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, March 31, 2014

Somerset Festival of Literature Gold Coast

This time last week I was coming down from the high that is the Somerset Celebration of Literature. It's the first festival for children's books I ever went to as an invited guest in 2004 and I have to say after my recent fourth return, it still blows me away.

It's always a highlight meeting other authors and illustrators - some of whom I know and many, who I know of, but have never met in person. This year's group was ultra fabulous!  So many incredibly talented people who only add to my 'fraud syndrome' issues.  Case in point -  open one of Vikki Wakefield's stunning books.  I had to re-read the first page of All I Ever Wanted three times because it is soooo beautifully written.  On top of being an amazing writer, Vikki is a genuinely gorgeous person too.

It was especially lovely to catch up with Rebecca Sparrow, who I haven't seen since Somerset 2008 when she gave me some very helpful advice.  So much has happened since then.  I've followed Rebecca's incredible journey into motherhood - with her three beautiful children and the incomprehensible loss of her gorgeous Georgie.  Although we hadn't spoken for so long - other than on the Internet, she is one of those people who you are drawn to and feel like you know. Generous, warmhearted and kind - the sort of woman you just want to be friends with.

The festival opening night on Wednesday was a blast - quite literally, as the fireworks lit up the clear night sky.  Somerset turned 21 and the cake was amazing.  I was so chuffed that one of the cake books was Alice-Miranda Shines Bright and fellow Random House author, Tristan Bancks' new book Two Wolves took centre plate.  As you can see from the photo, we were both pretty thrilled to be included.

There were four of us from Random House at the festival.  In addition to Tristan and me, we had the irrepressible Nick Falk and illustrator extraordinaire Tony Flowers who have just released a new series called Billy is a Dragon as a follow up to their fabulous Saurus Street.  Gorgeous Zoe, one of the RHA publicists who I'd spent the past week and a half with stayed with us on the first day but tag teamed with Sarana - who never seems to have anything but a huge smile on her face.  We had a lot of fun setting up camp in the lawn marquee, meeting children and watching the fantastic flash mobs at lunchtime. The ladies in the book shop seemed very pleased that we were there - and frequently came over with more books to sign and directed children our way too.  I loved watching the students from different schools interacting and there really was a fantastic buzz.

One of the most impressive things about the festival is the volunteers.  School parents who give up hours and hours over many weeks and months to ensure that it really is the best experience for all.  The student volunteers are terrific too and as presenters we are given minders who make sure we get to our events on time and help with the set up.  My two girls, Chanel and Chantelle were lovely - balancing hectic study schedules with their author responsibilities.

It was hot and humid as it seems to be on the Gold Coast in March but the following week they had torrential rain so we were very fortunate, particularly as three of the venues are in huge marquees on the oval.

I really enjoyed catching up with people; Gabrielle Wang, Roseanne Hawke, Mandy Foot,  Mark Greenwood, Tiffiny Hall, Will Kostakis and Fiona Wood as well as meeting many people for the first time - Danny Katz, Andrew Weldon, Wai Chim, AJ Betts, Eleanor Coombe, Shamini Flint, Kim Kane, David Lowe, Juliet Marillier, Debbie Miller, Mark Pardoe, Jessica Shirvington, Vikki Wakefield and Claire Zorn - and apologies if I have missed anyone.  It's always a pleasure to spend time with the Random boys too!

Congratulations to Andrea Lewis and her team for putting on another spectacular Somerset and to Karen Mackie for her great support and inviting me to be part of the program again.  Fingers crossed there are many more Somersets to come!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Melbourne Tour Week!

This past week has been a bit of a blur - but in a very good way.  On Tuesday morning Zoe and I met at the airport for our rather early first flight out to Melbourne.  Having been a long weekend for our southern neighbours the plane was packed to the gills.  We were making good time to get to our first event until we hit the Tullamarine Freeway and the traffic ground to a halt.  There were three accidents - all on the other side of the road. Apparently there was nothing wrong on our side apart from a lot of rubbernecking. Fortunately none of the incidents looked to be serious.  We were heading for Haileybury School on the eastern side of the city and the traffic caused us to be about ten minutes late.  
Once we got underway I had two great sessions with the students.  First up, the girls in Years 5 and 6 and then all of the students in Years 2-4.  The children were enthusiastic and lots of fun and I really enjoyed meeting everyone.  It was great to be working with Henk from Camberwell Dymocks again too - he's a gem.

From Haileybury we were off to PLC back towards the city.  The girls in Prep-3 were fantastic and I love when they lurk around in the corridors whispering and wondering, 'is that the author?'  The time flew by and I was thrilled to have a very long line of students all wanting their books signed.  It's great when schools really get behind a visit and at PLC they had had a colouring competition with the Alice-Miranda and Clemmie characters.

Monday evening called for an early night - I needed it after being up at half past three.  On Tuesday we were off to the Williamstown area with the lovely Sue from Book and Paper, visiting Sacred Heart Newport (where the children keep an array of animals including this gorgeous turtle called Sheldon).  The librarian Carmel and I learned that we had something in common - that was our birthdays tomorrow!  Her display to celebrate the visit was great and it was lovely to meet all the kids.

We then headed for Newport Lakes Primary School followed by Williamstown Public School, both of which were lots of fun. It's a lovely area on Port Phillip Bay which has become very gentrified over the years. The houses are a beautiful mix of old cottages, Federation and ultra modern.  It's certainly an area that appeals to me in terms of a great place to live - and the shops are terrific too.  The school visits were great and I really enjoyed the enthusiasm of the children and teachers.

Thursday was an early start as we headed west of the city again to Beaconhills at Berwick.  What a wonderfully warm greeting we had there and a special morning tea too - made extra special as it was my birthday and Carmel and her team had gone to a huge amount of trouble including buying not one but two cakes!  A photographer from the Herald Sun came to take some pictures which we hope to see in the paper over the coming weeks.

From there we travelled not terribly far at all to Hillcrest Christian College.  I walked into the Discovery Centre to find the most amazing high tea.  It was beautiful with crystal glasses, china cups and saucers, cakes stands and a beautiful display of Alice-Miranda characters.  I was completely overwhelmed.  Michelle Nye and her team had brought me to tears with their absolutely stunning lunch time event, which a group of girls won the opportunity to attend by coming up with new places that Alice-Miranda could go for another adventure.  The School Executive joined us for lunch and there were two gorgeous Year 11 boys who had clearly been channeling Carson from Downton Abbey with their excellent wait skills.  I can't recall a 17 year old boy ever calling me Ma'am before!

I spoke to the children in Year 3 and 4 in the auditorium after we were full of finger sandwiches, cakes and another beautiful red velvet cake.  I had Happy Birthday sung to me twice that day - in English at Beaconhills and German at Hillcrest and had the most amazing day, complete with beautiful gifts too.  My gorgeous cup and saucer will be put to good use and the scarf with its Japanese motif is just perfect.

The children and staff at both schools made my day and I cannot thank them enough.  It was truly a wonderful birthday and if I had to spend it away from home, I certainly couldn't have imagined anything better. 

That afternoon we stopped in at Dymocks Camberwell to sign a lot of shop stock and thank Henk for organising the first day of the tour.

Friday saw us back at Beaconhills but at their Packenham Campus with another lovely group of Year 5 students.  One of the teachers has a guide dog puppy and I could have kidnapped him - he was gorgeous. We were spoiled with yet another delicious morning tea and a chat with some of the students before we made our way to Narre Warren to Trinity Primary School.  The kids were fantastic - it was Friday afternoon and they were so focused.  It's a great credit to the teachers and school.

On Saturday morning we headed to The Avenue Bookstore in Albert Park for a shop event.  I was a little wary given it was grand prix weekend but it took no time at all to get there and although it was busy, it was apparently no worse than other weekends.  We didn't know how many children to expect but it was brilliant - packed and a line to the door when I started signing.  I couldn't have been more thrilled and I think Elvira and the team were pretty happy too.

Our last stop on the tour was an afternoon tea at Cuppa Cottage in Sandringham with Tracey from Ulysses Bookstore.  It was a sold out event and the cupcakes and milkshakes were delicious!  It was wonderful that the children had a special event mostly on their own and their questions were fantastic.

Zoe and I then headed back to the airport with some very ominous storm clouds brewing.  We boarded on time but just as we did they closed the airport until the storm passed over.  It wasn't too bumpy getting out and we landed on time in Sydney.  I've done a couple of loads of washing and am about to pack to get ready to do it all again in Brisbane and the Gold Coast this week.  I can't wait to see everyone - and I'm thrilled to be heading back to Somerset for what is one of the most fantastic children's literature festivals anywhere in the world.

Huge thanks to all the lovely librarians and teacher I met last week - and the children too of course.  It was so much fun and I am hoping for a return visit to Melbourne in the not too distant future.