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 🙂

Who would you take with you if you ran away from home? It’s a question many children ask themselves at least once – and something I suspect their parents occasionally ponder too!

index

Without Me? by Kayleen West

The picture book Without Me? asks the question in a way that young children instantly identify with. It’s a light-hearted story about a boy who decides to run away. Upset, he feels no one loves him or wants him. He packs his bags and prepares to go.

Then he stops to think. About his pets, his siblings, his parents. He worries about them and wonders how they’ll cope without him. Should he take them with him? Or is it better simply to stay home? By reflecting on leaving everyone behind, he works out where he truly belongs.

This book isn’t just about understanding the importance of family. It’s about thinking before you act, and seeing things from another person’s point of view.

Kayleen West Children's Book Author and Illustrator

Kayleen West
Children’s Book Author and Illustrator

Published by Wombat Books, the story features flowing, rhythmic writing that kids will love to repeat over and over again. It can be read aloud to pre-schoolers and infants-school students, but will also suit emerging readers beginning to tackle books on their own.

It is written and illustrated by Kayleen West, who also writes Christian content for magazines and blogs. Her illustrations have won many awards and hang in private and corporate collections throughout the world.

You can read more about Kayleen and her engaging picture book at http://kayleenwest.com.au.

It’s over – the launch of my first junior novel. Mike the Spike has now been officially introduced to the world. And what a send off! All that build up. The plans … the nerves … the lice … I had a great time and, I’m delighted to say, so did everyone else.

I did a brief talk and read out some of the book …DSC01549

 

 

 

 

 

DSC01562Ben Johnston, my terribly talented illustrator, performed a drawing demo …

 

 

 

 

DSC01566The kids had lots of fun making lice puppets, thanks to the help of my wonderful friend Stella Samaras of the Crafty Theatre blog …

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSC01575And best of all we got to chat with some book-loving kids!

 

 

 

 

 

I’m so grateful to Kogarah Library for hosting the launch. Their enthusiasm and professionalism made everything run smoothly. I also want to thank my friends and family for their support. They gave me their time and their love when I needed it most. I couldn’t have done it without them!

Photographs courtesy of Vasudha Chandra.

 

Book launch_Mike the Spike

Mike the Spike is being launched this Friday at Kogarah Library. Come along! It’s a great way to keep the kids occupied during the school holidays. There’ll be book readings, a drawing demo, craft and prizes! It’s FREE, and you can book here.

My talented friend of the Crafty Theatre blog will be helping out. She’s designed some cute little louse puppets (yes, the book’s about nits!) for the kids to make and keep.

lice

There’ll be free bookmarks for all attendees, as well as the chance to win a signed copy of Mike the Spike. Hope to see you there 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

How many times do we say we shouldn’t put off our dreams because ‘we only live once’ and ‘life’s too short’? Many, right? But how many times do we actually, seriously think about it? Not so many – until something happens that forces us to confront our own mortality.

thumb

Hoping for the thumbs up!

I’ve just had one of those moments. About a year ago, I discovered a lump. On my thumb, of all places! I thought it was a callous. It grew. I thought it was a cyst. It grew some more. I went to my GP. I expected him to laugh at me for being such a fusspot, and throw me out of his surgery. Instead, he went all serious and referred me for an ultrasound. What?! He’d clearly ignored the reassuring script I’d devised for him!

The radiographer and radiologist then conspired to scare the crap out of me. It wasn’t a cyst, they said with grave certainty. It was a solid tumour. And not the sort of tumour they’d expect to see, either. No reason to assume anything frightening … but … get it out – ASAP. Aaarrghhhh! Not possible! I hadn’t planned for this. I still have all the time in the world to do what I want with my life … don’t I?

I made the mistake of consulting Dr Google and reading some horrific stories – arms being amputated, poor prognoses. Most websites informed me that nearly all hand tumours are benign. Don’t you just love that word ‘nearly’! It made me reassess my life – what I was doing, what I wanted to be doing, what mattered and what didn’t. Family, of course, was my number 1. But a close second was my writing career. I still have much to do, thanks very much! I don’t tend to be much of a procrastinator, but this gave me another push along. I would hate to get to the end and say ‘I wonder’.

Fortunately, the tumour turned out to be benign. Thank God! The experience has made me more determined to follow my dreams – and right now! All those little anxieties, the self-doubts, the rejections … they really don’t matter. Just keep doing what you enjoy. Unless you want your dreams to stick out like a sore thumb …

I’ve come across some amazing people through the blogsphere. Even though we’ve never met, I feel like I’m getting to know Marcia Meara of the Bookin’ It blog, an inspirational woman of drive, wit and wisdom. She wrote her first novel at the age of 69, and her message to the world is, ‘It’s never too late to pursue your dream’. She kindly agreed to be interviewed for my blog.

Marcia Meara

Marcia Meara

1. Have you always wanted to write?
Short answer, yes. I’ve wanted to write all my life, from the age of five when I first started scribbling poems on yellow legal tablets. (Yes, they had them clear back then.) I went all the way through high school, planning to be a writer, and constantly scribbling poetry here and there. But times were different, and my parents thought pursuing a writing career was a waste of time, and going to college was doubly so, for women, at least. In those days, most of us did what our parents asked, though there were rebels here and there I envied deeply. I got the business diploma they said was more practical, and gave up on my dream. Silly, huh? But as I say, it was a different time, and I was a different person.

Thanks to the advice of a dear friend and counsellor, I realised that even at 69 years of age, it wasn’t too late to pursue the one dream I had cherished above all else. I started writing Wake-Robin Ridge in the fall of 2012 and published it in August 2013. Immediately after self-publishing this first novel, I started my second, Swamp Ghosts.

Wake-Robin Ridge

Wake-Robin Ridge

2. When we chat, I’ve noticed you talk about your characters as if they are real people. Do you have real people in mind while you create your characters?
Yes, and no. The characters are not based on any one person I’ve known, but the strangest thing happens when I write. They become real in my mind, hopefully not in a “she’s crazy as a loon” way, but in that way that sometimes happens to writers during the process. It’s hard to describe. I really am aware, logically, that they are just people I’ve invented, made up of things I’ve observed in others or felt myself. But somehow, they take up residence in my head. When I’m writing dialogue, I often have no idea of what words I’m going to use until they tell me. It’s as though the characters just start talking to me, and I write it all down. And I find that when I get an idea for a plot twist, it often comes as though the character involved is telling me what I need to do next.

For instance, I’m writing the sequel to Wake-Robin Ridge right now because right before I fell asleep one night, I distinctly heard Sarah Gray whisper to me that there was a little boy lost on a mountain, and I needed to tell the world about him. I got up in the morning and started working on my third novel.

3. Can you tell us who your favourite character is and why?
Okay, no fair. I love all my characters so much, it’s hard to choose. And they each have elements of myself in them, though so much better, so that it makes it even harder. The patient, resolute, and loving Sarah Gray is a favourite, but I also love the head-strong, emotionally damaged Maggie Devlin. She’s pretty courageous. And of course, Gunnar Wolfe is so gorgeous and so sweet, it was fun to write a man like that. But of all the people I’ve written about so far, the tortured and guilt-ridden MacKenzie Cole is still my favorite. His self-imposed burden makes my heart break for him, and I’m glad to be writing about him again right now. His healing is a long, slow process, which he would never be able to tackle without the love and support of Sarah Gray.

Tied with Mac would be the little boy in my newest book. He’s the most adorable little child, and I absolutely never have a clue what he’s going to say until he tells me. I hope the world will love him as much as I do. He makes me laugh, and cry, and he’s always on target with his observations of those around him. His name, by the way, is Rabbit. I’ll let you wonder about that one.

50% Summer Magic Cover4. Where can we buy copies of your books?
All of my books are available on Amazon.com. Wake-Robin Ridge and Swamp Ghosts are available in both print and Kindle format. Summer Magic, my little book of poetry, is only available in Kindle format, currently, though I plan to have a print version out before long.

For anyone who enjoys poetry, there are twenty pieces in the collection, including ten featuring MacKenzie Cole as a boy of ten, camping and hiking in the Blue Ridge mountains, as he did every summer with his dad. They are my favourites, because I love seeing nature and wildlife and life in general through the eyes of a child.

5. What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on sequels to both Wake-Robin Ridge and Swamp Ghosts. My plan was to write about other people living in the fictional towns of Darcy’s Corner, North Carolina, and Riverbend, Florida, rather than writing true sequels. I’m on target with that idea with the sequel to Swamp Ghosts, which features a quirky, but hopefully endearing, secondary character from the original novel. However, I deviated from the plan with the sequel to Wake-Robin Ridge, due to Sarah whispering about that lost little boy, so this book features Sarah & Mac extensively, as their lives turn upside down once again. The book is called A Boy Named Rabbit, and should be released in early fall, hopefully no later than October.

The sequel to Swamp Ghosts is called Hunter, and though I’m working on it, I haven’t made as much progress as I have on A Boy Named Rabbit, since that’s the one I need to finish first. Hunter will hopefully be released before Christmas, if all goes well. If not, shortly after the first of the year.

6. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Thanks you so much for having me, Stella. I really appreciate the chance to share some of myself and my work with you and your followers. If there’s one bit of advice I have to share with you all, it’s that it’s NEVER too late. I don’t care what it is you want to do, or how long you’ve been detoured into other areas, you can still follow your dream. Just take that first step and never look back!

 

Thank you to fellow blogger Vik Tory Arch (love that name!) for inviting me to take part in the Bookshelf Tag. I’m delighted to join in! Here are the rules:

“Answer the following questions about books on your bookshelf and then tag five other bloggers. You can answer the questions any way you want, whether it’s on your blog, in a video, or a combination of the two. Then remember to let whoever tagged you know when your post is up so they can read it.”

My beautiful bespoke bookcases

My beautiful bespoke bookcases

1. Is there a book that you really want to read but haven’t because you know that it’ll make you cry?
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I saw the film and that was heart-wrenching enough!

2. Pick one book that helped introduce you to a new genre.
Sara Douglass’ Troy Game series. It introduced me to fantasy books and I absolutely loved it. I used to be a real sci-fi nut beforehand, now I enjoy both.

3. Find a book that you want to reread.
That’s a hard one! There are so many I want to reread. I’ve been rediscovering some of my old Stephen King books lately, and I’m looking forward to rereading Insomnia.

4. Is there a book series you’ve read but wish that you hadn’t?
No. I’ve become rather ruthless with my reading time. If I’m not enjoying a book I give up on it fairly quickly. This is especially so while I’m writing, because I believe what you read subliminally affects what you write. Garbage in, garbage out!

5. If your house was burning down and all of your family and pets were safe, which book would you go back inside to save?
The books I’ve written that are now out of print and hard to replace. But only if it meant I wouldn’t die in the process. I’d quite like to write some more books!

6. Is there one book on your bookshelf that brings back fond memories?
The Legend of Ulysses and The Hand of Apollo. My father bought them for me when I was a kid. He’s passed on now, and the books remind me of his gentle spirit and his passion for Greek mythology.

7. Find a book that has inspired you the most.
Alice in Wonderland. It showed me that kids’ books can be funny and clever and appeal to adults just as much as to children.

8. Do you have any autographed books?
Quite a few! I love picking them up at Writers’ Festivals.

9. Find the book that you have owned the longest.
They’d have to be my collection of Enid Blyton’s Naughtiest Girl in the School books. Falling apart from being enjoyed so many times!

10. Is there a book by an author that you never imagined you would read or enjoy?
As an adult, I didn’t expect to like the Harry Potter books as much as I did. But after reading the first one, I was totally hooked.

Now it’s time for me to pass it on to five bloggers whose blogs I enjoy:

I’m looking forward to reading their responses and learning what makes these writers tick. If anyone else wants to jump on board, please do!

mike the spikeMy first junior novel Mike the Spike has just been released by New Frontier Publishing as part of their Little Rockets series. It’s all about head lice and trust and self-reliance and really cool hats!

The official launch will be next month, during the school holidays. But in the meantime, I’m running a giveaway competition.

For your chance to win a signed copy, please write a comment in the comments box. I’ll pick a name at random and send the winner a signed copy. Let me know if you’d like it dedicated to a particular person. Oh, and be sure to check back on Tuesday next week, when I’ll announce the winner … also in the comments section.

I’m also pleased to announce that the popular online parenting magazine, Child, is running a Little Rockets giveaway, three 6-book packs of exciting reads for kids aged 7+. Mike the Spike is among them! To enter, visit their website here.

Good luck and happy reading 🙂

 

 

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