Saturday, November 21, 2009

Grow Your Own Sci-Fi Fantasy

I was reading that wonderful book, Painting the Roses White, by Barbara Wenzel this morning. That sent me to the internet to drool over Barbara's favourite roses... which brought me to the David Austin home page at Here, I discovered an orange rose named "Pegasus".
I've been watching Battlestar Gallactica, and last night chanced to be the episode when the Battlestar Pegasus crashed and burned, therefore... well, if you don't understand my thought processes from that point, you'd better find a more congenial blog:-)
I already knew about the yellow rose Dr A J Verhage, which stars in so many rose pedigrees, but I was pleased to find The Doctor, a dark pink rose from 1936. You can find it at
I couldn't find a Gallactica, but there are plenty of Gallicas, which is pretty close. There are several roses called Apollo. I couldn't find a Starbuck, or a Kobol, but there's a minature moss rose named Kara, and three roses called Kobold. There's also a Madam President and more than one Laura, and a couple of Sharons, no Caprica, but two Capricorns and a Capricornus.
Reverting to The Doctor, there are several roses named Martha, a florists' rose named Donna, no Sarah Janes (but you could grow a Sarah and a Jane next to one another!) a floribunda named Dodo, several roses named Zoe, and a Katerina. As for Roses... their name is legion. At this point, I gave up looking for Companions (because their name is also legion) and moved on.
I found two Enterprises, a Kirke, but no Kirk, a Deanna, no Vulcan, but a Vulcain.
Moving on again, I discovered a General Jack, several Samanthas, and a Carter, a Daniel and a Dr. Jackson, no Jonas, but a Young Quinn, a Janet Frazer, lots of Elizabeths, a Beckett's Single (OK, so that's stretching it rather) and two roses named Atlantis.
Time constrained me to cease my search at this point, but I was agreeably surprised at the possibilities. If you want a go yourself, try, which kindly allows keywords, "begins with", "contains" and "sounds like"!

The rose in the picture is Double Delight... oh, and if you'd like to doubly delight ME, you'll leave a comment and check out REPLAY, my fantasy novel, available as a PDF or paperback from

Friday, November 20, 2009

Want a free cookbook?

My cookbook, SALLYO'S KITCHEN, is available as part of the Great Cookbook Giveaway. To grab your download, visit

If you want more than one cookbook, or if you would like to add your own cooking-related gift to the Giveaway, click on the Great Cookbook Giveaway banner on my page.

You have until the 16/12/09 to pick up your download.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Power Cut

I was working away at Chapter 13 in the early hours when the power went off. The UPS began beeping, and I was bathed in the unholy glow of the various lights on the DVD player and the screen of my computer. I waited a few seconds in case it was a minor glitch, then decided to call it a night.
Control-Save. Sleep.
The computer screen light cut out and I realised I should have left it awake for another few moments. Since my computer hates being woken when it's just gone to sleep, I abandoned the idea of shaking its shoulder and instead got up (cautiously) and shuffled forward to rest it on its little platform. I unplugged it, in case the power spiked when it came back on. (I saw a power spike once. Sparks shot out of power points and those power safety thingies melted.) Next, I located the heater and felt my way along its cord to the extension, which I pulled. Then I betook myself to the bathroom.
Working by feel, I located my toothbrush and the paste. Having removed the lid, I decided the paste smelt wrong, so I put it back and took another tube from the drawer. Just as well I did, since it later devolved I'd picked up a tube of "A Little Bit of Relief" instead. Having brushed my teeth, I tried to rinse. No go. The pump was (temporarily) dead.
I gave up and went to bed. A few mionutes later, some clonks and whirrs announced the power had come back on.
All this goes to show how much we rely on electricity. But no, this is not going to be a spiel about how decadent we've all become. If we didn't have electricity, then we'd have candles and matches to hand. We'd have lanterns, ticky-clocks, and ewers of water on the wash stand. Because we do have electricity, we do not have lanterns. Because I have a computer, I do not have a typewriter. As my husband said, what would happen if I had to go back to typing? Well... I'd find running my business almost impossible because I rely on my computer. I am no longer set up with carbon papers, Tip-Ex and ring binders. I'm not even sure it's possible to buy Tip-Ex any more. Where would I buy a ewer? Or a lantern?
... and of course if I lived in the time of lanterns and ewers, I wouldn't have almost brushed my teeth with embrocation. It wouldn't have been invented yet.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Password Protected

Am I the only person who continually gets locked out of my various online accounts because I can't remember my password? Sounds easy enough - set up a username and password, log in, and Robert's your mother's brother. However...

My attempts at setting up accounts generally go something like this.

Set your username: JANNY (well... I'm not about to give you my real log in, eh? 'course not. I can't remember it!) Naturally, I write it down.
Username not available. Suggest JANNYA19, JANNYX&5 OR JANNYP79Q
I type in JANNYP, and write that down.
Username not available. Suggest JANNYPZ59, JANNYPX((5 OR PJANNY740Z
Sulkily, I select JANNYA19.
Set your password: PANSY. I write it down.
Password strength: weak.
Password strength: weak. Password must include at least one non-letter character.
PANSYPANSY1. I write that down.
Password not available.
Password not available.
Success! Login to go to your account now.
OK, so that wasn't difficult, was it? I have only to type in JANNYA19 and then PANSYPANSY2.
Only of course that doesn't work, 'cos I forgot to change the S into a Z. I meant to write it down, but after writing down several failed attempts, I just gave up. So, next time I try to log in, I have to hit Forgot password. The site obligingly sends me a new one, and then asks me to enter my old one so I can change it to the new one. Only I can't, because I forgot the old one. And the new one is something like BEETLETRACKSANSCRITX19OOPS 56 and I can't remember it. And the verification box is full of drunken squiggles that might be 2s, zs, Zs or 7s. Maybe.
My accounts are securely password protected all right. They're password protected from ME!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Welcome Claire Saxby!

Claire Saxby is talking about her new picture book, Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate. The first question I asked her reflects the problems with googling titles... I happened upon a site that miss-punctuated the title!

Welcome, Claire!
1. The Sheep Goat and the Creaking Gate is a fascinating title. It asks questions immediately; what is a sheep goat? Or is there a comma missing? And is the creaking gate literal, or does it imply something that needs help (oil)? Are any of these questions intentional, or are they serendipitous?

A. There is a comma! The creaking gate was an image that stuck in my head.
Every now and then I wrestle with what I actually meant psychologically, but it eludes me. Certainly nothing intentional. So I'll settle's a device to help draw in the audience. They 'creak' for me every time I mention the word. On the surface level, which is where most children will access the story, it's a sheep who's ignoring what she has for what she wants, and a goat who is temporarily led astray. I toyed with using names for each character (not the gate) but liked the generic names better.

2. Goats and sheep don't star in as many stories as one would expect, given their intelligence and humour (goats) and their iconic Aussie status (sheep). Do you have any idea why this is?

A. No idea at all! I think sheep and goats deserve their place in our literature along with the cuter, cuddlier animals. I do have a fondness for sheep, despite having worked closely with them on a farm. They are funny to watch, generally fairly content with their lot, and I have to say, quite cuddly! (lambs and sheep, not rams...they're not cuddly at all). I have written about sheep before (sort of) in my book 'Runaround Rowdy' although the focus there was on the sheep dogs they worked with. I did want to stay away from stereotypical images of either animal, despite the lighthearted nature of the story, and Judith's cartoon-y illustrations help to keep the story light and funny.

3. Did you have any resistance from editors who wanted you to make this about a more "popular" (fictionally speaking) animal?

A. Not at all. This story has had three lives. One in School Magazine, one online and now here in picture book form. Perhaps the editors all belong to the sheep and goat appreciation society and were secretly cheering the opportunity to give both animals their turn in the sun (and moon and stars).

4. Do you read your texts aloud to "test" them or do you have sufficient "ear" in your mind?

A. Yes, I do read my texts aloud, but also listen to them in my mind (is that possible?). I also test them with a couple of readers. I ask them to point out bits that don't make sense but also to read them aloud. Then I can see how the text operates in the hands/voice of a first-time reader.

5. Is the story based on fact in any degree?

A. I have seen sheep poke their head through a fence to reach something that obviously takes their fancy. This even when they have their own food supply. I've help disentangle them from said fence.Goats are more known for finding things of interest beyond their own fences. I've been slowed down on a few country roads and had to report runaway goats. And I've certainly met my share of creaking gates. But this sheep, this goat and this gate? Never met them before. Pure products of imagination.

Here's a complete list of Claire's stops on her blog tour.

Here is a complete list of the dates so you can join Claire on her blog tour:Monday 17August 2009 Dee White: 18 August 2009 Rebecca Newman: 19 August 2009 Mabel Kaplan: 20 August 2009 Sandy Fussell: 21 August 2009 Dale Harcombe: 22 August 2009Sally Murphy: 23 August 2009 Robyn Opie: 24 August 2009Sally Odgers:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Welcome Sandy Fussell!

Today I'm delighted to welcome Sandy Fussell to Spinning Pearls. I've known Sandy for years, so it was fun to find out how she goes about researching her Samurai Kids series. To follow the rest of Sandy's tour, check out the venues at the end of her post.

The Hour of the Rat – Researching Samurai Kids

Time to confess. I’ve never been to China where Monkey Fist (Book 4) and Shaolin Tiger (Book 3) are set. Nor have I been to Japan where White Crane (Book 1) and Owl Ninja (Book 2) take place. I’ve never studied a martial art or touched a samurai sword. But I desperately want to do all of those things one day and a good friend even suggested I started writing, just so I could.

Where does the world of Monkey Fist and the Samurai Kids come from? It’s inside my head, imaginings drawn from hundreds of hours of careful, detailed research and even more hours of playing around with all things samurai, ninja and Zen. My imagination is the ultimate time travel machine. It can take me across the ocean as easily as it takes me back four hundred years to feudal Japan and imperial China.

In my mind, I always go to Japan first. When I get there it’s the mid 17th century and Japan has a historical relationship with China (always shaky) and Korea (even shakier after the Japanese invade). So I go to these places too. In Monkey Fist I journey to the Forbidden City, deep in the heart of Beijing, accompanied by the mysterious Chinese ninja.

I spent hours poring over maps and diagrams. Looking at photographs of artefacts. Sometimes I sat in my cotton kimono, listening to shakuhachi flute music. I was fortunate to interview the Australian Shakuhachi flute master Riley Lee (the interview is on the Samurai Kids website).

Just like Sensei, I have a gong I’ve been known to bang in the middle of the night, to find just the right onomatopoeia for its sound. I discovered Sensei’s wisdoms in the many Zen, Tao and Confucian texts I read. Some I found in my own sense of humour. (“Sensei sounds just like you,” my eldest son said, accusingly.) I went to sword fighting classes. I learned how swords are made, how to imagine the moves and choreograph a sword fight. I also learned I should never be allowed anywhere near a real sword. Luckily I wouldn’t do too much damage with my wooden bokken.

The best research tip I ever received came from Felicity Pulman, author of the wonderful Janna Mysteries. “Never overlook the value of pictures in non-fiction books meant for children,” she told a roomful of aspiring historical fiction writers, including me. It’s wonderful advice. Adult non-fiction often assumes we can work it out from the words. But children’s books often contain wonderful artistic impressions that kick-start the imagination. Japanese castle layouts. Battle scenes. Samurai heroes and ninja villains.

My constant companion for the writing of Samurai Kids still is Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings. The legendary samurai swordsman wrote it after he grew weary of fighting and retired to live the last years of his life alone in a cave. Every time I read it, and I read it over and over again, a fuse is lit in my imagination. I am transported into the world of samurai honour and swordsmanship principles. I am on 17th century north-east Asia time. When I finish writing for the night, it’s not one am. It’s the Hour of the Rat drawing to a close….
Follow the tour:

Sat Aug 1 Dee White
Sun Aug 2 Dale Harcombe
Mon Aug 3 here!
Tues Aug 4 Sally Odgers
Wed Aug 5 Mabel Kaplan
Thurs Aug 6 Sally Murphy
Fri Aug 7 Robyn Opie
Sat Aug 8 Rebecca Newman
Sun Aug 9 Susan Stephenson
Mon Aug 10 Jefferey E Doherty

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

(Giving our kids) A REASON TO WRITE

In April 2009 I had an email from a high school teacher, asking if I could suggest a source for one of my books. The book in question was a handbook for teachers, outlining writing workshops to use with schoolchildren. I suggested some bookshops, but no one seemed to have stock. Having had no luck sourcing copies from the publisher, I decided to write a completely new book on the same subject.

"Just a small book," I assured myself. "One about 6-7000 words, like your picture book writing workshop."

Blithely, I set to work.

43,000 words and many mini interviews later, the first draft of Reason to Write was done. Now came the hard part, deciding on a title. I found that using the short version Reason to Write, gave people the wrong impression. Almost everyone thought this was a book for adult writers who wanted to be published. No, no, been there, done that. Then they thought it was a handbook for children to use. No, no, haven't done that yet, but probably will. What is it then?

It's a handbook for adults who want to help children with their writing. Got it? Yes, they had it, but I couldn't explain that to potential customers, could I? Reluctantly, I decided the book needed a subtitle.

Many were suggested and considered. A handbook for parents. Yes, but it's also for teachers. A handbook for teachers. Yes, but it's for parents too. A handbook for teachers and parents. Too long.

Children's writing. Yes, but it sounds as if it might be for adults who want to write for children.

Child writers. Yes, but that sounds like a study of children who are writers.

Helping children write. Yes, but that could be about actual writing lessons.

The more subtitles I considered, the more I realised no subtitle of a reasonable length could explain the book's content and purpose. Finally, I hit on the idea of a subtitle that came first. How would that look?

Oddly, it looked OK. That's why the book is called (Giving our kids) A REASON TO WRITE.

Phew! Now the title was out of the way, I had to think about publishing... and that's another story. Tune in tomorrow! And, if you want to see, preview or buy the book itself as a PDF or paperback, follow the link. Reason to Write

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Letters to Leonardo

Today I'm happy to welcome Dee White's novel, Letters to Leonardo, to Spinning Pearls. I asked Dee some curly questions...

1. Imagine you're pitching Letters to Leonardo to the following readers, and give a high concept (25 words or fewer) for each pitch.

A boy who's heavily into computers and aircraft.

15yo Matt surfs the internet for info on his ‘dead’ mum. Copes with his discoveries by writing letters to early aircraft inventor, Leonardo da Vinci.

(phew, just made it with that one – 25 words)

A woman in her 40s who wants to be a writer.

Letters to Leonardo uses dual narrative to add story layers and suspense. Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings symbolise the turmoil going on in Matt Hudson’s life.

A girl who enjoys TV soaps.

Action, drama and a hunky main character with a secret make Letters to Leonardo essential reading.

2. Can you remember when you first became a fan of Leonardo da Vinci? (In my case it was a story called "The Boy Who Set the Birds Free" in a school reader, and also some of Leonardo's drawings in an encyclopaedia.)

I can’t remember exactly when I was first drawn to Leonardo da Vinci, but I remember looking at the Mona Lisa when I was in my teens and speculating about what secret she was hiding. Don’t you think she looks as if she knows something that nobody else does? I’ve always been inspired by the detail and the depth of emotion you can see in the people Leonardo painted – like he ‘really’ knew them.

3. How do you suppose an eccentric gay Italian genius would respond to letters from a 21st Century Australian boy?

Leonardo da Vinci was always searching for knowledge and truth – was always open to new things so I think he would have been intrigued with Matt’s letters – and fascinated to find out more. He is quoted as saying, “The desire to know is natural to all good people”.

When you look at some of the things Leonardo designed like tanks, flying machines etc, he was way ahead of his time. So I think that when Matt told him about our 21st Century world, he would have nodded his head, stroked his beard and said, “Hmmm! Just what I expected!”

4. What made you pick Leonardo as your character's unwitting aura?

Matt’s character was in my head before I started writing. Leonardo seemed the logical aura choice for an artistic, sensitive boy who could see layers in things - and deeper meanings. They had other things in common too; like being removed from their mothers when young and having strong, overprotective fathers.

5. Tell us about your next project.

I’m putting the finishing touches on a new YA novel, Cleopatra’s Cat. It’s about a girl with three obsessions – the ancient Egyptian queen, cats and getting her brother off drugs.

Thanks for having me, Sally – and for making me think ‘outside the picture’.

The tour kicks off at Sally Murphy's blog tomorrow, then on to Sally O's blog where I had to answer some very tricky questions:-)

Anyway, here's the complete itinerary

24th June 2009
Dee and Matt (the main character) talk about promoting Letters to Leonardo online.

25th June 2009
Author interview - some very curly questions

26th June 2009
How art has been used in Letters to Leonardo - with some teaching activities included.

27th June 2009
The research process involved in writing Letters to Leonardo

28th June 2009
Guest blogger – talking with Vanessa Barneveld – interactive discussion about dreams and writing

29th June 2009
An author interview on the writing process - covering things like inspiration and perspective

30th June 2009
Use of mentors in YA fiction, and Leonardo da Vinci’s involvement in the book

1st July 2009 Cyber launch including cross to Robyn Opie’s blog – hurdles overcome on the way to publication.

2nd July 2009
How the author’s life paralleled Matt’s – her growing obsession with Leonardo da Vinci

3rd July 2009
Working with a publisher and the editing process

4th July 2009
Interview with the elusive Matt Hudson at Sandy Fussell's blog. Sandy is the author of the Samurai Kids series

5th July 2009
Class writing activities based on Letters to Leonardo - themes in the book

6th July 2009
Tips 4 young writers on how Letters to Leonardo was written - how the author turned fact into fiction

7th July 2009
An overseas stop before heading home - USA blogger Jennifer Brown talks to Dee about bipolar themes in the story and the affect on teenagers of having a family member with a mental illness.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Goanna Island Mystery Tour

Today I'm happy to welcome Dale Harcombe to Spinning Pearls as she stops by on her Goanna Island Mystery Blog Tour. Read on after my interview with Dale to see the other stops on the tour.

1. Hi, Dale! Seeing Goanna Island on your book reminded me of an old favourite - Dolphin Island by Arthur C Clarke. Dolphin Island was based on the real life Lizard Island. Is Goanna Island based on a real place?

Dale: I have to admit I have not read Dolphin Island. Is it shaped like a dolphin or because there are dolphins there? I didn’t know there was a Lizard Island. To the best of my knowledge there is not such place as Goanna Island. Imagination called it into being after seeing two other small islands at varying times that evoked a response in me. One was in Sydney Harbour. The other up near Fingal Bay. But in The Goanna Island Mystery the editor chose to move it away from the NSW coast to place it near The Great Australian Bite. Not sure why unless she knows something I don’t know.

2. If someone blindfolded you and whisked you off to Goanna Island and ripped off the blindfold, what would you expect to see first?

Dale: Scrub everywhere. Spindly dull grey-green scrub and little black crabs that look like spiders scuttling for cover back towards the black rocks. Behind that I'd see the dilapidated house flaking green paint.

3. What comes first when you're writing - character, setting or plot or theme?

Dale: Nearly always charcter. The rest gets worked out or just appears as I go along and discover more about the character and where the story is leading. With The Goanna Island Mystery that was not the case as it started with the setting and a character that arrived at about the same time. As a child I loved mystery books so that’s probably how the mystery got in the act.

4. Did you consider other titles for this book, and if so, what?

Dale: It actually started life as The Pirate Ghost. I suspect the editor decided to take ghost out of the title because some schools get a bit peculiar about such things. The editor asked for other suggestions from me. After tossing around several, it became The Goanna Island Mystery.
I mostly find titles a bit of a problem. A manuscript I’m working on at present is untitled and probably will reman so till something leaps out of the text. Even with poems, which I also write, the title is invariably last.

5. Any funny stories about the genesis of Goanna Island?

Dale: Don’t know that it’s al that funny but the goanna idea wasn’t originally part of the story. The name refers not so much to inhabitants of the island but to the shape of it. It was a later addition to the story because I was looking for something else to call it other than The Pirate Ghost, so I hit on that idea of having the island in a goanna shape. I decided I liked that idea and so then wrote the goanna shape into the text.
It became The Goanna Island Mystery. This doesn’t give away as much of the plot in the title.
The last short chapter was also a late addition as, even though the manuscript had already been accepted for publication, I wasn't completely happy with the ending. This ending the editor and I both agreed was more satisfying.

Thanks for stopping by, Dale, and all the best with The Goanna Island Mystery.

Catch up with Dale at her earlier stops...

Monday 25th Dee White at

Tuesday 26th Sally Murphy at

Wednesday 27th Mabel Kaplan at

Thursday 28th Claire Saxby at

Friday 29th Sandy Fussell at

If you want to buy copies of The Goanna Island Mystery they are $9.95 from Blake Education

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Foods and Fats and Heart Disease

It must be a coincidence... but here I am, filling in time between finishing a job and starting a meal when I hear a piece saying heart disease is now a major killer of Australian women. At the same time, 'cos of course I'm multitasking as usual, I see a piece on the internet about feeding the family for under $10.00 a meal.
This sounds good, but I checked the recipes and found most of them are unacceptably high in fat and salt.

Please - remember that buying cheaper (fattier) mince and sausages is false economy. You're better off with a can of no-added-salt tuna.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Exciting new author

I do the occasional editing job for an e-book/POD publisher and I'm quite excited about the ms I have just edited. The author, Donaya Haymond, was born in Thailand to Thai and American parents, lived in China for a while, and seems peculiarly well-suited to write a novel of two people with secrets who come together in a Halloween Romance. Donaya first wrote this novel five years ago, when she was thirteen. She is currently at work on the last book in the series.

I can't say much about the storyline, since the book isn't yet available, but I can say I loved it. It's not a children's book, but adults who love children's books are likely to enjoy it for the depiction of two affectionate families and two groups of friends coming to terms with... but that's two secrets, for now.

When Halloween Romance is released, I'll be able to tell you more, but for now, I can take a leaf out of those weird lists one gets in libraries. "If you love Pamela Dean's Tam Lin, Diana Wynne Jones' Deep Secret, the gothic romances of Barbara Michaels, Madeleine L'Engle's YA family stories and Sally Rogers-Davidson's Polymer, then you'll enjoy Halloween Romance as well."

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sally Murphy's on Tour!

Today I'm delighted to welcome Sally Murphy as guest blogger at Spinning Pearls. Sally's on tour with her brand new verse novel, the cleverly-titled "Pearl Verses the World".

Here's what Sally has to say.

Thanks for having me here, Sally.

Today is a special day for me, because it marks the release of my first verse novel, Pearl Verses the World, a verse novel aimed at primary aged children, about a girl dealing with isolation at school, and with her grandma’s illness at home.

As someone who loves to laugh, I didn’t expect to ever sit down and write a book dealing with loneliness, death and grief. But one night as I was getting into bed a poem came to me, speaking of loneliness and isolation. I wrote it down, and left it alone. Soon afterwards, other poems came to me, and I realised I had a story about a girl who was very sad and very lonely. There was a story which needed to be told and I needed to sit down and be the teller.

Pearl’s story was easy to write in many ways. It was almost as if Pearl was channelling through me – she told me her tale, and whenever I felt that I didn’t know what was going to happen next, I stopped writing and waited for it to come to me. And come to me it did; often when I was in the shower, or lying in bed, or doing something totally removed from writing. I gradually worked out why Pearl was sad, and why she felt lonely. She was watching her beloved grandmother fade away, and her grief had forced her apart from her classmates.

Having said that, Pearl’s story was in other ways terribly hard to write. When I wrote the scenes dealing with Granny’s death I experienced grief. A grief so real that I had to stop writing, curl into a ball and howl. Even long into the editing process I still cried. I also had to consider whether the book was too sad for child readers. Did I want children to cry as I had cried? The eventual answer was yes, I did need to share this story with children. They may cry when they read it – but hopefully they will also smile and even, perhaps, laugh out loud. Above all, I hope they will see that although they may experience loss or grief in their lives, life does go on and there is always hope. I also hope they will know it is okay to grieve, in their own way and in their own time.

I hope that readers – young and old - will smile with Pearl.

Thanks, Sally! I feel it in my bones that Pearl Verses the World is going to storm into the world and take it over... by storm. And I'm sure many writers who read Sally's account of the writing of "Pearl" are nodding with sympathy. Some books are just books, but some books, authors LIVE, even if they have never experienced the situations themselves.

Follow the tour!

May 1st - Here at Spinning Pearls.
May 2nd - BJ Cullen - The Writing Life at
May 3rd - Tips 4Young Writers at
May 4th - Persnickety Snark at
May 5th - Let's Have Words at
May 6th - to be announced
May 7th - to be announced
May 8th - Write and Read with Dale at
May 9th - Tales I Tell at
May 10th - Robyn Opie's Writing Children's Books at

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sally Murphy's Favourite Five

Today I welcome Sally Murphy to Spinning Pearls. Sally is a children’s author and poet, with 28 books in print and more in production. She also runs a book review site which reviews only Australian books.

I have sent out an open invitation to authors and readers to nominate their favourite ever children's books. This is Sally's list.

(Note, Sally reserves her right to change her mind as often the book she is currently reading is her favourite book ever and, a her moods change, so do her favourites – but these one are pretty consistently favourite.)

Dragonkeeper Series, by Carole Wilkinson - fantasy as it should be for children – beautifully crafted, and a sense that it is true.
The Naming of Tishkin Silk, by Glenda Millard - a tear jerker. I loved the sequels as well.
C-a-a-a-r, Ca-a-a-a-ar, by Geoff Havel – laugh out loud funny picture book
Gordon’s Got a Snooky, by Lisa Shanahan – also lots of fun, and beautifully illustrated by Wayne Harris
Pearl Verses the World, by Sally Murphy (that’s me) – my favourite one of my own works to date.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spinning Pearls in Paperback!

I'm delighted to announce my two poetry books, Fernseed for Fairysight and Spinning Pearls are now available in paperback. You can buy them, if you're so inclined, from Amazon. If you prefer the PDF versions, buy directly from or from Fictionwise.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Guest Blogger Mabel Jean Kaplan!

Today I have a new visitor at Spinning Pearls; Mabel Jean Kaplan, the West Aussie author of "Connie and the Pigeons". "Connie" was illustrated by Kelli Hainke, who drew the entertaining little lizard you see on this page.

Here's what Mabel has to say, but read on afterwards for some of my comments on Connie.


The writing of ‘Connie and the Pigeons’ was a real buzz for me. From the moment I read the six line blurb in a newspaper column, I had a story. An aeroplane of Australian historical significance had been rediscovered in an aeroplane graveyard in Tucson, Arizona by two Australian aeroplane enthusiasts where it had been saved from demolition by a flock of pigeons who had taken up residence inside her. All I had to do was get it out or get it down on paper.

Now I’m a storyteller at heart, so Connie’s first airing was during ‘Celebration of Story’ a storytelling concert in a small hall over Perth Central Railway Station. I thought it went over quite well until I saw myself on video. Ugh! Didn’t know I moved so much. Then I remembered the card I’d received from colleagues when I left one of my previous places of employment. It had shown a picture of a mechanised woman with an inscription that read: You could never be replaced by a machine. Too many moveable parts!

I knew then, this story had to be written down. In my mind’s eye it was already a picture book, I could see those moveable parts as ‘the ground crew climbed over her body, checked her joints, rubbed her down and wiped over her engine parts … put a drop of oil here and tightened a loose bolt there’ and when ‘she felt her body begin to shake so much her wings moved up and down' and again when she ‘shook her propellers and flicked her lights as she bumped over the rough ground.’


I’ve always loved aeroplanes. I remember as a child living on a farm in the north eastern wheat belt of Western Australia being woken one night by my father to see an aeroplane flying overhead. Since that time I’ve flown in all manner of aircraft large and small. In the ‘60’s, as a teacher on Kalgoorlie School of the Air, it was the Flying Doctor Service plane that took me out across the Nullabor to Cook on the WA-SA border to visit a group of isolated children. This is the desert I saw when I thought of Tucson, Arizona. In the 70’s I worked on an aboriginal settlement on Elcho Island in North East Arnhemland. The plane that took us island hopping was a single engine, two seater. Many a time a group of children and I looked on as an elderly mechanic climbed over the craft and carefully checked the engine parts after each flight. And I’ll never forget my first trip to Vienna in 1983. Vienna was my husband’s birth place and we were on a journey back to the haunts of his childhood. Bad weather prevented landing in Copenhagen, where we were to have changed planes for our flight to Vienna, and the plane was forced to fly onto on to Oslo in Norway. As we waited for our flight to resume, an airport attendant approached us and advised if we didn’t mind flying in an Austrian DC3 over Czechoslovakia we could leave immediately. We accepted his offer and were soon flying so low over Czechoslovakia we could almost see the grass grow. At this time Austrian airlines were one of the few foreign planes permitted to enter then communist controlled Czech airspace.


I find researching the background behind a story half the fun. For Connie, the story had all but written itself before I had time to do any research. But I soon discovered that Connie, far from being the name of a particular aircraft, was the generic name for all the Lockheed Constellations of the period from 1947 to the early 60’s. I uncovered a political wrangle between the Australian and British Governments over the purchase of the Lockheeds and in the process found the reason for Connie ending up in Tucson, Arizona. As for the so-called aeroplane graveyard, it turned out to be a museum. Saved by pigeons? Yes. But not because the smell of their droppings dissuaded would-be salvage crews from stripping her down, but because the acid in the droppings rendered the metal unsuitable for melting down and re-use. And the two Australian aeroplane enthusiasts? They turned into a whole team of men and women, members of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) based in New South Wales who worked tirelessly over many years to bring a Connie back to Australia.

But this was a children’s picture book and I saw no reason to complicate the story line with literal truth. Just knowing this background greatly enriched the story for me.

One piece of information I was really glad I didn’t know prior to writing the story concerned the pigeons. The live pigeons were long gone. Far from shooing pigeons from inside the cabin, the restoration crew spent long hours removing ‘tightly wadded nests of twigs and the remains of dead birds’ and scraping dried bird dropping from every surface and orifice.

The greatest delight of all came after the book was published. A telephone call from a Qantas pilot in New South Wales who had learned about the book from a Western Australian Qantas pilot. He was also a member of HARS and well acquainted with those involved in the restoration and return of Connie. He was full of enthusiasm and generous in his praise. I felt relieved and delighted the book rang true even to those in the know!


I never cease to be intrigued by the underlying messages different readers attach to a story. Here are two unsolicited comments about Connie and the Pigeons.

This book is based on a true story and the strange adventure of little aeroplane called Connie (Lockheed Constellation L749). But as with all books there is more. It is also about separation anxiety, friendship, doing what you do best, and even recycling! Kathy Pierce, Pittsburgh USA

The text is pitched towards middle and upper primary, the comic sans font enhancing the lively pace of the story. Kelli Hainke’s illustrations complement the text and encourage the reader to look deep and uncover more. Her wandering lizard has its own story to tell and adds a ‘Where’s Wally’ aspect to the story.

The text is ideal for thematic planning and act as a stimulus and springboard into further studies of flight and the history of aviation in Australia. Within my room I have used the ICP strand in S&E to encourage internet research in several learning areas.
Year 5 teacher, Caversham Primary School.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thanks, Mabel, for a fascinating story behind the story of Connie and the Pigeons. The picturebook, (which you'll find reviewed at my other blog, ) tells a happy and simple story, but the guest blog you just read gives us the background and facts behind the story. As Mabel rightly points out, the sweeter and simpler aspects of the story are not strictly what happened, but, they are "right" for a picturebook. This seemingly throw-away comment deserves careful consideration. When turning a real event into a fictionalised story, authors must choose what facts to keep, what to leave out and what to change or smooth. Having been lucky enough to read both versions of the story, I believe Mabel chose well.

Follow Mabel on her blog tour. She is appearing at the following blogs.

Monday, 23 March Sally Murphy at

Tuesday,24 March, Sally Odgers at (You are here now.)

Wednesday, 25 March, Dee White at

Thursday, 26 March, Refuelling stop at

Friday, 27 March, Brenton Cullen at

Connie and the Pigeons is available through Westbooks in Victoria Park WA (08) 9361 4211

Email:; online through or direct from the publisher Stories for the Telling 54 Hudson Avenue Girrawheen WA 6064 Tel. (08) 9342 7150 Email:

For those on the Eastern coast it is also available from

HARS Souvenirs
cnr Airport and Boomerang Roads

Albion Park Rails, New South Wales 2527


Qantas Founder Outback Museum
PO Box 737
Longreach Qld 4730

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Replay first chapter

Here's the first chapter of my century-spanning love story, REPLAY. It's available as a PDF or a paperback from, and I'd really LOVE someone to read it and give it an honest review.


Scored in a locked room.


This time round, I am a human girl and Harry is a dog. This is inconvenient, because my parents didn't really want a dog with a jutting eyebrow fringe and a shaggy, untrimmed beard. Nor did they want a dog that cost five hundred dollars.

A pedigreed Schnauzer! I said in despair when I recognised him that morning at the agricultural show. Why did you have to be a pedigreed Schnauzer, Harry? I mean - why did you have to be a dog?

Harry looked sheepish. His beady little eyes peered out from underneath that peculiar fringe. Sorry, Aelfthryth...

Ellie, I corrected. I'm called 'Ellie' now.

I was speaking to Harry mind-to-mind, of course. Australian English is the language I use in this Replay, but it isn't something a dog can ever learn.

Harry's little pink tongue polished his button nose. Sorry, Aelfthryth... I really couldn't help it.

Oh, never mind, I said. Of course you couldn't, any more than I could help the popinjay affair. (He was looking mournful. I never can stand it when Harry looks mournful.) It could have been worse. You might have been an elephant. Or a flea.

Or a bank manager, said Harry. I wish.

He was joking, of course. We both knew there was no way he could ever have made it as a bank manager.

I knelt down and gave him a hug, because I was so pleased to see him again. A computer nerd is about as high as you could have aimed in this time and place, I told him gently. A bank manager isn't one of the options, love. You can't be a postman, either. Not this time.

Harry sighed. Schnauzers never do look particularly happy, but poor Harry looked as if his last chunk of beef had turned out to be plastic.

I'm just so tired of being sixteen, he grumbled. It seems to get younger all the time. Except this time, when it's older.

You're not wrong, I said.

I thought back, carefully, more than ninety years. I was a kitchen maid that time, working for a man called Dr Large. He was a good enough doctor, I suppose, but his wife was very strange. Long red nose (I know she drank), stupid hobble skirts. And half the time she was off in a daze of laudanum. As for the housekeeper, Mrs Gurney! She was an evil old bat, unnaturally fond of Morals (with a Capital M) and caustic soda. Cruel stuff on the hands, that was, but not so cruel as her tongue.
She cuffed me round the ear once, and called me a slut, just for wearing my cap a bit off-centre. I was measuring the soda at the time and some of it splashed on my arm. The scar made a livid mark and Harry was furious.

There was nothing he could do about it, though. He was working as a postman, that time, with a bicycle and all and a peaked hat that made his ears look lonely. He passed his Post Office exam with the best marks anyone could remember.

"I'm going somewhere, Aelfthryth!" he told me, after he'd fussed about my soda-burn. (We'd met up down the alley, behind Doc Large's house.)

"Mary," I said. "I'm going by 'Mary' just now, remember? Mrs Gurney insists. She says 'Elvie' is no name for a kitchen maid."

"I'm going somewhere this time, Mary," said Harry. "I'll work my way up to Postmaster, just you wait and see!"

I hugged him as if I believed him, and he swaggered a bit as if he believed it too.

We both knew it was nonsense. He'd never make Postmaster, but he did have some independence. He was earning a wage and living in a boarding house. "You'll move in with me soon, won't you, Aelfthryth," he said.


"Aelfthryth." He grinned. "We'll be together, and the old bat won't be able to hurt you any more."

But of course we weren't together. We were old enough to be paid a wage, to be done with education... but they wouldn't let us board together. They said it was immoral. They said I'd be at risk. I don't know what they thought about the risk of caustic soda. And that wasn't even the worst of it-

I sighed, coming back to the present. This particular present, where Harry is a Schnauzer dog.

I'm tired of never getting past sixteen, he said again. It really sucks, big time.

"Don't you think I'm tired of finishing at fourteen?" I said aloud. I flicked his nose, which is what I always do the first time we meet in each new Replay. I wanted to kiss him. It would have seemed the natural thing to do, but I thought that people might stare. What they would see right now was a girl kneeling down beside a Schnauzer dog, which happened to be tied to the railing outside the ring at an agricultural show. Not too unusual, really. Lots of girls kneel down and talk to dogs. It's something girls tend to do in the here and now.

Kissing them is something else. Very unhygienic.

Then I bent and gave him a kiss anyway, because I really do love Harry with all my heart. And I'm sure you agree I should, since he's my husband.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Brenton's on Tour!

Today I'm pleased to host Brenton Cullen for his current book tour for his book Ronda's Gang. Brenton has agreed to be guest blogger on Spinning Pearls, and has chosen to present this essay. (For more from me, read on at the end of Brenton's essay.)

The Writers: A Journey Through Writing Biographies

By Brenton Cullen

Brenton Cullen recently published his first non-fiction book, The Writers: A Collection of Australian Writers’ Biographies, with Lulu Publishing. A second edition was printed by I-Proclaim Press, in early April of 2008.

Putting together The Writers was a fun, and at times, difficult, process. It was also gruelling and troublesome. But nevertheless, I did indeed enjoy doing it. I first received the idea for a collection of biographies on well-known Australian children’s authors in December 2007.

I had just finished unwrapping all of my Christmas presents, and I was looking at a new book I had received for one of my presents. It was How To Self-Edit by Dianne Bates (my writing mentor). This book also proved very helpful when the editing process of my book came around.

Anyway, I turned How To Self-Edit over and read the back cover. A short excerpt, photograph of Dianne Bates, and a paragraph about her. I was sad that not much information was there about her. That had happened a lot with many of my other favourite children’s authors.

And then … it hit me! BAM! I wanted biographies on my favourite authors, why not write them myself? The first bit of writing material I did for The Writers was to make a list of the authors I would ask to be in the book.

The list looked a bit like this:

• Dianne Bates
• Libby Hathorn
• Duncan Ball
• Bill Condon
• Paul Collins
• Hazel Edwards
• Jackie French
• Sue Gough

The authors in the finished product of The Writers were all the writers above, except for Paul Collins and Sue Gough. Paul Collins because he hadn’t really written actual children’s books, but mostly YA novels, and teenager fantasy books.

I am a friend of Sue Gough’s, and met her at the 27th Annual Meanjin Writers’ Camp, and the reason she did not make it into the book was because she just was not that much of a well-known children’s author.

As soon as I had all the writers down that I wanted in my book, I sent each one of them a special email. In these emails were a list of questions, the biography request, and a request for a recent full-colour photo from each author.

After I had sent the emails to all six authors, I began to research them on Google. I typed in things like ‘Jackie French interview’ or just ‘books by Duncan Ball’. You know, general research starts.

About a week later, I checked my emails to find:
All messages were from people by the names of: Hazel Edwards, Bill Condon, Jackie French, Libby Hathorn, Duncan Ball, and Dianne Bates.

‘Yes!’ I cried. ‘This is definitely going to be awesome!’

As a matter of fact, Bill Condon had actually been a later addition to the biography collection. He had originally not even been considered to be in The Writers: A Collection of Australian Writers’ Biographies. But when one author I had considered,
dropped out, I emailed Dianne Bates.

Bill very kindly agreed to let me write and include his bio in my book.

The Writers: A Collection of Australian Writers’ Biographies took me approximately two half months, if not three months, to complete. Those three months included writing time, research time, and also emailing the authors and waiting for them to respond time! But when that was all over, I had to add on about three and a half weeks for re-writing and editing time. So nearly about four months all together, for everything!

Self-publication had always seemed to appeal to me. ‘If I never get commercially published, then I’m doing it myself,’ is what I used to tell myself every time I got a rejection letter for a book of mine.

I first ‘dabbled’ in self-publishing when I went onto, the website for Lulu Publishing.

After looking around Lulu Publishing’s website, I forgot about it for a couple months. But then, later on when I was trying to get The Writers published, I came back to it. I immediately got excited by the idea and uploaded my manuscript file to them right away!

I had to edit the book again, because I found a few typos that I had not noticed before. With Lulu Publishing, you were the boss, not the publisher! I got the chance to design the cover and back cover, enter information in, typeset it, etc, etc.

The whole thing was a very wonderful experience. Still, I would like my book to be published commercially, so I would appreciate any information or offers. I just checked my hits count for The Writers on and found 253 hits. That’s in only four weeks, so far!

And after writing their autobiographies, all the authors in my book and I have become friendlier and are operating on a more personal basis, now. I have sold some few copies, so I look forward to selling quite a few more.

Promotion for my books, that I did all myself, had not really been a problem much at all. I sold copies at school, advertised them, and also put notices out. And every time my dad went away for a show I went with him with a good stock of books with me! I actually sold over $250 worth of books this way. So, as you can see it turned out to be quite profitable.

But as I said, it was a wonderful experience. But I suppose it will be even more wonderful if my book is commercially published! I am now working on a kids’ health book and a YA novel.

Brenton Cullen can be contacted at
His blog is and he is currently finishing up a series of play scripts.

This is me, Sally, again. In the essay above, Brenton was discussing an earlier book rather than Ronda's Gang. However, much of what he says has to do with any and all books. Brenton's experience showcases the determination and proactivity needed to succeed in the writing business. And make no mistake, it IS a business.

Buy Ronda's Gang online from Lulu, and can follow Brenton's blog tour at
tips4youngwriters (18 March) (19 march) Here... and apologies for the late lift off! and
Tales I Tell (21 March)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Brenton's on Tour!

Today I'm happy to welcome young author Brenton Cullen back to Spinning Pearls as one stop on his blog tour. If you want to track Brenton's tour, check out the following stops.

Day 1, Saturday 21st Feb.
Day 2, Sunday 22nd Feb. Here at Spinning Pearls.
Day 3, Monday 23rd Feb.

Brenton’s book The Writers: A Collection of Australian Writers' Biographies, can be purchased as a download or in paperback or hardcover versions from Lulu by visiting

Hi, Brenton;

I’ve already done an interview with you at Spinning Pearls, but I’ve come up with some questions for the blog tour.

Q. Young writers often find themselves categorized as “different” from other kids. Is this something you accept, or even enjoy, or do you prefer to see yourself as an ordinary writer who happens to be younger than most? (Or as an ordinary teenager who happens to be a writer.)

A. Well, I am not ordinary, but very different from the other kids in my classes. But I do think that people come down a bit too much on teenage authors. Sonya Hartnett hated being referred to as "the teen writer". I feel sort of the same way, as people do not take me as seriously as they would take a 35 yr old author.

Q. You write non fiction (in your biographies of Australian writers) and also fiction. Which style of writing comes more naturally to you?

A. This is hard to say. Non-fiction is easier but I prefer fiction and fiction is harder but I prefer to not do nonfiction all the time!

Q. Do you have other creative talents, such as music or drawing?

A. I am not fond of music, except for listening to it! My drawings would, put it this way, want to make you throw them in the bin! I enjoy some art, but am terrible at it, especially painting!

Q. Do any of your peers at school like writing too?

A. Yes, my best friend and I co-wrote a novel in 6th Grade.

Q. If you could interview any writer, living or dead, and write his or her biography, which one would you pick, and why?

A. I love this question!! I would love to fly to their house and sit down for a two hour interview or something with J.K. Rowling, or, much more likely(!) my mentor, Sally Odgers.

Thanks for answering my inquisitive questions, Brenton. Good luck with the rest of your tour.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Winning the Paperback in Your Hand contest 5

Here's a fifth tip for those planning to enter the Paperback in Your Hand Contest at (or any other writing contest for that matter!)

Enter a project you feel passionate about.

Sometimes, strategies of market study and technical proficiency are enough, but winners often have that little bit extra. You might call it spark, passion or X-factor. It's difficult to categorise but unmistakable to see. Care about what you're writing, whether it's a recipe book, a family history, a poetry collection or a comic novel. If you find yourself smiling, sniffling, laughing or just grinning like a harvest moon when you think of your manuscript, then you care, and that's half way to making others see the light emerging from the bushell.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

How to Win the Paperback in Your Hand contest 4

Welcome everyone! Today is the fourth day of this Event. It's very informal, as you will note. Each day I'll be putting up a tip or trick to help writers make the most of contest writing... not only the Paperback in Your Hand Contest, but other competitions, too. Please be sure to read the comments for the earlier parts, as the writers had some useful tips of their own. If you plan to enter this contest, you'll find all the details at .

Here's the fourth tip.

If your entry is fiction, make sure the plot has plenty of highs and lows.

Most readers prefer a story where there is plenty of action, but which allows for some quieter and more reflective passages that allow them to get to know the characters. It is also better to show characters who have shades of grey in behaviour, emotion and luck. You can test this by plotting your protagonist's emotional journey on a graph, If the emotional journey appears to be flatlining, so, probably, is the story.

Thanks for reading, and don't forget to check in tomorrow for the fifth tip.

Friday, February 13, 2009

How to Win the Paperback in Your Hand Contest 3

Welcome everyone! Today is the third day of this Event. It's very informal, as you will note. Each day I'll be putting up a tip or trick to help writers make the most of contest writing... not only the Paperback in Your Hand Contest, but other competitions, too. Please be sure to read the comments for Parts 1 and 2, as the writers had some useful tips of their own. If you plan to enter this contest, you'll find all the details at .

Here's tip 3.

Consider your style, genre and target readership.

You probably have considered these already, but have you looked at them as a whole? Writing style is closely tied to readership and to genre. The style that is perfect for a category romance won't suit a hard-boiled thriller. The chatty first-person style that fits a chapter book might be quite wrong in a detective story. One of the most common errors I see is a style that fights with the genre, or with the age group. For example, there are very few science fiction stories for very young readers. This is because such young readers don't know the conventions of sci fi, and so need a lot explained. A lot of explanation in a short book overshadows the action and character.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to come back tomorrow for another winning tip. Any comments will be welcome.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

How to Win the Paperback in Your Hand Contest 2

Welcome everyone! Today is the second day of this Event. It's very informal, as you will note. Each day I'll be putting up a tip or trick to help writers make the most of contest writing... not only the Paperback in Your Hand Contest, but other competitions, too. Please be sure to read the comments for Part 1, as the writers had some useful tips of their own. If you plan to enter this contest, you'll find all the details at .

My second tip is simple.

Submit a manuscript of the right length.

The rules call for a manuscript of 25,000 words or under. This can be short stories, a novella, a short story or a chapter book, poems, a biography, a cook book... well, just about anything! Technically, a story with five words in it or a haiku poem would fall within the rules, but remember, this is a Paperback in Your Hand contest. How many paperbacks have you seen with one or two pages? A book of ten poems would probably have fewer words than a chapter book, but it would cover several pages because poetry is traditionally displayed in short lines with plenty of white space. A recipe book would likewise take up more pages than the word count would suggest. A chapter book would cover more pages than a short story of the same word count. A children's picture book would take up the traditional 32 pages... but since this particular contest cannot provide for coloured illustrations, any pictures would be black and white, and, additionally, will need to be provided by the author.

All these matters need to be taken into account by entrants in this contest. When planning your entry, visualise it as a paperback. How will it look? Will it be impossibly slim? Will it need saddlestitching, or will it be perfect bound? If you can't "see" a proper book, then maybe you should reconsider your entry.

Comments? Questions? Come back tomorrow for another tip.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How to Win the Paperback in Your Hand Contest 1

Welcome everyone! Today is the first day of this Event. It's very informal, as you will note. Each day I'll be putting up a tip or trick to help writers make the most of contest writing... not only the Paperback in Your Hand Contest, but other competitions, too.

First up... if you want to enter the contest, check out the rules at .

Now, here comes the first tip. It might be self-evident to some people, but it obviously isn't to others.

Obey the contest rules.

Rules are there for a number of reasons. Some rules make sure there's a level playing field for entrants. Others make life easier for the judge(s). Still others are there to help weed out entries. If you're unsure about the meaning of a rule, you should contact the contest organiser(s) and ask. For example, the Paperback in Your Hand contest asks for manuscripts of 25,000 words or under. As it happens, the contest will accept mss of up to 26,000 words, simply because editing will often remove this many from the finished product. However, this is not always so. Some contests are strict about the word count, and you may be disqualified if you overshoot the mark.

If you have any comments or questions, send us a comment. Then tune in tomorrow for the next tip.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Big Blowie! Sally Murphy swats my questions

Hello everyone, and welcome to this stop on the inaugural Aussie Blog Tour! Today author Sally Murphy has kindly agreed to answer my inquisitive questions regarding her new book, The Big Blowie.

Q.1. The Big Blowie is a title to send me for the swatter. Please provide one (1) true-life horror story concerning one or more big blowies.

A.1. Blowies (or blowflies if you are not Australian) are truly insidious creatures. They are worse than ‘normal’ flies, in their ability to just stick around, being big and buzzy and gross. Living in hot, dry parts of Australia, I’ve spent many hours trying to get rid of persistent blowies. The worst is when they start buzzing in your bedroom in the middle of the night. If you turn on the light to spray or sat them, they go quiet and you can’t find them.
But a story? Hmm – let me think. Perhaps this one: yesterday morning I took a bag of kitchen rubbish to the green wheelie bin outside. When I opened the lid, it was wriggling with big juicy blowfly maggots. One of my darling children had taken some rubbish out for me the day before and not pushed it in far enough. As a result he lid was ajar, and a blowfly, attracted by the delicious aroma of week old rubbish had decided to make my bin her nursery. Eeeeewww. Fortunately for me, yesterday was bin day and the whole stinking mess has now made its way, to the local tip.

Q.2. The best way to make a big blowie into an ex-blowie is via a folded newspaper. Discuss.

A.2. Oh definitely. And it works for other pests, too. After my recent holiday, I bought in the morning paper, which had been buried deep in a bush in my front garden. When I started to unroll it, a family of big cockroaches came scurrying out. The newspaper was hastily employed to say goodbye to the cockroaches. It turned out it was not that day’s paper at all, but one which had been lost in the bush for some time, long enough to become a little cockroach heaven.

Q.3. That’s a very feral-looking child on the cover. Is he based on one of yours? (You may take the fifth on this if necessary.)

A.3. Lol – MY children wouldn’t dare look feral. Okay, well maybe occasionally. Very occasionally. Is there such a thing as frequently occasionally or occasionally frequently?
But no, Syd doesn’t look like any of my children, though I do have sons about his age, and three of my kids do have blue eyes. But none of them have yellow hair. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen a kid with yellow hair.

Q.4. Oh, the story. Yes. Did the Aussie Aussie Aussie theme set you thinking about Things Aussie, such as thongs, chops, and blowies? Or was it the sight of a Big Prawn, Big Pineapple or the daddy of them all, the Big Spud that set you off?

A.4. Yes, the story was definitely prompted by the series theme, although I’ve always been strangely fascinated by Big Things, and on my recent trip across Australia insisted on not just viewing as many as possible, but also photographing them.
The Big Blowie, came about because the publisher was looking for very Australian stories for the series. I wanted to have a good chance of being accepted, so I tried to think of things were very Australian – I came up with the Outback, blowflies, and Big Things . The guidelines also mentioned that it wanted books to deal with issues, so I decided to include a drought in my book because drought is a huge problem here in Australia. From this list of ideas, I came up with a plot where the drought is affecting a family’s livelihood, so the child comes up with the idea of building a big blowfly (blowie) to draw tourists in.

Q.5. How do you individualise the voice of a young protagonist? One pervasive problem in books at this level is that the protagonists CAN begin to sound generic… boy, smart, eight-to-eleven, scrape-prone, or girl, smart, feisty, tomboy or proto-feminist, eight-to-eleven, scrape prone.

A.5. You are so right. In these shorter length books you have less room to develop the protagonist’s character, and there is a risk of them all sounding the same. I sued first person narrative for this book (I tend to use it a lot, actually), and there is always a risk in first person that the character sounds just like you, the author. For Syd, I tried to have him focus on the things a kid would focus on, rather than having him have an adult take on the world. For example, Syd’s in a rural area in a drought. For an adult, there would be worries about stock and crop prices, concerns about water for the house and property, financial concerns. These issues are not what’s at the top of Syd’s list of concerns. He likes Dougie and the tourists coming to visit – he’s a social kind of kind – so his concern is with the tourists drying up when the water does. Kids are, by nature, egocentric, so he’s concerned about the things that affect him. But he’s also proactive. He can’t fix the drought, but he can come up with a way to get the tourists to come back, and that’s exactly what he does.

Q.6. Is this book a move to rehabilitate the humble blowie?

A.6. No, I think they’re beyond redemption, quite frankly. But it is a move to make the most out of the things that we can’t change. Before Syd comes up with his big idea, he and his mum are being bothered by blowies. That’s the source of his inspiration. The blowies don’t go away, and although they don’t appear much again in the text after Syd gets his idea, the illustrator (Craig Longmuir) has them there in the illustrations right till the last page.
I’ve noticed a bizarre tendency for me to right about things that gross me out. Obviously blowies, but previously Giant Cockroaches (blehhhhh) and, more recently an incident with a huge spider is fodder for a new story I’m planning. Snakes and bitey insects such as scorpions also feature prominently in two nonfiction titles I’ve written, and flies, snakes and snails are in my poems. Will I rehabilitate them? No. But sometimes when I write about them I do learn things that make me feel more kindly about them. Sometimes

Thanks, Sally, for visiting Spinning Pearls. And readers, why not follow the tour? Sally Murphy has been to..

February 8 - Dee Scribe -
February 9 - Let’s Have Words - http://letshavewords.blogspot…com/
February 10 - Robyn Opie’s Writing Children’s Books -
February 11 - Spinning Pearls -

Tomorrow she will visit -
February 12 - The Book Chook -

The Big Blowie is part of the Aussie Aussie Aussie series published by Aussie School Books and distributed by Blake.

Friday, February 6, 2009

See where I walk!

View Interactive Map on

To see one of the walks I take regularly, click on the link above.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Running Pink

Deb and Maggie are still running for a cure for breast cancer. For some inspiring reading, check out their blog at and please... if you read this in 2009, leave them a message of support.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Updating Websites

I've spent a few days updating my websites, with help and guidance (OK, lots of the latter) from my son. The, Jack Russell and Affordale Manuscript Assessments sites now have (gasp) FRAMES! Sally Odgers at 50 Megs is a tougher nut to crack. Maybe in a few months or so...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Character Posts.

Hello again! One of those writing related resolutions is to update this blog more often. I have also decided to create a new blog for Character Posts, which will talk about some of book characters. I have well over a thousand named characters by now, but some of them are walk-ons. I'll restrict entries to major characters. Where possible, I'll include the cover of the book in which the character(s) appears.

The new blog is at

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from Tasmania! I'm making a few resolutions, one of which is to keep my blog updated more regularly. Anyone like to share a resolution?

And remember - the Paperback in Your Hand contest is now open for entries. Details are at