Writing Family History: Finding the Fiction in the Facts

Writing Family History: Finding the Fiction in the Facts

“I’m writing my family history.”

Whenever I teach a writing workshop for adults, as I did this week (‘Writing Through The Messy Middle’), I ask what people are writing and there is invariably at least one person who is creating a book based on family history.

Our family history can contain some incredible story material – just ask bestselling children’s author Katrina Nannestad, who’s new novel ‘Silver Linings’ is based on her own family’s story. And yes, it’s a novel.

Because one thing I always ask those writing family history is whether they’re creating a non-fiction version, a memoir or a novel. There are good reasons for choosing any of these options, but one thing is certain – you need a clear picture before you start of precisely which you’re undertaking.

One person who understands the tension that arises between telling a compelling story and ‘sticking to the facts’ is Pauline Wilson, whose first novel ‘Conflict At Hanging Rock’ was based on her own family history, and whose latest novel ‘Breaking Free‘, also draws on family ties – though much more loosely.

In this guest post, Pauline looks at how to find the story in the facts.


Writing Family History as Fiction

By Pauline Wilson

Writing family history as a novelMy Great Uncle Jim was once heard to say (pointing emphatically over his shoulder), “never look back, always look forward”.

This has always made me wonder what the old people would say to me digging up the past and putting family stories out for all the world to read. My Genealogy blog is full of stories from the past.

When I decided to write my first novel, Conflict at Hanging Rock, Uncle Jim’s words came back to me.

I had gathered up so much information about this very infamous branch of the family, I felt I knew enough to write their true story. There was plenty of tension to include: convicts, family feuds, a community divided, an illegitimate child and so much more.

But then I wondered whether non-fiction was the best approach.

Would there be descendants of this branch of the family who would be offended by hearing the full story? All of the events happened well over 100 years ago, so everyone concerned is dead. But I had to think of the living.

That was when I decided I would write the story as fiction and changed all the names. I soon found that this decision allowed me to add dialogue and fill gaps in the knowledge I had.

In short, it gave me more freedom to write a compelling story.

But there was still a tension for me between telling a compelling story and sticking as close as possible to the facts. Discussions with my editor were interesting as she tried to help me improve my book despite my determination to stick as closely as possible to the facts.


Treading the line between story and history


writing family historyMy latest novel, ‘Breaking Free’, whilst still telling a family story, is much less factual – and there are several reasons for this.

One reason is that the protagonist is a woman and, sadly, women left a much lesser footprint on history. Simply put, I knew a lot less about my protagonist, even though she is inspired by my Great Grandmother (pictured left on her wedding day).

Researching my family history, I found a report of my Great Grandmother having spent time in the Kew Lunatic Asylum, which prompted me to write the story. But apart from that report and dates and locations, I knew very little.

I also took inspiration from other authors.

Mary Anne O’Connor weaves many of her family stories into her excellent books, including Where Fortune Lies, In a Great Southern Land and Sisters of Freedom.

Darry Fraser drew inspiration from family stories in her book The Forthright Woman.

I recently read Searching for Charlotte by Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell, an expertly written story of their search for Charlotte Waring, their great, great, great, great grandmother.

They too struggled with how to tell the true story. They didn’t want it to just be a dry biography and wondered how to keep to the facts and still keep it interesting.

That very struggle was why I decided to fictionalise my story. In their book, Forsyth and Murrell mention Emma Darwin who was another author who struggled with this when writing her book about Charles Darwin.

Emma Darwin wrote that her book is strung painfully on the tension-line between the responsibilities of the storyteller and the responsibilities of the historian.

This statement definitely resonates with me, and is something every author writing a family story should bear in mind.


writing family historyPauline Wilson is a writer and family historian who loves learning and research.

She released her debut novel, Conflict at Hanging Rock in July 2022 and her second novel Breaking Free will be released on November 13th 2023.

Pauline writes historical fiction inspired by true stories of her ancestors. Find out more.




Allison Tait writing tips and adviceAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait and you can find out more about me here and more about my online writing courses here.

Subscribe to my newsletter for updates, insights and more amazing writing advice.

 Or check out So You Want To Be A Writer (the book), where my co-author Valerie Khoo and I have distilled the best tips from hundreds of author and industry expert interviews. Find out more and buy it here


Resources by authors and illustrators for teachers and librarians

Resources by authors and illustrators for teachers and librarians

Educators work hard! Creating units of work that meet the curriculum, engage students and produce great outcomes is not easy.

But authors and illustrators are here to help.

Australian author Charlotte Barkla has rounded up a list of resources created by authors and illustrators to help educators and their students connect with books and reading. As a teacher herself, she understands the value of an expert helping hand (particularly when most of these resources are free)!


Author/illustrator resources for teachers and librarians

A guest post by Charlotte Barkla


From teachers’ notes to newsletters, author penpals and writing tips videos, there’s no shortage of resources to help your classroom connect with authors/illustrators and their work.

The best part? Many of them are free*!


Teachers Notes

Teachers notes are a one-stop shop for creative writing activities. They’re usually linked to key curriculum areas, and are packed full of ideas for discussion questions, creative writing tasks and other activities.

For my early-middle-grade series, Edie’s Experiments, for instance, I helped write the teachers’ notes and also drafted a series of science activities.

Publishers often have a webpage devoted to the teachers’ notes for their titles, or you can find them on the author’s website. Otherwise, a quick google search on ‘book title + teachers notes’ will point you in the right direction.


Author Penpals

Inspired by BookPenPals, a UK initiative, Author Pen Pals connects Australian authors and illustrators with schools across the country.

The program was created by authors Kate Foster and Dee White, and pairs authors and illustrators with a class for one school year. Authors send the class four postcards throughout the year, chatting about books, sharing writing/drawing prompts and talking about their creative process.

So far, the program has connected 200 creators with 250 classes from 80 primary schools. An impressive achievement!



If you go down the rabbit hole of YouTube there’s no shortage of videos to inspire your classes. You’ll find writing tips for kids by A.L Tait, book-inspired Book’N’Boogie dance videos by Nat Amoore, ‘how to draw’ videos by Matt Stanton and nature journaling with Trace Balla.

One of my personal favourites is Oliver Phommavanh’s YouTube channel, Virtual Oliver P. If you wade through the plethora of sneaker-based videos, you’ll find a bunch of great book reviews and a series of 5-7 minute Mini Writing Lessons, perfect for getting kids’ creative juices flowing.

(There are also plenty of sneaker reviews, if that’s your thing.)


Book Recommendations

If you’re looking for a book recommendation, you can’t go past the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook group.

About to start a new unit of work, and looking for a picture book to introduce the topic?

What about a book that sparks the interest of that soccer-loving eight-year-old in the back row?

Whatever your question, type it in and you’ll have five to ten answers before you even press ‘post’. (Not quite, but it feels like it.)

Megan Daley’s website is another gold mine for book recommendations. She has helpful ‘Top 20 Book Lists’ covering babies through to adult readers, and hundreds of book reviews that can be filtered by age group and genre.



If you’re tired of department store sales newsletters and scam emails junking up your inbox, why not sign up to an author’s newsletter?

Newsletters can be a fun way to connect with authors and their work, and can also be a handy classroom resource.

Charlotte Barkla newsletterIn my free newsletter, Behind the Books with Charlotte Barkla, I delve into one aspect of the writing or publishing process each month.

My first issue covered coming up with ideas, while my second delved into the drafting process. By the end of the year, I’ll take readers through the entire process of publishing a book, from idea through to publication.

The newsletter is kid-friendly, so teachers/librarians/parents of voracious readers are welcome to share the content with their kids and classes. (You’re also welcome to send in questions, for me to cover during the newsletter series.) I’d love you to join me!


Arts and Crafts

Not forgetting the younger age groups, there are lots of wonderful arts and crafts activities that tie in with Australian books.

Illustrators Matt Cosgrove and Anil Tortop offer crafts and colouring-in sheets on their websites, while Andy Geppert has a Boffins Backyard Craft Kit designed for nature-loving kids.

Author-illustrator Judith Rossell has templates for making delightful tiny houses and rainbow stars, as well as a monster-drawing game.


Writing Courses / workshops

If you’re looking for something meatier for your kids/classes, a number of authors offer writing courses too.

A. L. Tait runs the Creative Writing Quest For Kids at the Australian Writers’ Centre, Tristan Bancks offers Young Writers Story School, Nat Amoore and Tim Harris run Kids Writing Cool and Emily Gale and Nova Weetman offer Writing with Emily and Nova. Lots of great courses to choose from – and some take the Creative Kids Vouchers too!


Author/Illustrator Websites

Last but not least, check out the website of your favourite author or illustrator for links to teachers’ notes, activities or other resources.

Better yet, drop them a message to say you/your class enjoyed their book or activity. It’s guaranteed to make their day!


*Many of these resources are free, but if you’d like to support the author or illustrator you can buy their book, borrow it from your local library, or book them to speak at your school or library. Not just for Book Week, author / illustrator visits can be a valuable opportunity to motivate kids with their reading, writing and creating. And we love it too!


Charlotte Barkla newsletterCharlotte Barkla is a Brisbane-based teacher and author of four children’s books: All Bodies are Good Bodies, From My Head to My Toes, I Say What Goes and the Edie’s Experiments series. She is working on five new books, include a picture book with Hachette, a fiction series with Walker Books Australia and a fiction series with Scholastic.

Teachers notes and resources for all her books can be found on her website and you can sign up to her newsletter here.



Allison Tait on why children's literature mattersAre you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of middle-grade series, The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher, and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.

 If you’re looking for book recommendations for young readers, join the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook community, and tune in to the Your Kid’s Next Read podcast!

Why history matters – and how stories keep it alive for kids

Why history matters – and how stories keep it alive for kids

Talk to kids about history and you can often watch their eyes glaze over in real time as they consider facts, figures and dates.

But mention historical fiction? Then you get a very different response.

You only need to scroll through the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook community to see how interested young readers are in reading stories set in the past. And one of the most popular settings is the Second World War.

From Morris Gleitzman’s Once series to Katrina Nannestad’s most recent work Waiting For The Storks via a wide range of titles in between (see this excellent list for more), there seems to be a thirst for knowledge about this time period.

And, frankly, my guest author today couldn’t be happier about that.


Catherine Baeur is a journalist and writer from South Australia, whose latest novel Tulips For Breakfast, is set in Amsterdam during the Second World War. Her parents were both great story tellers and among her favourites, her father’s wonderful retellings about finding joy in small things, his enthralling adventures and often hardships of a childhood growing up in WWII Germany.

Those stories were part of the inspiration for Tulips For Breakfast, and then Catherine drew on her extensive research skills to gather first-hand accounts to help ensure the emotional and historical authenticity of her novel. The result is the story of Adelena, living in hiding in the Amsterdam home of her music teacher after her fleeing pre-war Germany with her Jewish parents.

The character of Adelena is loosely based on the real-life Hannah (Hanneli) Goslar Pick, who was a friend and playmate of Anne Frank, and who, in her later years, encouraged Catherine to tell the story for this generation of readers.

Here, Catherine shares her inspiration and experience of writing her novel – and why she believes it’s important that stories like hers are told.


The importance of teaching the Holocaust to young Australians

By Catherine Baeur

Two years short of the 80th anniversary of the end of WWII, today there is a daily decline in the number of Holocaust survivors in the world. Therefore, the responsibility for keeping their memories and legacy alive increasingly falls to those who remain, including teachers and historians.

This point was made consistently with all those I spoke with while researching for my debut YA historical fiction novel, Tulips for Breakfast (Ford Street Publishing). Former hidden children and Holocaust survivors, now elderly men and women, still have vivid memories and a desire that new generations learn about this period, the heartache, inhumanity and also the many uplifting and life-affirming lessons.

One of those I reached out was Hannah Goslar Pick, a childhood friend of young diarist, Anne Frank. Hannah passed away last year, aged 93, and spent a large part of her life keeping the memories alive. She told me it was what her parents would have wanted and that the stories must be passed on.

Holocaust studies are not a compulsory part of the Australian curriculum in all states, but the topic does come up in subjects such as History, English and Religious studies.

A secondary teacher friend of mine mentioned that many schools don’t allocate enough time for an in-depth study of topics such as the Holocaust. This means many young Australians will only ever get a broad-brush overview rather than any valuable understanding of this cataclysmic part of world history and the almost total extermination of a generation.

The Holocaust – the organised and systematic genocide of the Jewish people by Nazi Germany – saw the death of approximately six million Jewish men, women and children. In addition, other groups were persecuted by the regime including homosexuals, those with disability, the black community and Roma gypsies.

But why should Australian students dive into this period? Because, though WWII ended almost 80 years ago, the ripples are still being felt today.

Learning about the dangers of hatred and discrimination at play in the Holocaust is important for fighting intolerance and prejudice in today’s world.

Studying the Holocaust provides opportunities to explore and inspire students with stories of courage and adversity, activism and resilience. These lessons can encourage students to build empathy for other groups being persecuted in the world today and to develop an understanding of, and value, a diverse and cohesive Australian society.

Find out more about Catherine Baeur here, and more about Tulips For Breakfast here.


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

If you’re looking for book recommendations for young readers, join the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook community, and tune in to the Your Kid’s Next Read podcast!

7 books about consent for kids under 10

7 books about consent for kids under 10

‘Consent’ is a word we’ve heard a lot about over the past few years and it’s a word that parents know they need to discuss with their kids from an early age. But how?

In her brand-new picture book, From My Head to My Toes, I Say What Goes, Australian author Charlotte Barkla takes children on a journey through everyday situations and shows that it’s okay to say ‘no’.

“As the Raising Children Network points out, children ‘need to understand that their body is their own and they have the right to say what happens to it’,” says Charlotte. “It’s not the easiest topic to discuss, but the good news is the foundations can be laid from an early age.”

Books that teach kids about consentThrough a gentle, playful text, Charlotte’s book discusses consent and control for a young audience.

I might say YES to pillow fights;
a kiss when I’m tucked in at night.

I might say NO to climbing high,
a tickling game or a hug goodbye.

Bright illustrations by Jacqui Lee keep the tone upbeat and lighthearted but the message is clear and the book is a great conversation-starter for parents of young children.


More books about consent for kids under 10

“It’s never too early to start teaching consent and boundaries for children,” says Charlotte, who has generously created this list of more books that open up conversations on consent, for children under 10 years. Click the title to find out more about the book.*


Books about consent for kidsHow to Say Hello by Sophie Beer

For very young children, you can’t go past Sophie Beer’s ‘How to Say Hello.’ This board book provides young readers with lots of examples of ways to say hello, whether it be a smile, wave or high-five. (And Sophie’s illustrations, as always, are gorgeous.) My favourite spread features a child peeking out from behind his parent’s legs, to say hello ‘from somewhere we feel safe.’

Simple yet brilliant, this book is inclusive and vibrant.



Books about consent for kidsDon’t Hug Doug by Carrie Finison, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman

This picture book is lots of fun to read. It features a non-hug-loving boy called Doug, who much prefers high-fives. So, how do you tell who doesn’t like hugs? By asking, of course!

A great introduction to bodily autonomy.



Books about consent for kidsNo More Cuddles by Jane Chapman

Barry loves hugs, but sometimes he just wants to be left alone. Barry tries various things to stop others hugging him, and ends up falling into a solution (literally).

While this picture book doesn’t explicitly teach consent, it does provide a means for opening up a conversation on boundaries and communication.



Books about consent for kidsBoss of Your Own Body by Byll and Beth Stephen, Teeny Tiny Stevies, illustrated by Simon Howe

Originally a song by the Teeny Tiny Stevies, this picture book is all about being the boss of your own body, and not of anyone else. A fun read-aloud, with lots of vibrant illustrations.

The song is lots of fun to listen to with kids, too. (Although you may end up with an ear worm.)



Books about consent for kidsIt’s My Body: A Book About Body Privacy by Louise Spilsbury

An informational, non-fiction picture book about body privacy. I like how this book talks about listening to your body – whether your body is telling you it’s tired when it needs a rest, when it’s hungry or full, or telling you when a hug feels good or bad. As a UK-published text it includes links to British websites and helplines, as well as notes for parents, carers and teachers.




Books about consent for kidsRespect: Consent, boundaries and being in charge of YOU by Rachel Brian

This book was written by the co-creator of the “Tea Consent” video (which is worth a google if you haven’t seen it). In graphic novel format, this book is bright and fun. Readers learn about consent, setting boundaries and relationship dynamics.

This one is aimed at readers from 6+, but could even suit young teens.




Books that teach kids about consentCharlotte Barkla is the author of four books for children, including two picture books and the middle-grade Edie’s Experiments series.

Find out more about Charlotte and her books here.




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

 If you’re looking for book recommendations for young readers, join the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook community, and tune in to the Your Kid’s Next Read podcast!


*this website contains affiliate links. See contact page for details.

6 things I’ve learnt about podcasting

6 things I’ve learnt about podcasting

starting a podcast with One More PageStarting a podcast takes time, devotion and, yes, sometimes a few tears. if you’re going to start a podcast, it helps to begin with a subject you love, AND with people you really like.

One More Page is a podcast for lovers of kids’ books, featuring children’s authors Liz Ledden, Kate Simpson and Nat Amoore. That’s them on the left in their cute t-shirts (note to self: get some merch!).

So when Liz Ledden reached out to write a guest post about all that is good about podcasting (and some tips on how to start your own podcast), I jumped at the chance.

Liz Ledden tells: 6 Things I’ve Learnt About Podcasting

Since co-hosting kids’ book podcast One More Page for nearly three years alongside fellow authors Kate Simpson and Nat Amoore, I’ve learnt a thing or two about this whole podcasting biz. Here are six standouts:

1/  It’s like your own personal masterclass … that you share with the world

Having a podcast about the children’s book world (One More Page) means you’re constantly asking people about things you’re curious about. And that presumably (and hopefully) listeners are, too. Obsessed with a certain author? Drill them for their creativity tips! Dream of working with a particular publisher? Ask them what they look for in a manuscript, or an author. There’s so much wisdom to be gained from podcasts, and the hosts have as much to learn as their listenership.

2/  It’s hard to listen to your own voice (like, really hard)

One of the most confronting things about podcasting, especially when starting out, is discovering what your voice ‘really’ sounds like. Which may then lead you down a rabbit hole of – why do I laugh like that? Why didn’t I say something different there? Can we just re-release that entire episode already?! But eventually, you do get used to it. (Except for that sentence, and that one too … Oh god, I hope no one heard that bit!).

3/  It’s kind of like a workplace

Being part of a podcast team is just like a workplace, minus the boss and regular pay packet. There’s the ‘watercooler’ (a WhatsApp chat mostly filled with ridiculous gifs) and to-do lists to tick off (yes, our very own KPIs). There’s also break-time banter (the pre and post-pod chat), dodgy office politics (It’s MY review copy! No, MINE!), and people behaving (or singing) badly at the Christmas party – except ours is recorded for anyone to hear. At least we can all declare ourselves ‘Employee of the Year’ – hooray!

4/  It’s also a bit like being a publisher

‘Sorry, it’s not right for our list’. Sound familiar, writerly people?! Yes, that age-old publishing rejection spiel is sometimes just as applicable to the podcast world. I’ve discovered how similar being a podcaster is to a publisher, in terms of people getting in touch:

–       We have an endless stream of people emailing with requests (the ‘slush pile’).

–       We sometimes need to take a raincheck on wonderful content (a fully booked publishing schedule).

–       There’s the occasional mega-star we try to squeeze in no matter what (like when a celebrity kids’ book author comes knocking at a publishing house – hello, mega sales!).

–       And just like publishers, we have a few odd bods offering content not really suited to One More Page (like writers who don’t follow submission guidelines or research a publisher first).

Sorry to say … it’s not right for our list.

5/  If something goes wrong, it’ll be at the worst possible time

Inevitably, any internet-dependant venture will face a tech fail or two. These, of course, are exclusively reserved for those high-profile guests you’ve waited your whole life to speak to. But that time you interview your pal from your writers’ group? It will go off without the slightest of hitches. Internet gods, why do you do this?! (Sidenote: It’s actually been a while since this has happened … knock on wood!)

6/  Grateful guests warm the heart

Some seasoned authors, illustrators and other bookish figures regularly do the publicity rounds. An interview here, a livestream there, maybe even a coveted TV spot. They’re glad to add One More Page to their repertoire, but it mightn’t necessarily be a life highlight.

However, every now and then, someone is stratospherically excited and grateful for some podcasterly airtime, whether we interview them, review their book or shout out to their latest venture.

And when someone tells us how much it means to them, it makes all the effort worthwhile.

Like the idea of podcasting?

Perhaps you have your own idea for a podcast (or don’t even mind the sound of your own voice!).

Here are a few things to consider if embarking down the podcasting path:

Why are you podcasting?

You don’t necessarily need a product or service to spruik, it might be to build your brand or further your career.

As authors, we’re able to mention our own books, so think about how you could tie in your existing ventures with your podcast. Of course, you may simply want to connect with likeminded people, but who knows what opportunities that could lead to?

What is your podcast about, and who is it aimed at?

If you have several audiences in mind (e.g. across age groups), how will your content cater to them? At One More Page, we imagine some kids might listen as well as adults who love kids’ books, like teacher librarians or writers. That’s why we keep our content G-rated, and also feature kids themselves on the show.

What will you call your podcast?

This sets the tone for your show, and requires a bit of research to avoid doubling up. But once you have a name you can set up everything from a website, to an email address, to social media accounts.

What about all the techie bits?

From establishing your format, writing your content and contacting potential guests, there’s a whole lot of behind the scenes work in putting a podcast together.

You’ll not only need a website host but an account with a podcast hosting site, which will upload your episodes to all the main podcast apps. Plus some quality headphones with a mic, a quiet place to record and recording software, too.

There’s a world of information a quick google search away to help you work it all out.

Have fun!

If the above sounds daunting, it’s mostly related to getting started. Once you’re up and running you can concentrate on producing your content, let the laughs roll and share your fun (and in our case, fandom) with the world!


Tulip and Brutus by Liz LeddenLiz Ledden is a Sydney-based children’s book author and co-host of kids’ book podcast, One More Page. Connect with Liz on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Her picture book Tulip and Brutus about friendship, differences and bugs is out now.

Her second picture book, Walking Your Human, is for dog-lovers everywhere and due out in February 2021. 

Find out more about One More Page podcast here



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