Whitsunday Voices 2016

Whitsunday Anglican School in Mackay certainly knows how to host one heck of a great Youth Literature Festival. Two days of presentations and workshops with fifteen authors and illustrators, attended by thousands of students from schools all over the region.

As one of the speakers, I spent two days feeling like a rock star, speaking to packed theatres and signing autographs for long lines of kids (and some grown-ups). I don’t think I would have made it through without the student minders who looked after me. They made sure I was where I was supposed to be at all times, insured that I was fed and watered, and even went to retrieve things that I kept leaving all about the place.


I had a pretty packed schedule, but I did manage to see a couple of presentations from other authors. Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff did a joint talk about their Illuminae books, which kept an entire marquee full of teenagers completely entranced. ‘Twas a very educational presentation, in which I learned all about crashing spaceships and how to die in a vacuum. I will be forever scarred by the mental image of moisture boiling away on the surface of a human eyeball. Thanks guys!

I also got to hear poet Harry Laing presenting a professional development session for teachers, about getting kids writing poetry. Passionate and engaging, he had an entire lecture theatre of teachers eagerly taking notes. I was particularly captivated by the idea of verb poems, and the examples he read out, that had been written by young students, were truly inspiring. I came away from his presentation thinking that maybe even I could write poetry.

Everything finished up on the Friday night with what has to be the most glamorous literary dinner I have ever attended. As the doors to the Mackay Entertainment and Convention Centre opened, we were greeted by an image straight out of a fairytale – all glittering lights and stacked Champagne glasses. There was magic in the air and a buzz amongst attendees.

Entertainment included an extraordinary poetic, beat-boxing, rapping, Shakespearian performance by Matthew Caffoe (Mashed Theatre); and a thoughtful and engaging address by ABC radio presenter, author and former Doug Anthony Allstar, Richard Fidler. I went a little bit fan-boy on Richard and had a selfie taken with him.

As one of the many people currently obsessed with playing Pokémon Go, I was VERY pleased to be alerted to the fact that there three PokéStops within the dining room by PokéMaster and fellow-author Oliver Phommavanh. I managed to catch a few Pokémon over the course of the dinner, including a Spearow in my Champagne. :-)

Thank you to the organisers of the festival for giving Mackay such a wonderful event. And for inviting me to be a part of it all. You people ROCK!

I also got the chance to spend a little extra tine in Mackay, hanging with friends, being a Show & Tell exhibit for my friend Darcy and her grade 4 class at Mackay West State School, meeting a whistling tarantula (it was dead… thank goodness) and hunting for more Pokémon. Good times!

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Totally Awesome ZOMBIE Experience!

Wow! I just had the most mind-blowing experience. I spent this morning fighting zombies! And it was AWESOME!

Zero Latency is a company that’s running the world’s first multiplayer free-roam Virtual Reality (VR) experience… and it’s in Melbourne. So I got together with some friends for a group booking, zombie-killing experience.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the story involves you and your team having to fight your way through zombies and rebels to a drop ship which will take you to safety. There are multiple levels to get through in this first-person-shooter style game, and it is a high-octane, thrill-ride of an experience.

I’m not up on the tech aspects of it all. So in layman’s terms… you get kitted out with a backpack, VR goggles, headphones and a BIG gun; and then put in a warehouse space so you don’t bang into any walls (there are also safety measures to make sure you don’t hit into anything real). The immersion is surprisingly real. The graphics and sound are amazing. There are even some physical effects. Let me tell you, when I had to cross a narrow bridge over a sheer drop (there are fans set up so you feel like you are caught in a crosswind), my heart was genuinely pounding with fear.

It costs $88 per person per session (about 45-50 minutes in game) and you have to be at least 13 years old to play. You can book a group of six (max), or you can book individually. I would highly recommend getting a group of friends together. Playing together as a team was a big part of the experience.

My friends and I don’t do things my halves. We all dressed up for the occasion and took lots of pics. This is our team…




And as a last resort, if your teammates are all dead and you’re cornered by the advancing zombie hordes, it helps to have a vortex manipulator…

Let me say this one more time – this was a totally AWESOME experience! I will definitely be doing it again.

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100 Books!

Time for cake and Champagne! I’ve hit 100 published books!

Today is Publication Day for my latest You Choose books — You Choose 9: Extreme Machine Challenge and You Choose 10: In the Realm of Dragons.

In the Realm of Dragons is officially my 100th published book. I cannot describe just how excited I am by this. It is definitely cause for celebration. So in addition to the usual Publication Day cake with which I mark the occasion of a newly released book (made a New York Baked Cheesecake), today I also have a special bottle of Champagne.

A good bottle of Champagne is best shared. And who better to share it with than family. My wife Kerri has been instrumental in my writing career. She has read and commented on each of those 100 books (as well as those that never saw the light of day) – proof read, made insightful suggestions and saved me from some pretty embarrassing mistakes. My parents have encouraged and supported my writing career every step of the way, and always told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be.

Cheers!

The grand total of books is in great part due to my writing for the education market. Of my 100 books, 82 are educational publications: school readers, non-fiction books and fiction tied to the Australian curriculum. These books are not generally found in bookstores, as they are marketed directly to schools and libraries. People rarely take notice of the individual authors, as they tend to be published as sets, with multiple authors working on any one series. You certainly don’t get famous by writing for the education market. But these books are so important to young readers, helping them to learn and practice their reading, introducing them to new ideas and concepts, taking what they are learning in the classroom and putting it into a wider context. I am very proud of my contribution to this area of publishing.

And I am elated at hitting 100 books.

There are, of course, more books on the way. So here’s to the next 100!

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A world of possibilities

With books 9 and 10 in the You Choose series due for release very soon, it is with much excitement that I begin work on books 11 and 12.

11! AND! 12!

I’m still pinching myself just to make sure it’s not all a dream.

Although it all begins with scribbles in a notebook, things really kick off with a wonderfully unencumbered surface for me to plan on. What others may see as a blank, empty whiteboard, I see as a world of possibilities… just waiting for me to fill in the details.

But I’m not the only one who loves the blank whiteboard. My youngest daughter, Lexi, usually fills the board with drawings before I start, leaving me to position my plans around the artwork until I eventually have to begin deleting it… bit by bit.

The detailed planning is now underway for book 11, which has the working title of Creepy Crawly Chaos. Rather appropriately, Lexi drew a spider.

Book 12 is only in the preliminary planning stages… that is, a bunch of not all together comprehensible rough notes. But I can promise that there will be gigantic rampaging robots.

The books are tentatively scheduled for publication early next year.

I love my job! :-)

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Continuum 12

This long weekend I’ll be attending Continuum 12 in Melbourne. An annual fan run speculative fiction and pop culture convention, Continuum is always a BLAST! I’ll be speaking on four different panels as well as hosting The Great Debate (Topic: Magic can cure all ours ills) and Whose Monologue is it Anyway? (a game show style event in which contestants try to guess the origin of film/tv monologues as performed by a group of ‘actors’). Should be lots a fun!

For those of you who are interested, I’ll be speaking on the following panels…

  • Australian TV (Fri, 5pm)
  • Books That Changed My Life (Sat, 10am)
  • Children’s Books (Mon, 11am)
  • Cross-Generational Appeal (Mon, 12noon)

Guests of honour for the event are author Kylie Chan (Dark Heavens, Journey to Wudang and Celestial Battle trilogies) and graphic novel author/illustrator Queenie Chan (The Dreaming and Fabled Kingdom). I’m very much looking forward to hearing them speak.

Continuum 12 is being held at the Jasper Hotel in Melbourne from Friday 10 – Monday 13 June. Check out the website for more details.

 

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CBCA Conference: Myriad Possibilities

Informative and inspiring! Last week I attended my first ever Children’s Book Council of Australia conference. It was such an amazing experience. With a theme of READ: MYRIAD POSSIBILITIES, it was held in Sydney over two days (20-21 May). Authors, illustrators, publishers and teacher-librarians came together to discuss the topic closest to their hearts — books for young people.

I was privileged to speak on the “Myriad Possibilities to Hook Young Readers” panel with Deborah Abela and Jack Health, chaired by the eminently entertaining James Roy. We talked about our inspiration, how we go about engaging young readers and some less relevant things, including Jack’s attempts to make nachos with corn flakes when he ran out of corn chips. Those of you who know me will not be surprised to learn that the conversation eventually turned to Doctor Who and my sonic screwdriver collection. People seemed rather entertained to discover that I carry a sonic screwdriver toy around with me; and amused by it falling apart when I grabbed it out of my bag. Much Tweeting ensued over the fact that I had a second with which to ‘repair’ the first. :-)

I enjoyed the experience of being a speaker at the conference and getting the opportunity to meet and talk with so many wonderful teacher-librarians. But I also got a lot out of being an attendee, listening to the other speakers discussing the myriad possibilities of reading. There was such a diversity and depth to the programming. I’ve come away from the conference filled with inspiration. I want to write more! I want to spend more time talking with kids in schools! I want to spread the word about reading and just what an important, life-enhancing, empathy-building, mind-expanding, joy it is!

There were so many highlights.

  • The announcement of this year’s awards shortlist. Check it out!
  • Meeting Graeme Base.
  • Hanging out at the bar with other authors.
  • Listening to Melissa Keil, Gabrielle Tozer, Ellie Marney and Will Kostakis discuss “Myriad Possibilities for YA Readers” left me wanting to read all their books and pick up a pen to start writing some YA (it’s been a while).
  • After hearing Julie Hunt and Dale Newman talk about their graphic novel Kidglovz, I literally ran down to the conference bookshop to purchase a copy.
  • Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro had me in fits of laugher as they discussed their picture book collaboration process. These two need to put together a stand-up routine for the next Comedy Festival.

And then there was Leigh Hobbs. The amazing author/illustrator, Leigh Hobbs. Australian Children’s Laureate, Leigh Hobbs. He really struck a cord with me, speaking about some of his experiences, which were both humorous and emotional. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house when he related the story of the autistic boy who discovered joy in drawing. The perfect speech!

As a side note, conference organiser Margaret Hamilton used to be a publisher. Way back in 1999 she published my very first book, a YA short story collection called Life, Death and Detention. Finding a print-out of the book cover, she brought it along to the conference for me. What a wonderful blast from the past! Thank you, Margaret, for publishing that book and for setting me on the path to my writing career.

Many thanks to the CBCA for a brilliant conference. And for inviting me to be a speaker.

While in Sydney, I took to the opportunity to do a bit of touristy stuff, attend the “Science Fiction meets Science Fact” session at the Sydney Writers Festival (presented by author Sean Williams and astronomer Fred Watson) and have a meeting with my publisher (Exciting times ahead!).

But now I’m back in Melbourne. And it’s back to writing.


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I’ve written a picture book

I love picture books. I have read LOTS of them to my daughters over the years and I’ve also read LOTS of them for my own pleasure. There is something about the story telling power of words and pictures combined that is utterly magical.

I have long harbored an ambition to write picture books. After many years of trying, I finally have one being published! And I can reveal the cover…

Meet… The Flying Doctors is part of a series of historical picture books published by Random House. The other titles are:

  • Meet… Ned Kelly, written by Janeen Brian and illustrated by Matt Adams
  • Meet… Mary MacKillop, written by Sally Murphy and illustrated by Sonia Martinez
  • Meet… Captain Cook, written by Rae Murdie and illustrated by Chris Nixon
  • Meet… Nancy Bird Walton, written by Grace Atwood and illustrated by Harry Slaghekke
  • Meet… Douglas Mawson, written by Mike Dumbleton and illustrated by Snip Green
  • Meet… the ANZACs, written by Claire Saxby and illustrated by Max Berry
  • Meet… Don Bradman, written by Coral Vass & illustrated by Brad Howe
  • Meet… Sidney Nolan, written by Yvonne Mes & illustrated by Sandra Eterovic
  • Meet… Banjo Paterson, written by Kristin Weidenbach and  illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock
  • Meet… Nellie Melba, written by Janeen Brian and illustrated by Claire Murphy
  • Meet… Weary Dunlop, written by Claire Saxby and illustrated by Jeremy Lord

I am so pleased and excited to be in such esteemed company. :-)

I am also over-the-moon about the illustrations in my volume, by Ben Wood. Ben is an amazing artist with lots of books to his credit. Check out his website.

Meet… The Flying Doctors was a joy to research and write, and I await its publication in October with much excited anticipation.

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Another RFDS publication day

Books 3 and 4 in my RFDS series hit the shelves today – Medical Mission and Fast Flight. I’m celebrating, as always, with cake (it’s my little Publication Day tradition). A LOT OF CAKE! I have a Russian background (you’d never guess with a name like Ivanoff), and this past weekend was Russian Easter… so I’ve got lots of my mum’s Easter cakes to get through. :-)

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a REAL honour

‘Twas a big day today. I had fungus extracted from my ear and an award nomination announced. Exciting times!

As I was sitting in a specialist’s office, getting a fungal infection vacuumed out of my ear (whilst watching the entire disgusting affair via ear-cam on a large flat screen TV), the REAL shortlist was being announced. It is the second of these two events that I’m excited about. I actually could have done without the fungus.

REAL stands for Reading & Enjoying Australian Literature. This shortlist is nominated by kids across Australia. Then the shortlist is used for three state-based awards — The YABBAs (Young Australians Best Book Awards) in Victoria; the KOALAs (Kids Own Australian Literature Awards) in NSW; and the KROCs (Kids Reading Oz Choice) in the Northern Territory.

Last year, You Choose: The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove made the REAL shortlist and then won a YABBA. So it is super exciting to be back for a second year in a row, with You Choose: Alien Invaders From Beyond the Stars making this year’s shortlist in the category of Fiction for Younger Readers.

[insert lots of shouting and high-fiving and happy dancing]

To the kids of Australia, I say: THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

I am excited and flattered and honoured to be among the amazing books on this year’s shortlist. The other books in the Fiction for Younger Readers category are:

  • Alice-Miranda at Camp, Jacqueline Harvey
  • Billie B Brown: The Second Best Friend, Sally Rippin & Aki Fukuoka
  • Diary of a Track and Field Titan, Shamini Flint & Sally Heinrich
  • Don’t Look Now: Book 4, Paul Jennings & Andrew Weldon
  • EJ Spy School: Puppy Alert!, Susannah McFarlane & Dyani Stagg
  • Ella and Olivia: Sports Carnival, Yvette Poshoglian & Danielle McDonald
  • Ghost Club 2: The Haunted School, Deborah Abela
  • The Bad Guys Episode 1, Aaron Blabey
  • The Vanilla Slice Kid, Adam Wallace & Jack Wodhams & Tom Gittus

Check out the full list for each category and go read some books.

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Cover reveal for YOU CHOOSE 9 & 10

James Hart has done it again. Get a load of these wonderful covers. That’s ten YOU CHOOSE covers that he’s now illustrated… and he still manages to bring something fresh and exciting to each and every new one. Thanks James… you’re ACE!

Everyone should go and check out James Hart’s website.

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Launching and touring and jumping on hotel beds

I’m gonna be on TV! Channel 9! The Today Show on the morning of Tuesday 8 March (that’s tomorrow). Let me tell you why…

Last week I had an amazing time touring around Adelaide to promote the release of my Royal Flying Doctor Service series of kids’ adventure books. I visited schools and bookstores, signed more books than I have ever done before, and did a few interviews. But without a doubt, the highlight was a trip to the South Australian outback town of Leigh Creek for the book launch. With the first book set in the nearby ghost town of Farina, with a frantic ride to the Leigh Creek Airport to meet the RFDS, this was the perfect location for the launch. It all began with my own really cool adventure — a flight in a little twin-engine Cessna.

It was a great privilege to have the books launched at the Leigh Creek Area School by the Honourable Susan Close, South Australia’s Education and Child Development Minister. Prior to the launch, she took the time to speak to classes and even read out loud from the first book in the series, Remote Rescue. And then she launched the books with a wonderfully engaging speech in front of the whole school. She was charming, intelligent, enthusiastic and a delight to chat with before and after the official event.


I got to say a few words about the writing of the books, and then handed over to RFDS representative Charlie Paterson. He had the kids enthralled as he spoke about the real-life work of the Flying Doctors, even showing a real-time map of Australia, pinpointing every RFDS plane currently in the air. Way cool!

Then there was LOTS of book signing, question answering and posing for photos.

The whole shebang was covered by Channel Nine’s Today Show. It will screen on Tuesday morning’s programme as part of an article about Leigh Creek and SA tourism. Very exciting!

Here are a couple of the promo photos Charlie Paterson took…


It was a busy launch and a jam-packed tour. But I did get some time to relax. So what does a kids’ author do for fun in Adelaide? Well… I met some life-sized cardboard cutouts…

And in my hotel room there was a card on the bed. It said…

JUMP ON THE BED
WE KNOW YOU WANT TO

It was right! I did want to…

Addendum — 8 March

The story screened on Channel 9′s Today Show at about 6:20am this morning. It was a great article. It can be viewed on the Today Show website. Check out the last photo below for the sort of expression best avoided on national television.


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Scribing through time and space

On Monday 29 February 2016, the second season of NIGHT TERRACE was launched. What is NIGHT TERRACE? I hear you ask. Well, let me answer you. It’s simply the best comedy sci-fi audio series since THE HITCH-HIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. And it’s an Aussie production. And it stars Jackie Woodburne from Neighbours. And it won the 2015 Aurealis Convenors’ Award for Excellence. And it’s had heaps of famous guest stars, including Jane Badler (V), Louise Jameson (Doctor Who), Alan Brough (Spicks and Specks) and Lawrence Leung (Sucker). And I guest star in an episode too (but don’t hold that against the show).

Here’s the official synopsis of the series…

Anastasia Black just wanted a quiet retirement, so she wasn’t exactly thrilled when her house spontaneously started to travel in time and space. Or that she’s stuck with Eddie Jones, who happened to be on her doorstep at the time. Together they’ll face alien invasions, hideous monsters, time paradoxes, implausible spaceships and even a new housemate. But will the house ever take them home?

I’ve been a fan of this series ever since the first season hit the Internet in 2014. As a fan, I was thrilled when the producers asked me to voice a character in the second season ep “A Verb of Nouns”. I portray a mysterious manipulating scribe named… Scribe (quite appropriate, since I’m a writer in real life).

When I asked how I should play the part, writer/director John Richards (co-creator of the ABC series OUTLAND), suggested Catweazle. So I dug deep down into my childhood memories to retrieve Geoffrey Bayldon’s performance from this fabulous 1970s tv show. I only had to read one sentence from the script for John to then advise me to ‘tone it down a bit’. (What? Me? OTT? Surely not!) We got there in the end — a performance I’m rather proud of. And it was heaps of fun!

I’ve listened to the whole of second season already and I think it’s pretty damn BRILLIANT! Role on season three!

Now… you should all go and listen to it.

Check out the official NIGHT TERRACE website for more info and some trailers.

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RFDS book launch with SA Education Minister

I am VERY EXCITED to announce that the Royal Flying Doctor Service adventures will be officially launched by the Honourable Susan Close, South Australia’s Education and Child Development Minister. The launch will take place on Tuesday 1 March at the Leigh Creek Area School. After the minister’s launch speech, I’ll be talking about the inspiration behind the books and a representative of the RFDS will talk about the amazing work they do.

The town of Leigh Creek and the nearby ghost town of Farina, feature in the first of the RFDS adventures, Remote Rescue. So launching the books in that area is not only appropriate, but also so exciting! The launch will be followed by a drive out to Farina for a photo shoot.

My family and I visited Leigh Creek and Farina as part of our outback holiday (which doubled as a research trip) last year. Farina is a spectacular, surreal, visually stunning place, with its ruined buildings and sun-baked landscape. And Leigh Creek is the gateway to SA tourism — the place we stopped for supplies before heading out into the remote, beautifully harsh heart of Australia. These locations were a perfect setting for Remote Rescue and a glorious start to our holiday. Pictured below is my wife and I in Farina…

Dr Close has read Remote Rescue and had this to say:

‘It’s refreshing to read a book that brings the Flinders Ranges to Marree area to life. It’s an exciting book for kids that also tells an important story about how the RFDS keeps people safe across the outback.’

I am thrilled that these books are getting the support of not only the RFDS, but the South Australian government. If there is one thing I will take away from the writing of these books, it’s the importance of the services provided by the Flying Doctors. The RFDS deserves recognition and support. And I hope that these adventure stories will help spread the word and introduce the Flying Doctors to kids across Australia.

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RFDS cover reveal

The first two books in the RFDS ADVENTURES were released last week. Although the next two books won’t be released until May, I can reveal the covers. With thanks to artist Maria Penna, here they are…

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RFDS Publication Day

The first two books in the RFDS ADVENTURES take flight today. Remote Rescue, set in the South Australian ghost town of Farina, and Emergency Echo, set in the remote West Australian town of Mount Magnet, hit bookshop shelves across the country. Continuing my tradition of celebrating each Publication Day with cake, I’ve got some of my Mum’s hazelnut cake. Thanks Mum! :-)

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