Small Beginnings, 10: Libby Hathorn

I can’t really remember much about a time when I couldn’t write. Grasping the pencil and making marks on a page that meant something, that could be read out loud, again and again, could be kept returned to and built on- was a wonder to me from the beginning. In a family of four kids in a small house in the suburbs, I found refuge quite often behind the lounge where I could sit with pencil and paper undisturbed for a while at least, and write ‘poems’ at first.

I think I was in first class when I presented the family with an alphabet that rhymed precariously. Then modelling on poems our parents read- from a singular treasury of verse of my father’s that ranged from bush verse to the English romantics and had had pride of place on the bookshelf, I began writing more ambitious poetry.  This as well as first stories-   I remember staying in the classroom at playtime when in Year 2 to complete my story I was so entranced with it, and then being commended for it. It caused me to write some twenty versions of that story It was only a dream…and then regale my long suffering family, stray aunts and uncles or grandparents who might be staying being included . May Gibbs may have contributed to some plot lines. It was my ‘bossy nanny’ the grandmother I both loved and feared, who said to me quite seriously after reading something I’d written aloud that ’one day Elizabeth you will be a writer!’ I think that kind of acknowledgement so early, that is some one believing in you, is significant.

Paper was precious and we used old exercise books from school that had not been completely filled to draw and to write. Unfortunately, during an annual clean up of the bedroom shared by three girls, all our precious junk, including my exercise books and papers were jettisoned while we were at the Saturday afternoon movie enjoying yet another Esther Williams or Yul Brynner movie! I was heart-broken then and I would be now, as what goes before has significance with what one is writing now. But I guess I must have not been completely deterred from forging on because in grade 3, I entered a competition to write a short story with the title of The Storm. The competition was run by a big department store, David Jones, in Sydney that actually had an art gallery on the top floor and must have in those days, valued the arts. The written piece of some 5 or 6 lines won a purple certificate and I treasured that award for many years. I must have secreted it somewhere to avoid clean ups for only recently I found my handwritten (dip penned) entry, The Storm, and smiled to myself to think that my very first young adult novel was also about a storm. Thunderwith  that remains in continuous print after some some 27 years, became the movie that took me all the way to Hollywood, The Echo of Thunder with Judy Davis starring, was set in the Australian bush in stormy weather, both physical and emotional.

Small beginnings…I’ve tried to consider what makes someone a writer and why my ‘bestie’ in Year 7 in a library lesson (where books and their authors were kept behind glass) made a small book out of scraps of paper entitled The Book by famous author E K Rage – a pseudonym I am still to use. That at 12 to be a writer was an impossible dream and yet once I read beyond school texts (though grateful for the rich heritage of English literature studied at school), poetry writing began in earnest. It marks my life and does not need publication to help me try to make meaning of the world though it’s fair to say that poetry feeds every story I have written or am to write. Perhaps having poetry read aloud in that small bedroom when I was really young was my lucky small beginning.

Libby in gardenn 2016

About Libby Hathorn:


Libby Hathorn is an award-winning author and poet of more than fifty books for children and young people. Translated into several languages and adapted for stage and screen, her work has won honours in Australia, United States, Great Britain and Holland.


Libby was recipient of a Centenary Medal 2003 for her work in children’s literature. In 1994, her picture book Way Home was the winner of the Kate Greenaway Award, UK with illustrations by Greg Rogers.

In 2012 she was a National Ambassador for Reading and travelled to many country towns to talk about Australian literature as she has done in her role as Australia Day Ambassador since 1994.


In 2014 she was winner of The Alice Award, a national award for ‘a woman who has made a distinguished and long term contribution to Australian literature.’  With a deep interest in literature, poetry continues to inform her life and her writing.

Libby loves poetry. Reading it, being inspired by it, reciting it, teaching it, writing and dreaming about it. Many of her novels and picture books are inspired by poetry entirely. 

Her first young adult novel Thunderwith was made a movie (starring Judy Davis who was nominated for an Emmy for her performance as Gladwyn) by Hallmark Hall of Fame and this book enjoys over 27 years in continuous print. Two picture books Grandma’s Shoes and Sky Sash So Blue have been performed as operas; the first in Sydney and the second in Birmingham, Alabama. She is currently working on a libretto for her recent picture book Outside.


Libby’s latest picture books are:- Incredibilia (Little Hare 2016) and in the year of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme A Soldier, a Dog and a Boy (Hachette 2016); Outside was named a Notable Australian picture book by the CBCA, 2015 (Little Hare, 2014).


Her most recent novel is Eventual Poppy Day (Harper Collins, 2015); and her first young adult novel (1989) Thunderwith (Hachette) was updated with a new cover in 2015.



Small Beginnings, 9: Janeen Brian

Story written at about age 6

Story written at about age 6

Early indicators that I would end up making my career as a children’s author are few and far between.

Tiny flashes of excitement in Year 2, when I discovered the magic of decoding the word sister on my own from the blackboard; the sound of poetry read by the Year 7 teacher, (I think, Silver  by Walter de la Mare–below); the only teacher who gave us anything else to read other than the traditional school readers, one anthology to be read by all; the joy of creating a play about Robin Hood in Year 5, (with me in the starring role, having made my own blunt  arrows from almond tree prunings), but beyond that, nothing until high school.

At high school I was in a dilemma. I wanted to be involved in activities, but the school was large and the numbers of loud and seemingly-confident kids, overwhelming. However, because of our kind, nurturing Year 8 English teacher, I tentatively wrote a class play about her and the funny things that happened in school life. It was performed in class time and

Dressing up for a play, aged about 11

Dressing up for a play, aged about 11


My Year 11 English teacher was, in hindsight a radical Irish man who worked hard to stimulate his English class, and I adored him. I’d been brought up to be a listener rather than voice my opinions, but once, when I spoke up and shyly explained why I thought the poet had chosen particular words to convey a feeling, he praised my comment for its insightfulness. That both stunned and heartened me. And it opened my eyes to the possibility and the power of words.

Fast forward. I began primary teaching aged eighteen and by twenty I was rushing home to type up, on a manual typewriter, a children’s story called Little Blue Pig.  It was about a pig that’d been born blue. Unable to fit in with his pinkish family, he finally found acceptance in the sky where a special shade of blue had vanished. Time was running out. A rainbow was due at ‘half-past-Wednesday’. Finally a Rainbow Helper discovers Little Blue Pig, sitting alone beside a tree. The rest of the story makes for a happy ending! An illustrator friend of mine did a couple of sketches and, naively, I sent the text with the accompanying pictures to a publisher. They came back.

My first crushing awareness of publishing rejection.

Another story, penned some time later, was really an account of my memories of childhood summer sun,sand and sea -exampleholidays spent at a seaside, country town couched in a painfully trite story. Typed up by my mother on wafer-thin foolscap paper, it boasts nothing more now that a few visible visits from silverfish.

Only when I was in my thirties, with more teaching years under my belt and two daughters of my own, did I begin to write a little more. And then only poems for my girls or family members or small snippets for magazines. I really had no plan on becoming an author.

But it was when I began to get some work published by an educational publisher, that I began to wonder.

Was I an author, after all?

As it turns out, I am.

The love was there early. The learning took longer.

PS: I still love writing about the sea and beachside environments.

The Little Blue Pig was never published in its original or redrafted form until about five years ago, when it became the basis of a small educational reader.

I wrote several scripts for a children’s theatre company and a television show called, Where’s Humphrey, and occasionally write scripts for The School Magazine.

I still write poetry and love it.

I am an award-winning children’s author and poet with 100 books published in the trade and educational market.


Below is that inspirational Walter de la Mare poem:


by Walter de la Mare

Slowly, silently, now the moon

Walks the night in her silver shoon;

This way, and that, she peers, and sees

Silver fruit upon silver trees;

One by one the casements catch

Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;

Couched in his kennel, like a log,

With paws of silver sleeps the dog;

From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep

Of doves in silver feathered sleep

A harvest mouse goes scampering by,

With silver claws, and silver eye;

And moveless fish in the water gleam,

By silver reeds in a silver stream.



Small Beginnings, 11: Alan Baxter

Aged about 9

Aged about 9

I was looking through some old stuff my mum had saved and discovered a bunch of old exercise books. Most of it is pretty rubbish, appalling “religious education” that was nothing but Christian indoctrination and so on. In truth, I always hated school, never got on well with a classroom environment, with one exception: I loved English. The chance to write stories and read books? That was my kind of schooling. It’s the only thing I was ever good at, academically, so it’s no surprise that these days I’m a writer and a martial artist.

I remember my first ever experience of storytelling. I was about seven years old and we were told to write a story about what we did on the school holidays. Most kids came back with paragraph or two about nanna’s house or whatever. I came back with seven or eight pages about a dude who went back in time and got chased around by dinosaurs. The teacher didn’t believe I’d written it and rang my parents. They said they had no idea about it, I must have done it all in my room. So my teacher, duly impressed, got me to read it to the class. As I stood up there with my knees trembling, reading this thing, I realised all the faces were enraptured. After class, kids were coming up to me saying how great it was and how they wished it wouldn’t end. I was amazed. I had discovered the power of storytelling. I never looked back.Story-2

Sadly I can’t find that time travel story I remember so well. Maybe I will one day. But I have found other stuff. One was a story I wrote when I was nine years old, and it shows my influences so clearly already. There’s science-fiction, horror and fantasy, shameless pillages from Star Wars and Doctor Who. It’s classic early Baxter. So I decided to transcribe it for posterity. On my blog you’ll find the story, accurately transcribed with all my spelling errors and so on included. But I have added paragraphs. Seems I had a thing about not using them – lots of other stories in big blocks of text with my teacher getting more exasperated about it every time.

Along with the transcription are scans of the original pages with my teacher’s notes. Perhaps my favourite thing about this story is the teacher’s comment at the end:

“Very good, Alan. I think you enjoyed yourself too. 1 house point.”very good

You’re right, teacher. I really did enjoy myself. And I still do – nothing is more fun than writing stories. And I scored a house point! That was a big deal back then.

Here’s the link to my blog with the full story in transcript and scans:

Alan Baxter writes dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. He lives among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia. Read extracts from his novels, a novella and short stories at his website – – or find him on Twitter @AlanBaxter and Facebook.

Small Beginnings, 8: Stephen Whiteside

Stephen at time of writing the poem, with his boat

Stephen at time of writing the poem, with his boat

Below is a poem, “The Fur and Feather Sailing Club”, that I probably wrote when I was about 19 or 20. I forget exactly. It was certainly before I had had anything professionally published.

I grew up very much under the spell of Banjo Paterson – The Geebung Polo Club, The Man from Ironbark, Mulga Bill’s Bicycle, Clancy of the Overflow, The Man From Snowy River.
I also learned to sail as a boy, and loved the adventure and the independence that it offered me.
It is no surprise, then, that I wrote a Banjo Paterson-inspired sailing poem!
In many ways, this poem is a watery version of “The Geebung Polo Club”, although the overall shape/narrative is very much along the lines of “The Man From Snowy River”.
It is probably fair to say that not a huge amount has changed in my writing over the years. I still love narrative rhyming verse, though I generally write shorter poems these days, because that is what publishers want. I tend to play much more now with form and subject matter, but narrative rhyming verse is my default position – something I can always fall back to if all else fails!
The Fur and Feather Sailing Club
by Stephen Whiteside
(first two verses)
A splendid sight the clubhouse was, adorned with flapping flags,

Along the beach, the band in tartan trews;

The car park overflowing with Mercedes Benz and Jags,

Inside the briefing room, the anxious crews.


The myriad spectators sniffed the breeze and sipped champagne,

While their darling little children swallowed Coke,

And no-one seemed to notice, down a long-forgotten lane,

A dusty, dirty, battered Mini-Moke.

READ THE FULL POEM HEREThe Fur and Feather Sailing Club


Stephen Whiteside has been writing rhyming verse for many years. He writes for both adults and children. Many of his poems have been published in magazines or anthologies, both in Australia and overseas, or won awards. He has also self-published several volumes of verse.

In 2014, Walker books Australia published a collection of his poems for children, “’The Billy That Died With Its Boots On’ and Other Australian Verse”. In 2015, the book won a Golden Gumleaf for “Book of the Year” at the Australian Bush Laureate Awards during the Tamworth Country Music Festival.

Stephen is a great admirer of the Australian poet C. J. Dennis. He is President of the C. J. Dennis Society, and a key organiser of the annual Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival. The festival is held in October every year at Dennis’ former home in Toolangi, a small hamlet in the wooded hills 65 km east of Melbourne. In 2016 the festival will be celebrating the centenary of the publication in 1916 of “The Moods of Ginger Mick”.

Small beginnings, 6: : Adèle Geras

Aged about 9

Aged about 9

When I was a child, writing was never much on my mind. I was quite determined to be a STAR and spent most of my free time acting out with  my friends scenes we’d seen at the movies.  I was Ann Miller, or June Allyson, or Doris Day. This was in the Fifties,  before tv, when we went to the cinema as often as we could. We inhabited the world depicted in  the recent Coen brothers movie, HAIL CAESAR, and were fans particularly of musicals, and of the swimming star, Esther Williams.

But I did like writing little poems which, when they weren’t about about nymphs and Greek gods described storms or sunsets or effused about kittens. When I was about eight, I wrote my first actual long form story. It runs to 12 of neatly written A5 pages. Looking at it now, I admire the excellently neat handwriting, so full marks to whoever it was who taught me writing. This neatness  must also mean that I wrote it out in rough and then copied it. I was clearly aware that I was embarking on  A STORY.  I’m also rather impressed by the beginning: straight in with an introduction to the main character, a mouse called Squeaker de Whiskers Blanches.  At this time of my life, (about 1953, I guess) we visited Paris often. My uncle was an artist and my Dad loved taking me round art galleries, pontificating about who was good and who wasn’t. I was overwhelmed by the Louvre, so that’s where Squeaker lives, of course.



At school, I did contribute poems to the school magazine and I always loved writing essays but the poetry bug only really hit me when I fell in love.  That’s when it gets most teenagers, I suppose and I was no different. My handwriting has deteriorated since the Squeaker days, but my poetry is full of emotion and very romantic and over the top.



I also find it interesting that my preoccupations  haven’t changed much.IMG_1011This(above)  is basically a description of Brighton in various different moods: the buildings, the atmosphere  and so forth. I’ve always been partial to describing stuff and also interested in places.


IMG_1009This(right)  is about tulips, but it goes without saying that these tulips are full of meaning and import!  I still adore tulips.  I’m going to reproduce the poem here and you can giggle at the overthetopness of it all. It’s about flowers fading but oh, so much, much more in the hands of a lovesick seventeen year old…from the general gloom, I’m concluding I must recently have been dumped. I’ve forgotten the actual occasion but here’s what I wrote:


Purple in death, a tulip

withers itself black on my desk,

and the red of another

mottles to crimson of a heart in grief.

But the pale green stalks

torture themselves gently

in the cool glass, cool green glass

and apart, the third and red

picked with the others on

a day in May,  now

curves, and lays its flower,

broken, on the wood.


Adèle Geras lives in Cambridge. She’s written many books for children and young adults, including Two Fearsome Fairytales from France published by Christmas Press. Her latest book is The Dream Quilt published by Long Barn Books and she has a novel for adults coming in June, called Love or Nearest Offer, published by Quercus.


An interlude to introduce the Juvenilia Press

I’m delighted to learn today that the Small Beginnings series on this blog is being featured on the Facebook page and linked to the website of a wonderful specialist press publishing out of the University of NSW, the Juvenilia Press, which focusses on the very early writings of authors, including classic authors like Jane Austen! Here’s something about them:

The Juvenilia Press promotes the study of literary juvenilia, a category of literature that has been largely neglected. Its editions are slim volumes of early writings by children and adolescents (up to the approximate age of twenty), including published and unpublished works of young authors – both those who achieved greatness as adults and those who did not become adult writers but whose writing is full of percipience and zest.

Founded in 1994 by Juliet McMaster at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, the Press has since 2001 been based in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, and has an international team of contributing editors from Britain, Canada, Japan, Spain, Switzerland, New Zealand, the United States, and Australia.

The volumes are normally devoted to one author and are edited by an expert in the field, with the assistance of one or more students, usually postgraduates. Student involvement in the research and editorial process is an essential part of the pedagogic aim of the Juvenilia Press; and the illustrations, often executed by young aspiring artists or by the original young authors themselves, aim to capture the tone of the original productions. By contributing to the recovery, publication, and critical exploration of childhood writings, the Juvenilia Press actively promotes literary research and the professional development of students. At the same time, they endeavour to provide, for a wide audience, an insight into the creative energy of this rich and varied body of writing.

Do check them out on Facebook, and visit their website for more information:


Small Beginnings, 7: Simon Higgins

My ceaseless passion to tell stories and use images, myths and legends to excite and inspire, came online at an early age, thanks mostly to my mother. Though mum only much later published one book -her awesome memoirs of life in India, Africa and mid-revolutionary Cyprus- while a widow in a nursing home, she’d always been a gifted storyteller, the person who taught me to speak, draw, read and write.

By the age of three, I was a precocious (but creative) little monster.

One of the pictures accompanying this piece(right) shows me on the migrant ship bound for Australia, three 3 yr old Simonyears old, concentrating intensely on my first (illustrated) novel, which  mum later told me was a reboot, superhero style, of the legend of Robin Hood. In my version, Robin had weird powers, made animals help him fight the rich bad guys, and if cut with swords or shot with arrows, he could come back to life nine times, like a cat.

Apparently, a very dignified English fellow passenger, older fellow, quizzed me about my work, then commented, ‘Not the true story of Robin Hood, young chap.’ Mum, at age ninety in the nursing home, told me I leaned towards her and whispered, ‘He’s a bloody fool.’ To be honest, I still don’t always take criticism of my work that well. 🙂


When I was ten, by then a big comic/graphic novel fan, I went to hospital to have my tonsils out. While there, I wrote and illustrated my own unlicensed Marvel comic epic, ‘The Hulk Takes Asgard’ in which Thor’s brother Loki kidnaps Doctor Bruce Banner and unleashes him, brainwashed, as the spearhead of a coup to put himself on the throne. I remember being outraged when I came back from the toilet and caught three nurses sitting on my bed, hunched over my comic, reading intently. I’m fortunately a lot less precious about such things these days. I even like the fan fiction based on my stuff. 🙂


At twelve I entered an international poetry competition coordinated by the Women’s Weekly. One had to write a poem about Jose Feliciano, the blind guitarist (BTW he says ‘I’m blind’ so please, no silly PC ‘vision impaired’ lectures, thanks). The finalists were read to Jose, and the top ten global winners received autographed sets of his albums AND publication in the Women’s Weekly. Yeah, my first published work! Bagged with a poem, that in part, went like this:


A man alone, a famous star.

A man alone with his guitar.

He has no sight, yet he can see,

in a way that stuns and puzzles me


Anyhow, the important bit was that this made me a star at school for about twenty minutes, until our cricket team defeated our hated rival, and the fickle crowd forgot my greatness. Hosanna! Not for long. 🙂


IMG_3466Flash forward beyond several careers that I sometimes describe as ‘lives.’ Marketing manager, police officer, private investigator and so on. In my maturity I turned to writing full time and out tumbled the same obsessions. I trained in martial arts. No bows and arrows like Robin, but swords and unarmed combat. Several kinds.


I spent a lot of time in Asia, where I now live, in fact, and penned a bestseller called Moonshadow about a ninja who controlled animals, whose ally was a cat. The kind of beast that would have nine lives. Sound vaguely familiar? 🙂


I just saw my thirteenth novel published, DarkSpear, my first Visual Novel, text-centred but image, music and sound effects enhanced, an exciting, evolving medium. Seems I am still that same little boy storyteller; my DarkSpear heroine, living in the near future, has special powers, and is caught up in a conspiracy of the One World Government (the new rich bad guys).IMG_3467


What do I make of this? Put simply, I was born and this is what I am. The hiatus in between the early years and professional creativity was destined input time. I grabbed life experience, reading, other forms of learning, which informed my later, somewhat more refined work.


At the core, I remained that imagining, legend-rebooting, cartooning kid.


If people don’t get my stuff, they’re bloody fools.  🙂