Tag: writing for children

A red-hot chilli evening!

Book launches are the best fun! After months, and sometimes years of writing, re-writing, editing and refining your story, there it is with its beautiful cover on the bookshop shelf.

That’s when around 60 of your friends and family gather to help you celebrate too! What a great excuse for a party. My launch for Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper was on Friday evening at Black Cat Books and Cafe, Paddington, Brisbane. What a great place to have a launch! If you ever go there, check out the beautiful back decks that lead down a terraced hill under the Jacaranda trees.

It was a privilege to have award-winning author, Michael Bauer on hand as guest speaker to help launch Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper. Michael is a man of wit, charm, good humour and a fellow-traveller in the magical mine-field world of being an author. I’m pleased to call him friend.

In his speech, Michael brought up the topic of how he’d never been involved in a protest rally until he met me. And recounted the stirring day of our protest rally I’d organised here in Brisbane, out the front of the city Dymocks store in last year’s battle against lifting the Restrictions against Parallel Importation of Books. Michaelproved to be  the perfect person to have at your side in those moments – calm, clear-thinking and an award-winning, established Australian author. He was also at my side when we lobbied local Federal politicians in their offices.

Michael’s hilarious descriptions had the book launch audience in fits of laughter. And his lovely words and his warmth towards me and about my writing, and the new book were most appreciated.

It was also great to have family, friends from all walks of my life, including many of my friends from the world of writing at the launch. I’ll let these pictures do the talking.


Notice the traditional Mexican paper-cut banners?
Sheryl and Ally Howard



writing for children -v- writing for adults

Someone said an intriguing thing the other day and it set me thinking.

‘Why don’t you write for adults, Sheryl?’

‘I prefer to write for kids.’

‘Oh, well, I guess writing for children is much easier.’

Okay, so how would you respond in that situation if you were a writer of children’s books? For once, I held my tongue and didn’t bite back. It is an important question to a writer of the genre and it needs careful consideration – even if just to defend my choice of audience, in a coherent way.

First, let’s get rid of the myth that writing for children is easier. I suspect it is harder – not only do you face the rigorous ‘gate-keepers’ for quality books known as Australian children’s publishers, you also are up against the harshest, most ‘lackadaisical’ of critics – young readers.  Adult readers will give you the benefit of the doubt in your story. They will read a few chapters, or almost to the end, before giving up if it doesn’t grab their attention (I know, because I’m one of them).

But a child reader will read the first sentence, or paragraph, and if you’re lucky, the first page, before deciding whether to keep going. And fair enough, too. There are so many other media grabbing their attention span – that’s the way things are now.

There’s also the tricky adaptations you must make to write for different age groups and reading abilities – I have to write the story first, then, if it is for the younger, chapter-book readers, I take out more than I leave in, ensuring the story still rollicks along.

Why do I write for children?

  1. The characters that live in my stories are children (or animals) experiencing the rocky road of life. I’ve never thought of an adult as the main character. That does not mean I don’t write about adults too. I do – like Matron Maddock and Algernon Parris in my story, McAlpine & Macbeth. They are real in my head – evil, corrupt, but both pragmatic about what must be done to survive in an uncertain world.
  2. The stories spilling from my imagination owe homage to the stories I have loved reading over the years – heroes (always young) facing challenges and quests, or fighting the odds to follow their hopes and dreams, facing off (and eventually winning) against antagonists who will stop at nothing to get what they want.
  3. I thrive on challenges, and writing for the children’s book industry is one of them. I will never climb a cliff-face or venture out of my depth in the sea, but every time I send off another story or a play to publishers, the possibility of rejection is there like a stone in my shoe. Every author I know who submits a manuscript feels the same way.
  4. I love the way child readers respond to books – the way stories capture them, the way characters becomes alive in their minds. I love their enthusiasm and their excitement when their favourite authors visit a school library.
  5. I also love being part of a community of Australian children’s writers. Since being involved in the SAVING AUSSIE BOOKS campaign last year, I connected up with authors and illustrators from across the nation. They write for all age levels and range from beginning, through to established, award-winning writers.  I have met publishers in the industry as well. All are incredibly enthusiastic people and generous with their support to fellow writers. Maybe it is because our focus is on children.
    I don’t get the impression there is that connected feeling in the world of writers for adults.

Do you write or illustrate children’s books? Tell us why do you do it? What spurs you on?

For another hilarious view on this topic, check out Katrina Germein’s blogging: 10 Things Not to Say to a Children’s Author

‘Princess Clown’ is on her way

My newest story, Princess Clown is on its way. This chapter book for 7-8 year olds, will be used in classrooms as part of Blake Publishing‘s fiction series called Gigglers Blue.

They’re called chapter books because to young readers taking their first steps into the wonderful world of reading they look like the ‘real’ books older brothers and sisters read.

As you can tell from the Gigglers title, the eight books in the collection are designed to appeal to kids, to make them laugh and want to read.

I’m hoping kids will love reading Princess Clown as it snaps along with humour and its theme, follow your dream whatever the odds – although, for Princess Belle this passion almost ends in disaster.

Haven’t seen the complete book yet, but I’m sure Sian Naylor’s illustrations will sing with colour and movement. This particular front cover image doesn’t show where the grey bits are silver foil, so it will sparkle too – just like any story about a princess with a passion should!

Keep your eyes open for it at educational supplies shops nationwide, in libraries or online.


Do writers need to network? Do crackers need cheese?

Gone are the days when a writer could sit up in a proverbial garret and stare out across the rooftops, alone and isolated, glumly waiting for the muse to visit. Not that the garret situation was ever the case for most writers – but you get my drift.

It is necessary to network if you want to get your writerly presence out there in the marketplace. In the area of Children’s and Young Adult writing, support organisations that promote books, like the Children’s Book Council of Australia and Book Links are well worth joining. Join writing organisations like the Australian Society of Authors who run workshops in different capital cities and have a newsletter.

Join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators) if you write for children and Young Adults. Go to their conferences. Not only do you meet up with writing friends from all over Australia, you rub shoulders with the country’s best children’s books’ editors, publishers, authors and agents. And if you are lucky, you could be chosen to give a short 3-minute pitch of your latest manuscript.

As long as you don’t mind speaking in front of a roomful of attendees and are prepared for very honest, no holds barred opinions from the publishers !

Be an active member of your State’s writing centres. Here in my home state, the Queensland Writers Centre has many social occasions where you can meet publishers, agents and other writers. NOTE: Don’t dare lug along your 80,000-word manuscript. But, if the occasion arises and your instincts say it’s the right time to do it, and the publisher/agent sounds interested in what you do, have your 1-sentence pitch ready. Then if questions come, be able to answer them succinctly. But know when to stop.

Attend book launches in your city – support your fellow writers and they will do the same for you when it is your turn. It’s also a great way to meet up with other writer friends.

An on-line presence is essential these days, especially if you are a regional or outback writer. Here, in Australia that could mean you live thousands of kilometres from the coastal cities.

Blogs and Twitter are fun and useful. Not that I do too much twittering – it’s addictive and not that useful just on a computer. Besides, I have to leave time to do some real writing done.

I use WORDPRESS.COM as my blog provider. I love it! It’s user-friendly and full of excellent features. You can also use it in place of a website if you want. WordPress.org is a site you pay for but it gives you a lot more features.

Facebook is a wonderful way to meet other writers in Australia – in my case, its authors who write children’s and YA books. I think we must be one of the most closely-knit (in terms of Facebook) community of writers in the world with so many of us Facebook befriending and meeting at writing conferences across the continent.

This is all part of your PLATFORM – yeah, more new jargon. But it’s all to do with helping you and your work to stand out amongst the many thousands of writers in this country and across the globe. I won’t dishearten you by including the numbers of hopeful writers just in Australia alone.

Do you blog regularly? Is it an attractive site? Do you support other writers’ blogs and leave comments? Do you have an appealing website; one that is easy to navigate?

I love blogging – usually about writing, but also about the things that I feel strongly about and/or topics that might interest others.

There are many links to other writers’ blogs on my site. They have linked my site to theirs too. I have chosen many because they offer good writing, helpful advice and entertaining insights into their lives as writers. Here’s the link to what fellow children’s and YA author, Dee White says about NETWORKING.

A future blog will check out some of my writerly friends and give you a little peek into their worlds.

PS How do you network in the world of writing? Any more suggestions?


Perseverance is the WORD

Writers who succeed are those who persevere through first drafts that feels like pushing jelly uphill; refuse to take second-best for the multiple re-writes; do the spit and polish at the end; then cope with rejection letters, and re-write and edit again.

I’m polishing off a junior fiction novel I started writing in 2003 – wrote the first draft in a leather journal with gilt-edged pages and smooth, smooth blue-lined paper, and dated it, that’s why I know it was so long ago. (It was such a pleasure writing in a beautiful journal the first-draft stopped being a chore.)

Other stories have been written in those six years and accepted for publication since then, but this one is dear to my heart.

It’s a story that required research, imagination and a love of the English language – particularly the works of Shakespeare. It also needed a huge dose of PATIENCE and PERSEVERANCE.

Not that it’s an easy thing, this perseverance game!

I wrote a blog last year about coping with writing doldrums – thought it might be worth rehashing as a boost for anyone with a story that is getting nowhere fast.

One of my survival tactics when writing novels is to read an extract from the biography of  Katsushika Hokusai, brilliant artist and Japanese master of the ukiyo-e, the woodcut print. You would’ve seen copies of his famous works from Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji – they’ve featured in advertisements and fabric designs. Hokusai was born in Edo (Tokyo) in 1760 and died at the age of 88, in 1849. His most famous work is considered to be The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa

Japanese woodcut printmaking is a labourious, time-consuming procedure of carving in stages into a cherry wood board before printing and reprinting on the same piece of paper – yes, you do require patience.

Hokusai was a man obsessed with printmaking. He even took the art name of Gakyo-rojin at one stage which translates old man mad with painting. Which makes his attitude to perseverance all that more remarkable.

This is what he wrote in his autobiography, probably with tongue planted in cheek as he had a little dig at himself:

From the age of five I have had a mania for sketching the forms of things. From about the age of fifty I produced a number of designs, yet of all I drew prior to the age of seventy there is truly nothing of great note.

At the age of seventy-two I finally apprehended something of the true quality of birds, animals, insects, fish and of the vital nature of grasses and trees.

Therefore, at eighty I shall have made some progress, at ninety I shall have penetrated even further the deeper meaning of things, at one hundred I shall have become truly marvelous, and at one hundred and ten, each dot, each line shall surely possess a life of its own.

I only beg that gentlemen of sufficiently long life take care to note the truth of my words.

You can see how this puts frustrating writing moments into a much clearer perspective. Attitude is all important.

Like everyone else I go through the frustrations of rejections. But it is true, persevere with re-writing and submitting and eventually they stop being one-line or one paragraph dismissals. Instead, they return with letters suggesting possible problems or an editor’s positive encouragement.

Not that I’d ever give up doing what I love most anyway!