It’s alive! How the Monsters of Tasmania were created

Rachel Tribout is an accomplished illustrator who successfully crowd-funded her first children’s picture book, The Monsters of Tasmania. In this interview, she talks about the process of bringing her story to life.

Illustrator Rachel Tribout

Rachel Tribout – illustrator and creator of Tassie monsters

Rachel, can you tell me why you decided to crowd-fund and self-publish Monsters of Tasmania rather than approach book publishers?
There are a couple of reasons I decided not to seek a publisher.

Firstly, I wanted to do my own thing. I wanted this book to be exactly as I choose, for example by having a few more pages than the usual 32-page standard. I also wanted to create the story and the illustrations.

Designing it myself was part of the fun and I was interested in learning the full process, from concept to production. I wanted to produce the book completely in Tasmania and in the end I worked with a great local printer to put together the limited Explorer’s Edition that includes some extra pages and a 3-colour process cover. It was a lot of fun to create.

I was also conscious that being Tasmania-focused, it might have been hard for a publisher to market it outside of Tasmania. At the same time that meant I could do the promotion and potentially even distribution myself down here because of the smaller scale. But in the end, I have Blackgum Distribution handling the distribution.

My next book project probably won’t be focused on Tasmania and I might try to contact publishers then, with The Monsters of Tasmania as my portfolio!

How have you developed your illustrating and writing craft? Did you complete formal study or take a different approach?
Illustration has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. At school I majored in literature and fine art, and I went on to study visual communication and illustration. Mostly I am self-taught, but I owe a lot of my progress to a friend of mine back in France. He’s a concept artist and gives me heaps of feedback on my work.

I have also read a lot of graphic novels since I am very young. They are a big deal in France, there’s the huge market there and everyone reads them.

Tell me about using Tasmanian landscapes as inspiration for your picture book. Is there a particular region of Tasmania that inspired you?
Seeing the landscape as living creatures comes quite naturally to me. I can’t help but see past their camouflage. As a child I was fascinated by old legends associated with the landscape and I’d never forget the stories of giants and dragons that have fallen asleep but may wake up at any time. I love those old maps of the world with the lands not quite right the right shape, or those flat representations of the earth with just a waterfall to nothingness at the end and weird creatures infesting the waters.

In Tasmania I find the coastline particularly evocative: Freycinet, the Tasman Peninsular and its Lion-turtles, and iconic places like Stanley. My favorite is Maria Island – it’s truly a magical place.

Did you spend much time out in the field before heading back to work in your studio?
I try to get out on study trips as often as I can! Occasionally I’ll do sketches when I’m sitting on a warm rock somewhere, but usually I’m too busy jumping around looking at things. I do take photos to remind me where things are and what shape they’re currently taking, but for me the important thing is seeing them and exploring.

I do the illustrations back in my studio.

Monsters of Tasmania by Rachel Tribout

The cover for Rachel’s book, The Monsters of Tasmania

How have you handled working with words as well as images?
There’s a delicate balance to be found between words and images, and telling a story where they work with each other seamlessly. As the book came together this swapped around – sometimes I replaced text with an illustration, or vice versa.

I initially started to create the book so it wouldn’t need text and could be understood without it, but then decided to add some to the book.

My husband Daniel is the one who wrote the words.

How long did it take to complete the artwork for The Monsters of Tasmania?
The first illustrations for The Monsters of Tasmania were done in December 2012, around Christmas when I had a bit of time. At that time I created the first four pictures and did a rough mapping of the book.

From then, I didn’t have much of a routine and I would try to fit time when I could between work and study. Weekends, evenings — I worked some long hours!

The story changed a bit along the way and I added some pages halfway through. I finished illustrating by November 2013, and finalised the design in February 2014.

Did you have any assistance with the publishing and printing process?
I had lots of help along the way from other authors, illustrators and designers – and of course from all the people who helped make my Pozible crowdfunding campaign successful. My web design teacher Ian Wallace knows a lot about self publishing and printing, and helped me a lot with the prepress side of things. When I was designing the book my day job was as a design intern at Futago, which was very helpful. I learnt a lot there and they gave me some great feedback.

Promotion-wise, and also regarding Pozible, Josh Santospirito gave me some gold advice.

When I was creating this book my ears were constantly open and I took on a lot of advice, I listened to people’s stories a lot and that’s priceless help.

Did you plan the promotional websites and blog or have they evolved?
Both. My Captain Blueberry blog began back when I first made a business out of illustration. Since then Captain Blueberry has evolved into a single project and my other work comes under my site at racheltribout.com.

Have you given any talks or presentations at bookstores or schools? Do you plan these or do you ‘wing it’?
I’ve given a couple of presentations now – Emerging Writers Festival event at MONA in October last year and also at Her Majesty’s Favourite Really Great Graphical Festival a few months ago. I will do some more in the future, so far I have been too busy with my freelance work to spare the time. Soon!

The way I deal with it? It’s nerve-wracking. I don’t get used to it. I am not much of a performer. What I have learnt is that it’s better to be prepared and practiced beforehand.

It’s notoriously difficult for self-publishers to get their books into bookstores. How did you go about it?
Luck definitely plays a part! I heard of Black Gum from another self published author, Andy Wilson, who has published a book called Old Sea Dogs. He told me a bit about the world of self publishing over a coffee, and he suggested I approach Black Gum Distribution. When I met them, they were pretty excited about the book and thought it was very professional looking. It’s been selling well so far!

Why did you decide to sell your books on etsy as well as in bookstores?
Etsy is great. It’s good value, easy to set up and it’s another way to connect with other creators and people who want to buy monster things! I’ve been on Etsy for a few years and I sometimes have things for sell in my shop, so it was natural to add The Captain’s book to my store.

What’s next for you? Any plans for an app or ebook?
I do have this project to make The Monsters of Tasmania into an animated interactive book, but I will need a big chunk of time for that as it will be a huge job. Sooner or later it will happen.

Also, Captain Blueberry happens to be heading south at the moment to investigate what lies beyond the Antarctic Circle. A new character, Admiral Bolognaise is going to join her too – so stay tuned!

At this point I’m planning to self-publish again, maybe even with a crowdfunding campaign. But we’ll see how we go. Maybe it could be good to have a publisher descend from their other world and help with printing costs and everything else if I could spark some interest in them.

Thank you, Rachel Tribout!

Bio
Rachel Tribout is a freelance illustrator and graphic designer. She was born in France and studied visual communication and illustration in Lyon. One fine day she set off across the oceans to discover the world, and she now lives in Hobart.

Links

Captain Blueberry’s Journal

Captain Blueberry website (to promote the book)

Rachel’s FaceBook page

Rachel’s design and illustration website

Rachel shares tips on her successful Pozible campaign

Where you can buy the book

Rachel’s book is available for sale from her etsy shop.

You can also find it in bookshops across Tasmania.

Interview with Tasmanian children’s author, Julie Hunt

Julie Hunt is a well-known and respected author of children’s literature. In the following interview, she talks about her career as a writer.

Julie Hunt with Bella, who features in Song for a Scarlet Runner

Julie with Bella, who features in Song for a Scarlet Runner.

Julie, can you tell me how you first began creative writing?
I had a job doing a storytelling session at Bondi Junction library on Saturday mornings and during that time I read a lot of picture books and decided to have a go at writing one myself.

Tell me about the process of completing your first published piece.
My first published piece wasn’t a story but a poem. I came to writing picture books through poetry. The poem appeared in a student literary journal and I don’t remember much about it except for the opening lines:

I’m growing my children under a pyramid
their heads are cone-shaped
I knit them tall hats in winter…

I think it was about the creative process. It makes me laugh now but at the time I think I took it seriously.

How did you go about approaching a publisher when you started out?
My first book was self-published. I got together with a friend who did the pictures and we printed it ourselves. My second book was accepted after sending many stories to many publishers. That was some time ago; now you need to check publishers’ websites to find out if and when they are accepting submissions.

A good way of getting a start in publishing is through the Australian Society of Authors mentorship scheme or similar. But first you need to become a writer. You need to develop the habit of writing and find out how to create stories. When I began, I thought publishing was everything and consequently I was disappointed. I now realise I was putting the cart before the horse. My advice to new writers is this: first get your story. Forget about publishing, marketing, branding and building a profile. Just go and find your stories, your pictures, your language. The rest might happen later if you’re lucky.

Tell me about the process of working on your graphic novel, KidGlovz. Was it different to working on your novel?
Yes. Very different. My first novel, Song for a Scarlet Runner, has just been published by Allen and Unwin. My graphic novel KidGlovz is in the process of being illustrated and will come out on 2014. I wrote KidGlovz as script, seeing the story like a film and describing what I saw in terms of picture panels and dialogue boxes. It was easy compared with the ‘word’ novel as all I had to do was sketch out the story before handing it to Dale Newman, the illustrator. I love her drawings. She did the cover for Song for a Scarlet Runner.

The cover for Julie Hunt's book Song for a Scarlet Runner

The cover for Julie’s book, Song for a Scarlet Runner.

I am about to start a sequel to KidGlovz, a book called Shoestring, which will be a hybrid graphic novel, incorporating the best of both worlds I hope – prose and pictures.

You’ve collaborated with others on many literary projects. What are the highs and lows of collaborations?
All my collaborations have been enjoyable. At the moment my main collaborators are Erica and Sue at Allen and Unwin. We have a good time, an inspiring time. They are full of ideas and I am lucky to have the benefit of their experience and expertise.

Have you ever done a book proposal? Was it helpful?
No, but I learnt how to do it when I was studying the Professional Writing and Editing Course at RMIT.

When I suggest a book to my publisher I don’t look at the market, or the competition and ‘sell’ my idea in the commercial sense. What I do is sell the book to myself by writing about the potential story in a way that makes me believe it could happen. I use grant applications in the same way – I write the application in order to write the book. A friend once told me that grants are judged as much on the quality of the application writing as on the support material so I put a lot of time into it, often treating the application as a piece of creative writing in itself rather than a bureaucratic form. I try and entertain myself as I go along and hope whoever reads it will be entertained as well.

Do you have an agent?
No.

How do you go about negotiating your contracts with publishers?
I cross out a few things and add a few things. I keep the film rights for the Hollywood blockbuster! The Australian Society of Authors have a contact assessment service that is useful.

Did you attempt to build your profile as a writer prior to getting published?
No. For me, writing involves listening for a quiet inner voice rather than creating a loud external one. But maybe some people find their writing selves through creating a profile.

Tasmania has a small but active literary community. Would you say there are any advantages or disadvantages to being a writer in Tasmania?
Tasmania isn’t too busy so it’s easy to get on with your work. The writing community is small and supportive and the Tasmanian Writers Centre is a terrific organisation. I don’t feel distance is a disadvantage as I like going interstate to visit my publisher or attend events like the annual Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference.

Have you done any marketing (such as book tours) on the mainland or do you focus on Tasmania?
You’ve picked the wrong person to ask about marketing! I’m crowd shy – I rarely give talks (although after doing an adult education course in public speaking this is changing), I don’t often visit schools or libraries, and the thought of a book tour fills me with holy dread.

I quite like the ‘story behind the stories’ section of your website. How did you decide what content to put on your website? Did you organise the book trailers?
I’m glad you like this Cath. I enjoyed writing it and now I make notes on that sort of thing as I go along – the process, where the ideas came from etc. This was a tip Hazel Edwards gave in a workshop at TWC in Hobart – keep notes and write 1000 words about each book because you will need it later for publicity.

I made the trailers myself using a program called Premier Elements.

Describe your writing day.
I start around five, take the phone off the hook and work until ten, writing in bed by hand. Then I get up, feed the chooks, put the phone on the hook, turn on the computer, type up what I’ve written and start my day job which is a different sort of publishing – producing course units for year 11 and 12 students in Tasmania. On a good day this is punctuated by time spent weeding in the hothouses or outside, making compost. It’s good to get some physical work in and I’m lucky to live on a farm.

What do you find pleasurable or difficult about being a writer?
The best times are hatching ideas and plots and discussing them with my publisher. When young readers tell me that they got to the end of one of my books and decided to read it again I am very pleased. The main difficulty is that I usually feel lost and uncertain about where the story is heading but I guess that goes with the territory.

How would you describe your ‘brand’ as an author? What is it that differentiates you from other children’s book authors? (Voice, subject matter, etc.)

I have to say I’m not really into branding – I just try and be myself and write the best stories I can. Recently my editor suggested mentioning my interest in travel and far-flung landscapes on an about-the-author page, which made me feel a bit of a fraud as I’m no great adventurer, but since then I’ve discovered a burning need to get to Turkey to see if a story is waiting for me among the fairy chimneys and underground cities of Cappadocia.

Cover for The Coat by Julie Hunt

The cover for The Coat. This book has been shortlisted for the 2013 CBCA Awards.

If you asked me to describe my work I would call it ‘feet-on-the-ground fantasy’. Plenty of action, heart and humour. No wizards, warlocks or princesses but the characters are big and so are their concerns – truth, death and transformation.

If you could travel back in time to the moment before you sent off your first manuscript, what advice would you give yourself?
Get a job. Do some training and get a parallel life that will make the writing possible. But keep the writing at the centre!

Julie Hunt, thank you for sharing your story!

If you’d like to find out more about Julie and her books, click here to visit her website.

If you have any questions for Julie, please use the comments form below.

To Amazon or not? A guest post by Annette Cauchi

Children's author, Annette Cauchi

Self-published author, Annette Cauchi

Today, children’s author Annette Cauchi shares her experiences of self-publishing with Amazon KDP Select. Annette is an Australian author.

To Amazon or not? That is the question for any aspiring self-publisher

I can’t answer that question, but I can tell you about my experience as a first timer on the megalith that is amazon.com.

I published my first children’s novel as a Kindle ebook on Amazon at the start of December 2012, so my journey is still beginning. In this short time I have learned a lot, particularly as I knew less than nothing about ebooks or self-publishing when I decided to take the leap.

The first thing I did was buy a Kindle, so at least I knew how they worked. I got the basic model which is only black and white (or at least 50 shades of grey), but I believe the latest ones are colour. I would say that anyone who plans to read Kindle books to children, or wants to encourage children to read them, would be better off with colour. I am told that iPads display Kindle books beautifully, better than Kindles in fact, and overall are a lot more useful.

My book is aimed at children nine years old and older. It doesn’t have any pictures, so black and white is fine for now. I would actually like to include illustrations, perhaps of the simple line drawing variety, but I can’t draw and have no money to pay an illustrator. That’s okay though; words are my tools and I’m happy to stick with them.

One big appeal of Kindle Direct Publishing is that it’s very user friendly for the newbie and the technologically challenged. If you don’t want to include graphics you can simply upload your Word file and it will automatically be converted to Kindle format and published without you having to do anything. The downside of this simplicity of is that, in the absence of any professional oversight, the Kindle store does contain many examples of poorly-edited, uninspiring and amateurish books uploaded by wannabes unable or unwilling to reflect critically on their own pet projects.

There are a few essential requirements when preparing your MS Word file. They are clearly explained in the Kindle ‘Help’ section, and I learned a few things about MS Word in the process.

I asked my daughter, who has drawing and graphic design skills, to create my cover. A brilliant eye-catching cover is essential according to all the ‘how to be successful on Kindle’ guides that I’ve read (and that’s quite a few). I don’t know how mine rates, but I’ve had no negative feedback and I’m happy with it for now.

The next big decision was whether to enrol in Kindle Direct Publishing Select or not. There are advantages and disadvantages. Detailed information on this is available elsewhere, but put simply the benefit of enrolling in Select is that your book can be borrowed by Amazon Prime members, for which you receive a royalty that may be more than you would make on a sale. Also, as a Select member you can promote your book free for five days out of every 90. The downside is that you can’t publish electronically anywhere else during that 90 days, but you can publish hard copies and at the end of 90 days you can either opt out of Select or sign up for another 90 days.

Because it seemed simple, had potential benefits and I had no immediate plans to publish elsewhere I decided to enrol my book in KDP Select.

One big appeal of Kindle Direct Publishing is it’s very user friendly for the newbie.

So after setting my prices, distribution rights, categories and tags I hit ‘Publish’. A few hours later, there it was: my book available for purchase on the Amazon Kindle Store.

Okay, so now what? Who’s going to notice my little ebook among the millions on the Kindle store?

Obviously the first thing is to encourage family and friends to buy a copy. That was an interesting exercise. People showered their praise on me but not many actually went straight to their computer and bought the book. Fair enough, you can’t force people, but your friends and family are not going to make you successful on Amazon.

So what next? Back to the ‘how to’ manuals.  Rule number one: reviews and lots of them. One friend told me she only buys Kindle books with at least 50 reviews. In effect this means she only buys books from established authors, although I don’t think she sees it that way. Her view is that she wants value for money, and again that’s fair enough. We all want value for money.

Cover for How I Saved the WorldSo how do I get 50 reviews? This is where being in KDP Select comes in handy. I have five days where I can give away the book as a free promotion, and lots of giveaways should result in at least some reviews. So for five days over Christmas my book was available for free and resulted in over 1500 copies downloaded, of which more than half were on amazon.uk. This resulted in a total of three unsolicited reviews and increased sales in the following couple of weeks.

Now I have to resist checking my sales figures every hour and get on with what really matters: writing my next book. I have decided to write a sequel, purely from a marketing point of view.

It has been a genuinely interesting journey so far, and this has been a greatly abridged version of my experience. I do believe we are still at the beginning of the digital book era and I am optimistic that there is a future for me on Amazon Kindle.

Annette Cauchi is a writer and teacher from the Huon Valley in Southern Tasmania. Her first novel for children, How I Saved the World: Amazing Adventures of an Almost Superhero, has just been published as a Kindle ebook.

Click here to visit Annette’s blog.

How to go on national TV and not mention your book: A guest blog by Marianne Musgrove

Today I have a guest blog from author, Marianne Musgrove. Marianne recently appeared on two day-time television shows promoting her new book for children, Lucy the Lie Detector. Here she shares her advice about appearing on television if you’re promoting a book.

Promoting yourself on TV
Or
How to go on national TV and not mention your book

by Marianne Musgrove

Following on from my now famous (at least in my family) appearance on Mornings with Kerri-Anne to promote my new book, Lucy the Lie Detector, I thought I’d share some lessons I’ve learned about making the most of your fifteen (or in my case, four) minutes of fame.

Marianne Musgrove

Marianne Musgrove

Getting on TV in the first place
Producers love an angle. When my publicist discovered I was a former social worker, she married this fact to the content of my book (truth and lies) and voila! I was an expert on children’s behaviour and lying. To find your angle, consider all aspects of your background (job, heritage, family situation, experience), not just the subject matter of your book.

What to wear
Children’s author and fellow “Mornings with Kerri-Anne” alumna, Fiona Trembath, advises: avoid jingly jewellery, wear something that reflects who you are and don’t wear a pattern that might strobe on screen.

Be prepared
Before you appear on the show, you’ll be contacted by a producer to discuss possible interview questions. They may ask you for talking points which will appear on screen during your segment. Have those points ready (no more than five per section).

Mention your book!
Some shows only permit you to mention your product once so get in early and make it count. Don’t wait to be asked the right question. I made the mistake of waiting for a certain graphic to come up. I never saw it and I missed out on mentioning my book!

Things may not go according to plan
When I was on Kerri-Anne, I wasn’t prepared for her opening question: what makes a child tell their very first lie? I did what we writers do best – I made something up. Be prepared to answer questions out of left field. Don’t panic. Just sound confident and no one will know the difference.

Familiarise yourself
Ask to take a peek in the studio before you go on. This will mean one less thing your brain has to process once you get on set. Ask how long the segment will be. When you sense your time drawing to a close, quickly mention anything you’ve left out.

Keep calm
Take a few deep breaths before you go on (though not too many – you don’t want to pass out and have to be revived on nation television). Speak at a regular pace.

Be camera-wise
It’s hard to smile when you’re nervous but it does make you more appealing. Steer clear of maniacal grins, however. You don’t want to scare away the viewers. Also remember: don’t look at the camera. I know that’s a bit like saying ‘don’t think of an elephant’ then all you can do it think of an elephant. Nevertheless, don’t look at the camera!

Props
Bring a copy of your book on set with you. It’s a visual that’s a constant, free advertisement.Lucy The Lie Detector

I can guarantee you, you will make one or more mistakes while you’re on TV. I know I did. Forgive yourself, learn from your mistakes and move on.

Good luck!

Click here to see Marianne’s TV appearance.

And here for Marianne’s website.

This article first appeared in the e-newsletter Pass It On editions 300 and 301.

How did you get published? Interview with novelist and travel writer, Cameron Rogers

Today, I’m talking to author Cameron Rogers. Cam has had two novels and two YA novels published. Currently he’s travelling and writing travel articles for newspapers such as The Age in Melbourne. Cam’s unusual background includes being a motion capture model for computer games and a ‘crime management officer’ for the Queensland Police.

Cam, can you tell me how you first came to be published?
The short story is this: in the mid Nineties I’d been writing and trying to sell stories to magazines for a while, so when Gary Crew asked to see some of my stuff I had a catalogue I could show him. He liked what he read, suggested I write something for Lothian’s After Dark series, and it went from there.

I learned years later that, apparently, Gary took to me because I was a Goth but, strangely, wasn’t a wanker. I hope he doesn’t mind me saying that. That first publication got Penguin interested, which led to The Music of Razors, Nicholas and the Chronoporter and my current one, Fateless.  I’m hoping that’ll be out within twelve months.

Cameron Rogers near Reykjavik, Iceland

Cameron Rogers, near Reykjavik, Iceland

How did you approach Lothian and Penguin Australia when you started out? Was there a particular method that’s worked for you?
I’m not someone who networks easily. The idea of schmoozing, of meeting new people with some selfish ulterior motive, squicks me out. Then I realized that ‘networking’ was just code for ‘having friends’. We help each other out, it’s all good, and when we’re not doing that – which is most of the time – we’re just doing what friends do.

I keep an eye out for the lateral, the beautiful, the unexpected.

Do you ever encounter obstacles (in terms of craft) when writing for publication?
Only when writing stuff for kids.  They don’t need to be patronized, they’re fine with being challenged, but the parents and librarians who buy the books often don’t seem to think so. So it can be a balancing act.

Nicholas and the Chronoporter almost didn’t see print because part of the plot involved the main character dealing with the death of his mother, for example, and then being presented with the chance to save her at great cost to everyone else. That right there almost killed it.

How do you tackle research for your fiction writing?
I do, and I’ve learned it’s possible to research to a fault.  There’s a real craft to knowing when enough is enough when it comes to info-mining. Too little and the book feels flat or doesn’t ring true, too much and it either paralyses you with choice or you disappear down the rabbit hole of researching the details of your research, ad infinitum.

I fell into that trap working on my latest book, Fateless. A section of the book has to do with the ‘Pals battalions’ raised by Kitchener in WWI.  I was so engrossed by the idea of fathers and sons and brothers and cousins – the male population of entire families sometimes – being recruited and banded together and then shipped off to the front lines, that I felt I’d lost the right to use their stories if I didn’t do it justice. I lost a year on that, only to realize that if I supplied just enough detail the reader would get it; that less really can be more, and that maintaining a good signal-to-noise ratio is absolutely critical.

I have two credos when it comes to travel: Say Yes, and Embrace Random.

It doesn’t matter how fascinating you think the subject is, if too much research makes it to the final page you run the very real risk of fatiguing, and losing, the reader.

Apart from visiting the place you’re writing about, how do you research your travel articles?
I probably do about as much research on a destination as any other traveler. I have two credos when it comes to travel: Say Yes, and Embrace Random. Those two things, I’ve found, have generated more interesting material and experiences than any amount of reading-up and planning.

Everywhere I go I take a Moleskine notebook and a camera. I keep an eye out for the lateral, the beautiful, the unexpected. I note down odd things that are said, little details that snag the attention, and photograph anything that suggests itself: sights, sounds, smells, textures, observations, snatches of conversation. Then at the end of the day I write about it, for myself, using the notes and photos as aids.

I realized that ‘networking’ was just code for ‘having friends.

At some point later I read back over all that material, isolate the articles that seem the most interesting, and then I rework those for publication. It’s really about capturing the immediacy of the experience. At the end of the day all anyone has is the experience of something, and for me the soul and purpose of good travel writing is to convey your experience to someone who can’t be there. That requires an eye for the hidden, the unexpected, the taken-for-granted, the poetic, the lateral. The tiny thing that makes the moment.

I could talk about the Eiffel Tower, for example, or I could talk about gangs of scruffy men on Parisian street corners selling cartons of stolen cigarettes and stashing their supply inside cast-iron art deco lampposts. The Eiffel Tower is common knowledge, shared culture, wallpaper, but you can smell those men. You wonder about them, who they are, their pasts, why they do what they do, how that slots with the life of the neighbourhood. It’s new, unseen … it’s engaging.

I’ll put up the second part of Cam’s interview on Friday. Cam talks about why he used a pen-name, the benefits of having an agent, and what promotions support writers get from publishers.

In the meantime, click here to visit Cam’s website/blog. He’s got some great photos of his travels.

Tips for young writers: How to make your story more interesting

Sometimes it’s hard to make your stories sound exciting. In this guest blog, author Marianne Musgrove gives tips to make your next story more interesting.

Tip One: Begin at an exciting moment
Read the two story openings below. Which do you think is more interesting? Why?

A:

Amal was nine years old. She loved animals and running. One day, she went to the zoo. A lion escaped and chased her down the path.

B:

‘Run!’ shouted the zoo keeper. ‘Or you’ll be eaten!’
Though only nine years old, Amal was a fast runner. She raced down the path away from the roaring lion. ‘I normally love animals,’ she thought. ‘Today, I’m not so sure.’

Even though the same information is in both openings, B is worded in a more interesting way. The word ‘Run!’ makes you wonder what will happen next.

Exercise: Take a look at one of your old stories, or write a new one. Choose an exciting part of the story and begin it there.

Marianne Musgrove

Marianne Musgrove

Tip Two: Make life hard for your character
Have you ever read a story where a character has an interesting problem that gets solved too easily? Eg. a character is stuck in a bog and a genie suddenly appears and rescues her. Think about this: what if the genie didn’t appear? What would your character do then? Be creative. Make things hard for your character and the story will be more interesting.

Exercise:
Write a story where you and a friend are marooned on an island. A boat lands on the shore. How would you finish this story? The easy way would be to make the boat owners nice people who offer to give you a ride home. As an ending, it’s okay, but it’s not terribly exciting. What if the boat owners turn out to be pirates? Or what if they’re runaways with a secret? What if your friend is ill and needs urgent medical attention?

Come up with your own way of making life hard for your characters and see what happens next.

Tip Three: Describe how your character feels
It’s one thing to say ‘Taylor is angry’ but another thing to show Taylor is angry. What do I mean by this? Here are two very short stories. Which one do you think is better? Why?

A:

Max’s teacher, Ms Anders, was very strict about students handing in their homework on time. Max hadn’t finished his. When Ms Anders walked into the classroom, Max was very scared.

B:

Max’s teacher, Ms Anders, was very strict about students handing in their homework on time. When Ms Anders walked into the classroom, Max’s hands began to sweat and his heart thudded. ‘Oh, why hadn’t he done his homework?’ he wondered, sinking into his chair.

Reading about how a character feels in their body helps the reader feel the same thing.

Lucy The Lie DetectorExercise:
What happens in your body when you feel relieved? Do you sigh? Do your shoulders and head droop because they were tense just before? Does your heart slow down? Write a list of feelings, eg, relieved, angry, scared, sad. Under each feeling, write down what happens in your body.

Next time you write a story, rather than saying, eg. ‘Jenna was angry’, describe how Jenna feels the anger in her body.

Good luck!

Marianne has a new book out: Lucy the Lie Detector. She has written many other books for children, including The Worry Tree (also with Random House Australia).

Click here to visit Marianne’s website.

Fictional websites: a book promotion idea from the world of Doctor Who

I recently discovered some of the ‘fictional’ websites from the Doctor Who series. I immediately thought, ‘What a great idea for a book promotion!’. So I’ll throw on my Tom Baker-style striped scarf, get comfy and give you the rundown. Who knows, you too might be inspired to do something different for your next book promotion!

There are quite a few of these websites that have been created for fake organisations in the Doctor Who series. Some of them look simple, but if you spend a bit of time hunting around, you’ll find special pages.

Some of the websites contain quirky references to the TV series – so you’d need to be familiar with the show in order to ‘get it’.

Others have puzzles and games with a reward. The website, Who is Doctor Who, makes a good starting point. There’s a fun game, set in ‘Scribble World’ on the home page.

Here are a few of the more interesting websites:

The Torchwood House website could be the site for any heritage-listed building. To play the interactive game, click on ‘Observatory’ then ‘Scan for heavenly bodies’. The password is ‘victoria’. If you’re familiar with the characters from the more recent Doctor Who series, you’ll see also a surprise under ‘Weddings’.

The Leamington Spa Lifeboat Museum seems to be the website for a weird and yet banal exhibition. Hunt around and you’ll find the interactive game.

IMHO, the best of the lot is the Deffrey Vale High School website, featuring the magnificently-creepy Anthony Head. Take the ‘IQ’ test, found under ‘Are you smart enough?’. It’s truly brilliant. The site could almost be ‘real’ – it looks fantastic, it’s interactive and scarily engaging.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive rundown on the fictional websites, google ‘Doctor Who fictional websites’. There’s also a wikipedia page on them.

What I enjoy about these websites is that they allow places and characters from a TV show to ‘exist’ outside of the show. A book series that played with this idea of the realness of characters is the Lemony Snicket series. Here, the lines between reality and fiction were blurred: the author was fictional, and yet through his insistent and intrusive narration seemed to be alive.

Fictional websites would be outside the budget of many authors. However, interactivity is an idea not explored by most authors for their online promotions. Why not devise tests, polls or questionnaires that relate to the themes of your books? Get your readers involved and engaged – encourage them to experience the world of your books. 

And finally, I should also mention YA author George Ivanoff’s new blog on the Doctor Who books. Read and enjoy at Boomerang Books online.