Allison, welcome to the blog!
Thank you for inviting me!
I Wonder is a powerful tale with a strong environmental message of the impact of pollution in and around our oceans, whimsically told from the point of view of a discarded little toy boat. What else can you tell us about this title?
I Wonder is a beautifully illustrated tale of the human-nature relationship, of marine pollution, environmental protection and sustainability. It uses unlikely characters and personification of inanimate objects (a toy ship and pieces of litter) to tell the story of a little wooden toy boat which is left behind on the beach. Days and weeks pass as odd things roll by, tumbling and floating into the ocean. The boat wonders and worries. Is it a forgotten thing … or could it be like the chip packet, the takeaway cup and the plastic bag? Could it be waste, or litter, or even rubbish? But there is always hope for the future and the little wooden boat may just find that people really do care … The ending has a strong message of recycling, sustainable practices and the avoidance of careless littering.
Obviously an important topic that raises the awareness of our actions with regard to the environment, why was this story one you had to write?
I Wonder came to be after an early morning visit to my favourite beach. I was dismayed to see rubbish lining the foreshore after a family event the night before. I wondered why? Why would people leave behind such a mess which could find its way into the ocean? That day I wrote the story of I Wonder in my notebook. I played with it a little then submitted it to Big Sky Publishing. I’m thrilled that they loved it and wanted it to become part of their Caring for Our World series!
What has been the most rewarding part of creating I Wonder?
Knowing that in a small way I am helping to care for our world. Spreading the message to encourage environmental awareness from a young age was an important motivation.
Favourite parts of I Wonder?
There are many! Nancy Bevington is such a fabulous illustrator who has brought the story of I Wonder to life with understanding and amazing skill. My favourite double page spread depicts the slow decline of the little wooden boat in spot images. Nancy captured the changing mood beautifully. The concluding pages which depict the footsteps really encourage the reader to reflect and are another favourite. Providing opportunities for children to place themselves within the story and to share their reflections is a quality I was hoping we could achieve, and we did!
Tell us about the path to publication for this title.
After the initial idea I created various drafts then a storyboard. I read it aloud, over and over to make sure the flow of the story was working. Then I left it for a couple of weeks. I came back to it, took out lots of words, then submitted it to Big Sky Publishing. They loved it, we discussed the book and before long I was so excited to see a contract appear in my inbox!
Which other children’s books with a focus on the environment have you enjoyed reading?
Elizabeth Mary Cummings’ fun title Rain Shaker is a book I love and the first in Big Sky publishing’s Caring for Our World series. It is a story of drought and not giving up on hope, the illustrations of Cheri Hughes are fabulous. I also enjoy Josh Langley’s quirky little book with big awesome messages about caring for our environment. It’s called Being Wildly Kind.
Which authors have inspired you?
So many! Bryce Courtenay, Ken Follett, Patrick Carlyon, Jackie French, Peter Carnavas, Pamela Allen, Alison Lester, Aleesah Darlison … I could go on, but in a nutshell, my reading is very diverse and the authors who inspire me are too …
What are your top tips for aspiring writers?
Self-doubt leads to procrastination and truly stifles creativity. Don’t let it master you – set goals and celebrate successes, believe in your work, surround yourself by people who believe in you and write your words, let them flow. I’ve also learnt to find the gaps in the market and target those, I look carefully at the curriculum and I’m very clear about my audience!
What’s next for you?
I’m currently writing another book in the Australia Remembers series about a young Australian soldier who lost his life in Afghanistan. His name is Cameron Baird. His courage saw him awarded both the Medal of Gallantry and later, posthumously the Victoria Cross. Writing about such a tragic topic will have its challenges but it is important to support those service personnel who have sacrificed so much in conflicts of the 21st century, especially in light of recent events. I hope the book goes some way to recognising the service and sacrifice of veterans of the war in Afghanistan.
Do you have an online presence?
Thank you for joining me on the blog, Allison!
Kesta, welcome to the blog!
Thanks Robert! Very happy to be here.
Marlow Brown: Magician in the Making is the second title in your humorous series, a story of determination, discovery and exciting surprises. What else can you tell us about this title?
The story starts at a showground where Marlow’s dad is taking out all the prizes for his ginormous vegetables following Marlow’s highly successful experiment with gibberellic acid – a plant growth hormone – at the end of book one. Marlow and her trusty dog, Rockstar, have been given the afternoon off to explore the show. They meet up with best friend, Felix, at the sideshow of ‘Mervin the Magical’.
Marlow is totally wowed by the magic, and, in typical Marlow fashion, is smitten with a new idea: what if she too, could become a top-class magician? The trouble is, Marlow has a special talent for creating chaos, and Dad won’t stop laughing…
Never one to give up, Marlow carries on regardless. She is utterly determined, and increasingly so after each fail, to show everyone what a serious and spectacular magician she really is… even if, by the end, certain audience members have unwittingly become part of the act!
Your series also incorporates inclusivity of gender and culture. Why was this children’s series important for you to write?
It’s funny, and perhaps this is the way with stories, but I never started out with the deliberate intention to write a specifically gender and culturally inclusive story. Rather, these were happy biproducts of the process, which have subsequently become an important part of the Marlow Brown books for me.
Marlow actually began as a boy and it was my publisher who suggested I try her as a girl. I’m so glad she did!
I have always thought of myself as broad thinking and very much aware of gender biases. I’ve done my best to bring up my own children without the overlay of these biases. Yet, that whole process of switching Marlow from a boy to a girl highlighted just how much I am a product of my generation – complete with subconscious biases absorbed from my own up-bringing.
It was discussing the changes – which ended up being simply a pronoun switch right the way through the book and nothing more at all – with my then 14-year-old son, that really brought this home to me. It made me look more closely at not only my own biases and how these come through in my writing, but also at the way gender and culture are treated by other children’s writers. I realised we all have these subconscious biases, and we inadvertently pass them on to the next generation in our stories. The process helped me increase my own awareness, and I believe, has resulted in a stronger, more relevant series for today’s readers.
What was the most rewarding part of creating the Marlow Brown series, and your latest title in particular?
This is hard to answer! With writing, there are rewards (as well as trial) all along the way. The first Marlow Brown book was also my first proper book (as against articles, poems and short stories) to be accepted for publication, so that first acceptance was tremendously rewarding. But I also find the writing process itself rewarding.
Finishing the first draft of the latest title was a definite high point. At that point it was still three times the length of the first book and needed some serious cutting down, but I’d finally made it to the end! That felt good.
Favourite part of Magician in the Making?
I really like the hypnotism scene and the build-up to the climax – though I don’t want to give away what happens! It was great fun building the tension and having that scene become more and more chaotic. But I also loved creating the character of Mr Savage, the school principal. He’s a minor character and appears towards the end and has a name and reputation completely contrary to his personality. This amuses me – I can’t help smiling as I think about Marlow sitting outside his office anticipating his response to what’s just happened.
Tell us about the path to publication for Marlow Brown.
Well, it’s rather a long one! I wrote book one back in 2009 while doing a chapter book course with children’s author, Sherryl Clark. I submitted the manuscript just the once in its entirety, before sending a middle chapter as a stand-alone story to The School Magazine. This chapter was subsequently published, and then reprinted a few years later.
I think, because part of the story had already been published, I didn’t pursue sending it elsewhere. In my mind, it had had its success, and I’d even been paid! Basically, I forgot all about the rest of the manuscript until 2016 when Di Bates very kindly offered to assess the first chapter of one of my stories for me. I remember thinking at the time what a shame it was that I had nothing to give her as I’d been focussing on writing picture books for a number of years by then. Luckily, I suddenly remembered Marlow Brown, languishing in my bottom draw, so I sent off the first chapter.
Di’s feedback was incredibly encouraging and supportive, so I ended up submitting it to Hardie Grant Egmont, who were initially interested and asked me to make changes and resubmit. While they didn’t ultimately accept it, very shortly afterward I submitted it to Celapene Press, who did. The rest is history!
Which authors have inspired you?
I’ve been inspired by different authors for different reasons. At a point when I felt ready to give up, I found Di Bates’ stories of tenacity and perseverance inspiring. It wasn’t until she told me how many times she’d submitted some of her manuscripts before eventually having them accepted for publication that I realised I hadn’t been trying anywhere near hard enough!
I’ve found Sheryl Clark’s teaching inspiring, and it was as a result doing a couple of her courses that I had numerous stories published in The School Magazine.
I’ve also been inspired and encouraged by Jen Storer though her ‘Q & Q Friday’ recordings and subsequently by the writing community and platform she’s created – The Duck Pond.
What are your top tips for aspiring writers?
What’s next for you?
To complete the third Marlow Brown book. It’s on the way, but not there yet!
In addition to this, it’s my dream to have a picture book published. So, I’ll be continuing to submit the stories I have already (however many times it takes!) as well as developing new ones.
Do you have an online presence?
Yes. I have Twitter, Insta, Facebook and Goodreads accounts, but of these I’m most active on Facebook.
I also have a website: https://kestafleming.com which I add to reasonably regularly in the form of blogs, new science and magic activities for kids, and recordings in The Story Corner.
If you’d like to hear more from me, feel free to sign up to my newsletter.
Links to socials:
Thank you for joining me on the blog, Kesta!
Receiving a contract while in lockdown ... is a great way to cure a pandemic.
Today, I'm feeling grateful. Today, I'm feeling cheerful.
Today ... is the title of my next book with Kathy Creamer and the team at LPDB.
This works on so many levels :-)
Over the moon to have signed a picture book contract with an American Publisher.
Happy dancing! :-)
This is one way to stop a bad day from taking you down.
Thrilled to have signed a picture book contract with Brolly and Emma Stuart Illustration. YAY!
Teena, welcome to the blog!
Thanks for inviting me, Robert. It’s great to be here.
You Can Be A Writer is your recently release picture book; a handy and motivational guide encouraging children on their own imaginative, and well-structured, writing journey.
What can you tell us about this title?
You Can Be a Writer is one of my author visit sessions presented in picture book format to reach children I don’t meet in person. Of course it’s been adapted and simplified. When I present it in schools there’s lots of interaction and detours according to the audience on the day.
Why was producing this book for children important to you?
As a child in school I never had any problem writing stories. My pencil or pen could never keep up with the ideas racing through my mind. When my own children arrived, they grew up surrounded by book lovers and story tellers, so they didn’t struggle with writing stories either. However, as a classroom parent helper during their primary school years and later while presenting author talks, I realised this wasn’t the case for so many children. I wanted to do what I could to shift that perspective of story writing being difficult and encourage them to look at it as an adventure. I believe our expectations have a significant bearing on our experience of life, so if we can change our mindset, we change our lives.
What was the most rewarding part of creating You Can Be A Writer?
Knowing that even if I couldn’t visit a school or library and share my excitement about books and writing directly with children, this little book offers them a pathway to exploring where their own ideas can take them.
Favourite part of your new book?
The simplicity. There is nothing complicated about the text or the process, so it’s easy for young readers to follow the step-by-step guide and create their own story to share.
Tell us about the path to publication for ‘You Can Be A Writer’.
I wrote the first version of a picture book on story writing about 20 years ago and sent it to a few publishers. No one was particularly interested so I filed it away and went on with other projects. Fast forward to the COVID-19 lockdown in March last year. I came to a standstill on a couple of novels I’d been working on and had no inclination to continue them or to write anything new. Due to so many events and activities being cancelled, I had unexpected space in my life. I love the process of publishing books, so I went through my computer looking for something to release under my own imprint, Sea Song Publications, and decided it might be a good time to revise and publish You Can Be a Writer.
Which authors have inspired you to become a better writer yourself?
So many! I am inspired by every beautifully crafted book I read that leaves me wishing I’d written it. I do love Meg McKinlay’s and Glenda Millard’s books, and Jen Storer is an extraordinary inspirationalist through her kidlit videos, FB groups and courses.
What are your top tips for all aspiring writers, young and old?
Learn as much as you can about your craft. Write regularly. Musicians and athletes practise. If we want to improve our skills, we need to practise them.
Read eclectically, critically and for enjoyment. We can learn so much about writing by reading what other writers have written.
Connect with other writers. Attend author talks, workshops, seminars and book launches. Join a critique group and a writing organisation. Other writers understand the creative process. Family and friends often do not.
Write in the way that works best for you. Try to avoid measuring your productivity and achievements as a writer against anyone else’s. Explore where your writing takes you and enjoy the journey.
Most importantly, don’t give up on your dream. Persistence pays off.
What’s next for you?
I have a new picture book called Looking After Grandma coming out soon with Serenity Press. Amy Calautti has done a wonderful job with the illustrations and I’m looking forward to seeing a print copy. This book is special to me as it was inspired by my mother, who had Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s been a long time coming but the wait will be worth it.
I’m also working on a book called Just Write, which expands on the message of You Can Be a Writer and goes into more depth for mid to upper primary children.
Do you have an online presence?
I have a website at www.teenawriter.com and a Facebook author page at https://www.facebook.com/TeenaRaffaMulligan
I also have a blog called In Their Own Write, where I chat with writers and illustrators about their creative process. Here’s the link: https://intheirownwrite.wordpress.com
Thank you for joining me on the blog, Teena!
It’s been a pleasure, Robert.
This was a nice surprise to wake up to this morning. Great start to the new year. WOOHOO!
I’m so looking forward to working with New Frontier Publishing Australia yet again. Thank you.
I’m using my special personalised pen gifted to me by my niece and her beautiful family for my 50th birthday.
Wow! The Polish edition of Under the Same Sky is here!
I can’t believe how far this beautiful book has travelled around the world.
Truly honoured and grateful to my Polish publishers.
Sandra, welcome to the blog!
Thanks for having me Robert, I’m excited to be here with you.
Fossil Frenzy is the third title in your exciting Adamson Adventures series. What can you tell us about this book?
Fossil Frenzy is an exhilarating and thrilling adventure that takes place in both the present and the past. Set at the base of the escarpment where the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum sits atop the plateau that looks out across the dry open plains. Millions of years ago it was a lush rainforest and an inland lake where amazing animals thrived. Many dinosaur fossils have been found in this region near Winton, Queensland and are still being found today. The kids are visiting their uncle on his drought-stricken farm and are concerned that the family will lose the property. Zac comes up with the idea to search for fossils on the farm in the hope that if found they would bring renewed interest and a source of income. Of course, nothing ever goes to plan, we wouldn’t have much of a story if it did. The siblings are caught in a massive storm, and when they emerge from shelter everything is vastly different. The adventure is packed full of uniquely Australian dinosaurs, mega-fauna and a few other curious creatures. It includes resilience, survival and climate change issues all wrapped into a fun and suspenseful escapade.
What was the most rewarding part of your journey in creating this series?
Before this series I had self-published a couple of books, but then I had a publisher accept Secrets Hidden Below which was the first book in the series. It was originally meant to be one stand-alone story, but the publisher asked me to write a three-book series with the three children. It was wonderful to finally receive a publishing contract not only for one book, but for three. Then Secrets Hidden Below, the Adamson Adventures 1 was shortlisted in the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Awards 2019. It felt so rewarding to have this story receive recognition. However, the most rewarding part of this journey is my shortlisting for Fossil Frenzy in the Queensland Writers Centre Adaptable Competition. Being given the opportunity to pitch the story to film producers even though it was still in manuscript form, was an experience I will never forget. I would have loved the experience of pitching at the Gold Coast Film Festival, but I had to settle for Zoom pitches thanks to Covid-19. In retrospect, it made it a bit easier to pitch, by doing it from the comfort of my own home I didn’t feel as anxious as had it been in person.
What is your favourite part of Fossil Frenzy?
Ooh, that’s a hard question. Each time I am asked this, I think of another part in the story. There is so much action and tension, it’s hard to choose a favourite. The ending is rather special, it has a great surprise, but no spoilers here. Perhaps my favourite isn’t one particular part of the story, but the fact that Clare has grown in character and strength since the first book in the series. She is not the timid sister she once was, she is so much stronger, determined and accomplished now. The stories are all written from the point of view of Zac, the eldest sibling, but as I wrote Fossil Frenzy Clare was more determined to be heard. Her voice came through demanding me to take notice. She is Luke’s hero and mine too.
What was the most challenging aspect?
The most challenging part of writing Fossil Frenzy was all the research. Which was also a fun excuse for a couple of holidays, all in the name of research, of course. Once I had the initial idea and setting, I needed to find out about the right dinosaurs that would all fit together in the same time period. I like to make sure my stories have some basic facts within them so that kids are learning something new and the reading experience is more than just a fun adventure. It was challenging to find the right information and decide which dinosaurs to use and which to cut. Exploring Winton and the Age of Dinosaurs Museum was fascinating, as was the research I was able to do at the Daintree Discovery Centre. I had hoped to use a Diprotodon (giant wombat) in the story, but discovered he wasn’t around yet. Then I stumbled upon Zaglossi Hacketti, the giant Echidna and the character, ‘Spike’ was born.
Tell us about your path to publication with your Adamson Adventures series.
It has been a very long journey. I first wrote Secrets Hidden Below way back in 1999/2000. It had a different title back then and has had many drafts since. It initially had a spark of interest from a publisher, but then the Bali bombings happened and suddenly Bali was a taboo subject. I put it away for several years before re-writing it again in 2016/17. Then I put it into a manuscript assessment and finally had the courage to start submitting to publishers again. A small publisher here in Canberra picked it up and asked for the series. Sadly, that publisher folded this year after publishing the first two books. I then had the decision of which direction to take with Fossil Frenzy. After the Adaptable success and receiving great feedback from all three film producers, I decided it was time to stop procrastinating and publish it myself.
How did you learn about the craft of writing?
Way back in the Jurassic era my imagination was sparked during a children’s book course at teacher’s college. At the turn of the century I decided it was time to study children’s writing more seriously and completed a Diploma in Professional Children’s Writing through the Australian College of Journalism. My passion awakened; I also completed a couple of short story writing courses through the Ourimbah campus of NSW University. I continued to practice over the years and then joined Jen Storer’s The Scribbles Academy where I discovered how to bring out my inner child. All through my journey I continued to read and write and hone my skills every day.
What were some of your favourite children’s books growing up?
The Chronicles of Narnia, the Trixie Beldon Mysteries and anything that Enid Blyton wrote. Blinky Bill, Cuddlepot and Snugglepie, the Magic Pudding, Seven Little Australians, can you see a theme here? Winnie the Poo, Beatrix Potter, the list goes on. I loved chapter books with plenty of mystery and especially Australian children’s books. I think they have definitely influenced my writing.
What’s next for you?
I’m not sure yet. I have the thread of an idea for a fourth Adamson Adventure, but haven’t decided whether to make it part of this series or maybe start a new one. I continue to dabble with picture books, maybe one day a publisher will like one enough to publish it. I have also started writing something completely different that I thought was junior fiction, but I am now reconsidering that it should be middle grade, and one more that might even be YA. It depends where my mood takes me. It’s fun playing with several options.
Do you have an online presence?
You can find me at https://sandrabennettauthor.com/
My socials are - https://www.facebook.com/GingerbreadAliens
Thanks again Robert, it has been so much fun answering your questions. I hope everyone enjoys my answers.
Sandra Bennett’s Fossil Frenzy: The Adamson Adventures 3 book campaign has been organised by Books On Tour PR & Marketing.
Thrilled to be working with the wonderful cast at The Children’s Bookshop Speakers’ Agency.
Thank you Paul, Beth and Callum.
The Children’s Bookshop Speakers’ Agency welcomes picturebook author Robert Vescio.
Robert Vescio is an award-winning author of children’s picture books, based in Sydney. Robert’s books are published globally and are always conversation starters, picturebooks full of heart. If you would like Robert to visit your school as a guest author, email Beth at email@example.com
Welcome Robert! We are now taking bookings for 2021. @robertvescio_author @thefictive #thechildrensbookshopspeakersagency @bethanymacdonaldartist @paulmacsculpture @newfrontierpublishing @newfrontierpublishinguk @ekbooksforkids
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Here you will find the latest news and updates on my writing and published books.