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.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

May Gibbs Children's Literature Trust Creative Time Fellowship Days 15 and 16

This week I've had the pleasure of visiting East Marden Primary School where I spoke with two groups of students and today I visited Glenelg Library to speak to over 80 girls from two of the local Catholic Schools.  Both events were lots of fun and I really enjoyed meeting the children and their teachers.  Lots of great drama - the mass auditions for the roles of Mr Sparks and Clementine Rose received plenty of giggles from the kids and teachers.  I also had the pleasure of meeting Janeen Brian, one of Australia's best loved children's authors.  She came along to my event at Glenelg and afterwards we had a chat over coffee.  Sue Nosworthy from the Trust came along too.  It was great to meet another of the dedicated members of the group and I am looking forward to seeing her again next week.  The Glenelg librarian, Tracey Glover is also the president of the SA Branch of the Children's Book Council and it was wonderful to meet her too. 

I've still managed to do a few thousand words on the book and I've enjoyed a couple of lovely dinners with Ian and his mother.  We went to a beautiful restaurant called Red Ochre on the river and tonight, on Sue's recommendation, we tried Paul's which is a local fish and chip restaurant in Norwood.  The whiting fillets were every bit as good as Sue said they would be.
A lovely highlight of today was meeting a young student who is currently doing a project on Alice-Miranda and me as the author.  She had no idea that she was coming to see me at the library and it was the most wonderful surprise (for me as much as for her!).

Monday, July 29, 2013

May Gibbs Children's Literature Creative Time Fellowship Days 12, 13, 14

Friday was a great writing day.  I needed to make good progress and I did.  For whatever reason, a whole lot of threads started to unravel, characters came into focus and I can see where I want to take things.  Heading up to 40,000 words with about 16,000 to go - so the end is in sight.

Eight hours of solid writing was followed by a visit to Pegi Williams Bookshop in Walkerville.  The lovely Rebecca Bird came to pick me up and we headed to the store to do an interview for their website.  James Williams was on the camera and Rebecca asked the questions.  Afterwards we went out to dinner in Norwood with James's lovely wife Chrissy and their two gorgeous little boys Jonah and Tobias.

After dinner I got back to the apartment and Ian and his mother arrived shortly afterwards, having flown in from Sydney for the week.  Joan is staying at a nice little apartment a few streets away.  I couldn't believe when she hobbled in, having strained her knee getting off the plane.  Fortunately things have improved over the weekend.  Probably helped by sampling a couple of the very tasty wines at some of the local vineyards :).

On Saturday morning we headed out for breakfast and then back to the apartment for some work.  At 1pm I had a signing at Dillon's Bookshop in Norwood.  I was thrilled to see a group of children already milling about when we arrived and the children kept coming for over an hour.  At one stage I looked up and the queue snaked up the road to the Nordburger shop on the other side of the mall.  The children were so lovely and there were quite a few 'number 1' fans among them.  It would be lovely to be doing more school visits while I'm here but it's about balancing the writing and work for the Trust.  I can certainly foresee a trip back to Adelaide next year and a very big school tour.

We finished up around 2.15pm.  The staff at Dillon's were wonderful - so well organised.  I loved the balloons and the colouring competition which I had the pleasure of judging.  It was great to see Abbey and her little brother and their gorgeous rabbit Boston too.

After the signing we decided to spend a couple of hours in Hahndorf.  It's not far up the mountain and is such a pretty place.  A lot like Berrima in the hills.  There are plenty of quaint cottages and crafty shops as well as the obligatory lolly shops.

We had afternoon tea and took a stroll.  Joan managed a reasonable distance too.

On Sunday morning I was keen to write and capitalise on Friday's progress.  But I was also hoping to explore as we currently have a hire car.  So we took off to McLaren Vale at midday.  Ian had booked a table at a lovely small winery called Coreole.  They served delicious platters to share for lunch with kangaroo, chicken salad, some stunning cheeses and sour dough bread.  My diet went out the window!

We then decided to make the most of the lovely weather and drive on to Victor Harbour, another 40 minutes further to the coast.  It is a gorgeous place and we were so lucky to get there just before a huge storm blew across the peninsular.  We saw a baby whale frolicking off The Bluff and watched a steel grey sky engulf the coastline.

I would love to have a holiday in Victor Harbour - and take a proper walk to Granite Island.  It's absolutely beautiful and I'm sure a favoured holiday destination with Adelaide locals.

You can just see the little whale coming up in the picture below.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

May Gibbs Children's Literature Trust Creative Time Fellowship Days 8, 9, 10 and 11

The first two days of the week were head down, tail up working on the book.  I managed 3600 words on Monday and Tuesday did a complete read through with changes, adding another 1500 words.  Still, not as many as I would have liked.

I've been getting out each day, making sure that I walk to The Parade in Norwood, grab a coffee and speak to people - even if it is just at the checkout in Coles.  Complete author isolation would drive me batty; I need people to energise me.

On Tuesday afternoon I walked to the bakery on the corner and on the way back I decided to have a closer look at the sculpture in the middle of the very large median strip in Osmond Terrace.  It's a series of circles and inside there are stories.  Although I suspect to the passing motorists I may have looked a little strange as my head followed the great big loops, the stories are wonderful and tell snippets of Norwood's history from local residents.  One tells of a well to do couple who stayed at a local hotel.  The wife was devastated to find her jewellery gone one evening and reported it to the owner.  A chamber maid was accused of the theft and sent off in disgrace.  Some time later the owner discovered a magpie's nest with a an outstanding collection of jewels.

On Wednesday I had the pleasure of talking to two groups of students from Norwood Public School at the beautiful old Norwood Library.  Mary Wilson came to collect me from the apartment.  The sky was finally a dazzling blue and the warmth after quite a few chilly days was heavenly.

The children and teachers were a most enthusiastic and appreciative audience and I loved sharing stories with them, answering questions and doing some drama.  Cutest question of the day was, 'do you play any sports?'

'Yes, I love to play golf,' was my response.

'Wow, you're the first girl I've ever met who can play golf.'

I didn't realise I was so unusual.

There were some great actors among the classes and they really got stuck into the group audition process.

Mary and I then headed back to drop off the bulky gear at the apartment. 

Before I go any further I have to say that Mary Wilson is an extraordinary woman.  She's one of those people who exude warmth and kindness - and wisdom.  I have loved spending time with her and look forward to a few more visits before I head home.  I wish I could have met her husband Ian too - he really sounds like the most extraordinary man and I'm sure they must have made an indomitable team.

As it happened, when we arrived at the apartment, another of the committee members, Jacquie Holdich telephoned to check on some arrangements for next week.  On the spur of the moment we organised to meet her in Norwood and have a bite of lunch in the sun.  It was great getting to know more about Jacqui's career and her recent travels.  Mary and I then headed off down The Terrace to the corner where I was meeting Eliza, one of my former Abbotsleigh colleagues in the Development Office.  It was great to see her too and hear about her new life in Adelaide.

Today I've struggled a little bit.  I had to finish off an edit for my US publisher and so had my head back in Alice-Miranda At Sea yesterday afternoon and evening and then again first thing this morning.  I have found it hard to get into the rhythm of things.  I was also cross with myself for being a bit of a cranky pants yesterday.  I know I'm missing Ian terribly and can't wait for him to arrive tomorrow night.  This afternoon I received the most beautiful email from a reader, Violette - who certainly cheered my day.  I've inserted an extract below:

I love the Alice-Miranda series!!!!! I also love your blog, it's so interesting to read. I had an idea for a blog post...I don't know if you'll like it but here it is anyway! 

Alice-Miranda is such an inspirational character, and is many people's, including myself's, role model. Lot's of your readers try to be like her.  For other characters in other books, or TV shows, or things like that, there are usually posts on line with tips on how to be like them. For example, I love CeCe from the show Shake It Up, and there are lots of posts on the internet on how to be like her, dress like her etc.. You could do one for Alice-Miranda!!!  I don't know if you'll like that, you definitely don't have to, it was just an idea, but if you did do it, some of the tips could be like "Always introduce yourself, be kind......." and so on.
It was very timely.  Kids have told me that often when they find themselves in a bind, they will ask, 'what would Alice-Miranda do?'  I need to take their advice.  I know I've got the passion, but Alice-Miranda could teach me a thing or two about grace.

This afternoon one of my former Abbotsleigh colleagues, Jane came and picked me up and we went and had coffee in the city.  It was wonderful to see her and catch up on all the news.

Tomorrow I need to make serious headway on the book.  The threads are all there - it's just a matter of pulling gently and seeing how they unravel.  I would have loved to be finishing the last few thousand words but that's a little way off yet - not too far, I can almost see it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

May Gibbs Children's Literature Trust Creative Time Fellowship Days 5, 6, 7

I waved Ian off in a cab on Sunday afternoon - he headed home to Sydney for the week and will be back next Friday night.  I wish he was staying.  We had lunch in Glenelg and talked through plot issues and character developments and I'm feeling so much better about getting on with it.

The past three days have been fantastic.  On Friday morning Ian arrived, followed closely by Clive Jackson, the Random House rep for South Australia who picked us up for the day.  We headed into the Art Gallery of South Australia for the launch of a wonderful new book, Affairs of the Art by Katrina Strickland.  It's about the management of artist's estates and their legacies. Katrina spent a significant amount of time with the widows of many of Australia's most famous artists, pulling together her research for the book.  We met her briefly after the talk and she's absolutely delightful.  Having read several chapters now too, I can highly recommend it as a very interesting and insightful read.

We then drove to Pegi Williams bookshop in Walkerville, another stunning suburb.  Pegi Williams is a fantastic Australian success story.  The shop is in a gorgeous heritage building and it was fabulous to meet owner James and the lovely Rebecca, sales consultant and avid reader.  Both of them certainly know children's books and have a dedicated following around the country.  I'm looking forward to heading back there next Friday evening to make a short video for their website.

Then we were off to Griffin Press for what had to be one of the most exciting afternoons I can recall in a very long time.  We were going to see the process of how books are actually made - so that instead of saying 'well, I see the page proofs and then it goes back and it's a bit like magic - it returns to me as a book' I can tell children what really goes on - from how the orders are organised, covers are created, to the way the offset printing works, to how the pages are collated, bound, cut, trimmed and packaged.  As an author I have wanted to see the process for a while now - but to arrive and find out that they were printing Alice-Miranda Shines Bright while we were there was AMAZING!  Not only that, there were reprints of Alice-Miranda At School happening too - so we got to see the covers being created and two Clemmie books were being reprinted on the smaller run digital machines.

I felt like Charlie in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory - and I'm pretty sure Clive and Ian felt the same way.  You couldn't wipe the smiles off our faces.  Adrian, the factory manager was a gem.  He explained the entire process and Dani and Ian, who both take care of front of house goings on, explained exactly how the files arrive and what happens prior to and following the printing process.

Their generosity was incredible and I loved every minute.  We went to the plate room and they were apologising that there was no Alice-Miranda or Clementine being pressed at the time.  However, when I looked at what was coming through, it was a reprint of Stories for 8 Year Olds - and my short story, Gruesome Grandads and Nasty Nans was there in the corner.  I couldn't believe it - and I don't think they could either.

The paper store is incredible with 4 months worth of giant paper rolls piled high like a pre-publication forest.  I was impressed with Griffin's dedication to recycling and the use of recyclable materials.

Adrian has been with the company for a long time - three decades I think.  He was obviously very proud of his work and team and I suspect it was a bit of a thrill for him to be able to show us exactly how it all happens.  I know it was a huge thrill for me and an afternoon I will never forget.

On Saturday morning we met Mary Wilson, who along with her husband Ian was responsible for setting up the May Gibb's Children's Literature Trust.  Mary kindly came and picked us up.  Then we drove over to get Elizabeth Hutchins before heading to Mary's magnificent home for a delicious morning tea.  Sadly, Mary's husband Ian passed away recently.  He sounds like a wonderful man and his work both for the Trust and in the community as a member of parliament have left an important legacy.

Mary's home is one of those places that ooze family and history.  Her own grandmother was born in a timber house that sits adjacent to the main house.

Morning tea consisted of home made scones and cake - and was absolutely delicious.  I hope to spend more time with Mary and Elizabeth during the visit. 

Mary then drove us to Rundle Mall where I had a book signing at Dymocks.  That was great fun too and I met some very enthusiastic Alice-Miranda fans.  We also met Linda from Dymocks who was a fabulous host and Jo, Clive's wife, who also works in the store.

Rundle Mall is currently undergoing a substantial renovation so we're not seeing it at its best.  Suffice to say it reminds me a little of Pitt Street Mall with the usual array of shops.  The weather was very chilly on Saturday with snow falling on Mt Lofty - which we learned is a none too frequent occurrence.  Ian and I returned to the Burrow and decided to walk to Norwood and find a cosy place for a late lunch.  On the way down the street I was surprised to see this giant sign on the window in Dillon's Bookshop advertising my upcoming Saturday signing.

Sunday dawned just as drearily as Saturday and we decided to take the tram to Glenelg.  Wow - the weather was wild and woolly down there - but I can imagine that on a clear day it is absolutely beautiful.  We found the marina with lots of shops and restaurants and enjoyed another late lunch before Ian had to head back to Sydney and I had to reacquaint myself with the book.

All up, my first week in Adelaide has been great.  The ladies from the Trust Committee are so kind - Alle brought me some delicious soup early in the week and Mary stopped by on Saturday evening with Osso Bucco, Minestrone and a bottle of red - from the family's own vines.  I can't thank them all enough for making me feel at home.

I'm looking forward to a very productive week ahead.  The goals are lofty with at least another 25,000 words of Alice-Miranda In Japan to write (hopefully by the end of the week).  I don't mind if the weather stays chilly - it's wonderful for writing.

PS I have a lot more photos from the visit to Griffin Press and will post them as soon as I'm allowed.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

May Gibbs Children's Literature Trust Creative Time Residency Days 3 and 4

Norwood is a fabulous location and I'm enjoying my daily walks around the neighbourhood and marvelling at the beautiful homes.  Wednesday morning saw Alle Goldsworthy, one of the Trust volunteers arrive bright and early to take me to my first official workshop at the St Peter's library.  She very kindly brought me some delicious home made soup too.

St Peter's is not far from Norwood - really just down Osmond Terrace.  The library has recently undergone a complete renovation and is absolutely stunning.  A very sympathetic restoration of the old building incorporated with dramatic modern finishes.  My workshop took place in what used to be a hall but is a much swisher venue now.  Alle and I met with Debi and got everything set up.  The only small difficulty was a lack of white board, which I find invaluable when teaching and demonstrating writing techniques.  Some butcher's paper and pens provided a work around solution.

The students arrived eager to get on with it.  There were five boys and ten girls ranging in age from about 8-13.  As soon as we began it was obvious there were a few very creative thinkers and I really enjoyed the time with them.  Two hours flashed by.

Alle then took me for lunch in Norwood - we were both very keen for a coffee by this stage and then it was back to The Burrow to get writing.  But to tell you the truth, I had lots of emails to catch up on and was feeling very restless.  About 3pm I set off to go for a walk - I wanted to explore some of the other streets on the way to The Parade.  The Norwood shopping precinct is lovely and I had already spotted about 6 shoe shops, two of which I passed on yesterday's walk.  There were some fabulous boots (half price!) out the front and so I ventured in.  And the boots ventured into a shopping bag and back home with me. 

I stopped for a coffee and met a friendly Colombian girl who was working in the cafĂ©.  She was telling me she'd recently moved to SA from Bondi and was finding it far more affordable in Adelaide - although harder to get work in her field as a social worker.  We chatted about Colombia and whether she wanted to go back and live there permanently.  Her comment was that Australian's don't know how lucky they are and that she's reluctant to go back due to safety concerns.

I'm sure that I'll see her again - the coffee was great.

So last night I spent quite a lot of time thinking about the manuscript, researching some more Japanese quirks and customs and planning my work for Thursday.  I also made some updates to my website and found that the cover for Alice-Miranda In New York was already on the Random House UK site in anticipation of it's April 2014 release. 

Thursday morning and it's bright and sunny - and very windy.  Last night the rain was intermittently torrential, but the Burrow is very warm and cosy.

Today I need to make serious progress on the manuscript if I want to have any chance of finishing it by the end of next week - and getting Clementine Rose done too.

So, back to the post after many hours at the computer.  Good progress - and fun research.  Looking forward to Ian arriving tomorrow.

May Gibbs Children's Literature Trust Creative Time Residency Days 1 and 2

Earlier this year I received the very exciting news that I had been awarded a Creative Time Residency Fellowship from the May Gibbs Children's Literature Trust.  With several city options for the retreat, I chose Adelaide.  Having never been here before, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to write and explore a new location.  I arrived last Monday and was picked up at the airport by Barbara James, one of the lovely ladies on the Trust Committee.  She drove me to the apartment via the city so I could get a glimpse of Adelaide.  A few things struck me immediately.  As we flew in I noticed that it's very green and hilly around the city (guess that's why the Adelaide Hills are so named) and once on the ground, the buildings in the city and suburbs are beautiful.  The apartment is in Norwood - which is a gorgeous area.  Small and perfectly formed, it reminds me of being at my grandparents' house when I was little.  It's cosy and has everything you need for a writing retreat including a lovely big desk at which, I am sitting now.

As I flew in after midday, I spent the first afternoon getting acquainted with the apartment and the surrounding area.  It's a short walk to the excellent Norwood shopping area.  I popped into Dillon's Bookshop, which is huge and has a big reputation.  I met Laura, the manager and am looking forward to doing an event with them on Saturday week (27 July).  There are supermarkets and a cinema and lots of boutiques including far too many tempting shoe shops.

It was a wonderful surprise to find several treats in the apartment including home made shortbread (there goes the reformed diet plans) and fresh cut flowers too. 

I find it hard being away from Ian, as we're such a great team.  It's something I've had to get used to over the years - initially with school camps and excursions and this year, with touring.  Although he's been with me on the overseas trips, I've taken several interstate excursions and he's stayed in Sydney working.  He's coming down for part of the time and I can't wait until he's here.  You see, I write better when he's around - we talk about plots and characters and he's a fantastic listener and excellent critic. 

After a fitful sleep (it's always like that the first night away), I awoke to the sounds of silence - until 7.30am when a chainsaw buzzed to life on the block behind the apartments.  Then the giant tree eating mulcher cranked up and the noise reached unbearable heights.  I headed off to the shops in search of coffee and breakfast and a quiet place to read the manuscript thus far.  My goals for the month are huge.  I have another 30,000 words to write on Alice-Miranda In Japan and after that I plan to write Clementine Rose and the Seaside Escape.  The plot for Japan is fairly well embedded with various things percolating but Seaside Escape is still forming. 

I arrived back at the apartment hoping to find the noisy beasts gone, but alas that wasn't to be.  They did break for lunch and lull me into a false sense of security.  I left to go to the ABC studios about midday to do an interview with Deb Tribe on 891 Adelaide.  That was fun - a little nerve racking and over way too quickly.  I think I'd like to have my own show, as anyone who knows me is well aware that I could talk the leg off a pot.  There would be no dead air on my shift!  When I returned to my little home, I saw the giant tree shredding mulcher being towed away - Hooray!  Until about ten minutes later when another machine started up.  That's it - I went to investigate.  The tree shredder had been replaced by a stump grinder.  Yay!  And when I walked around the block I counted at least 20 stumps.  So I imagine they'll be back again tomorrow.  That's okay  - I'm teaching a masterclass for young writers and hoping that by the time I return, the stumps will be dust.

On walking around the block I decided to visit the Norwood Library to check on a few things for my upcoming visits.  I met the lovely Debi and together we sorted out the technology requirements for the events.  On the way there I came upon a sight you don't see everyday.  A little girl, a smaller boy and their mother were walking towards me and the little girl was carrying a floppy eared bunny in a basket.  His name was Boston and he was adorable - and so was his owner, Abbey.  I stopped for a chat - one thing led to another and it turned out they live just a few doors down from the apartment where I'm staying.

Abbey is also an Alice-Miranda fan.  Fingers crossed I have at least one friendly face at my signing in Norwood.

Heading home I knew I had to get on with it.  There are goals to be met.  So all up on Tuesday I achieved 2500 words of the book, quite a few more in my planning journal and this little blog post.  Not quite enough on the book but tomorrow's a new day and I'm hoping for some peace and quiet - at least until the stump grinder arrives.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Upcoming events in Adelaide

I'm really excited to be visiting Adelaide very soon.  I've never been to South Australia and Adelaide has always appealed.  While I'm there, I'll be presenting some writing workshops for public libraries, doing an interview on ABC radio and visiting bookshops; four of which I'll be doing Saturday events with over the coming month.  The primary reason for the visit is to write - courtesy of the May Gibbs' Trust.  I'm looking forward to finishing Alice-Miranda In Japan and writing Clementine Rose and the Seaside Escape as well as becoming acquainted with the city and surrounds.

If you have a keen Alice-Miranda or Clementine Rose reader I'd love to meet them on:

Saturday 20 July Dymocks Rundle Mall 1-2pm

Saturday 27 July Dillons Norwood 1-2pm

Saturday 3 August Collins Edwardstown

Saturday 10 August (National Bookshop Day) Mostly Books Mitcham 11-12

Looking forward to a fantastic time! And apologies for the poor quality of the scan.