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 …



The Writers Unleashed Festival is an annual celebration of writing, publishing and all things bookish. Now in it’s sixth year, it’s on this Saturday at the Tradies Club Gymea (in Sydney’s South).

23806-wuThe festival is run by the Sutherland branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers. I’ve attended the festival several times, and each time I’ve come away wiser, happier, and more motivated.The workshops and masterclasses have been so informative and inspirational, I couldn’t wait for the next one to come along.

But this year, I’m excited to say, I’ll be one of the presenters 🙂 And I’m in great company. Writers include Frances Watts, Lizbeth Klein and Jodie Wells-Slowgrove, covering a broad range of writerly topics.

I’m presenting a one-hour session called ‘Blogging and the Social Media for Writers’. I’ll be talking about how publishers expect writers to have a social media presence, and how best to go about it. This is such an important topic and I can’t wait to get stuck in!

The festival also provides opportunities for participants to consult with editors, who can provide one-on-one  feedback. The editors are Beverley Cousins and Emma Rafferty for adult fiction, and Sue Whiting and Heather Curdie for children’s fiction. I blogged about the editor’s panel previously, where I passed on some of their excellent tips. Sadly I’ll miss the panel session this year, as my workshop clashes with it. Still, no complaints from me …

Hope to see some of you there!



Have you ever used Klout? I’d never heard of it until I attended a social media workshop, and was put through the humiliation of setting up an account and announcing my score to everyone. I got 10 and thought that was utterly brilliant … until I realised it was out of 100! Well, be fair, I’d only just dipped my toe into the deep waters of social media. I’d set up some accounts but hadn’t started using them yet. I promptly ignored Klout and all it stood for. But now, a year later, I’ve recovered from the shock and I’m having another look.

klout-logoA measure of your social media reach

The purpose of Klout is to measure your overall online influence. Companies like this have sprung up because so many people purchase followers, making it hard to know how much influence a person actually has. You can have thousands of followers, but it’s how engaged they are that matters.

Klout uses a complex formula to determine your real social media reach. You can link it to your networks such as facebook, twitter, linkedin, instagram etc and authorise it to use them. It will keep track of your posts and see who you follow.

klout matrixI checked my Klout score again and it’s now a respectable 42. (About the same as Stephen Fry’s Cat, but we won’t go into that …) If you click on the ‘measure’ tab, a nifty little graph with your 90 day score history appears. You can also look at your recent activity. Each post, tweet etc is assigned an impact score.

Further uses

You can tell Klout what you want to be known for – I picked writing. It then gives you suggestions on who you can follow, along with their Klout rating. The program also enables you to identify online content that your audience is interested in, and then share it through your networks.

The downside

You can check out other people’s Klout score, via the search function. It’s yet another form of social voyeurism! I’ve heard of people being turned down for jobs because their Klout score was lower than that of other applicants. It makes me shudder … I guess it depends on the type of job they applied for, but still!

Should writers bother?

Unfortunately, Klout scores give us writers something else to obsess about. Those little graphs are mesmerising and often depressing. They also provide yet another procrastination tool, allowing us to pretend we’re hard at work when we’d be much better off writing.

I think Klout’s handy, insofar as it gives us an insight into what’s working social media-wise and what isn’t. I also like the way it can identify good content to share. But, like most things, it needs to be kept in perspective and not become a time-sucking typhoon.

I just hope it’s not being used as a measure of a writers’ talent, or even their ability to engage with readers. When I get lost in a good book, I don’t give a toss about the author’s Klout score!

I wonder whether publishers check out a potential author’s Klout score, and take it into account when deciding to offer a contract. I know they expect us to have a social media presence, but do they go this far? Does anyone know? If so, please share in the comments box!

Photo credit: La Fabrique de Blogs / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)



The blogsphere is a very large place. It can also be a very intimidating one. There are so many blogs out there, how can anyone find their way around? And how can they possibly find little old me?

wordpress-logo-teaserThat’s one of the reasons I like WordPress. It’s a fairly tight community and, as I’ve discovered, an extraordinarily friendly one. People find you simply because you’re on the same blog platform as them. But what about other web surfers?

It took me a while to really get my head around social media, but I’ve finally discovered such things as blog directories, sort of like a modern take on the Yellow Pages. More experienced users are probably going ‘duh!’ right now, but for me it was a revelation!

directoryI stumbled across the Blog Chicks directory and was immediately hooked. It’s a community for like-minded female bloggers to share their blogs and experiences. It showcases the talents of over 3500 Australian women bloggers.

There are regular meetups and webinars. Their facebook page also helps members connect. They have a zero-tolerance policy: no negativity or toxic gossip.

I decided to apply to add my blog to the directory. The conditions are you have to be a female living in Australia, with a blog over 3 months old containing at least 10 posts. Tick, tick and tick. You select a category (there are many). Mine’s writing, of course. All blogs are moderated before they are permitted to go on the directory. I’ve discovered lots of great blogs by combing though the site. It’s made the blogsphere smaller and even friendlier.

Any bloggers out there care to add their own blog directory listings? Feel free to write them in the comments box 🙂

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