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.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Kambala, Queenwood and Pages and Pages

This week has been a mix of writing and speaking.  Which is a good thing when you're on a deadline and I have one that needs to be met before I head off on my next trip to Perth and Albany in just over a week.  It's been good to spend some time at home, albeit mostly in front of the computer!

I had a wonderful afternoon on Tuesday talking to the girls from Year 2, 3 and 4 at Kambala in Rose Bay.  When we arrived, the children were having a picnic on the lawn, dressed in a colour palette of purple.  They were having a mufti day to raise money for Epilepsy as part of Epilepsy Australia's 'Go Purple' campaign.  

Chris, my publisher and Sam, who works with the marketing department came along with me to the school.  Jo Laretive, the Junior School librarian asked if I'd like to judge a competition that they had run in conjunction with my visit.  The girls had to write a short story about where they would take either Alice-Miranda or Clementine Rose if they got to meet them in person.  The entries were gorgeous and it was very difficult selecting just one (and I was glad that it was a panel decision, not just me!).  In the end we allocated first, second and third place and the winning entries included taking Alice-Miranda to Alice-Springs and Uluru, taking her to Luna Park where she and her friend foiled a bag snatch and then to New York City.

The girls were fabulous during my talk.  They laughed in all the right places and we had a sensational snorer for the drama activity. 

I also had a very surreal moment.  In my current presentation there is a series of photographs of children in my former classes performing plays that I had written.  There are two of a play called The Adventures of Texas Jack and in one of the photos you can see me and another adult standing behind the children.  When I looked to my left in the auditorium I was stunned to see the student teacher, who had worked on my class (about 16 years ago!) sitting in the hall.  I knew it was her - she hadn't changed a bit.  When I put the photo up, I looked at her and asked her name.  It was Olivia Williams (indeed the same as when she'd been a young student working on my class).  I pointed at the photograph and said, 'that's you up there Ms Williams'.  She hadn't recognised me because my surname had changed from when I was a teacher at Gib Gate all those years before.  But as soon as I said it, I could see her realising that we had indeed spent several weeks together all those years before.  My life tends to have a lot of strange coincidences like that.  I love it!

It was a pleasure to sign the girls' books and meet some of them afterwards.  Unfortunately we ran out of time so I couldn't meet them all.

Wednesday saw an afternoon at Queenwood School for Girls in Mosman.  Having visited there last year I knew that the girls were enthusiastic Alice-Miranda readers.  And they have certainly continued in that vein, with so many books to sign that Zoe and I had to bundle up a box full and take them with us to the after school event so I could finish them.

Julie Burland, who is in charge of the Children's Books at Random House came along with us too - this is a photo of her and I and Alice-Miranda below.

I spoke with the Year 2, 3 and 5 girls over their lunch break.  Year 4 were out on an excursion.  Given that it was an optional activity, there were well over 130 girls present out of a possible 150 (I think).  The girls' excitement was palpable and I loved meeting them again.  It was also fantastic to have not only the new librarian Ms McWilliams present but also the Acting Head of Junior School Mrs Angela Toohey and several other teachers as well.

One of the girls, Phoebe is a huge Alice-Miranda fan.  She acted the part of Mr Sparks in our play from Clementine Rose and was wonderful.  I loved meeting her.

I signed books in the short break between sessions and then I met the Year 6 girls. They had lots of questions and wanted to know more about the process of writing and how it all comes together.
It was lovely to see one of the girls I had met while I was on tour in the US last year, Georgia. She attended Greenacres Elementary School in Scarsdale New York and came to say hello after the Queenwood event. 

Here are photos of Georgia and me this year and another of Georgia and her brother from last year's NY school visit!
After school we dashed up the hill and around the corner into Mosman village to Pages and Pages, one of Sydney's best independent booksellers.  When we arrived, there were lots of little girls and their parents already sitting in the 'ampitheatre' (a fantastic stair well that the shop can use for events!)  I met Danica who had worked on arranging the event.  By the time I started, the stairs were full and I had a great time talking to the children about the books and characters and what's next for Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose.  There was a lot of enthusiasm about the diary and there were loads of good questions from the children and their parents.  During the signing I always ask the children where they go to school and I was stunned to find girls had come from Randwick, Woollahra, Bondi, Hunter's Hill and the Upper North Shore and Northern Beaches as well as locally.  It's always a pleasure to meet the readers and their parents.

I was particularly thrilled to meet Lola and Evie at the very end of the line with their mother Mel.  I've known Mel and her husband Warwick for years and just last week when I was in Melbourne Lola read her first Alice-Miranda book and her mother sent a tweet to say that Lola had declared it to be 'the best book ever'.  I was very excited to hear that because Lola reads a lot!  I signed the girls' books, the first Clementine Rose for Evie and the second Alice-Miranda for Lola and we had some photos too.
Next week we're off to visit Mt Annan Christian College and Mt Annan Public School, very close to where I grew up in Camden.  Happy Easter everyone!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Day 6 Melbourne Tour: Sandringham Library and Ulysses Bookstore

The final day of the Melbourne tour dawned bright and Zoe and I had decided that we would take the car across on the ferry to Sorrento from Queenscliff.  It was a beautiful day and we had worked out the timing so as not to be too rushed.  There was even time for another short stroll along the waterfront where Alice-Miranda met some lifeguards and even took a turn conducting the band.

She was out and about on the ferry too, taking in the views from the upper deck, much to the delight of the ferry captains.

The Mornington Peninsula is a very pretty part of the world.  Last time I'd been there, it was for a golf holiday and heading across on the ferry brought back lots of good memories. 

Beaumaris has a very busy little shopping village and we found a spot for a snack before the event.  The library and community hall are in the same building and it was exciting to think they'd had to move the event to the hall because there had been such a good response.  We set things up and watched as the children and their parents arrived.  It was so lovely to meet girls who had come from quite a long way away, including the gorgeous Bella and another family who had driven all the way from Traralgon, about two hour's drive away.  I received some more presents including the beautifully drawn picture below by Summer.

It was a fantastic event - I really enjoy talking to the children and their parents and it was great to have such wonderful reactions from everyone.  The signing queue was long and it took until 3pm to get to the end of the line - such amazingly patient little girls and their parents.


We had a pretty straightforward trip to the airport - we had been using my iPad mini to navigate for the week and it had been excellent until the last few kilometres to Tullamarine - where we ended up next to a field with a bunch of plane spotters. Clearly the back road through the industrial estate was not the way to go!

Never mind, we made the plane in plenty of time and the journey home was smooth, fast and very efficient.  The week was fantastic and I loved every minute.  Touring is definitely a big part of my life now - in a couple of weeks I'm heading to Perth and Albany too (there is one spare day in the schedule at the moment if anyone is interested!), then Alice-Miranda and I are going to Alice-Springs too.  In the meantime there's plenty of writing to keep me busy too with Clementine Rose and the Farm Fiasco taking shape.

I can't thank the team at Random House enough for their incredible support and Zoe was absolutely wonderful, looking after everything, including me, all week!

Day 5 Melbourne Tour: Geelong Grammar, Geelong College and Ocean Grove Bookshop

It was nice to have a later morning with our first school about a ten minute drive from the hotel.  In the meantime Zoe and I took Alice-Miranda out to have a stroll along the waterfront.  As always, she made some new friends!

Geelong Grammar Prep School has students from Prep to Grade 4.  It's a beautiful campus on a tree lined street.  The library is housed in the main building which is a well restored Federation house.  With lots of period features it's a lovely space for the children to read.  We had the event in the music room, which is also a great space for the students.

I talked with the Prep to Year 2 children first.  There were lots of adorable students and some funny questions and comments.  They enjoyed the drama activity and it was great fun.  My second session involved Year 3 and 4, another appreciative audience.

Zoe and I had a little bit of time between events and headed to Packingham Street, which had come recommended by some of the teachers.  After a spot of shopping and some lunch we found Geelong College.  Our bookseller for the day was The Little Bookroom in Carlton and Jess, whose mother is Heather from Fairfield Books was looking after things.

Geelong College is currently undergoing a huge renovation and building program.  We went to the Middle School library and students from the Junior School as well as some middle school children came to meet me.  It was a speedy session over lunchtime.  There were lots of enthusiastic readers and one little girl, who has written to me several times, introduced herself.  She told me that her sisters and cousins would be attending my event at the bookshop later in the afternoon. 

Our next event was in Ocean Grove, about a 25 minute drive to the coast.  We made it with minutes to spare and I couldn't believe how packed the shop was.  We could barely get inside!  It was a wonderful end to the day with Stacey Moore and her lovely daughters, Erica and Alice.  Erica is a devoted Alice-Miranda fan and sat front and centre for my talk.  It was great to meet her and all of the other children, including the sisters and cousins of the little girl I had met at Geelong College.  I also had a delightful moment when I signed a book for a little girl called Josie.  I asked her what she'd be doing in the upcoming holidays and she said that she was going to read and write on her blog.  I then realised that she was Josie Miaow (well that's her blogging handle) and she and I had been in touch quite a lot last year. It was such a thrill to meet her.  I will have to see if Zoe has a photograph on her iPhone!  We finished up signing about 6.00pm and drove back to Geelong for an early night. 

Day 4 Melbourne Tour: Ivanhoe Girls' Grammar, St Francis of Assisi, Preston Library and a very breezy drive to Geelong

Thursday brought an even earlier start than the rest of the week - except for Monday of course with the pre-dawn taxi ride to the airport. We were off to Ivanhoe Girls' Grammar - one of the most beautiful schools I've ever seen.  The houses that have been converted to school buildings are picture postcard and they've done a great job of integrating new architecture too.  I met with the girls in their performing arts centre - the largest venue I've had on this tour.  As we set up we were treated to one of the strings groups rehearsing.

Heather Dyer from Fairfield Books and her lovely daughter Stephanie were looking after us for the day.  The morning was great fun.  I love when the children line up to have their books signed and apologise for plonking the whole series in front of me - I quickly reassure them that there are no apologies necessary!

After Ivanhoe we popped into Fairfield Books which is a lovely store in Fairfield of course, where I signed their shop stock.  After that we headed over to visit Collins Books at Northland and did the same - the ladies were lovely and it was a pleasure to meet them.

Lunch beckoned and then we drove to St Francis of Assisi in Mill Park, where it was windy enough to blow a dog off a chain.  I could barely hold onto the Alice-Miranda standee as we walked from the carpark and thought she might end up a couple of suburbs away.

The greeting from the children was unbelievable.  I felt a little like a pop star - with the squeals and screams.  The library display was stunning and the staff had gone to so much trouble.  The children were again wonderful participants and I signed books for a long time.  There was one little boy called Isaac who acted the part of Mr Sparks and was so engaged.  I signed the first Alice-Miranda book for him and I believe he's already finished it and wanting to get on with the next.

There was also a girl who had done the most extraordinary research project, which we photographed.  She had this very nifty little pouch with a bunch of questions for me - which I answered while signing the books.  That was fun.

Our next event was at Preston Library.  We made it in the nick of time and I was thrilled to see a large audience and some very dedicated fans with their little piles of books lined up on the floor in front of them. 

One of the best parts of my work as a writer is meeting the readers.  Leaving school last year was a wrench to say the least.  Working with children has been my life and now writing and touring is a dream come true.

Driving to Geelong on the other hand wasn't much fun at all as we encountered a veritable gale.  Zoe did well to keep the car on the road.  We were certainly tired by the time we arrived at our hotel.

Melbourne Tour Day 3: Geelong Grammar Toorak; Camberwell Girls Grammar and Maranatha Christian School

Zoe and I headed off early again on Wednesday morning, this time not too far, to the Toorak campus of Geelong Grammar School.  In a tree lined street with a beautiful mix of old and new homes, the school sits perfectly in its surrounds.  We met the lovely librarian, Helen Taylor and our bookseller was My Bookshop by Corrie Perkins.

Helen had put together a fabulous display of my book covers and it was clear that the girls were well prepared to meet Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose.  Although the school is co-ed, I talked to all of the girls in Years 3-6.  This was a special treat that had come about through a connection with one of the girls, Jess, whose aunt is a friend of Margie Seale, who up until recently was the MD at Random House Australia.

The girls appeared in their sports uniforms, which I have to say were one of the prettiest I've seen (and I've glimpsed a lot of uniforms in recent times).  They were an appreciative and enthusiastic audience and it was great to meet them all and sign their books.

We had three events lined up for the day so we jumped in the car and headed across to Camberwell Girls' Grammar.  It's a lovely school too and having been there around this time a year ago, it was great to see the teachers I'd met previously, as well as the girls.  This time I worked with Year 3-5 as Year 6 were out on camp.  There was one student in Year 5 who was certainly an avid Alice-Miranda fan - I think she knows more about the books than I do!

The girls howled with laughter at the scene with Mr Sparks from the first Clementine Rose book and it was a pleasure to answer questions and sign their books.  I have really enjoyed telling the children about the upcoming Alice-Miranda diary - which will be released in September.  It's been fantastic hearing their ideas for inclusions and one little girl asked me if we could have a page about how to draw Alice-Miranda - a great thought, which I'll be sharing with my publisher Chris.

After CGG we sped out of town to Doveton where we hit the local bakery for some delicious sausage rolls before arriving at Maranatha Christian School.  The children were fizzing - the excitement was palpable and it was wonderful to be met with such enthusiasm.  Lynne Mitchell, the librarian had done a fantastic job of preparing the children and they were so keen to learn about Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose.  There had been a colouring and collage competition and the lucky winners received signed copies of my books as their prizes.  I received a beautiful collection of the children's work and a goody bag with yummy treats. Lamont Books did a great job too with the sales.

After the session, in the beautiful new school multipurpose hall, Zoe and I were treated to a delicious afternoon tea with Lynne and quite a few of the staff.  It was great to take a breath and sit down for a while before driving back into the city.

Melbourne Tour Day 2: MLC Junior School and Korowa Anglican School

Tuesday morning began with a breakfast catch up at our hotel with the irrepressible Felice Arena, author of the Specky McGee and Andy Roid series of books, among others.  Fleech lives just around the corner and so it was great to be able to meet up.  He was heading off on Wednesday morning to Sydney for the Newington Festival with lots of other authors including Michael Pryor, Susanne Gervay and Deb Abela.

Zoe and I then headed to Kew.  I had been looking forward to visiting MLC in Melbourne for ages.  It's a school with a big reputation and I wasn't disappointed.  The architecture is stunning and the girls, more so.  I spoke with the children from Year 3-5 in their library and had lots of fun.  They were such an enthusiastic audience and I would love to visit again and stay longer!  Their librarian, Mrs Ricchini was so welcoming and clearly loves her job.

Henk from Dymocks Camberwell had the book sales in order and it was great to be able to sign books for the girls and meet them individually too.

After MLC we drove around the corner to find a cafe for some lunch and also came across a Readings Bookshop.  The staff greeted us warmly and I signed a pile of books before we headed off to another school I knew a little bit about - Korowa Anglican Girls' School at Glen Iris.  When I was the Director of Development at Abbotsleigh, we had worked on a new prospectus and in doing so, it's usual to peruse those of other schools.  The Korowa prospectus is beautiful and I really love their 'I can. I will.' motto - it's very clever and beautifully executed.

We were shown to the Junior School library and greeted by an enthusiastic group of primary girls, literally brimming with excitement.  They asked lots of wonderful questions and I was treated to some gorgeous gifts that the girls had made of posters about Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose. Mrs Dean had certainly prepped the girls well and they were so excited - which of course made the afternoon very exciting for me and Zoe too!