarding Afghanistan. It was the amazing meeting place of three major mountain ranges, containing many of the highest peaks in the world.

What can we do to end child slavery (aimed for children)?

Rosanne: It is a human right of children to be safe, have a home & parents, education, medical help and be able to play. We need to show that not all children have these rights.

We can tell people about this by writing stories and drawing pictures.chandani med72

We can raise money to rescue children from forced labour.

We can write letters to governments to make stricter rules to stop slavery.

Lenore: To end slavery, we need to become more aware. Through awareness, change can happen. We need people who are willing to stand up and be a voice for those who aren’t being heard. In the case of domestic labour, the families need help and education to escape their poverty so that there is no need to send their children away to work. In the West we have so many resources: so much wealth. If we could only share what we have … what a world we could have! 

Chandani and the Ghost of the Forest is available to pre-order now.

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Once ... We Chatted with Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth minWhat prompted you to write Once?

I am an oral storyteller as well as an author, and some of my favourite stories to tell are those told to me by my grandmother when I was a little girl. My great-great-grandmother was Scottish and grew up on the Black Isle in the Highlands of Scotland. Her name was Ellen Mackenzie and one of the stories she told was about a famous curse cast against the Mackenzies of Seaforth by a warlock called the Brahan Seer. The warlock predicted the fall of the house of Seaforth, and many years later the curse came to pass.

Whenever I told any of my grandmother's stories, I used to introduce it by saying 'my grandmother's grandmother grew up in the shadow of a cursed castle in the Highlands of Scotland. When she came to Australia she brought only one small chest, but her head was filled with the stories her grandmother had once told her. She told them to her granddaughter who told them to me, and now I shall tell you ...'

One day I was saying this to a room full of children, and a little girl put up her hand and asked me if my grandmother had ever gone back to her grandmother's home - the cursed castle in Scotland - and I said, 'yes, but not till she was quite an old lady.' The little girl asked why she waited so long, and I said, 'well, when my grandmother was young, the world was at war. It was a very dark time, and she could not travel wherever she wanted.'

As I spoke, I felt the idea spark inside me. I wrote the words down after my storytelling session had finished, and over the next few days I built it into the book you can read now.

What do you think the most inspirational thing is about your ancestors?

They were very brave and resourceful. None of them had an easy life, but they all worked hard and did the best they could, and built lives filled with love and joy and purpose.

How do you believe your ancestors influence you still today?

I remember their stories, and think how difficult life must have been for them. I try hard to be as strong, courageous and resilient as they were, no matter what happens in my own life.

Why do you think it’s important to listen to the stories of our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents?

They have learned so much and have so much wisdom to bequeath. I feel it's very important that we learn from history, and try not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

What story do you remember the most that one of your forbearers told you?Once Digital ARC

The story of my great-great-grandmother Ellen Mackenzie has always been very important to me. She and her sister grew up in a loving family, but her parents both died when she was still just a girl, and her uncle inherited everything. He sent Ellen and her sister Jane out to Australia by themselves, and they had very little money or help. I've often imagined what that would be like - how lonely and frightened they must have been, and how strange Australia must have seemed in comparison to the Scottish Highlands, and how much strength it must have taken to rebuild your life from nothing ... and yet also how exciting and adventurous it must have been too!

Once takes us from a sailing ship to bush fires to a world at war. Do you feel a connection to these moments of our history?

Yes, indeed. My ancestors lived through those dangerous, difficult years. They loved and feared and suffered and prevailed, and because of their courage and determination, I now live in this beautiful, peaceful country. I am reaping the rewards of what they sowed. I have tried to honour their memories and their stories in this book.

How can we learn to listen to the stories of our past?

I think learning to listen is one of the most important life lessons. Everyone has a story to tell. By sharing our stories, we connect with other people. We come to understand their hurts and their hardships, and we feel a kinship with them. Stories link us to other humans, both those that came before us and those who follow us. Telling our own story is a crucial way to understand our own lives, and to grow towards compassion and empathy.

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Illustration Challenge Finalists Announced

Phew! It was some tough competition this year when judging our Illustration Challenge. There were so many amazing entries, using so many different techniques - from water-based paints to digital design to collage. Every drawing was so unique that it was hard to choose the finalists. Here's just a brief snippet for you ...


However, after many hours of going through piles of entries, we've narrowed it down to 31 artists. Congratulations to the following artists who will be featured in our printed edition of Around Australia in 30 Places.

Tommy Clements
Britney Fallon
Layla Gill
Ruby Levitt
Scarlett Papps-Burford
Nathan Kingsley
Lara Tamke
Alexey Luchkovskiy
Kai Caspelherr
Daisy Karner
Anna Rose Gray
Andrew Philip
Teniel Sauer
Rory Smith
Abbey Olafsen
Ruby Wandschneider
Belle Ritchie
Ella Zieserl
Evie Larcombe
Zach Searle
Jack Morris
Blake Ellerman
Sonya Clarke
Aramis Surtees
Caitlin Miller
Berylia Nur'aina
Rebecca Tang
Lara Winton
Amber Liang
Sarah Savige
Samantha Parish

Can't wait to see the final book? You can preorder your copy of Around Australia in 30 Places now here with free shipping.

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Meet Our New APA Intern: Megan

Meg Run 2 Med72I have volunteered with the Brisbane Writers Festival for the last six years and love participating in the shared excitement of people who are passionate about books. My rescue greyhound Hamilton is named after the Broadway musical/American president, I like ice skating and watching ice hockey, and I love to bake but always seem to pick complicated foods, such as cupcakes that look like little burgers and Halloween cupcakes with eyeballs on top! I enjoy true crime stories and anything with strong women, and when I was young, I memorised The Owl Critic by James Thomas Fields (a humorous and very lyrical poem) because I loved the way it sounded.

What book sparked your interest in the publishing industry?

When I was in primary school, I read Which Witch? and The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson and as soon as I finished, I wanted to read it all over again. I loved the idea of being involved with creating books that delighted people (and still do: I re-read it last month!)

If you could meet any children’s author or illustrator, who would it be (yes, we can use a time machine)?

The author I'd love to meet would be Jon Klassen (the author of I Want my Hat Back and other hat-related books) or Gail Carson Levine (who wrote Ella Enchanted). Based on their books, both sound like delightful and engaging people who would have unique perspectives on the world. Plus, both of their stories have made me laugh out loud in public, so they'd definitely be entertaining!

You’re going to be assisting with the editorial department this internship. Are you an oxford-comma girl?

I am, but working in education has really dulled that impulse! The editorial change I dig my heels in about is 'that vs which'!

What exciting projects will you be working on when you’re interning at Wombat Books?

I'll be helping out with a couple of different projects at Wombat! One is a professional development conference for Wombat authors to learn from one another and another is a project aiming to align our published works with the school curriculum, to make sure our books support children's learning. Looking forward to the challenge!

What’s your current ‘bus read’? (i.e. what are you reading at the moment?)

Howl's Moving Castle, a Studio Ghibli production, is one of my favourite movies ever. I've just started the book it was based off, by Diana Wynne Jones and I am really pleased so far with how beautifully the movie represented this fabulous story!

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Meet Our New Publishing Assistant: Bec

Bec FoleyBec is a recent QUT graduate who was born and raised in Mackay. She loved books, reading, and writing all through school, especially when they provided an opportunity to escape into fantastical other worlds. She’s very excited to join the team! Bec is hunting for a wonderful fantasy to add to the Wombat Books publishing list.

What book made you want to get into publishing?
The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. I really wanted to get involved with the creative process of something that’s both engaging at the surface level, but contains interesting ideas, and uses mythology and history to construct something unique.

What’s your favourite thing about publishing for children?
Broadening horizons and opening people’s minds to new possibilities.

What are you most excited about working on at Wombat Books?
I’m excited with collaborating with authors on things they’re passionate about - really bringing the book’s strengths to the fore, so that the reader loves the book just as much as we do.

What do you think makes a great children’s fantasy?
Especially for children’s fantasy, specifics of worldbuilding matter less than high concept and consistency. I also love to see a strong use of theme tying everything together.

What would you like to see in the submissions portal for you to read?
I’m a big fan of three-dimensional female protagonists. I think the things that connect the reader to the character are often character flaws, so I love to see authors who aren’t afraid to work with imperfection. Everybody loves an underdog!

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Jacaranda Snow: a modern classic for Australia’s ‘Jacaranda Kids’

As an Australian immigrant, author and happiness blogger, I understand firsthand the opportunities that a Catherine Greercountry like Australia offers. Born in Canada, my husband and I moved to Sydney twenty years ago and have raised two Aussie sons in a country bursting with beauty – and jacaranda trees.

I remember making ‘jacaranda snow’ with my two boys when they were little and asked to see snow. Sydney’s jacarandas inspired me to write the first draft of my debut picture book, Jacaranda Snow.

I read a 2016 report from the Australian Council of Social Services, which documented that over 731,000 Australian children between the ages of 0-16 live below the poverty line[1]. I wanted to write a story that includes these children in our Australian literary landscape. All children deserve to see themselves in picture books. But not many books feature kids who live with less.

I combined my love of jacarandas – and the history and urban legend that surrounds them – into a modern Australian classic story for all our Jacaranda kids.

I’ve found responses like this from the South of Sydney, where a ‘Mrs Haxton [at Jacaranda Maternity Hospital in Caringbah] would carry the baby to the car, followed by a nurse who carried the mum’s bag in one hand and a jacaranda tree in the other.’[2] I love to imagine that many of our Australian suburbs are graced by jacarandas planted by mothers in the 1940s and 1950s.

I knew jacarandas were a symbol of Australian children. I wanted to write a growth mindset story, where a little girl who lives in a diverse family – just Jess and her Gran – finds a way to make her own dreams come true.

I teamed up with the Canadian company, Educalme (www.educalme.com) to produce a Growth Mindset mindfulness online course, provided free with every book. Schools, classroom teachers and parents all have free access to the online course..

The book also features an original piano composition, “Jacaranda Snow,” by young award-winning Australian composer, Alexander Lau, for musicians everywhere to enjoy.

Jacaranda Snow is a modern Australian classic picture book. It includes history, urban legend, a main character who’s an Aussie battler; it champions diverse families and has an educational toolkit that’s free for everyone to use. And it comes with a beautiful original piano score. It’s a true Australian story, and I’m very proud to have partnered with award-winning illustrator, Helene Magisson, young award-winning composer, Alexander Lau, and Wombat Books.

[1] http://www.acoss.org.au/media_release/child-poverty-on-the-rise-730000-children-in-poverty/

[2] https://www.theleader.com.au/story/2708257/reader-recalls-gathering-jacaranda-seedlings-for-maternity-hospital/#comments

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Wombat Books chats with the busy Supermum and author, Aleesah Darlison

Aleesah Darlison PicThere are so many books out there detailing how parents should do their so-called ‘job’. But is there really a manual to ‘great parenting’? 

When my first child was born, I used ‘Baby Love’ by Robin Barker as my bible. It got me through some long nights and many confusing days. But a manual for great parenting? Different people will find help from different books, I suppose. At the end of the day, you have to remember that each child is an individual and so will offer up their own challenges, joys and rewards that can’t always be boxed up neatly in a book. Sometimes, you’ve got to trust your instincts and do what you think is right. As long as your actions stem from love, you should be okay.


What is the most important thing about parenting for you?

Maintaining positive, open communication with my kids. Having them know that I love them above all else and receiving their love and respect in return.


Do you ever find that your kids can have unrealistic expectations of you as a ‘superhero’ parent?

Love it or hate it, being a parent is about being a superhero in your kids’ eyes. Parenting is one of the most difficult, confusing, selfless, endlessly wearying things you’ll ever do in your entire life. Luckily, it’s also the most wonderful, rewarding, fun and amazing thing you’ll ever do too. I’m glad I’m a Supermum to my kids. They’re pretty super in my eyes too.


daddyshopsmallHow does your family spend their Father’s Day? 

We usually go out for brunch, have a lovely meal together and maybe a walk along the beach. It’s relaxed and easy-going. The important thing is that we’re all together. We might throw in a few presents for my husband, but he doesn’t expect much and is happy just being with us. I like my kids to make a special card for their dad, which shows in the making and in the text of that card how much they love him. Those cards are kept forever – they go into their scrapbooks so they will always have them.


Why did you write The Daddy Shop? 

The Daddy Shop is a humorous look at children’s often literal, sometimes fickle, viewpoint on parents and their ‘availability’ to satisfy every child’s need. Many parents – not just dads – have to work and this does impact their children, especially if there’s a special event on the horizon that the parent can’t attend. The Daddy Shop is designed to unite working parents and their children in a fun way and to engage them in discussion about family relationships, the importance of making time to be together and, of course, to get families reading together.


The Daddy Shop is available from 1 August.

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