20 December 2013

Happy Christmas and
best wishes for 2014
from all of us at Omnibus Books, Dyan, Celia, Gina, Anne and Patricia

The Octopuppy by Martin McKenna 
Published by Omnibus Books
Illustration copyright © Martin McKenna

17 December 2013

Another sneak peek ...

  • A story about choosing your own future by an exciting new author. In shops May 2014!

04 December 2013

A sneak peek ...

... of the funkiest grandma in children's literature. Coming soon.

Grandma, the Baby and Me by Emma Allen, illustrated by Hannah Sommerville

18 November 2013

'The Book of You: Jodie' reader book review

Jodie really made me believe that there was a magic book in my library! The book really hooked me in and I could picture the images clearly. I would recommend Jodie to everyone who likes books about questions and magic!

by Asha, 9

12 November 2013

For and by the kids

In the news this week we see that the kids have picked The Golden Door by Emily Rodda as the winner in the KOALA Fiction for Younger Readers category. The Kids Own Australian Literature Awards are chosen by children, for children and it's great to see young people speaking up in such a positive way.

In the grown-up world of publishing with its relentless generation of marketing plans and sales projections and cover art budgets it's nice to remember that ultimately what we're doing is making books that children will want to read. And small humans, like big humans, are increasingly (or should that be decreasingly?) short on time. So with the summer school holidays just around the corner we'd like to throw our support behind Doing Nothing. Yes, that's right, whole days filled with nowhere to go and nothing to do except ... Reading A Book! Or maybe two books, or five or ten. Find a sunbeam, flop down in it and lose yourself in another world.

23 October 2013

Redcap's Christmas

The horror! Is it Christmas already? Luckily (all bah-humbugging aside) it's only October but in publishing circles that means Christmas books are popping off the presses and we have a bright shiny red one out this month called Recap's Christmas and hardworking illustrator Ben Wood has been interviewing author Sue Cason over at his blog. Redcap's Christmas is an illustrated chapter book for younger readers which makes it ideal for reading aloud to excited children. Hold the reindeers and pop this one in Santa's sack!

11 October 2013

Day of the Girl

Another significant day today, Day of the Girl. Listening to the brave and inspiring Malala Yousafzai interviewed on the radio this morning was a reminder of how much we take for granted in Australia and New Zealand. My girls love school and it is heartbreaking to think of all the girls their age who are prevented by oppression or poverty from going to school every day. There's a link below to a project close to our heart, illustrating for a cause. 

Post your Day of the Girl art on their Facebook page.

07 October 2013

World Teachers' Day

We love teachers because without them, among a zillion other things, we wouldn't know where to put the apostrophe in World Teachers' Day. Anyone who has ever spent any time in a classroom full of energetic children (usually referred to as 'learners' these days) knows that teachers put in a full day's work each and every day. For our teacher readers it's worth pointing out that teaching notes are written for most Omnibus books and you can find them here. Most of our authors and illustrators are also more than happy to visit schools so if you have a classroom full of eager readers, get in touch with us and we'll supply an author to help feed their passion. Happy Teachers' Day!

23 September 2013

Why we love Martin McKenna

A few years ago I was trawling the net looking for a suitable image for a fantasy book I was about to publish.  Fantasy covers are often difficult and it is unusual to find exactly what you want.  Commissioning work takes time and in this instance time was short.  The internet makes it very easy to communicate directly and if the recipient is a nice person they usually respond personally to any query.  Martin and I began what has become a long email friendship and despite not ultimately using the image I had found we discovered that there were a lot of projects that suited each other perfectly.

Martin McKenna has a very strong background in fantasy art and in particular horror art.  You can see his work here.  His skills are quite extraordinary - he works on so many different sorts of projects you might think that when I suggested he illustrate a cover for us he would laugh in my face.  An illustrator of Martin's calibre can command a hefty price for a single image - nothing we could match.  But Martin is such a lovely human being that he agreed. 
He created the covers for Ian Irvine's series Grim and Grimmer and went on to create some utterly spectacular covers for Emily Rodda's series The Key to Rondo
We loved working with Martin - he is so accommodating and generous and talented that working with him is very special.  It wasn't a big leap to go from covers to a picture book and the first opportunity we had was a book by Penny Matthews called The Gift.  That artwork was so beautiful we couldn't resist asking Martin if he would like to create a picture book of his own - he jumped at the chance and we were delighted to publish Octopuppy this year.

In this book we discovered a whole new layer of Martin's talent; not only can he can write, he can draw very different kinds of characters.  Jarvis in this story is a master of disguise.  Every time Martin sent us a new image for the endpapers we had a new favourite.  Celia's was, of course, Jarvis Who.  Mine was cross-dressed Jarvis as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.
We are now embarked on  a new project with Martin - another spectacularly clever and delightfully funny idea which we hope to publish in May 2015.  Working in publishing we are always thinking years ahead - odd and unsettling at times because things seem so far away but we expect that the time will fly and meanwhile we will have Martin's gorgeous drawings to feed our imaginations.  If you haven't seen Octopuppy go and take a look in your favourite bookstore. 
We were delighted to see a review of Octopuppy from Hill of Content bookstore that compared Martin's work to that of Oliver Jeffers.  We love Oliver Jeffers' work too (we would love to publish him so if he happens to read this blog please do get in touch) but we feel the two artists are unique.   There is room in the world for as many genius illustrators are there are children who love picture books.

12 September 2013

Lately I've been seeing more and more business cards attached to unsolicited manuscripts advising me that the writer is someone capable of teaching writing to potential authors.  Manuscript assessment services, workshops on how to become published, how to write a picture book, writing for young adults; the list of talents these cards shout about goes on and on.  Since I think I have a pretty sound knowledge of the children's publishing industry and at the least I know of a high percentage of writers I've been surprised by the fact that all of these business cards name people I have never heard of.  Ever.  But they all list websites and so I have begun looking at these to see just who these people are and why they have something to offer other writers. What I find quite dismays me.  Almost without exception these people have not been published at all. They even list themselves as 'award-winning authors'  when the awards are things like fourth prize in a local competition.  There is no shame in local competitions of course but they do not qualify the writer as award-winning.  Self-publishing does not make someone an expert in mainstream publishing either. These so-called children's authors have no credentials, no qualifications to teach others and little real knowledge of the industry if their websites are anything to go by.  Regardless of this they seem to believe they can set themselves up as trainers, teachers and assessors.  It's a free country and this is an unregulated area so I guess there is nothing to stop this sort of thing yet it strikes me as one of the more unfortunate results of the internet age.

There are many, many people who'd like to be published and I think I have a greater insight into this vast pool of keen people than most.  I meet writers everywhere who are as yet unpublished and who are so desperate to find themselves in print that they willingly pay someone who purports to know how it is done.  I have had letters attached to quite unpublishable manuscripts telling me that the manuscript has undergone  a thorough assessment and the writer has been told that its now very, very publishable.  I have seen one so-called 'reputable' assessment site that claims a letter from them will guarantee the writer's manuscript will go straight to the top of the unsolicited pile.  For a fee of some hundreds of dollars they can have just such a letter.  That is of course on top of the hundreds of dollars they will first pay for the assessment.

I have begun to feel very upset at this quite unprofessional practice.

Unpublished writers are a very vulnerable group and their vulnerability is preyed upon by these self-proclaimed authorities. I find it despicable and even sad.  So many are taken in.  So much money is changing hands with no perceptible results.  I'd like to encourage all the would-be writers out there to NOT use services like these.  Join your local writers' centre where at least you can be sure the workshops will be run by men and women who are indeed professionals.  Where the charge for training will be minimal; where you can join like-minded others and find strength in the group and the encouragement you need.  Attend local writing festivals - there are many of these.  Read as much as you can.  Spend time in libraries or bookshops talking to librarians or owners who can help you to recognise the reputable children's publishers in Australia.  Seek out the sort of books they publish.  See if your work is similar.  Polish your writing like the precious thing it is until you can truly do no more.  Make sure there are no spelling errors, no repeated lines, no unwanted bits you accidentally left in when you deleted something.  Then send it to the publisher of your choice and cross your fingers. 

Here are my writing tips for the month.

A story is not necessarily a picture book.
A list of things that happened is unlikely to make a good picture book.
A family event is unlikely to make a good picture book.
A great picture book writer leaves out a lot.  The illustrator fills in those gaps.
Illustrators don't like to be told what to draw.
Read the guidelines for the way a publisher wants to get work from you and do what they say.

I cant remember where I got this picture from so I apologise to whoever owns it for the lack of an attribution - but for me, this could be the start of a wonderful picture book. Why?  Because it leaves so much out.  Because it makes me want to know just what those tales the young soldier is telling to the rhinoceros are.  Because I love the images.  And most of all, because it feels so very original.

06 September 2013

Stopping at all stops ...

this insightful interview about YA publishing from the US Publisher's Weekly
this exciting new YA novel from the awesome pen of Patrick Ness
– an interview with Alexis Wright about her intriguing new literary-dystopian-climate-change adult novel The Swan Book
– and the pun of the week goes to the new Amazon scheme that bundles print and digital editions together – 'MatchBook' (also via PW).

Happy commuting!

04 September 2013

Indigenous Literacy Day

We'd like to mark Indigenous Literacy Day firstly by acknowledging that Omnibus Books sits on the land of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains and that we respect their ancestors and traditions. The Indigenous Literacy Foundation does great work to bring books to kids who through disadvantage or remote location may not have access to the libraries and bookshops and home bookshelves that most Australian kids are lucky enough to be surrounded by. Omnibus Books has a rich backlist of books for and about Indigenous children including Pigs and Honey by Jeanie Adams, Tucker's Mob by Christobel Mattingley, Side by Side and Too Many Captain Cooks by Alan R. Tucker, the Barrumbi Kids series by Leonie Norrington and As I Grew Older by Ian Abdulla. And continuing in this tradition we're very happy to be publishing three new books by Sally Morgan called Feast for Wombat illustrated by Tania Erzinger, One Rule and Going Bush With Grandpa with illustrator Ezekiel Kwaymullina. Look out for these in 2014.

And it's worth saying that we're always on the lookout for up and coming Indigenous authors and illustrators so send us your work today. Yes, really, today would not be too soon!

A sneak peak of a sleepy wombat. Illustration by Tania Erzinger

26 August 2013

Sign up to see On Ya Bus posts in your inbox

Remember, dear commuters, that to subscribe to the On Ya Bus blog you need only pop your email address* into the box in our right-hand column (scroll down until you see it).

And just on the topic of blog-keeping, we also feature new reviews of Omnibus Books just over there on the right as well –- this week a lovely review of our picture book Dog on Log. And from that book, here is a rough of a cheeky hog who sadly did not make the final cut.

Thanks as always, Kat Chadwick

* Email addresses are kept by Blogger and not accessible or viewable by us.

16 August 2013

Early Childhood Book of the Year 2013

We're very excited to hear that The Terrible Suitcase has won the CBCA Early Childhood Book of the Year. A very hearty (and slightly bubbly-flavoured) congratulations to Emma Allen and Freya Blackwood who worked so hard on this beautiful book. Warm fuzzy feelings all round.  

31 July 2013

A note from our Conductor ...

I may be the only publisher in the world who actually reads the unsolicited pile.  
Sometimes it makes me happy. The reason I read these manuscripts is that we have discovered so many wonderful and talented writers this way. Including Markus Zusak. Here he is as he was when we first knew him:

(Unable to locate the photographer's name -- apologies.)

He was discovered on our unsolicited pile and we published his first two books. It was his letter that got me in. Here is a bit of that letter -- pay attention to his very deliberate line spaces.

The Underdog ... is a short novel which can be summed up as a boy's life in all its dirtiness, eagerness, despairing hopelessness and smallness.

It's a thoroughly disgusting tale.

It's good.

But surely, it's not what you're looking for.

... It originated from the idea of a shocker dental appointment and the abrasive kitchen meals shared by two brothers. From there I kept moving forward. Through perverted dreams, noble ones and a lot of barking and scratching, I came to my conclusions as a boy with "boy's arms" and who definitely can't grow a beard, that boys are like dogs -- wild, vicious, gentle, dreaming, eager-to-please dogs.


I snivel.

You can see in this letter all Markus's hopes and dreams laid out. Here is someone who knows what he wants. His ambition is clear. And he can write. We published that first novel and the second as well. Everyone starts somewhere, and Omnibus has started some of the very best.

Michael Bauer, David Cornish, Kerry Argent, Mem Fox; these are a few of the writers and illustrators it has been our privilege to publish first. So I keep reading the unsolicited pile. I hope soon someone just as talented will turn up on that stack of paper. 

If you want to know what I am looking for it's this: 
  • I want original work! (This cuts out ALL stories about Labradors, clever mums, forgetful grandparents and cute kids doing cute things with mums, Labradors, or grandparents.)
  • I want work with heart. (But remembering the rule about Labradors.)
  • I want new illustrators -- really good ones.
  • I want literary writing
  • I want rhyming work that actually rhymes. (See rule about Labradors -- so a Labrador named Lily who wants to run and be silly is out.) Equally do not use phrasing like 'his mouth it did close' in order to rhyme the line with 'when the bee went up his nose'. That's when I close the manuscript.
  • I want work for 8 to 10-year-old readers that isn't soppy or sentimental or full of 1960s style japes.

Actually I want Bridge to Terabithia, or perhaps Hating Alison Ashley. I may have mentioned that before. Anyone? I'm at my desk right now ... waiting for that gem to arrive.

(Please note that I have stopped feeding manuscripts to my Perusal. My Consideration was equally overfed. Both are now on diets as they no longer fitted under my desk. Please don't send any more work for either of them. They don't read anyway!)

30 July 2013


You may have noticed over in our right-hand column a new news feed which takes its content from the Guardian UK's children's book section -- a reputable source of news and reviews of all things children's books. I thought I'd point out this particularly funny and cool item in their How To Draw series, 'How to Draw a Bear and a Boy in a Boat' by illustrator Dave Shelton.

Don't forget, if you're one of our younger readers (the special ones we really like) you can send in your review of any Omnibus book and if we choose it for our blog we'll send you a free book (which you will also have to review. Come on! Did you think it was really free?!) Click here and here for some reviewing inspiration.

And here is the cover of our new favourite picture book, Octopuppy, which isn't out until September but it's too cute not to share. Puppies!

16 July 2013

July books

Meet Otis Dooda. Yes, that's his name. This is the story of Otis and the Dooda family (including their rat Smoochie) moving to New York City, and the incredibly strange but true things that happened to them. It all started with Otis getting cursed by a potted plant in the lobby and then meeting a bunch of their neighbours, including a farting pony named Peaches, which was disguised as a dog. And that was just the first day!

New in our world-famous Mates! series is Bush Holiday. Tillithia loves the school holidays and doing stuff with her mum. But Auntie Doreen is here in her big truck to take them both on a real bush holiday!

And now even the youngest readers can get to know some of the adorable Australian animals in Possum Magic. Children and parents will love this variation on a timeless favourite. Possum Magic has been voted by booksellers as Australia's best-selling children's picture book.

05 July 2013

Wonderful news!

Congratulations to our two authors and two illustrators whose books have been shortlisted for the Western Australian Premier's Book Award. These are both beautiful picture books that we are very proud of.

24 June 2013

The Three Doors Trilogy

I've just spotted the Three Doors series bind-up coming up on Omnibus' new releases list and with an eight-year-old in the house currently devouring Emily Rodda's always-popular series Deltora Quest I think I'd better have one on hand for when she finishes. Isn't it handsome (and just a little bit frightening)? Out in October 2013.

06 June 2013

Hot tip!

We're very excited here at Omnibus to be the Australian publishers of Tamora Pierce's eagerly awaited new book Battle Magic. Due for release in October, if you can't wait a minute longer for a peek, head over here and follow the links for a sneak preview.

29 May 2013

Book review of 'Eric Vale: Super Male' by Asha Roberts, age 8

Eric Vale: Super Male is a funny and comical book and I recommend it to everyone! In the Eric Vale book there is always disasters happening and I reckon that there should be more parts where things work out for Eric. Poor Eric! I like how the book has been written like a primary school boy would say or have in a journal. This book has lots of parts where everything is going fine and then there are lots of parts where things are embarrassing and wrong. I like the illustrations because they really describe how the characters feel. Eric gets distracted in class because of his Secret Agent Derek 'Danger' Dale comic story that he keeps in his journal. In this book the writer doesn't really bring Eric's family into the story. There is only one small part about his sister. I think it would have been nice to bring Eric's family into this a bit. I like this book because it is like a journal (you could turn it into a journal). At Eric's school there is a super hero week and at Eric's sharing time it goes wrong! Overall I would give this book 10 out of 10. 

Asha Roberts, age 8

We'd love to read your book reviews! If you would like to write about an Omnibus book and receive a free book in exchange, please send your review to info at scholastic dot com dot au.

20 May 2013

Eric Vale Epic Fail

I think it might be a good idea to pop over to the lovely Readings blog and check out the interview with Michael Gerard Bauer and his son Joe about their new book Eric Vale Epic Vale out this month from Omnibus. Yes, that would be time well spent.

17 May 2013

New books!

What would happen if a spoonbill or a pelican or even an osprey came to your house? Fun and mayhem, that’s what! Don't Let a Spoonbill in Your Kitchen is written and illustrated by Narelle Oliver who has created many distinctive and beautiful picture books.  

A swashbuckling adventure story complete with a gang of pirates, evil villains, a trusty friend, a lost explorer, and a fabulous treasure, The Pirate Company: On the Trail of the Golden Toucan is the story of Tom Applecross, who found himself all alone in the world. Till he met up with a gang of pirates. Some would say, Any port in a storm. Others would say, Abandon ship while you’ve still got the chance!

New Mates! In Larrikin Lane, written by Kate Darling and illustrated by Ben Wood, the farm animals next door are making Mr Meyer very cranky. But Arkie has a plan. With Lola the sheep and Delilah the goat to help, what could possibly go wrong?

And in Drongoes, can Jack beat Rocket Robson in the cross-country this year? If only! But his best mate Eric might be the real winner in this race. Written by Christine Bongers and illustrated by Dan McGuiness this is a funny story about how winning isn’t always everything. 

The second in a new illustrated junior series from popular, award-winning author Michael Gerard Bauer, is Eric Vale: Super Male. It’s Superhero Week at school and Eric Vale is in for some SUPER surprises. A killer beast, a giant bully, a mutant orangutan bear and the dreaded Oogily-Boogily Man await him. This looks like a job for Eric Vale SUPER MALE! But will it end in a SUPER FAIL? Or will Eric finally go from ZERO to SUPERHERO?

Dog Tales is one of Emily Rodda’s most popular 
novels for younger readers. The Dolan Street dogs were Max 1, Max 2, Barney, Scruffy, Gina and Mavis. Mavis was actually a goat, but she did not know this, and none of the others liked to tell her ... Life for the Dolan Street dogs is not all lying around watching ‘Dog Hospital’. It can be very exciting. With a great new cover this is a funny, kid-friendly story from Australia’s most popular children’s author.

10 May 2013

Reading ...

Boomer & Me is a memoir of mothering a child who happens to have Aspergers syndrome. This is a work in progress (the bringing up of Leo, not the book) as the author's son is still young but so far she's doing an awesome job. I first met Jo when we worked together at Wakefield Press in our first jobs in publishing. Then she had her son and moved to the glamorous lights of Melbourne and I started working as a freelance editor. Jo's book is a closely observed, sensitive and moving story about Leo's early years. He is a super smart and a genuinely likeable kid who has some issues relating to other kids and controlling his passions. Jo's descriptions of other school yard mums and the politics of playdates are brilliant, and her excursions with Leo on her bike and Melbourne's trams remind me of the best bits of that Melbourne classic Monkey Grip (without the adult-rated content) and I'm not the first to compare Jo's writing to Helen Garner's.  Boomer & Me is a courageously honest and humorous memoir that perfectly captures the complexity of modern motherhood.

23 April 2013

First Nations Australia Writers' Network

In early May I am attending the First Nations Australia Writers' Network round table workshop.  This is an initiative funded by the Australia Council and the purpose is to engage writers and publishers in conversation to improve communication in the area of Indigenous writing and publishing.  I am excited by this opportunity - Indigenous publishing is a tradition of which Omnibus is proud and one we have worked at for many years.  Soon we will publish  Leonie Norrington and Brenton McKenna's new work Bush Holiday, a wonderful collaboration of two creators whose knowledge and understanding of indigenous culture is both deep and wide.

Publishing Indigenous work is an area with many serious complications.  There are rather a lot of questions I am going to be asking when I get to the conference.

I am still sifting through the slush pile hoping against hope that I will find something wonderful.  Already we have come across some writers we are excited to be able to support and mentor.

Keep writing!


Congratulations, illustrators!

Congratulations to all the recipients of the Children’s Picture Book Illustrators’ Initiative 2013. It's a lovely looking list and it is good - very good - to see these dedicated artists receiving some support for the important work they do. Children everywhere say hooray! Congratulations also to the Australia Council whose initiative this is and who have provided the funding.

19 April 2013

YA book review - 'Joyous & Moonbeam' by Richard Yaxley

'The unconventional language and made-up words of Joyous in particular demands an adaptable reader, but therein lies the reward.' 

We're in complete agreement with this review of Joyous & Moonbeam by YA Book Specialist Athina Clarke from Readings -- no rewards without effort on this ol' bus.

09 April 2013


We're delighted today to see two Omnibus picture books on the CBCA Book of the Year short list – Tanglewood and The Terrible Suitcase. Our warmest congratulations to authors Margaret Wild and Emma Allen and illustrators Vivienne Goodman and Freya Blackwood.

05 April 2013

Illustrator Q&A with Kat Chadwick

Here at Omnibus lately we've had the pleasure of working with designer and illustrator Kat Chadwick on a number of different projects. In 2011 there was Shirl and the Wollomby Show, written by Janeen Brian and illustrated by Kat. Knitting sheep – what's not to love? Then out this year is Dog on Log, written by Tania Ingram. This is a very simple text but there is no shortage of action in Kat's illustrations. And just lately a cover for a book we're really looking forward to seeing on shelves in August this year, Holiday of a Lifetime: Disaster Diary by Megan de Kantzow. Kat's cover illustration and design for this book perfectly captures the main character Anna in all her sweet neurotic glory.

So after all this work we thought it was time to ask Kat a few questions that weren't along the lines of 'We need a cover in a week -- can you do it?'

 O: What is it that you like about drawing animals?
K: Well, I like illustrating most things but what I really enjoy about drawing the story-book animals is the process of humanising. Working out just how far to push them so they are still animals but do things physically that an animal just wouldn’t do. I like the gentle humour and slight absurdity this can create. And the way it can craft individual personalities the viewer can hopefully relate and respond to.
O: Do you procrastinate? Are you an early-morning or late-at-night worker?
K: Oh yes, I certainly can procrastinate! Especially on a special project like an illustrated book which I tend to look at as a labour of love. Sometimes the desire to make it the best it can be can be a bit overwhelming and counter-productive. But with most of my regular illustration projects — I work with a wide range of clients: editorial, educational, advertising/design campaigns, product design — I usually work quite efficiently. Time lines for these projects tend to be short and there is no time for self-doubt and procrastination. To be honest, I seem to thrive on a tight deadline. Generally I work fairly regular hours, I usually get to the studio about 9.30-10 and head home at about 6 o’clock. However, if I’m super busy, I’ll work whatever hours are necessary to meet the deadline ... 5 am starts, working late into the evening, the occasional all-nighter. Luckily I don’t have much of a commute as my studio is across the road from my house.

Kat at work
O: Where do you get your inspiration for your illustrations?
K: From a whole range of sources. Fellow artists and illustrators, especially the amazing talent on my agent Jacky Winter’s roster. Old and new picture books. I love the work of Richard Scarry and have a good collection of vintage Little Golden Books. I like following various illustrators’ blogs and Instagram updates. And of course just observing daily life is very inspiring ... a hipster waiter wearing braces and a bow tie at my favourite cafe, a dachshund dressed as a hotdog at a Dog Fancy Dress Show event held at our local store, lovely colour combinations in an interiors magazine, the shadows cast as I walk down the street, interesting typography on a packet, the patterned bark on a neighbourhood tree, a child walking down the street holding a party bag and a balloon, many of these details make it into my work.

O: What does your family think of your drawing?
K: My mum and dad have always been very supportive ... the walls of their house are full of my work dating back almost 30 years (I find the dark gothic period a bit embarrassing). My nieces Coco and Babette enjoy what I do too. When really young, they constantly wanted me to draw for them. Alas there were only so many princesses and mermaids I was willing to do so we made a little rule they had to ask for something new each time. Now they are bigger (6 and 8) they are both confident drawers who enjoy making their own pictures. Coco says she wants to grow up to be an artist who also looks after animals in Africa. Sounds good to me :)

O: Shirl and the Wollomby Show is about knitting and crafting – do you like to do either?
K: I really like sewing and do the odd embroidery project, usually a funny picture for my husband on our wedding anniversary. Sometimes I make personalised sock animals for friends too. I’m not much of a knitter, however a few years ago I did go through a phase where I knitted four very big Fair Isle jumpers. I didn’t use a pattern, I just made them up. I used lots of different coloured wool, knitted rows of abstract patterns and bobbles, plus things like flowers and ducks. I knitted one for my mum, one for my sister, one for a friend and one for myself. Since then all I’ve knitted is a lumpy black and white striped football scarf. Its a bit scratchy so I haven’t really worn it much!

O: What are you reading at the moment?
K: I have an ever growing pile of books beside my bed that I dip in and out of. I enjoy a variety of things, especially thrillers and stories about human relationships. These are currently at the top of the pile: Walter Mosely: Little Scarlet, Anna Funder: All that I am, Peter Carey: True History of the Kelly Gang, and Marjorie Bligh’s Home: hints on managing everything!

O: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
K: I always wanted to do something creative, something to do with drawing or making. There was also a little phase of wanting to be a Cruise Director like Julie McCoy on the 70s TV show, The Love Boat. I thought she and the Pacific Princess were so glamorous. I still get a tiny bit excited when I hear the show’s theme song :)

O: What do you like to do when you’re not illustrating and designing?
K: Cooking for friends and family. Gardening and working out ways to keep our naughty cat out of the vegie patch. Browsing the occasional hard rubbish collection for treasures. Reading. Going to art galleries. Biking. Friday morning walks with my husband to the Vic Market to do the weekly food shop. Sneaking away from the studio for $7 Monday daytime screenings at the Nova cinema (the joys of being self-employed).

O: Do you have any pets? Tell us about them.
K: We have a cat called Puddin’. She is black and white, very fluffy with a magnificent plume of a tail. When we got Puddin’, she was a one-year-old homeless mother, recovering from cat flu. She was very shy when she came home with us but quickly became a much loved part of our little family. Her favourite things are 1. obsessively watching water disappear down our bathroom sink plug hole, 2. skidding down our steep wooden stairs and 3. trying to go to the toilet in my vegie patch (even though she’s got plenty of other options)!

O: When was the last time you went on a bus?
K: Returning from a little holiday at Barwon Heads last summer. It was about 5.30 in the evening when the bus picked us up from the side of the road and the sun was still hot. We were licking ice creams and I felt sandy and salty after a day on the beach. Good times. 

Thanks, Kat!  

28 March 2013

The Writers Tribe: Workshops for Young Writers

In honour of National Youth Week 2013 The City of Unley is putting on a day of free workshops for young writers on
Saturday 13 April 2013
10 am–4 pm
at Unley Town Hall
Follow this link to download a program and get writing!

22 February 2013

Adelaide Writers' Week

Adelaide Writers' Week is coming up fast.  The fabulous Laura Kroetsch has done another wonderful job of lining up new and exciting writers to share their world with us. 
I'll be chairing a panel with guests Nick Bland and Tohby Riddle on The Art of the Picture Book.  It starts at 3.45 pm on Sunday 3rd March and it will be a test of Qantas' scheduling and Melbourne's weather since I fly in to Adelaide about an hour prior to the start  of the session.  If I'm not there please will someone take over for me?

Nick and Tohby are such different creators of picture books - Tohby trained at the Sydney College of the Arts in a time when art was very conceptual - 'smearing butter on the walls and calling it art' according to Tohby.  Nick was self-taught but watched his father, a sculptor and artist who had to teach to keep his family alive and Nick felt his dad sacrificed his happiness this way.   

Nick is a huge fan of Tohby's work which he sees as in some ways wonderfully self-indulgent compared to his own books which are definitely aimed at a commercial market.  Tohby would disagree - I asked him if Unforgotten,  his latest picture book was a self-indulgent work and he was very clear that in his mind it was not.  The idea came from a very deep feeling and over a period of five years images and feelings would pop into his head; exciting, spine tingling ideas that he just couldn't grasp but that he had to find a way to give form to.  A lot of Tohby's work is like this - getsating for years, growing in depth and meaning.  A fidelity to the ideas is required and this is demanding in many ways.

Nick, who lives on the beach in the relaxed capital of Australia, Darwin, has a very different take on the work of making picture books.  His most recent picture book had a print run of 120 thousand and Nick will happily compromise to ensure his books sell.  Since he has now sold well over a million copies of his books this clearly works for him.  My own grandchildren absolutely love his books and they are  a joy to share so if there were compromises they worked brilliantly.

So two very different writer/illustrators and both with extraordinarily successful works that appeal to many people.  Making picture books is demanding and requires many people to bring the work to publication.  It is a great pleasure and a privilige to share this work with talented and passionate people.  Judging by the many hundreds of picture book submissions we receive every year it is clear there are a lot of people who would like to join this fraternity, but only a handful ever make it.

I'm looking forward to this discussion.

07 February 2013

Jaipur Literary Festival

I have wanted to go to this particular literary event for three years now and at last this January I went.
It was well worth the trip.  If you are even vaguely curious about India or about Indian writing I would encourage you to attend.  Because it can be somewhat daunting to get all the information you need about attending the festival I have set out the steps that may help you get there from Australia.

Getting there from Australia
Once you make the decision to attend the Jaipur literary Festival you should immediately begin the process of arranging your visa.  The place to start this is online at http://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/  This will be your first taste of Indian bureaucracy but not your last.  It can be a lengthy process so be prepared with all documents required before you begin to fill in the forms.  Details such as your parent’s names seem oddly unnecessary until you arrive in India and see that the Pakistani threat is very serious indeed and so such detail is important to them.  Indian visas require a photograph that is not the usual passport size taken at post offices.  You will need to locate an actual photographer and have it done in a studio.
Next register for the festival.  This is mandatory – you will not be able to enter the site without having done so – however it is possible to register on arrival depending on availability.  I advise pre-registration however.  The lines can be long. http://jaipurliteraturefestival.org/registration

Get your inoculations
Recommended are Hepatitis, cholera, and malaria tablets.  If instead of using a specialist travel doctor you use your family doctor and shop around for the drugs it can save literally hundreds of dollars. 
Take mosquito repellent tho there were no mosquitoes while I was there. Take hand sanitiser – you will need it frequently.  Be sure to wash your hands just as frequently since the sanitiser seems to move the dirt about rather than actually remove it.  Take antibiotics if you think you might get Delhi belly.  This allows you to treat a bacterial infection.  Your doctor will have other suggestions.  I ate from food carts and did not get sick.  Drink only bottled or filtered water. 
I flew Singapore airlines.  The service was excellent.  Qantas have flights but these are more expensive.  Singapore Airlines was the cheapest I found. If you have to overnight in Singapore as I did it is advisable to book a room at the transit lounge at least three weeks in advance as rooms are not likely to be available on the day.  Here for a budget room you get a bed, table and television should you wish to watch it rather than sleep.  The shower and toilet facilities are shared, clean and good.  It costs around S$40 for six hours from midnight to six am and avoids you having to wander the corridors wondering why duty free goods cost twice as much as anywhere else.  book a room at http://www.gosimply.com/airport-lounges/singapore/singapore-airport/sin3atl
You will transfer from the Delhi international airport to the domestic airport by walking from one to the other.  You will not be permitted to leave the airport – heavily armed militia will prevent you from attempting this.  The overwhelming presence of the military is both reassuring and terrifying by turns.  They carry AK47’s and hand guns.  They do not smile.  No one other than passengers with boarding passes and passports can enter an airport in India.  It is advisable when departing to allow at least three hours prior to boarding.  The bottle neck at Jaipur airport was long and unpleasant as people struggle to just enter the airport through the many security checks.  You will have your baggage which is to be loaded on the plane strapped automatically once it has been passed through the scanner.  This is a slow process as each bag is painstakingly checked.  TAKE CARE to attach the baggage label you are given at the airline counter to your hand luggage.  This is stamped and without it you cannot proceed through the subsequent security checks.  You will walk through the usual electronic ‘gate’ and then be patted down and have the wand passed over you and your hand luggage. There are three such security checks before you reach the boarding gate.  Even as you are about to board you are stopped on the gangplank and your boarding pass is stamped for a fourth time.  I watched an international author be sent all the way back to the first security point as we were about to board – he had lost a tag.

There are many possible places to stay depending on your taste and required level of comfort.  A number of authors and publishers from overseas were staying at the Country Comfort but I understood it wasn’t very special.  I stayed at a homestay called Ikaki Niwashttp://www.ikaki.in/
This was so good I would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone.  It has only been open for a couple of years and is run by a warm and friendly young married couple called JD and Devi. It won a Trip Advisor Traveller’s Choice award for 2013.   They arrange a driver to pick you up from the airport and drive you back.  This was complimentary. It is a short trip by Tuk Tuk (a charmingly wild and death defying vehicle, diesel powered and three wheeled) to the festival site and the journey costs approximately 100 rupee or about $2.  Tuk Tuk’s are easily obtained right outside on the main road. Check for current rates at Ikaki but our rate included all meals which are beautifully prepared and vegetarian.  Laundry can be sent out at night and is returned in the morning.  It costs very little to do a bag of washing.  This is a non-smoking venue.  JD was able to arrange vehicles for us to see the Taj Mahal, Amber Fort and an extraordinary Mughal palace – drivers were excellent and the cost was very little.  He will help with any query, speaks beautiful English and is the perfect host.  The cook reminded us a lot of Manuel but he isn’t slapped about the head by JD.

Buying block prints and eating salad
Jaipur is famous for its textiles and particularly the block printing.  To buy this go to Anokhi – it is fabulous, supports the artisans, sells real block printed clothing and there you can eat a brilliant, safe salad, have a great cup of tea and generally relax.  Their museum is also well worth a visit. I had no trouble getting there (you will see a warning about drivers on their site).  When leaving it’s a good idea to stuff the distinctive red shop bag into another bag or the new driver is likely to charge you double. http://www.anokhi.com/anokhi/visitingjaipur.html
Cabs are usually arranged by the hotel or homestay – I did not see any ‘for hire’ signs.  They are inexpensive but for a true Indian experience try either the Tuk Tuk or a rickshaw.  If you are overweight do not put the rickshaw rider through it however.  They struggle so hard over terrible roads determined to get their passengers to their destination and expending more energy than they can take in from the few calories they obtain each day.  They may, literally, be working themselves to death.  Tip them generously though they do not expect it.  You can afford it.
Always fix the price of your journey at the outset before you get into any vehicle.  You can haggle but it may not be worth it.  Driving in any form of transport is akin to finding yourself suddenly inside a video game where there are no traffic rules other than honking and slipping into impossible spaces as fast as you can.  They tend to ignore lanes altogether and prefer in fact to drive right down the centre line.  I was told this is to best avoid the occasional dog, cow, pig or person which may decide to launch itself from the side of the road.  It is at best a white knuckle adventure.  Shutting your eyes and crying ‘oh god’ just makes the driver laugh like mad.

These proved to be far fewer than I expected but are almost always women with babies and the babies scratch on the car windows or tug at you as you pass.  This is truly heart breaking but the advice is not to give them money since it perpetuates the begging by children and often the money is taken by a man who is controlling many beggars.  You can give them food however which is easily obtained in most places from street vendors.
Is it really dirty?
Jaipur and Delhi were surprisingly clean.  There are slums of course and here the filth can be very overwhelming but even there rubbish is sifted by rag pickers and swept into piles which are collected.  I saw some examples of terrible filth in the old city – if you are particularly sensitive you can easily avoid these places.  Cows, pigs, goats, dogs (oh they are so very sad) donkeys camels and even elephants share the roads.  Dung is collected, mostly, dried and used for fires.  We were never accosted by any animal or person while walking in Jaipur.  It felt very safe indeed.

 The Festival itself
The first festival in 2005 had 14 visitors ‘most of whom were tourists who took the wrong turn’. This year the festival expected over two million footfalls on the weekend, which happened to coincide with the Indian national holiday, Independence Day.  Since they scan your pass every time you enter the site or leave and at each venue within the site they may be counting each as a footfall.  Nevertheless there was a steady and extraordinarily large stream of people all day long entering the site.  I would have no trouble believing in the figure of more than one hundred thousand people that were initially predicted.
The Indian Times covered the proceeding on the front page each day. The festival received a lot of publicity and is clearly highly regarded within India. There had been threats made against a Muslim author and there were snipers stationed on roofs around the festival – these were quite visible.  Military police are three or four deep at the entrance and scan the crowd.  They were also very visible and in large numbers on site.  You will have to pass through security which includes the scanner, the wand and the pat down before gaining entry. (This happens in every public building).
I was told that the Indian Government had told the organisers that no writer could make any derogatory comment about India – if this happened they would shut down the festival.  Some authors refused to attend at the last minute.  The Dali Lama was there and spoke on day one but for what I assume were security reasons was not listed on the programme – hence I missed him.

The bookshop was well stocked with every author’s work, both backlist and front list. It was doing a very good business indeed and even stocked a beautiful collection of Indian children’s picture books (I bought some).  Paperbacks cost around 400 rupee or less than ten dollars for exactly the same quality we would pay A$25 or more here.  I suggest you leave plenty of room to bring home books.

Young people will hand you a festival brochure as you enter showing the map of the site.  Go also to the information booth and buy a programme for 100 rupee.  This will then allow you to interpret what is otherwise a bare bones programme on the free handout.  The site is beautiful and literally swathed in gorgeous cloth which acts as sun screens and chair covers.  I have never seen such a beautiful literary festival. There is an avenue of orange pink and yellow paper lanterns and everywhere you look is colour and life.  Get to your chosen session as early as possible or you will stand with the hundreds of others who got there late.
There are food stalls around the site – our festivals could take a lesson from the various foods and craft stalls which so enlivened the proceedings. There were stalls for supporting the animals of India, to encourage registration by Indians (this is a huge government initiative to register every Indian national) stalls selling hand crafts made by disabled Indians and by artisans. It reminded me more of Womad than a literary festival site; it was vibrant and interesting and altogether appealing. Toilets are available but remember that in India toilet paper is rarely provided.  You are expected to use the hose.  If you take tissues you can have a western toilet experience however the system is not designed to handle the paper. 

The chairs of some of the sessions were particularly poor; the questions were not as probing as i hoped and they  wandered off topic frequently.  One began to talk about himself at some length while ignore the many questions from the audience. There were sessions which were both in Hindu and in English and were very enjoyable.  At all venues are enormous screens so that you can see the stage no matter where you stand.  There was also a huge twitter feed screen which was good fun. 

 India is like no country I have visited.  I want to return to see more.  The organisers of the Jaipur literary festival told me that they will be beginning a new festival in Bhutan.  i was instantly interested.  Looking back at the overall experience it seems better and better each day and each day I vow never ever to complain about my life again.

As Billal our sweet and funny driver said while wryly contemplating a particularly chaotic Indian moment on the road
‘Ahh.  My incredible India’

And it is.