Regional Roaming

In late May I had the pleasure of going on a promotional book tour in Wagga Wagga and the surrounding Riverina region. I visited six schools in Henty, The Rock, Ashmont, Junee, Coolamon and Wagga Wagga, as well as doing some media and an in-store event with the tour organisers, Gateway Bookshop (if you’re ever in the area, you have to visit this lovely store).

One of the perks of doing this type of tour, is managing to squeeze a little bit of touristy sightseeing in between events. On this occasion I got to visit the Monte Cristo historic homestead (a beautifully restored building and supposedly “Australia’s most haunted house”), the Junee Licorice and Chocolate factory (where I spent too much money), the Museum of the Riverina, the Victory Memorial Gardens and the many beautiful buildings within the main area of Wagga Wagga (their library is AWESOME).

I’ve done a fair few regional tours and festivals over the years, and I never tire of them. Australian is such an amazing country and it is a pure joy getting to visit its more out-of-the-way areas.

The further out from the main cities you get, the less common school author visits become. Many of the schools I’ve spoken at rarely get these sorts of visits, and a few have never had one before. The excitement in these schools is palpable. The kids are so delighted, enthusiastic and appreciative. And I get such a buzz out of speaking to these audiences.

Aside from this latest trip, past visits have included Mackay (see blog post), Goulburn (see blog post), Gippsland, Newcastle, Minyip (where The Flying Doctors TV series used to be filmed), Rockhampton, Ballarat, Portarlington, Drysdale and the Pilbara (see blog post). I’m hoping to add a few more locations to the list before the year is out. Hunter Valley and Central Coast NSW, here I come!



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SCRIBE AWARDS shortlist 2017

I am totally blown away by this! “An Eye For and Eye”, my story from The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, has been shortlisted for a SCRIBE AWARD. Shortlisted! As in, one of only five stories! Blimey! That certainly calls for a bit of celebrating.

As an author, I’ve never chased awards. But it is very nice indeed when you are nominated. It is particularly appreciated in this instance, as tie-in fiction is an area of writing that I’ve had an interest in for many, many years – first as a reader, and now as an author. This story is, in fact, only my second published piece of tie-in fiction (the first being a Doctor Who short story back in 2008). I have aspirations to continue writing in this field. Fingers crossed that more opportunities may cross my path.

A HUGE thank you to Jonathan Maberry, editor of THE X-FILES: SECRET AGENDAS and the previous two volumes. Thank you so much for taking a chance on an author from across the seas who you had never worked with before. Thank you for allowing me to play in a universe that I’ve been a fan of for many years. And thank you for persisting when emails went astray. All very much appreciated.

The SCRIBE AWARDS are organised by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (IAMTW) and are described in the official blurb as follows…

“Acknowledging excellence in this very competitive field, the IAMTW’s Scribe Awards honor licensed works that tie in with other media such as television, movies, gaming, or comic books. They include original works set in established universes, and adaptations of stories that have appeared in other formats and that cross all genres. Tie-in works run the gamut from westerns to mysteries to procedurals, from science fiction to fantasy to horror, from action and adventure to superheroes. HALO, Elementary, 24, Star Trek, Mike Hammer, Star Wars, Shadowrun, Doctor Who: these represent just a few.

The winners will be announced at ComicCon San Diego in July. The full shortlist is…

Adapted – General and Speculative

  • Assassin’s Creed by Christie Golden
  • Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins
  • Suicide Squad by Marv Wolfman

Audio

  • Dark Shadows: Blood & Fire by Roy Gill
  • Torchwood: Broken by Joseph Lidster
  • Torchwood: Uncanny Valley by David Llewellyn
  • Doctor Who: Mouthless Dead by John Pritchard

General Original

  • 24: Trial by Fire by Dayton Ward
  • Don Pendleton’s The Executioner: Missile Intercept by Michael Black
  • Murder Never Knocks by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
  • Robert B. Parker’s Slow Burn by Ace Atkins
  • Tom Clancy’s True Faith and Allegiance by Mark Greaney

Short Fiction

  • “A Dangerous Cat” by Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
  • X-Files “Drive Time” by Jon McGoran
  • X-Files “An Eye for an Eye” by George Ivanoff
  • X-Files “Love Lost” by Yvonne Navarro
  • X-Files “XXX” by Glenn Greenberg

Speculative Original

  • Assasin’s Creed: Heresy by Christie Golden
  • Warhammer 40,000: Warden of the Blade by David Annandale
  • Star Trek: Elusive Salvation by Dayton Ward
  • Supernatural: Mythmaker by Tim Waggoner

I feel incredible honoured and over-the-moon excited to be included on this amazing list.

CONGRATULATIONS to all the nominees. And extra special CONGRATULATIONS to Jonathan Maberry. Four of the five stories in the Short Fiction category are from his anthologies. That’s high praise indeed for his abilities as an editor. And it’s a pretty good indication that everyone should rush out and buy all three volumes. As a reader, I can assure you that they are a damn good read!

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You Choose AFL

I’ve been keeping this a secret since November 2016… but I can finally reveal details of the next You Choose book. It’s a footy-themed story that’s been licensed by the Australian Football League. And it features real-life AFL players (as well as a ninja, a Footy Godmother and a group of grumpy old men who are trying to destroy the game of football). How EXCITING is that!

And today I also get to unveil the awesome cover by James Hart. So here it is. You Choose AFL: Footy Fever.

You Choose AFL: Footy Fever will hit bookstores in time for this year’s AFL Grand Final.

There’s quite a long story behind this book. And it all started with an earlier You Choose book – Super Sports Spectacular. I’d never really been much for watching sports, so I needed to do a lot of research for this book. Aside from looking up the rules for various different sports, it mostly meant watching YouTube vids of amazing sporting moments, from soccer volley kicks to AFL speckies. It turned out that I really enjoyed watching these sporting moments.

All of this led me to attend my very first AFL game at Etihad Stadium (and later, my first Grand Final barbecue). I blogged about this experience. My publisher read the blog post and then contacted me to suggest a possible You Choose / AFL combo. I immediately jumped at the opportunity, marked it and ran with the idea. And the rest, as they say, is history.

But enough blog posting! I’m now going out into the back yard to kick a footy and pretend I’m an AFL star.

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REAL Awards 2017

Three years is a row! I find it hard to believe, but that’s the situation– I’ve made it onto the REAL Awards (Reading & Enjoying Australian Literature) shortlist for the third year running, thanks to my YOU CHOOSE books.

The REAL awards are a group of state-based awards for children’s literature that are nominated and voted on by kids. The shortlist feeds into three sets of awards – the YABBAs in Victoria; the KOALAs in NSW; and the KROCs in the Northern Territory.

In 2015, You Choose: The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove was shortlisted in the “Fiction For Younger Readers” section… and it won a YABBA.

In 2016, You Choose: Alien Invaders From Beyond the Stars was shortlisted in the “Fiction For Younger Readers” section… and it got an Honour Award in the KOALAs.

This year it’s You Choose: Alien Invaders From Beyond the Stars again. I am so pleased and honoured and EXCITED! And look at all the other amazing books and authors in the “Fiction For Younger Readers” section along with my book…

  • Alice Miranda in China by Jacqueline Harvey
  • Billie B Brown: The Bad Butterfly by Sally Rippin, illustrated by Aki Fukuoka
  • EJ Spy School: Puppy Alert by Susannah McFarlane, illustrated by Dyani Stagg
  • Ella And Olivia: The Christmas Surprise by Yvette Poshoglian, illustrated by Danielle McDonald
  • Ella Diaries: Friendship S.O.S by Meredith Costain, illustrated by Danielle McDonald
  • Hotdog! by Anh Do, illustrated by Dan McGuiness
  • The Bad Guys Episode 2: Mission Unpluckable by Aaron Blabey
  • The Gateway: Midnight Mercenary by Cereberus Jones, illustrated by Craig Phillips
  • WeirDo: Mega Weird! by Anh Do, illustrated by Jules Faber

How flattering is it to be included in a list like this. :-)

And there’s even more great books across three other sections: “Picture Story Books”, “Fiction for Older Readers” and “Fiction for Years 7-9”. Check out the full list.

And here’s a bit of silliness to finish up with. My alien invasion acceptance vid from the KOALAs last year…

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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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