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.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chatsworth East, Tanglin, a SCWBI dinner, sightseeing, CHIJ Our Lady of the Nativity Singapore and lunch!

I've been a little slow with the blogging the past few days as I had a book to finish last Thursday and have been enjoying a weekend off doing some sightseeing.  I had a wonderful visit to Chatsworth East School on Thursday for just over an hour and met a fantastic group of students and teachers.  Sadly I didn't get any photographs, as their displays were amazing and I felt so wonderfully welcome.  I am looking forward to working with the school again next year.

I got back to the hotel just on 11am and spent the next 7 hours working on Clementine Rose and the Treasure Box before a delicious dinner with Cheryle Hum, then back to work until midnight to get the book off to my publisher.  I really wanted to have a free weekend as my sister Sarah was arriving on Friday evening.  On our way out, Cheryle took me around to Bookaburra, her shop in The Forum where I met a lovely little girl called Alex who had come especially to have a book signed.  She and her family have just moved to Singapore from Melbourne.  It was really special to meet her.

I spent Friday at Tanglin Trust School, which is beautiful.  The library is gorgeous and again the displays were amazing.  I had a wonderful time talking to the Year 3 and 4 students throughout the day.  The school is incredibly well resourced and the teacher's lounge is extremely comfortable.  The food was stunning - you'd never bring lunch from home if you worked there!  Celeste Fisher, the Junior School librarian was a boarder at Ravesnwood, one of the schools near me at home.  She made me feel so welcome and I'm looking forward to visiting Tanglin again in the future.

On Friday night I was really excited to be catching up with the SCWBI Singapore group.  Dave Seow came to collect me at the hotel with another writer Emma, who is working on a junior fiction series.  We drove down to Jumbo Seafood opposite Clarke Quay on the river.  It was a balmy evening with a breath of wind that kept the humidity down and the temperature just about perfect.  I met Catherine Carvell and her husband, other authors, Evelyn and Simon and it was lovely to see Sarah Mounsey again.  I do apologise for not remembering everyone's surnames!  The group is so welcoming and supportive of one another.  It was a real pleasure to spend time with everyone.  Poor Catherine was worried about my seafood allergy but I managed to get through dinner without a hitch.  Several members of the group are published or soon to be published (Catherine has a book coming out with Fremantle Press next year) and it's wonderful to hear their excitement for one another's successes.

My sister Sarah arrived just before I got back to the hotel.  Saturday morning we decided to go to Vivocity which is right opposite Sentosa.  It's an enormous shopping mall and has a great range of restaurants too.  We wandered around and I even managed to buy a top which is slightly miraculous given I seem to be of gigantic proportions here!  This is Sarah outside the Toy Shop with the giant Lego Merlion.

I also managed to order Ian a new sports jacket and pants from the tailor he used in February - a lovely man who remembered as soon as I walked in the door that I was 'Mr Ian's wife.'

Cheryle Hum took Sarah and I to dinner at Jade Palace Restaurant on Saturday evening.  It was delicious. The food here is outstanding. 

On Sunday Sarah and I played proper tourists and took the open top bus tour (two of them in fact).  It was great - really got my bearings better for the city and saw some places I hadn't been to before.  We stopped for a late lunch at Marina Bay Sands and then went to the top of the hotel to have a look at the view.  We had drinks and enjoyed watching the thunder clouds rolling in over the sea from west of Indonesia.  Afterwards we spent some time in Orchard Road where I became completely disillusioned about my enormous size.  Sarah is tiny and fits into so many of the beautiful things.  Me on the other hand, not so much! 


I did find my books in Kinokuniya which was exciting!


Today Cheryle took me to one of the local schools, CHIK Our Lady of the Nativity in Upper Serangoon Rd.  I had really been looking forward to it as it was going to be one of the largest audiences I've spoken to - 1500 girls and their teachers.  The librarian Mrs Tan was lovely and the hall was huge!  The fans were enormous too - she told us they were called Big Ass Fans and sure enough when we looked up that was the name on the fan!

The girls were so receptive and laughed in all the right places.  I was thrilled with the two girls who were chosen to participate in the drama activity too - they were amazing.  Such expressive faces and great timing.

This afternoon Sarah and I had lunch with Dave Seow and his mother Eileen.  They are so lovely and both of them tell the funniest (true) stories.  Mrs Seow took us to Paradise Dynasty in the ION building, which Ian and I tried to get into last time we were here but the line was so long.  The food was fabulous and the company excellent.  We then walked home to the Seow's house which is in a beautiful neighbourhood off Orchard Rd where there are rows of heritage protected townhouses.  While we were there a mighty thunderstorm hit and the rain belted down, the lightning forked and the thunder boomed for at least an hour.  But it was no bother as Sarah and I were both far too interested listening to Dave and his mum.

For dinner we met one of Sarah's friends, Cass at Newton Food Market.  Ian and I had been there last visit and it was just as much fun the second time around.  It was great to meet Cass too.

Tomorrow I am off early to St Joseph's International School for workshops all day with Year 6 and Year 2.  I suspect Sarah might do some more shopping.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Singapore October Tour - Day 1 Australian International School

I arrived in Singapore last night after a smooth flight  - definitely the type I like the best.  Cheryle Hum from Bookaburra picked me up at the airport which was incredibly kind - particularly as I arrived at 10pm.  It wasn't quite as much of a shock walking out of the airconditioning into the humidity as the first time we were here in February, and it probably helped that I came from hot Australia and not chilly London. 

When I arrived at the hotel there was a beautiful basket of flowers, chocolates and cheese in my room from RHA - so thoughtful and a lovely welcome. 

I think I got to bed about 3.30am Sydney time suffice to say that I'm a little bit tired tonight and writing a blog post rather than working on the last couple of thousand words of Clementine Rose and the Treasure Box.

It was an early start too, not wanting to risk getting caught in the traffic.  I headed off at 7.30am to AIS Singapore.  It's a huge school and a great success story as they celebrate 20 years this year.  Jo Anne Ward is the lovely Primary Teacher librarian who looked after me as I worked with students from Year 3-5 in three separate workshops.  The library display was amazing - last time I was here it was incredible too thanks to the brilliance of Library Assistant Carole Gillon.  I certainly felt very welcome.  I also met the Head of Library, Linda Twitchett.  It's a fabulous team.

I had a terific time with the students.  Lots of enthusiastic writers with great ideas.  Many of them come from Australia although I'm sure there are numerous other countries represented.  It's funny when you ask some of the kids where they come from in Australia they can't remember as they left when they were very young.  One little girl told me she was from Sydney, somewhere in the country, around New South Wales :)  This expat life is an interesting one and certainly there are teachers who come up here and stay on forever.  It seems there is a fabulous community spirit and lots of opportunities for fellow Aussies to get together on a regular basis.

This afternoon I caught up with Chris and Maria from Avondale International Grammar School.  It was lovely to see Chris again and meet Maria for the first time and I'm looking forward to spending time at Avondale again next year.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Festivals, Tours, New Books and Much More - Where have the past few months gone?

I can't quite believe that it's October already.  Since my month in Adelaide in July - early August with the May Gibbs Children's Literature Trust I feel like I haven't stopped. I realise now that's all very normal during the busy 'Book Month' of August and I know that a lot of my fellow authors have done a lot more events than I did.  I have been remiss in my blogging but I'm afraid this is going to be a bit of a monster with lots of events combined.

In August I enjoyed my first Book Week as a full time writer.  I visited Tangara, Warrawee, PLC Prep, Loreto Kirribilli, our Lady of Good Counsel Forestville and Abbotsleigh.  I was thrilled to have so many photographs of girls dressed as characters from Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose sent to me during the month and I've posted them on Alice-Miranda's blog.

The Saturday after Book Week, Ian and I headed to Melbourne for my first Melbourne Writers' Festival.  It was fabulous.  I had a great event with Michael Bauer hosted by Andrew McDonald (which I believe is now part of a package that schools can purchase and view at their leisure!), as well as a terrific session at Drop in and Draw hosted by the irrepressible Lachlann Carter - who is the brains behind Melbourne's fabulous new 100 Story Building and my own chat with the delightful and talented Cordelia Rice.

It was great to meet Mike Shuttleworth and his team, who work so hard to make the program run seamlessly.  There was a fun dinner with the other children's authors and it was lovely to catch up with people I don't often see, including Michael Pryor, Gabrielle Wang, James Roy and Nick Earls.  It was a pleasure to meet Adele Walsh too, who is the Program Director at the Centre for Youth Literature at the Victorian State Library.  And my nephew Darcy was absolutely thrilled (as was I) to meet Sally Rippin and Aki Fukuoka the team behind Billie B. Brown.  Sally is of course the talented author and illustrator of many books including the Hey Jack! series which  Darcy adores.

Melbourne was followed by some intensive writing between events. 

On the 31st August we had a fabulous launch for Alice-Miranda Shines Bright, The Alice-Miranda Diary for 2014 and Clementine Rose and the Farm Fiasco at The Children's Bookshop at Beecroft.  There was a terrific crowd and Paul Macdonald had also arranged for some baby farm animals to come along which was very fitting given that both books are chock full of critters.  It was great to have family support on the day too with my husband, sisters, brother in law and nephews and niece coming along.  Our niece Eden was the model for what Clementine Rose looks like and she loved having her photograph taken with our Clemmie standee and being her Aunty Jacq's assistant - she was great at handing out the bookmarks!

September began with Lunch with the Stars at St Patrick's Estate in Manly which is always an amazing day.  Guest speaker Gabrielle Lord kept the audience entertained with her tales of the creation of Conspiracy 365 and its spin off, Black Ops.

Serena Geddes, the hugely talented illustrator of many books including Belinda Murrell's new Lulu Bell series had everyone mesmerised with her drawing and there was also a 'Draw Off' between Serena and Tony Flowers, of Saurus Street fame.

I have to admit I wasn't feeling on top of things that day
and my voice had gone west the weekend before  - just in time for my launch, so I croaked and rasped my way through the one minute introduction and wasn't nearly as chatty as usual over lunch with the lovely students from Mimosa Public School.

I love the Lunch with the Stars - it's great to see so many enthusiastic young readers and their teachers and it's also a wonderful opportunity to catch up with lots of my friends!  Poor Susanne Gervay was similarly suffering with a bug but couldn't stay away either.

Two days later I was speaking (croaking) at Stories On Screen, an annual competition run by the NSW branch of the Children's Book Council where students turn picture books into short films.  This one is really close to my heart, having developed the competition and trialled it with my students from Abbotsleigh Year 6 way back in 2005.  I'm thrilled that it has been an ongoing addition to the CBCA calendar and I do hope that it continues.  It fits perfectly with the curriculum and gives students an opportunity to get their teeth into experiential learning (which I think is the best learning of all).  This year's entries were fabulous and we were treated to a screening of the highly commended and winning films.  The first place getter was a young boy from Newington College who created an outstanding stop motion pro offering that consisted of over 2000 photographs.  It was incredible.  The day's host, Nathan Luff did a great job and kept the jokes coming.

Unfortunately my voice was still pretty awful at this stage and afterwards I had no voice at all for almost three weeks.  I'll know better than to continue straining it in future - it's way too important in my line of work!!

Alice-Miranda Day at Tara School was something I couldn't miss - no matter how bad the voice was.  The girls in Year 2 Alice-Miranda and Year 3 Elizabeth and their teachers and headmistress all dressed up as Alice-Miranda for a fabulous day.  They cleverly replicated the challenges set by Miss Grimm in the first book and had a high tea to rival the best of them.

I also had the pleasure of speaking to the Beecroft Brownies.  What a gorgeous group of girls!  Led by Nicola McGee from Beecroft Children's bookshop and Jane Harris - an Abbotsleigh Old Girl.
It was good to have some time off from speaking events over the next couple of weeks.  This meant time to write - and that I have done.  I've finished Clementine Rose and the Seaside Escape and spent considerable time editing Alice-Miranda In Japan.  Now it's onto Clementine Rose 6 - which I am starting tomorrow!

Into the mix I spent a lovely Saturday afternoon with a group of girls from Kambala at Dunbar House in Watson's Bay.  We had one of the most delicious high teas I've ever had and the views weren't bad either.  The girls were so sweet - and clearly enjoyed playing ladies and learning lots of things about being a writer.

September is Get Reading Month and this year I was so excited to have Alice-Miranda Shines Bright on the list of 50 Books You Can't Put Down.  Get Reading took me to Brisbane, Ipswich and Toowoomba for a whirlwind tour mid September.  The lovely Belinda Kelso was the publicist looking after me.  The events were fabulous and I was particularly thrilled to be able to see my aunty and cousin who came to my talk in Toowoomba.  Leah is responsible for several of the recipes in the new Alice-Miranda 2014 Diary and Scarlett helped too, creating the icing for Heaven Cake (which Leah invented from scratch and I have to say is absolutely delicious).

I also got to see the incredible Sounds Spooky Exhibition at the Ipswich Library by the amazingly talented Sarah Davis - WOW!

We visited Black Cat Books at Paddington as well as the public libraries in Toowoomba, Ipswich, Logan North and Capalaba.  We also had an opportunity to visit Dymocks Indooroopilly, Riverbend Books and Avid Reader - it's always great to meet the passionate booksellers.

And then it was the CBCA NSW AGM and Author/Illustrator Showcase, in which I shared the stage with the irrepressible Deb Abela (hosting and making us all laugh), Tony Flowers (drawing funny pictures), Jan Latta (with extraordinary animal tales), Aleesah Darlison (who wore unicorn slippers) and Susanne Gervay (who was a great sport when Tony Flowers turned her into a pirate!).

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Students 4 Students Conference at the University of Wollongong to present a workshop about telling stories and using story telling in your career.  I couldn't have had a more diverse student audience.  They were a most appreciative and interesting group and it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to them.  Being a UOW alumnus it's always good to go back and see how things have changed.  The facilities are amazing these days.

Last week was lovely.  Busy but lovely.  It began with lots of editing then there were two High Teas at the Tea Salon in Westfield, on Tuesday and Wednesday.  So many little girls and their mothers, aunts and grandmothers enjoying a morning out.  Janet Grundy was there to sell books - she and I go way back, being the first bookseller that I really got to know when she owned the bookshop in Wahroonga. 

Tuesday afternoon Holly, from Random House emailed to say that Alice-Miranda At School and Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor had made the Dymocks Top 51 Children's Books - which is AMAZING!  There are only 13 Australian books on the list and I still can't quite believe that my girls are there.

The rest of the week was spent editing then I had an event on Saturday at Costco.  What an incredible place.  The warehouse is huge, the trolleys are huge, the shopping is huge.  It was great to meet some ardent Alice-Miranda fans who snuck their books in to be signed.  Costco is like a club with a sign on fee, so the only way people know you're going to be there is if they are members, so it was really gratifying to meet children who had come especially. 


I'm afraid the rest of the Long weekend is a blur of editing, writing and more editing.

I think the funniest thing that's happened recently was finding out from a friend that Alice-Miranda and I were a question in the daily quiz in the Telegraph.  Question number 5.  Who created the character Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones?  The quiz writer must have children!

There's just one tour day and another day teaching before I head to Singapore where I will be working in 8 schools.  After that I fly to London for the Clementine Rose launch tour which will involve 2 weeks travelling around the UK - details will be here and on the website asap.  Then I'm really looking forward to some free time in England and finally a holiday in Portugal - where I will not write, edit, respond to emails or blog for 10 days!!  It will be the first time in about four years that I will have a proper break without writing.  I definitely owe it to my husband, Ian - who has supported this crazy writing life every step of the way.  I can't wait to play some golf and see some new sights  - and who knows - I'm sure there will be a new Alice-Miranda or Clementine Rose adventure inspired along the way.

PS If you are interested in having me visit your school in 2014, Paul Macdonald from The Children's Bookshop Speaking Agency is taking bookings now.