The Essentials for being an Author

Republished from Sheryl Gwyther‘s writers’ blog … 


When I run writing classes, people often ask for hints on how to become better writers (and so do children – thankfully, for a future of great stories still to come!)

These are the essentials I pass on…..

  • Have an active imagination. Always ask, WHAT IF?

  • Be an acute observer of people, nature, places and things. Learn how to develop an ‘artist eye and ear’. Be aware of all your senses, totally.

  • Read voraciously (like a foraging seagull) with a hunger for story.

  • Learn by osmosis, and from the wise advice of the experienced and the successful; to glean more information on how to do it better from books and the web, and also from workshops run by those who have been ‘through the mill’ themselves, and who’ve gained much knowledge from their wide experience.

  • You will face manuscript rejections – regard them as your apprenticeship. Even experienced writers get manuscripts rejected. We are a small market in Australia. Unfortunately, a fact of life.

  • Never give up. If you are truly meant to be a writer, perseverance and toughness is essential at those most vulnerable moments of painful rejection or ‘so-so’ reviews. But you will pick yourself up, learn from the experience and start editing and re-writing to make your story even better.

  • Join a small writers’ group you can trust in – everyone there will understand the mountains we travail in this job; they will support, just like you would do in return.
  • Join a support network like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators … a global network. We have an excellent regional group here in Australia and New Zealand.


Image: Johannes Vermeer’s portrait of a writing woman in 1670-71. One of his beautiful studies of women in the sublime light of his studio.

‘Tall Tales and Fat Tunes’ – SCBWI at the BWF

SCBWI Qld member, Dimity Powell posts her review of SCBWI’s contribution to the Brisbane Writers Festival, where five local authors and illustrators volunteered to be part of the children’s program, Alphabet Zoo. Thank you, Jacque Duffy, Lynelle Westland, Jennifer Poulter and Dimity for your fabulous contributions.bwf event1

“There were no track closures or train delays on Thursday the 5th of September, so I arrived in ample time at the State Library of Queensland; hub of this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival. At nine o’clock in the morning, the place was already humming. The book shop was choked with young readers keen to snap up the latest title by one of their ‘idols’.

bwf event7Some of their idols were already there, searching for literary gems of their own.  Legion upon legion of uniformed school kids led by teachers equally as enthusiastic as they, trooped by in orderly lines. In the absence of coffee, I drank in their palpable excitement and thus energised headed for the signing-in table.

With a bright orange lanyard in place and goodie bag slung over one shoulder, I strolled about the grounds, soaking up the atmosphere of my first BWF and the warm Brisbane spring-shine. There was plenty of time to take in the cavernous marquis, stage to a variety of artists of far greater notoriety than I including; Ben Law, Matthew Condon, John Birmingham and Katherine Howell.

bwf evetn15 Clusters of school children waited on the banks of the river for their WordPlay sessions with visionaries like Michael Gerard Bauer, Katherine Battersby and Oliver Phommavanh. Eventually I headed for the fifth floor artists’ green room, strongly recommended to me by the leagues of green-shirted, unfathomably helpful BWF volunteers. They were right. The views of the river and cultural precinct were breathtaking. And the coffees, second to none, except maybe that bookshop-foyer-buzz. But the best was yet to come.

As a member of SCBWI, I was fortunate to be invited along with Sheryl Gwyther and half a dozen other children’s authors and illustrators from all over south-east Queensland, to participate in BWF’s Alphabet Zoo. This inaugural free program was inspired by the books and art created for kids between 3 – 8 years.

The next few hours were spent in the Studio, a spacious room housing an astonishingly gigantic dragon and walls covered in art courtesy of the kids dropping in and Illustrator-in-Residence, Briony Stewart. We delivered live storytellings, readings and art classes as part of the Tall Tales and Fat Tunes activities.

bwf event16 Fresh on the heels of recent Book Week presentations, this encounter with over 60 primary aged students, their carers, teachers and parents was yet another refreshing reminder of why we do what we do. Positive gratitude was instantaneous.

One teacher couldn’t thank us enough for providing a few minutes of captivating wonderment for her students. ‘I’ve never seen them so attentive. Look at them!’

It is true: sometimes the smallest things in life bring us the greatest joy. I may not have been presenting in auditoriums to hundreds but the glint of sunshine on the Brisbane River, the moments spent sharing my words with small, ever expanding minds and being in the same green room with other authors jotting enigmatic entries into paper journals all added up to great, collective Festival joy. It was one of my most memorable visits to the Zoo ever.”

Many thanks, Dimity! (Sheryl Gwyther, SCBWI Assistant RA)

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LIFE AFTER WRITING … Is there such a thing or do old writers simply write themselves off?

Nette Hilton
Nette Hilton

SCBWI Qld is thrilled to welcome our guest blogger this week – author, Nette Hilton. Nette’s work includes the brilliant, edge-of-seat and beautifully written YA novel, The Innocents.

Thoughts of a baby-boomer who was a child bride (twice) and is still saving up for when she gets old.

This isn’t something I’d pondered intentionally. Stuff happens and then you die. Not very philosophical but it was working for me. Then my mate, Jo (Horniman) – a woman with whom I

  • shared angst and mangled manuscripts
  • more angst and mayhem when we were overlooked by the CBC (how could that happen?)
  • then smirking delight when the Premier and the Prime Minister found us (how good was that!)

Then my mate (who had shared coffee and cakes and obscure blue-grass bands – not the members, only their music, in all sorts of boonie based coffee shops) said she’d quit! No more writing, she said. And with a girlish giggle went on to declare that there was, in fact, life after writing.

I mean, we’d been handmaidens for Paul Jennings. Mature hand-maidens, given, but at the end of a grueling tour and late nights cavorting with press agents, festival organizers and the entourage we were probably all he could have handled. As it was, I nearly killed him in my little sports car as we roared over a hill on our way to Lismore – heady days!

So. Joanne Horniman. A diva of written delight. Quit! I felt like I was out there alone holding the aged writer’s banner aloft. A poor withered thing (the banner, not me) that dangled sadly in a fading breeze. The Innocents_Final Cover.inddDo we just fall out of line like weary soldiers too tired to keep marching? Is there no-one there to cheer us on? Even my agent said that a publication date had been offered, five years hence, and how old are we gonna be then? Is there no-one to organize the gold-watch – or pen, which would be more appropriate given that writers and illustrators have poor connections to time and motion – but is there no-one?

It would seem not. Jo, I must say when I gasped and clutched my fevered brow, did suggest that she might do it again – when the right book called, when the right light at the end of that dark tunnel called the duration of writing a manuscript beckoned, call it a sabbatical – and I breathed a little easier.

But not for long.

What was I going to do with my life from here to the ever-after. Simply be content to live happily-ever? My god, the thought was untenable. What about the hours of fumbling around with mind-maps and charts and midnight flashes of genius that sent you hurtling – or fumbling for the light switch in another room because spouses of writers tend to get a little bit grumpy if you constantly wake them – to grab that thought and write it down. What about the dreams? How many times have I woken to find my dream scribbled in sleep-hieroglyphics to discover that, in broad daylight with a thinking brain attached, they were a just a wee bit scrambled and the content did seem to suffer somewhat. The last one was a goody though… if only I could remember it and where I put the paper. I did share it with a kid in a class in Tallebudgera so I can track him down if I need it.

Which I do.

Dreams that good deserve to be novelised. It’ll probably go on to be a Booker. Speaking of which, I saw the wonderful, fabulous, Vernon God Little by D.C.B. Pierre on a $2.50 table in Sam’s Warehouse.

I clutched that book. I felt its terrible grey furry-papered pages and the awful little font that they’d crammed across each line minimizing the paper they’d need to print his glorious words. Shame! It didn’t faze me, though. No. Not for a second.

The next novel is already in its specially-labelled, Nette’s Planner for the next major masterpiece, book ready to go. The next picture book is already in its own special folder, ready to go. Actually, there’s a couple of novels in their own books, and at least five picture books and god-knows-how-many drawings and etchings and collections of appropriate materials and I live in fear of fading before the ideas do.

The stampede of new technology rides out with the ferocity of the Four Horsemen. It is exciting and mind-blowing and carries a language which changes and morphs before there’s time to learn it. As does the technology.

I mean, back to Sam’s. There I was, queued up with my new copy of Vernon et al and my Penguin Shower-Radio (my grandson’s eighteenth – I managed to get sunglasses to match – everyone should have a writer in the family if only to be truly amazed at what they can dream-up for a birthday present – a few days/months late usually) – and, right beside me on the chuck-out table was a digital voice recorder for the worldly sum of $10. Now, to all the new technophobes, this is a worthless object already past its use by date but for me… the ease, the possibility of such ease was outstanding. I mean, have you ever tried fumbling a mini-tape deck together in a traffic snarl to record the next line of the book and then discover that you’ve pressed the wrong button. #**!!

Oh, I ramble but there’s a lot there to ramble around.

Back to the future.

What will happen to me? Will I be the funny old thing in cabin 4 who likes a drink or two and gets a bit muddled in the midst of panel discussions? Will I drool onto my cross-buttoned blouse as I nod off when surrounded by subjects like the place of literature in an app and how much is it worth when matched to Barbie and The New Dancing Shoes.

Truly. What do I know?

I know that mastering writing is like catching water. I know that rejected writing is as wounding to your soul as it is to your pride and, as they say, if it doesn’t kill you, will make you stronger. And more determined.

I believe that story-telling and creating narrative are the most precious gifts that can be given and, like Jo, there’s a time to discover what else is out there beyond writing. A time to simply switch off – if you can.

I can’t.

Maybe it’s not time for me yet – even though I begin to feel the pull of different writing master…

So I guess, given a choice, I’ll just continue to write myself off.

A PERFECT SUBMISSION … from the editor’s eye

On January 20 2013, SCBWI Qld held its first 2013 Professional Development workshop for writers and illustrators for children, with a very special presenter, Leonie Tyle. Leonie lives in Brisbane and is a well-respected editor and publisher who now works freelance.
Leonie Tyle
Thank you to all those who attended. We look forward to more of these worthwhile sessions – if you missed this one, hopefully you can attend next time.
SCBWI member, Angela Sunde managed to take copious notes from Leonie’s workshop … here they’ve been whittled down for the blog. Full notes will go to SCBWI Qld members by email.
  •  Your first page must be riveting. Don’t submit too early. It must be polished like a sparkly lake.
  • Examine your motivation for writing.. Why do you want to write? Is it that you can’t find anything to read? Is it that you just love to write? Is it because you have something to say and want to share it with someone else? Getting published isn’t the be all / end all of writing. Chill about it and have fun writing.
  • All writers procrastinate. To become a better writer, practise, practise, practise… We all have the same insecurities, some have more pressure than others because their previous books were such high quality. Eg. Markus Zusak.
Check and re-check your work:
Do you have an ordered structure? (A beginning, middle and end for kids’ books.)
Does the first sentence engage the reader and hook them in?
Does the text flow without relevant information, unnecessary dialogue and too much telling rather than showing?
Does the title fit the story?
Is your grammar and spelling almost perfect?
Is the word count applicable to the age group ?
Do your characters come alive?
Is your writing a refreshing look at life?
Does it respect the child and the adult reader?
Does it have the potential to be profitable?
 big group

Within an inch if its life.
Make sure your opening is as stunning as possible. Get that hook!
Make sure there is no lack of vision, and your structure, plot and execution is true to the ‘what if’ theory.
Are you telling rather than showing?
Are there long and endless pieces of narration?
Are the sentences long and convoluted?
Is the dialogue realistic/authentic?
Are your characters real and empathetic? Be in someone else’s shoes.

Extra bonus: a luscious morning tea
Books Leonie recommends:
‘Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on the Writing Life’, Anne Lamott.
Grammar Basics on the Web, sentences, push and punctuation‘, Paul Callaghan.
The Professional Writing Guide, Writing Well and Knowing Why’, Roslyn Petelin and Marshall Durham.
Business and Professional Writing’, ?
The Elements of Style’, William Struck jnr and E.B.White.
Leonie loves both Fantasy and Realism. She loved reading ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ by Laini Taylor. ‘The Scorpio Races’, by Maggie Stiefvater, ‘The Penderwicks’, by Jeanne Birdsill – a junior novel. She also feels there seems to be more interesting stuff coming out of the UK and USA at the moment than out of Australia.
Interesting discussion point. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to really explore these ideas behind working out how to price your artwork. This video recommended by Sheryl Gwyther (SCBWI Qld ARA). ‘How to Price Illustration for Children’s Booksby American illustrator, Will Terry.
The graph from Will Terry's video
The graph from Will Terry’s video
What do you think about the ideas Terry talks about? We’d love to read your thoughts about it on this blog site.

Reading, Running and Realising Books are the Real Treasure!

Do you want your kids to be excited about books? Do you want your kids to spend more time playing outside?

Are you looking for something different for your kids to do so that they’ll look back in years to come and think of it as one of the really fun things they did as a family when they were young and maybe even carry on the tradition?

If you’ve answered yes to all the above then maybe you’ll be interested in organising a Book Sleuthing Treasure Hunt for your own children and invite all the others in the street or neighbourhood to join in. It’s also perfect for a children’s party or a school class.

How to Organise a Treasure Hunt where Books hold all the Answers.

Devised by Prue Mason with lots of help from Jill Morris, Judy Paulson, Gillian Leigh and Sue Collaro.

 Image Image

This activity can be for as little as two children but definitely the more the merrier as they can be divided into two teams.

What you need:

1. At least two treasure hunters ore more divided into two teams – to make it simple make one the gold team and the other the silver team with each having a team leader.

2. Gold and silver medallions for the participants (cut out of cardboard and tied around the neck with string)

3. 20 books

4. 20 clues (these can be put inside gold or silver tins or boxes before they are hidden)

5.  20 signposts to mark the areas where the clues are hidden

6.  2 maps (if you’re an illustrator you can make your own but for others there are great treasure hunt maps that can be downloaded and from the internet and adapted)

7. 2 clipboards

8. 2 instruction poems

9.  2 answer sheets marked from 1 -10 so the hunters can mark each letter in right order as they find them and which will then spell out a full ten letter word. This sheet also needs to have space for the hunters to write their definition for the ten letter word they uncover.

10. 2 sealed envelopes with instructions on how to find the edible treasure

11. 2 treasure chests full of edible treasure

12. At least an hour before hand to set up the signposts, clues and books.

What you do:

1. Draw 2 maps of the area where the clues are to be hidden.

2. Give names to 20 places where you want to hide the clues, linking them to the stories and characters in the books you’re using.

3. Make signposts using these names. Mark these with gold or silver and put these in the ground around where the clue from each book is to be hidden.

4. Divide the books into two groups and mark each map with 10 hiding places, making sure they are marked 1-10 so the hunters find each clue in the right order.

5. Think of two ten letter words – one word for each team and using the first ten books find one letter inside each book to make up the ten letter word. e.g. If looking for a letter ‘e,’ this might be found in book titled: Camel Rider on Page 20, line 4, word 6, letter 2. These instructions will then be the clue. It’s important the hunters find each clue in the right order to make up the word.

6. Repeat this with the other ten books to create the second 10 letter word

7. Hide the clues in the sign-posted places making sure you keep the two lots of 10 clues separate. The paper clues can be hidden inside small boxes or cylinders that can be painted either gold or silver.

8.  Keep the books in two separate baskets so the hunters can return to them each time they find a clue. They will need to look through the book for the answer that they then mark on the answer sheets provided.

9. When each team has found all the clues and spelled out their word they must think of a definition for the word. They don’t need to know what the word means but be encouraged to use their imagination.

10. When they have met this final challenge they can be handed the sealed envelope with the final clue that will lead to the edible treasure


Poem to start the treasure hunt:

Golden/Silver Treasure hunting Team
It is time to test your sleuthing skills
And join the treasure hunt that’s full of thrills
Read these words most carefully
For it tells you what your team’s tasks will be.

A special map will set you on the track
for in this park/garden you will see
Signposts that will be the key
Start at one and end at ten
Seek the golden/silver tins for each one holds a clue
But it is the books that will find the true answers for you.

All ten letters you must get
This will give you the full set
That make a word that’s weird but fun.
The challenge is to find meaning for this one
And then there is one final test
And an edible treasure to end your quest.
So off you go and find your first clue.
good luck to each one of you!

Poem to end the treasure hunt:

Look to the nearest, biggest, greenest tree
From this take steps three by three
Towards a …. (an obvious place such as a wall, window, garden bed etc.
Then in the ground
Dig deeply until the treasure is found.

If all this sounds like lots of work that’s because it is but to see children rushing around and having fun with books does make all that organising worth it.


Welcome to 2013, SCBWI Qld


Greetings, fellow members of SCBWI Queensland

Wishing us all a productive, exciting, interesting and creative year in 2013.

Watch this space for up-to-date articles from writers and illustrators in the months ahead. First off the rank in January 2013 will be Prue Mason, author of Camel Rider, Birdie in the Sky and Destination Abudai.