From Hook to Book

Story Sparks!

A first kiss in a park, so many years ago…

Memories are infinite and some we don’t share. Others may be transient or we think gone. Until a prompt restores them and they return vividly – kindly, harshly, surprisingly, horrifyingly, romantically. Not necessarily for real or true – after all they were so long ago.

P1020554 Simmone Howell Workshop Chris BellCreativity of thought can come spasmodically or constantly to creatives. Often a whiff, a sniff, a song, a colour, a hint of weather and we’re off – into imagination. Other times we fear the launchpad of those smells, sounds, vivid recalls will never return.

P1020564 Simmone HowellUnless… inspired by a gathering of like minds at SCBWI Vic’s Creativity Workshop and author/facilitator Simmone Howell. Simmone opened a floodgate of memories for me. Particularly in our final session on childhood memory. Not an illustrator, by any stretch, I created a visual map of my childhood – the Saturday afternoon Mr Whippy treats, the make-believe of two sisters creating older personas and the long forgotten Jenny Bigger. An epic James Bond drive-in fest accompanying a dad who had no son as yet to share such masculine movies. (Loved them!) An illicit ciggie in the park, playing truant from Sunday Mass. Sandy sandwiches and a back sticking to the sweaty seat of a station wagon, counting the colours of cars on the way to Chelsea beach. There seemed more colours back then.

P1020558 Simmone Howell ParticipantsMost importantly I found a way into an upcoming scene and tricky turning point in my new YA novel, as well as an enjoyable and inspiring gathering of like-minds and creators in SCBWI. Who said writing/illustrating is a solitary occupation? It can be positively inspirational in a room crowded with like-minds and scintillating story sparks.

The Art of Story and the Narrative Game

A few months ago, on the hottest day of summer, myself and five other fearless writers gathered in an (unairconditioned) artist space in Mornington to participate in a documentary with a difference. The Art of Story gives an inside view into the creation of stories and the stories behind the stories.

The Art of Story and the Narrative GameThe initial six episodes feature novelists, publishers, editors, TV writers, filmmakers, cinema proprietors, actors and others involved in bringing story into our lives through different media.

My involvement was participating in a writing workshop scenario with other experienced workshoppers where we discussed the value and process of workshopping, dispelling some of the associated fears and sharing a few hints and the many benefits of workshopping gleaned through our collective experience.

Despite some initial apprehension, on my part, never having been in front of a television camera before, it proved a fantastic experience. The diverse range of writers and personalities in our group made for some insightful viewpoints and approaches – ones many writers will relate to.

The Art of Story promises to be a valuable insight into the creation of story, the highs and lows and view from the writer’s desk to the publisher’s to the filmaker’s.

Series One is currently being screened on Channel 31 on Mondays 6.30p.m. and Tuesdays 4p.m. Each episode is also available on Catch Up C31 website for two weeks (the Wednesday after screening).

For those who missed episode one, here’s the link:

The Art of Story and the Narrative Game is produced by Nathan King and David Muir.

Writer Meets Research

IMG_7909 Ribblehead Viaduct croppedFrom the instant the wheels of the London train began to cross the twenty-four arches of the Ribblehead viaduct, it seemed everything Mary had ever known fell behind and no one seemed even to care. Every thud served a stab to her heart like each span were crumbling, blocking her way back. When they reached the far side of the bridge, it struck her that every moment passing instantly becomes a memory. Worse, she became only a memory to it too and all trace of the reality either side knew—gone.

It seems a lifetime ago since I first wrote those words into my adult historical novel. They spoke of a place I’d never seen, but one I had a great affinity for through both my characters’ journey south from Glasgow to London early in 1914 and following in the footsteps of, or close to, my grandmother and great-grandparents when they journeyed to Australia, just prior to World War One, from their tiny pit village in Scotland to the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine in Australia.

That journey is the impetus for my novel. Though the plot and characters are entirely fictitious, it is a small nod to my forebears and my heritage. A story born of whispers when I first visited the reconstructed State Coal Mine site in Wonthaggi back in 2008.

P1010591 Yorkshire DalesmanSo it was my utter thrill to return to Scotland recently and take the steam rail journey on the Yorkshire Dalesman from Skipton to Carlisle and cross the Ribblehead Viaduct and see for myself this amazing landscape and piece of history. The views, I suspect, are not so very different from the vista a century ago when my family travelled the same rails.

P1010611 Yorkshire DalesWe were lucky to experience a fabulous blue sky day and witness the etchings of clouds on the hillsides and valley floors. I wasn’t the only one catching flitters of coal grit and straining for a look (photo opp) out the window. Our fellow travellers appeared seized with a like excitement and thrill. For me it held a deeply personal resonance and I found my eyes prickling at the double whammy of life meeting art, and the timeliness. I’m sure my ancestors experienced an even greater excitement, perhaps fear, heading for a new land, rather than a delicious bistro lunch and glass of vino.

The viaduct was built between 1870 to 1874 by over one-hundred navvies (manual labourers) who set up camps and shanty towns on the land around the site, which is now a scheduled archaeological monument. Over one-hundred men died during in its construction through accidents and illness and lie alongside an equal number of their women and children in nearby cemeteries.

The viaduct is 400 metres long and sits 32 metres at its highest point. It is breathtaking to see and a credit to the workmanship and hardship endured by those who built it. And to those who dared travel its breadth and beyond.

P1010559 Chris Bell Yorkshire DalesmanOnce again it reminded me of the courage and exertions of our forebears and how very, very lucky I am to all these years later to have had the opportunity to experience the same journey and tiny part of the history for myself.

If you’d like a small taste of a similar journey crossing the viaduct, please check out the Youtube video below.


Baggage limit? But there are books to buy!

Bartrums Hay-on-WyeHow can a travelling author be given a baggage weight limit when there are books to buy? Lots of books. Plus lots of amazing new book shops to visit, not to mention literary museums and quirky stationery shops! And when one location turns out to be the very setting and inspiration the author was searching for, complete with printed histories, background info and individual (published) stories…

P1000641 Chris Hay on Wye

Eek, the conundrum! Especially when said author has a small domestic flight from Belfast to Inverness that insists on only 20kgs of baggage and a stop off first, in Hay-on-Wye – national book town of Wales – where every second shop is book related – plus they have the incredible Bartrums & Co Stationers. How was I possibly going to gain less than 3 kgs before flying?


Of course, I couldn’t leave Hay-on-Wye empty handed and I picked up several books including two novels The Miniaturist and The Little Paris Bookshop at the wonderful Richard Booth’s Bookshop. I know I could get both of these novels at home, but I do have to say it, books are cheaper in the UK – even applying the horrifying June 2015 exchange rate of the Aussie dollar to GBP. Here The Miniaturist sells in the three majors I checked for A$19.99. I paid £7.99 (equiv approx. $16.00). The Little Paris Bookshop sells in Australia for $29.99 and I paid £12.99 (equiv approx. $26.00).

Isn’t it good when one can make an almost reasonable excuse for one’s passions (read obsessions)?

Admittedly, I did have to add 67 euros postage in Ireland to post my purchases and paper paraphernalia back to Oz pre domestic flight. But by then I’d also found my potential story setting and acquired a lot more accompanying research literature besides, so the novels didn’t substantially affect the 7 kilo cost.

Books bought os

The hoard pictured above is the greater majority of my book and literature purchases this trip, bar a couple lent out already. Alas, most of it purchased pre domestic flight! Hence the hefty postage charge.

It doesn’t include all the associated brochures, maps and sight-seeing site literature one picks up along the tourist trail. I can’t believe how much paper stuff I discarded. Tourism sure takes a hefty chomp out of the world’s tree population. In fact, I think I think it should be mandatory that every castle, museum, place of interest, provide recycle bins at exits for visitors to dump printed paraphernalia. Most tourists probably bin it before stepping back on the plane anyway. Except writers, of course, who often want to study the minutiae later, on the look out for that elusive idea, word, name, inspiration that they may have missed whilst taking in the vista. Or while saving their concentration for climbing and descending the multiple x multiple stairs UK/Europe insist upon to earn your rite of passage!

Yet I could’ve bought so much more, especially post small domestic flight.

P1020477 Chris Bell Foyles LondonFoyles in London, is reader heaven. I practically had to be dragged out of the place. I was incredibly well controlled though, as I wouldn’t buy anything I could buy at home once back in England. But the range in Foyles, spread over four levels, is incredible. I was possibly too overawed to even think much about purchasing. I was also too busy plotting how could I move to Charing Cross Road, work there/write there. At least for a year or two!

Book buying is almost always as much part of my holiday pleasure as reading. I’m not sure if I should be worried that I spent more time buying books while away than actually reading them.

Young Writer Comps and Opportunities

Prize Winner - image by www.lumaxart.comCalling all young writers, playwrights and poets! While I’ve been gallivanting around the UK, these past few weeks, heaps of regular and new young writers’ competitions and opportunities have opened up. Some are closing soon.

So flex those writing muscles and get your entries in fast. (Only if they’ve been buffed and polished and proofed, of course.) You’ll find further details and some great new resources on my Young Writers’ Resources page, such as details of three KSP residential places in WA, The John Marsden and Scribe Non-fiction Prizes, plus lots more comp details, events and happenings.

All fabulous opportunities to get your writing in front of judges, publishers and selection panels and there’s some not insignificant cash prizes on offer too.

So get those stories and poems in fast for the comps closing soon.

Some tips for success:

  • Follow submission guidelines (exactly)
  • Redraft, redraft, redraft
  • Read your work aloud to pick up jars and jolts and to check for rhythm
  • Vary your sentence structure
  • Be strenuous at spell-checking and proofreading
  • Give your work a few weeks “air time” (you’ll pick up things you never noticed when you go back to it after a break)
  • Flick off that fear goblin nagging on your shoulder. If you’ve put in the work – it’s ready. Repeat – flick and submit.

If you know of any writing opportunities or competitions for young writers, not listed on the YWR page, I’d love you to leave me the details in a comment or email me the link. Thnx. And Good luck!

Dangerous Research on The Burning Sea – Sean McMullen

Sean McMullenToday I am delighted to welcome Sean McMullen back to From Hook to Book to celebrate the launch of his latest fantasy novel The Burning Seathe first of six books in The Warlock’s Child series, co-authored by Paul Collins and published by Ford Street Publishing.

Fans will be thrilled to learn that they won’t have to wait long for the following five books in the series, one due to be released each month April through September.

Congratulations againSean, and thank you very much also for sharing some of your research methodology and tips below, as well as a few traps that I recognise all too well.

First a little background: Sean sold his first stories in the late 1980s and has become one of Australia’s top science fiction and fantasy authors. In the late 90s he established himself in the American market, and his work has been translated into Polish, French, Japanese and other languages.The settings for Sean’s work range from the Roman Empire, through Medieval Europe, to cities of the distant future. His work is a mixture of romance, invention and adventure, while populated by strange but dynamic characters. His novelette Eight Miles was runner-up in the 2011 Hugo Awards and his next novelette Ninety Thousand Horses won the Analog Readers’ Award in 2013.

Book 1 - BURNING SEA - front cover

There is no lower rank than cabin boy on the warship Invincible. But Dantar knows he is important, because anyone who threatens his life gets turned into a pile of ashes. His older sister Velza is a shapecasting warrior, in a world where only men fight. Until now. Together they must solve the mystery of broken magic and escape the dragon.

Now, over to Sean.

Dangerous Research

Just after World War Two the Soviets were developing an atomic bomb. Their spies stole a sample of enriched uranium from the Americans and analysed it. It was not as pure as the Soviets’ uranium, and a minister boasted about this to an abducted German scientist. He replied that the Americans had only refined their uranium enough to get an explosion. The more pure Soviet uranium would give exactly the same explosion. They had gone to a lot of extra trouble and expense for nothing.

Sound familiar? Have you ever begun some research that should have taken ten minutes then spent the entire day reading something interesting? When you are doing research you need to know when to stop.

There are three types of research. The first is just writing from your background. The second is learning all about a subject by reading lots and lots. The third is just checking details. Why is all this important? When Paul Collins asked me to collaborate on the series The Warlock’s Child, I had four months to add seventy thousand words to the existing file. This meant no time for spurious research.

Much of our series is set aboard ships. I have helped out on yachts, and an ancestor of mine served on the Bounty, so I knew a bit about life on sailing ships. This meant I could write nearly all the shipboard material without any extra research. Depend as much as you can on this sort of research. It’s already done.

I did quite a lot of the second type of research, because I needed to know how ships fought before they had cannons. This is getting the background right, and you can do it with textbooks. You need to do this before you start writing. Our series was a fantasy involving medieval warfare at sea, which I did not know much about. Why use textbooks, when writing fantasy? I once assessed an unpublished novel with a supposedly medieval setting that also had steam trains and machine guns, and where people said things like “Hey you guys, let’s get outa here!” in moments of stress. Even fantasy needs a convincing backdrop.

The third type of research is the most dangerous, and takes discipline. How long does a sailing ship take to travel a hundred miles? How far can an arrow fly? You can check facts like there on the internet, but you will be tempted to keep reading. Resist that temptation. Why learn enough to write a PhD on archery, when all you wanted to know in the first place was how far to stand from a castle wall to be out of bowshot?

If your name is Suzanna Clarke and you are taking ten years to write Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, no problem, take all the time you like to do your research. I have to be careful how much research I let myself do, because my schedules are measured in months.

The Warlock’s Child series (readers 10+)

Coming Soon: 

Book 2 - Dragonfall Mountain - front cover      Book 3 - The Iron Claw - front cover

Book 4 - Trial by Dragons - front cover      Book 5 - VOYAGE TO MORTICAS - front cover

Book 6 - THE GUARDIANS - front cover

If you’d like to check out some of Sean’s other works, you can visit his website here and co-author Paul Collins here.

The Burning Sea is published by Ford Street Publishing: ISBN 9781925000924



Stepping into the past is something all historical fiction authors and readers love to do, and in a room full of like minds and 21st century technology, it’s even more fun. Just ask the hundred and sixty enthusiastic attendees/tweeters gathered recently in Sydney for the inaugural Australian Historical Novel Society Conference.

I took plenty of notes, but also discovered how fantastic Twitter is for capturing quotes and the essence of talks and then for sharing them, both with those attending and any interested to follow at #HNSA2015.

Rather than go into heaps of detail about the diverse range of sessions, ranging from personal histories to What is it about the Tudors, to YA historical fiction competing against volumes of vampires, I’m just going to let a few of the tweets talk. Along with some of the pics, including those of a fun and fabulous reading between our lovely conference patron Kate Forsyth, cheeky keynote Colin Falconer and (missing her second calling) the marvellous Jess Blackadder.

If you’d like a snapshot of the conference from tweeters including @KateForsyth @jesseblackadder @kmjgardiner checkout #HNSA 2015 on Twitter.

Many thanks to Chris Foley, Elisabeth Storrs and all their team for a fantastic event. I cannot wait until the next one *** IN MELBOURNE*** in 2017.

Big Books, Little Books

One of the most exciting things for authors is always the arrival of a package bringing their latest book/s. Or shiny new author copies.

Barnyard Dance Big and Little

Book deliveries have been a bit thin on the ground at my place over the past couple of years while I’ve been fully focused on writing and redrafting two historical novels, which, as much as writing these longer length works is my passion these days, also means a lot longer between celebratory bubbles. So it was especially exciting before Christmas to receive a BIG book version (426mm x 315mm) of my title The Barnyard Dance from Gilt Edge Publishing in New Zealand.

One of the things that drew me to write for Gilt Edge were their books’ gorgeous full colour illustrations and cover designs, and that, for some series, they produce BIG books. A large version for teachers to utilise.

Barnyard Dance internal 815kb

I’ve always loved The Barnyard Dance because it’s a fun to read, rhyming story, beautifully illustrated by Richard Hoit. Now I think I love its BIG brother even more.

This post started out simply to herald a new book arriving – or new version – and the thrill of it, but it also led me to search out my other kid’s fiction titles and, taking a fresh peek, it’s pretty exciting to see how many of my educational titles have been re-published internationally in different versions and formats, including braille and audio. Some feature new covers/colours/designs, new titles or changes in spelling, and quite a few have been translated into French and sold into Canada.

Here’s a few pics of some of my titles that have travelled and changed, if you’d like to play Spot the Difference.


MacTavish's Creature



The Keycutters Grandson

The Grand Street Theatre Robbery

The Beast

Tall Tales


Rollercoaster Ride

Karting Kel

Jono's Rescue

H for Horrible

Darcy Devlin

Dominic's Collections3

Dominic’s collections including a braille version

Batty Aus and US version

My Unforgettable Year – Adem Besim

Adem BesimToday I have pleasure in welcoming debut author, Adem Besim, to share some of his writing process as he stops off on his tour to launch his first novel – My Unforgettable Year, published by Morris Publishing.

Adem was born, raised and still lives in Kyabram, Victoria – the setting of his novel – a coming-of-age story about triumph and tragedy, love and loss, acceptance and letting go.

Life’s looking pretty awesome for 17-year-old, Nathan Thompson. He’s the goal-kicking superstar from the small town of Kyabram. Nathan’s in his final year of school and has big plans set for the future; like winning the Thirds’ premiership cup, acing his Year Twelve exams, and finally graduating. One problem – his tough and over-bearing father, Mark, has other plans for him. He desperately wants Nathan to be the next AFL player to come out of Kyabram.

He seems set to stop Nathan from following his dreams of studying architecture at university. But a thirty-year-old secret of Mark’s that resurfaces on Nathan’s 18th birthday changes everything. Will it force Nathan and his father further apart or help them reconcile their fragile relationship?

On top of that problem, Nathan’s year gets worse as he deals with death, bullying and first love.

My Unforgettable year cover

Congratulations on the launch of your debut novel, Adem. And welcome to From Hook to Book.

What inspired you to write My Unforgettable Year i.e. character/setting/story idea?

I guess living in Kyabram all my life, and writing down the experiences I had in high school and growing up, I was bound to create a fiction story out of it someday. It all came to me over about a three-year period.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? In other words, how did the story evolve for you, through planning or in the writing?

I am definitely a plotter and a very precise one! I wrote down the initial idea, then after a long period of time, I added the key events I wanted to happen in the book, then the characters and the settings and then planning the order of the events in a story arc form.

My Unforgettable Year is written about your home town, Adem. How difficult was it to separate factual events and people from fiction and to avoid members of your community perhaps thinking that characters in the story are them?

Good question! Well, even though it’s set in a real town, my ideas and characters have always been fiction. There are certainly things in the book that people (especially the Young Adult audience) will be able to relate to – that’s been one of the biggest points behind writing the book – as well as writing about some things I went through or wished I experienced!

The story is written in a singular, first-person viewpoint and reads much like a journal of Nathan’s day-to-day life through VCE. What devices did you use to reveal characterisation of the other major and minor characters?

It was just a matter of careful planning and making sure that each scene took the story further in terms of both the characters and plot.

Being a younger author, in what ways is it harder and/or easier to write YA characters?

I was a teenager not too long ago, and started planning this when I was my main character’s age. Also, I’m still quite immature! I also read YA stuff and realist fiction novels. I was told from my earliest work for the book that the voice of the teen was very believable, so I just stuck at it.

What are you working on now?

I have a few other manuscripts in the works. All complete and edited, but I do want to give each of them some polishing up. My next one ventures a bit more into adult fiction (as the main characters are in their thirties) but it is still at a readable level for the YA audience. It is much different from my first book, and certainly not set in my town. It’s in America, this time!

Thank you very much for sharing some insights into your writing process and the evolution of your story, Adem. Best wishes for a bright future for you and My Unforgettable Year.

Thank you, Chris.


Follow Adem’s blog tour:

Nov 14

November 15

November 16

November 19

November 20

November 23

November 27

December 1

December 4

TITLE: My Unforgettable Year
Author:   Adem Besim
ISBN:           978-0-9925052-7-1
Publisher: Morris Publishing


Inside Story – Melbourne

Inside Story Melbourne 2014 logo

What a joy it is to be a part of the children’s writing community and attend such wonderful events as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Inside Story!

Inside Story Melbourne

Kim Fleming Inside Story MelbourneSaturday (1st Nov) saw eleven authors and author/illustrators gather at Readings Bookshop – Hawthorn to share insights into the creation and genesis behind their books and book app. It proved a fascinating afternoon where I learnt many things, not least from author/illustrator Renée Treml who explained how (common) wombats have square poo. Why? So it won’t roll away, of course.

Goldie Alexander Inside Story MelbourneCorinne Fenton Inside Story Melbourne

Speakers shared how stories came about serendipitously, through a 2-year-old asking the not so simple question “How far is up?”, through lived personal experiences, a sibling suggesting “Frankie Dupont would make a great name for a detective” and an adolescent obsession for Choose your own adventure stories that sparked a series, giving the author “an excuse to relive his childhood”.

I was delighted to be asked to assist in drawing the door prize, especially hearing the very excited squeal of the owner of ticket A37 who won the fantastic SodaStream prize.




Betty Sargeant Inside Story Melbourne

Special thanks to the Inside Story committee Jo Burnell, Victoria Thieberger and Laura Wilson for hosting and organising such a wonderful event. Thank you also to all the very talented authors and illustrators of Inside Story – Melbourne 2014 for sharing, presenting and for their generous donations to the book door prize (in order of appearance) Kim Fleming, Renée Treml, Betty Sargeant, Jackie Hosking, Corinne Fenton, Victoria Thieberger, Alison Reynolds, Kayleen West, Julie Grasso, George Ivanoff, Pauline Luke and Goldie Alexander.

Inside Story Authors and Illustrators Melbourne 2014SCBWI Australia East & New Zealand logo

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