Writing outside my comfort zone

Writing outside my comfort zone

Action. Adventure. History. Mystery.

When you think of an A.L. Tait story, are these the kinds of words that come to mind? They are for me.

Hilarious? Rib-cracking? Not so much. (Though Book Boy’s review of the first draft of the first Mapmaker Chronicles manuscript as ‘a little bit funny’ remains one of my favourite reviews ever.)

The truth is that I love a ‘voice’ with humour. My characters are fond of a quip, a wisecrack, a pithy observation. I confess I find myself laughing on the inside as I write some of their dialogue.

But I had never, ever set out to write a ‘funny’ story until Adrian Beck and Sally Rippin sent me an email earlier this year, the gist of which was this:

“Will you write a 2000-word funny story for kids for Total Quack Up Again?”

“Um…” I responded. “Let me just see if I can.”

So, feeling like a complete and utter beginner (which, let’s face it, I am when it comes to this particular type of story), I sat down and blasted out the first draft of ‘How (Not) To Be Funny’, just before the boys (15 and 12) got home from school.

Nervously, I handed it to them, enduring their howls of laughter (at me) when I told them that I needed them to tell me if it was funny.

Then I waited, pacing, listening to the clock tick and the pages turn, as they each read it.

“Well?” I asked, hands on hips.

“It’s funny,” was the verdict, and I was so relieved I even forgave them the hint of surprise in their voices that Mum had it in her.

“I’m in,” I emailed to Adrian and Sally.

And then I wrote three other little stories in the same world. Just for fun.

Just because you haven’t…

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I became a children’s author almost by accident. Because I had an idea that simply could not be ignored. That idea went on to become The Mapmaker Chronicles, a four-book series.

At the time, I wrote and spoke a lot about the fact that I was writing commercial women’s fiction because ‘it made sense’ – it was what I knew. I knew nothing about writing novels for children, and most certainly not one thing about writing a series of novels for children.

But, in the end, I simply had to give it a go – mostly because the idea wouldn’t leave me alone.

And I discovered, way out there beyond my comfort zone, something really special.

Is my story in Total Quack Up Again really special? Maybe, maybe not. But pushing myself back out there, into writing something I hadn’t tried before, was a revelation. To me.

Just because you haven’t written it before is no reason not to try writing it now.

So if you’ve got an idea for something different, something well outside your comfort zone, give it a try.

If nothing else, it might just be a lot of fun.

Total Quack Up Again is on sale now!

Edited by Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck, it’s an anthology of funny stories by 12 Australian authors – Nat Amoore, Belinda Murrell, Felice Arena, Belinda Murrell, Michael Wagner, Adrian Beck, Adam Cece, Shelley Ware, Tim Harris, Nova Weetman, Kim Kane – as well as one by nine-year-old Coby Sanchez (that’s him in the main image) who won a national competition in order to have his story included.

Each story is illustrated by Jules Faber, and all royalties go to Dymocks Children’s Charities

10 growth mindset books for kids

10 growth mindset books for kids

10 fiction books to help kids develop growth mindset | allisontait.comThere would be few parents who haven’t, over the past few years, heard the term ‘growth mindset’.

It’s one of those phrases that seems to have blasted its way across the internet like a tumbleweed, gathering pace and size as it moves, leaving an entire library of ‘how to’ books in its wake.

But the presence of growth mindset in fiction is less often discussed.

Today, in the author spotlight for the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook group, author Tahnee McShane shares some thoughts about this – and a great list of children’s fiction featuring Growth Mindset.

Take it away Tahnee!

Growth mindset: why we need to see it in children’s fiction

By now I expect you’ve heard of growth mindset. To be honest, I was a sceptic when the topic was first introduced to me: I thought it was just resilience re-branded. And to a certain degree, it is.

However, through my work with children and discussions with teachers and parents over the last decade, I have come to realise how important this mindset is for the future of our children.

We all approach everything with a mindset. Put simply, this is our attitude with which we approach different situations in life. The opposite of growth mindset is fixed mindset.

What is fixed mindset?

A fixed mindset is becoming increasingly common in the younger generations and there are plenty of theories as to why (helicopter parents, snowplough parents, social media).

In the classroom, a fixed mindset rears its ugly head in children across all age groups and ability levels.

There are students in prep, who will refuse to dance, because “I don’t dance.”

Students who “aren’t good at maths,” and therefore refuse to try.

The increased appetite and expectation for instant gratification means that children often just want to find the right answer, regardless of how they come about it. Students are willing to simply correct their answer without question or without discussion. Without learning.

To combat the limiting impact of fixed mindset, we can teach growth mindset.

What is growth mindset?

It gives students the skills to overcome their problems. Growth-mindset gives us confidence and the courage to try, fail and try again. Students learn that challenges are exciting because we are learning and bettering ourselves.  We teach students not to pigeon-hole themselves. We teach them to say ‘yet’.

So what does this have to do with fiction?

As both an author and a teacher, I strongly feel that we can turn toward fiction as a guide for teaching a growth mindset in our children.

The good news is we don’t need to look for a specialised series on growth mindset when we want to introduce this concept to children at home or in the classroom. Many of our favourite children’s books portray characters with growth mindset.

You don’t have to turn far in the fiction world to see characters who encounter a problem, struggle, grow and then overcome their problem. It’s formulaic.

But when children read fiction where the characters make mistakes, or where bad things happen – it’s a reflection of real life. This is where we learn the life skills of grit and determination.

Reading with children and discussing the story is the best way for young children to learn about and manifest these qualities in their own lives.

For older readers, strong characters can make a lasting impression that they can take with them into adulthood.

10 fiction books to help kids develop a growth mindset

I’ve put together a list of children’s fiction books that show characters with a growth mindset. These are characters with a love of learning, curiosity, the ability to learn from their mistakes, and creativity.

Tashi by Anna Fienberg (ill Kim Gamble)

The Digging-est Dog by Al Perkins (ill Eric Gurney)

The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien

Superworm by Julia Donaldson (ill Axel Scheffler)

Koala Lou by Mem Fox (ill Pamela Lofts)

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty (ill David Roberts)

Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg

The Cow Tripped Over The Moon by Tony Wilson

Annabel and Turtle by Tahnee McShane (ill Mary-Ann Orchard)

Why growth mindset in fiction matters

Mem Fox’s character Koala Lou is a great example of growth mindset. Koala Lou is absolutely determined to win the tree climbing event in the Bush Olympics. She practices her skills daily and enters the games. Of course, Koala Lou is devastated when she doesn’t win the tree climbing event.

This is reflective of real life. We don’t always win everything even when we try our best.

And I think it’s a message that’s necessary in today’s culture. Being proud of growth, whilst also understanding that failure is more than okay – it’s necessary for growth.

Using strong characters who display growth mindset as role models for children will help them to develop skills in resilience, and an appreciation for lifelong learning, both of which will enable our next generation to confidently conquer whatever challenges crop up for them in the years to come.

Tahnee McShane is the author of Annabel and Turtle a children’s book and podcast series, for children aged 2 to 8.

Tahnee is also a teacher and mother, and lives in Tasmania with her husband and three children. Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram and find the podcast on Spotify and Soundcloud.



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.

10+ GGSD (Girls Getting Stuff Done) Middle-Grade Reads

10+ GGSD (Girls Getting Stuff Done) Middle-Grade Reads

10+ GGSD (Girls Getting Stuff Done) Middle Grade Reads | allisontait.com “Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it.”

Anne Lamott’s quote has always resonated with me for two reasons. One is that you don’t really know how to write a book until you get in there and write one.

The second is that sometimes you don’t even realise what you’ve written until you reach The End – and, even then, sometimes not until someone else tells you.

In the spotlight today is my good friend Allison Rushby, the author of many books for children, YA and adults, who can also relate to this quote.

Discovering what you’ve really written

When The Turnkey was released in 2017, I was overjoyed with the reviews it received – until  one stopped me in my tracks.

The reviewer called The Turnkey “surreptitiously feminist” and I found myself reading her review over and over again, because it made me think A LOT about exactly what it was that I’d written.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the review in question was a lovely one (you can read it in its entirety here). In her review, one of the main points the reviewer makes is that, throughout the novel, Flossie remains in charge.

No older male steps in to tell her what to do, or how to save the day. Rather, she’s put in charge of large groups of men, including soldiers, and these men all happily report back to her as she works out how she’s going to save her cemetery and country.

At the time of reading this eye-opening review, I was finishing up the first draft of The Seven Keys (the second book in The Turnkey series, released this month with Walker Books Australia). I began to ask myself if what I was writing was also “surreptitiously feminist”…

I didn’t have to ponder this question long. There was nothing “surreptitious” about it. By the end of The Seven Keys, almost every key role in London’s twilight world is filled by a female character. The Seven Keys is just flat-out feminist.

When it comes to the portrayal of females in others’ work, I wasn’t surprised to find that a lot of the middle-grade fiction I connect with also has strong female protagonists. I do so love a good go-getting heroine. A girl who GSD (Gets Stuff Done) just like Flossie and her friends do in The Turnkey and The Seven Keys.

With this in mind, I came up with a list of some of my favourite GGSD (Girls Getting Stuff Done) middle-grade/upper-middle-grade reads that I hope you and your little reader love as much as I do.

10+ GGSD (Girls Getting Stuff Done) Middle Grade reads

Out Of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

Melody’s body might not be strong (she has cerebral palsy), but her mind is fierce. She’s on a one woman mission to let her classmates know just how smart she really is.

The War That Saved My Life and The War I Finally Won by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley

Ada’s fight for self-worth and a life to call her own is absolutely heartbreaking, as is her carer’s backstory of love and the loss of her partner. Together, these strong-willed characters manage to help each other strive for a happy ever after.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The star of the show is Ivan (a caged gorilla who lives in a shopping mall), but clear-eyed Julia, the custodian’s daughter, is underrated in this tale. Her actions and courage will stay with you for a long time.

The Ateban Cipher series by A.L. Tait

In a world of monks and a stolen illuminated text, it takes a couple of smart girls to get in there, work out what’s going on and begin to set things to rights.

The Family with Two Front Doors by Anna Ciddor

Set in 1920s Poland and centred on a very religious Jewish family, this might seem a strange choice, but the historical setting and different way of life provides so much to discuss from a feminist perspective.

Everything I’ve Never Said by Samantha Wheeler

Ava is desperate to communicate with her family, but Rett Syndrome makes this impossible. That is, until some new people in her life allow this strong, driven character to finally show the world her true personality.

The Ratcatcher’s Daughter by Pamela Rushby

It’s 1900 and Issy’s father is a rat-catcher. When he becomes ill, it’s up to Issy to – wait for it – help rid Brisbane of the plague.

Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee

Lenny’s world is falling apart, but how she deals with this (and, especially, her mother’s abusive partner) shows the depth of her character.

A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay

Jena must deny herself food and wrap her limbs in order to stay small so she can slip inside rock crevices and retrieve precious mica. It is only when she begins to question the inconsistencies in her world that she can be set free.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Mia’s immigrant parents are doing it tough and so is Mia, who tends the desk at the Calivista motel while they clean rooms. She might be small, but this tenacious heroine packs a lot of “I can do it!” action into one book.

Allison Rushby is the author of more than 20 books. Her latest middle-grade novel, The Seven Keys, is the sequel to the award-winning The Turnkey. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.







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 book suggestions for your young reader, join the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook community.

*This post contains affiliate links. Click the title of each book to find out more about it or to purchase from Booktopia.

12 writing books for teen writers

12 writing books for teen writers

12 writing books for teen writers | allisontait.comLast week I found myself compiling a list of books about writing for a young writer I know. She’s 15, enthusiastic, stymied by the parameters of writing for school assignments, hungry for information, encouragement and advice.

I tried to give her book suggestions that would open up the world of writing for her, beyond those school assignments, give her some craft tips in a not-too-serious way, and also, perhaps, take her writing into different areas.

Some of them are personal recommendations, some of them are Book Boy‘s recommendations, and some of them are recommendations from authors I’ve interviewed on the podcast.

It occurred to me that there are probably a lot of teen writers out there just like her, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to share my list.

So here it is (click on the title to read more about each book or to buy at Booktopia). Just in time for the holidays.

12 books about writing for teen writers

On Writing by Stephen King

This is my favourite book about writing, hands down, and Book Boy (15) loved it, too. You can read his review here. Half-memoir, half-writing craft, it’s a no-nonsense page-turner about writing.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day.

We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead.

Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” – Anne Lamott

I first read those words about 20 years ago and they perfectly sum up, for me, the process of getting a book written. One word, one page, at a time. It’s another memoir/writing book combined, with a lot of inspiration and motivation in its pages.

Writing Down The Bones: Freeing The Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

This one comes recommended by international bestselling children’s author Andy Griffiths, who talked about it at length in episode 65 of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast.

Here’s a snippet from the interview with Andy Griffiths:

“I discovered a book called Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, who was very keen on writers putting the hours in and putting the practice in. She has a method of time writing practice, which was to write non-stop on any subject without editing, without thinking, without trying to control it – just get words on the page for a five-minute period and then repeat it again and again and again.

“That allows you to access your subconscious without the editing function getting in the way, going, ‘Well, that’s a bit silly,’ or, ‘That’s a bit rude,’ or, ‘That’s not appropriate, as if bums could grow arms and legs. Let’s get onto something a bit more realistic.’ You need to escape that voice when you’re getting the raw material on the page. You bring it in later to edit what you’ve done and to tidy it up. But, too often it’s fused at the creation stage, so people are very timid and very restricted in what they feel they can write.”

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Another book that is often recommended on the podcast. Children’s author Tristan Bancks, for instance, is a big fan, and talked about it in episode 201, as did children’s author Jen Storer, in episode 98. If you ever hear people talking about doing their ‘morning pages’, you can bet they’ve read this book. It’s a great way to encourage teens to keep a journal.

The Writing Book: A Workbook for Fiction Writers by Kate Grenville

I have a tattered and ancient copy of this book, which was the first book on writing I ever bought for myself (I was probably about 20 or 21 at the time). I love this one because it is practical, hands-on and Australian. I have given it to Book Boy, as much to help with his English assessments as his writing. For detailed, accessible information about point of view, dialogue and other techniques, it’s a winner.

Everything I Know About Writing by John Marsden

This was published in 1998 and I have only just discovered its existence (I know, where have I been?). I promptly bought a copy for Book Boy (okay, for me) as everything John Marsden knows about writing is surely worth reading. I am hoping Book Boy will review it once he’s read it, and I’ll edit this post with the review once it’s available.


The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking The Poet Within by Stephen Fry

I bought this one for Book Boy, who loved it (see his thoughts here), finding it equal parts instruction and entertainment.

Letters To A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

I’ve just bought this one for Book Boy after it was recommended to me as a terrific book on creativity. In this post on Medium by Chris Castiglione, it’s described thus:

“In 1903 Franz Kappus (a 17-year-old student) wrote the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (27 years old) asking his advice on becoming a writer.

The book is a collection of Rilke’s replies over a series of ten letters. In the letters Rilke beautifully articulates advice on topics of creativity, dealing with criticism, inspiration, love, life, and loneliness.”

Grammar & Punctuation

The Elements Of Style (Strunk and White)

Eats Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

Punctuation matters. I’m sorry, but it does. As I tell kids when I do author talks and workshops, ‘think of it as a toolkit to help readers decode your words. You want them to get the message exactly as you intended, not some weird, cryptic guess.’

These two books take different approaches to the same subject – S&W is the classic, ESL is the contemporary – but every teen writer should have at least one.


Save The Cat by Blake Snyder

Billing itself as ‘the last book on screenwriting you’ll ever need’, this was the first book on screenwriting I ever read and I found it invaluable for writing fiction of any kind. As a bonus, it helps to watch the movies that are mentioned in the book, so offers hours of useful procrastination as well. Teens will find it very readable and really helpful for learning about the structure of stories.

Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo

There are now two volumes of this collection with this one, the first, being the classic edition, featuring songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, k. d. lang and more. The second volume (More Songwriters On Songwriting) includes Patti Miller, James Taylor, Elvis Costello, Loretta Lynn and more.

I bought the first one for Book Boy, who writes his own songs, and have enjoyed dipping in an out of it myself for the insight into the creative process of some of the world’s best songwriters.

So there you have it. Some books for teens about writing*. Have you or your teens got any recommendations to add? Please share them in the comments!


So You Want To Be A Writer book by Allison Tait and Valerie Khoo*You will note that I didn’t put So You Want To Be A Writer, my new book with Valerie Khoo, on this list. The main reason for that is that, at 15, my young writer friend is still in that beautiful space of having time to write, think, and explore the craft of writing.

So You Want To Be A Writer is a book about deciding on the kind of writer you want to be, making it work outside a day job (to begin with), approaching writing as a business, making it fit within your life, getting in touch with your creativity, getting the words written. I will give it to my 15-year-old friend in a few years, as a high-school graduation gift. Buy it here for yourself or someone you know.

Writing tips for kids: 3 short videos

Writing tips for kids: 3 short videos

Writing tips for kids: three videos by author A.L. TaitAs part of my plan for be An Organised Writer this year, I’m working through all of the content I have across various platforms and making sure that I bring it back here, to my home on the internet.

As I’ve written before, one of the major benefits of having an author blog is the ability to invite readers home, to your space, to your website.

So I figure I should practise what I preach.

Below are three videos of some live broadcasts I’ve done on my Facebook page about kids and creative writing. I thought that, with the dreaded Naplan looming for many kids in Australia this term, now might be a good time to round the videos up and bring them home.

I hope you find them useful.

Three short videos full of writing tips for kids

This first one is about helping kids to embrace creative writing, including two of the things that I love most about writing and how kids can identify and embrace their writing superpowers (even the ones who think they don’t have one…)


In this second video, I look at the link for kids between reading and writing, and how they absorb so much about how to use story structure, narrative voice, tension and pacing from the books that they read.


And in the third video, I have an easy writing exercise for kids to help them get their creative juices flowing – it’s a simple writer’s journal, with practical suggestions of just what to put in it.

Some useful links mentioned in the videos

You can find out more about my Creative Writing Quest For Kids course here.

Read more about Raising Readers by Megan Daley here.

Meet Book Boy.

There’s more information about the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast here.

You’ll find more writing tips for kids on my blog here.

I present talks and workshops regularly in schools, libraries and at other events. You can find more details about my experience and the kinds of presentations I do here.

I’m planning to do more of these videos over the next few months, so like my Facebook page if you’d like to see them regularly.


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.

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