Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Between Books

 Taking a Break

After I sent off the third book in my planned trilogy about the magical world of The Tenth Gateway I took a break from writing. It was so hard to say goodbye to my characters and the enchanted world that I had immersed myself in.

Where to next?

Luckily I had enrolled in a November workshop organised by The Australian Writers’ Centre. The workshop ‘The Story Doctor’ was run by Kate Forsyth – one of my favourite Australian authors of both adult and children’s fiction. Kate generously shares lots of practical ideas on how to improve your writing and carry out a thorough edit of your manuscript. I learned heaps.

‘The Blue Rose’ – a very good read

Kate Forsyth’s latest book ‘The Blue Rose’ is a must read. The story is set during the time of The French Revolution, and its full of adventure, romance and tragedy. I loved it.

Writing Again

“The Story Doctor’ workshop motivated me to dig out a children’s book – a comic fantasy - I drafted many years ago but was never satisfied with. Armed with new tools on how to improve the story and the writing I am now working on a new draft.

Christmas Time

Austin Macauley Publishers are promoting the books of selected authors this Christmas. I may not be among this group but I had a lot of fun taking my Christmas promotional photo for ‘The Tenth Gateway’ and ‘The Spy’s Door’.

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Finishing My Trilogy

Book Three

I spent most of August and September finishing my final draft of my third children’s book about the magic game ‘The Tenth Gateway.’ I have sent it to the publisher and I hope to see it published later in 2020.

It’s hard to believe I started writing the trilogy way back in 2015 and now suddenly I’m saying goodbye to my characters. I must say, it’s hard to let go as the main characters have become so real to me.  

I had heard that fictional characters take on a life of their own and now I have found that to be true for me. The children – for example, Sophie Jones and Jun Wu - seem to take control of their own adventures, as does the nasty spy Perscrutor in the second book ‘The Spy’s Door’. I can see the evil magician Malefic flying through the air and doing battle with the good magician Eda and I feel anxious when I think Malefic might win!

And the third book? The characters wrote it for me.

Is that your experience?

PS: My first short story disappeared without a trace. However I’m not giving up. Writing it gave me the idea for my next set of stories.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Positive Distraction

 Short Stories

A favourite story is 'The Drover's Wife'
I have interrupted my next go at editing my third book about ‘The Tenth Gateway’ to become a short story writer

I see so many opportunities and workshops that focus on picture books and Young Adult fiction that I was excited to see a competition for a short story targeting 8-11 year olds. So I thought, ‘I can do this.’

It’s my first effort and I’ve written it in just over a week. It’s not a fantasy like The Tenth Gateway books and I had trouble keeping to the word count. Fingers crossed that someone may like it.

I’m now going to research other opportunities.

Some Favourite Authors

Of course there are lots of authors who write short stories. Years ago I remember being terrified by the Edgar Allen Poe stories which were written in the 19th century. When I did French at school I loved the stories of Guy de Maupassant. 

Next I was inspired by the Australian stories of Henry Lawson and later by the spooky writings of Barbara Erskine and romantic mysteries of Agatha Christie. 

More recently I whizzed through the latest short stories by Jeffrey Archer.

There must be hundreds more that you could name.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Some Fresh Ideas

Seeing a Real Underground City

It’s hard to believe that it’s been two months since I completed the first draft of my third children’s book about the magic game ‘The Tenth Gateway.  I’ve been on holiday and it’s given me some fresh ideas.

For instance, we visited Turkey and saw lots of amazing sights and met many friendly people. When we visited the ancient underground city of Derinkuyu near Goreme it reminded me of my fictional underground home for the gnomes in my book ‘The Spy’s Door’. It was several stories high and filled with twisting tunnels and myriad small dwellings and proved to me that people (and magical beings) can survive for long periods underground.

My photo could only capture a tiny glimpse of this amazing place.

Developing Characters

I have realised that some of my characters need further development. They are a bit wooden and their personalities not sufficiently differentiated. After seeing Derinkuyu I can better imagine who might live in such a place. So I’ve decided to focus on Gwulfud (the gnome), review his dialogue and strengthen his characteristics.

We also visited places on The Baltic Sea and parts of Scandinavia. I loved the fairy tale castle at Schwerin in the north of Germany but the only castle I have included in my stories so far is the forbidding fortress castle of Malefic, the evil magician. I’ll keep the Schwerin image in mind for a future fantasy tale.

Do you have any special places that have inspired you?

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A First Edit

Mapping the Magic Game

I have managed to complete the first edit of the first draft for my third book about The Tenth Gateway. I found a lot of inconsistencies and over use of some word and phrases. I still find it difficult to think of another way of saying ‘he said or she said’!

The edit was also very useful in helping me to think about the geography of the world of The Tenth Gateway. Maps like the one pictured and Robert Louis Stevenson’s map of ‘Treasure Island’ gave me the idea.

Whilst I have the picture of the world of the magic game in my head I decided to draw a map of what it could look like. This has been really helpful as I realised that some of my directions and descriptions of the topology didn’t make sense. So I’ve had to re-write those bits.

I’m about to go on holiday for a few weeks. This will give me the opportunity to review the story again with fresh eyes when I return.

Book Promotion

My books are available for purchase online. It’s very difficult to know how many people find it via the different sites plus my own web page and social media.

A positive approach taken this year by Austin Macauley Publishers is a combined book promotion opportunity with a number of book fairs across the world. I’ve signed up for a few of them for ‘The Spy’s Door’ – so cross my fingers someone will see and like my book.

Austin Macauley Marketing have also sent me some promotional materials – book marks, post cards and posters.

If anyone has read either The Tenth Gateway or The Spy’s Door please let me know what you think.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019


The Tenth Gateway

I loved receiving this review of The Tenth Gateway from the 8 year old grand-daughter of a friend of mine. It reads:

“It’s a great and interesting story. I feel as if I could relate to Sophie. Loves to win but is told not to show off. I likey! (PS – in case you were wondering, I too have a lively mind. All of the characters seem to come to life in my head.”

I am now holding my breath waiting to hear what she says about ‘The Spy’s Door’.

Pinnacle Book Achievement Award

I'm pleased that I have received acknowledgement of my writing by the National Association of Book Entrepreneurs (NABE) - based in the USA. I have just received notification of the award for best book in the Category Children's Fantasy for 'The Spy's Door'.

Sophie and Jun - the two lead characters in my books - have become very real to me. I'm glad that others are enjoying reading about their adventures.

It's always nice to receive positive feedback don't you think? Especially if it's from the children for whom the book was written. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Some Of My Story Favourites


In my second book – ‘The Spy’s Door’- I created a nasty character called Perscrutor. He is Malefic’s master spy whom the book is named after. I enjoyed writing his ‘scenes’ and while I knew he couldn’t be a focus in the third book (writing in progress) I wasn’t ready to let him go. So, I’ve woven him into the story in book number three – albeit briefly.

Another character that I like in ‘The Spy’s Door’ is Gwulfud – the gnome who leads Sophie and Jun to gateway seven. He doesn’t say much but he’s got quite an important role in the third book.

The guardian of The Seventh Gateway is ‘The Gatekeeper’. He has a strange head and the illustration I’ve included in this blog provided the inspiration of what it might look like. 

This head is actually made of bronze and is Celtic from the 1st century BC. The source is ‘The Celts’, by John Davies, Cassell & Co, UK, 2001


Many of the settings in my stories spring from my imagination, some from various illustrations, and I’m sure lots draw on the books that I’ve read and the films that I’ve seen over the years.

In both ‘The Tenth Gateway’ and ‘The Spy’s Door’ I have the children finding their way through dense forests. They meet all sorts of magical beings and dangerous creatures.  I like to think of these forests as being very mysterious – just like this illustration I also found in the John Davies book.

Many of the settings in my stories spring from my imagination, some from various illustrations, and I’m sure lots draw on the books that I’ve read and the films that I’ve seen over the years.

In both ‘The Tenth Gateway’ and ‘The Spy’s Door’ I have the children finding their way through dense forests. They meet all sorts of magical beings and dangerous creatures.  I like to think of these forests as being very mysterious – just like this illustration I also found in the John Davies book. What inspires you?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Dialogue - Pandora's Box

Conversations and Body language

I’ve just completed the self-paced online course ‘Fiction Essentials: Dialogue’ developed by the Australian Writers’ Centre. I’ve found it really helpful.

I was worried about my characters being a bit flat and I think that I’ve now gained a better and more explicit understanding of how characters come to life through dialogue. The course provides a good checklist to review what I’ve written in the rough draft of my third children’s book.

Because it’s the third book of the trilogy about the magic game ‘The Tenth Gateway’ I want to ensure that the characters continue to be of interest and that the main ones have developed over the course of the story. In particular I want to check my use of ‘paralanguage’; for example, facial expressions and body language. Reviewing my use of speech tags in this context will also be important.

Slang and Idioms

I try not to use too much slang in the dialogue but I include a bit here and there because it’s how we speak. I looked up some common contemporary English slang and a lot of the words are already out of date.

“Cool’ still seems to be in fashion, ‘yucky’ still describes something unpleasant – not ‘sick’ which now means really nice, terrific, great!. And ‘wicked’ now means something really good (rather than bad). Of course I’m also trying to keep up with words for technology.

This led me to think about idioms. They’re lots of fun as well although I’m not sure if I can use them in my book Some of the ones I like include:
·      A bigwig
·      Cheek by jowl
·      To get cold feet
·      A load of old codswallop
·      To get someone’s goat
·      To over egg the pudding

My book ‘the dictionary of idioms and their origins’ includes hundreds of sayings.

The English Language – a mystery

One of my characters – Edward –is a child from the nineteenth century. Do I have him talking 21st century style or do I try to make him sound a bit old fashioned. In Melvyn Bragg’s book ‘The Adventure of English’ he writes: “In the nineteenth century at least eight hundred and fifty six different grammars of English marched into print.”

I think I’ll just use a few words here and there.

So the issue of dialogue opens up ‘a can of worms' !!! What do you think?

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Starting the Edit

Taking my time with Book Three

I can't believe that it is now 18 months since I started writing the third book of my trilogy about 'The Tenth Gateway'. There are so many distractions added to a lot of procrastination.

I’ve now finished the first very rough draft. There are 11 chapters but I'm not sure if that's what I'll end up with. The last chapter is really only notes.

The Edit Begins

Instead of being bogged down on the ending I decided to go back to the first chapter and begin the first edit. After all this time I’ve forgotten much of what I’ve written.

So far I have reviewed chapters 1-4. I’ve stopped at this point today because I’ve had to write this blog. I’ll finish the other draft chapters over the next 2 weeks. That’s the plan anyway.

I think some of the draft reads very well but in some areas there’s still too much narrative and not enough dialogue (the ‘show don’t tell’ that I’ve learnt about in my creative writing short courses), and some of it is still has blanks in the story line.

What I am Looking For

In this first edit I wanted to check that the story flowed, that my main characters are behaving consistently and that the imaginary enchanted world has continuity with the first two books. I also want to check that I’ve used appropriate names for any new characters and creatures. As I’ve mentioned before I find selecting or making up names very difficult.

In the second book, ‘The Spy’s Door’, I created the character of Perscrutor, the evil magician’s master spy. I wanted the children playing the magic game to have  new challenges but I also wanted to add more danger and mystery to the story.

Creating More Mystery

Perscrutor’s network of spies is still in place in the third book. It's difficult to know who they are (recollecting Agatha Christie, but of course no where near as clever). So I now want to check that this theme in the story creates enough mystery as the children play the magic game.

I still think my main characters are a bit flat, so I’m grappling with how to make them more interesting. I’ll let you know how I’m getting on with this challenge in my next blog.

Is this something you also find difficult or do you have other stumbling blocks?

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

On Finding a Special Book

This week, when I was browsing in one of my local bookshops I came across a fascinating little book called: ‘Images in the Margins’ by Margot McIlwain Nishimura; published by J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2009.

Fascinating to me because it opened my eyes to all the interesting creatures, tales and symbols found in the pages of medieval European illuminated manuscripts. I’ve always looked at the beautiful text and large initials and I can’t believe I never noticed all the other things –serious and amusing - contained on the pages.

What caught my eye are a couple of categories which have reminded me how far back our interest in folk tales and popular entertainment goes. Themes that I am trying to capture in my children’s books.

Children's Games

Children’s games must have been important in the Middle Ages as they are a main subject depicted in the manuscripts. There are illustrations of children playing checkers, chess and an early form of bowling. There are other games now lost to history including a rough game called ‘hot cockles’. A person hides their face in another player’s lap while another player hits and pokes him. The player will only be freed if they know who their attacker is. It’s a good thing this game died out.

It seems that fantasy was popular in the Middle Ages as it is also a major category in the manuscripts. There are creatures with the heads of humans and the bodies of animals, unicorns and griffins and other strange creatures.

Reynard the Fox

The book includes a manuscript which depicts that cunning creature ‘Reynard the Fox’.  Apparently stories about Reynard were very popular. Wikipedia tells me the stories can be traced back to the twelfth century. I had no idea these tales went back so far.

This unique little book is stuffed full of fascinating information and I’m already thinking about how to weave some of it into my children’s books.

I’m now going to find out a bit more about the character ‘Reynard the Fox’ and also learn what other stories were popular in the Middle Ages. Do you know of any?

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Reading and Writing Fairy Tales

What’s In a Fairy Tale?

I’ve always loved reading fairy stories and science fiction so it’s no surprise that I wanted to write a few for myself. And what is amazing is that people from many cultures have been listening to and reading what we call fairy tales for centuries.

So I was very conscious that in writing my two fantasy books that I needed the stories to reflect and build on a long tradition. Fairy tales typically include beings such as dragons, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, unicorns and talking animals. They also usually include magic and enchantment.

I’ve managed to include fairies, gnomes, goblins, elves and talking animals plus other magical beings and lots of magic. 

To make sure I didn’t stray too far from traditional folklore I consulted a really informative book – ‘An Encyclopedia of Fairies – Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures’ by Katherine Briggs.

The Enduring Love of Fairy Tales and Fantasy

Even before the publication of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (published 1812) and later the stories by Hans Christien Anderson (first stories published 1835) people were reading about ghosts and fairies.

And now the love continues through film, television and computers.

I watched Walt Disney’s animated movies about ‘Snow White’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and later ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Beauty and The Beast’ and so on. And then there’s the great success of the books and films ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Harry Potter’.

It doesn’t look like interest in fairy tales and magic is going to disappear any time soon.

Wikipedia says that the name ‘fairy tale’ was first used by Madame d’Aulnoy in the late 17th century. I’m not sure what they were called before that. Any ideas?

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Moving the Story Forward

There are Lots of Challenges

In my stories about The Tenth Gateway the children have to overcome a number of challenges and solve lots of puzzles. It’s how I can get them to move from one situation to the next. It’s also how they can get through the gateways and keep moving forward to finish the game.

Most of my puzzles are either about working out rhyming clues or word games and puzzles.

Difficult Situations to Overcome

To develop the story I have to imagine many different scenarios so that each of the sub worlds in the game are consistent in significant ways but also unique. There are good fairy folk who help the children but there are also lots of nasty creatures that are trying to prevent them from reaching The Tenth Gateway.

In The Spy’s Door, for example, Sophie and Jun have to find there way through the world of gateway five to reach gateway six. The world is a dark enchanted garden with plants that bite, a ‘Dream Maker’ who wants to trap them by making them go to sleep and a huge vicious dog. 

My inspiration for the dog came from the Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’.

One of my favourite nasty characters is 'The Snout' who guards one of the dungeons in the evil magician's fortress. 

Thankfully Sophie and Jun get through The Sixth Gateway with the help of Morgan, a wandering minstrel who appears several times in the story. The challenge for me was to make him helpful but in a mysterious sort of way.

Having ‘Real’ Characters

My two main children characters are Sophie and Jun. Although they have distinctive personalities, they are good friends so they have to have things in common. They are both intelligent and resourceful but whereas Sophie is a bit bossy and impulsive, Jun is more collaborative and thoughtful. By Book 2 Sophie has learnt to be more co-operative and that there is strength in working together.

Aisha, a close friend of Sophie and Jun, is quiet and not as confident as the other two. She admires Sophie and tends to support whatever she wants to do. The fourth child in ‘The Spy’s Door’ is Basil, Sophie’s younger cousin. 

He is very annoying and questions everything. But even he has something to offer in the end.

Through their different cultural backgrounds, personalities and dialogue I want the children reading the books to be able to relate to the main characters. Although children in the modern day would find it difficult to relate to the adventure worlds and fictional characters created by  Enid Blyton, when I read her books as a young child I found them very believable. 

'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' and 'The Lord of the Rings; were written decades ago, but the series of books and the films based on them are still popular today. What do you think helps them to endure?

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Thoughts On Writing aTrilogy

Blog Update

Of course I’ve been very slow at writing another blog. Now that I’ve decided to focus on my writing process for the time being, it’s a challenge to reflect on how and why I got started. I’ve made lots of notes on the story as I went along but not really about my thoughts about the structure of the books. Anyway this blog is how I remember starting the trilogy.

Writing Three Books

When I started to write The Tenth Gateway I knew that I wanted to write a trilogy involving the magic game.

Firstly I had come up with the idea of children trapped in a magic game being pursued by an evil magician in one of the writing exercises I completed in The Australian Writer’s Centre online course about writing books for children.

I remembered some of the classic series favourites, for example: Enid Blyton’s stories of the Faraway Tree (lots of magic and fairy tale figures) and the Barnaby Books (lots of mystery and adventure); Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings - I must confess that I've seen the films but haven't yet read the books. A must for 2019.

Some more recent books that I have enjoyed are Emily Rodda’s Three Doors Trilogy. I loved it that if you changed one or more factors in the main story line, a new set of dynamics could unfold

Trilogies by Tolkein and Rodda
How To Do It?

I had never written a children’s book, let alone a trilogy but I had the story in my head and some ideas of what I would need to do.  Here are some of my ideas:

I had to create main characters that would work across three books.

I also had to introduce new characters or magical beings that would develop the story in different directions. 

Although the underlying story was about playing the magic game, the game had to remain a challenge with different pitfalls along the way.

There had to be a valid reason for the children to want to play the game for a second and a third time given it is so dangerous. 

The vocabulary and puzzles had to be at an appropriate level for age 8+ readers with each book adding a bit more complexity and reading challenge. 

Lastly, I had to make it a fun fantasy adventure. A little bit scary and mysterious but good wins out in the end.

The Light at the end of the tunnel....

Upon reflection, I’m amazed that I have actually finished and had published Book 1 (The Tenth Gateway) and Book 2 (The Spy’s Door) and given my inertia over summer, that my first rough draft of Book 3 is almost complete. I’m keeping the working title secret for now, just in case I change it.

I think that coming up with a title that says something about the story and is also enticing is challenging, but also fun to do. But like finding names for the characters finding something not already taken is very hard.

If you have any recommendations for me re trilogies written for children I would love to hear about them.

Between Books

  Taking a Break After I sent off the third book in my planned trilogy about the magical world of The Tenth Gateway I t...