New Projects for 2017

I often joke that my mind is as cluttered as my desktop, which is why I’m rarely able to concentrate on just one project at a time – too much stuff churning around the abyss within my head, clamoring for attention. Unless I have a really short deadline that forces me to concentrate on just one writing project, I’ll usually have at least two on the go at any one time. At the moment, I’m juggling three major ones. Time to reveal what they are. Well… reveal the bits that I’m allowed to.  :-)

A new series of books
I’m writing a new kids’ book series with the working title of OTHERWORLDS (this may or may not change). In this series, ordinary kids step through mysterious doorways into other worlds, where they have all sorts of amazing adventures. There are four books planned, with the possibility of more in the future. Each story is self-contained and can be read in isolation… but together, they will form a greater whole with story-arc elements that will be resolved in book 4. So get set for exciting adventures in distant realms, with identical clones that are not as perfect as they think they are, talking animals that want to put humans on museum display, computer games that control their players and a mysterious world-swallowing darkness. These books will be published in 2018 by Penguin Random House.

A new YOU CHOOSE book
Yep, there will be another YOU CHOOSE book coming out later this year. It’s the 13th book, but it will be set apart from all the others. There is something very special about it that makes it different. But I can’t tell you what that is yet. You’ll just have to wait! What I can tell you, is that I’m having loads of fun writing it!

Three new school readers
Over the years I’ve done a lot of writing for the education market, with more than 80 titles under my belt. I’m now working on some fiction books at Year 3 level for a new series of guided readers — a fantasy, a sci-fi, and one about myths and legends. I love writing these sorts of stories. The strict word limit, the curriculum links, the high-frequency word lists and the required language features, create boundaries that force you to think laterally. It’s a challenge meeting all the educational requirements, while also producing something that kids will actually want to read. But it’s such a rewarding challenge. This new series will hopefully see the light of day before the year is out.

Busy times!

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International Women’s Day 2017

In celebration of International Women’s Day I thought I’d post a pic of some of my favourite books written by women. This is only a small selection, limited by what was to hand on my bookshelves and a decision to only choose one book per author (and a very hard choice that was in some cases).

To all the women authors who have inspired me over the years… thank you!

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More FLIP MEs out today!

Happy Publication Day for the latest YOU CHOOSE FLIP ME books. The release of YOU CHOOSE books one to four in 2-in-1 FLIP ME editions was a success! So now, here are books five to eight in the same format. Yay!

Sadly, I forgot to organise cake, which is how I usually celebrate a Publication Day. And I’m too busy writing to rectify the situation. So… I rifled through the pantry to find some biscuits.

Celebrating with choccy biccies and coffee! :-)

 

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Podcasting through time and space

Grab your Coal Hill Academy ID, pack your sonic lipstick and strap on your vortex manipulator… it’s time to spin-off through a fracture in the time/space continuum to a live discussion of all things not quite Doctor Who.

If you’re a Doctor Who fan, chances are you’ve heard of the SPLENDID CHAPS podcast. This awesome series, available for FREE, ran during the 50th anniversary year in 2013, exploring many aspects of the TV phenomenon we all know and love. And now it’s BACK!

Each SPLENDID CHAPS podcast was recorded in front of a live audience, giving it wonderful energy and spontaneity. And each episode featured guests along with the regular presenters John Richards, Ben McKenzie and Petra Elliott. I was a guest on the “Spoilers and Surprises” episode. And now I’m BACK!

“Spinning Off into Another Dimension” will be recorded in front of a live audience this coming Sunday at the Bella Union in Melbourne from 4pm. The regular presenters, along with Dr Djoymi Baker and myself, will be talking about Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures, Class and Doctor Who spin-offs in general. Hopefully we’ll be entertaining about it!  :-)

Wanna come along? More info is available on the SPLENDID CHAPS website and you can book tickets via the Bella Union website. Hope to see you there.

Feb 12 also happens to be my birthday. I ask you… what better way is there for a Doctor Who fan to spend his birthday than inflicting their Whovian opinions on an unsuspecting audience? And boy, do I have opinions. I’m prepared for the possibility of abuse and rotten tomatoes being hurled at me. Luckily, I’ll have my vortex manipulator strapped to my wrist in case I need to make a quick getaway.  ;-)

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Workshop: Writing for the Education Market

I run quite a lot of writing workshops each year, mostly in schools and libraries, on topics such as character development, story structure, world building and finding inspiration. In recent years I’ve also run workshops on writing interactive stories like my YOU CHOOSE books. All of these workshops have been for kids and teens, who are also the audience for my books. But this year, I’m going to do something a bit different…

I’m running a workshop for grown-ups who are interested in writing for children.

I reckon it’ll be fun. :-)

This workshop is not based around my YOU CHOOSE books, or my RFDS books, or the new series that I’m currently working on. It’s not about any of the books that I’m really known for. It’s about writing for the education market – the often forgotten area of children’s publishing that supplies books and educational materials to primary school classrooms around the country. I’ve been writing in this market since 1999 and have over 80 titles under my belt.

Want to know more about education market writing? Check out the article I wrote for The Victorian Writer magazine — Back to the classroom — to find out what it’s all about.

If this is an area of writing that interests you, then the full-day workshop I’m running at Writers Victoria on Saturday 25 February might also interest you. I’ll be covering the scope, requirements and do’s and don’ts of writing for the education market, as well as how to respond to guidelines and how to get your foot in the door. While I don’t have a magic formula to guarantee publication, I will be sharing what I’ve learned over the 18 years I’ve been writing educational materials.

Interested? Booking details are on the Writers Victoria website.

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Robots in Disguise

Remember Transformers? Robots in disguise. More than meets the eye. Toys. Animated television series. More toys. Animated feature film. Even more toys. Series of a live-action blockbusters. And the toys keep on coming.

As a teenager in the 1980s, when Transformers first crossed my radar, I dismissed them as silly and childish to my friends, while secretly wishing they had been around a few years earlier when I was younger… because… well… they were incredibly cool! I mean, who wouldn’t want a toy car that transformed into a robot? But I was a teenager, at that awkward in-between age where toys are dismissed as childish because one hasn’t yet come to the realization that there is no age limit on playing. So, although I enviously glanced at the toys from the corner of my eye, I did not pick them up, I did not watch the cartoon series about them, and I certain didn’t go to see the animated feature film.

Many years later, when I was in my twenties, I became friends with a family of Transformers fans. They were shocked and stunned that I had never seen the film. They told me I should. I didn’t. They continued to pester.

In 2007 a live-action Transformers film was released. I watched it. Cool effects. Daft story. Kinda fun. But hardly Earth shattering. I didn’t bother with the sequels.

My friends continued their crusade to get me to watch the animated film.

And finally, after many years, last week, me and my family sat down and watched it with them.

Wow! I don’t know what I was expecting. But this was not it. It’s a clichéd, OTT, logic-defying advertisement for toys, masquerading as a film. There is little plot, no character development and it’s basically an extended chase with battles sequences thrown in.

But…

The animation is 80s retro cool! There is an awesome rock soundtrack. It guest stars the vocal talents of Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, Eric Idle and Orson Wells. It also has some of the greatest regular voice actors around, including Scatman Crothers (Hong Kong Phooey), Paul Eiding (Ben 10), Casey Kasem (Scooby Doo) and Frank Welker (Scooby Doo).

It’s chock full of unexpected dialogue…

“Would you like to beg for your lives? It sometimes helps… but not often.”

“Nobody would follow an uncharismatic bore like you!”

“Your bargaining posture is highly dubious.”

“I remember the dust was so thick on Beta 4, you had to use windshield wipers on your optic sensors.”

“Their defenses are broken, let the slaughter begin!”

“Spare me this mockery of justice.”

“Yes friends, act now, destroy Unicron! Kill the Grand Poobah! Eliminate even the toughest stains!”

“A ginormous weird lookin’ planet just showed up in the suburbs of Cybertron.”

Because we watched the special edition, there is also that unexpected little swear word that apparently snuck into the original cinematic release (before being quickly excised): “It isn’t even dented! Oh sh*t! What are we going to do now?”

And then things get a bit trippy. By far my favourite scene in the film is the bizarre Transformers dance party, with Eric Idle boogieing away to Weird Al Yankovic’s “Dare to be Stupid”. One can’t help but wonder what the creators were on when they came up with that little slice of surreality.

To top it all off… the whole thing is apparently set in 2005!

The verdict?

My wife had a bit of a nap through it.

When asked if she liked it, my 13-year-old shrugged and said “Kinda”.

My 7-year-old responded enthusiastically: “It was good. But there were lots of parts that were boring.”

Me? I really enjoyed it! The film succeeded as a film in that I was entertained. And it also succeeded as a toy commercial, in that I immediate made a grab for the nearest Transformers toys. After all, I am now of the age to know that you are NEVER too old to play with toys.  :-)

But the coolest part of watching the film with my Transformer-fan friends was being able to tell them… I hung out with the voice of Perceptor, Paul Eiding, at a pop culture expo and he’s really cool. [See gratuitous fanboy photographic evidence below.]

And finally, to bring this all back to my own writing… You Choose: City of Robots includes a scene inspired by Transformers, in which robots disguise themselves as a sport car, a motorcycle and a pram. Yes… a pram. But what unexpectedly happens when they transform back into robots? Well, you’ll have to go and read the book to find out. ;-)

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Kellogg’s Free Book Promotion

I’m part of a breakfast cereal promotion! Well… my books are. Which is pretty cool.

Kellogg’s are running a book promotion with some of their breakfast cereals from 1 January to the 8 April 2017 in Australia and New Zealand. Buy two specially marked boxes of cereal and you can get a free book. There are 30 titles to choose from, including two of my YOU CHOOSE books — The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove and Mayhem at Magic School.

Other authors with books in this promotion include Andrew Weldon, Jacqueline Harvey, Tania Ingram, Belinda Murrell, Frank Woodley, Rebecca Johnson, Christina Miesen, R. A. Spratt, Felice Arena, Sofie Laguna, Lucia Masciullo, David Metzenthen, Rick Riordan, Lisa Gibbs, Bernadette Hellard, Melina Marchetta, Zoe Foster, Barbara Hannay, Grace West, Fiona Palmer and Morris Gleitzman. What an incredible lineup to be a part of.

To find out more about this promotion, check out https://www.freebooks.kelloggs.com

There you have it… my breakfast cereal promotion participation. Thankfully my face doesn’t actually appear on the cereal packets – we wouldn’t want to put people off their food. ;-)

So get thee to a supermarket, fill up your breakfast bowl and start reading!

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New Year Publication Day

HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone! What better way is there to celebrate than with the release of two new YOU CHOOSE books? Books 11 and 12 hit the shelves today. Rather than celebrating with cake, which is what I usually do, today I’m working my way through leftover German Christmas biscuits and chocolates. :-)

And I also thought I might share a couple of photos to go with the books. Book 1, Creepy Crawly Chaos, is all about bugs and spiders, so here’s a pic of me with a Whistling Tarantula I met in Mackay last year (Don’t worry… not only is it dead, it’s frozen!). Book 12, City of Robots, features giant robots stomping through a city, so here’s a pic of me and my family with a giant robot at the Ghibli Museum in Japan, back in 2008.

I am overjoyed that the YOU CHOOSE series has come this far. Many thanks to everyone who has read and enjoyed these books – your continued enthusiasm for them is what has enabled me to keep writing them. Much appreciated!

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Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to one and all.

Family. Friends. Food. The three Fs. These are the things I think of at Christmas as I go into a cooking frenzy. This year I made 2 puddings, a double batch of shortbread biscuits (decorated in chocolate by my daughters), egg nog, vanilla bean ice-cream (to go with the pudding), lemon sorbet (because my daughters prefer this to the ice-cream), caramel fudge and dark chocolate Scotch whisky fudge (using Tslisker). I set one of the puddings alight this evening. The other is for tomorrow.

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Goulburn Reader Writer Festival 2016

It’s hard to separate a festival from its location. And really, in this case, why would you want to? Goulburn is such a pretty town, filled with wonderful old buildings (one of them being the Mandelson’s Hotel, where I stayed), excellent cafes and a giant concrete Marino nicknamed Rambo. And the Goulburn Reader Writer Festival was as warm, friendly and engaging as the town.

Over the course of two days (Sat 12-Sun 13 Nov), I met established writers, aspiring writers, illustrators, teachers and readers of all ages. The enthusiasm for and love of books was overwhelming. The audiences at each session were engaged, enthused, receptive and welcoming. This event was so well organised, even though it was the Goulburn Mulwaree Library’s first go at putting together a full-on literary festival. Rather impressive!

I had the privilege of being on two panels hosted by eminent political cartoonist and author Warren Brown – a man who has harbored a desire to be a children’s author since, at the age of 16, he created a book with meticulously hand-written text and beautiful illustrations. He shared his little blast from the past with the audience of “The Magic of Reading to Children”, a panel which included author/illustrator Tania McCartney and illustrator Danielle McDonald. Then there was “The Digital/Paper Divide: is it real or imaginary”, a pithy discussion which featured author Jenny Bond, author/digital marketing strategist Patrick Lenton and politician/author/train enthusiast Tim Fischer AC. It was some pretty amazing company to be in!

I also had two solo sessions – a story structure workshop and a presentation titled “Becoming a Children’s Author”. Although the workshop was aimed at young people, the grown-ups outnumbered the kids. But any worries I had about this were quickly dispelled, as audience members of all ages eagerly participated in the interactive session. And the presentation went so well, with so many questions at the end, that we ran 15mins overtime (it was the last event of the day, so we were able to do so without encroaching on anyone else’s time).

For me, things finished up with the Literary Lunch on Sunday before I had to head for the airport. This event was a highlight! I had the chance to meet Costa from Gardening Australia (who was presenting at the festival later that day), see the Lieder Theatre Company in action with excerpts from plays by local writers, and hear Tim Fischer wryly comment on networking, political and literary:

It’s all about protocol, vitriol, alcohol, and after a hard day, Panadol.

And then there was the food – it just kept on coming! Seriously, I waddled out of the Council Chambers where the lunch was held.

Oh, and there was a rather spectacular “Fire Show” in the park on Saturday night.

The Goulburn Reader Writer Festival was a wonderfully enjoyable event and the Goulburn Mulwaree Library should be very proud of its achievement. I hope the future holds many more such events for Goulburn.

My sincere thanks to the festival organisers for inviting me. And many thanks also to the wonderful Hazel Edwards for recommending me to them.

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KOALA Honour Award

On Thursday 3 November, You Choose: Alien Invaders From Beyond the Stars got an Honour Award at the KOALAs, NSW’s annual children’s choice awards, in the Fiction for Younger Readers category. How cool is that?

Even cooler… the other Honour Award went to Jacqueline Harvey’s Alice Miranda at Camp. I feel very privileged to be in such great company.

Sadly, I was not able to attend the awards ceremony, so the organisers asked me for a short video acceptance to play on the day. Of course, I couldn’t just record an ordinary thank you speech. Instead, I took inspiration from my book’s title and created a tacky alien invasion vid. Hope you enjoy it…

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Flying Doctors Publication Day

My first picture book, Meet… the Flying Doctors, illustrated by the talented Ben Wood, hits bookstores across Australia today. I’m celebrating with some baklava. :-)

This is a non-fiction, historical picture book that tells the story of Rev John Flynn and the formation of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. On a recent trip to Alice Springs, I made sure to stop by Flynn’s memorial, situated at the foot of Mount Gillen.

To find out more about John Flynn and the Flying Doctors, visiting the RFDS website.

 

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RFDS education

The Royal Flying Doctor Service saves many lives, but medical assistance and outback rescues are not all they do. They also educate. They visit schools and kindergartens, and talk to kids.

Today I had the great pleasure of meeting RFDS educator, Tom Ryan and sitting in on his session at Olympic Avenue Kindergarten. He had the kids enthralled with his talk and pictures… and then he took them out to the Aeromedical Simulator — a full-sized replica of an RFDS plane fuselage. The wide-eyed and excited kids got to climb aboard and see, first hand, how patients are looked after in the air.

I also had the chance to talk to these kids about the writing of Meet… the Flying Doctors, which tells the story of John Flynn and the formation of the RFDS. And I read them the book, two weeks before its official release. A wonderful experience!

To find out more about Aeromedical Simulator school incursions, check out the RFDS educational website.

 

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RFDS in the news

The Advocate, Alice Springs – Friday 7 October 2016

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My top 6 reasons for playing Pokémon Go

Or… why it’s good for this 48-year-old children’s author to play a game that involves exploring and collecting.

I’m sure you’ve all heard of Pokémon Go, the hottest augmented reality game for mobile phones. It’s the game that lots of people play. It’s also the game that lots of people seem to be complaining about. It involves going around real locations and catching virtual creatures. There is also the option to train your Pokémon and battle them against others.

I’ve been playing it since its release earlier this year. And here are my top six reasons for doing so…

Reason 6: Going outside
It’s not a passive game. You actually need to physically move and leave your place of residence. Different Pokémon inhabit different areas, so the more places you go, the better it is. As a writer, spending too much time at home in front of my computer is an occupational hazard. Anything that gets me out and about is a good thing.

Reason 5: Collecting
I have a bit of a collecting mentality (my wife refers to it as hording). I collect books, DVDs and sonic screwdriver toys (it’s a Doctor Who thing). In the past I’ve collected cinema cups, bubblegum cards, stickers, cigar boxes and film lobby cards. These items cost money and take up lots of space. And the lure of collecting other things always hangs over me. Pokémon Go satisfies my collecting desire without any financial outlay or the taking up of space.

Reason 4: Exploring
As a writer, I love interesting places. Exploring can lead to stories. And Pokémon Go leads you to interesting places. PokéStops (where you pick up extra Pokéballs and other items of use) and PokéGyms (where you train and battle your Pokémon) tend to be located at places of interest — from landmarks to playgrounds; from museums to public art; from memorials to cemeteries. I’ve discovered some fascinating places while playing. It’s particularly good when on holiday or in places you haven’t been before.

Reason 3: Cross-generational common ground
As a kids’ writer, it’s good for me to stay in touch with the interests of young people… and Pokémon Go is a BIG DEAL! It gives me common ground when speaking to my readers. And it gives me common ground with my own kids. I’ve had a lovely time bonding with my eldest daughter while out hunting Pokémon.

Reason 2: Social situations
Pokémon Go is the perfect solution to awkward social situations…
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry. I’d love to continue this conversation but I need to evolve my Bulbasaur and power up my Jigglypuff.”

Reason 1: FUN!
Above all else… Pokémon Go is heaps of FUN!

So, to fellow Pokémon Go players, may I say: Go Team Instinct!

To the detractors I say: Dislike it if you must, but give those of us who do like it, the respect to like what we like.

And to the undecided: Give it a go! You’ve got nothing to lose and you may just evolve an interest (See what I did there?). :-)

My current stats…
Name: FanboyGeorge
Team: Instinct
Buddy: Bulbasaur
Level: 16
XP: 121580
Pokedex: 65
Highest CP: Vaporeon, CP983

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