My Books

My Books
My Books

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Famous Five - HANDS OFF! These books shaped generations into good people

There are some things which are sacred to me, and one of them is Enid Blyton's books, particularly Famous Five series. I wasn't good at sport. I wasn't interested in girly things. I loved being outdoors but I dearly loved reading above all else.

Missing the point!
Unfortunately there are people in this world who persist in denigrating Blyton's work, focussing on the contextual issues, such as her use of the term 'golliwogs' and other racist references along with the sexist attitudes. But being focussed on the PC issues of books begun in 1942 is pointless, because Enid Blyton was a woman of her time. These characters reflect kids of their time. Doesn't mean they are perfect or right in every way. The PC brigade can't go back and fix everything they don't like. I am Anglo-Celtic and this was my culture, for better or worse. Doesn't mean that Julian, Anne, George and Dick didn't fight for what they thought was right in their world. And that's what's important to me.
The characters
These books are inhabited by characters whom I found entertaining, inspiring, and real to my experience as a child growing up in the 1970's. Timmy - what a dog! I loved him and his relationship with George as her best friend. OK, so Anne was a bit whiney and annoying sometimes. So was my sister, so what the hey. In her defence, Anne was often genuinely afraid, as are lots of kids, but she was also loyal, brave in her own way when it counted, organised, sensitive to others and so on. 

When George blundered in, Anne stood back and observed, picking up on things George missed. George was a tomboy, like me. She wasn't scared of anything. I lived through her. Julian was a born leader, but he had his moments where he could be quite pompous, however he took his job a eldest seriously. He felt the burden of leadership, the responsibility of keeping them all safe. And sometimes that makes you less likeable. Dick was always Robin to Julian's Batman, but that's how it is in families. Dick had his moments to shine too. We all find our own niche. And the Famous Five were like siblings to me.

The inspiration for the illustrations of these characters came from the four children belonging to Blyton's illustrator, Mary Gernat. 
read here


So, what did I learn from Famous Five?

Famous Five taught me a lot - mostly not to be afraid of hurling myself into new experiences, having faith in myself, and for a child who moved around a lot, (11 schools in 12 years, 3 different countries) this was a life changing lesson that has stood in good stead throughout my adult life too:
  • Life is tough sometimes - get in there and cope with it. 
  • When life is good - stop and notice, appreciate and love those around you. 
  • When adults do things which you know are wrong, find a way to tell them or someone else. 
  • When wrongs are done to others, get in there and fight for them. 
  • When mysteries lie waiting, seek them out bravely. 
  • Whether your family is perfect or not, love and appreciate them.
  • Get outside as much as possible
  • Enjoy good, comforting food that is home made
Through the lens of now
If you're going to look at these stories through the lens of 2017 of course you will be somewhat disappointed and find things you disagree with. But Blyton never apologised for her strong moral lessons in these books. Nor should she. The alternative in 2017 is that your kids get their values from TV, movies of dubious moral message, sexually explicit and violent video games, and don't get me started on the perils of social media.... None of that is contained. It's too open slather and kids can end up wandering down some very dark paths if you're not there to supervise. Click bait traps are deliberately set for them on the net. Is this what you want for your kids?

The war
There is no doubt to me that most kids nowdays have little concept of what living during war time is actually like. In WWII Britain was under constant threat of invasion, besieged, with little food getting through, rations of everything and constant bombing. As a nation they had to pull together, make-do, use ingenuity, keep their young children safe, and above all, sacrifice their young men and women to the cause. This is why the film adaptations of Famous Five have been so popular and redone so many times. Its a snapshot into that time and how it affected people, and the following generations.

Morality tales or just fun?
So HANDS OFF Famous Five! Let them be a moral beacon or just an entertaining series of childhood adventures. They are simple stories kids love, even today. Adults reading them may struggle to grasp the appeal, but that's because it's a kids' world. That was Blyton's genius - to understand what kids wanted to read about.

And what are the values therein?

Be loyal. Be brave. Be assertive. Be kind. And above all - enjoy lashings of good food!

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Letter to your sixteen year old self - as a writing exercise

So I belong to a new writing group under the astute leadership of film maker, author and teacher Heath Davis. I'm so lucky to be part of it! Each session we do exercises to stretch our writer muscles, challenge our perspectives. Last session we had to write a letter to our sixteen year old self. What advice would you give yourself? I decided to publish mine as an open letter:

Letter to my sixteen year old self
Listen, you think you know a fair bit, especially about who you are and what you believe, but BELIEVE ME those beliefs will be challenged, so keep an open mind.
Your strength will be stretched far further than you could imagine possible. Sometimes you will feel like dying, leaving this planet or finding a dark hole to hide in. Other times you will feel joy, light in your soul and love in your bones. 

You will feel disappointed in yourself, in others, in this life. You will have to fight like a warrior, sword and shield in hand to stay sane, for yourself and for those you love. And you will have to let go – of your expectations, friendships, lovers, people you need and some you thought you did.
You will have a lot of anger inside you, grief actually, that thinks it’s anger. And it’s not something you can let out easily, even if you can give it a name. But it’s there. Acknowledge it. Accept it. It’s an important part of you. Denying your grief will only lead you down a dark and lonely path.
You’re a soft hearted person, compassionate, easily moved to tears, but people look at your confident exterior and make assumptions about you. There’s nothing you can do about the way you look, except perhaps smile more… but beware being used. You give of yourself generously, sometimes overdoing it trying to keep everyone happy, to live in harmony, but few people will actually appreciate that. Including your family. 

Don’t mistake concern for understanding. Few people will actually ‘get’ you, and who they are will surprise you. Don’t judge by appearances.
Live where you want to live! Even though that might mean leaving family behind. Place is so important to you. You’ll feel a connection to place in your genes. You cannot change this. Don’t live somewhere you hate. You need to be grounded in somewhere that feeds your soul, not sucks the strength out of you.

For God’s sake, trust your instincts girl! Your inner critic will shout at you, make you feel guilty for choices you make, make you second guess every decision, force you off track and make you ignore your instinctual reactions, which are NEVER WRONG. Did you hear me? Your instincts are never wrong. Trust them. Live by them. 

And don’t compromise so bloody much. Stand up for yourself!
There will be hard corners that need softening, sanding back. Don’t be ashamed or worry about that. Life will teach you lots about yourself, how to be. Things your parents were ill equipped to teach you. Pain is the great teacher. Pain we notice. Pain we listen to. Pain has its own healing power, if you let it guide you. 

Don’t talk too much. Slow down. Take your time. Gather your thoughts with care. Make your words count. It’s not the loudest who garners the most respect. It’s not the fastest. It’s the most in tune. Be that person and you will never be short of friends, good times and happy memories.
Be yourself. But be open to modification. No one is perfect. We’re all broken in some way. And that’s ok.

Friday, 14 July 2017

AMPERSAND PRIZE 2017 submissions now open for emerging writers

The yearly opportunity for Hardie Grant Egmont is here again! For emerging writers this is a fantastic way to launch your career. For first time novellists, this is your chance to make your mark in a new genre.

If you have never submitted before, it can seem daunting. But if you have a finished manuscript, why not give it a go?
click here for entry page on website
Here are my top tips for submitting:
  1. entries close July 28th 2017. DO NOT send after this date.
  2. make sure your MS is polished, editing thoroughly (several times)
  3. make sure it is presented in the format required for font, size of font, layout (margin sizes) and line spacing. If you don't present an MS EXACTLY how they want, it goes straight in the bin.
  4. send via email or post as specified on the website
  5. supply synopsis at exact length they require
  6. DO NOT send the entire MS unless they specifically ask for it. Most often its just first 3 chapters they are interested in. (So make sure they are your best, most ingenious work, with a big juicy hook). Again, check the website.
Be brave! Good luck!

Monday, 10 April 2017

Writing a novel - the important bits you have to have!

So, years ago I attended a workshop in which Michael Hauge's resources were shared. Michael is a screenplay writer, novellist and teacher who shares amazing resources on his website.

Once I found Michael I downloaded everything I could find, printed and bound it all in a  book. It's now a sort of novel writing bible I use to make sure my structure actually works, thus getting me the contract.

One of the most useful and quick references he provides is this - 'Key Story Questions'

Michael Hauge’s key story questions for novels

1.                  Who is the hero or protagonist?

2.                  Why will we immediately empathise with the hero? In other words, why will we identify with her when she is introduced?

3.                  Where is the hero at the beginning of the story, before anything new occurs to get the plot going? What is the everyday life she’s been living and how does the story show that?

4.                  What is the hero’s longing (deep desire he’s just paying lip service to) or emotional need (which the hero won’t admit or is unaware of – usually this is to connect with others in some way).

5.                  What opportunities presented to the hero at the first key turning point?

6.                  What new situation is he placed in as a result of that opportunity? Is it by choice, or is the hero forced into it? What will the hero have to figure out, or adjust to, in this new situation?

7.                  What specific, visible goal or finish line does the hero want to reach by the end of the novel – in other words what’s the outer motivation?

8.                  What’s the outer conflict – what makes that goal impossible to achieve?

9.                  What is the hero’s greatest emotional fear?

10.              What wound – what painful event or situation in his or her past (usually in adolescence) – led to that fear?

11.              If the novel contains a love story, why is the romance character the hero’s destiny? Why did they choose each other, out of all the other people they’ve been involved with?

12.              What is the hero’s identity – what protective persona keeps the hero from facing and overcoming her emotional fear?

13.              What is the hero’s essence or truth? Who would she be if her identity were stripped away? In other words, who does she have the potential to become, if she’s courageous enough?

14.              What is the hero’s arc or character growth? How does she gradually make the transition from her identity to her essence? What gives her the courage to do that?

15.              What is the story’s universal theme – how does the arc for the hero provide the reader with a prescription for living a more fulfilled life?

16.              What deeper issues – political or social – does the novel explore?

17.              What other successful antecedents for the film – recent, successful novels similar in market demographic, genre, style, tone and/or story, that you can point to and say, “ because those made money, this one will make money.”

18.              What is the passion for this project – what do you love about it?

19.              What are the biggest weaknesses in the story right now?

20.              What makes this a novel – why will thousands of people want to spend their time and money to read it?

Story 2010 Michael Hauge

Below is the jpg. Right click and print.


Sunday, 19 February 2017

When politicians get to do something worth smiling about - Trish Doyle launches Little Free Libraries

As part of the CBCA (Childrens Book Council of Australia) our local Blue Mountains branch has had the enormous fun of putting together five Little Free Libraries loaning centres, located in shops around the  mountains. These are intended for kids (and adults) to borrow books free of charge and return them to the location (or a new book of their choice). So far we've had a fantastic response from the community.

When launching this initiative, we were so fortunate to have our local ALP member Trish Doyle to do the honours. Herself a former teacher, Trish is very enthusiastic about literacy and was very pleased to launch our program. Normally she has her photo taken for the local paper and its usually to do with issues that the community is NOT happy about, therefore, she cannot smile and be her lovely self. But when launching LFF Trish got to smile! And had a great time at The Gingerbread House, Katoomba.

What a beautiful way to build community and improve literacy for everyone!

Little Free Libraries are popping up all over the world in neighbourhoods, in front of businesses and even private homes. You can find out more here:


Friday, 10 February 2017

Chickens, quolls and a wild Water Dragon that let's you feed it banana!

We drove to the stock feeds place the other day to buy yet another chicken, after third one was taken by a QUOLL. Cute, but vicious little things. And very clever. Yes, a wild quoll has been decimating the chicken population in our street for some months now, slowly making its way down to our place, the last stop chicken shop. After many tears and a burial, we decided to re-enforce the chicken pen and get a new birdy.

We ended up choosing a Rhode Island Red cross. But the BEST PART of all was that I met this little guy! (Well, not so little, about the size of a cat) and he let me stroke him and feed him banana.

Apparently he comes into the stock feeds shed most days looking for bugs and any food on offer. My daughter happened to be eating a banana at the time, so i whipped it out of her hand, broke off half and gave my new friend some small pieces, which he took very gently. I was allowed to stroke his side. So gorgeous! Although I'd love a pet iguana or something I am happy to see one so well fed and fully grown surviving on his own. (he lives in the bush at the back of the premises).

Nature - its wonderful.

Friday, 3 February 2017

UNPUBLISHED? Here's your chance! KYD Awards for early career writers

Just saw this in the KYD (Kill Your Darlings) newsletter. Unfortunately, I'm not eligible, but you might be!

The KYD Unpublished Manuscript Award

This award will assist an early-career author in the development of their unpublished manuscript. The award is open to writers of adult fiction and adult non-fiction.

The winner will receive a $5000 cash prize and a mentorship with KYD’s Rebecca Starford (non-fiction) or Hannah Kent (fiction).

Submissions open 9am AEDT Wednesday 1 February 2017.
Submissions close 5pm AEDT Friday 31 March 2017.
The shortlisted entrants will be announced on 1 June 2017.
The winner of the KYD Unpublished Manuscript Award will be announced on 3 July 2017.

Please read the full KYD Unpublished Manuscript Award Submission Guidelines and Terms & Conditions here.

The judges for the KYD Unpublished Manuscript Award will be announced in 2017.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

A cure for insomnia, anxiety and over stimulated brains! Why Colouring in is so effective

I only ever won one competition at school 
It was a colouring in competition. And guess what the prize was? A colouring in book! I have always loved to colour inside those lines carefully, adding my own colour scheme with vibrant combinations.

Something we left behind
But as I grew up I left this cherished activity behind. It was considered childish.
Until adult colouring in books hit the shelves and everyone went mad with it! A former editor in a large publishing house lamented the demise of what he called 'proper books' as he spent most of his time helping to publish colouring in books. Discouraged, he quit the industry.

What's the point?
Having been an insomniac since I was a child, I am always looking for ways to wind down and slow the endless processing of a creative mind. And guess what? Colouring in helps. There's no blue light to keep stimulating the visual cortex. There's no noise. I just sit up in bed and scribble to my heart's content until its time to turn out the light.

These are the pages I've done so far, from Adam Fisher's amazing book of 300 odd pages - Brothers Grimm Coloring Book. It has thick, excellent paper and the pictures are only printed on one side. Best of all, the designs aren't completely covered in lines, so you can make each picture your own by adding shading etc. (I hate those mandala thingies!)

Adam's book has a lot of devotees. Just google it and check out the images. So get yourself a decent colouring in book and go for it!

Wednesday, 30 November 2016


How do kids become non-readers?
Is your child struggling to learn to read, even after being in school for one or more years? There are  many reasons why some children fail to pick up the skills required for reading. It's usually down to their specific learning style, be it visual, auditory, kinaesthetic or multi-modal. There are usually bits missing, because of the peculiar way your child learns. Filling in those missing bits is what I do best.

It can be shattering to confidence, especially to older children who have experienced difficulty over a few years. I once had a student in year 11 whose reading age was 6 years. He had managed to get through the school system without being able to read and was facing year 12 HSC. Amazing! You'll be happy to know that within the year he was reading books on psychology and changed his original career plans when he realised reading was no longer a barrier to achieving his goals. He's now at university.

Help is here!
Anyway, back to your child.
I have 27 years experience teaching literacy to reluctant and struggling reader of all ages. If you live in NSW in the Greater Sydney or Blue Mountains area, bring your child along to my 2-day workshop and I guarantee he/she will have a fabulous time and will finally become a reader!

The flyer at the top of this page is easy to download and print, should you need a hard copy. Just right click on it and select 'save.'

Thursday, 3 November 2016

ZENA SHAPTER'S new book INTO TORDON out now!!!

My gorgeous friend and colleague Zena Shapter has a new book out, one that's a LOT different to most - it had NINE authors. She is my guest today. :-)

So, tell me about “Into Tordon”?

“Into Tordon” follows two online gamers on an adventure that’s out of this world! It’s a middle grade novel for 8-14 year olds, set in a slightly futuristic Australia, and there are dangerous creatures, exotic cultures, scientific impossibilities, riddles, advanced technology and challenges. Our two main characters, Beth and Zane, must face them all to survive!

Sounds like a wild ride! Nine of you wrote “Into Tordon” together. That sounds like a wild ride too. How did nine authors write a book together?

With patience and understanding! When writing collaboratively with so many people, you have to leave your ego at the door and contribute as much as you can with enthusiasm and a good spirit, knowing full well that your actual contribution is likely to go unnoticed once the book is released. There’s an element of trust too. One of you has to take the lead, to keep everyone on track, drive the project and make decisions. Thankfully, when I suggested the book to the other authors, they were all members of my writers’ group, the Northern Beaches Writers’ Group, and had written under my leadership before, so knew and trusted in my abilities.

Is that because you’re the founder and leader of the Northern Beaches Writer’s Group?

Yes, but also because they know and like my writing. Not only did I write a chunk of “Into Tordon”, but as ‘Editor-in-Chief’ I also rewrote other parts, then rewrote the whole book to give it a single ‘voice’ (the words, not the story itself), and polished it again once we had a publisher on board. I’m a freelance editor and mentor too, so they trusted in my experience when I picked up on things like inconsistencies, plot development, character arcs and worldbuilding issues. I’m so glad they did! “Into Tordon” is awesome!
colouring-in page for the book
How did you get a consistent voice / tone from nine separate authors?

It was tricky! We don’t all write in the same style. Some of the other authors don’t even write speculative fiction! (*gasp*) But I found the right tone with time, respect and experience. We had a solid consultation process too, where everyone got to critique everyone else in a safe and nurturing environment, until every single word was perfect. It was a real team effort. I also had a good second-in-command, Zoya Nojin, who always had my editorial back.

What was your favourite part of the process?

The writing of course! Though I’ve also enjoyed the promotional side of things: designing the website, posters, bookmarks, social media, this interview of course, and even a colouring-in sheet for readers. I’ll include one readers can download from here if they like.

What’s your favourite scene in “Into Tordon”?

I love discovering new worlds, so my favourite scene is when our two main characters, Beth and Zane, first enter the ‘strange world’ mentioned in the blurb. By the end of that chapter, there’s only one option left to them, which Beth phrases perfectly: “Run!”

Zena's book launched by the fabulous Susanne Gervay
Will you be doing author visits?

Yes, all of us will – to schools and libraries of course, but also to writers’ groups, festivals and centres who want to know about collaborative writing. Anyone interested can contact us through the website at

What’s next for Zena Shapter as a solo author?

I have my own debut novel coming out next year! It’s called “Towards White” and is set in a fictional Iceland. Scientists have discovered where the electrical energy in our brains goes when we die, which brings about certain cultural developments. Becky’s brother visits Iceland to study those developments, but goes missing… I can’t wait to see it on the shelves! Details will go on or my publisherswebsite, IFWG, as production progresses.

In the meantime, when and where is “Into Tordon” available?

All good bookshops on the highstreet and online. Here’s the blurb, I hope readers enjoy it! Thank you for having me, Dawn!

Into Tordon
Only champions dare to enter!

Thirteen-year-old Beth has been waiting for weeks to play in the championship of her favourite online game, Tordon. Now tribes of beastmen roar through her speakers. Game on! She plays to win, until her gaming nemesis Zane challenges her to a real-life risk that has them sucked into a strange world. Here they must push their skills to the limit just to survive! 

Faced with riddles, a multitude of dangerous creatures, exotic cultures and scientific impossibilities, Beth and Zane are forced to take on challenge after challenge if they’re ever to return home.

‘a pacy, exciting read’ Books+Publishing

Zena Shapter
Zena Shapter writes from a castle in a flying city hidden by a thundercloud, creating what-if worlds and adventures. She’s the winner of twelve national writing competitions, including a Ditmar Award and the Australian Horror Writers’ Association Award for Short Fiction. Her work has appeared in numerous online and print venues including the Hugo-nominated ‘Sci Phi Journal’, ‘Midnight Echo’, ‘Award-Winning Australian Writing’ (twice), and ‘Antipodean SF’. Reviewer for Tangent Online Lillian Csernica has referred to her as a writer who “deserves your attention”. She’s the founder and leader of the Northern Beaches Writers’ Group, a book creator and mentor, creative writing tutor, movie buff, traveller, wine lover and all round story nerd. Her novel “Towards White” will be published by the IFWG in 2017.