Monday, March 10, 2014

An Excuse and a Repost: When a Series Ends

I looked at the date on my last blog post and its a very significant one - a week before my total thyroidectomy operation. I had an excellent surgeon but unfortunately there were complications and I hemorrhaged so had to have a second turn in theatre. Recovery took longer than I expected and it wasn't over then. My operation was to remedy swallowing difficulties because of right lobe nodules and the strong possibility the left lobe would cause the same  problems within a few years. After the pathology was done, cancer was found in the supposedly currently innocent left lobe. So I had radioactive iodine therapy and a week in isolation while I was "hot property".

I admit I enjoyed that week because I had time for lots of writing - no-one was allowed near me! I would have preferred a different reason of course but it was all good in the end as I am now cancer free, subject to a lifetime of annual testing for recurrence.

So that is my blogging excuse for the empty months and while I am not big on making excuses I think I had a good one this time.

To kick off a new year of better heath and blogging I am reposting a favourite piece I wrote for the now defunct Walker Book Walk-A-Book blog. I want this piece to have permanent home on the Internet because it lives in my heart every day. I never realised how it would feel when the Samurai Kids series ended. I knew the time had come but it still hurt to let go.

Even now, six months after the last book in the series was published, the Kids still talk to me.

When a Series Ends
I’m currently working on the last book in the Samurai Kids series. I feel a bit sad. Not because the series is ending. I know the timing for that is right. Samurai Kids opened doors for me as a writer, it won awards and brought me a flood of feedback from enthusiastic fans. The story – its journey and its telling -  feels complete.

So why am I sad? Because I know I’ll miss the Kids and I hate to think I’ll never hear their voices in my head again. They argue and fight all the time, but they are the best of friends and they like to gang up on me. They do as they please and have no respect for my role as the author.

Some adult readers have wondered at my choice of a modern tone for the 17th century Samurai Kids’ voices. I think that makes history more accessible to young readers. But to be honest it wasn’t my idea, that’s how the kids speak to me.

The stories grew out of my passion for ancient history, Japan and swordsmanship. I knew that to be a samurai, you had to born into a samurai family. And the children of a samurai family had no choices – it was their destiny to bear a sword. But everyone wanted to be an elite samurai so that part didn’t matter. Or did it? What if you wanted to be a samurai but weren’t very good at it? What if no amount of training would help because it wasn’t something you could change? What if you were born with one leg?

That’s when Niya, the one-legged narrator of the Samurai Kids series, first spoke to me. See for yourself, he said. So I went into my backyard and tucked up one leg. To my surprise I had assumed  the White Crane stance, a form common to a number of martial arts. That’s right, said Niya. I am the White Crane, really good at standing on one leg. Now give it a try and see what it’s like to be me.

I accepted Niya’s challenge. I did a flying one-legged karate kick and landed flat on my face. I had found the first lines to Niya’s story.

I scissor kick high as I can and land on my left foot. I haven’t got another one. My name is Niya Moto and I’m the only one-legged samurai kid in Japan. Usually I miss my foot and land on my backside. Or flat on my face in the dirt.
I’m not good at exercises, but I’m great at standing on one leg. Raising my arms over my head, I pretend I am the great White Crane. ‘Look at me,’ the crane screeches across the training ground. ‘Look at him,’ the valley echoes.

Niya laughed at me sprawled on the ground. Then he began to tell me about his friends -  Mikko, Yoshi, Nezume, Kyoko and Taji – and how they all struggled to become samurai despite their disabilities. He told me about their teacher - wise, eccentric Sensei Ki-Yaga, once a legendary warrior. A man who saw their strengths and ignored their weaknesses and taught them the power of working together. Or gently rapped them over the ears with his travelling staff if they didn’t pay enough attention.

Niya confided to me that he thought Kyoko was really pretty. And that sometimes he could hear Sensei talking inside his head. Sensei would talk inside my head too. He would whisper oddly-slanted words of wisdom to make me laugh. Put it in the book, he would say. I’m really very funny. I often didn’t get to write what I wanted to. The kids had their own ideas. I wouldn’t say that. I’m much too brave, Mikko would insist. He’s right you know, Yoshi would agree. Kyoko would get cranky with me if I didn’t let her win all the wrestling matches. I’m a better samurai than those boys. Taji would patiently make suggestions, a blind kid who showed me a different way to look at things.

And when I tried to take them on a journey to India, they refused to go. They had traveled to China, Korea and Cambodia, and now they wanted to go home. That’s when I knew it was time to write the last book. The Kids want to make sure that I get this book right. Even now they’re banding together to convince me I need an epilogue. So readers will know what happened to us. And they want to make sure I reveal Sensei’s secret the way they think is best. They admire him heaps but even more importantly, they love him a lot.

As I type, I can still hear Niya’s voice. Do you think I would ever go away? What about writing a sequel? What about a series all about me? I’m going to be a teacher, just like Sensei. There’ll be a new generation of Samurai Kids. My kids. He sighs. It won’t be the same you know. The golden age of the samurai has come to an end. But I’ve got some ideas. Really big ideas…

For an author, imagination has a way of blurring into reality. Who are you calling not real? the Kids demand to know. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

A is for Asimov and Aldiss

I was thinking about authors that begin with the letter A (as you do!) and the same day read an article about the first science fiction book (believed to be ancient Roman for those interested) and I started to think about Isaac Asimov and the first science fiction book I read. It was I, Robot.

My reading relationship with Asimov began and ended in my first year of high  school. I was a country kid and the pickings in my primary school library and the town library were very slim. But my high school had an almost brand new library with more books than I had ever seen before. I did what any mathematical mind might do when confronted with that - I started at A. When I got to Asimov,I adopted a dual approach. I read every Asimov novel or short story I could find and then moved on to other science fiction, while still working my way through A.

The relationship didn't last because someone returned Helliconia Spring by Brian Aldiss and as I was still on the A shelf I went back to read it. It was a different sort of science fiction, in fact it was science fantasy. For my entire school life it was my genre of choice. I am a much wider reader now, but it is still my comfort zone.

I can't remember anything about I, Robot or even the Foundation series, which for many years was on my list of favourite reads. I even bought my own copies but I don't have them anymore either. There are more books in my life than bookshelves so ultimately Asimov had to go. I found the books a good home - a friend had a house where almost every wall was a built-in floor to ceiling bookcase and every book was science fiction.

While I can't remember the stories, I still remember the feeling of having something new and wonderful to read. That's easy to remember, because it still happens all the time.

PS I still have the Helliconia series and am thinking I might start rereading it tonight.

PPS Other authors that begin with A that I like - Margaret Atwood and Jean Auel (except for the last book in the Earth Children series - one of the only two books I couldn't finish despite waiting ten years for it!). Confession -  I am not a Jane Austen fan (*ducks while many friends throw books at my head*)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Birthday Books

These are my birthday books.

These are the reasons I chose them:

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan -  It was CBCA Book of the Year for Older Readers but that's not why I chose it (although that would have been good enough to influence me). I read Tender Morsels last year and it really engaged my brain. Not many books make me concentrate hard when I read. Usually I find myself reading exponentially faster because I am excited to know what happens in the end. Unfortunately this sometimes interferes with my enjoyment - it's over all too soon. Tender Morsels made me think. And if I got ahead of myself I would quickly realise I had missed something. I like that. It was one of my favourite reads of 2012. I was hoping Sea Hearts would treat me similarly. I say "was" because I've read it now and I was not disappointed. I liked it even more than Tender Morsels.

Pureheart by Cassandra Golds. A Cassandra Golds book changes the colour of my day. Time spent between the pages makes the real world a little more ethereal and magical - not necessarily softer but certainly sharper and more sensefully aware. (Yes, Sensefully. I made that up because there is no word I know that fits better). I've read lots of reviews for Pureheart and I am intrigued. Even if I hadn't read all Cassandra's other titles, I would still have chosen it.

The Wishbird by Gabrielle Wang. I've only read one of Gabrielle's books, Little Paradise. The others are on my To read List. I can see from the glowing reviews I've read of The Wishbird that while I enjoyed Little Paradise, this is a lot different and I'm going to enjoy it even more. I admire the creative space inside Gabrielle's head. I know all about that because I read her blog all the time.

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth. I'm a fan of historical fiction and Kate's previous release, Bitter Greens, was another of my best reads of 2012. I love fairy tales so this is history especially for me. I am fascinated by the research she does because as a writer, that's one of my favourite parts of the process.

Lastly, the book I didn't choose. Armed with a very definite list and instructions "not to swap one for anything else" my other half added a book of his own choosing. He doesn't read MG or YA but he knows me well enough to get it really right .

Looking for Alaska by John Green. I'm almost embarrassed to admit I haven't read a single John Green book. So many books and so little money. I always wanted to.  And now I can.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

When the Blogosphere Speaks, I Listen

I love it when the blogosphere speaks to me personally. Over on my good friend Di Bate's blog Writing for Children, author Sherryl Clark is writing a post for me. Not that Sherryl knows that!

The post is called When Writers Resign. It talks about the ups and downs of this writing life and why most writers keep writing  through them all because ultimately we need to create. It also talks about how, like with any other job, we really can can resign if we want to.

I have been heading further and further out into the writing wilderness for the last three years. I didn't choose for life to go that way. My youngest son became very sick with symptoms that no-one could fully explain. Everything fell in the 'diagnosis by exclusion' bucket and there's no effective for those. Some things helped but the things that constrained his life were always there. And so was I. All day and often multiple times through the night. My days were a round of specialists, medication, painkillers, home schooling and hot water bottles. Half way through I got sick too. It was hard to write with a life like that.

I'm much better now and in recent weeks my son has seen the first improvement ever. I am gradually inching my way back from the wilderness. I always had a lifeline. The Samurai Kids series had its own momentum, there were always books to be written and in the worst of times I still managed two. The last one, Black Tengu, was released on September 1 and I'm proud to say its the best of them all.

But at the same time I decided to make it even harder to walk out of the wilderness. I shot myself in the foot. I started a new manuscript. One outside my comfort zone. One that was hard to write.  But it was a story I loved and a story I believed in. I kept going. For a few weeks recently I wondered if I was in the middle of what Sherryl refers to as the story that just won't work and has to be abandoned years later.

Image from
But again the blogosphere spoke to me. Over at is a post "Hand in Hand, Writers Share Advice in Notes on Their Own Hands. It's an April 2013 post but it's been waiting there for me. First up is Neil Gaiman, an author whose writing I not only admire but whose writing about writing always strikes me with its truth. There were three points on Neil's hand. Number 2 was for me. Finish things.

I should have known this. I'd already been told. I'd even filed the wisdom away. Neil Gaiman's 8 Rules for Writing.

There's a lot of editing and rewriting involved with my current manuscript, but I'm getting closer to the finish. And I feel good.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

In Praise of Pencils

I always work with a pencil. Not just any pencil. A 2B pencil, sharpened to the finest point possible, with a one of those rubbers that fit on the top. I go through packets of those - bright purple, grreen, yellow and  blue - they're still easy to lose.

For me, the fixation started in my programming days. It was easier to manually debug code with a pencil and then when I started to write fiction, it was somehow more creative to edit a hard copy with a pencil or to write out pieces in long hand before typing.

Recently #2 son and I cleaned out the stationary boxes. There were two in his room crammed full of pens, pencils, textas, erasers, pencil sharpeners, liquid paper glue and all sorts of novelty stationery stuff. Pens with reindeer, Disney toys, ninja turtles and a crocodile. The goal was to dispose of most of them.

It is incredibly hard to get rid of stationery! One box remains but I think most of the other box made its way into my office.

We were surprised at how many different types of pencils we had and decided to google what sort of gradations of graphite they came in. How soft can a pencil be? How hard?

I discovered I am not alone in my fixation with pencils. Pencils even have their own blog thanks to Studio 502. Lots of interesting stuff there including all sorts of pencils to buy. I particularly like the Pencil Artist of the Week feature.

You can find Studio 502 (alias on Facebook and Pinterest . Check out their board on Pencil Crafts.

And just for the record, great things have been achieved in pencil, even outside the art world. John Steinbeck used as many as 60 cedar pencils every day. Roald Dahl used only pencils with yellow casing to write his books. He had 6 sharpened pencils ready at the beginning of each day and only when all 6 pencils became unusable did he resharpen them. Finally, Thomas Edison was so keen on working in pencil, he had his own especially made!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

This Review Sold Me a Book

I don't often buy a book based solely on a review. For me, usually it's word or mouth or the recommendation of a friend, and then I might search out reviews before I buy.

But I still read lots of reviews (and write a few too!) and yesterday I read one on the Readings web site that had me adding the book to my shopping cart immediately.

Here is the full review by bookseller Deborah Crabtree for The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness and here is the extract that sealed my purchase!

Love and loss are central to The Crane Wife, as is art and greed and the power of story. There is a truth to Ness’s writing even amid the strangeness of the world he creates, and such artistry and sensitivity to his storytelling that I longed to stay in that world well after the novel ended and I will return to it again. This book will break hearts.

I want to read the book (desperately) and I want to write reviews like that (just as desperately!)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Books I Bagged at the South Coast Lifeline Book Fair

I finally made it to the South Coast Lifeline Book Fair and was amazed at what I found. Not only is it well organised, the variety of titles available surprised me. Of course I headed straight for the Young Adult and Pre-Teen sections.

I found lots of recent releases, merchandising related books, classic works and wonderful Australian titles by friends, colleagues and heroes. Many of the books were in as new condition. For our underfunded public school libraries, the Book Fair would be a good place to source additional titles. I saw many past CBCA and other award winners waiting for a second home.

So what did I buy?

A Bridge to Wiseman's Cove by James Malony -  A CBCA Book of the Year for Older Readers in 1997. One I had always intended to read. (And now I have!)

Letters from the Inside by John Marsden - another one on my long term list.

The Starthorn Tree by Kate Forsyth - I've been reading all Kate's later work and the cover was too magical to resist.

Two iconic Australian works of fiction:
 People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks

That Deadman Dance - Kim Scott

And two non-fiction for future research and historical fiction ideas -

The Year China Discovered the World - Gaven Menzies (1421!)

The Viking World - James Graeme Campbell.

All for $31. It's win-win. Some wonderful books get a second wind and Lifeline raises much needed funds for its essential services.

So if you love books, try and make it to a Lifeline Book Fair. If you live in the Illawarra the next South Coast Book Fair is in October. Here is a list of other dates and locations.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing is a chain of book and author recommendations.Richard Harland tagged me on his blog and now it's my turn. Check out the books by the people I tagged at the end of this post
What is the [working] title of your next book?

Black Tengu, the eighth and final title in the Samurai Kids series.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The first book in the series, White Crane, was published in 2008. I had written it as a stand-alone novel but my publisher, Walker Books Australia, felt it would make a good series. I had to go back through White Crane looking for something that I could use as the arc for a series. I found a throwaway comment that Sensei had once made a terrible mistake. I had originally only included this because I did not want the wise, eccentric teacher to be perfect but it was destined for greater things and grew to become the link that ran through the whole series and is finally resolved in this last book.

What genre does your book fall under?

The Samurai Kids series is historical fiction, set in the mid-17th century when the golden age of the samurai was drawing to a close.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I am not sure how to answer this. It might require clever costuming as the main character has one leg, another boy has one arm – each character has a difficulty to overcome although this is not always physical. I’m sure there is a film company and actors out there who could meet the challenge. Maybe it would be an anime film so perhaps I should choose voices...

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In the harsh snow lands of Ezo, the Samurai Kids must find a way to help Sensei Kiyaga face the terrible secret from his past.

 Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The series is published by Walker Books Australia and I am represented by Pippa Masson of Curtis Brown.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

It took longer to write this last book than any other in the series. The first draft took six months but there are many redrafts still ahead. I am found it a challenge to draft as I am not a plotter. I just write the stories my characterstell me. But in this book I had to follow the plotline I had spent seven prior books preparing. I did not find it easy but am happy with it.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The Samurai Kids series is often compared by reviewers to John Flanagan’s Rangers Apprentice and Brotherband series. I find this a wonderful compliment and wouldn’t want to suggest anything else!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was thinking about what it would be like to be a samurai – as lovers of ancient history like me do! I knew that if you were born into a samurai family you had no choice but to serve. I began to wonder what it would be like for a boy (or a girl, there is one girl samurai in my books) who wasn’t very good at their lessons. And what if they weren’t very good because of something that wasn’t their fault. Like being born with one leg. That’s when my one-legged narrator, Niya, first spoke to me. “Give it a go,” he said. So I went down into my backyard, tucked up one leg and karate kicked. I found the beginning of my story. “My name is Niya Moto and I am the only one-legged samurai kid in Japan. Famous for falling flat on my face in the dirt.”

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

I think this question is best answered in terms of the series. The group of characters is unusual, the time of swords and battles is exciting, there is a strong focus on a range of martial arts, the children travel across Japan, China, Korea and Cambodia and the Zen humour is quirky. In short, most readers tell me it’s very different to any other books they’ve read.

Here are the authors I'd like to introduce, and who you can follow next Wednesday, when they answer the same questions...

 George Ivanoff



Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My Favourite Blog Posts - How Facebook Changed My Life by Cassandra Golds

I like Facebook but am often called upon to defend why. This post is from one of my favourite Australian authors, Cassandra Golds (who wrote one of my all time favourite books - The Three Loves of Persimmon), and explains it much better than I ever could.

I often do speaking sessions about social media for writers and I always include a slide with quotes from Cassandra's post on it.

Here are some of my favourite excerpts:

People say that Facebook is superficial. The truth is that everybody approaches Facebook in a different way. Part of the fascination lies in the differences...

Some people post links to reviews or to articles on subjects they find interesting: I love this! Many people, including myself, share music videos from YouTube. How delightful it can be to be reminded of a long-forgotten song, or to discover that a Facebook friend has similar musical taste!
Some write progress reports on the novel they are writing ...

You have only to say something a little fragile on Facebook, or even to be absent for a while, to attract well-wishes, warm support, queries about your welfare and even personal offers of help. I have found it an immensely supportive community. And if you share an achievement — the publication of a book, for example, or a good review, you are showered with encouragement and affirmation.

There is also a lot of talk about cats and other furry animals...

In short, I haven't had so much fun in years. And I have never felt less alone.

I don't necessarily like everything about Facebook. I don't want play games or participate in survey-type quizzes. But sometimes I change my mind. One of the things I didn't initially like was the posting of birthday greetings. It just didn't seem to have the same sincerity as a card or a phone call. But then a funny thing happened - I had a birthday!!! The list of birthday messages made me smile - and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them. I realised that not only was it a good idea - it mattered to me after all.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tech Stuff for Writers - Postcron revisited

A friend read my post about Postcron and pointed out that Facebook allows you to schedule posts, so why would she use PostCron?

Two reasons - Facebook only allows scheduling for Pages. With Postcron, you can schedule posts for Pages and your timeline.

Better interface - If you have more than one Page, Facebook shows future scheduled posts separately on each page. With Postcron the information is all in one place, neatly organised under tabs.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sandy Writes - The Detail is a Google

Source: jpellgen
I'm happy with my first paragraph. A bell tolls ominously over the snow. It sketches the setting with a light touch and it has the Samurai Kids feeling nervous and afraid. The reader knows something terrible is in the air.
But as I read through my words for the tenth time - and yes there will be many more readings. I revise like Tolkien. I read once that the reason it took him so long to write - was partly because his works were so long and detailed - but partly because every time he got a little bit further along, he went back to the start and revised all over again.

I do that too. It makes for slow going but it works for me. I am an almost non-existent plotter and although I may have a very firm idea, the middle parts of the story are usually quite bare when I begin. So I need to revise iteratively and continually to maintain continuity as the story develops organically.

Source: bthomso
As I am reading my first paragraph again, it occurs to me for the first time, that perhaps my Kids are too far way from the bell they are hearing. How far does the toll of a bell reach? Who can tell me that? I grew up in Camden about 2km as the crow flies from St John's church. We could often hear the bells.

But can I be further than 2 km away? Would sound travel a greater distance over the flatlands? Would snow absorb any sound? And what sort of bell was it anyway - in 17th century Japan?

So I type into Google: How far does a bell toll? One of the suggestions specifies time and place - the equivalent of pre-industrial early medieval Europe. It's a reasonable match. The link takes me to a forum. Some people comment from English villages about the bells they hear every day. Another takes a comment from Wikipedia about the bells of St Mary-le-bow and calculates the distance to the villages mentioned.

One person describes how flatlands amplify sound. Another tells the tale of a 12th century monastery resited because its bells were confused with those of another 2 km down a winding valley. Someone even explains the physics behind why an older bell rings louder over distance than today's bells.

Everything I needed to know was there. I figure given the landscape and the time of the bell I can safely set the distance between my kids and the castle anywhere from 2km to 4km. I don't need to be exact. I just need to be realistic.

Here is the link to the discussion on bells. Everything an armchair author needs to know!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Creativity Quote # 1 - Steve Jobs

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things - Steve Jobs


Monday, October 15, 2012

Sandy Writes - In defence of the Thesaurus

Cartoon by Dave Walker. at We Blog Cartoons.
I'm always interested to read what other writers having to say about their writing process, I have a Pinterest Board for Writers On Writing where I have begun to pin my favourites. There's not a lot there at the moment so I'm looking for suggestions if you've got one to recommend.

Sometimes I find myself disagreeing, even with someone as talented as Stephen King. His books are wonderful and I learned so much from his On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, but when I he said: "Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule", I had to shake my head. It's not like that for me at all.

I understand where he's coming from. The thesaurus is often consulted to find a 'better word' for a variety of reasons - more unique, more formal, more literary - and invariably a word chosen on such basis will ruin any sentence it is placed in.

But there are exceptions. There are are different ways to use a thesaurus. I open the thesaurus when the word I have in my head doesn't feel right - it doesn't match the feeling I have in my heart. I am rarely looking for a replacement word - I am looking for a different word that may set me thinking in a different direction. A word may lead to an image, almost never to a direct insertion.

I particular like how the Visual Thesaurus works in this way. Sometimes the word I end up with is not a synonym by a long shot, but it is a word that feels like it fits or helps me to find a more fitting string of words. The Visual Thesaurus is an organic way to search for a word. As you step out along the nodes the correlation between word and meaning widens but the correlation between word and feel is not lessened.

Well, that's the way it works for me.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sandy Writes - In Defence of Short sentences

When I began to write I immediately noticed a major difference between the style that came naturally to me and the works of fiction I loved to read. My sentences were usually quite short. I was appalled that I couldn't get this simple thing right. I tried hard to improve - to model my writing on the work of authors I admired. But it just wouldn't happen.

When my first book was accepted for publication I thought perhaps it didn't really matter. But some months later, when I took my own book from my library shelf to read, I was disappointed all over again. It didn't read like a real book. It was full of short sentences.

In time, I've grown comfortable with those short sentences. I can still build beautiful images or fast action. It's all about how I string them together and I love writing them.

One of the websites I like to visit is Maria Popova's Brain Pickings. Today I discovered in her review of Several Short Sentences About Writing, these words of wisdom from another short sentence defender:

You can say smart, interesting, complicated things using short sentences.
How long is a good idea?
Does it become less good if it’s expressed in two sentences instead of one?
Writing short sentences will help you write strong, balanced sentences of any length. Strong, lengthy sentences are really just strong, short sentences joined in various ways.

E.B White was also a defender of short sentences. Another Brain Pickings post on that here.

And a final comment from Several Short Sentences about Writing by Verilyn Klinkenborg: The only link between you and the reader is the sentence you’re making.

The length of the sentence really doesn't matter after all.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tech Stuff for Writers - PostCron

This is the first in a series of posts where I'll share the tips, tricks, apps and software that I use to make my writing life on-line as efficient as possible. I want to enjoy my time on-line (and I do) but at the same time I don't want to waste manuscript writing time.

So welcome to PostCron. PostCron is a web application that allows you to schedule Facebook Posts. I find this useful because I often find things I want to post when I am researching or just checking my Google Reader feed but I don't want to interrupt my workflow to post them. I don't want to forget them either. I also want to post them when my friends and colleagues are most likely to be on-line.

So if I find something interesting on the web that I want to share on Facebook I immediately set up a PostCron entry. I keep the URL on my Favourites bar so the whole process takes a few minutes.

The URL for Postcron is I login with facebook which means some details look after themselves. I choose the free version. It has everything I need.

The post screen is set up very similar to a Facebook post. Nothing new to learn here! Text, pictures and links are entered the same way. The only difference is you have a choice of your Facebook Pages or your Profile Wall as the post destination. You can post to more than one destination concurrently. In this screen I have selected my Sandy Fussell Author Page.

After entering the text and attaching an image ot link, the post will be previewed.
Press Schedule to set a date and time to schedule the post. Set and forget.

Sometimes my screen seems to hang but I just press F5 to redisplay and everything is as it should be. You can schedule multiple posts to different pages and to your profile wall. The free version has a limit of ten posts pending. Pending post are stored in tabs based on posting destination. Select the tab to see the scheduling details.

If for some reason a post fails, you get an email message and can reschedule or post manually.
Too easy! If you found this useful leave me a comment and I'll share some more suggestions.

Monday, September 24, 2012

My Favourite Blog Posts - Words to make sense of myself and the wonderful world we live in... Walk A Book Blog - Michael Earp

I love words. I love them by themselves (how great is snizzle - a drizzle of snow) but I love them even more when they are strung together to create beautiful images, amazing action or gut-wrenching feelings. They transport me. They get in my eyes and my ears with a wonderful euphoria of drowning in someone else's vision. And often they make me wishful and wish I was the one who wrote them.

I am avid reader of blogs and collector of quotes. Imagine my excitement to find a blog post full of word images, drawn from many of my favourite books. It's one of my all time favourite blog posts. It lives on the Walk A-Books blog and you can find it here.

It's written by Michael Earp who blogs as The Little Elfman and you can find him here.

And now for a sample:
In a way I’m addicted to the way words have power over us.

She liked the word ineffable because it meant a feeling so big or vast that it could not be expressed in words. And yet, because it could not be expressed in words, people had invented a word to express it, and that made Liesl feel hopeful, somehow. – Liesl & Po, Lauren Oliver   <<< more...>>>

Friday, September 21, 2012

Book Stuff - My Brother Simple

It's not often I pick up a book for review and go straight from the blurb on the back to the first page and then spend the rest of the afternoon reading. It takes a strong hook to distract me from the work I really should be doing.

This is one of these books that reaches out to touch the reader in an almost physical way - it made me cry and I am still thinking about it a week later.

My Brother Simple by Marie-Aude Murail – Bloomsbury. Children, Young Adult. Paperback RRP $15.99

Isabelle was amazed when she saw the two brothers walk in. They were alike but the younger one looked older. He had brooding eyes fed by some internal fire, while the other one had eyes so clear they looked like windows open to the sky. You almost expected to see swallows flitting across them.

This is the story of two brothers, Kleber and Simple (whose real name is Barnaby). Simple has severe learning difficulties and their father, in the early stages of a new relationship, wants to put him in an institution. Kleber loves his brother and can’t bear to think of that. So even though he is still in the last year of high school, he takes Simple and the money his mother left them when she died, and moves out.

But finding somewhere to rent with a brother like Simple is not easy. People are nervous, distrustful, cruel and even frightened. When he finally finds a flat-share, nothing turns out as planned. In the beginning Simple was the problem but as time goes by, he is in turn, the solution to each flatmate’s problem.

Simple is quick to admit he is an i-di-ot but character is measured in different ways. His brain might be small but his heart is huge. He changes the lives of everyone he touches. In the end, it is through Simple that Kleber, who was willing to sacrifice so much, is rewarded with exactly what he always wanted.

This is a gentle story, poignant and filled with beautiful images. A coming of age tale with the most unlikely of heroes.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Booking with Berry PS

Family illness has seen me less able to get out and about lately. But that hasn't stopped wonderful experiences and opportunities finding me. Last year I was a speaker at the Illawarra Australian Literacy Educators Association Professional Development Day. Prior to the day of the event I was introduced by email to Jan Turbill, a past ALEA president and university researcher, and the author of a number of literacy texts.

Towards a Reading-Writing Classroom - Andrea Butler & Jan Turbill
Jan is an inspiring woman - a life-long literary educator and book lover. She was working at Berry Public School as a 'critical friend' - sharing her love of literature and teaching students to read and write critically. She established a book club to encourage reading - and their very first book - was Samurai Kids: White Crane. It was then decided that the same text could be used to demonstrate the characteristics of effective and engaging narrative. It was decided to focus the club's attention on the reading-writing connections and demonstrate how ‘children must read like a writer, in order to learn to write like a writer’.

 Jan told me: I could see wonderful opportunities to make explicit how you chose language to bring the characters to life - how the theme (or themes) are carried through the story and so on. Now these kids are avid readers but not necessarily writers and it is my belief and now experience that avid readers can be avid writers and learn many 'tools' for writing that they can use for all genres. So I suggested to the Principal and the teacher working with me  that I have a day in Term 4 where we think about White Crane from the perspective of the author - and they have a go at writing as you have (the term I use is 'text as mentor' and living in the shoes of the author').

She had a different approach to the literature circles I was familiar with. The school wanted to see its avid readers be similary excited about writing. Jan has a favourite quote which she shared with me, a quote which helped shape her approach:

‘The author becomes an unwitting collaborator [teacher]. … Bit by bit, one thing at a time, but enormous amounts of things over the passage of time, the learner learns, through reading like a writer, to write like a writer,’  (Frank smith)

She asked if I would like to speak to the Book Club, talk to them about the writing the book, listen to them read their written pieces and answer some questions. Would I ever! It was a lot of fun doing this over Skype. I thought it would also be a good ideas if I provided some formal feedback and I looked at each piece identifying what worked well and two things which could be improved.

Earlier this year I had the privilege of participating when Jan presented a session on her work at Berry PS at the National ALEA Conference in Sydney. It was inspiring to see such tangible results and to know I played a part in them. This year there is a new Book Club of would-be writers and I am looking forward to doing the whole process again!

Ssanne Gervay, AJ Betts and me - ALEA 2012

Monday, August 27, 2012

National Book Shop Day

I'm over a week behind with this post but it's never too late to celebrate National Bookshop Day. Last Saturday I was invited to Pages and Pages at Mosman to join other children's and YA authors in store.

And what a store! All the wonderful things I had heard were true. Almost like two shops in one - and one whole shop wholly dedicated to book for young readers. There is no brighter, more imaginative enticing world than a book store like this. I arrived early and left late, like the party guest who stays too long, I didn't want to go home. I wanted to keep talking books and making origami bookmarks and samurai with the enthusiastic kids who came in.

It was such a treat to browse the shelves. I miss that. I am often heard bemoaning the fact that I live in the third largest city in NSW and we don' have a bookstore. We have a University, an Art Gallery, a Performing Arts Centre and an Entertainment Centre. The only bookshop is in the Uni, too difficult to drop in to, with no parking nearby. It's certainly not as much fun book shopping on-line.

But on National Book Shop Day ... I arrived home to find an email telling me Dymocks was opening a store in Wollongong again.

What a day! What better way to celebrate bookshops!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Book Week 2012

My feet are tired. My voice is almost non-existent. But I've been smiling to myself all night. Book Week is the most wonderful time to be a children's author.

I spent my second day at Marrickville Library. I've never been to Marrickville before but the library is the place to go. Chelsea does a great job with the books and the local schools. I could have talked to her all day (so she was probably glad when the kids turned up and she could escape!).

One of my very first Book Week experience was a CBCA Schools lunch on a harbour ferry. I was lucky enough to sit with Shore librarian Margo Pickering and the libabry monitors. This year I got a chance to catch up again. The boys at Shore had been using White Crane in the classroom so the questions there were quite in depth.

Today I arrived early at Scots College to sit in the sun and watch the Book Parade - cats in hats, buzz lightyear, a zombie ninja and a Harry Potter or two. I couldn't find the librarian but Tin-tin turned up to rescue me (Hi James!)

You know you're in trouble when during question time, a Year 5 pulls your book from under his jacket, flips it open and says "Now, here on page 122 ..."

These kids make what I am doing lots of fun and they remind me that what I am doing is important - meeting a real author makes reading and writing more accessible. I feel spoiledby their enthusiasm for my stories. And that's before I even mention the chocolates...