Friday, September 25, 2015


Man, have I been busy this year! Three school workshop days, two festivals and a convention coming up all in the space of three weeks. My writing bank balance is finally looking slightly less jaundiced. My accountant remarked with a noticeable level of incredulity last year that; "Hey, your writing is actually making money!" Cheeky sod. I'm a long way from giving up my day job, though. :-)

Anyway, I have had the most LOVELY time with primary school aged kids in the last few weeks, after recovering from almost a month with pneumonia. It's a slow road back to health, but I'm getting there.

As always, the kids wanted to ask lots of questions: Do you know Roald Dahl/J. K. Rowling? How old are you? How old were you when you first started writing? What's your favourite book that you've written? How many books have you written? Do you have a cat?

This year I have had the the joy of seeing kids' own monsters, after they read my 12 Annoying monsters - Self Talk for Kids with Anxiety
Here are some of their fabulous designs!

I also got to run a whole day of writing workshops/talks with a beautiful illustrator friend of mine, Narelda Joy. It was enormous fun and we've decided to partner up again.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Writers in the Park Sunday September 27th Sydney


Writers in the Park Festival,
Sunday Sept 27, 10am-6pm

Please help us tell everyone you know

It's almost here! This Sunday is our first WITP festival for adults and kids with 50 Australian authors and illustrators in the grounds of the beautiful Centennial Park, Sydney. There'll be brilliant speakers like Jessica Rowe, Gold Walkley journalist, Joanne McCarthy, James Foley, Pamela Allen, Sarah Davis, Louise Park and more. And it's FREE!

Listen to inspiring speakers, be in awe of the illustrators, browse the bookstore or be part of the poetry slam, for the perfect spring day out. Check out the website for details and program and the FB page.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

NAPLAN scores - The good, the bad and the helpful

What is the NAPLAN?
NAPLAN, (National Assessment program Literacy and Numeracy) is a standardised test given to Australian students annually in years 3,5,7,9. The purpose of the NALPLAN is to ascertain how Australian kids are progressing in basic skills compared to children of the same age at their school and across the nation.

Some parents and teachers have concerns about the NAPLAN and keep their child home from school that day because they fear their child will be humiliated or excessively stressed by the test.

While I respect parents' fears and opinions, I am a great believer in the positive aspects of the NAPLAN. And my opinion is formed from my background as a Specialist Literacy Teacher, Secondary School English Teacher, Special Education Teacher of 25 years, published children's author and parent. I can assure you, it is not something to be feared.

The problem with 'protecting your child' from the NAPLAN
Statistics are only as good as the sample group. Parents who fear humilation for their child and keep their child at home on the day of the test are in actuality skewing the test results. As a nation we need to know how ALL our children are doing. Schools try not to make it a big deal by practicing mock tests leading up to the day, thus giving kids the confidence to have a go. Its important that our kids learn to be brave when it comes to tests, to try their best, to be resilient. We do them no favours by shielding them. Resilience is a terribly important life skill. It enables us to put in our best effort even when we're afraid or lack confidence. It proves to ourselves that we can do things, even when we're afraid or upset. Who dares wins! Besides, realistically, kids know already where they rank in their class. They know who is better than they are at reading, spelling, Maths. They also know who is further behind than they are. This is normal within in any group. We all have our gifts and our struggles.

If your child has a disability that restricts access to the tests they may be entitled to special provisions to enable them to complete the test with assistance. Similarly, if your child has language difficulties due to English being their second language, ask the school for assistance. You can find more information here special provisions for NAPLAN

Ability vs Disabilty
Personally, I struggled with Maths right up until I finished university. It's just not my thing. It doesn't mean my life is adversely affected. I'd like to mention here that a long term student of mine stayed at a reading age of 7 years for fours years, (she was in high school by then), until one day I noticed on a recent school report that she scored an A for Art. This sparked a whole new program, where she analysed Art from different periods, summarised and gave an opinion about each artist. It took a lot of effort on her part, encouragement at home from her parents and two terms of instruction, but she went from a D student, to a B student. It's about finding that little bit of daylight and heading towards it, even if the child in question has quite severe learning problems. But we won't know what those little bits of daylight are if the child is not assessed along with their peers.

The positives
The NAPLAN is not perfect, lets be clear about that, but as a general standardised tool I think it's terrific as an indicator for parents, schools and policy makers. It gives us all an idea of where our kids are at, compared to their peers. Yes, it may seem like a punishment for some kids, but the point is, once children with difficulties have been identified, the assistance they need can be given. In our family's case, our child scored way above average in three areas, which was a delight, a relief and a cause for celebration. As teachers ourselves my husband and I have resisted the urge to supplement her public school education. We wanted to get an accurate snapshot of how she was doing on her own merits. The results have given us valuable information. We know how we can help her in the areas she is not as proficient, thus boosting her confidence as well as her skills.
How is it helpful?
As a Specialist Teacher in the private sector the majority of students I work with come to our centre because of parental concerns about their progress. I believe parents, as the first educators, have instincts that should not be ignored. In assessing children's skills and knowledge I always ask to see a copy of their recent NAPLAN. Helpfully, the report indicates skills areas the child did not attempt or had difficulty with. This is invaluable to programming for that specific child and helping them on their way. I can then use a screening test to discover more detail about the skills and knowledge needed for that child.

You can find more information on the positive aspects in this helpful article by The Australian Society for Evidence Based Teaching website Why NAPLAN is not a dirty word

Because the NAPLAN comes around every two years, from years 3-9 it is also an important indicator of progress. It makes the school accountable. If the child is still struggling with spelling two years later, then the approach is failing that child and a new strategy must be formed.

Parents have rights, in terms of their child's education. I'm not advocating you rush up to the school making demands, but as a parent, you can use the results of the NAPLAN to help your child get the assistance they need to develop skills and knowledge.

Future NAPLAN testing
The Australian Government is committed to making the NAPLAN tests more user friendly, by making them electronic. While I suspect this is also a way to streamline marking the tests, it may be less stressful for some students. You can read more about it here: Electronic NAPLAN

Helping your own child
I have been banging on about this for 25 years, but I'll bang again. The single most important thing you can do for your child's academic progress is to encourage a love of reading. Being literate is the cornerstone of education: acquiring, generalising, synthesising and expressing knowledge. Without the ability to read your child will suffer in all academic areas, including Maths, as much of Maths in Primary school these days is about interpreting the question.

So, how do you do this?
  1. Turn off the TV/DVD/Computer/X-box - Kids are so over-stimulated by fast moving visuals and noise that they struggle to concentrate in the classroom. The brain is over stimulated in specific areas which actually stops them absorbing and understanding new information given verbally and in static visual contexts such as books or the board. The answer is not to make everything computerised!!!!! Just look at the number of adults who go around with their head down, staring at their smart phone, cut off from their surroundings. Kids need to connect with what is going on around them.
  2. Work on self- management - Give your child the opportunities to develop self-control and self-awareness (Oops, I'm not concentrating!), positive self-talk (I can have a go and do my best). The ability to focus in an environment where there may be distractions such as other kids is invaluable. 
  3. Work on communication skills - The ability to understand instructions through using body language cues, facial cues as well as verbal language cues such as tone of voice is of inestimable value to your child's life, both now and in the future. So many of our social problems are rooted in people's inability to communicate effectively.
  4. Foster a love of BOOKS - For every child, no matter how reluctant, there is a single book that will spark their interest. Keep trying until you find that book!!!! It might be about magic tricks, horses, mystery stories, archaeology, science, adventure stories, robots, fairies, fairy tales, history, machines, marine life, geography, cultures and religions... the list is endless! Make visiting the local library and bookshops a regular outing. You will be surprised at your child's reaction once they really see  what is there, and the amazing world they are missing out on because they expect it all to be animated for them.
  5. Read to your child every night.
  6. Have your child read to you every day.
  7. Using imagination - sounds trite, I know, but it is SO important. A child's brain is particularly plastic, that means, it is constantly changing and growing. You can literally affect how large a brain your child develops by how you encourage them to use it. Get the glue and cardboard out and make a robot. Read to each other and discuss your favourite bits of the book then draw a picture of it. Build castles/cubby houses/secret hideouts using blankets and chairs. Pretend to be dinosaurs.
  8. Activities - Being active!  Plant a little vegie patch together. Get on your bikes and go for a ride together round the neighbourhood or at the park. Cook together, using a kids cookbook (this is great for practical Maths skills). Visit local places such as historic houses and museums and talk about what you learned. There's so much to DO. Don't just read about it or watch it on a screen, get out there and be in it, experience it.

 Well, this post is a bit longer than I planned! Must get back to writing my young adult novel now, or it will never be finished!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Correct Grammar - Does it drive you crazy when people get it wrong?

Oh yes, it does drive me crazy when people use incorrect grammar. I suffer from proper-grammar-sensitivity, (similar to the 'swipecard disability' I also suffer with at the checkout) These days, even professional signage can be gloriously, stupendously incorrect. And few people seem to care or even notice! Aargh! My pet hate? Misused apostrophes. I once saw this cartoon and burst out laughing, because it is exactly how I feel as I drive around the shops.

Now, I am the first to admit I make typos. All the time. Who doesn't? The key is proofreading and editing your work thoroughly. Kids laugh along with me when I read out their work to them, exactly how its written, with hilarious mispronunciations and all. is a great website which seeks to address this alarming trend in society - the demise of proper language use. I always say to my reluctant students; "Some day it will be absolutely vital to you that you are heard and understood. Don't be one of those people who is interviewed on TV who says something like, 'ah, yeah, and er, and then it, yeah, um, you know, it sort of happened.' Learn to express yourself properly. People are much more likely to listen to what you have to say if you are clear, concise and use a decent vocabulary."

Of course it takes more than a pep talk to achieve this! Particularly with some boys, who prefer grunts and gestures to actual words.

Recently Grammarly conducted a survey and here are the results - what-makes-a-grammar-nerd-

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Beautiful hand crafted illustrations by Beverley Edge

I recently met a fabulous illustrator, Beverley Edge at a writer's conference. Just look at her meticulous, beautiful work! I love robots, so of course I had to put at least one pic in this blogpost.

Beverley lives in Perth, Western Australia, but, like me, she hails from the UK. Beverley says of her work:

"I work with a variety of materials to form my illustrations, mainly polymer clay, wire, beads, felt, fabrics and then add finishing touches digitally on photoshop. These quirky 3D clay creations and fabric designs are unique, fashionable and have characters with global appeal. Each character is lovingly handmade until the models form a life of their own. The attention to detail is paramount, and i am constantly finding new ways of adding texture, pattern and interest in the materials I use."

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Little House on the Prairie - beautiful safe stories for children

I loved this series as a child and now I am reliving it again with my daughter. Each episode is lovingly crafted, with a solid emphasis on family, kindness, compassion, fun, adventure and resilience. Michael Landon's passion was to bring the true life story of Laura Ingalls Wilder to the screen in authentic devotion to the spirit of the American pioneers she so deftly displayed in her memoirs.

I should add here that Michael Landon is easy on the eyes, ladies.... 

You learn so much about this time in history! And the plot always has an important moral lesson for children. There is SO MUCH RUBBISH on TV these days, but I can happily leave my child to sit and watch an episode, knowing she will never be exposed to anything harmful or inappropriate. Every single episode enriches her life somehow, with its portrayal of the plucky and sometimes naughty Laura. I often hear giggles from the lounge room, as Laura gets herself into scrapes or manages to get back at that Nellie Olsen.

I managed to buy the entire box set for a decent price. You can also get hold of a single series easily. In terms of story, these episodes have pathos and humour and excitement aplenty.

The scenery in 'Walnut Grove' and surrounds is stunning,whether it be severe storms, droughts or snowy winters and the hardships of the simple life are foremost in the way the characters go about their daily lives. Doctor Baker is a busy man! We become absorbed in the lives of the local school mistress, the banker, the store owners (the Olsens), the mill, where Charles often finds work. Just keeping their own livestock alive is a challenge. But the determination of the Ingalls family comes down to their devotion to each other and their acceptance of life's hardships, and their vigorous sense of justice and compassion for all. The series was filmed o Big Sky ranch.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

SUPANOVA Sydney 2015 - fantastic event!

I had the MOST FABULOUS TIME at the Sydney Supanova this year. Caught up with my publisher, Stephen Ormsby of Satalyte Publishing and a couple of other friends in the literary world.

I loved seeing some of my best fantasy and sci fi characters - Lord of The Rings, Star Wars, Dr Who, Transformers, plus some Disney favourites and anime. The Artwork was outstanding. Check out the metal sculptures!I took home a fabulous dragon made up scrap metal and machine parts. (see below)

It was fun sitting in to listen to Brady Bunch stars Mike Lookinland, Susan Olsen and Christopher Knight. I also managed to sneak in at the very last to see Mr Gorgeous himself, Nathan Fillion, of Castle and Firefly fame. What a truly funny guy! He knows how to hold an audience in the palm of his hand.

Plenty of people dressed up for the event, going to lots of trouble to look as authentic as possible. Impressive!

Among the many stalls and exhibits I saw amazing creative talent and purchased a few new treasures. These photos only show a fraction of what was there! What was so fantastic was that it was family friendly, there was no alcohol, no rubbish lying around, no drunken louts yelling and swearing - just hordes of smiling people having a great time and enjoying their favourite stories come to life. Brilliant!

If you're thinking of going next year, book early, book your parking and enjoy the hassle-free, well organised event in style! I came home with a brain bursting with ideas and couldn't wait to start tapping on my laptop.