"I feel like everyone should know about Beijing Tai Tai... it's the
Eat Pray Love
for mothers." - author Dee White

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Reading for Picture Book Writers with Gus Gordon

I'm of the belief that if you want to write well, you need to read - a lot. If you're keen to hone your individual writing talents, a priceless way to improve is to spend time reading the genre you're passionate about.

In this new series of posts, I'll be featuring some of our finest Australian authors, who will suggest titles in the genre they know, love and write in. I hope these book suggestions help you hone your own understanding of your writing and how effectively you are producing.

Picture Books

Picture books are absolutely, positively for anyone. They defy age readership, and bring delight to people of all walks of life, from babies through to Granny and Grandpa. Their language is a two-step between image and text that resonates with all people--with the pictures bringing nuance and meaning to the storyline, and the storyline gently guiding the visual elements that speak in ways words never can.

If you are keen to write Picture Books, author/illustrator Gus Gordon has some fabulous recommendations on books in this genre--books that work really, very well (and coincidentally are some of my all-time favourite picture books). Gus has illustrated some wonderful books including Big Pet Day by Lisa Shanahan, My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up by Tristan Bancks, My Aussie Dad by Yvonne Morrison and I Am Cow Hear Me Moo by Jill Esbaum. He is also the author and illustrator of such gems as Wendy, A Day with Noodles, and the superb Herman and Rosie. You can learn more about Gus at www.gusgordon.com.

Gus's Recommendations

One can’t really talk about the writing of picture books without talking about the illustrations and the same can be said the other way around. The two, at least in a good picture book, work closely together to tell the story by explaining, hinting, revealing and most importantly, allowing the reader to fill in the gaps. I am especially fascinated with the layers of narrative hidden, on purpose or otherwise, within the writing or illustrations. Often the writer has unknowingly woven strands of extra detail into the story. Subtle layers that illuminate character, provide back-story, plug holes and help create a contextual authenticity that makes a good picture book so satisfying. The great picture books seem to do all these things and more. It’s a kind of magic. ‘How did they do that?’

As an illustrator who writes, I am constantly trying to figure out ways to connect my pictures using words that contribute something I can’t show the reader in the illustrations. I get excited by the possibilities words offer me. It’s all too easy to forget sometimes how much I can reveal in the pictures. ‘How close or how far removed should the words and pictures be?’ It’s a tricky thing to balance. Balance seems to be the best word to describe the relationship between the words and pictures.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the picture book genre and now have a rather large collection of books from around the world. I go through periods of being immersed in them (it helps to have three small kids!) and ignoring them while I work on my own books. Here are some of my favourites that I keep coming back to:

Olivia written and illustrated by Ian Falconer
For me, this book ticks all the boxes. The words and pictures are in perfect harmony. Ian Falconer is brilliant at the ‘set-up’; creating unexpected surprises with each reveal. He makes it all seem so simple. Plus Olivia is such a strong, fun character.

Spork written by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
This is a terrific anthropomorphical story about Spork who is a cross between a fork and spoon (his father being a fork and his mother a spoon). Spork doesn’t know where he fits in and sets about discovering who he is. It’s a great idea, perfectly executed with stunning illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault.

Lost and Found written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
For me the story has to start well; with a bang or a promise to the reader that ‘this book is going to be great!’ Lost and Found begins ‘Once there was a boy and one day he found a penguin at his door.’ This line asks so many questions – we have to find out what happens. And as it happens, it’s a lovely, moving story with beautiful illustrations.

Adelaide, The Flying Kangaroo written and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer
Talking about killer opening lines, Tomi Ungerer’s book Adelaide begins: ‘Adelaide’s parents were surprised when they saw that their daughter Adelaide had wings.’ I love how he’s just jumped in with an appealing (illogical) premise from the very opening – bang! I’m a big Tomi Ungerer fan and this book about a kangaroo with wings is hard to beat. He is a master of making the ridiculous plausible and I always feel like I’ve had an adventure when I’ve read his work. And what could be better than that!

Mr Chicken Goes to Paris written and illustrated by Leigh Hobbs
Speaking of nonsensical plots, Mr Chicken Goes to Paris is one for the ages. Mr Chicken is an eight foot tall, canary yellow, top hat wearing, featherless chicken who one day decides to visit his friend, Yvette, in Paris. Leigh Hobbs is particularly clever at inventing odd characters and writing entertaining stories to suit them. Thankfully we as the reader, are more than happy to be lead along. Our kids love this book. It’s the funniest picture book I know. Leigh is so very good at wooing the reader with understated construct and then startling them with a sensational reveal. He says one thing then shows another. This is very difficult to do well (for me at least!)

There are a ton of picture books I could mention that have been influential with regard to the way I tell stories. It would take too long to write about them all, as much as I would like to but here are some others that have helped me along the way:

Amos & Boris written and illustrated by William Steig

Hector Penguin written by Louise Fatio, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin

That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown written by Cressida Cowell, illustrated by Neal Layton

The Mighty Lalouche written by Matthew Olshan, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

The Incredible Book Eating Boy written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Dogs Don’t do Ballet written by Anna Kemp, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie written and illustrated by Joel Stewart

The Migrant written by Maxine Trottier, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Bartholomew and the Bug written and illustrated by Neal Layton

Marshall Armstrong is New to our School written and illustrated by David Mackintosh
The Lion and the Bird written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc

Harry the Dirty Dog written by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham

See Writing for Middle Grade Fiction with Jen Storer

Monday, 25 August 2014

Tottie and Dot Blog Blast Schedule!


Remember, these links will not go live until Sunday 7 September!

*This is not a real TEDã Talk, though we’re hoping Tottie and Dot will be asked to do a real one soon.


Book Launch Party Wrap-Up!Tania McCartney Blog
Hear all about it! See photos and all the fun from the Tottie and Dot book launch party at Dymocks Canberra. Live by 4pm.


Friday, 22 August 2014

Bunnies love Tottie and Dot!

Even bunnies are getting into the Tottie and Dot spirit--this little munchkin was see at my friend Leonie's house, reading up a storm!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Meet Dot!

I'm having the loveliest Book Week and spent yesterday at one of my favourite Canberra schools - Richardson Primary School. Today the kids had their Book Week parade and just look who showed up - Dot! Isn't she divine?

Honestly, there is nothing more glorious than having children resonate with your books; it's just the most amazing feeling. Thank you, Dot!

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Friday, 15 August 2014

CBCA Book of the Year 2014 - The Winners!

the shortlistees (+ publishers) for the Early Childhood category

Biggest congrats to my talented friends and colleagues--shortlistees and winners of this year's Book of the Year Awards! I was at the National Library of Australia earlier today for the announcement event--featuring a Who's Who of book creators, publishers and aficionados.

The CBCA ACT branch hosted this year's awards in the theatre at the fabulous National Library. Local 666 ABC host Louise Maher emceed, and many of the shortlisted authors and illustrators were present.

Chosen from a pool of almost 500 entries, the shortlisted books truly reflect the vibrancy and talent of Australian writers and illustrators and the strength of the Australian book industry. As Margaret Hamilton, AM, mentioned - children's books are keeping our bookshops afloat, with around 30 per cent of sales falling into the juvenile category. Such a wonderful thing to hear.

And now, without further ado, here are 2014's winners and Honour books!

BOOK OF THE YEAR: Older Readers
Winner: Wildlife by Fiona Wood (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Honour Books: Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near (Random House Australia)
The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn (UQP)

BOOK OF THE YEAR: Younger Readers
Winner: City of Orphans: A Very Unusual Pursuit by Catherine Jinks (Allen & Unwin)
Honour Books: My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg (Allen & Unwin)
Light Horse Boy by Dianne Wolfer, Ill Brian Simmonds (Fremantle Press)

BOOK OF THE YEAR: Early Childhood Winner: The Swap by Jan Omerod, Ill Andrew Joyner (Little Hare, Hardie Grant Egmont)
Honour Books: I’m A Dirty Dinosaur by Brian Janeen Ill Ann James (Puffin Books, Penguin Group Australia)
Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson Ill Freya Blackwood (Little Hare, Hardie Grand Egmont)

a video acceptance speech from Shaun Tan

Winner: Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)
Honour Books: King Pig by Nick Bland (Scholastic Press, Scholastic Australia
Silver Buttons by Bob Graham (Walker Books)

EVE POWNALL AWARD FOR INFORMATION BOOKS Winner: Jeremy by Christopher Faille Ill Danny Snell (Working Title Press)
Honour Books: Welcome to My Country by Lallak Burarrwanga and Family (Allen & Unwin)
Ice, Wind, Rock by Peter Gouldthorpe (Hachette Australia)

The CBCA independent awards are the most respected awards in Australia and have the biggest effect on the success of Australian children’s books. Angela Briant, Chair of the CBCA National Board reiterates, 'For nearly 70 years, the CBCA has proudly celebrated and promoted excellence in literary artistry, illustration and quality publishing—and this year’s books are no exception. We congratulate all those involved in creating this wonderful feast for our young people’s imaginations.'

The CBCA is comprised of individuals who are dedicated to celebrating Australian literary talent and communicating the joys of a great story. These teachers, librarians, authors, illustrators, kids, parents, grandparents and publishing professionals— recognise the value of these Awards as providing a valuable guide for selecting stories that have all the right ingredients for leading kids towards a rewarding reading experience.

For more, visit cbca.org.au/awards.htm.


Following the Awards announcement Children’s Book Week kicks off with activities in libraries, schools and communities across the country.

This year’s theme ‘Connect to reading’ is encouraging everyone to take the time in our busy lives to really engage in getting this ‘connection’ hard-wired. Reading - whether through a book, or digital and social media – can take our children’s minds to imaginary worlds and also help them to connect to each other. By doing this, we create the critical literacy skills necessary to living in these times.

Happy reading!

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Ask Tania: Coping with the Manuscript Submission Waiting Game

Dear Tania,
I just love writing and it would be a dream to make a career out of something I enjoy doing so much. I can’t imagine giving up but the wait after submitting manuscripts is killing me! Is it rude to email editors to ask if they have read my submitted work, so I know either way before approaching another publisher? If so, when should I do this? I understand that editors are so busy and the slush pile is probably not a top priority, but waiting months is.driving.me.insane!


Hello dear Anonymous,

First things first: you.are.not.alone. Even established and very successful, best-selling authors suffer this agonising wait. The difference is, they have experience in writing, and like anything, the more experienced you are, the easier it is for you.

I think it's all in the 'not knowing'. Anything we don't know or have control over can become very scary, most particularly if we want it so badly, our heart stops at the thought of it.

So, I figure you have two choices. You can either obsess, ponder, tear your hair out and agonise OR you can use this time to work on something else, ever improving your work, and refocusing your attention elsewhere. I know it sounds easier said than done! but this is, I feel, a great way to cope.

If you're working on something else, it means you'll pretty soon have even more to submit, so you're not just waiting for that one manuscript (or small handful of manuscripts) to return to you so you can sub elsewhere. If you only have a small amount of work under submission, the months (and years) will very slooooooowly tick by. If you have a dozen or two-dozen manuscripts out there, the due dates will come around much more frequently. As they come back to you, resubmit (or celebrate your new contract).

It's also important to change your expectations and need for control. It's like riding as a passenger in a car on in an aeroplane--no amount of you 'putting the breaks on' or leaning towards the right when the plane is banking to the left, will change the outcome. You just have to relax and sit back and accept something is out of your hands.

The wait for manuscripts is usually around three to four months, but can be as long as a year or even two. I know authors who gave up on a manuscript, then got a positive response four years later. This is horrid, of course, but it's highly indicative of the fact that books really need to 'fit' and arrive at the right time. I've waited for varying periods, from two days to 13 months, and the way I personally cope is to get busy with other things, and try to let go of the outcome.

I keep a spreadsheet of all my submissions, with a note in the column of the 'expected' response date. If I'm super keen to find out what's going on, I will wait 3 - 4 weeks past the expected due date, and then send a very short, polite query email. This is perfectly fine to do.

Then let go.

When you are an emerging author, it's fine to submit your manuscript to several publishers at once. Most publishers accept and understand this (they will tell you if they don't take multiple submissions in their submission blurb) but what you absolutely must do is be sure to alert all publishers if your manuscript is accepted elsewhere, so they can remove it from their pile.

Once your career advances, or if you are submitting directly to a publisher upon request or after meeting them, then I wouldn't submit elsewhere. I would keep it exclusive.

Receiving rejections also gets easier the longer you're in the game. I barely bat an eyelid now--I just know the work didn't hit the right spot at the right time. When you do receive a rejection, whatever you do, don't become prickly or demand to know 'why'. Publishers don't have the manpower to explain why--you can have the manuscript assessed if you really want answers, but remember there might not be anything 'wrong' with the work--it just might be right for them, at that time.

When receiving a rejection, (always) respond with warmth and appreciation, thanking them for their time. Then move on. If you want to alienate yourself, burn bridges, develop a bad reputation and kybosh any chance of being published, then by all means, ignore the publisher's email or even worse--become defensive, persnickety or passive-aggressive.

There's a wonderful saying going round--it says something along the lines of: a rejection slip is just an envelope marked 'return to sender: the right editor not at this address'. Remember that your work needs to tick the boxes of an enormous amount of variables in order to be accepted for publication. These include:

  • if your work is actually any good
  • if your work is unique/different
  • if your work will sell well
  • if it's not too expensive to produce
  • if it fits a market niche
  • if it fits the publisher list/ethos
  • if there is a vacancy on their list
  • it the editor personally likes it
  • if the editor happens to personally resonate with zombie-eating bananas
  • if your editor is turned off by didactic books or fairies
  • if they have already or are about to publishing something similar
  • and many, many more

So you can see that the quality of your work is just a small part of the equation. You could obsess over this forever, or you could have faith that if it fits, it fits, and then move on and write something else.

Hang in there, and remember you are not alone!


See all the questions so far ...

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Reading for Middle Grade Fiction with Jen Storer

I'm of the belief that if you want to write well, you need to read - a lot. If you're keen to hone your individual writing talents, a priceless way to improve is to spend time reading the genre you're passionate about.

In this new series of posts, I'll be featuring some of our finest Australian authors, who will suggest titles in the genre they know, love and write in. I hope these book suggestions help you hone your own understanding of your writing and how effectively you are producing.

Middle Grade Fiction

MGF generally bridges the gap between junior fiction and young adult. It's generally targeted at children between the ages of 10 and 14, though this can vary, depending on the child's reading level and maturity. MGF books tend to have a more sophisticated vocabulary and plot, and can feature characters and storylines with more advanced content--with themes like mystery, fantasy, romance and even horror. It never contains adult language or theme (it's still 'PG'). Like YA, this genre is rapidly gaining popularity and momentum.

If you are keen to write Middle Grade Fiction, author Jen Storer has some fabulous recommendations on books in this genre. Her MG book Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children (Penguin 2009, see my review) has been shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards 2009, the Western Australia Young Readers Book Award 2010, the Children's Book Council of Australia - Book of the Year 2010, Prime Minister's Literary Awards 2010. It also won the Australian Publishers Association Book Design Awards for Best Designed Children's Fiction Book 2010. Learn more about this talented writer at www.jenstorer.com.

Jen's Recommendations

The Touchstone Trilogy by Steve Augarde (The Various, Celendine, Winderwood)

Skellig by David Almond

Heaven Eyes by David Almond

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

Clair de Lune by Cassandra Golds

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Di Camillo

The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones

The Magician’s Nephew by C S Lewis

Phantastes by George MacDonald (the edition with intro by C S Lewis)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J K Rowling

Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner

You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum by Andy Stanton

Jen's Recommendations for Adults Works that can improve MG writing

Under Milk Wood Dylan Thomas

The Facts of Life by Graham Joyce

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Cosmo Cosmolino by Helen Garner

Jen's Non-fiction Suggestions

The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland

Keep Smiling Through: The Home Front 1939-1945 by Susan Briggs

The Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom: A Celtic Shaman’s Source Book by Caitlin and John Matthews

The Celtic Wisdom of Trees: Mysteries, Magic and Medicine by Jane Gifford

The Road to Nab End by William Woodruff

See Writing Picture Books with Gus Gordon

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Ask Tania: Writing your Manuscript Submission Cover Letter

Dear Tania,
I am finally submitting my first manuscript to publishers. They all ask for a cover letter containing a list of required information. Is there a secret to how you go about structuring your cover letter? I have started by creating a heading for each of their requirements - eg: synopsis, author bio, target market - and then simply adding information under those headings. At least then I know that I have met their requirements, but I'm worried that it doesn't look professional and doesn't flow well!

Hi Shannon,

This is a great question.

I think the most important thing to remember is that not all cover letters are the same. Step one is to take careful note of the requirements of each publisher (for both manuscript and cover letter. Following these to the letter ('scuse the pun) will show you are a serious publication contender.

Once you are really clear on what the publisher expects in a cover letter, step two is to keep things succinct. Don't rabbit on about yourself, how great you are, or how you're the next Maeve Binchy. Don't talk about how all the kids at your local school just LOVE your work. By all means, show you are passionate and love to write, but this letter isn't a platform for self-promotion. Make it clean, clear and brief. Always keep in mind that publishers have a heck of a lot to read as it is. Don't make it harder for them.

Step three is to ensure your letter's grammar and punctuation is absolutely perfect. Have someone you trust go over it with a fine tooth comb. A poorly-written cover letter is not going to bode well for its accompanying manuscript.

Step four: cover all the elements required by the publisher. If there are a lot to cover, having mini headings is perfect okay, but please avoid all capitals, which sound like you're shouting. If you're required to list achievements, awards, associations or publications, choose only the significant ones, then offer a website link for more info (yes, even in hardcopy letters) .

Step five: don't try to be someone you're not. Be yourself and use your regular voice. It's easy to be daunted by publishers, but they are just people, too, and they can sense (and appreciate) the real you.

Step six is one of the most important. Be polite, professional and UN-demanding. You want to show you are easy to work with. Send the letter and the manuscript, and let go. Do check the publisher's usual response rate to submissions--wait that time, add 3 - 4 weeks, then send a very short, polite query letter or email. Then--let go.

Down the track, when you develop relationships with publishers, you would usually submit something via previous discussion or via a simple manuscript query email (whereby you send a quite email, briefly outlining your book, and asking if they would be interested in seeing it). When this happens, I tend to send a covering letter as simple as 'Thank you for this wonderful opportunity, I hope you enjoy Manuscript Title. Warmest thanks, Tania.' And that's it. Occasionally, depending on the situation, I might add something about why I wrote the book, but it's only one sentence, and any other explanatory notes are similarly just one sentence.

A little tip: learn how to define your entire book in one sentence. Think of it as a tag line, as though your book is being made into a film (we can only hope!)--and have this on standby, if need be, or include it in your cover letter. Make it poetic and arresting, no matter the book's content. This is not only handy to have, it will help you understand the nature of being succinct.

Good luck!


See all the questions so far ...

Monday, 4 August 2014

#illo52weeks - week 31: LINES

watercolour and pencil

watercolour and graphite pencil

watercolour and fineliner


my first time gelli printing!

as above

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