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READ WRITE INSPIRE. Welcome to my Words, a place devoted to making Reading and Writing for children more Inspired.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Educating Through Books - Session # 1 AFCC

'Books have a powerful way of triggering the imagination of children and building their understanding of the world.'

CEO  Elaine Ng of the National Library Board, Singapore

This was a sentiment echoed not only in my own seminar at this year's Asian Festival for Children's Content 2017 (AFCC) but in many other sessions I attended and moderated for as well. 

The official AFCC 2017 program, which ran from 17 - 21 May 2017, is nearly 90 pages long bursting with over 120 conference sessions and book-related events for delegates and the general public. That's a lot of talking, work-shopping, pitching and exchanging. I was delighted to be in the thick of it having been invited to present and launch my latest picture book there. I can but hope to reproduce the animated vibe and sense of camaraderie I experienced wondering up and down the multi-floored, air-conditioned halls of the mighty National Library, but I'm going to try...
Leslee Udwin punching out the virtues of educating the heart with narrative
...starting with, Leslee Udwin's EDUCATING THE HEART THROUGH BOOKS

This presentation rocked me to the core. Leslee is the CEO of THINK EQUAL, a film maker and rights activist. Her discussion around the last film she ever made, India's Daughter, was both confronting and revealing. As I commuted to and from the conference in the days that followed, I was haunted by the images she shared with us to illustrate how the inadequate accessibility of children's books to children at a young age can have serious implications on their social and emotional learning and thus bring about lasting social problems.

She described how Single Stories create vulnerability, which leads to stereotyping and thus are very limiting. 

* She stressed that we need to give young people the opportunity to develop their empathetic abilities through the process of narrative, conversations and experimental learning.

* She insisted that the disease within our societies - rape, violence and abuse - is the Mindset. It is this that must be changed. Throwing offenders behind bars is not the solution merely the clean up. Devaluing life makes it easier to erase. It is up to ALL OF US to initiate change.

* She argued that change is best taught and entrusted to those who can influence the future better than we adults who are already victims of Mindset, the children. And that a child's character forming years are crucially between 3 - 5 years of age, those years when they can be reached most effectively through exposure to books.

Her THINK EQUAL philosophies included a call out to writers and illustrators, enlisting them to help create narratives that:
  • teach children how to self-regulate
  • be sympathetic human beings
  • encourage emotional intelligence
  • foster critical thinking
  • mediate empathy
This session resonated so loudly for me, I could barely hear myself think afterwards. I left with the incongruous feeling of elation mixed with deep disquietude. The answers appear so simple and straightforward according to Socrates - 'education of the head without education of the heart is no education at all' and yet I still felt overwhelmed. As a creator, I was inspired. As a resident of mother Earth, I felt humbled and ashamed, and at the same time, galvanised to do something.

Leslee's stirring delivery provoked great thought and provided a meaningful and significant start to the conference.


Stick around for more AFCC session installments soon.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Appreciating Asia - The AFCC in a lotus nut

There are over two billion children in Asia. That's approximately two billion potential little humans to reach with story, impact educationally and influence for tomorrow. Mind blowing, don't think? I do.

My home away from home - The Interlace, architecturally radical
As mind blowing as the Asian Festival of Children's Content from which I've just returned. Based in Singapore, this annual event encompassing over four distinct yet complementary conferences, 'promotes and celebrates the creation, development and appreciation of quality' children's content in a way I have never experienced before.

While the focus is understandably on Asian content and its creators, the flavour and vibe of the festival is undeniably international. I, along with a handful of other ANZ creators and industry personnel including Wai Chim, Briony Stewart, Lee Battersby, Kirsty Murray and Frances Plumpton, felt nothing but the quintessential open-armed warmth of Asian hospitality. In spite of the mind boggling number of delegates and presenters, every one had time for everyone else, or so it felt to me. An air of congeniality pervaded throughout the festival long after the aroma of our lunch time repasts faded.
My other home - the National Library Singapore
My week was packed with presenting, moderating sessions for others, launching The Fix-It Man to adoring Asian audiences, book signings and conducting pop-up readings.  I couldn't have asked for a more absurdly absorbing and satisfying week of kids' lit love.
Book Launch of The Fix-It Man in My Tree House, Central Library
The utterly delightful Far'ain Jaafar sharing our love of books
Although Singapore is a nation that favours high academic achievement and a strong moral code, there was an underlying and reoccurring desire that kept percolating to the top of each session and discussion;  that we must develop the social and emotional education of our children just as enthusiastically. This strong undercurrent to improve the quality and content of reading material for (Asian based) children was shared by teachers, librarians, education educators, kids' lit enthusiasts and publishers alike and was simultaneously heartening and frustrating to behold, for change does not come easily nor quickly. Nonetheless, without change, there can be no butterflies...nor Garudas - the legendary Indonesian mythical bird (Indonesia being the Country of Focus this year).

Pop-Up Reading of The Fix-It Man to fixated and weeping crowds
I'll detail some of the sessions I presented and moderated soon, for now here are a few pictorial tip bits to whet your appetite. You won't find any scenic shots here; previous trips to Singapore and conferencing 12 hours a day precluded any touristy intentions. Also, I seem to get sidetracked by the cuisine a lot these days, forgetting to snap digital reminders of my fellow delegates, but I hope you get the idea.
Closetful of Books' Denise Tan and Kelvin Ng were sales superstars
Opening Night Ceremony with James Mayhew paintforming with Rosemarie Somaiah
Frances Plumpton Literary Agent NZ
Festival Director, Kenneth Quek, Celebrating Our Stars in the Pod
View from the stunning 17th floor Pod atop the National Library Building
Gorgeous Singaporean illustrator, Melissa Tan aka Melt

My stash of Festival goodies and gifts. I had already scoffed all of Melissa's homemade bickies
Cake, the Books Actually bookshop cat. Don't touch his favourite titles
 I ended my sensational Singaporean sojourn with a few quick visits to some local bookshops.
Next year promises to be even bigger and better with Singapore being the festival's Country of Focus. It is also the 50th Anniversary of the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS). And while I'd love to stick around for a Singapore Sling or two to celebrate that one, I may have to hand over my paper plane for now. Thank you AFCC for a truly enriching and fulfilling week.


Thursday, 27 April 2017

Thank Yous

Living is an uncompromising occupation at times. You often have to sift through mountains of detritus to find even the tiniest diamond chips. Sometimes, you get lucky. But more often you discover the hard way that fate is a capricious companion and good luck is never guaranteed.
Despite all this, I believe that good things do come to those who wait, and as the saying goes, better things come to those who work for them.

I've been one of the so-called lucky ones these past few months. Realising a dream come true has the tendency to inflate joy, rekindle hope and raise esteem. The release of The Fix-It Man, has done all that and more for me.
I want to say THANK YOU  to all those who have thanked me and Nicky Johnston for this book - for all the 'thank yous'. You have embraced our humble story with full and open hearts. Some degree of fan fare always surrounds any new book release. Ours was no exception. The groundswell of appreciation and positive reviews for The Fix-It Man has exceeded all expectations. Support like that is coveted and of course, cherished.

However, sometimes the most decisive moments of all, the ones that banish any doubt you may have harboured that your story failed to find its mark, the ones that validate every minute of hard work and every ounce of effort you expended to make your dream a reality, these moments often come after the main event is well and truly over.

Unsolicited reactions are the most telling and for me among the most precious of all. Responses like this one from June Perkins, published on her blog Pearlz Dreaming.

And this, from Shaye Wardrop, writer, reader and dreamer. Shaye has graciously permitted me to share her words with you because she hopes it will 'help others to see its beauty'.

Excerpt from Shaye Wardrop to Nicky Johnston and me about The Fix-It Man March 2017

I just have to tell you how much I adore The Fix-It Man.

I knew it was going to be good, but I wasn’t ready for how much I would connect with the words and illustrations, how much my heart would ache and then smile as I read it, and how much I would think about the story after I closed the cover.

My mother had cancer. I was a teenager when she passed away, but she was diagnosed when I was in primary school. Every word and illustration was so accurate, I was crying five pages in when I saw Mama watching the family from her chair with a scarf on her head.

The jumble of happiness mixed with sadness while Mama is sick tore at my heartstrings, and the little girl making tea and doing washing had my heart pounding, because I know how young kids often have to grow up fast when a parent is sick (washing was what I used to do to try and help).

But for me, the shining star of The Fix-It Man is the hope it offers. Hope that there can be smiles after tragedy and kids can find a new identity, a new place in the world, after losing someone they love.

It breaks my heart, but bad things do happen, often to very good people. And while not all kids have been through this exact experience, they may have lost a pet or grandparent or even a cherished toy, and I think acknowledging what loss and grief is for kids is such an amazing gift.

So thank you so much for bringing The Fix-It Man to the world. The wisdom and strength it will provide children is immeasurable.

I have not met Shaye personally yet nor have I known her long, but her words, shared with such raw honesty, will remain with me forever. 'Happy-sad tears'. That is what life is about, as uncompromising and incongruous as our emotions. 

Thank you for all your Thank Yous

Thursday, 30 March 2017

After the Storm - Launching into the Future

As I sit in disbelief, still reeling slightly at images of my old digs on an island in the Whitsundays that I used to call home, I reflect on what it means to loose something. The trees on Hamilton Island are completely denuded, reduced to leafless trunks standing damp and defenceless in a landscape that resembles a nuclear test sight. It is truly heartbreaking to see.
Harbour View apartments Hamilton Island photo attribute Newcastle Herald

I have some idea of what it must be like there. I have lived through one or two cyclones in my time, after all, even whilst on Hamilton but I can't pretend to know what those who've lost their homes, their boats, their livelihoods are feeling. Loss is a personal thing that affects each and every one of us in profoundly different ways.


On a far less violent and brutal front, now that the new-publication storm surrounding the launch of The Fix-It Man subsides, I take a further moment to reflect on this book of mine and Nicky's. This story about loss and grief that we knew was purposeful and beautiful but never really understood just how meaningful it would be for all those who would read it, that is until now.

Three launches, a dozen or so media interviews, and a sky-full of reviews later and we are just beginning to understand how this story can affect everyone because loss is not selective. It does not discriminate between colour and creed, age or circumstance. It doesn't care about the car you drive or what you eat for breakfast. It comes in many guises; the death of a loved one, the passing of a pet, the relocation of a friend, the destruction of a former haven you called home. Sometimes it just can't be avoided.

The one common denominator about loss of any kind, I think, is the destabilising of the memories associated with that thing or situation or person removed from your life, which makes their absence all the more keenly felt. Sometimes memories are all we are left with. They can sting or strengthen. They are part of the gaps left behind by loss and crucial to the grieving and rebuilding process.

Fortunately for me, I have wonderful indelible memories of both Hamilton Island and every single minute of our launch parties (yes we had three). I'd like to share some of them with you and remind you that it's okay to feel moved to tears, laughter or even just quiet resignation whenever you encounter a situation that challenges your emotions, like reading a sad story or witnessing heartbreaking images. If you didn't, you wouldn't be human.

So please, until the sun shines again, enjoy. Cherish. Rejoice. We did.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Fixing Things One Word at a Time

Today's feature in the Gold Coast Bullentin's Weekend Coast magazine lift out, sums up much of what I feel about what and why I create as a children's author. Read John Affleck's impressions on my 'compelling children's book in which healing a broken family takes more than a quick fix'.

Befittingly, illustrator Nicky Johnston's melting illustrations 'say plenty' as well.

Read John's additional article in the Bully about, The Fix-It Man and my next picture book due out with EK Books in 2018, here.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Happy Publication Day!


we celebrate this

in all its wonderful glory.

Thank you EK Books and Nicky Johnston for being part of an amazing dream come true.

I'll be celebrating with a live cross to ABC Canberra Radio. Feel free to pop a bottle of bubbles on my behalf until I return. 😊

Monday, 27 February 2017

Love Revealed - The Fix-It Man Blog Burst

I mustn't give too much away. There are enough marvellous revelations about The Fix-It Man today as it is thanks in huge part to our sensational collection of Blog Bursting hosts. However, in the essence of a short sweet bubble burst, here are a few insights that didn't make their final cuts.

Inspiration for:

A baby, a bowl, a daddy and many, many tubes of Superglue

First draft generated:

April 2014

Number of drafts and rewrites:


Number of title changes:

None -truly

Number of thank you cards I would have to send to those who helped get this baby off the ground, before it was published:

At least eight, not counting the husband who kept working to feed us throughout my creative confinement.

Ante-publication awards won:

Kids' Book Review Unpublished Picture Book Manuscript Award 2013 - shortlisted. Now that it has a real cover and pictures, it might win some more.

Location of author when the contract confirmation call came through...finally:

Westfield car park attempting a one handed reverse park with less than one nugget of mobile battery power left. It was a herculean achievement, not side swiping parked cars, accidentally taking out an OAP or blubbing into the phone but I managed, as you do with significant life moments.

Amount of consultation between Nicky (illustrator) and I about the text / illustration fit:

None - in the sense that Nicky was spectacularly brilliant at divining my exact intentions. She just seemed to intuitively get the emotion and meaning of the narrative.There was very little deviation from her first roughs to finals in terms of ideas and symbolism used. There was, however a lot of delicious discussion over a multitude of details; the type of tiny, easy to miss yet potently significant things that little readers have a real eye for.

Days until publication release:

Three 😀

Number of launch celebrations: 

Three (rule of three 😉) View them all, here.

Real life encounters with the illustrator, Nicky Johnston:

Three (we think). Nearly all of The Fix-It Man collaboration was done through emails.

One word summation of the entire process of creation for The Fix-It Man:

Sweet Deliverance (okay that's two, but so is Blog Burst)

To unearth more scintillating insights about our new picture book (including Nicky's works-in-progress post), please join the party. Pop into these beaut Blog Sites, today. Be sure to say hi from me.