Allison RushbyWhat is your elevator pitch for The Turnkey?


The Turnkey is set in the middle of WWII in London and is about Flossie Birdwhistle—the eleven-year-old Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery. As Turnkey, Flossie is in charge of keeping the dead happily at rest. When Flossie spots a twilight Nazi spy on the streets of London, she knows he isn’t supposed to be there and sets out on a quest to find out what he’s up to.


Flossie’s adventures in London and her mystical journeys into other countries are vividly described in The Turnkey. What kind of research did you do into the cemeteries of London and the other locations in the book?


I lived in Cambridge for a year not too long ago and was lucky enough to take many weekend trips to London. This definitely helped in getting the right feel for the setting of The Turnkey. I was able to draw upon my visits to several of the cemeteries mentioned in the book, as well as the fact that I’d visited the Churchill War Rooms, St Paul’s and so on. I used a historical researcher for the finer research details (for example, were the cemeteries in question bombed during the Blitz? How badly?).


The world and lore of the ghosts in The Turnkey is richly imagined. Were you inspired or influenced by any other paranormal stories?9781925126921


This will probably sound very strange indeed, but I don’t see The Turnkey as a paranormal story. I know it falls squarely in this category, but to me it’s a story of a girl who happens to be dead who is living a whole new life in the twilight world. Her world is just as real and vivid to her as her previous life in the land of the living. I found I was influenced more by my favourite books from childhood than by particular paranormal books. These included: Rumer Godden’s The Doll’s House, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Joyce Lankester Brisley’s Milly-Molly-Mandy series and Noel Streatfeild’s “Shoes” series.


You have written for both younger readers and teens. When you begin writing a story, do you have an audience in mind, or does the story guide you?


This is an interesting question, as when I first started thinking about writing The Turnkey, I envisioned it as a Young Adult story. As I started piecing it together, however, I saw that there were several factors that made it more suitable for a Middle Grade audience. This included the fact that I was desperate to include a talking fox (there are always exceptions to the rule, of course, but you do tend to find more talking animals in books for the younger years than in Young Adult up). Also, the plot seemed straightforward and quite simple—Flossie had to find out what the Nazi officer of the twilight was up to in London. While it would be a trying task, it wasn’t a journey that would open her eyes to the adult world, or force her to grow up from child to adult. I knew then that The Turnkey needed to be a Middle Grade story.


What do you hope young readers will take away from reading The Turnkey?


I hope they see it as a tale of friendship and selflessness more than simply a ghost story. One lovely compliment I received from an early reader gave me hope that this might be the case for many young readers. She said that she was worried that the book would be scary because it was about ghosts. Instead, she found it reassuring to see that while Flossie missed her family, she was, essentially, happy in death. She’d made a new family and a home and a life for herself in the twilight.





Pamela Freeman photoPrincess Betony first appeared over 20 years ago, can you tell us about her history? How has she changed since she first appeared?

The first time I wrote about Betony was in 1990, in a short story called Betony’s Sunflower. That became the last chapter in my first book, The Willow Tree’s Daughter, which started as a collection of short stories. Allen & Unwin asked me to turn it into a novel, as almost all of the stories were about Betony as she grew up. I did that, and went on to write two other books set in Floramonde, Windrider and The Centre of Magic.

In The Willow Tree’s Daughter, Betony doesn’t know that her mother is a willow tree dryad, and the story arc of that book involved her finding out about that – and that she, therefore, was partly magic.

The Floramonde books went out of print (although two other books set in the same universe, Victor’s Quest and Victor’s Challenge, are still available).   When I moved publishers to Walker Books, I gave them the Floramonde books in case they wanted to reprint them! Together, we decided to split the first book back into its original short stories, make them longer, and publish them as separate books.

However, as separate books, the long story arc about her mother didn’t work, so I changed it substantially. In this incarnation, Betony has always known about her mother’s background, and the stories involve her exploring this part of her heritage. Each of the stories is at least twice the length of the original short story. I think of it as ‘alternate universe Betony’ – two different versions of the same life, both ‘real’, each with their own flavour.

As for how she’s changed – well, the storytelling style in The Willow Tree’s Daughter was very fairy-tale-like. A kind of oral storytelling style. But times and writing fashions change (and I hope I’m a better writer now) so the style in the new books is much simpler and more active.

I think also, when I first wrote about Betony, the fashion in writing ‘adventure stories for girls’ was very much to denigrate ‘girlie’ things. I’ve grown a bit older and wiser and I think that you can have adventures and nice frocks, too! So one of the background themes of these Betony books is that you can go and have a great adventure in your overalls and boots, but when you come home, you can enjoy a nice frock and a delicious afternoon tea with your best friend in the second best afternoon tea room on the right of the palace entrance! In other words, you don’t have to turn yourself into a boy in order to be a strong girl. And I guess it’s also about a good relationship between a mother and a daughter, as Betony’s mother trusts her to go off on adventures and return safely.


You have written for both children and adults. When you begin writing a story do you have an audience in mind, or does the story guide you?

There have been stories where I thought I was writing a book for kids or young adults and found out I was writing one for adults – like The Black Dress, which was published as a YA book but which is overwhelmingly read by adults. I’ve never had one go the other way, though – that is, I’ve never started a book for adults and realised it was really for kids.

I teach at the Australian Writers’ Centre, and I tell my students: write the story first, and then figure out which age group it’s for. I try to follow my own advice!


What books did you read as a child? Do you write books now that you think you would have liked as a child?

I certainly try to write books I would have liked as a child – but my tastes haven’t changed all that much, because as a kid I read everything I could lay my hands on, from fairy tales to non-fiction to Shakespeare. I had basically read everything in my school library and everything in the children’s section of my local library by the time I was in Year 5. So ‘What books did you read as a child?’ isn’t a question I can answer easily. This is one of the classic signs you might have a writer on your hands – almost all of the writers I know were obsessive readers as children.

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Di BatesIn Our Home is Dirt by Sea, Dianne Bates has complied a fabulous collection of poetry written by over thirty different Australian poets for Australian children. Topics include school, family, special events like birthdays and Christmas, animals and sports. Check out the classroom ideas.


What is your “elevator pitch’ for Our Home is Dirt by Sea?

An anthology of poetry, Our Home is Dirt by Sea comprises 45 poems by Australian poets for children aged 8+ years, divided into categories ranging from “Mostly Me” to “Special Times”. Some poems are light-hearted and some are more thoughtful; all, I hope you agree, are wonderful!

What draws you to write and collect poetry?

I love poetry and have done so since I was a small child listening to my mother many times re-reading The Owl and the Pussy Cat. Later, as a ten year old, I had a marvelous teacher who introduced me to poems I can still recite. A teacher, I regularly taught verse-speaking and poetry writing to primary school students. I even married two poets – the late Max Williams and my current husband, Bill Condon. Poetry connects me to other minds, to other perspectives.  I often swap poems with friends – some I’ve discovered, others I’ve written. Rarely a day goes by when I don’t read or write poetry: it is a balm to my soul.


You have included a number of well-known poets in this anthology; how did you pick whose poems were included?

Yes, some poets are well-known, such as Elizabeth Honey, Steven Herrick and Max Fatchen, but some are lesser known such as Jenny Erlanger, Anna Jacobson and Jenny Blackford. I chose poems based on their content and their ability to say something powerful, whether poignant or humorous. I love every poem in the book, especially “The Tree” by Chris Mansell; it should be posted in every school, every government house in the world, and in the United Nations! [click to continue…]

RS2_2059Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg is a self confessed book nerd, a debut author, a mother of two and a librarian. I sat down with Rebecka to discuss her first book, Reflection. Check out the comprehensive teacher notes and activities at


Reflection is a moving tribute to soldiers past and present, it grounds the reader with a family paying their respects at a dawn service, while also opening the reader’s eyes to the small moments experienced in wars. What inspired you to tell the story in Reflection?

A conversation with my brother while we were walking an Anzac day ceremony planted the seed for this story. He was wondering how to approach the subject with his young daughter, how to explain why we attend the ceremony and answer the questions that might be raised.

This stayed with me throughout the ceremony and allowed me to take it all in from a new perspective, however the original story I wrote sat untouched for a number of years after its original draft, before the final idea of the dual interpretation came to me.


There are many books about Anzacs around at the moment. What makes Reflection special?

Generally I’ve found that most Anzac books focus either on the experience of war or on the experience of Anzac day. I think Reflection brings both of these experiences to focus in equal measure. The dual interpretation of each line of text draws parallels between the Anzac day ceremony and the events that the ceremony commemorates, hopefully enabling readers to link the rituals and emotions experienced at an Anzac day ceremony to the experiences of those who have been to war.

Often Anzac stories focus on the first World War, and particularly on Gallipoli. Reflection spans over 100 years, depicting situations of conflict as well as peace keeping efforts, demonstrating Australia and New Zealand’s participation in conflicts that have occurred all around the world and allowing for a more thorough understanding of Australia and New Zealand’s military history.


How important do you think it is for young children to be exposed to the idea of war? [click to continue…]

Lee Battersby

Lee Battersby is the author of the stunning junior fiction Magrit. Check out the teacher notes.


What is your elevator pitch for Magrit?

10 year old Magrit has lived her whole life in a cemetery with no entrance and no exit. When the stork accidentally drops a baby into the cemetery grounds, Magrit decides to raise him as her own, despite the warnings of her skeletal best friend and adviser Master Puppet, and the ghostly voice that starts to taunt her from the area of the graveyard where Magrit never dares to go.
You’ve written science fiction, fantasy and horror for adults. Was it a conscious decision to write for children? Or did this story just call for it?

I had the central idea for the novel kicking around for quite a while, but9781925081343 it simply didn’t work as an adult story. Thematically, the novel is about the loss of innocence, and the acceptance of that loss. As a narrative, that resonates so much better as a children’s story: once I had the character of Magrit in place, everything else fell together really nicely. Ultimately, it’s about what works best for the story.

How did you find the experience of writing for children different to writing for adults?

It’s much more freeing, particularly in the early drafts. Kids are fearless, and much less constrained by emotional and cultural taboos than adults. You can push a scenario a little further with kids and maintain their sense of intrigue longer, because they have no preconceived value system when it comes to new ideas. Where an adult will say “That’s silly/stupid/nonsensical/off-putting,” a kid will say “Okay, let’s see where this goes.”

And kids have a much more accepting sense of the absurd: they’re far less interested than adults in the perceptions of others. So if a fart’s funny, it’s just funny. If a talking, invisible skeleton falls of a chapel and gets angry at you because he’s all broken and needs to be put back together again with sticks and tin cans, well, that’s just how the story is rolling. So while I was writing the first draft I could lay out the narrative and simply enjoy it from moment to moment without worrying about the internal construction. Of course, drafts two-to-infinity were some seriously hard work, because it’s one thing to create these wonderful, spiralling updrafts of absurdity and profundity, but you still have to go back and underpin them with something logical and meaningful.

But that sense of play, and of touching upon inner meanings and emotions in an unfettered, raw way: that’s quite wonderful.

Magrit’s memory of her mother is vague but unpleasant and Master Puppet for the most part is quick to scold Magrit. Why did you decide to give Magrit such cold and unkind parental figures?
I’m sure there’s some deep, dark psychological reason based around hidden childhood traumas that will resurface as part of a hidden-camera investigation one night when there’s no fad diet for the current affairs programs to shill.

The rather simple reason, I’m afraid, is that I needed forces for Magrit to react against, and apart from a tiny baby that doesn’t talk, there were no other characters in the book. Your protagonist has to be in conflict with the environment (got that), herself (definitely got that), and external stimulus, usually in the form of another character – she needed someone to bounce off. And that separation of personality from those who shelter you is an important milestone in the assumption of adult responsibilities, which is a big part of the narrative. I certainly don’t think of Master Puppet as cold and unkind, particularly as it turns out he’s redacted. It’s part of Magrit’s growth, and acceptance of otherness.

Do you think it’s important for young readers to be exposed to issues such as abandonment, loneliness and death?

Kids love to experience a wide range of emotions: there’s no value judgement in ‘sad’ or ‘scared’ or happy’, so much as it’s the appropriateness of that emotional response. I don’t think we should force children to be sad, or scared, but if they choose to do so, and you’re there with your arm out, providing that safety, then they can do so in the best possible way. Not everything has to be painted with a Disney three-colour palette to be good for you: if it was, kids would never climb trees. Art should be a stalking horse for the wider culture.
Magrit is also quite humorous, beautiful and ultimately hopeful. Was it difficult to strike a balance between the darker and lighter aspects while writing the novel?

I always had the final image of the novel in mind, so knowing that it was going to end on what I thought was quite a beautiful, positive moment made it easier to write some of the sadder sections along the way. Like any entertainment, if the novel was unremittingly bleak and dark, there’d be no pleasure in reading it. Magrit has to have moment of success, and of happiness, to keep us travelling with her. Hopefully, the kids who read Magrit will identify with her, and want her to come out of it all okay. I’m hoping that ending will give them a moment of great uplift.
What do you hope young readers will take away from reading Magrit?

I hope they come away having walked side by side with Magrit as she goes through her journey; that they come to identify with her and share her sadness, and happiness, and losses and victories. And I hope that the book resonates with them, and becomes something they want to experience again and again, and each time come away with some new understanding, or sense of light and shade within the world. Most of all, I hope the book’s fun: it’s creepy, and funny, and sad, and icky, and profound and engaging and unusual and strange and sometimes all of them at once. Because that’s what turned me on as a kid, and as an adult, and I hope it changes the shape of someone’s brain.

Also, I want one of them to design a Master Puppet action figure. Seriously, that would be the coolest.

Bob GrahamThe clever girls of St Aiden’s Anglican Girl’s School in Queensland had the chance to ask Bob Graham a few questions about his new book How the Sun Got to Coco’s House, his writing/illustration process and dogs! Thanks to Teacher-Librarian/Blogger extraordinaire Megan Daley for organising the questions for Bob. Check out her blog Children’s Books Daily.

Check out the teacher notes and more info for How the Sun Got to Coco’s House.

Are there always dogs in your stories?
Well, there are certainly a lot of dogs sprinkled through my books aren’t there? But there have been many dogs also sprinkled through my life too, and as my stories are written from my desk and as I look around me often the first thing I see is a dog. Well what better place to start?  And that kind of leads in to your next question….

Where do you find inspiration?
I don’t really go looking for inspiration. I just like playing around with stuff, just putting a few words together with an image or two and sometimes I’m encouraged to keep adding to my words and pictures to see where it all leads. The ingredients for the words and pictures come from just living my life, looking around me, my memory, my observations and my imagination. There is no formula. I have learnt to put trust in my intuition.

Do you have a dog breed preference?Untitled-1
I like dogs that wait for you at the front door the moment you go out and greet you like a long lost friend when you return. that covers most dogs I guess. [click to continue…]

Claire SaxbyTell us about your new book, My Name is Lizzie Flynn.
My Name is Lizzie Flynn is a story of a young convict girl en route to Hobart, Van Dieman’s Land in 1841 aboard a ship called the ‘Rajah’. It’s also an imagining of the creation of one of Australia’s most important textiles, the Rajah quilt. My Name is Lizzie Flynn tracks Lizzie’s journey from hopelessness to hope.

What did the research for My Name is Lizzie Flynn involve?
What didn’t it involve! I discovered the quilt almost accidentally, and was immediately intrigued. I found books and on line resources which showed the quilt and talked a little about it’s provenance. So, I followed the trail of the quilt first. (lost for 146 years before reappearing in Scotland). I visited the National Gallery in Canberra and viewed the quilt in the special collections room and was fortunate enough to meet one of its conservators. The quilt led me to discover the ship – a challenging task since there are no images of it. So I climbed aboard the replica Endeavour (too old except for the modern internals, but similar shape), another ship (too young but the right dimensions) to paintings of three-masted barques. I needed to imagine the space the women occupied. From the ship, I chased down information about the convict women, their crimes and their sentences (three separate data bases). The on-board matron, Kezia Hayter led me to the work of Elizabeth Fry in improving prison conditions for women both in England, aboard ship and in Australia. Incidentally, it led all the way to the suburb next door to where I live.9781922179913 Kezia married the Captain and came to live in Williamstown. One of the main streets is named for Cpt Ferguson. Then all of that sat on my shoulder as I wrote about the fictional Lizzie. [click to continue…]

140718_Alice_74Why did you choose to write a fact based book for children, rather than adults?
I’m a teacher by trade, so it was never a question of whether it was going to be for kids or grown-ups… The question was which facts to keep in and which got the boot! The original manuscript was about 10,000 words longer. I’m most sad that “G for Gerbil (not a food)” didn’t make the cut.

Why did you choose those specific recipes to be featured in the book?
This book is more about the love of food and knowledge rather than a straight recipe book – I’d love for it to be used as a reference book for kids who are starting to pull other recipe books off the shelf, and used in tandem. The recipes that I did include are opportunities to build integral skills, as well as classic “kid-friendly” dishes that tend to be bought in. I’d love to be able to show that something like chicken nuggets are much simpler to make than you think – and are so much TASTIER when you MYO (not to mention better for you… But kids don’t particularly care about that yet). [click to continue…]


Juliette-MacIver-photo-sqTell us about your new book, Yak and Gnu.

Yak and Gnu is a tale of two friends who set out joyfully on a river-sailing trip, “Yak in a yakak, blackberry black; Gnu in a blueberry blue canoe.” They believe themselves to be the only creatures who can sail on the river, but lo and behold! They meet a “goat in a boat!” And then a snazzy snail, setting sail ” and a whole swag of other unlikely sailing beasts! What will happen to their treasured idea of themselves as the ONLY sailing creatures?!

This is the third book I have had published with Walker Books, all three being illustrated by the wonderful Cat Chapman. The first two were Little Witch, an early reader, and The Frog Who Lost His Underpants.

Yak and Gnu and The Frog Who Lost His Underpants both have a joyous rhythm that begs to read aloud to a room full of kids. What draws you to this writing style?

I love music and song, and rhythm is a very strong part of that. I find that creating a strong rhythm with the words in a picture book is a delightful and satisfying challenge. When I am working on a new story, I sometimes draw little circles of different sizes above the syllables of each line to indicate where the stress lies, to make sure that I keep the pattern clear in my mind. It really helps me to have a visual aid! [click to continue…]

Frané LessacWhat was your selection process for choosing which locations were included in A is for Australia?

My challenge was to represent all the states and to highlight Australia’s diverse and unique landscape. Some destinations were so incredibly iconic: Sydney Harbour, Uluru, and Bondi Beach, which made the decision easy. Some locations were difficult to choose because there were many amazing alternatives!

Each spread shows the unique features, activities and colours of the locations. How did you research each location?

I travelled to many of the places in A is for Australia so I could portray the scenes with accuracy, visiting interpretive centres, museums, and national parks. Back in my studio, I sorted through the enormous range of facts, photographs, travel brochures, stacks of research books and many online sources of information.By mixing authentic facts with personal experience and artistic licence, I endeavoured to create a vibrant portrait of our country that would appeal to children and readers of all ages. [click to continue…]