I sent out my December newsletter last week, full of writerly goodness, A L Tait reviews, updates and links, but, frankly, one newsletter wasn’t enough to contain all my news as we hurtle towards Christmas and the end of the year.
I’m really looking forward to a break this year, to take stock and think about what’s in store for 2018. I’ve got a couple more posts up my sleeve, of the ‘most popular post’ variety, but first, my final news, reviews and interviews update for 2017.
If you’re based on the south coast or in the Illawarra, don’t miss the Kids’ Day Out at Dapto on Thursday, 18 January, 2018. I’ll be there, giving a writing workshop for kids (and their adults if you fancy), along with a bunch of other amazing authors. This is the program (below), or you can read more about it here.
In other news, I’m opening up bookings for my Skype Coaching sessions for 2018. If you’ve ever wanted to pick my brains about writing and publishing, book an hour of my time and let’s get into it! All details here.
And, in case you missed it, the cover for The Book Of Answers (Ateban Cipher #2) has been revealed! See it here and find out more about the book!
It’s been a busy few weeks for reviews and, I confess, this has gladdened my little authorly heart. Writing a book is such a long, solitary process that it’s beyond thrilling when someone takes the time to share their thoughts on your work.
Sarah from Kids’ Book Review described The Book Of Secrets as ‘a riveting read that hooks you in from the first page and has you connecting immediately with the protagonist and his predicament.’
Thanks to Marie McLean for her review of The Book Of Secrets: “With fast-paced action, this book will appeal to both boys and girls, as teenagers outwit villains, and possess morals and a sense of justice superior to many of their elders.”
I particularly love it when kids review my books. Pip (14) provided an incredibly thoughtful review for Be A Fun Mum.
“Gabe’s character is shaped during the story, influenced by his morals, the people he meets and challenges he faces. These themes resonate with teens today because development of character is extremely important in the adolescence years. It is a time when the world as we know it expands and new ideas are everywhere, so developing integrity and strength within your person is so important. It was great to see that journey exemplified on the page.”
Matilda (11) reviewed the book for Alphabet Soup, an online magazine for kids who love books and writing. ‘I loved this book because at first it seems magical and absurd … but it could actually happen.’
Thanks also to everyone who’s reviewed my books on Goodreads or Amazon this year – so much appreciated.
If you’ve ever wondered where ideas for stories come from, I’ve written a guest post for Kids’ Book Review explaining how my novels are usually based on a question and a feeling, with reference to both The Ateban Cipher and The Mapmaker Chronicles series.
The Australian Writers Centre interviewed me here, all about middle grade fiction – what is it? Who reads it? Should you write it?
And if you’re looking for last-minute book gifts for kids for Christmas, I’ve put together some terrific lists with the help of the Your Kids’ Next Read Facebook group:
12 books by Aussie authors to slip into Christmas stockings
30 brilliant books for girls
21 tried-and-tested books for 13/14 year old boys
21 Christmas book ideas for girls AND boys
And, to finish up, thank you to Hannah Davison for this wonderful image…
If you’ve been listening to the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, you’ll know that Val and I are both fans of musical theatre. She never misses an opportunity to drop Hamilton into the conversation, while I… well, you can read about the time I randomly auditioned for a musical here.
So when my friend (and author) Emma Grey began posting on Facebook about how she was working with fabulous ARIA-award-winning composer Sally Whitwell to turn Emma’s YA novel Unrequited into a musical, my ears pricked up and I watched the process unfold with great interest.
The musical was staged for the first time in Canberra a few months ago, to great reviews, and so I asked Emma and Sally to write a post to bring together all of those Facebook updates and share with us exactly how one goes about turning a novel into a musical.
And here it is. It’s a long one. You’ll need a cup of tea. And maybe a feather boa.
How Unrequited became a musical
Emma Grey, author
Ideas for novels hit in the strangest of places. Four years ago, I was sitting in a One Direction concert in Sydney with my then 13-year-old and her sister, enduring the piercing squeals of 20,000 screaming, infatuated fangirls. I imagined what would happen if you were a teenager dragged to a concert like that against your better musical judgement.
Maybe you were escorting your younger sister there and it was your worst nightmare… perhaps you’re a singer-songwriter yourself … and an anti-fan, and you’re ignoring the concert, minding your own business, and you’re noticed by one of the boys in the band you hate …
My daughter hated reading, but loved boy bands, and I wondered how difficult it might be to merge the two. It seemed the ideal way to show her that reading could be fun, while creating a contemporary romantic story populated by strong and driven female characters who can fall in love without losing their minds.
Unrequited was self-published in 2014. Shortly after, it was picked up by a literary agent, Anjanette Fennell, who sent to 17 publishers before HarperCollins offered a two-book deal in 2017.
One of the earliest reviews of the book was from my childhood friend, duel ARIA-winning composer, Sally Whitwell. ‘This has got hit Broadway musical written all over it. All. Over. It!’ Sally wrote, in what we hope will one day become a prophetic observation.
Sally took the story and set it to some unforgettable music and we had our first workshop at St Clare’s College in Canberra this year under the expert direction of our new friend and fellow hare-brained schemer, Vanessa Johnson.
Our first review described the show as ‘a glittery, loud, proud and completely unique musical extravaganza: think cleverly worded boyband numbers, beautifully orchestrated ballads, hilariously vain pop star numbers … and heart-wrenching duets that wouldn’t be out of place on Broadway’.
While we work towards the Broadway goal (beginning with finding the next Australian high school to stage it), I’ve just completed the first draft of a sequel, with visions of a six-part series. The draft had barely left Google Docs and landed in Sally’s inbox before she’d uploaded two new songs into the cloud, beginning the creation of our second musical. Sally had initially received advice from her peers to ‘scale down’ the concept of the show to fit the small venues and ensembles that would be easier and more realistic for us to arrange … so we promptly ignored that advice and scaled it up.
We envisage the show/s in numerous guises, from an abridged ‘Unrequited Junior’ and low-budget high school musicals through to national and international touring versions, the West End, Broadway and even a Schools-Spectacular-esque stadium performance with a cast of thousands.
Then there’s the movie-musical adaptation we’re imagining, the merch, the reality TV ‘search for the stars’ idea, the ‘making of’ documentary, the songwriting scholarship for young women that we’d love to establish once this all takes off … and all the other ideas we just haven’t thought of yet.
This has never been ‘just a book’. It began to light the imagination of my daughter, and somehow caught fire in our grown-up imaginations. For different and deeply personal reasons, this project has seen both Sally and I through some of the most difficult and fraught experiences of our lives. We all need a little more fun and light and hope in our world, and the Unrequited project has become our way of contributing some of that light. We’re quite in love with the story, the collaboration and the dream.
Sally Whitwell, composer
Who would have thought, 30 years after meeting each other in our high school ‘home room’, that Emma and I would be here having collaborated on a musical about a boy band? Certainly not me! In my teens, I was so busy practising Debussy on the piano, and Mozart on the bassoon, that the concept of the Boy Band pretty much passed me by completely.
I preferred Bach to the Backstreet Boys, Rachmaninov to Rick Astley, the New World Symphony to New Kids on the Block.
Fast forward to 2014, I sat down on my couch with a cuppa and a biscuit to read Emma’s novel Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band. My coffee went cold, my biscuit went soggy, so engrossed was I in this wonderful story for which I am absolutely, positively, definitely NOT the target audience.
I immediately messaged Emma begging her to allow me to adapt her story as a stage musical. She informed me that it was a movie, not a musical. I set some of the lyrics in the book to music, recorded it on my phone and sent it to her. She liked the song, but again she told me it was a movie. Stubbornly, I wrote a tune for yet more of the lyrics in the book. It seemed to do the trick. She finally said yes to the musical idea. We decided to tackle the adaptation together.
Thence followed what we now fondly refer to as The Great Summer of Writing. I was struck down by the worst bout of laryngitis I’d ever had. Couldn’t speak at all for at least three weeks over Christmas and New Year. Instead of being miserable about being sick in summer, I spent those hours collaborating with Emma over google docs and dropbox at all hours of the day and night. We’ve since worked out that this is the best way for us to work. When we’re in the same room, we constantly dissolve into conversation but when we’re 300km apart, we work really intensely and productively. Go figure.
I work with young musicians every day as an educator, so what thrilled me the most when I first read Unrequited was the message it sends to young women. A book with strong but flawed young female leads, characters with whom a teen girl audience can immediately identify, taking full control of their futures.
People regularly assume that I always knew exactly how my career would pan out, that I was always so certain, so sure of myself and my life in music. But it wasn’t actually that clear cut. I had a general idea that it would be music, but I didn’t know precisely how. Bassoonist in an orchestra? Accompanist? Teacher? Arranger? Composing didn’t come into my life until I was 35, so that career path wasn’t really open to me. It is plain weird that my writing life has taken a turn into both Boyband and musical theatre territory. I mean, I really kinda loathe both those things, or thought I did, but I can see now that I just didn’t like the way many other people do it.
Best way to make things happen is to do them yourself! So here we are.
Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum (2005) and the award-winning I Don’t Have Time, co-authored with Audrey Thomas (2017). Her debut teen novel, Unrequited, was published by HarperCollins in September this year, and she is in the final stages of writing its sequel. She is co-creator of the productivity program, My 15 Minutes, creator of WorkLifeBliss, and she has a weekly column in HerCanberra.
Sally Whitwell is a dual ARIA Award winning composer and pianist based in Sydney. She has released four albums with ABC Classics/Universal (Mad Rush; The Good, the Bad and the Awkward; All Imperfect Things, and I Was Flying) and will release her first double album in February 2018, Completely Piano Etudes of Philip Glass. For some years, she has worked as principle accompanist for Gondwana Choirs with whom she has toured widely in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Most recent compositions have included Face to the Sun, for the Acacia Quartet, Fatal Flaw by Ensemble Offspring.
Find out more about Unrequited (book and musical) here.
Oh dear, did you see the word Christmas in this headline and freak out? I can’t even think about the fact that it’s nine weeks away without breaking into hives. There just seems to be such an awful lot of STUFF TO DO between now and 25 December…
Because I am a Person Who Buys Books For Christmas, I decided that I’d make life easier for all of us by asking the fabulous Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook group to nominate the ONE BOOK they’re definitely buying for a girl this year (there’s a boys’ list too!).
You can also check out last year’s One Book I’m Buying A Kid This Christmas list for even more great suggestions.
Clicking on the book title will take you to Booktopia for more information about the book and the opportunity to buy.*
Girls aged 3-5
Rapunzel by Bethan Woollvin
Can You Catch a Mermaid? by Jane Ray
Zog and the Flying Doctors by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
When I Grow Up by Tim Minchin and Steve Antony
Girls aged 6-8
Clementine Rose (series) by Jacqueline Harvey
EJ: Girl Hero (series) by Susannah McFarlane
EJ: Spy School (series) by Susannah McFarlane
Violet Mackerel (series) by Anna Branford
Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty
How to Draw Cute Stuff by Angela Nguyen
Little People, Big Dreams (series)
Deltora Quest (Graphic Novel) by Emily Rodda and Niwano Makoto
Thelma The Unicorn by Aaron Blabey
Ivy and Bean (series) by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall
Henry and Beezus by Beverly Cleary
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls #2 (coming 30 November)
Dr Boogaloo and the Girl Who Lost Her Laughter by Lisa Nicol
Girls aged 9-12
PIppa’s Island (series) by Belinda Murrell
The Wonderling by Mira Bartok
The Locket of Dreams by Belinda Murrell
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (illustrated) by J.K. Rowling and Jim Kay
Women Who Dared by Linda Skeers and Livi Gosling
How to Bee by Bren MacDibble
Enid Blyton Jolly Good Food Cookbook by Enid Blyton and Allegra McEvedy
Nevermoor: The Trials Of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
Women in Sports: 50 fearless athletes who played to win by Rachel Ignotofsky
Women in Science: 50 fearless pioneers who changed the world by Rachel Ignotofsky
Tensy Farlow and the Home For Mislaid Children by Jen Storer,
A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee
The Book Of Secrets (Ateban Cipher #1) by A.L. Tait
Blubber by Judy Blume
Where the Mountains Meet The Moon by Grace Lin
David Astle’s Gargantuan Book Of Words by David Astle
Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat (series) by Lynne Jonell
Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World by Kate Pankhurst
Girls Who Rocked The World by Michelle Roehm McCann and Amelie Welden
Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women retold by Kate Forsyth (coming 13 December)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams
A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Best Loved Poems (anthology), edited by Neil Phillip
The Science of Doctor Who by Paul Parsons
The Ingo Chronicles (series) by Helen Dunmore
Which book are you definitely buying for a girl this Christmas? Let us know in the comments. And check out the boys’ list here.
*This site uses affiliate links
The Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook group has grown into a wonderful community (nearly 2500 members!) of parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers, bloggers and authors, which means there’s always someone on hand to suggest the perfect book for every occasion.
Our author members are active participants with a wide knowledge of children’s books, and they are wonderful at abiding by our strong ‘no self-promo’ housekeeping rule (as an author myself, I fully understand the strong impetus to put your own books forward, but I also understand that the best recommendation for any book is someone else’s!)
But there are some amazing authors in our group, writing fantastic books, so I thought it might be nice to introduce a new series where I’ll shine a little spotlight their way.
The first author to step up on stage is Anne Helen Donnelly (check out her website here). Anne is the author/illustrator of the Ori the Octopus series of picture books, about a cute little octopus and his family and friends. The latest book Ori’s Christmas, is out now.
Here, Anne shares her inspiration for her picture book Ori’s Christmas, as well as three other picture books* about friendship for young children.
By Anne Helen Donnelly
“Although my original inspiration for the character of Ori the Octopus was the busy mum, the series has developed into stories that model friendship to young children. The first book in the series, Ori the Octopus (April 2017), is about helping others and teamwork while the second book, Ori’s Christmas, is about learning to compromise.
Learning to compromise can be a difficult concept for young children to grasp and I felt it was worth a special book with a festive spirit.
The story is about Ori the Octopus, who is very excited to be sharing Christmas with all his fishy friends. But all his friends want to do something different on this special day so they must find a solution, a compromise, before they can enjoy the holiday together. The book features bright and colourful illustrations and simple language that is also suitable for early readers.”
Three other favourite picture books about friendship
By Janet A. Holmes & Jonathan Bentley (ill)
Boy thinks he’s Duck’s hero until one day when Duck goes missing. He then realises who the real hero in the friendship is.
George and Ghost
By Catriona Hoy & Cassia Thomas (ill)
George and Ghost are friends, but George isn’t sure he believes in Ghost anymore. But does a friendship have to take up space, weigh something, be heard or be seen to be real?
Those Pesky Rabbits
By Ciara Flood
Bear is happy to be left alone so he gets quite frustrated when those pesky rabbits move in next door. But then bear starts to feel lonely which gives way to an unlikely friendship.
Visit Anne’s website for more information about her and her books, free downloadable activity sheets for each of her books and monthly videos for kids.
You’ll find more recommended reading lists for kids of all ages here, or join the Your Kid’s Next Read Facebook group to ask for suggestions.
*Click the title of each book for more information and to purchase
I’ve been busting to share this news, and now I finally can! Book #4 of The Mapmaker Chronicles series is on its way and will hit bookshops in April 2017!
I’m hard at work at the moment with the edits on the manuscript and I’m just thrilled to be sharing a whole new journey with Quinn and the crew. There are familiar faces, new faces and – well, totally unexpected faces! I’ll keep you posted as the process unfolds and hope you’ll come along for the ride with me.
If you and your kids haven’t yet jumped on board The Mapmaker Chronicles adventure, you can find out more about the first three books here.
Looking forward to sharing more news as it comes to hand!