The one thing I wish I’d known when I started: 16 children’s and YA authors reveal all

The one thing I wish I’d known when I started: 16 children’s and YA authors reveal all

“What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you started out as an author?”

It’s a big question, and one I’ve been toying with over the past week.

The problem is, there are just SO many things I wish I’d known. Narrowing it down to one seems impossible.

So I decided to get some help to articulate my thoughts, and rounded up some of Australia’s best and most popular children’s and YA authors to answer that question for me. To create a kind of encyclopaedia of super tips for beginner writers.

And I’m so glad I did, because this post contains some of the most insightful advice that any aspiring or beginner author, of any type or genre, could ever ask for. I wish I’d known every single one of these things when I started out.

Mostly, though, I just wish I’d known how very much I didn’t know.


16 Australian children’s and YA authors share the one thing they wish they’d known when they started 



Jackie French

Jackie French children's author tips“What I wish I’d known when I began? Everything!

I found a publisher under ‘P’ for publishers in the phone book – the first one was Angus and Robertson, who I still publish with. My manuscript was so badly spelled  and on a machine lacking a working ‘e’ that they pulled it out to laugh at. I didn’t even know what genre I was working in.

These days I dutifully tell beginning authors to research their genre; to see what kind of manuscript a publisher is looking for, and  to use their spell checker, then check their spell checker hasn’t changed their ‘camels’ into ‘condoms.’

But you know what? None of that matters in the long run. If your writing is compelling and saleable it will be accepted.  If it so good that the reader HAS to turn the next page, the publisher will probably refer you to another company if they don’t publish your genre. Editors are editors because they love books, and will go to extraordinary lengths to help a writer of brilliant promise.

You are a writer. Write. Write well, and then rewrite, rewrite and rewrite. Don’t write what you think publishers want, as thousands of others will be writing the same. Write the story that has its teeth in your throat and won’t let go till it is words on the page.

PS. If the editor says ‘that bit doesn’t work’ believe them. An editor may not know exactly how to fix the problem, but if it doesn’t work for them, it won’t for the public either. Never think that because you are ‘the writer’ that the book is yours. The words are yours, but the book is created by an editorial team, the marketing team, the design team, the proofreaders and many others. I always feel guilty that only my name is on the title page, and feel forever blessed that my words are taken by the team to work on.”

Jackie French is the author of ‘around 300’ books for children, YA and adults. Her latest releases are Christmas Always Comes (PB, ill. Bruce Whatley) and No Hearts of Gold (adult fiction). Find out more about Jackie here



Jack Heath

Jack Heath children's author tips“There’s a lot I wish I’d known when I started my career as a (very) young writer, but the main thing is this: “no-one cares what you think.”

I wasted a lot of time blogging, making Youtube videos and tweeting. It was important to me that my views on every topic – politics, science, the environment, life – were public knowledge.

I saw myself as a social commentator – but I realise now that I was a novelist.

People didn’t like me, they liked my novels. I should have spent my time working on my books, rather than play-acting as a celebrity.

In a broader sense, I should have focused on writing, rather than being a writer.”

Jack Heath is the author of 37 books for children and adults. His latest release for children is Kid President Totally Rules!. Find out more about Jack here.



Pip Harry

Pip Harry children's author tips“As an emerging writer, I thought that when I cracked an elusive publishing deal, all the rejections (so many rejections) would be behind me. That shiny debut novel would be my golden ticket to open doors and yesses. To festival invites, prestigious fellowships and award ceremonies. My ‘thanks but no thanks days’ would be a thing of the past. Surely?

But even as I snagged that exciting first book deal and built a career as a YA and middle -grade author, the set-backs, knock backs and failures stuck around.

Hello, rejection, my old friend.

Even as I put the finishing touches on my seventh children’s book, I’m still getting brutal (sometimes baffling) ‘not right for our list’ emails from all corners of the globe. Sometimes they sting a little, but I usually bin them and move on quicker than I would’ve ever believed possible as a younger, more fragile writer.

Instead of crying into a tub of cookies ‘n’ cream and shredding my latest manuscript when I miss out, I accept that all art is subjective. Some people will love my work, others not so much. C’est la vie. Better to be brave, take chances and back yourself and your ideas, than believe the naysayers and critics.

To be a successful author, long term, you have to reinvent yourself often, try new things and be ready for the disappointments when they come – and oh boy, they will. Have a few writing pals on hand to commiserate when you don’t hit the bullseye. But know, in your heart, the stories you’re telling are important, sometimes vital, and they will find an audience.”

Pip Harry is the author of seven children’s and YA novels. Her latest release is Are you there, Buddha? for middle-grade readers. Find out more about Pip here.



Gary Lonesborough

Gary Lonesborough author tips“The one thing I wish I’d known before I started was how long publishing takes and that I would need to read my book over and over and over again.

It was a year and a few months from signing the contract to the book being published and it was really hard to predict what my life would look like by the time the book came out. I didn’t know where I would be living, what I would be doing, what job I would have.

Having to read the story over and over was interesting, as I would find myself excited to learn new things and come up with new ideas while, at the same time, really just wanting to get to the end.

By the time we had finished editing, I was ready to never read the book again.”

Gary Lonesborough’s debut YA novel The Boy From The Mish was released in February 2021. Find out more about Gary here




Nat Amoore

Nat Amoore children's author tips“I wish I’d known the weird tightrope I would end up walking between taking advice and forging my own path. I did all the ‘things’ – taking courses, attending festivals, talking to people in the industry, reading the books, listening to the podcasts – but when I actually found myself ‘in’ the industry, I realised I had to pull a Frank Sinatra and do it my way.

I’m not saying don’t listen to the advice. But listen and be ready to set it aside if it doesn’t line up with who you want to be as a creator.

I discovered that some advice I’d heard over and over during the proceeding years, didn’t gel with how I wanted to exist in the kids book world. And that’s because many different creators have a completely different focuses.

So know what your focus is, keep that focus, and make your own decisions based around that. And sometimes that takes bravery. So be brave. Nobody owns your career or your art but you.”

Nat Amoore is the author of three middle-grade novels. Her latest release is The Right Way To Rock. Find out more about Nat here.




Jenna Guillaume

Jenna Guillaume children's author tips“The one thing I wish I’d known when I started writing is that it doesn’t get any easier. Sorry if that’s terrible news! But you don’t magically get more time or energy or ideas or confidence once you’re published.

If anything, you have less time, less energy, more self doubt… Maybe that’s just me and my brain?

But what I’ve learned is that I still need to make the time and create a space for myself to write, and to prioritise the writing and enjoying the process over the “business” side of things. It’s easier said than done, but so important and ultimately what is most satisfying.”

Jenna Guillaume is the author of two YA novels and a novella. Her latest release is The Deep End, an Australia Reads special-edition novella. Find out more about Jenna here.





Will Kostakis

Will Kostakis children's author tips“After signing to my first publisher, I was given a stack of books to read and told to come back with a sense of which author I wanted to be like.

I chose one author I admired, they nudged me towards another.

As a grateful 17-year-old, I was like, “Sure!” And the editorial process was who I wanted to be wrestling with who they wanted me to be. The book suffered.

After it failed to set the world ablaze, I worked on my craft and found a publisher who believed in my vision of who I could be, and supported that. The result was a novel that better reflected me. But it was a reintroduction, it came after a five-year hiatus and the publisher nudged me towards changing my name (William Kostakis became Will Kostakis)…

I know all the talk of personal branding is dehumanising (we’re people, not products!) but there’s a reason for it. I know we all like to pretend we like to be challenged, stimulated and surprised as consumers, but deep down, we really don’t. We like the taste of Coke as it is. We like movies that reheat familiar beats.

When you have a favourite author, you know what you expect from them. If you pick up their latest book and it isn’t what you expect, you’re a little annoyed. I had plenty of those experiences as a reader, but as a writer, even though I was perceived as the author I always wanted to be, I felt stifled by what a Will Kostakis novel was.

So I kept the broad strokes and added the fantastical. While I refined my craft and added to my toolkit, and found new readers … those who entered a bookstore for the new Will Kostakis novel they expected were let down. I hadn’t built strong enough foundations to experiment.

All this is a long-winded way of saying: Ask yourself who you want to be. What kinds of books do you write? What themes do you explore? That first book of yours needs to capture that, and the next few need to echo it.

Find your niche, but build a strong foundation before you really experiment, because in today’s industry, we’re building houses of cards. Considering how long it takes to write and release books, rebuilding can take years.”

Will Kostakis is the author of six YA novels. His latest novel is Rebel Gods, book #2 in the Monuments series. Find out more about Will here.




Alexa Moses

Alexa Moses children's author tipsI wish I’d known that publication wouldn’t be the meat that would sustain me. Of course publication is a necessary first step in a career, but it’s not the panacea I’d  imagined. The real nourishment comes from the work itself.

One of the hardest parts of being a writer, for me, is the week after I finish a manuscript. Off the email shoots, and the characters and world that have occupied me for months vanish.

I should be celebrating but that’s when I fall into a slump.

I drift around the house letting cups of coffee go cold. I lie on the rug beside the dog, certain I’ll never write anything good again. I’d thought being a ‘published’ author would fill that hole but it doesn’t. I’m not myself again until I catch a new story.”

Alexa Moses is the author of six books for children, from picture books to middle grade. Her latest middle-grade novel is Michaela Mason’s Big List of Camp Worries. Find out more about Alexa here.




Inda Ahmad Zahri

Inda Ahmad Zahri author tips“If I had known how invaluable rejections were in this gig, I would’ve spent less time down in the dumps every time one came my way.

A kind of alchemy happens when you flip that ‘No’ – embrace it, own it, use it. It leads to better writing, better ideas, better stories, and eventually, a rightful home.”

Inda Ahmad Zahri is the author of five picture books – two published and three on the way.

Her latest release is Night Lights (ill. Lesley McGee). Find out more about Inda here.





Mark Smith

Mark Smith children's author tips“The thing I wish I had known before I was published was that I would actually be running a small business – with me at the centre of it – once my book came out.

I had naively thought once the book was released, I’d be free to move on and get stuck into my next project. In reality, the most time-consuming (but also enjoyable and rewarding) part of being an author is just beginning in the run up to publication day.

You get to meet your readers, booksellers and interviewers and share the project you’ve been working on for so long. But, as a consequence, your writing takes a back seat.

You have a window of about six weeks when the publicity and marketing teams will be working overtime to to get your book some traction in the market, but after that, it’s largely up to you. And, of course, that next project is still waiting.”

Mark Smith is the author of four YA novels. His latest release is If Not Us. Find out more about Mark here.




Allison Rushby

ALLISON Rushby children's author tips“I wish I’d been more attuned to listening to my writer gut before making changes to my work. There’s a lot of personal opinion in publishing and I think at the beginning of my career I was too ready to change my work to take in every little comment I received from an agent/publisher/editor/other writer about my writing.

Of course, when you hear the same thing over and over again from different sources (for example, your protagonist is too whiney, the end of your novel too rushed etc.), it’s well worth listening to what people are telling you and make changes accordingly. However, it’s also good to know that sometimes one person’s opinion is just that – one person’s opinion.

I had a novel out on submission a while ago where the feedback was a great example of this. I had one editor say they loved the voice, while another didn’t love the voice. Another editor thought the pacing of my mystery was too slow, another thought it was “solid”. One editor loved the start, another thought I’d started in the wrong place.

It’s very easy to run off and start changing your manuscript, but sometimes you find you end up not changing it for the better.

Allison Rushby has written 30+ books for children, young adults and adults. Her latest release is When This Bell Rings, a middle-grade novel. Find out more about Allison here.




Oliver Phommavanh

Oliver Phommavanh children's author tips‘Value your work. Don’t do free stuff all the time, hoping that it’ll pay off someday.

When you put a price on your work, you’re letting the world know that you’re serious about what you do.’

Oliver Phommavanh is the author of ten books for children. His latest release is Brain Freeze.

Find out more about Oliver here.





Jacqueline Harvey

Jacqueline Harvey children's author tips“The one thing I wish I’d known when I started was that you really have to manage your expectations. One book (most likely) won’t make a career (unless your initials are JKR). You will have to work consistently hard over a long period of time to ‘make it’ as a children’s author and even then there are no guarantees.

Heed advice from publishers and editors – but make sure that you write the stories that make your heart sing.”

Jacqueline Harvey is the author of 48 books for children. Her latest release is middle-grade novel Kensy and Max: High Voltage, with a picture book, That Cat, coming in 2022.

Find out more about Jacqueline here.






Lesley Gibbes

Lesley Gibbes children's author tips“When I first started writing I was 40 with a new born baby and an 18 month old. I knew nothing about the industry so some of my concerns were really grassroots. My main concerns were ‘am I too old?’ and ‘if I can’t illustrate can I be a picture book author?’.

I’m so glad I reached out to the writing community and found out.

So I would tell my newbie self ‘no, you’re not too old, all you need is a great manuscripts and no, you don’t need to be an illustrator to write picture books the publishing house will find one for you’.

Another thing I wish I had known sooner was how absolutely fabulously lovely all the authors, illustrators, agents, editors and publishers are. It’s a wonderfully supportive community of people who genuinely want to see you succeed and celebrate your achievements. Why did I wait so long?”

Lesley Gibbes is the author of 14 books for children, including picture books and junior fiction. Her latest release is Dinosaur Dads (ill. Marjorie Crosby-Fairall), with a new paperback edition of Searching For Cicadas out in January 2022. Find out more about Lesley here.




Kate Foster

Kate Foster children's author tips“A thing I wish I’d known before starting my writing career is that the days I don’t write any words (or the words I do write are truly terrible!) are equally as important as the days I produce thousands of words.

I always knew thinking days were essential, but as I develop as a writer I realise it’s nearly always these days when I emerge from the forest with clearer visions, plot points fixed, fresh ideas to try out, and with less pressure to achieve perfection.

People say write every day, but that doesn’t work for me.”

Kate Foster is the author of five books for children (one out now, four on the way). Her latest release, Paws, was published in April 2021, with a new novel, The Bravest Word, coming in May 2022.

Find out more about Kate here.





Tim Harris

Tim Harris children's author tips“The one thing I wish I knew is that it’s okay to be yourself. During the drafting of many of my first short stories, I remember questioning whether the writing was ‘Paul Jennings’ enough.

It took a surprisingly long time to understand the importance of finding a unique writing voice.”

Tim Harris is the author of 12 novels for children. His next release is Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Join Forces (out on 1 March 2022).

Find out more about Tim here.






A L Tait The Fire StarAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher, and a new ‘almost history’ detective series called the Maven & Reeve Mysteries (you’ll find book #1 THE FIRE STAR here).

 You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.

If you want more insider secrets on being a children’s author, don’t miss my new one-hour course, created with Sue Whiting. Called ‘7 Things You Must Know To Be A Children’s Author’ it’s your short-cut to career success. Find out more here

Five tips for writing verse novels for children

Five tips for writing verse novels for children

In case you missed it, verse novels for children are having a real moment in the sun.

Last year’s CBCA Book of the Year for younger readers was a verse novel by Pip Harry called The Little Wave.

This year’s shortlist contains two verse novels: Bindi by Kirli Saunders and Worse Things by Sally Murphy (ill. Sarah Davis).

A blend of poetry and prose, narrative and metaphor, plot and lyricism, verse novels can be enticing for reluctant readers because the text is not dense, but their very nature requires a precise use of language that is rich and compelling.

Book Boy Jr, now 14, latched on to Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover a few years ago, surprising me because I would never have thought to give him poetry.

He loved it.

I confess I’m somewhat in awe of the authors who create verse novels, which seem to me to be a blend of alchemy and super structure.

So I challenged award-winning poet and author Lorraine Marwood, whose latest verse novel ‘Footprints On The Moon’ was published by UQP earlier this year, to offer her five top tips for anyone thinking about writing a verse novel for children.

Take it away Lorraine.


Five tips for writing verse novels for children

For me as a poet and writer of verse novels, the magic of this style of writing is in the wonderful mix of poetic language, the ease of reading, and the tension of all the narrative devices.  It’s very powerful, and a real challenge to get right.

Here are five tips to get you started.


Tip #1: Choose strong words

Focus on nouns and verbs to make the verse novel concrete and not ‘flowery’. This also allows the prose component to operate at top capacity.


Tip #2: Keep your lines short

Try to stick to up to eight/nine words per line. Sometimes you’ll need just one word to draw out tension and draw the eye down to the next line.

Every word counts. There is no room for padding in a verse novel.


Tip #3: Don’t underestimate the power of white space

White space around the text is a feature. The scarcity of words allows what is written to be more powerfully received and savoured.


Tip #4: Use all the attributes of poetry

Yes, you’re writing a story, but use all the attributes of poetry to pack a poetic punch and mesmerise your audience.

These attributes are:

  • images,
  • using the five senses,
  • details,
  • metaphors,
  • sounds,
  • dialogue.

(If you’re interested in learning more about how Lorraine approaches the various techniques of poetry, visit her resources page here.)


Tip #5: Read your work out loud

Poetry is characterised by its ability to be read and enjoyed through reading aloud, and this also applies to the verse novel.

The line breaks (mentioned above) and other poetic devices can be fully enjoyed and understood when you read them out loud.

Try it with these examples from my books:


‘I watch as a globule

of spider thread unwinds

like a fissure

of moon parachuting down’ 

‘Footprints on the Moon’–Lorraine Marwood 


‘The machines hiss and settle into rhythm.

I watch from the calf pen.

Watch as the first cows for sale

are culled into the side pen.

See the morning sun steam over their coats,

hear the belch and rumble of cuds

keeping rhythm with the machines.’

‘Star Jumps’–Lorraine Marwood


‘Then I see a small spiral cloud

coming down

the dirt road beside our farm.

a ute passing,

dust tracking its

progress like a light flashing.’

‘Leave Taking’–Lorraine Marwood


A verse novel delivers so much in such a short paragraph.


Bonus tip: Dig deep into verse novels

There are many great verse novelists in the children’s and YA writing field today. Other Australian authors to try include Steven Herrick, Sally Murphy, Kat Apel, Sheryl Clark, Kirli Saunders, Pip Harry and many more.

Read as many as you can get your hands on.


Footprints on the moon by Lorraine MarwoodLorraine Marwood is an award-winning poet and writer, and author of four verse novels for children: ‘Footprints on the Moon’ (UQP 2021), ‘Leave Taking’ (UQP 2018), ‘Star Jumps’ (Walker), ‘Ratwhiskers and Me’ (Walker).  

Find out more about her here. 






A L Tait The Fire StarAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher, and a new ‘almost history’ detective series called the Maven & Reeve Mysteries (you’ll find book #1 THE FIRE STAR here).

You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.

Words and pictures – how to write a children’s book

Words and pictures – how to write a children’s book

Children’s book author and illustrator Peter Carnavas puts big issues into books for little people.

The four titles in his Little Treasures collection cover love, family, the environment and self-worth. Sarah must carry her heavy heart around with her. Jessica tries to make friends. Christopher’s father is absent. And there is one about the last tree in the city.

So I sat Peter down and quizzed him on how to write a children’s book.

You take on some ‘big’ issues in your little books. Why do you choose to tackle those, rather than simply writing a story to entertain?
Peter Carnavas: “I don’t always mean to tackle big issues, but they are the sort of stories I end up writing. I think it is because I need to feel some sort of emotional connection to a story to pursue writing it. That doesn’t mean the story has to be emotional itself, but I just like the idea of readers being able to delve into themes a little, to have layers of meaning working throughout the story. Of course, I love simple, fun stories as well – Quentin Blake is probably my biggest hero and his books are usually pure fun.”

What are some of the things you have to think about when working your material into a book suitable for children?
PC: “Most of my ideas have a grown-up origin, such as a conversation I’ve had or a newspaper article I’ve read, so there is a bit of a process for me to fashion it into a children’s story. It becomes easier when I start working on the illustrations, for no matter what the theme, my pictures are usually quite light and fanciful. This helps a lot.

“There are other little techniques I use to help the story appeal to children, such as the silent animal friends popping up on every page, or adding funny little things in the background. It’s also important to cut out unnecessary words. I like to keep the text short and to the point.”

When you write your books, do you begin with words or pictures?
PC: “I start with the idea then, after thinking about it for days, weeks or months, I write the text. I like to write the whole story in one sitting – once I’ve started it, I can’t go to bed until it’s done. I then start playing around with pictures, usually working out what the characters will look like, what they wear, what sort of animal will follow them around.”

What, for you, is the best part of writing books for children? And the most difficult?
PC: “There are many good things about making books for children. I love reading the books to children at schools and getting their response. I’m always fascinated by the ideas they pick up from the stories, often things that I had never considered.

On a personal note, it’s immensely satisfying coming up with an idea that I think will work, then gradually bringing the characters to life. It can feel quite powerful at times, creating my own little people with their own little triumphs and tragedies.

“The most difficult parts are the boring bits like working out money stuff, though sometimes the most challenging thing is trying to draw something the way I see it in my head. My hand doesn’t always do as it’s told and I have to reach a sort of compromise between my imagination and my ability. It always works out in the end.”

Any advice for wanna-be children’s book writers out there?
PC: “I think it’s important to get opinions of your work from people that you trust. If you are going to submit to a publisher, make sure you research the publishers well and choose one that suits the story you have written.

Check out the Australian Writers’ Marketplace for details on just about everything, and join up to the weekly online newsletter, Pass It On. You can find out everything you need to know from those two sources.

Finally, just because something is hard, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Keep going.”

You can find out more about Peter and his books at petercarnavas.com


AL Tait cartoon by Mick Elliott

Image Credit: Mick Elliot

Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher, and a new ‘almost history’ detective series called the Maven & Reeve Mysteries (you’ll find book #1 THE FIRE STAR here).

You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.

How to spark your kid’s writing fire

How to spark your kid’s writing fire

As the NSW school term begins, and we look down the barrel of potentially weeks and weeks of trying to keep kids engaged with and on top of their school work, I know that many parents are tearing their hair out.

With two high school-aged boys, I’m lucky that the school has pivoted very quickly to online learning and they get their lessons served up to them in regular timetable order. Mostly, they get on with it. But I know that many parents, particularly those with kids in primary school, are needing to be much more hands on. Then, outside of lessons, there are a lot of other hours to fill and parents are wracking their brains for ways to keep kids off screens.

So when the wonderful Australian children’s book author Zanni Louise approached me with this guest post idea, I couldn’t get her to write it fast enough. Because, of course, we both believe that creative writing, in all its many forms, is definitely one of the BEST ways for kids to deal with boredom. In fact, boredom is ALMOST ESSENTIAL to drive the kind of creativity that inspires the best stories. (See this post to find out why.)

Zanni is the author of picture books (Archie and The Bear, Errol, Too Busy Sleeping) and children’s fiction series (The Stardust School Of Dance, Tiggy and The Magic Paintbrush). This month, she released the first two titles in a new picture book series about values, called Human Kind. Here, Zanni Louise gives her top tips for getting your kid writing!

5 ideas to help spark your kid’s love of writing

I’ll be honest, I felt like I was in a pickle for the first few weeks of lockdown, between schooling kids and keeping my writing career alight. But as the weeks pass, our family finds its feet more and more, and isolation is becoming easier. One thing I wanted to really indulge during this time, was not just my own writing life, but my kids’ immersion in writing as well. I know they do some creative writing at school, but at school, writing tasks are often stifled by rules. Back in the day, when I used to talk to kids IRL during school visits, kids would tell me the most important things to remember when writing were capital letters and full stops. Some mentioned sizzling starts, which was impressive! While those things ARE important, what’s really important is your writing confidence. So I thought I’d share a few ideas about ways I try and spark that writing fire.

1. Journalling

Admittedly, I was one of those kids that kept reams of journals under my bed. Also admittedly, I will never ever return to them for fear of what I might find. But one thing I will say about journalling is that it’s a wonderful place to indulge your writing. NO ONE ELSE READS IT! So your writing is for you alone. When we write without an audience, our natural writing voice emerges. Before my kids embark on the good old home-schooling schedule, we set the timer and the kids journal for 15 minutes. I join in. We write about anything and everything, and I am continually amazed at how much my 7 year-old and my 10 year-old both delight in this part of our daily schedule. If your kids feel daunted by this, give them a theme or topic, like ‘How are you feeling?’ Or ‘Aviation History in the 20th Century’ … I don’t know. Anything! And invite them to draw, because some reluctant writers find their way in through doodles and illustration.

2. Take them outside

Since you now have 100 per cent control of your kids during the school day (um …) you may as well take this writing lesson outside. In schools, my students come outside with me, and sit in teepees and on rugs and they love it. It’s a change of atmosphere, for one, and something about being outside really sparks creativity. Sit under a tree, or in a hammock – in a treehouse if you have one! I personally am looking for any opportunity to get my kids away from screens during their learning hours, so this is a good one. You could even try a nature safari! Get kids to collect five things from the garden, lay them out, and write a story about what they find.

3. Create characters together

We tried a really fun exercise at the dining room table the other day. The writer was blindfolded, and told the illustrator as many details as they could about their character. The details were wacky and insane, and both kids took delight seeing what the illustrator had created from their description. Once we had a pile of characters on the table, we made mini books and each kid created their own story about one or more of the characters. Heaps of fun.

4. Do an online course!

There is SO much out there right now, with authors clawing back some of the income they’ve lost this semester and next, by not being able to get to schools. Talk with your teachers about what’s available. Booking agents like Children’s Bookshop (NSW), Speakers Ink (Queensland) and Booked Out (Victoria) have a list of amazing Australian authors available for Skype or Zoom visits. Many authors are offering free activities right now as well. Check out Lunch Doodles with Mo for starters.

5. Read with your kids

Well, this is an obvious one. But with so much home time on our hands, there is nothing like huddling around the proverbial fire, reading aloud to each other. I will never forget the author Kate Beasley talking about how she, her mum and sister read Harry Potter and other series aloud to each other all through her childhood and teenage years. No wonder she became such an accomplished author! Now, go forth, spark fires, and maybe even write yourself. After all, we might as well make the best of this!

Zanni Louise is the author of 16 books for kids, from picture books to junior fiction series. Her new books HUMAN KIND help kids talk about values and what’s important to them. Find out more about them here.        Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher. If you’d love more writing advice for kids, check out my Creative Writing Quest, a 12-module online course with the Australian Writers’ Centre that takes kids, step-by-step, through the process of creative writing – from idea to producing an edited story. All the course details are here.

Writing For Kids: How To Time Travel To The Past

Writing For Kids: How To Time Travel To The Past

In the latest addition to the Writing For Kids series, Claire Saxby looks at setting stories in the past.

Claire’s latest novel Haywire is set in 1939 in the NSW town of Hay.

It’s about 14-year-old Tom, whose family runs the local bakery, and Max Gruber, nearly 14, who is interred and shipped to Australia, ending up in Hay.

When the two boys meet, they become friends, and find their lives influenced by a far-away conflict in Europe.

It sounds exciting, doesn’t it? But when you’re writing about a particular period in history, it’s important to get the details right.

Here, Claire Saxby outlines her five top tips for ‘time travelling’ to the past.

How to time travel to the past 

When I was writing my novel Haywire, I did lots of research about what it was like to live in 1939-1940, when the story is set.

I wanted to know what would have been the same, and what was different. I wanted to know about the houses and the clothes, the food and what the streets looked like.

One tricky question I had when writing Haywire was, ‘How did they make toast?’ (Answer: they used a pan on the stove top). It’s these details that help the reader dive into our story worlds. I found my answers in lots of places.

So how can you find those details for your stories? Strap yourself in and lets go time-travelling!

Tip 1. Look at old photos

Do you have family photo albums? Are they just your close family or are there also albums of your grandparents or their grandparents? Look at their haircuts. Look at the clothes they’re wearing. They’re so different!

If you’re lucky there’ll be some ‘action’ photos. Maybe someone is riding a bike, or a horse. Maybe they’re at a picnic, or swimming at a beach, or on a holiday. Check these photos for background details. What can you see that’s different to now?

Look out for cars. Making stories is about imagining what might happen, what could happen. Imagine sitting in a car from the past. What would the seats feel like? What would the engine sound like? Would you be in the back seat, or the driver’s seat? Now, there’s a story. Where would you go?

Tip 2. Things were different in the past

Food was much simpler, with only a few different vegetables. Hardly anyone ate pasta or rice – can you believe it?

The toilet was outside. There was no air-conditioning inside (except windows). Most houses had a fireplace. There was no television. The radio was bigger than a television. There were no pop-up toasters. How would you cook toast?

Tip 3. Things were just the same

I know what I just said, but this is also true. Some things don’t change.

Tom, in my story, has two brothers and two sisters. His older brothers teach him how to climb trees and play cricket. His older sister helps him with maths. He gives his younger sister shoulder rides and teaches her to climb trees. He doesn’t love homework. The family all eat dinner together.

Tom does the same sorts of things you might do today.

Think about the things you do with your family. Would you be able to do them in the time-travelled past? What might you do instead?

Tip 4: Talk to your family

Everyone. Your parents, aunties and uncles, grandparents, even the neighbours.

Some of them might tell you that time travel is impossible, but just you get them started – you’ll soon be time-travelling all over the place, back to their childhoods!

Ask an aunty or uncle about what your parents were like when they were your age. They’ll soon be introducing you to someone you could never have imagined.

Who could jump the highest?

Who had the best excuse for not tidying their room or helping in the kitchen?

Who was the last to finish dinner?

Who was the best at spitting cherry pips?

You’ll be amazed!

Tip 5: When you’re planning your story, think about WHEN it happens

Let’s say your story problem is about losing a ball.

If you set your story in your backyard today, it will be different to if the story happened yesterday.

Maybe it was windy yesterday and the ball flew over the fence into the backyard of grumpy neighbour, whereas today the ball goes through the window. Oh-oh!

What if you time-travelled back 50 years? Was your house even built then? Perhaps there were no houses near where you are. What was there? Trees? Bushes? So now your character has to find their ball in the bush.

Or maybe it’s millions of years ago and the lost ball is picked up by a dinosaur!

Okay so we’d have to time-travel a long time to meet a dinosaur. But why not?

In writing Haywire, I based my story on something that really happened during WWII and I had to stay as close to the truth as I could (so no dinosaurs).

But you don’t. You can write about anything and include anything you want to.

Time-travelling to the past might be the start of your greatest adventure. Give it a go!

Claire Saxby is a writer, bookseller and bookreader. You can find out more about Claire here, and more about her latest book Haywire here.

You might also like:

Where To Find Ideas

How to write funny stories

5 top tips for creating a page-turning story

Writing tips for kids: 3 short videos




Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher. You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.

If you’d like more writing tips and advice, why not check out my online creative writing course for kids 9-14! You’ll find it here

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