Spring Retreat Day (Adelaide, South Australia)

Mem Fox demonstrated the art of captivating an audience

Mem Fox demonstrated the art of captivating an audience

Anticipation and keenness were evident in the South Australian SCBWI members attending the Spring Retreat Day on 14th October 2017. Following the exuberant greeting of friends, scuffing of chairs, and introductions, the day began.


Book Store Trends - Dymocks Books Shop (Adelaide, South Australia)

Dymocks Children’s Book Specialist, Linda, and YA Book Specialist, Tori, spoke about their areas of expertise – with their experience, professionalism, and passion apparent in every word.

As well as their delight in connecting children and young adults to new work, Linda and Tori work tirelessly to promote new authors, particularly local authors.

Linda revealed that there’s an astonishing 30,000 new book releases a month. This news dampened our mood, but only momentarily, for Linda replaced it instantly with cheerful optimism. Should we have our book published, we need only introduce ourselves and our book to Dymocks staff and they will gladly set up a display and promote the socks off it!  Circumstances permitting of course.

The Adelaide YA community have embraced Tori’s initiative of a monthly YA book club, The YA Circle.  Tori’s involvement with this group gives her direct insight into their likes and dislikes of YA titles.

Tori spoke about #Bookstagram – an iPhone/iPad app which is popular among teens and young adults. #Bookstagram is Instagram for books – photo-sharing posts of book covers.  A brilliant way to promote your book.


Illustrator Talk - Danny Snell

Danny Snell worked primarily as an editorial illustrator with magazines and newspapers before he came to illustrate children’s books.

The happenstance of finding a seagull in an unfortunate situation planted the seed of a story, which emerged a year later in Danny’s first author/illustrated book, Seagull.  The story of Seagull considers the environmental issue of rubbish on beaches and the impact of this on bird and marine life.  We marvelled at Danny’s beautiful illustrations while he read Seagull, stopping along the way to share the techniques (a mix of photo collage, acrylic paints, and Photoshop) involved in the final illustrations coming together.

Danny’s tips to illustrators:

  • Build a portfolio of your work.
  • Approach publishers and build relationships.
  • Network – put your work out there.


Writing Narrative Non-fiction - Kristin Weidenbach

Kristin Weidenbach explained the three essential elements required in capturing specific elements of non-fiction - stories of real people and true events - and bringing them together in picture book form.  The text, the illustrations, and design, are essential to the narrative non-fiction picture book.

Two examples Kristin shared with us explained this genre instantly.  The first being The Peasant Prince—which you may know as Li Cunxin’s story - Mao’s Last Dancer.  The second was Ahn Do’s The Little Refugee, based on his story, The Happiest Refugee.

Kristin’s own picture book, Tom the Outback Mailman, was created from Kristin’s book for adults Mailman of the Birdsville Track - The Story of Tom Kruse. These gems of a classic Australian story came about from notes Kristin took when her father was tasked with the restoration of Tom Kruse’s infamous truck, the Badger.  Tom drove the Badger for more than twenty years delivering mail across the Birdsville Track in the South Australian desert.

Initially, the publisher requested Kristin re-work the story to make it funnier, and suitable for a younger audience.  Kristin politely declined.  The book was later accepted and has since won the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year, Eve Pownall Category (2013).

Kristin’s tips for writing in this genre include:

  • Ensure your facts, figures—and even illustrations are a true reflection of the story.
  • While research is key, don’t clutter your work with too much information.  This can be included on a page at the back of the book.
  • Follow your instincts.


Story Telling - Mem Fox

Renowned Australian children’s author, Mem Fox demonstrated the art of captivating an audience with relatively simple steps, but most of all, with gusto for your story—and the audience.  Mem gave a reading of her book, I’m Australian Too, a story reflecting the multicultural society of Australia. As she turned the pages, Mem oozed emotion, passion, and character, and caught the eye of every member of the audience.

Mem had us enthralled with a reading of another of her gorgeous books, Koala Lou, which we then workshopped in a group reading.  We read together, like a choir singing, with Mem as our conductor – guiding our voices through the pace and inflections - the tones - high and low, loud, and soft, and the all-important pauses.  We saw the meaning in the words, felt their rhythm, and made music of them.  Oh, what fun we had!

Mem’s tips for reading to an audience include:

  • Don’t act or over-express and definitely don’t over-do ‘voices’!
  • Use the rhythm of language – in the appropriate places, make your voice fast, slow, loud, soft, high, low, and importantly - pause.
  • See what you’re reading.


Little Book Press Publishing - Sue Hill

We welcomed our last presenter of the day, Sue Hill, CEO of Raising Literacy Australia (RLA), an organisation passionate about building literacy skills in young children to enable lifelong learning.  RLA incorporates the Big Book Club, the Little Big Book Club, and their most recent addition, the publishing imprint, Little Book Press.

With RLA’s experience, and need of quality children’s books, they established Little Book Press in July 2017, with plans to publish four to six titles per year.  Submissions from emerging children’s authors and illustrators are welcome.  (Refer to the website for submission guidelines).

Little Book Press hope to soon offer a mentorship for an emerging illustrator.  Keep an eye out for news on this opportunity.

Organisers Kelly Hibbert, Katrina Germein with Mem Fox

Organisers Kelly Hibbert, Katrina Germein with Mem Fox


Conclusion / Wrap-up of the Day

The day concluded with a reiteration of thanks to the presenters.  We then gave a warm farewell to Katrina Germein for her (almost) five-year term in the role of Co-ordinator of the South Australian branch of SCBWI, and subsequently welcomed Kelly Hibbert to the role.  A great day was had by all.

Eileen Magee

Eileen Magee

Blog written by Eileen Magee - a member of Australia East/New Zealand SCBWI.  Eileen is also a member, and an Assistant with Creative Kids Tales (CKT) – a website supporting Australian emerging children’s authors and illustrators.  You can read more intermittent ramblings by Eileen on the CKT blog page, or keep see what she’s up to via Facebook.