A Bookish Adventure

I started this blog to document an extended trip to the US and UK in 2012, introducing children to my Alice-Miranda series. It's hard to believe that it's just on four years since we launched the first Alice-Miranda title - and now there are nine books out in Australia with another five still to come. When I first came up with the idea of this precocious seven and a quarter year old, I had no clue that she would take me on such an amazing journey, not only in Australia but also across the world. I visited 37 schools while we were away in 2012 and gave over 80 talks - it was fantastic. In 2013 I've been on lots of new adventures in the UK - visiting schools from London to Southampton, Lancashire, Scotland, Newcastle and back to London again. After that I headed off to meet readers in Singapore. In Australia I've been to Melbourne, Perth, Albany, Alice Springs and Brisbane. There's a new series too - about a gorgeous little girl called Clementine Rose. She and Alice-Miranda don't know each other yet, but they will soon.

Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 - Where did the year go?

The end of 2013 marks the end of my first year as a full time writer.  It has been an amazing time and as I reflect on all that has happened I feel so grateful to have made that leap of faith.  I'm certainly much calmer and a lot more organised than when I was juggling writing as the hobby in my spare time.  Fitter - not so much.  I need to find a balance between sitting and writing, and exercise.  But now that things are falling into a bit more established pattern, I intend to make 2014 the year of getting fitter and losing those few kilos that are making me feel uncomfortable.  I won't be taking up any extreme sports - just walking and hopefully getting back into golf more regularly.  So, I've written a bit of a summary of the year - here are just some of the highlights of what kept me out of trouble (and frequently out of the state and country!). in 2013.
I spent the month madly working on Alice-Miranda's 8th adventure, Alice-Miranda Shines Bright, which was released in September.  According to my calendar notes, I managed to achieve thousands of words per day (and am about to embark on the same for this January!). I was also busy finalising details for my February/March tours of the UK and Singapore and taught a writing course for Abbotsleigh as part of their school holiday program.  On the home front, I spent a couple of weeks having a massive clean out and starting to re-organise in anticipation of our little study extension (which has been a fantastic addition - quite possibly the world's smallest extension but so functional). Alice-Miranda Takes the Lead and Alice-Miranda At Sea were published in the UK.

We headed overseas for the Alice-Miranda tour of England and Scotland for three weeks then back to Singapore for two weeks to work with Cheryle Hum from Bookaburra and the lovely ladies at Pansing.  I had dinner with the local SCBWI group and have made a friend for life in Dave Seow.  I adored my first visit to Edinburgh and met so many wonderful booksellers, teachers, parents and children all over the UK, many of whom I had the opportunity to work with again in November.  A huge highlight was meeting the Sayer family - Lily and Emma and their gorgeous parents John and Christine.  They visited us at our hotel in Newcastle one evening.  The girls and Christine are big Alice-Miranda fans and we 'met' online.  Once we met in person I knew we had to visit the girls' school when we returned.

We had a fabulous launch for Alice-Miranda In Paris with Shearer's in Leichhardt followed by a six day tour of Melbourne and Geelong.  I started working on Clementine Rose and the Farm Fiasco too and had that finished in near record time.  We also had a fantastic day out at Taronga Zoo with my sister and brother in law and our gorgeous nephews and niece.
A week in WA visiting Perth then down south to Albany for the Great Southern Grammar School Literary Festival. Followed up with lots of editing and writing a story called Josephine for the Random House book Stories for Girls which was released in December.  Ian and I managed a lovely short break in the Hunter Valley where we got to play some golf.
The month started with Alice-Miranda Diary Revisions and editing Alice-Miranda Shines Bright.  I began teaching at Roseville College for an hour on a Monday afternoon too.  The girls were fantastic and so keen about writing.  Had a lovely second launch celebration for Alice-Miranda In Paris at the Beecroft Children's Bookshop and started teaching an adult course at the NSW Writers' Centre on a Tuesday evenings for six weeks.  May also saw lots of local school visits as part of my RHA touring. The month ended with editing for Clementine Rose and the Farm FiascoAlice-Miranda Takes the Stage hit the shops in the US.

There was more editing for Alice-Miranda Shines Bright as well as the plotting and planning for Alice-Miranda In Japan.  I had a wonderful couple of days teaching at Macarthur Anglican School working with students and staff before heading off to Alice Springs for a week in the red centre working at lots of schools and with gorgeous Celia and Ruth.  My mother in law Joan came with me and we had a great adventure. I started writing Alice-Miranda in Japan when we came home and had about 22,500 words completed before I headed off to Adelaide.
Halfway through July I travelled to Adelaide for a month on a May Gibbs' Creative Time Residency.  The month was filled with writing as well as visiting schools and doing some in store promotions. I met so many wonderful people and I can't wait to get down there again.  An absolute highlight was visiting Griffin Press where we saw Alice-Miranda Shines Bright being printed - as well as reprints for Alice-Miranda At School and Clementine Rose - it was a surreal day shared with Ian and Clive Jackson (the RHA rep for SA). Ian was able to visit a couple of times and my mother in law, with the newly minted travel bug, popped down and stayed in an apartment around the corner for a week - some of that time with my sister Sarah.

I finished Alice-Miranda In Japan and headed home for lots of work around Book Week.  I was a guest at the Melbourne Writers' Festival which was great fun - loved presenting with Michael Bauer but then on the 31st I caught an awful throat bug, which rendered me voiceless for almost three weeks.  The voice went west the same day as my combined launch for Clementine Rose and the Farm Fiasco, Alice-Miranda Shines Bright and The Alice-Miranda Diary at The Children's Bookshop Beecroft.  It was a great day in spite of my ill health.

Lunch with the Stars (with no voice), the CBCA Stories on Screen (pushed the voice way too hard) and a bookshop event at St Ives Book Review (thankfully not too much talking) as well as lots of  writing, as I was determined to get Clementine Rose and the Seaside Escape finished before the next overseas adventure.  Fortunately I finished it early, as I then rewrote most of it, having not been pleased with the first result.  Then there was Alice-Miranda Day at Tara School where the Year 2 class is called 2Alice-Miranda!  I had a great time in Queensland as part of the Get Reading Program too.  A highlight was a trip to Toowoomba Library where my Aunty Leah and cousin Scarlett came to see me - and Leah (who stars in the diary with her recipes) baked chocolate brownies which were eagerly consumed.

The month began with two fabulous high teas at the Tea Salon in Westfield, followed by editing for Alice-Miranda In Japan and an event at Costco.  Having just submitted Clemmie 5 I rolled straight into Clementine Rose and the Treasure Box (number 6) and hoped to have that finished too before I headed to Singapore.  We celebrated my beloved Pop's 90th birthday.  There were some more school days in Western Sydney before I packed an enormous suitcase with clothes for hot weather, cold weather and in between weather and boarded a plane for Singapore.  I managed to finish Clementine Rose 6 the first week I was there with the help of some 'almost' all nighters.  There were lots of school visits, both teaching writing and working with Cheryle Hum from Bookaburra.  I had a great dinner with the local SCWBI Branch (they are amazing and so welcoming).  My sister Sarah came to Singapore in the second week.  I worked, while she shopped during the day and then we hung out in the evenings.  We had a fun lunch and afternoon with Dave Seow and his mother Eileen.  On the 31st I met Ian at Changi airport and we boarded another plane to London.

Two weeks of book touring followed by a week of editing for Clementine Rose and the Seaside Escape then another week of school visits.  So many highlights - visiting schools I'd been to before; Charlotte House and Royal Masonic; seeing booksellers we'd met in February and this time visiting Sunderland to spend a day at Emma and Lily Sayer's school - where I got to cut the ribbon opening the newly renovated library.  As always I adored our time in the UK and can't wait to go back again in 2014.
It was time for a holiday.  Ian and I headed for Portugal on 31 November for 10 days.  It was amazing.  Portugal is beautiful and the people are even more so.  We had a terrific time but it was difficult too as back home my darling Pop was fading fast.  I got to talk to him on Skype twice before he passed away and we made it home for his funeral - for which I was very grateful.  I've found it hard to get settled since we've been home.  I think there are times in your life when you just want the clock to stop.  I think it has everything to do with Pop going and realising that no matter how young you feel, time marches on regardless.  I am so fortunate to have had him in my life for so long and I feel extremely lucky to still have both of mum's parents, Ian's mother and his aunt (who are all over 80 and in Aunty Joan's case, 95!) but life passes by way too quickly. 

2013 has been a brilliant year in so many ways and I have much to be grateful for.  I hope you had a great year and I wish you every success and happiness in 2014.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Coming Home...

The past nearly eight weeks have been amazing in so many ways and a little bit surreal.  Travelling to Singapore and the UK to talk about books is a dream come true.  We met lots of fabulous people and spent time with friends made on previous trips.  Of course there was a huge amount of work involved too - school talks and meeting deadlines that don't disappear just because you're overseas.  At the end of the sixth week we headed to Portugal for our first proper holiday in nearly four years.  That probably sounds ridiculous, given how much we've travelled recently, but every time we've been away I've been working on a book with a serious deadline, either writing or editing.  Although there have been days out and times I've done my best to pretend I didn't have a million things to do, Portugal would be the first time that I had vowed not to write or edit or check my emails too many times.

On recommendation from an Australian friend who has lived in the UK for many years, we stayed at a resort hotel called Penha Longa, about 30 minutes from Lisbon.  It was everything we hoped for and much, much more.  It helped that in eight days we didn't see a cloud in the sky either - it was only on day nine that there were some wisps across the blue canvas.  We played five rounds of golf, visited the gorgeous heritage listed town of Sintra with its many castles, did some much needed exercise and had time to do nothing. With a top temperature of 15-18 degrees each day, it was just about perfect.

But throughout the trip there was someone who was never far from my thoughts.  We had Pop's 90th birthday in October just before I left for Singapore.  He looked great that day but I knew that he had some health problems that just weren't getting any better.  He'd been in and out of hospital a little bit in November and had decided to go into the assisted care facility at the village where he and Grandma had bought their villa 13 years ago.  I know that was a big blow - that lack of independence and thought of moving out of the home that he had shared with the love of his life.

When we headed to Portugal, Mum had sent an email to say that it looked as if the medication was helping and Pop was much better than he'd been.  The doctors were talking about sending him home.  But then a few days later everything changed.  Things were getting worse and Pop had had enough.  He didn't want any further interventions.  Within a couple of days he'd been moved to palliative care.  I felt so guilty that we were on the other side of the world having a holiday, but knowing that the last thing Pop would want or expect was for us to dash back - he had been very clear that if anything was to happen, we weren't to abandon our plans.  And who knew how much time was left?  My sister Sarah emailed me from the hospital and asked if I wanted to Skype with her and see Pop.  I will be forever grateful that she made it possible and Pop and I had the opportunity to see each other again.  It was wonderful - the smile on Pop's face was priceless.  He told me, 'have a good holiday and enjoy yourselves' (he and grandma had been great travellers and I think all of us grandchildren have inherited the bug from them) and as always, he told me he loved me and was so proud of me.  Our pop was a man who never left anything unsaid.  We Skyped again the next day.  Dad was there with Sarah.  Pop had had a good day - he'd sat up with Dad watching the cricket together.  Pop smiled his gorgeous smile and waved and blew kisses and told me again that he loved me.  I told him that too. 

The next morning I was looking forward to talking to Pop again.  But that wasn't to be.  He passed away early Saturday morning.  Yesterday we arrived home from London in time for Pop's funeral at two o'clock.  I am so grateful to my family that the timing was thus and we got to say goodbye along with family and friends.  It felt very much as if Pop was still there and he would have been telling jokes and making quips, just as he always did.  He'd certainly have been pleased to see how many of the widows from the village, who were all besotted with him, were there to say goodbye.


It was testimony to how much he was loved that there were over one hundred mourners - not bad for a man of 90, who has outlived so many of his friends and family.  My sisters and cousins and I had an opportunity to talk about Pop and share our memories during the service.  We laughed and cried at the stories and remembered a gentleman, a good soul, a man with a wicked sense of humour, who smiled with his eyes.  Pop lived a humble life.  He worked hard and together he and grandma gave their children - my dad and his sister many more opportunities than he and Gran had had growing up.  They were careful with their money and saved to be able to travel the world - making friends all over the place and bringing back great tales from their trips.  It was a privilege to have Pop in our lives - and for much longer than we ever thought we would (given he had more heart attacks than we could count, a triple bypass, and an aortic aneurism to name but some of his health challenges - as my sister Sarah said yesterday, it was as if he had feline qualities and he made the most of every one of those nine plus lives).

Pop was devastated by the loss of our grandmother in 2007.  Betty had been the love of his life and we wondered how he would go on.  But again, he defied the odds and lived another six years, enjoying family celebrations including the births of three of his great grandchildren, Christmases and some milestone birthdays including his own 90th.  I look at these photos and feel so much love and gratitude to have had the most wonderful grandfather.  Love you Pop.

  Vale Norman Kenneth Earnell 16 October 1923 - 7 December 2013

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Importance of Reading for Pleasure

This morning I came across an article in The Telegraph (UK) about former children's laureate Michael Morpurgo's plea to reinstate daily story time in UK schools.  I couldn't agree with him more and during my school presentations I frequently talk about one of the reasons I fell in love with stories as a child being that my teachers read to the class - and I couldn't wait for those daily instalments where there was no test afterwards, no comprehension questions or cloze passages - just the joy of sharing a wonderful story. 

I still remember as if it was yesterday, my beloved teacher Sally Hogan reading February Dragon by Colin Thiele and being completely mesmerised.  When I became a teacher, story time was sacrosanct.  I loved nothing more than to read to my classes - silly voices and all.  It was something I looked forward to and so did they.  I couldn't tell you how many times I've read Hating Alison Ashley or The Twits aloud but I never tired of the joy on the children's faces when they really got to know the characters - as if they were friends, or when they grew to hate certain characters and wanted to see them get their come uppance.  There was always a cheer when the horrible Twits got what they deserved and Mugglewump and his family were safe.

I read the comments attached to the article and there are a couple of people who dismiss the story, saying that story time does exist in all British schools.  Having been in quite a few lately, I'd beg to differ.  I've had numerous teachers come up to me after my talk and say they just wish they had time to be able to read to the children.  But the pressures of the curriculum are too great - they just can't fit it in...there's too many tests and too much to get through.  I talk about the notion of DEAR and its importance at home (DEAR stands for Drop Everything And Read - and is generally where children are allowed to choose their own books to read for about 15 -20 minutes), but not having been in the classroom now for a few years, I wonder if it too hasn't been crowded out of the day.  I hope not.  Apart from that, while DEAR is important, so too is the idea of the teacher reading to the children and sharing stories.

Children need time to listen, to think, to dream and imagine.  Boredom is the mother of creativity after all.  If we want children to be creative then we have to give them time to create - not to be tested within an inch of their young lives and stressed out of their minds.

Anyway, I thought this article was worth sharing.

That chair below is the story chair at Seven Stories in Newcastle Upon Tyne.  I'm looking forward to sitting in it next time I'm over.