Month: November 2019

Sunshine Writer’s Retreat

Relax, create,  connect and grow. A full program lasting from Thursday to Sunday, 14-17 November. You can come as a day visitor, like me, or stay in the cosy cabins at the Montville Country Cabins in beautiful forest setting. I enjoyed the company of new writers, interstate travellers, the familiar faces of the Sunny Coast and guest authors. Even the friendly kookaburra up in a tree watching us eat. It was a blend of learning, writing, Masterclasses and excellent networking.

This is my second retreat. Aleesah Darlinson from Greenleaf Press capably and conscientiously works towards the organisation of this wonderful literary event with the help of her trusted volunteers.


To highlight some of the tips by author Susanne Gervay on my first day, is to examine the amazing ideas for junior and middle grade fiction. Susanne is a celebrated, award winning OAM author who presented on what gaps in the market authors should write to. She took us through practical exercises on voice, characters, structure and that kids need to be the winners! The story must engage the reader from the child’s perspective. The group learnt a lot about Loglines, – short, succinct, clever snippets of the story essence. Not to over write, a special point of interest, the heart of the story, conflicts and stakes. Susanne insisted that we do not simply retell the plot. She also gave us photos of a fire and we had to write about our emotional feelings and attitudes to the images. These were read aloud and applauded. A sensitive and newsworthy topic with the current bushfires.



After a tasty morning tea and delicious lunch, we listened to Jo Sandhu speak about cliff hangers, tension, adventure and her heroes journey. DANGER, QUEST,  ACTION,  HERO!

Jo set out to show us the clear structures of her fantasy Ice Age trilogy, Tarin of the Mammoths, suitable for kids aged 10+. When something out of the ordinary happens, it’s sure to capture the reader’s interest, especially, when the main character crosses a river or practises spear throwing. The hunt is a powerful metaphor. How can I frustrate my character to the point of them making a bad decision? Jo described the internal and external conflicts in the plot and characters. She gave us plot tricks to help build tension.

Foreshadowing, cliff hangers and red herrings – do you know what these are? Pacing, twists and changes – are you familiar with them when reading a story? Jo shared her love of Matthew Reilly’s Seven Ancient Wonders. Perhaps you should read this one.


My head was bursting. And Saturday, my second visit started with a fantastic message by Richard Yaxley on A Novel Approach : Dialogue, Hooks and Powerful Endings. Richard and I go back to teaching days in Maryborough. We have recently met each other at another conference. Such a wise retired teacher and multiple award-winning adult and young adult author, Richard shared so many tips on planning, structure, POV, characters and dialogue.

He insisted we find our own way and voice. To be versatile. To write and know your PREMISE. It’s the life force that drives a story. The HEART BEAT. We loved that he knows his beginning and ending. In true, passionate teacher style, Richard tested us with many activities. For example, here is a premise – We recover through reinvention.

Keep returning to the premise. Know what drives your characters – their motivations, goals, dreams and fears. He gave us this question. If you had to leave your home in a hurry and could only take one non-human portable object with you, what would it be?

Know what your character would take. Why? Know your minor characters. What they lose, fear or gain?

Point of view and voice, more useful activities. Richard had them all tucked up in his heart and his privileged writing voice. Lastly, he reminded us all to read aloud our writing. Richard gave us notes on Point of View from stream of consciousness, monologue, internal , detached observer. We looked at the active verbs, impressions, accents and syntax, as well as how dialogue plays out. Several examples were given from his books.


The last guest author for Saturday was Cass Moriarty. ( Parting Words and The Promise Seed) look her up! She’s a mother of six children from 12 – 26 years, and fits in the time to share about Characters, Voice, Loss and Love. Inspirational, heart felt, and a shortlisted People’s Choice Award at the 2016 QLD literary Awards, Cass makes it look easy. We looked at setting, character’s emotional responses, building depth and resilience, secrets, lies and themes.

Her practical exercises helped us to think imaginatively and sensitively. We did a photo exercise. Looked at memory. Vulnerabilities. She read aloud several passages from her books and we responded to, finish the sentence, or give examples of behaviours or memories that depict character. So many excellent exercises to do. Our worksheets were scribbled on, developed and challenged.

The character profile summary was helpful. She left us with many, many questions we could ask of our protagonists. Finally, the themes underpin all stories. Cass listed them up on the whiteboard as we called them out – Revenge, betrayal, death, lies, courage, discovery, forgiveness, hate etc.

Overall, the retreat for me was inspiring, friendly, encouraging and intellectually stimulating. The home baked goodies, book signing of Michelle Worthington’s latest picture book called Little Gnome’s Christmas Wish, Story circles, panels presentation, manuscript appraisements and dinner – what more could you ask! ( the last two I did not do) Congratulations Greenleaf Events for an excellent learning time.

Bushwalking in the City & a Reading Conference – two for the price of one!

Who doesn’t like a rainbow of wildflowers? Gorgeous native blooms. Splashes of colour in a beautiful landscape? I found this recently in Perth. After my national reading Conference in Fremantle, I joined a small walking group with Ryan as our guide. He was fun, smart and handsome. Bright sunshine and comfy shoes for walking, we started at the Queens gardens with 3 keen tourists. We spotted the Peter Pan statue and the black swans gently circling the ponds. We finished at the Kings Botanic Gardens.

We walked and chatted, stopped and looked carefully. Past the WACA stadium, the Trinity boarding college and onto bushland and later Heirisson Island, noticing the odd kangaroo. The latter place occupies an area of 285600 square metres and is connected to the two foreshores by the Causeway.

Ryan navigated us past interesting places, flora and fauna, over sandy estuaries and onto a bus ride to King’s Park and Botanic Garden. For Tracey, everything was a WOW experience! She was bursting with child like curiosity. For me, it was peaceful, positive and a healthy cultural experience. And Michelle, a keen observer and guide herself, kept up with all the info. and answered our questions cheerfully. We were indeed fortunate to see beauty rich and rare, with salt bush, parrots, acacia and eucalypts.


Strolling around the splendid Botanic Gardens on a Sunday is a treat. Leisurely. Easy going. Camera clicking.

Over the tree top bridge, viewing the city  and watching families gather for picnics or play. The native scents of peppermint, the large boab tree, birds chirping and the glorious wildflowers in their displays – all part of the experience of nature. Red kangaroo paw, red eyed wattle, bottlebrush, wax flower, honey myrtle, fairy fan-flower, birthday candles, Queen of Sheba, banksias, scallops and royal hakea. And lastly a look inside the Aspects Cafe filled with gifts and gorgeous art, books and Australiana.

BUT, before all of this, I was fortunate to attend the 8th National Reading Conference in Fremantle held at the Literature Centre, Old Fremantle Prison. I was trapped inside. Happily trapped and nurtured! Like minded, passionate authors and illustrators of children’s books all huddled together. Not rations, but plentiful to abundant.

Eight of the best! Shaun Tan, Stephen Michael-King, Glenda Millard, Lisa Shanahan, Felice Arena, Ronojoy Ghosh, Leila Rudge and Dianne Wolfer. Excellent panel discussions. Exuberant personalities, both introverted and extroverted. Heart-felt testimonies. Lesley Reece warmly welcomed us to the Conference. Her team carefully nurtured us. The volunteers gladly served us.




Apart from freebies and prizes, delicious food, author signings and a well stocked book shop, some of the messages conveyed to the audience included – Truth, nurturing children’s literature, anthropomorphism, language, drawing, inspiration, modern families, too much white space, How to get a book published, publishing secrets and many other wondrous things.

I enjoyed drawing dogs with Leila Rudge, watching Stephen Michael-King paint in front of a live audience, Shaun’s sketches, and Felice’s dances on stage. I met new people, mostly from WA and small regional country schools. I managed the contrast between the very cold first day and the not so cold second day. I enjoyed the intimacy and power of the Cicada experience with Shaun Tan – master artist and story teller. I discovered that Ronojoy or Tin Tin as he prefers, would like to live on a space ship and started writing for his small son.

I marvelled at Glenda’s exquisite poetic voice – she said, ” in everything there’s a crack, that’s where the light gets in.” I adored Lisa Shanahan’s mastery of dramatic voice, rhythm and rhyme, her reading of ‘Hark, It’s me, Ruby Lee’. And the ZING! in her playful language. Finally, I was uplifted by Stephen Michael- King’s, moving, compassionate longings, tears and stories of his family and growing up. I learnt a lot from Dianne Wolfer about animals, moments of weird synchronicity and purchased her Middle Grade novel called, The Dog with Seven Names. Dianne also has written The Shark Caller.

There was art for sale, 2 book shops to browse in, the exhibitions of Queen Celine by Matt Shanks and The Dam by David Almond. Shaun Tan exhibited a unique retrospective exhibition – his parents generously assisted here with six pieces from their private collection.

Congrats Director Lesley Reece for allowing us to connect, empathise and participate in such a joyful conference. Well worth the imprisonment!!