aliensDid a UFO drag a family’s car off the road in the middle of the outback? Is there really such thing as the gleaming-eyed swamp monster known as the bunyip? How did rocks rain from the sky in WA?  And just what became of the prime minister who went into the surf and was never seen again?

Sure, you’ve heard about UFO sightings in far-flung corners of the United States. You’ve heard of Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster. You may have even watched a late-night show exploring conspiracy theories surrounding missing media tycoons. But these stories are for grown-ups, and mostly from overseas. Then there are some stories that are so mysterious that only kids can handle them! Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings is a book for young readers, all about the extra-terrestrials, the supernatural and bizarre disappearances in our very own backyard. It’s ideal for readers aged 10 to 15, or for anyone who has the burning curiosity of a child!

I’ve always wanted to write a book like this, and absolutely loved researching all these amazing events. I hadn’t realised just how many strange things have happened on our own shores – hauntings, sightings, disappearances. I’m delighted that the book was taken on by Penguin Random House, who did a marvellous job bringing it to life. Richard Morden’s illustrations are brilliant!

I wanted to share my interest in the bizarre with young readers – but I wanted to go further than that. This book doesn’t just relate the (albeit juicy) tales. It encourages critical thinking skills. I don’t force any conclusion onto the readers. Rather, I encourage them to look behind the claims. To ask themselves why people say the things they do. When someone makes an outlandish claim, are they lying, mistaken, or simply telling the truth? Everything needs to be judged on its own merits, maintaining a healthy balance of open-mindedness and scepticism.

Oh, and by the way, I’ve seen a ghost.

Yes. Really.

After getting my first junior novel published nearly two years ago, I felt certain that all would be plain sailing from then on. I had my foot in the door, as they say. It was a rude awakening when I discovered that wasn’t necessarily so – at least, not for fiction. Thankfully my non-fiction work was still going strong, and was indeed more interesting and rewarding than ever.

But still. I’d created a proposal for a five-book fiction series and was sure it was only a matter of time before it found a good home. It was awful when the rejections started coming. I re-read my work again and again, trying to see where I’d gone wrong. I tweaked it here and there. But I still liked it and couldn’t see why it was being rejected. Could I have misjudged the market so badly?

I would have given up if it wasn’t for some feedback I received via the Faber Academy. My work was read by the wonderful Sophie Hamley, who assured me it was merely a matter of finding the right publisher. Someone who liked quirky. She encouraged me to not limit myself to the Australian market, but to approach overseas publishers. I’d never tried that before, and thought it would be too difficult.

sweet cherryActually, it was far easier than I expected. Many publishers in the UK and US refuse to consider unsolicited manuscripts (even more so than here), but there are still some that do. The first  I approached asked me whether I was prepared to turn my five-book proposal into a ten-book proposal. Prepared – yes. Delighted – even more so!

It took a while for the pieces to fall into place, but I’ve just signed a contract with that publisher. Horray! I’m so glad they’re prepared to work with a writer who lives half way around the world. They’ve even agreed to generous deadlines, enabling me to keep writing my non-fiction material. Their name is Sweet Cherry, a British independent publishing house specialising in children’s fiction. I checked out their list before I approached them, and felt an affinity with the types of books they publish. This is really important. It shows our styles are a good match, and that’s something authors should always keep in mind.

So thank goodness for sweet cherries! I much prefer them to sour grapes 🙂


A wonderful fellow blogger had the smart idea of doing a post about books set in foreign lands. Evelyne Holingue is a Frenchwoman who now lives and writes in the US. She is the author of ‘Chronicles from Chateau Moines’, a young adult novel that deals with racial tensions in France. She was kind enough to include my humble junior novel ‘Mike the Spike’ – Australia is foreign to most of the world, after all! There are some great books in this list and well worth a read 🙂

The Whitley Award!

The Whitley Award!

It was a humbling experience and – to be honest – a slightly embarrassing one. On Friday night a great honour was bestowed upon me. In the grand foyer of the Australian Museum, I received the Whitley Award for Best Children’s Series. So why did I feel embarrassed?

It was something to do with the calibre of the other recipients. The Whitley Award is presented by the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales – a scientific organisation dedicated to the study and conservation of native Australian fauna. The awards are a tribute to Gilbert Whitley, an eminent ichthyologist (a branch of zoology dealing with fish). Each year, awards are presented for publications that ‘contain a significant amount of information relating to the fauna of the Australasian region’.

Most of the recipients were scholars, experts in their chosen fields. Their books were comprehensive scientific guides, generally the result of years of dedicated work. Whereas my books were about – well, gross and weird animals doing gross and weird things. Farts and vomit featured rather more often than I’d care to remember. But as the hosts so graciously said, the books were fun and informative, and may well be inspiring the next generation of budding zoologists! What a wonderful thought 🙂

The Whitley Award 2015 - Best Children's Series

The Whitley Award 2015 – Best Children’s Series

The books were my Gross & Frightening facts series, a set of six published by Pascal Press earlier this year.

So yes, I felt a wee bit embarrassed getting up to make my speech … saying how much fun I had writing it (lots and lots!) … and rubbing shoulders with some of the country’s most brilliant zoologists. The pre-ceremony glass of wine helped somewhat.

Once I recovered from my bit, I was lucky enough to be able to listen to the interesting work of the experts, and to bask in some of their shared glory.


Due to tight publishing deadlines, I haven’t been blogging much lately. You’ve probably noticed … at least, I hope you have! I’ve missed it – nothing beats WordPress for writerly interaction! But now that my new series has been released, I think it’s about time I showed you what’s been keeping me so busy.

I’ve been channelling my inner child. More specifically, my inner warped geekling who loves weird animals almost as much as jokes about farts and bums. It’s resulted in this educational yet highly enjoyable series published by Pascal Press.

Gross & interesting facts about Aussie animals!

Full of gross and frightening facts about Aussie animals, the titles should give you a pretty good idea what the books are about – and why I had so much fun writing them!

  • That’s Sick
  • That’s Stinky
  • That’s Scary
  • That’s Lethal
  • That’s Bizarre
  • That’s Freaky

Here’s how the publisher describes them:

About this series: Fans of the highly successful That’s Gross! Weird & Disgusting Aussie Animals book will find much more to squirm at with squeamish delight in this new stomach-churning series written by Stella Tarakson. Featuring everything from offensive odours to prehistoric puke, these feral facts are not for the faint-hearted! Combining natural history, science and a sense of humour, these books are sure to keep kids entertained while they learn.

To celebrate, I’m offering a giveaway of one book from the series. All you need to do to enter is to write something in the comments section. Maybe tell me which stomach-churning title tickles your fancy the most. I’ll pick a name at random and announce the winner June 10.

As for what’s keeping me busy right now … I wish I could blab, but I can’t say too much about it just yet. I’m writing a book for Random House about something that’s fascinated me since childhood. I’m in a complete lather of excitement as I write, so you can probably guess it’s not another law book! I’ll say more when publication approaches, but for now, here’s a hint. BOO!




It’s a common complaint. It’s not what you know, but who you know. Or – when it comes to getting published – it’s not how well you write, but whether you have contacts in the industry. But is it true?

Alone in GeometryWhen I first started getting published, I had no contacts whatsoever. I sent an article to a magazine on spec, and they quickly made an offer. I tried another magazine, and they bit too. Then, armed with possibly too much confidence, I approached a book publisher. Just one! Happily, they accepted my proposal, and I went from being an aspiring writer to a published author with far more ease than I expected. Then – joy of joys – other publishers started approaching me and asking me to write for them. Horray! I was in!

But … this was non-fiction. I’m learning that getting novels published is far more difficult and takes much longer. I’m not sure why. It’s probably because there are so many people clammering to write stories, but I don’t really know.

What I do know, however, is that having contacts doesn’t help much. It hasn’t helped me, anyway. What tends to happen is you just get a politer ‘no’ than you would otherwise. Which isn’t surprising. Publishing is a business, after all, and the main goal is to make a profit. A publisher isn’t going to take on an author simply because someone recommends them.

It helps to know how publishers work. More than one person has to okay a proposal. The initial reader has to like it, or it ends there. Generally, the commissioning editor, marketing manager, and the boss all have to agree. Having someone arguing your case helps, but it’s certainly no guarantee.

There is one way that contacts might help, however. Many publishers don’t take unsolicited manuscripts, preferring only to deal with agents. A contact might get your manuscript through an otherwise closed door, but that might be as far as it goes.

In publishing, you make your own contacts. By submitting quality work and meeting deadlines, you get known. Last year I re-approached one of my former publishers and mentioned that I was at a loose end. A 6-book deal (non-fiction) followed within days. You can imagine how good that felt 🙂

So for me, the only contacts that mean anything are the ones that I have personally been able to cultivate. Having someone else speak highly of me hasn’t gotten me anywhere. How about you? Do you have any thoughts or experiences that you’d like to share?

Photo credit: tochis / Foter / CC BY-NC







It might be hard to believe, but magazine editors are human. That means they don’t like being begged, cajoled or patronised. They also don’t enjoy being bored. Sadly, many well-written articles don’t get a look in because of a poorly-worded pitch. It’s important to know how to approach an editor effectively, maximising your chance of getting published. or complete article?

Generally it’s best to send a pitch first. Once the editor expresses an interest, send in your article. If they don’t respond to the pitch it means the idea itself is unsuitable for some reason. It doesn’t mean your article is crap – so you save yourself that agony at least!

Email or snail mail?

Assume email unless the publisher’s submission guidelines say otherwise. The guidelines might be printed in the magazine itself. In any case, you should be able to find them on the publisher’s website.

Addressing the pitch

This isn’t always obvious. If you peek inside the magazine cover, you may see a long list of confusing titles. Editor. Chief editor. Deputy editor. Assistant editor. Features editor etc, etc. Who do you send your pitch to? Check the submissions guidelines and make sure you send it to the right person, or risk it going astray.
Often the guidelines don’t provide a name, just a job title. It’s worth going the extra mile to learn the name of the actual person. The easiest way is to simply ring up and ask! And then comes the next question – do you address them by their first name or last? Dear or Hi? For first approaches, it’s probably best to play it safe and go formal. For later correspondence, follow the editor’s lead.

The all-important first paragraph

This is where the ‘editor’s don’t like being bored’ bit comes in. They read many pitches every day. You need to be able to grab their attention, just as surely as you need to grab their readers’ attention.
Don’t start off with, ‘Hi my name is blah and I’ve written an article.’ Yawn. Come up with a hook that makes the editor want to read more. It may well be the first paragraph of your actual article, or something like it. One of my workshop students sent a pitch beginning, ‘I watch porn for a living.’ As you can imagine, the editor pricked up her ears and the article was snapped up quickly!

What’s the article about?

Once you’ve got the editor’s attention, tell them a bit about your article. A bit. Keep this paragraph short and sweet. Editors are busy people. Just tell them enough so they get the idea. You’re not trying to provide a summary of the article.

IMG_0086[1]Why can you write it?

You’ve sold the article concept, now you’ve got to sell yourself. If you have any writing credentials, mention them. Have you had anything published elsewhere? Do you write as part of your job? Are you a keen blogger? Have you attended any writing courses? Include anything that shows you take your craft seriously.
If you haven’t written much before, don’t despair. Everyone has to start somewhere! Think about what else you can say to help sell yourself. I used my legal qualifications to help me sell my first article Conveyancing without going crazy. Are you able to write your article because of your job? Does it relate to your hobby, your passion, a matter you feel strongly about? Does your cultural background give you an insight into the issues? Does your article feature an interview with someone the readers will be interested in?


Ask the editor if they would like to see your article. Make sure you thank them for their time and look forward to their response. Don’t be pushy or demanding … but don’t sound insecure either. Confidence and professionalism walks the thin line in between. If you’re not sure about your tone, leave the pitch for a day or so. Re-read it out loud, and check it doesn’t make you cringe! Good luck 🙂

Photo credit: Robbert van der Steeg / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)


… Just like the ones I never knew …

For me – and for most Australians – Christmas days are long, hot and lazy. The sweet smell of mangoes, the salty tang of beach air, the heavy haze of humidity. No chestnuts roasting on an open fire, no Jack Frost nipping at my nose. Just humidity, heat, and … did I mention the humidity?

Neuschwanstein Castle II

Neuschwanstein Castle

But like many Australians, I’ve grown up with British and American books and movies. Idyllic images of snowmen and sleigh rides haunted my childhood, and I’ve always wanted to try eggnog – whatever that is! If only I could experience a wintry Christmas, at least once in my life…

So this year, we’re heading up north! We’ve bought snow gear (it looks amazingly uncomfortable), and lined up a house-sitter with a big dog (in case any burglars are reading this and getting ideas) and we’ll soon be on our way! Horray!

We’re going on a German White Christmas tour, with Christmas day in the Bavarian Alps. No guarantee it’ll snow, but the chances are good. We’ll be visiting an incredible fairytale castle, as well as some Christmas markets. Then to top it all off, New Years’ Eve in Paris. Weeee!! The trip of a lifetime! Maybe I’ll get some story ideas – or maybe I’ll be too full of pudding and eggnog to worry about it!

So, I won’t be posting anything for the next few weeks.Thanks to all my readers for casting an eye over my blog. I’d like to wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a peaceful 2015!

Photo credit: matteomaggioni / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA


For someone whose native language isn’t English, Evelyne Holingue writes with an enviable fluency. Chronicles from Chateau Moines is her second novel, aimed at the younger end of the young adult market. It’s a charming story about friendship, first love and the power of music. Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War protest era, the book has a powerful message for the young readers of today. Not that it’s at all preachy! Rather, the characters take you with them on their journey of discovery.

chateau_fc_fnl_loThe novel is set in the French town of Chateau Moines. Holingue herself was born and raised in France, giving the story a sharp air of authenticity. The novel is written in the first person, with two narrators who take it in turns to tell their story. The protagonists are Sylvie – a young French girl with a penchant for writing song lyrics, and Scott – an American boy new to town. Scott is a budding guitarist with a passion for protest marches.

There’s plenty happening to keep the story ticking over. Sylvie’s relationship with her best friend becomes strained, and there are some racial tensions between locals and the growing Arabic community. And what is the mystery behind the local store that lay shut for more than 20 years? The secrets of the past come back in a way that will delight readers.

The themes of the novel are friendship, peace, and acceptance. Universal notions – encapsulated in a time and place that will resonate with old and young alike.


Congratulations, you’ve got a new follower! Five likes on your post so far … nice! X liked your post – maybe you’d like to see theirs, too!


We’ve all seen this …

Is it just me, or does that sound like something you’d hear in a primary school classroom? Is social media treating us like a bunch of emotionally fragile children? The clincher is, of course, that we never get told when someone thinks we suck. Y thinks you’re terribly dull and will never visit your website again … tough luck!

It’s not just blogging platforms, it’s all the others forms of social media. Facebook, twitter, instagram et al. Every little success is trumpeted, while our failures are stolidly ignored. I’d quite like to know when I turn people off … which I’m probably doing right now, come to think of it …

... but never this!

… but never this!

Seriously, though. Like many writers, I consider social media an important business tool. I like to think of myself as a professional. If I’m doing something that disengages my audience, I would like to know about it. I don’t want to spend hours sifting through stats to find out – just tell me.

I can handle it. I’d hate to be like this poor writer I encountered on Twitter. She was going completely off her tree about people who follow, only to promptly unfollow once she returned the favour. Yes, it’s irritating. It happens to me often, but I take it in my stride. This woman’s frantic tweets were along the lines of ‘I’ll find out who you are! I’ll get even! Just you wait and see.’

I guess this is why people are jumping onto programs like Just Unfollow, which finds people who unfollow you on Twitter and Instagram. You can unfollow them back – so there!

So … maybe we can’t handle it. Maybe we are too fragile. Writers are notoriously insecure, and social media has given us something else to be insecure about. What are your views? Go on, tell me. I can take it … I think …



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