Farewell Terrance Dicks

A couple of weeks ago, one of my writing heroes passed away. Terrance Dicks was best known for his association with Doctor Who. He was a script editor and writer on the classic series. He also wrote dozens of the Target novelisations. And he continued to write Doctor Who stories after the series was revived, his final one to be published soon in Doctor Who: The Target Storybook.

Since his death, I’ve watched the tributes and reminiscences flood over social media. It seems that he had as great an influence on many other writers as he did on me.

Candy Jar Books, the publishers of the Lethbridge-Stewart series of Doctor Who spinoff novels, have put together Terrance Dicks – A Tribute. It’s a free PDF available from their site with contributions from Gary Russell (writer/editor/producer), John Peel (writer), John Levene (actor – Sergeant Benton in Doctor Who) and many others. You can download the PDF here.

I was honoured to be able to contribute a short piece, which I am also including here on my blog.

Forever in your debt

“Kriz was dying.” [Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius]

“It moved through the silent blackness of deep space like a giant jellyfish through the depths of the sea.” [Doctor Who and the Claws of Axos]

“The planet was alive.” [Doctor Who: The Planet of Evil]

Terrance Dicks knew how to grab a young reader with his first sentence and keep them reading, desperate to find out what happened next, unwilling to put the book down until every last word had been devoured.

As a kid, he inspired me to read, with his Doctor Who novelisations. I hung on his every word.

As a kid, he inspired me to write. After reading his books, I began to write my own Doctor Who stories. Yes, they were pretty dreadful bits of fan fiction, but they taught me that writing could be fun. Such an important lesson.

So then I grew up and became a writer. And Terrance Dicks continued to inspire me.

I would read his work and see the genius of its construction. His carefully worded opening sentences and paragraphs, designed to hook in the reader. The shorthand descriptions that immediately brought characters to life within the short word-count of a Target novelisation. The way he provided insight on motivations and the way he expanded stories beyond the budgetary limitations of the television series.

I would look at his career and marvel at his professionalism and his ability to produce so much while maintaining quality and enthusiasm and a love of his craft. Something I strive for in my own career. He became my writing hero.

Now, when I run school writing workshops that focus on structure, Terrance Dicks always gets a mention. I read out what I believe to be one of the greatest opening lines, ever.

“Through the ruin of a city, stalked the ruin of a man.” [Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth]

Although the man is now gone, his writing remains. I can pick up and read his words whenever I want. I can recommend his books to other readers. I can use his words as an example when I am teaching.

I never met Terrance Dicks. I never knew him as a person. But I knew him as a writer. And to that writer I would like to say…

You inspired me to read.
You inspired me to write.
And for that, I am forever in your debt.

But the final words, I shall leave to Terrance Dicks, the writer…

“The doors closed, there was a wheezing groaning sound, and the TARDIS faded away.” [Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius]

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I was on BBC Radio!

It’s not every day that one gets the chance to act for the BBC. But last Sunday night, at 6pm, my dulcet tones graced the airwaves of BBC Radio 4 as Scribe in “A Verb of Nouns”, the third episode of the second season of Night Terrace.

Night Terraceis an Australia sci-fi comedy audio series that stars Jackie Woodburne from Neighbours. It’s had heaps of famous guest stars over the course of its two seasons, including Jane Badler (V), Louise Jameson (Doctor Who), Alan Brough (Spicks and Specks) and Lawrence Leung (Sucker). Season 1 debuted online in 2014 and Season 2 in 2016. It won the 2015 Aurealis Convenors’ Award for Excellence and gained many fans over its run.

It was originally available only for purchase. But earlier this year it was picked up by the BBC to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4, with each episode then available for 30 days on BBC iPlayer.

As a fan of the show, I was delighted and super excited to be cast in a guest role during its second season. I had so much fun playing a wonderfully mysterious and manipulative character with a silly voice. And now, for that episode to be on BBC Radio is really rather astonishing to me.  But pretty cool!

So a BIG thank you to the BBC.

And a BIG thank you to the Night Terrace producers.

And a BIG thank you to anyone who may have listened to the ep.

If you want to know more about Night Terrace, and perhaps purchase the entire series (it really is worth it), check out the official website.

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Survival Guide Cover Reveal

I am currently poring over page proofs for The Australia Survival Guide, which goes off to the printers on Friday. But I’m taking a short break to officially reveal the cover. Feast your eyes on this…

It will be hitting the shelves on 1 October 2019 under the Puffin imprint from Penguin Random House Australia.

I. Am. So. EXCITED!

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REAL awards 2019

FIVE YEARS! Five years in a row! I am absolutely floored!

The REAL awards shortlist (which feeds into the YABBAs in Victoria, the KOALAs in NSW and the KROCs in the Northern Territory) has been announced and You Choose: Alien Invaders From Beyond the Starsis on it, in the “Fiction For Older Readers” section. It is the fifth time that a You Choosebook has made the shortlist, and the third time for You Choose: Alien Invaders From Beyond the Stars.

I am so honoured to be sharing the spotlight with these amazing books on the “Fiction For Older Readers” shortlist:

  • 52 Mondays by Anna Ciddor
  • Fearless Frederic by Felice Arena
  • Finding Serendipity by Angelica Banks
  • Funny Kid For President by Matt Stanton
  • Help Around The House by Morris Gleitzman
  • Nevermoor: The Trials Of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
  • So Wrong 2 by Michael Wagner & Wayne Bryant
  • The 104-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton
  • The Forgotten Pearl by Belinda Murrell

Of course, there are even more great books across three other sections: “Picture Story Books”, “Fiction for Younger Readers” and “Fiction for Years 7-9”. Check out the full shortlist.

You may notice that You Choose: Alien Invaders From Beyond the Stars has a pretty AWESOME cover. That would be the work of Mr James Hart. James and his artwork are what make these books stand out on the bookshop shelves. Thanks James!

Kids do the nominating and voting in these awards. No grown-ups! That’s pretty cool! So to all the kids who nominated my books over the last five years…

Thank you!

Thank you!

THANK YOU!

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Warning: Australia is trying to kill YOU!

We have more venomous snakes than you can poke a stick at. We have creepy-crawly spiders that can sneak up on you. We have crocs and sharks with really big teeth in our waters. We have raging bushfires and unexpected floods. We have an often harsh environment with bushlands and deserts to get lost in. Add in some cyclones, hailstones the size of cricket balls, rip currents, the risk of skin cancer and a plethora of other potentially dangerous stuff. With all of this in mind, you’d be forgiven for thinking that AUSTRALIA IS TRYING TO KILL YOU!

That’s the premise of my new book, The Australia Survival Guide, which I’ve been working on since about August last year. Aimed at kids 8 and up, this non-fiction book has been a joy to research and write. I’ve been discovering all sorts of fascinating things about our country. And it’s not all doom and gloom. While I do focus on the dangerous stuff, I also look at how to survive it all and enjoy this wonderful, awe-inspiring land of ours.

This book has been a bit different for me. I’m mostly known for writing adventurous fiction for kids. While I’ve written lots of educational non-fic as well, this is my first go at commercial non-fiction. So, although it certainly will be educational, the book is also out to entertain. It’s my goal to make the possibility of DEATH in Australia kinda fun. :-)

A draft manuscript is complete and I’m currently working through edits and fact-checking, with the aim of publication in late 2019 by Penguin Random House. Keep an eye on my website, as I’ll be sharing more info about this book in coming months… that is, of course, assuming Australia doesn’t kill me first.

BTW… don’t go poking any snakes with sticks. Especially not venomous one.

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2018 wrap up

Blimey… what a year! 2018 was busy. Real busy! Like, super busy! Lots of writing and touring and speaking. It was all pretty amazing!

The big thing was, of course, the publication of the OTHER WORLDS series. Four sci-fi/fantasy/adventure books for kids aged 8 and up. Books 1 and 2 came out in February and books 3 and 4 came out in May. I then spent a large chunk of the year promoting them, with tours in Melbourne, Sydney, Queensland and Tasmania.

Only one educational book saw publication this year – Playing to Win, a reader in Macmillan’s Talk About Books series. There will be a lot more next year.

I had stories in two kids’ anthologies – “Dreaming the Win” in Speccy-tacular AFL Stories (Penguin) and “The Christmas Trap” in A Miniature Christmas (Christmas Press).

There were a couple of award shortlistings. OTHER WORLDS 3: Game World was shortlisted for the K-Zone Toy of the Year Awards (Best Book). You Choose: Footy Fever was shortlisted for the REAL Awards (Fiction For Younger Readers). This set of awards includes the YABBAs in Melbourne and the KOALAs in Sydney, and resulted in another tour (read about it here). I didn’t win either of these, but really, just getting nominated is so COOL!

But the biggest, most exhausting aspect of 2018, was all the speaking. Aside from all the touring, I also did several festivals – The Queenscliffe Literary Festival, the Bayside Literary Festival and the Tamar Valley Writers Festival. And in addition to that, I had an increase in school and library bookings, especially during term 3 around the time of Book Week. Here are the stats…

  • 71 schools
  • 9 libraries
  • 4 festivals/conventions
  • 3 teacher/librarian events
  • 2 Writers Centre events
  • 2 Probus/retiree events

Bringing the grand total to – 193 individual sessions.

Just going back over this makes me feel quite tired.  :-)

As a result of all the travelling and speaking, I didn’t end up writing as much as the previous year. I wrote half of a new non-fiction book for Penguin (I’m still working on this and will tell you more soon), 7 short school readers and a few short stories.

2019 has now begun, and I’m busy scribbling away. And bookings for speaking gigs have already come flooding in. Looks like it’s gonna be another busy one!

Happy New Year!

PS. Loved the new series of Doctor Who. Jodie Whittaker is ACE!

 

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Merry Christmas

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Authors on a bus!

A bunch of authors and illustrators touring around Melbourne and Sydney on a mini-bus with a publicist… what could possibly go wrong?

Well… aside from being mobbed by an entire school’s worth of kids desperate for the bag of lollies I was about to distribute on Halloween; and being made to impersonate a meerkat on stage at an awards ceremony (I can’t really explain this one. You just had to be there.)… it all went pretty well, actually.

Why was this all happening? Because of the YABBA and KOALA awards – one Melbourne based, the other Sydney based, but both fed from the same shortlist of books nominated by kids from across the country. Celebrating their shortlisted authors, Penguin Random House decided to tour some of them during the two weeks surrounding the awards ceremonies.

In Melbourne I was with authors RA Spratt, Tim Harris, Belinda Murrell and Tristan Bancks, and illustrator James Hart. In Sydney, Tristan was swapped out for Felice Arena, with illustrator Tom Jellett being added into the mix. Authors usually tour on their own when promoting a new book, which can be a bit lonely… so this tour, with a cast of thousands, was quite the novelty.

Over the two weeks, we visited 13 schools, 16 bookstores and attended the two awards ceremonies. It was a travelling roadshow of creativity, comedy, inspiration and insanity. Storytelling, reading, drawing, dancing, shouting, trumpet-blowing and lots of other strange things happened as we took kids through our creative processes. It was an absolute privilege to share the stage with this wonderful group of people, creating bonds of performance and camaraderie. I learned so much from watching them present, and even more from the publishing industry conversations we had on the bus between schools.

The YABBAs and the KOALAs are an extraordinary set of awards, giving kids the chance to nominate and vote for their favourite Aussie books. And the organisers, who are all volunteers, do an amazing amount of work putting these awards together, as well as generally promoting Australian books, authors and illustrators. All of us who were on the tour felt greatly honoured to have been shortlisted.

And now for the winners … [insert drum roll] …

In addition to the standard awards, there were also a couple of special awards to recognise particular authors’ contribution to Australian children’s literature. Meredith Costain, one of the hardest working children’s authors I have ever met, received the Graham Davey Citation at the YABBA awards. And Belinda Murrell was named the 2018 KOALA Legend. Of course, we already knew she was a legend. This just formalised it. :-)

I’ll finish things off with a transcript of my mini-speech from the KOALA awards. Each of the nominated people were asked to speak for about two minutes on one of the topics from the Australian Children’s Laureate “Stories Make Us…” calendar. Here’s what I said…

Stories make us creative. Stories make us connected. They make us hopeful, inspired, determined, honest, clever, curious, cheeky and thoughtful. Stories make us celebrate.

Yes, stories make us all of these things, and so much more.

In theory, I’m supposed to pick one word from the list I’ve just read and speak about it. But I’m not gonna do that. No. I’m gonna add two of my own words instead.

Because… Stories make us rebellious. They show us how important it is to be ourselves and to do things in our own unique ways. From Tom Sawyer to Lyra Silvertongue to Katniss Everdeen… characters and their stories can make us realise the importance of sometimes defying authority, bucking the system and being true to ourselves.

And writing stories has also given me a taste for rebellion, as I have discovered the joys of breaking grammatical rules, making up my own words and occasionally subverting stereotypes and expectations.

But — putting rebellion aside — if I had to choose one definitive word to use in the context of “Stories make us…”, it would be “HAPPY”.

Never underestimate the importance and significance of the happiness that stories can bring into people’s lives. The pure joy of being captivated by and lost in a story.

Yep! Stories make me happy!

For a complete set of pics from the tour, check out the Instagram hashtags #yabbatour and #koalatour2018

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Kids and DOCTOR WHO and 13

The BBC have released an utterly gorgeous video with school kids getting a preview of DOCTOR WHO Series 11 and a surprise visit from the 13th Doctor herself, Jodie Whittaker (see bottom of post)

Just look at the excitement on the faces of these kids. Anyone ranting against the decision to cast a woman as the 13th Doctor, needs to watch this and have a think about what it is that frightens them so much. These kids not only accept a woman in the role, they are downright excited about it.

As a children’s author, I do heaps of school talks, and I usually mention that I’m a DOCTOR WHO fan. In all those times, since the announcement of Jodie Whittaker, there has been an overwhelming excitement from kids I’ve spoken to about the casting. The only negative reaction I’ve seen in my school visits (and it was more wariness than dislike) came from one older teen boy and two teachers (both white middle-aged males).

The kids in this video, and others like them, are the future. The series is being made for these people… not for entitled, bigoted, old-fart dinosaurs who are unable to accept change within a series that has built its existence around being able to change.

I am just as excited as these kids…

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OTHER WORLDS reviews

Getting a good review is pretty great. But getting a good review in which your writing is compared to someone/something you are a fan of… well… that’s just AWESOME!

In her Magpies magazine review of Game World, Beth Dolan wrote:

“Special mention of the mother-figure who could challenge Coraline’s Button Mother for creepy malevolence.”

OMG! A Neil Gaiman comparison! I adore Gaiman’s writing and love his book Coraline. In fact, in a recent interview, I picked the Other Mother with her button eyes, as my favourite fictional villain. So this comparison leaves me a bit speechless. Magpies is a subscription magazine… check out the website.

Anyone who knows me could tell you that I’m a HUGE Doctor Who fan. It is my main pop culture obsession. So this little comparison from the ReadPlus review of Perfect World by Clare Thompson, completely blew me away:

Perfect World reminded me of a Doctor Who episode; it was fast paced and cinematic”

Wow! Just wow! There is no higher praise in my view. You can read the full review here.

While on the subject of Doctor Who, I should mention that each of the OTHER WORLDS books has a hidden Doctor Who reference. I put these in most of my books, purely to amuse myself. They are usually pretty obscure and I’m not expecting anyone to notice they are there. But it’s kinda cool when someone does notice. Especially in a review…

“Also nice to see that Ivanoff is clearly a fan of the late great Douglas Adams, and has included one or two references ”

This is from the Reading Time review of Game World by Christian Price. You can read the full review here.

I was watching the Tom Baker story “Shada”, written by Douglas Adams, while writing Game World… so my two main characters ended living in Adamstown, with one on Shada Street and the other on Douglas Avenue.

I’m chuffed that there have been lots of other really positive reviews for the OTHER WORLDS books. If you’re interested in checking them out, here’s a list…

  • “This is a racing read that will grip reluctant readers”
    Perfect World, Books + Publishing, 23 October 2017, Full Review.
  • “It is full of action and adventure, but there is far more to it than that. It will get your students thinking about individuality, differences, acceptance and who controls the world.”
    Perfect World, Lamont Books, March 2018, Full Review.
  • “Keagan is the key to teaching the clones about diversity and friendship – and his relationship with Eone is quite adorable, as is their journey to discovering diversity, and divergence and enlightenment – and hopefully, this book will show kids that it is okay to be who you are and that you don’t have to fit in with the crowd..”
    Perfect World, The Book Muse, 1 May, Full Review.
  • Beast World shows diversity and difference, and puts a spin on the way portal worlds are portrayed. This unique and fun story has animals in clothes as Lords and Ladies in a Victorian London setting, and uses the dynamics of the human world in the animal world to illustrate how different people will do anything to attain their goals.”
    Beast World, The Book Muse, 4 May 2018, Full Review.
  • “Perfect World is a well-executed exploration of what it means to be unique.”
    Perfect World, Tim Harris, 12 June 2018, Full Review.
  • “This series is certainly going to keep readers on the edge of their seats.”
    Game World and Dark World, Just So Stories, 29 July 2018, Full Review.
  • “The books in the “Other Worlds” series are exciting fast-paced junior novels, filled with action, adventure, mystery, set in alternate realities. With both boy and girl protagonists and themes of friendship, collaboration, accepting diversity and problem solving, these novels will engage readers from ages 8 and up.”
    Game World and Dark World, ReadPlus, 21 September 2018, Full Review.
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Shank Night in Grindelwald

Whilst attending a writers festival in an odd faux Swiss village in Tasmania, named Grindelwald, some of my fellow-writers and I decided that it would make a great setting for a murder mystery novel. One by one, authors are murdered for the mistakes they have made in their novels, their method of demise being in line with their genre. We decided to name the potential novel after the “Shank Night” special from our first dinner at the Alpenrose Lakeside Bistro & Bar.

Writers are weird! Our imaginations never rest. We spent the whole festival adding to our private murder mystery and even the spilled wine at Saturday night’s dinner became another incident in the plot!

The festival was the Tamar Valley Writers Festival. Murder planning aside, the event was AWESOME! They had 61 speakers over the course of three days, which included a schools day that was FREE for students to attend. The program ran like clockwork (quite appropriate for a Swiss village), the panel moderators were well researched and eloquent, and the topics were varied and interesting. There were a wonderful bunch of organisers and volunteers that looked after us, making sure we were fed, watered and where we were meant to be at any given moment. [Waves to Nella, Anne, Tamara, Mary, Wendy, Lyndon, Dale and all the others.]

One of my favourite things about being invited as a festival speaker, is getting the chance to attend other writers’ sessions. Friends like Paul Collins, Amie Kaufman, Andrew Plant and Jackie Kerin were on the program, and they are always rather brilliant. But I also got to see wonderful presentations from authors I’d not met before, including Jodi McAlister, Kyle Mewburn and Robbie Arnott… resulting in a rush to the Petrarch’s Bookshop stall (which had books from all the speakers at the festival).

To top it all off, I got to meet Glynn Nicholas at the festival’s opening cocktail party and a Dalek at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston.

Thank you to the organising committee for inviting me, and to my speaking agent Paul Collins (from Creative Net) for recommending me.

The Tamar Valley Writers Festival is held every two years. If you happen to be in Tassie when the next one is on… GO TO IT!

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OTHER WORLDS series trailer

After individual trailers for Perfect World and Beast World, we now have a trailer for the OTHER WORLDS series as a whole.  :-)

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