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Christmas Attitude

Fast approaching is the season of goodwill, presents and celebrating Christ’s birth. At this time of the year I find myself struggling with the heat ( I am a Winter person), lists of presents to buy ( start early) and the pressures to please family and friends with social activities. The shops are more crowded, with more consumer goods and sometimes a feeling that it’s all too much.

Recently in the Sunday Mail, Angela Mollard wrote an inspiring article on her trip to Kenya. It got me reflecting about our privileges. Rhoda Mbelete is 80 years, a mother of eight, farmer and business woman who lives in a tiny, red-dust strewn village in Kenya where rain is rare and challenges are manifold. Her beautiful attitude puts me to shame.

Rhoda’s local community are working together to improve all their lives.

As a community they decide who can borrow to buy a goat, who would benefit from a loan to purchase a motorbike and who might need assistance to send their children to school.

Sometimes we need to step outside our country to see how little we appreciate it.

The sign outside my church reads, ” All you need is Less.” I struggle with my MORE. It is a message that would enrich our lives if we had the right attitude to Christmas.

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Are we not rich and well resourced living in Australia? Could we settle for less this festive season? Is it possible to live dynamic, loving lives with much less? I guess it comes down to our individual responsibilities to each other and our community.

As Angela Mollard says, ” if we’re privileged enough to live in a developed nation than the least we can do is have a developed attitude. Gen Z will gain little if they blame the Boomers for climate change and financial inequality while it’s equally pointless for the over 60’s to bang on about the younger generation’s poor work ethic, sense of entitlement, lack of manners and enthusiasm for delivered food.”

This Christmas with all the glitter, sparkle and zing in the stores, reflect upon the nature of our attitudes to poverty, community and sharing.

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Let’s celebrate the sacred spaces, the humble stable and the heart of service to others.

I hope you and your families are safe, thankful and aware of the beauty and diversity that Australia holds. Can we embrace less than more?

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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!!

The Garden Room and Instagram

Did I tell you about my garden room? Built and designed by my husband Bill – a wedding gift you could say. A small shed. I love this place. From its beginnings tucked at the side of the house where the washing line used to be, to the marvellous pinkish palace interior, the garden room is perfect. It’s where I pot plants with the grand children, get messy with soil and feature some cute soft toys and children’s books on Instagram. It shifts me from the inside to the outside. It’s where I can breathe easily, potter about and listen to the birds.

Who would have thought that this haven of greenery and bric a brac could delight me so much? What do I do? I am a beginner on instagram – capturing photographs in a creative space with the click of a button. My little toy treasures sit inside waiting to be invited to this magic place.

There’s Rupert, Ruby, Scribby Fern the Squirrel, Eddie the Emperor Penguin and Violet mouse. I have Panda, Parrot and Puffin! The fun begins when I search out the right books to feature with the toy. Perhaps it’s a popular classic title, like Alice in Wonderland or something more contemporary like Lemonade Jones. Out they come to the Garden Room for a celebrity shoot. Then I post it on Instagram, marg underscore gibbs, with the pink camellia flower as my symbol.

The little creatures love coming on this journey. Curious, chatty and discovering new smells, colours and plants. If they were real, I wonder what they would say to me or their friends?

They sit next to watering cans, rusty buckets, ceramic pieces and next to hydrangea cuttings or trailing ivy. They crouch onto the work bench, on the garden seat and on a shelf. When the posts are sent I wait to see what happens. It’s fun to read the responses and know that others are connecting. I follow several kid’s lit posts or anything that stirs my creative imagination.

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Friends, family and anyone who likes to share photos and videos with a message might enjoy signing up for Instagram. I am not after the greatest following nor the best stories. Simply, it’s a creative means for me to be happy in the Garden Room doing something that adds a sparkle to the week. I enjoy following story underscore hound with Archie; the littlebooknookshop at Palmwoods, giuseppepoliartist, a children’s book illustrator and others. I am a beginner and learning. Please join me and find out more of what’s happening in my Garden Room shed.

PS – do you like the background pattern and changes to my blog?

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Collage – to cut or not to cut!

Lately I have been dabbling into the art of collage. It’s the piecing together of all sorts of things like paper, photographs, tissue paper, fabric, cardboard – anything that can be cut or glued down onto a surface. Using scissors and paper is calming and easy to do; tearing paper adds another interesting texture to the design. Where do I collage? Why?

Up in the loft I have a creative space to write, play and experiment. The play comes in handy when my grand children visit because there are many exciting books on display, toys set up and the endless fun of lego construction. Play for me is experimenting with children’s picture art. Why do it? It’s part of my creative personality. It’s looking for, observing and finding. It’s making something out of nothing!

Since I was little, I loved finding bright and bold shapes, cutting out people from magazines and adding my drawings to them.

Now that I’m all grown up and retired, it’s a form of meditation. Thankfully, I can go to the Loft space and make a big mess.

 

 

 

I am inspired by artists like Eric Carle whose picture books exude charm, fun, bright and beautiful patterns and textures. Ezra Jack Keats also used this technique in his book Snowy Days. Rolling, printing, stamping, sponging onto sheets of paper with swirling strokes and bold colours, then cutting them up to create a double paged spread.

I like the random fun and surprises that come in creating an illustration. You never really know what the result will be even though you might have an idea to start with, then it changes and develops. I have been sourcing my shoe boxes that are filled with photographs and this one shows my grandson when he was about two with his wheelbarrow. I added leaves, bushes and greenery to enhance the image.

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This collage shows a grand daughter playing with her doll. She is about to wash dolly in a bucket. Add, a cut out magazine dog, patterned rug on the floor, a cut out dog dish and torn paper background. Voila! My little original.

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This one is made from sponging paint as the sand and castle at the beach. Cut out cloud, bucket and spade and water colour the water and sky. Coloured pencils for the hat and costume. Remember, I am a beginner.

Lots more to learn. Video clips to watch. Books to read. It’s also fun to browse through magazines like FLOW for creative ideas. Nature provides a great colour palette. If drawing is not your strength, perhaps you can work on the composition and line work.

Jeannie Baker’s new book, Playing with Collage shows the talent of her stunning collages using an assemblage of natural materials, like bark, plants, seed pods, earth and a treasure hunt of pieces from the backyard, kitchen or craft supply. She uses handmade papers, plastics, ribbons, lace, leaves, and spices. Her book is full of practical tips. Like me, she finds fun in cutting up and using old postcards, corrugated paper, threads and feathers.

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So, if you are stuck for a Christmas holiday project for the children, why not make an egg-box collage with bits and pieces that the kids can use to make their masterpieces. A couple of glue sticks, recycled paper or cardboard and words of encouragement.

Display their art work in a favourite room. Enjoy the process.

Get the Most Out of our Brains

Remembering things as you get older becomes harder. I know this because sometimes I struggle daily to keep my brain focussed. There is too much going on in my mind, particularly story ideas, family memories and daily searching for the right list that I wrote last week.

A book I am going to read soon is called The Longevity Paradox by Steven R Grundy. He puts forward a brain health strategy that anyone can try as it does not require great physical or mental prowess.

It is the brain wash. A daily bath for the brain. Sounds simple and soothing. Our amazing brains have a cleansing mechanism known as the lymphatic system. ‘Each night  cerebrospinal fluid flows through your brain, cleaning out spaces between the cells.’

When you are in deep sleep, your brain cells actually shrink which allows more space for this process to happen.

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You need to get a long night’s sleep for the brain wash to work well. You need to eat your evening meal earlier. Dr Grundy and researchers recommend eating 4 hours before going to bed. So a 10pm bed time means a 6pm dinner. No supper. UGH!! that’s hard for me when I am watching Netflix and snacking on nuts or eating a biscuit with herbal tea.

My husband Bill has read and enjoyed 2 books, called The Rewired Brain by Dr Ski Chilton and Brain Rules by John Medina.

The first is about controlling negative emotions, how to reframe them, ultimately bringing healing and rewriting the brain. It certainly gives the average person like me hope. The second book looks at stress, sleep and the brain.

Why memories are volatile. How the brain works. Why it is so easy to forget.

When I meet new people these days, I like to repeat their names at least 3 times in a conversation. Add them to my phone address. Hopefully recall them in a fortnight.

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Just as this beautiful rose blooms in the garden, I hope that your brain can be transformed and renewed. Exercise boosts brain power. Listen to music to help condition. Repeat names. Sleep well.

Above all enjoy curiosity. It stretches the brain power. Develop interests that inspire you. Your brain will scan the sensory horizon, testing things for potential interest or importance.

For the coming new month of September and Spring, I hope that you can explore different memory tools, get out of being “stuck”, reflect and consider your most precious human brain and move forward. In both books, if you get the chance, read the introductions to uncover the essential truths. With chapters on Reflect, Reframe and Rewire, The Rewired Brain is a must read.

Let me know if you have good memory tricks that have helped you.

Reading is my Secret Power

August is here and in a few weeks children will gather together for Book Week  parades and the celebration of Children’s Book Week. This year’s theme is Reading is my Secret Power. It’s a hectic time for librarians, teachers, book stores and authors as they prepare to boost their sales, deliver wonderful displays to promote literacy and read. READ!

Do you have a secret power? Can you time travel? Perhaps you are invisible ( when it suits) or like Wolverine, you boast of night vision. I wonder if like Spiderman, you have mind control. Maybe this is the year for you breathing underwater or in space. Would you like to be Captain America? or Peter Pan who can fly? Or a lie detector like Pinocchio? A communication Master like Mowgli or a mermaid that can live on water and land.

Secret powers are just that – secret. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone. But from 17-23 August, everyone wants to know what books win in the categories from Picture Books, Younger grades to Older Readers. Announcements will be 16 August. Have you picked your winners?

Secret powers involve Harriet the Spy, Matilda, Zac Power and Captain Underpants.

Once I dressed as Wonder Woman. Now a days I am Super grandma! with my ability to read 10 stories in one sitting. Use voices. Play roles and perform in front of live audiences.

Some fun things to do during Book week for your family.

Lay a secret trap and watch dad tumble.

Make a bad guy cubbie and read the villain scene from a book.

Try a new karate skill or learn to box.

Time travel with Shaun Tan – Visit another world.

Use puppets to hypnotise your audience. Chant a spell.

Make a super hero costume from magazines and newspapers.

Design a secret power poster – use fluro colours!

Have you read a Ninja book?

Read The Feather by Margaret Wild.

Explore the pages of His Name is Walter by Emily Rodda – mystery, adventure and a thrilling story for children ages 7+ It’s a haunting story about 5 people who will remember an old house for a long time. ” He cried out as the lid of the window seat was flung back. A jeering, wrinkled face looked down on him. Amber eyes glared through a tangle of brindled grey hair. A gold locket hanging from a thin black ribbon gleamed on a scrawny neck.” (p57)

Whether you are a child or animal, find a book that suits you and start reading! Celebrate the love of story, words and pictures in Book week. Can you switch bodies like the Matrix? or act like a Super dad who masters the Universe?

Challenge yourself! Don’t under estimate your secret powers! Try reading 5 new books in different genres that you would never normally read. Go on.You can do it!

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Here are some other titles to read – Cicada by Shaun Tan, Tricky’s Bad Day by Alison Lester, Leave Taking by Lorraine Marwood, Dingo ( Tannya Harricks – new illustrator award), The Act of Taxidermy – Sharon Kernot ( Older Readers) The Happiness Box : A Wartime Book of Hope by Mark Greenwood, ( Eve Pownall Award)  Girl on a Wire by Elise Hurst ( Picture Book), Rainbow Bear by Stephen Michael- King ( Early Childhood) Do check out the Shortlist for 2019 and enjoy CBCA Book Week coming up.