Saturday, March 29, 2008

Awards and Rewards

Last night, my writing group went along to the FAW (Fellowship of Australian Writers) Awards night. We had received a Commended in the community writing group section for our group novel. Of course, we thought we would have won if we'd been able to submit the whole book! The rules said only 30,000 words, so we had to cut it off halfway and say it was only Part One. Mind you, as someone in the group said, if we'd been able to put the whole novel in, we would have been struggling to finish it in time! As it is, here we are at the end of March and we're still about 10,000 words away from finishing (we think).

Still, the competition was a great impetus for us to do something different. We have all created characters for the novel that now seem real - we sit around the table, plotting what comes next, and refer to each other by character names. Plotting is such fun, with everyone throwing in ideas about who will do what next. At the function last night, another writer asked me how we did it, and then seemed amazed that we managed to plot and write without huge arguments.

I think the key is ego. None of us want or need our part of the novel to be "the best" or the biggest or the most exciting. We're more interested in enjoying the process and seeing where it will lead us. One of us has developed a very snooty, nasty character and is now loving being able to write in her voice and "let it all hang out". Another writer has created a male character and is practising her skills in terms of voice - making sure he sounds like a male. We intend to self-publish the novel when it's finished, just for ourselves.

The great thing about the Awards night is seeing so many people so excited about winning or receiving acknowledgement that their writing has been judged as darned good. In many ways, our society hates high achievers and likes to cut them down to size. The FAW Awards give prizes and commendeds to more than 100 writers, and it's a celebratory occasion. Some people come from interstate to receive their awards, and it's lovely to share their happiness. The awards also are for younger writers - one young man who won a poetry prize said his English teacher had told him that poetry was obviously not his strong suit, and it was good to have another educated opinion on that! No doubt he'll take great pride in showing her his certificate.

There are always writing awards around. The new Prime Minister has announced two major prizes for fiction and nonfiction writing worth $100,000. Yes, that's nice, but wouldn't it be better to spread it around a bit more? Sometimes you hear people say that there are too many awards, but I think it's great to have many rather than one or two. Judges differ widely in their choices (just look at the State writing awards for children's and YA books compared to the CBCA choices for their awards) and it means more books get promoted and praised.

We writers tend to tuck ourselves away in the back room and write, hoping for publication and recognition, hoping we'll find readers who love what we've created. Prizes and awards, both large and small, help us to feel validated, help us to keep persevering, just as much as actual publication does. Every bit helps. And I can't say enough good things about my writing group (go, girls!) - their encouragement and critiquing skills have kept me going over the years, more than anything else. If you can find fellow writers who understand what you are trying to achieve, and who can offer you (and you, them) that vital support, that's a prize in itself.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Who Made/Wrote This?

While the holidays mean reading lots of books and writing and relaxing, I also try to fit in some movie viewing. Unfortunately, these holidays the cinemas are crowded with not-so-good children's movies (sorry, I have no desire to see Horton Hears a Who although I might give the Spiderwyck Chronicles a go) so I need to look further afield for entertainment. I watched Margot at the Wedding. I give myself four stars for lasting the distance. The movie gets zero. this was one of those movies where you keep watching because you just can't believe - a) it's as bad as you suspect it is, b) you keep hoping it will improve, c) you keep looking for something good in it, and then have to give up.

Who paid all that money to make this movie? I'm a fan of the dysfunctional family story - I loved Little Miss Sunshine. That movie had a great cast of characters and a story with a goal and destination. Margot has two characters - sisters - who spend the whole movie trying to be nice to each other and failing to even be successfully crazy or bitchy or vindictive, or in fact any emotion that might transmit itself to the audience. Nobody in this story (sorry, scratch the word story because there isn't one) has a relationship with anyone else that comes close to interesting. It's a sad day when I realise the only character I kind of liked was the one played by Jack Black (who I don't like).

I checked out some reviews on Rotten Tomatoes to see if it was just me - they were mixed, but most people agreed that there was little plot, a lot of depressing misery and none of the characters sparked enough to carry the movie to any kind of decent ending. I think what I hate are movies where all of the characters are just plain stupid, act in stupid ways, fail to make any kind of decisions that create a possible storyline, and aren't funny even when they are supposed to be.

How hard is it to write a story with tension, action, consequences and empathetic characters? Was Margot nuts? Was she having a breakdown? Who knows? Who cares? And the who cares question is the killer. If we don't care about any of the characters in a story, we aren't going to watch it or read it. This is something we teach our students from Day One. If you are going to create a character who is unlikeable, there had better be other great things going on in the story to hook the reader in. Is it unfair to compare Margot at the Wedding to Little Miss Sunshine? I don't think so. That's what we do as readers and viewers - we pay our money and we get to judge whether it was worth it or not!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Review Round-up

Over the past couple of weeks, I've read six or seven books, probably more, mainly due to the dire offerings on TV. I've been known to take myself to bed by 8.30pm with a pile of books, diving into whichever one holds my interest most. Some haven't. After being intrigued with Denise Mina's Sanctum (a clever play on diaries and case notes that leaves you wondering afterward how much was fiction - well, all of it, probably, but she does well to keep you thinking), I tried another one and gave up after twenty pages. The Field of Blood had two things against it for me as a reader - the main character seemed to be too ineffectual and passive to hold any hope of future engagement, and the first pages were so overloaded with a huge cast of characters that I was having trouble following any of it. Yes, harsh and fast judgement, but there were other more enticing books waiting.

I read Boy Toy by Barry Lyga first out of my pile, and am still considering what I think of it, and why it made me uncomfortable. I have decided it was intended to do so. If you haven't heard of this book yet, here's a short summary. Josh is seventeen and about to graduate from high school, but he's not coping. He can't relate to girls his own age, he feels the whole world stares at him and knows who he is, and he doesn't know what to do about baseball and college. The reason? Josh had an affair with his teacher when he was twelve and she went to jail for it. The story moves back and forth in time, so that we alternate between Josh now, struggling to keep his head above water despite help from a therapist and his friend Zik, and Josh at twelve, being seduced by his teacher.

I'm not going to spoil the book for you by telling you what the dark, emotional twist is in the last section, but it does explain why Lyga goes into such excruciating detail about the affair. This book is all about Josh, about how and why he is struggling still at seventeen. Cases like this in real life always make headlines (they certainly have here) and I wonder if one of Lyga's intentions was to show young males exactly what damage this kind of relationship can do to you (rather than assume it would be an exciting and "maturing" experience, which I can imagine a lot of young males doing). This was not Josh's experience at all, and I think perhaps the discomfort I felt in reading this came from the way in which it made me aware that perhaps I had made my own assumptions too. Another reminder of how the media can distort the truth or fail to show more than one side of a story. I highly recommend this book, but be aware of its content.

I like to save up some good crime fiction for holiday weekends, but Killing Fear by Allison Brennan wasn't really it. The sticker said Love this or your money back. Well, I didn't love it. I kind of thought it was passable. Does that qualify me for a refund? Maybe it's because the serial killer genre is getting tired, and I've read too many really good ones to tolerate one that doesn't do anything much fresh and new. Mind you, that might be asking too much. Fresh and new serial murders. Hmmm. I think my biggest gripe with this book is that it was a bit shallow. I never really felt a sense of place, and third person omniscient POV felt too distancing. This might have worked better (for me, anyway) with a closer POV, but as one major character was the villain, I'm not so sure.

Anyway, I went from that to Travel Team by Mike Lupica, and did that book grab me and keep me reading all day! It's middle grade fiction, about a basketball team, and a really short kid who is a terrific player but doesn't get picked for the travel team (the team that travels around to play in the league). The kid, Danny, has a father who was a star basketball player until he crashed his car, and now he's a bit of a no-hoper who decides to start his own team so his son can play. While the story might sound familiar, Lupica's characters bring the book alive with action, humour and hope. Right from the start, Danny is the skeptical one who thinks it's all a waste of time but goes along with it, which adds unexpected conflict from all angles. He's a multi-faceted character who carries the story with depth and emotion, and is honest and direct in a way that continually refreshes the novel.

It's books like Travel Team that help me as a writer. I can re-read it for dialogue, characterisation and the whole show-don't-tell thing, and learn as I go. Books like that go on my closest shelves, so I can use them for class or for my own benefit whenever I need a good example to follow. Have you got any books like that on your shelf? (I mean novels, not how-tos.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I'm Alert!

The other day I signed up for Google Alerts on two topics, one of which was my book Sixth Grade Style Queen (Not!). I'd heard other people talking about how handy the alerts were, so I thought I'd give them a try.
Imagine my surprise when I started getting alerts almost immediately, and it was an even bigger surprise when one of them led me to the Australian Publishers' Association site. The big news is that my book has been shortlisted for the Book Design Awards - twice! Once for the cover and once for the whole book.

Now I can't claim any credit for the design of the book, apart from my first suggestion that perhaps the inside could have kind of doodle-like drawings in it, as if my main character had drawn them herself. From this, the amazing designer, Elissa Christian, went ahead and created a pretty stunning and unusual book. For a start, everything inside is green, including the text, and the cover you can see above is like a colourful doodle too.
Go, Elissa! Hope you win.

With Easter coming up, that means lots of writing time for me. We don't have family obligations (as in visits to in-laws and out-laws) so it's pretty much a time to relax, and for me to write. I'm in revision mode on a novel, and am writing lots of poems, and plotting out a new novel. I'm sticking to quite a few of my 2008 resolutions, amazing for me, which means walking every day, sleeping more, eating well, doing the stretches and exercises for my neck/shoulder problem, and working steadily on two-monthly goals. Thinking about that is a great encouragement in itself. I might have to splurge on some chocolate! Just a little bit.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Dumb Questions

I used to think there was no such thing as a dumb question. When I first took over the "boss" job at work, there was no handover from the previous person and I was pretty much floundering. After my tenth stupid (to me) question of the admin staff, I apologised for asking so many dumb questions. The other person said, "I'd much rather you asked a million dumb questions and then did it right, than guess and have to ask for help to clean up the mess." What a pleasure she was to work with!

Since then, I've worked on that principle a lot of the time, in class as well as out. New writers can't be expected to know everything when they first start (that's why they're in a class - they want to find out) and that's how I learned too. I will never forget the wonderful help Michael Dugan (famous Australian children's writer and poet) gave me when I first started writing and publishing children's books. It made a huge difference to me, and I like to try and pay that forward whenever I can.

Mind you, I do still hear an occasional question that really does indicate the asker needs to rethink their words. Like the person in a seminar last year who said "I have an idea for a story and I want to know how to get it published". The audible intake of breath from everyone said it all. If you haven't even written anything before you start asking about publication, then you're probably better off trying something else.

These days, I am no longer the "boss", thank goodness (they let me escape back to being a teacher), but I still have to deal with a lot of admin as part of my job, and my new pet hate is the burial expert. As in "I didn't know what to do with this so I pretended it didn't exist and buried it on my desk under all the other things I am supposed to be doing". Coming a close second is the duck-shover - "I didn't know what to do with this so I shoved it into someone else's In Tray". When I'm feeling negative about these two, I can't help but think of all the extra hours of work they create for other people, and then I think that in my case, those hours are writing time! Shame on them!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday Thoughts

My first thought is where the heck did the week go? My second thought is that I have managed to write three days in a row on two different projects. That's got to be a good week!
My friend Tracey recently posted on writing in the zone, how it feels when the words zing along and everything seems so easy. And how rare that can be. A writer writes no matter what, and waiting for the zone is guaranteed to end up in no writing at all.

I've been reading a new acquisition this week - Creativity for Life by Eric Maisel. I had enjoyed his A Writer's Paris so much that I wanted to read another by him. This one is a lot more complex and deep. So much so that I can only read a few pages at a time, then I have to go away and think about it. But today I was reading about the artist's personality, and the factors which go into it. Under Discipline, he talks about leading all-day workshops for writers who are blocked, and how these people can come and write for a whole day with him when previously they haven't been able to write a word.

What causes the block to disappear? Is it the man up the front giving them permission to write? Or ordering them to write? Maisel asks the question - if the gap between being blocked and writing is so small that it goes in a few moments, why does it seem so insurmountable at other times? I think it often comes back to the title of that section - Discipline. If you discipline yourself to write, you will write. You won't write until you can convince yourself that sitting and doing is all that is necessary. Just sit and write. Anything. And when you are writing and thinking every word is awful, keep writing. It's amazing how persisting for ten more minutes will move you into that writing space that may not be the zone, but will be writing that satisfies you (maybe even because you did not give up).

In the Weekend Australian magazine there were two interesting articles. The first was on Joan Didion, the writer, who said some wonderful things including this: No one ever reads as passionately as a 12-year-old. Critic John Leonard said about her writing: She seems almost Japanese in what she can leave out and still have us know it's there. It's almost poetic. That made me want to read her books.

The second article was on comedians, and whether the best ones are those who have terrible childhoods, are depressive or have personality disorders. The writer, Oliver James, quotes a number of famous comedians with these pathologies to back up his claim. He says the urge to create humour stems from using it as a defence in childhood, and later on, against criticism, abuse and low self-esteem. I've read similar claims about children's writers - that they are somehow caught between being grown-up and being back in a certain period of childhood that was either traumatic or holds great memories. The key can often be to imagine yourself back then, at ten or twelve or fifteen, and be able to recreate it on the page. Food for thought.

Monday, March 10, 2008

What Inspires You?

As writers, we all know how a great book, poem or movie can be inspiring - how something that touches us or stirs us in some way can spark off new inspiration, or just firm up our desire to write and accomplish our dreams.
But there are other things that inspire us that are very personal and unique. Here are some of mine:

* building frames for houses - there is something about seeing a new house, seeing its bones and imagining what it will become, that inspires me

* a great singer (two of my favourites are Tina Arena and George Michael) - the sound of an amazing voice reaching perfect notes is astounding to me, and energises me

* crickets and cicadas - on a hot summer day, cicadas in chorus are ear-splittingly wonderful, and when I go for a walk at dusk and hear crickets in the grass singing at similar ear-splitting levels, and then think about how small they are, that amazes me

* people who simply inspire because they care and want to share their thoughts, and hope that you will gain something good from reading them - Julius Lester and Craig Harper are examples that spring to mind right now

* a terrific football (rugby union) player, Chris Jack, who is fascinating to watch in action because you can literally see him thinking, analysing, acting, moving - he is able to be in the play all the time, and be extremely effective, because of this ability - it's uncanny to watch

* people who don't give up, and who really do understand it's up to them and nobody else - seeing them achieve great things in any walk of life is wonderful (even better when you know them personally)

Those are some of mine, weird though they may seem! What about yours?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Are you a Socio-Economic Writer?

Sounds like a silly or weird question. Let me explain. In the past two days, there's been this synergy thing (I'm using the current buzz word) where several things I've been reading and thinking about have all come together. I have to warn you that I am about to leap up on my soapbox:

1. I've just finished a crime novel called Sanctum by Denise Mina. Mina was recommended by my friend G, and when I went to the bookshop, this was the title I selected. One of the elements of this story (which uses a really interesting diary/truth/lies quandary as its plot) is the point about who receives the most media attention. Is it the most attractive, middle-class victim? Because the lower-class, poor, drug-addicted or prostitute victim often gets short shrift from the media, thus leading to less public interest in their case and less assistance to the police.

2. Today's Melbourne Age newspaper has a large article about exactly this thing - Maddy McCann (the little girl who went missing in Portugal last year) has received a massive amount of media attention, and this has been fed by donations to the search mission by people like Richard Branson and J.K. Rowling. Whereas Shannon Matthews, who went missing (presumed abducted) on 19 February, has had little media attention because she is one of seven kids by five fathers in a very poor family.

3. Apparently critics are currently having another go at Jacqueline Wilson, asking why she has to continually write these depressing stories about kids in single parent, poor families who go through horrible experiences.

4. And me, small voice in a far-flung land (so to speak) is wondering how my editor is going to feel about another story featuring a child from a family that is basically broke and struggling, and who can't afford to give the kids what they want or need.

They are all good questions. I don't know enough about JW to say why she writes about the characters she does, but my guess is that, even if she doesn't come from a background quite so dire herself, she's met a ton of kids who do, who write to her, and who tell her their stories. She's giving them a voice, telling their stories, showing the world what it is really like as a kid to live in that part of the world where lack of money rules your life, where you can't be guaranteed a roof over your head, where you also can't be guaranteed a parent who can care for you.

While I feel deeply for children in the Sudan and Palestine and any other country where kids are suffering because of adults who are more concerned about killing each other than about making sure their kids actually grow up, there are huge numbers of kids in our so-called affluent Western world who are living miserable lives and who deserve to have their stories told too. No, we don't want a bookshelf full of misery stories, but there are kids out there who need to read stories that reflect the realities of their own lives and that give them hope.

Which brings me to the other whinge that critics often regurgitate every so often - that these dreary, doom-filled stories just make the kids' lives more miserable. I have yet to read any children's or YA book (apart from Dear Miffy, which has its own message) that ends so badly that the child or teen reader might come away feeling totally depressed. There is a huge difference between a realistic ending that offers some hope (and kids can tell the difference - they know when you are fudging it or making it happy-happy just for the sake of it) and one which sends you into the depths of despair. I don't know any children's writer who says they deliberately create horrible endings. JW always says her books are full of hope and strength and happy endings (just not endings where you win Lotto).

So I guess I need to go on writing stories that reflect what I know - that despite the media reports, not every child has a computer and Playstation and mobile phone of their own, simply because they can't afford it (there are some sane parents still out there too!!). Not every family can afford meat on the table every night. Not every family has working parents. There are many families where unemployment is the norm, where eating bad food is the norm (because it's cheaper), where single parents are the norm, where parents who can't speak English properly have to use their kids as interpreters (how likely are these parents to indulge in reading books to their kids every night?).

If you want to think further on the realities of life for kids in families below the poverty line, try reading What Came Before He Shot Her by Elizabeth George (article contains spoilers). Then read some Jacqueline Wilson books. Yes, kids love fairy books, and no, they shouldn't be unnecessarily exposed to stories about awful life situations. But pretending to your kids that the world is full of goodness and light is not helping them to understand what it is to live in our world today, and deal with the crap that will inevitably come their way. It is absolutely astounding what kids are capable of when they understand how other kids in the world are suffering. Your kids, too, can learn compassion, understanding and how to help others, simply by reading books about kids less well off.

So if you want to write books like that, books with meaning, books that will help kids cope and help them to become compassionate, caring people, go for it.
And as for you, Mr Rudd, cutting carers' benefits and old age payments - may you grow old and disabled before your time. You'll be getting a letter from me.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Realities about What it Takes

Don't read on if you're feeling a bit vulnerable or depressed!

1. It takes time. Lots of time. It can take ten years to get to the point where you are writing publishable work, or it can take ten years to come up with an idea that's new and different. The ten years won't have gone to waste, because during that time you'll have written many words, and the way you write will have been improving and growing and deepening. You'll have come to understand what it truly takes, plot- and character-wise, to write a novel with impact, that resonates with lots of readers. You'll have written all of the dull, dead, done-before ideas out of your system and be discovering that, behind the daily clutter in your life lie many new ideas and voices that you are only just learning to explore. Why ten years? I'm not sure, but I know many writers who say their "overnight success" took ten years. Me, too.

2. It takes time. That's time in every day. A regular writing habit of an hour a day will get you a lot further than one day every two weeks. That's because writing becomes the focus of every day, you start to feel like a writer with a strong commitment, your project is constantly in your thoughts and you are constantly coming up with new ideas for it, to make it better. You don't need to spend a couple of hours working your way back in the voice and the story. It's right there, all the time.
Sandy Fussell has three books coming out this year (her first three, one of which is Samurai Kids). I have just read an interview with her where she says she writes from 10pm-1am every night, because that's the only time in her busy day where she can fit it in. For many people, that would be too hard. For many people, any kind of regular writing commitment is too hard. Not for Sandy. So she has three books coming out.

3. You need to read. Reading feeds your writing like nothing else. Poetry feeds the language in my novels. Crime fiction helps me with plotting. Reading great YA fiction teaches me about voice. A writer is always learning, always working on their craft, and reading as a writer takes you a lot further along this path than anything else. You need a reading commitment, just like your writing commitment. You need to see what else is being published, what publishers consider is the best, what is selling well and think about why. Those writers are giving readers what they want. You have to know what that is, and how to create it yourself.

Gee, all of this is taking up lots of your time, isn't it? You might have to give up some TV, or socialising, or even a bit of sleep.

4. You need to understand the publishing industry. It's a business. It's not there to make you feel better about your writing (although occasionally there are rejection letters that could be a tiny bit more encouraging, perhaps ... nah, we just need a thicker skin). Your submission is not the only one that publisher received this week. It was one of maybe a hundred, or several hundred. With so many to choose from, no wonder publishers are hanging out for the one that sings to them, not just one more competent story among many.

What are you doing to make your novel stand out? How many times have you rewritten it? Do you need a few grammar and punctuation lessons? You're supposed to be professional, so you need to understand that you are competing with thousands of new writers. You're also competing with lots of published writers.

Do you spend $2000 on a new bed because it looks nice and the person who owns the bed company needs a better car? No, you'd buy a bed that gave you a great night's sleep and was good for your back as well. So no one is going to spend $20 or $30 on your book in the shop unless you are going to give them a great story.

Editors and publishers love books. Otherwise they'd be doing something else that paid more money. Yes, they have to fight the bean-counters in the company, and convince marketing to come on board with books that are a bit risky, but they wouldn't do it if they didn't love the books. Make yours one that an editor falls in love with!

5. Whingeing doesn't help. Yes, this is a tough thing to do. Crazy even. Pour your heart and soul into a book and then not be able to get it published. But complaining and blaming other people only makes you feel better for about five minutes, then you feel worse again. Put that energy into writing and reading, into finding out about the industry, into finding other writers for a critique group (if that's what'll help you, and it probably will).
And think about this - any published writer will happily tell you that getting published does not solve all of your problems - they just become different problems!

6. Love the writing. Love the feeling of having written. Love having completed that tricky Chapter 11, even though you were scared you'd stuff it up. Love rewriting and making your words better. Love talking to other writers and encouraging each other. Love reading and discovering new writers. Love creating new voices. Love the writing, and the rest will follow.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

What Does It Take? the Myths

It's a good question. What does it take to become a published author? Or if you want more than that, what does it take to become a published, famous, well-paid (dare I say rich?) author? Let's look at the myths first.

1. It takes amazing talent. Hmmm, yes. If I had a dollar for every talented writer I've seen who gave up after a few months or a year, I could retire. It does take some talent, true. People who can't write anything that engages even the most sympathetic reader are plentiful, but sometimes that's not a matter of talent, that's just a matter of learning how to make the words work better for you (and that is possible). But the hard truth is - some people, no matter how badly they want to tell a story, can't write. I can't play the violin (I've tried), I can't play golf (I've tried), I could never be a fireworks expert (I'm scared of big noises) - so I have given up these things, even though I would kind of enjoy being the new Tiger Woods. Some people need to give up the idea of publishing their writing. Sorry, but it's true. Or they should at least give up submitting to publishers until they have worked really hard and reached a better standard of writing. (OK, you can throw things at me now. I'll duck - my talent there comes from ducking errant golf balls I, myself, hit.)

But if you have a bit of talent (we usually spot it in your voice, believe it or not), but not much technique - you can learn technique and you can improve - in leaps and bounds!

2. You need to know someone important in publishing. How do you know them? Are you memorable because you stalked that publisher into the ladies' room and harrassed her as she washed her hands? Or because you got drunk and confronted him about your latest rejection? If you Google the many blogs and websites maintained by editors and agents, you will see one thing that absolutely shines above anything else in terms of getting published - it's the writing that counts. Think about it.
Yes, some people get lucky and meet the right editor at the right time at a conference, but if the writing didn't sing, they would be one more writer in the queue.

3. You need lots of inspiration. How many writers sit down at the computer or blank page every day and feel inspired? Very, very few. When you've been writing for a while, you start to realise that inspiration is sporadic. Lack of faith in yourself as a writer is more prevalent. The only thing that will get you through, keep you going, keep you writing to the end of your project (no matter what it is) is showing up at your desk and writing no matter what.
This seems so obvious that I wonder why I'm saying it!! But the truth is that there are many writers who believe that the only time they can write anything "good" is when they are inspired. Rubbish!!! You have to write no matter what. That's what a writer does. And you would be amazed at the number of writers who say they can't tell the difference, later, between what they wrote when they "felt like it" and what they wrote when they struggled and persisted, despite the doubts.

Some realities coming soon.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

SCBWI Conference photos

Bruce Whately (illustrator), Lisa Berryman (HarperCollins) and Jackie French - the Diary of a Wombat "team".
Ellen Hopkins, guest writer from the U.S. - her verse novels for YA make the NY Times best-seller lists.
Meredith Costain, speaking at the launch of her lovely Nibble, Rosie and the Bunyip.