A poem to celebrate an exceptional wattle season..

A poem I wrote a couple of years ago for everyone who loves that amazing yellow beauty…and this year, I’m republishing it to celebrate a truly exceptional year in the wattle stakes!

Wattle blooming

Sudden bursts of gold,

Sweeping colour bold,

By rivers, by roads, in country and town,

In farms and gardens, the wattle’s the crown.

 

Of the end of the winter, beginning of spring,

The blooming of wattle will sing and sing

Of birds in their nests and the warm days to hand,

For the wattle is blooming across the land.

 

Sophie Masson

 

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Interview with Bob Topp of Read Me A Story, Ink

A couple of years ago, I received an email from the US with an intriguing request: would I agree to allow two of my stories originally published back in the 90’s–Cry Wolf, published in the Omnibus Books anthology, Amazing, and The Clever Thief, published in Cricket Magazine–to be included in an index of great read-aloud stories on a website specifically designed for the purpose? Both made excellent read-alouds in schools, bookseller and reader Bob Topp told me, inviting me to check out his website, Read Me A Story, Ink. After visiting this very impressive website, I was more than happy to agree–it’s a fabulous resource and I was glad my stories would be included in it–and as five-star reads, what’s more! Recently, Bob’s been in touch again regarding new developments, and acquiring another couple of my stories (The Magic Carpet, and The Old Woman and the Imp) for the site. Of course I was happy to agree once more–and also thought readers might like to know more about Bob and his fantastic site, which does so much to encourage the joys of reading great stories aloud. It’s a great interview–read on!

Bob, your wonderful website, Read Me A Story, Ink (and what a great name!) is obviously a labour of love. Can you tell me about how and when it started? What gave you the idea?

I started reading in Bergen Elementary School in our home town of Evergreen, Colorado when our older son, Harrison, was in second grade. His class was doing a unit on frontier America and we had just finished reading a children’s biography of American legend Davy Crockett at home. I offered to come and read a chapter to the class and soon found myself reading weekly. The next year, I started with our younger son’s class as well. After they both moved on to middle school – they are now 28 and 30 – a few of their teachers asked me if I would like to continue, so I began visiting a few classes once a month. At that interval, there wasn’t the continuity or time for chapter books so I started to collect short stories. After a few years and enough anthologies, I realized I couldn’t remember what story was in which book so I created an index for my own use. When the index reached six or seven hundred entries, it occurred to me that it would make a useful tool for parents and teachers and a friend helped me design a rudimentary website. Over the years the site has grown in numerous directions. I added recommended reading lists, printable stories, both public domain and for which I had the author’s permission, links to other great children’s sites and most recently I have started recording some of the stories. The core index is now over 1500 records and I estimate that I have read eight to ten thousand short stories.

How does the site work? What has it achieved so far, and what are your goals for it for the future?

My designer and I have tried to keep the site simple and very user friendly. Each record on the index includes a plot summary, age level, subject category and the source where I found the story. If there is a printable or audio version there are tabs beneath the record inviting the user to print or listen to the story. Also, if the author has a website, there is a link to that site so that the user can find out more about the author and what else she or he has written. The index can be searched by category, author or keyword making it easy to find appropriate stories for the user’s needs. Recommended reading lists and links to other children’s sites are all easily accessible. At the moment I don’t foresee any different intent for readmeastoryink.com, just a constant expansion of resources as I discover new stories and contact more authors.

What has the response been like, both from children and schools, and from writers whose stories are listed?

Response has been very positive from all quarters. Parents have mentioned that they use the recommended reading lists while teachers gravitate towards the printable stories. In one thank you letter from a fifth grader, she wrote, “ as I am writing this letter, we are listening to one of Mr. Topp’s stories.”  A function on the site’s administrative panel allows me to view the IP addresses of people, bots or institutions who have viewed the site and frequently the IP address is a school district. Authors seem appreciative of having their stories available and, write to say that they enjoy the recordings of their stories as well. I can also access information on how many times a specific story has been “viewed” on the web in a month. Most stories have been clicked on between one and two hundred times each month. Unfortunately there is no way to know if those views are individuals, school districts or bots that are simply out there roaming the web universe.

How do you choose stories which will be good for reading aloud? What are you looking for, in a story?

I choose approximately one out of every six or seven stories that I read. The first and most important criterion is whether I like the story. If I like it, that enjoyment will translate in the reading aloud and in most cases the kids will like it as well, though I have been amused over the years to note the difference between reading to myself and reading aloud. Occasionally stories that I love fall flat when read aloud for inexplicable reasons while stories that I hesitate to read become all time favorites when I read them aloud. I also tailor the story to the grade. I read 30 minutes to third graders and 45 minutes to fifth graders with the stories frequently chosen by theme for the month (ie., Holidays, Black History Month, Women’s History Month and always, Dragons for November). Ultimately I can’t escape my own biases which are in the direction of positive stories with at least one character who can be a role model. Humor also creeps into many of the stories that I read.

You are now, with writers’ full permission, making stories available both in print form and in audio form as read-aloud. What has been the response to that?

Without a doubt the printable stories page is the most visited page on the site. I assume this is because both parents and teachers are finding readily available material for reading aloud or as suggested reading to their children or students. Authors, parents and friends have all given me positive feedback on the recordings but since there are far fewer recordings than stories that are available to print, they haven’t gained the same traction.

Do you still go into schools yourself to read aloud?

Yes! I currently read to 14 classes, first through fifth grades, and have no plans to stop. I begin reading for the new year in a few weeks and I am already getting excited about what to read first and mulling over what new stories I have discovered and what month of the year would be best for their first reading.

Are you interested in hearing from writers about stories that might be suitable for Read Me A Story, Ink?

That is a very difficult question for me and one that I have frequently contemplated. As it is right now, I read a story that I like and ask the author’s permission to make it available. If I started receiving short stories that I hadn’t read, I would be in the position of having to reject some – something for which my personality is not suited. I do currently offer two previously unpublished stories that were offered to me and I have to admit that I am very proud to make them available. So, I guess the answer to your question is an unequivocal yes and no 🙂

Great review of Once Upon An ABC at Publishers’ Weekly (US)

Ahead of its release in the US in September, there’s a great review of my and Christopher Nielsen’s picture book, Once Upon an ABC(Little Hare) in Publishers’ Weekly. Here’s a short extract:

Oblique references to folk and fairy tale characters carry readers through the alphabet in this sprightly rhyming picture book. Beginning with Anansi the spider, “both clever and neat,” Masson name-checks specific characters (“C is for Cat, wearing elegant boots”) and describes more general figures (“D is for dragon, safeguarding his loot”). Textured with scratches and speckles and given a muted primary color scheme, Nielsen’s mixed-media images have a sturdy, posterlike presence.

The full review is here.

Looking forward to the HNSA Conference: interview with Elisabeth Storrs

In just over a month–on September 8–the 2017 Conference of the Historical Novel Society Australasia will be kicking off in Melbourne. And not only do I have the privilege of speaking at the Conference, I also have the honour of being Conference Patron! It’s going to be a great conference, filled with interesting speakers, panels and events, and today I caught up with author Elisabeth Storrs, the program convenor, to tell readers more about it. And, by the way, once you’ve learned what a treat us in store, you can book tickets for the conference here 🙂 

The 2017 HNSA conference is on next month in Melbourne, and there are lots of people–including me!–excitedly waiting for the big day! Elisabeth, can you give a bit of an overview of what to expect at the conference?

Elisabeth Storrs

Over 60 fabulous speakers will celebrate the historical fiction genre, covering eras and events from the Ancient World through to WW2, at the HNSA 2017 Melbourne conference. The programme is divided into three streams. The first will explore the conference theme of Identity: Origins and Diaspora, and also includes interviews with numerous talented authors such as Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Deborah Challinor, Lucy Treloar and you! We’re confident that attendees will find inspiration from such ‘personal histories’. For emerging and aspiring writers, the second stream looks at various aspects of the genre together with the craft of researching and writing. The third stream comprises an academic programme discussing Bio-Fiction and ‘The Lie of History’ that is open for general admission.

Hanifa Deen

We are also conducting an extensive suite of workshops with wonderful tutors including Anne Gracie, Isolde Martyn, Lisa Chaplin, Hazel Edwards, Elizabeth Lhuede and Sherryl Clark giving insights into historical romance, pitching, the business of writing, social media and CYA. Kelly Gardiner and Rachel Franks provide practical tuition on tools such as Scrivener and Trove. Sulari Gentill offers tips on historical mystery, and Rachel Nightingale will demonstrate historical costumes. Greg Johnston gives the lowdown on self-publishing – and who can resist Leif the Viking displaying his array of armour? Additionally, Alison Arnold and Irina Dunn are available for 1:1 manuscript assessments while Gillian Polack is conducting 2 masterclasses on making history come to life through research and writing.

Back by popular demand, we’re running the First Pages Pitch Contest again in which ‘first page’ pitches of aspiring authors will be read anonymously by a narrator (Rachel Nightingale) to industry experts (Alison Green, Mandy Brett and you) who will provide a critique of chosen submissions. The session will provide the audience with a chance to learn what attracts the attention of agents and publishers when seeking new historical fiction. And many thanks to Eagle Books for providing the prize of a limited edition of Mikhail Strogoff by Jules Verne and an original 19th century print of Russian life! The ASA is also kindly offering a free associate membership to the winner.

The theme, Identity: Origins and Diaspora, goes right to the heart of many modern as well as historical discussions and controversies. How did the HNSA committee come up with the theme, and how do you think it will be interpreted?

The committee wanted to explore the theme of Identity: Origins and Diaspora as we believe historical fiction plays an important role in informing current generations as to how national identities have been forged by past struggles, injustices, sacrifice, survival, and clash of cultures. Both Australia and New Zealand are multi-cultural societies with a rich history of migrant stories but both countries have also faced the pain of first encounters between first peoples and colonial settlers which require illumination and interrogation. How historical novelists grapple with portraying these meetings provides fertile ground for exploration. The issue of cultural appropriation will also be up for discussion. As such it was important to secure the appearance of speakers who represented a range of perspectives to reflect this. Our round table discussion at our opening reception on 9th September (after our History with a Twist cocktail party!)

Ngahuia te Awekotuku

features Arnold Zable, Hanifa Deen, Ngahuia te Awekotuku and Gary Crew who will discuss the role of the historical novelist in exploring first encounters in Australasian colonial pasts, the migrant experience underlying multicultural identity, and whether an author’s origins are relevant to the story telling.

There’s a packed conference program, and counting tutors and panel chairs as well as speakers, there are more than 70 presenters. How do you go about sourcing people to be presenters?

Our desire was to provide diversity in the conference line-up by including authors from a variety of backgrounds, particularly indigenous speakers. Fortunately, the success of

the inaugural conference in 2015 placed us in a happy position to be able to run two concurrent streams in 2017 to achieve this vision.

Lesley and Tammy Williams

The first stream of the Saturday programme will continue to highlight the theme with keynote addresses from Lesley and Tammy Williams, authors of Not Just Black and White, followed by panels that will discuss the challenges faced in portraying the meeting of First Peoples with Europeans, and how historical novelists can breathe life into immigrant tales. I chose authors who had produced books that directly addressed one or more aspects of the conference theme such as Nicole Alexander, Maxine Alterio and Kim Kelly.

The remainder of the first stream concentrates on introducing readers and writers to the personal histories of the high profile authors I’ve already mentioned. Insights into the secrets of ‘the long haul’ of producing multiple books or series will be provided by Juliet Marillier, Libby Hathorn and Anne Gracie.

Sulari Gentill

The second stream required further difficult decision making. I chose to separate the sessions into three areas: research and technique, sub-genres, and trends in publishing. I matched authors to the topics using criteria such as prominent reputation, favourable reviews, recommendations from HNSA patrons and committee members, and from among members of our HNSA Facebook group. Again, I hoped to achieve diversity in the panels. And my aim was to present authors who wrote across a range of eras and cultures while also including a few self-published writers with proven reputations. I was pleased to include more Kiwi authors to ensure a greater representation from New Zealand than in our 2015 conference. The result is a wonderful array of panels covering Historical Mystery (Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott, Meg Keneally, Gary Corby), Historical Romance (Isolde Martyn, Alison Stuart), CYA (Alan Tucker, Pamela Rushby, Gabrielle Wang, Wendy Orr), World War Fiction (Julian Leatherdale, Elise

Robert Gott

McCune, Paddy Richardson, Justin Sheedy), ‘The Outlander Effect’ (Belinda Murrell, Felicity Pulman, Ella Carey) The Modern Voice in Historical Fiction (Kate Mildenhall, Melissa Ashley, Greg Pyers), International Fiction (Robyn Cadwallader, Natasha Lester, Prue Batten), Transmuting Research into Compelling Fiction (Barbara Gaskell Denvil, Wendy J Dunn, Stephanie Smee) and Authenticity vs Truth (Pamela Hart, GS Johnston, Tim Griffiths, Kathryn Gauci). And, of course, the weekend finishes with ‘Outside Your Comfort Zone – Writing Sex and Violence’ with less bashful authors Kate Forsyth, Luke Devenish and Anna Campbell.

Kate Forsyth

I thoroughly enjoyed the first HNSA conference, back in 2015, and so did everyone I’ve spoken to who went there. And and I’m sure this one will be even better! But I know that behind the scenes there is a lot of frantic work. Can you tell us a bit about just what it takes to organise a conference of this size and scope, and how has it changed(if it has!) from 2015 to 2017?

Kelly Gardiner

Organising HNSA 2017 is a labour of love for all the committee members who have volunteered 18 months of their lives to bring the event to fruition. In 2015 we only ran one stream and a couple of workshops. 2017 presents two concurrent streams, 10 workshops, 2 masterclasses, 20 manuscript assessment sessions and our inaugural short story contest (with a prize of $500). In other words, the workload has more than doubled. The six committee members have wrestled with website development (our previous website was hacked!), content writing, programming, budgeting, sponsorship drives, marketing, social media streaming, and booking systems to name just a few major tasks. We also have boosted our HNSA blog content to bi-weekly postings and have produced a monthly newsletter. We are also proud to have produced our Imagining the Past podcast series hosted by newly recruited committee member, Kelly Gardiner. On top of all this, we have conducted satellite events in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to help spread the word and also feature aspiring, emerging and established authors who may not have been included on the main conference bill. Frantic is definitely the right adjective!

What are you hoping will come out of the conference?

The last conference gave an opportunity for writers from various stages of their careers to mingle and feel a sense of community. I feel that was one of the major successes of 2015. Our aim is to widen the scope to include readers as well as writers. By presenting a broad programme that hopefully offers something for every historical fiction fan, we hope to build on connections and establish Australasian local chapters as is the case in the UK and USA.

Arnold Zable

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to tell your readers about HNSA 2017. We are super excited that you are our conference patron. I look forward to seeing you in Melbourne. You’ve supported us so well!

More about the Conference:

The HNSA 2017 Melbourne Conference is being held on 8-10 September 2017 at Swinburne University, Melbourne. This celebration of the historical fiction genre will showcase over 60 speakers discussing inspiration, writing craft, research, publishing pathways and personal histories in our weekend programme. Among the many acclaimed historical novelists participating are Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Deborah Challinor, Libby Hathorn, Lucy Treloar, Sophie Masson, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott and Arnold Zable. The HNSA’s speakers’ list is available on the HNSA website.

In addition to the two stream weekend programme, there will be ten craft based super sessions and two research masterclasses.You won’t want to miss our interactive sessions on armour and historical costumes either! Purchase a ticket and you will be entered in the draw to win a $100 Dymocks Gift Card.

Lucy Treloar

Manuscript assessments will be conducted by industry experts, Alison Arnold and Irina Dunn. Our free extended academic programme is open for general admission but bookings are essential.

Our First Pages Pitch Contest offers an opportunity for submissions to be read aloud to a panel of publishers. And we are delighted to announce the introduction of our inaugural HNSA Short Story Contest with a $500 prize!

Visit the HNSA website to purchase your tickets now!

 

Kerry Greenwood

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