Short overview video about my life in writing and publishing

I’ve just uploaded a short video I made, based on some presentations I’ve made recently, which is a bit of an overview of my life and career in writing and publishing. Hope you enjoy…

The original background music by the way is by my very talented son Bevis Masson-Leach, aka music producer Papertoy.

Small Beginnings 18: George Ivanoff


In 1984

Later this year I will have a story published in The X Files: Secret Agendas, an official tie-in anthology for the television series. So it seems like a good time to reflect upon how writing fan fiction within the universes of my favourite television shows and movies, sparked off my interest in writing.

Long before I even entertained the possibility of being professionally published — in the dim, distant days of the 1970s — I was enthralled by a television series called Doctor Who. I discovered it in late primary school and became… just a little bit obsessed with it. I would watch it every weeknight on the ABC; I would collect and read (and re-read) the episode novelisations; I would pore over the tie-in magazines; and most importantly, I would dream up my own storylines.

It wasn’t long before I began tapping out ideas on my family’s old manual typewriter. I wrote stories and scripts, and even indulged in some illustrating – mostly for my own amusement. I found it all so indescribably exciting and empowering.

A little later, I discovered that there were other people just as obsessed as me. I joined the Doctor Who Fan Club of Victoria (which is still in existence, by the way) and inundated the organisers with my artistic creations. From there, I went on to join a swag of other fan clubs dedicated to all thing sci-fi, from Star Trek to Star Wars.

In high school — in the slightly brighter, and not quite so distant 1980s — I was lucky enough to spend a whole term on creative writing in English class one year. This is where I discovered that I really loved making stuff up. I learned about the craft of story writing (you know… that whole ‘beginning, middle and end’ thing); and although I now also wrote my own original stories, I still focused mostly on Doctor Who and Star Trek.fanfic

It was this fan-fic that gave me my first amateur publications – a huge boost in confidence and a thrilling taste of what it was like to have others read my writing. I wrote more and more stories for these fanzines, and even ended up editing a few myself. It was a wonderful training ground in which to develop my skills and an enormous encouragement.

Eventually, many years later in the 1990s, I would make my first professional sale. And many years after that, in 2008, I would have a story published in Short Trips: Defining Patterns, an officially licensed Doctor Who anthology. [insert fanboy squee-ing] Things have progressed well. But I will never forget that it was the creation of those early fan stories that ignited my interest in writing. Reading them now, after all these years, I can say without a doubt that they are truly awful (I don’t mean just a little bit bad – they are gobsmackingly atrocious) – but, nevertheless, their importance to me is undeniable and unquantifiable… and I look back on them with much fondness.


george_2014George Ivanoff is an author and stay-at-home dad residing in Melbourne. He has written more than 90 books for kids and teens, including school readers, non-fiction books and novels. He is best known for the RFDS Adventures, the You Choose series and the Gamers trilogy. You Choose: The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove won the 2015 Fiction for Younger Readers YABBA. You Choose: Alien Invaders From Beyond the Stars has been shortlisted for the same award in 2016.

George drinks too much coffee, eats too much chocolate and watches too much Doctor Who. Check out his website:

Small Beginnings 17: Meredith Costain

I was lucky enough to grow up in a house full of books. Stories were shared regularly around the kitchen table, and we were all encouraged to read verse out loud, particularly the works of A A Milne (‘James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree’), Alfred Noyes (‘The highwayman came riding, riding . . . up to the old inn-door’)  and Hilaire Belloc (‘Matilda, Who Told Lies and was Burned to Death’).

So my head was always full of stories and words, rhythm and rhyme. Poems jumped into my brain when I was riding my bike to school along the banks of the Bunyip River (which is a story in itself!). I’d repeat them over and over until I knew them off by heart, then, when I got home, I’d grab an old exercise book and race up to the hay stack so I could scribble them down in private.


The girl, the bike and the haystack..

The girl, the bike and the haystack..

My early attempts at poetry were very much doggerel (and catterel!) and usually about animals.

Penelope was a pig

One day she ate a fig

She wasn’t fond of it

So she threw it in a pit

Naughty Penelope!

Then, when I was about eight, I sent in a longer poem called My Little Creek to the Junior Age section of The Age newspaper. Not only did they print it, they paid me 17 shillings and sixpence for it – a fortune back in the days when it took you and your brother six months of saving up your sixpence a week ‘job’ money to buy a Monopoly set.

It was my first paid publication – and I was determined it wouldn’t be my last. I sat in my bedroom munching on toasted cheese sandwiches, solemnly resolving there and then that I would become ‘A Writer’ when I grew up. I even had a ‘writerly’ pen name picked out – Gemma Craven – and a publisher – Penguin – whose Puffin books were among my favourites at the time. Especially Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes and Ivan Southall’s Ash Road and Hills End.

I kept writing poetry all through school, but most of it gushed out in Year 11 and 12 – pages and pages of teenage angst poetry when I should have been studying instead. And I wrote a long spoof of the Canterbury Tales based on the teachers at my school for our school magazine.


Still writing in exercise books after all those years..

Still writing in exercise books after all those years..


I enjoyed other kinds of writing as well. My cousins (who lived across the paddock) and I started our own newspaper called The Thrilling Three when were about nine or ten. It was full of interviews with the farm animals (how many eggs had been laid that day) and other important goings on. I wrote play scripts for my friends to perform at lunchtimes at school (complete with sound effects). And I started a romantic novel when I was eleven, called Those Who Wait, which sadly never developed past the first chapter.

It was all great practice for when I did finally grow up (highly questionable!) and became A Writer for real. And then strange things began to happen. I was asked to use a pen name for my first published book, Hot Licks, which was part of the Dolly Fiction series. There was already a well-known English actor called Gemma Craven by then, so I changed the Craven part to Carey instead.

The doggerel and catterel fed into my book of poems for the very young, Doodledum Dancing, published by . . . Penguin!

ddd latest020

And one night at a literary dinner, I met my childhood idol, Ivan Southall, who agreed to let me visit his home to interview him for a children’s magazine I was editing. And he made me a toasted cheese sandwich!!! 


Meredith Costain is a versatile writer whose work ranges from picture books through to novels, poetry and narrative non-fiction. Her books include CBCA Honour Book Doodledum Dancing, Mummies are Lovely, novelisations of Dance Academy, and the quirky illustrated series, The Ella Diaries. She enjoys presenting writing workshops in libraries and schools. Visit her (and meet her many pets!) at



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Small Beginnings 16: Gillian Rubinstein(Lian Hearn)

Jocelyn & Gillian

With my sister

My father loved poetry and had a store of favourite lines. He also knew a lot of Shakespeare by heart, and all the words to Gilbert and Sullivan songs. Books on the shelves that influenced me – because I read them over and over again – included the blue bound Oxford Books: Light Verse, Ballads and English Verse. Many I didn’t understand, some I found boring, others remained mostly unfathomable, being in dialect. But I loved their mystery and their fierce emotions. My favourite poems were Sir Patrick Spens, the Golden Vanity and the Lyke-Wake Dirge.

Making up rhymes came naturally to me. Some are still famous in my family – an early masterpiece for example about Jim my friend (a dog). I made up stories but mostly it was too much trouble to write them down, so my friends and I played them out sometimes over weeks.

Fragments of poems I wrote still remain in my memory. This is from an epic on the coming of the Romans to Britain (I was 12)

Just after dawn we came in sight of land

Dim in the morning mist on either hand

Lay strange white cliffs rising up from a stony shore

The rest has disappeared, except for the final line:


And we followed him and that great eagle on the standard that he bore

Just before my 15th birthday I went for my first time to Nigeria. I would spend six weeks here every year for the next seven years. It was only two months since my father’s sudden death. I wrote a poem about vultures which appeared in the school magazine.

But the glory of it when they fly

Carving circles in a lapis lazuli sky

In utter timelessness they wheel and climb

Their element is eternity not time.

Drifting on air, effortless and slow

The vultures fly and men below

Go on living and loving and dying

Blind to the beauty of the vultures flying.



When I was 15 I won a prize (3rd) at school in a short story competition. My story was about a man who becomes a priest so he can kill his lover’s husband and not be punished beyond being excommunicated. But he finds his true love is God, so his punishment in the end becomes worse than death. The judge’s comment was ‘write about what you know’. But I’ve never really followed that advice.



Gillian Rubinstein was born in England and has lived in Australia since 1973. Her first book, Space Demons, was published in 1986 and she produced many works for children of all ages until 2002, when the first book of the Tales of the Otori appeared under the name Lian Hearn. As well as the five books in this series, she has also written two historical novels set in 19th century Japan. Her latest book is The Tale of Shikanoko which is coming out in two parts in 2016: Emperor of the Eight Islands  and Lord of the Darkwood.

Small Beginnings, 15: Belinda Murrell

Me(left) and my sister Kate(right)

Me and my sister Kate

I grew up in a household full of books. I am the eldest of three children and we were the sort of kids who would dress up as our favourite characters and have sword fights up and down the stairs, or creep through the undergrowth pretending to have adventures. We were often in trouble for falling asleep over our schoolbooks after staying up half the night reading, or getting caught with a book hidden on our laps during maths class.

As a child I read voraciously, borrowing piles of books from both school and the local library every week. We were so lucky because, while we didn’t always have lots of money, my parents always bought us books as presents and rewards. I read stories about ponies, adventure, mystery, fantasy, history, animals, romance, spies, fairy tales and the classics – in fact pretty much anything I could get my hands on.

My very favourite authors were Enid Blyton, particularly the Famous Five and Magic Faraway Tree series, and CS Lewis, and his magical Narnia books. My absolute favourite was probably The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. It was these beloved books which inspired me to start writing when I was about eight.Treasury of poems

I wrote poems and plays, stories and novels that I wrote in exercise books which I’d illustrate by hand. My early ‘books’ had colourful covers, title pages, and were apparently ‘published’ in Paris, London and New York, as well as the North Shore of Sydney!! I also co-authored a number of stories over the years with my younger sister Kate, although she swears I always made her cry by completely re-writing her work with my red pen.

All through school I kept writing stories and poems, and was often thrilled to have them published in the school newsletter. My parents always encouraged my writing, and my mother would often ask us to write a story or a poem as a present for my grandparents or family friends.

I often say that I had the best childhood in the world – a childhood filled with love, adventures, joy and books. So perhaps that is why all three of us grew up to become published authors. My sister Kate Forsyth, is the internationally published, best-selling author of more than 35 books, while my brother, Nick Humphrey, is a lawyer, who has also written ten best-selling business books. One of our greatest joys is still to get together and talk about the books we are writing.

I believe that the books that I loved as a child inspire my writing now. Books that make you laugh out loud, or cry with grief and keep you up all night reading. Books full of adventure and mystery, with characters who are like best friends. Most of all, I hope my books create that magical sense of slipping into another fascinating world, just like Lucie Pevensie when she stepped through the door in the back pnovel 14 mapof the wardrobe and discovered Narnia.

Poem written when I was about 10

My Retreat

Once I found a secret place

Of light and shade and filtered sun

I always seek that secret place

When there is thinking to be done

The fronds of willow brush my face

The soft green grass beneath my feet

And here and there a dairy face

Or buttercup or violet sweet

I’ll always love my secret place

The babbling brook, my tree trunk seat

And if my troubles I can’t face

I’ll hasten back to my retreat

  • Belinda Humphrey


Belinda has just finished writing her 27th book, called The Lost Sapphire.

What is the fascinating secret of a long-lost sapphire ring?

Marli is staying with her dad in Melbourne, and missing her friends. Then she discovers a mystery – a crumbling, abandoned mansion is to be returned to her family after ninety years. Marli sneaks into the locked garden to explore, and meets Luca, a boy who has his own connection to Riversleigh.lost sapphire

A peacock hatbox, a box camera and a key on a velvet ribbon provide clues to what happened long ago . . .

In 1922, Violet is fifteen. Her life is one of privilege, with boating parties, picnics and extravagant balls. An army of servants looks after the family – including new chauffeur Nikolai Petrovich, a young Russian émigré.

Over one summer, Violet must decide what is important to her. Who will her sister choose to marry? What will Violet learn about Melbourne’s slums as she defies her father’s orders to help a friend? And what breathtaking secret is Nikolai hiding?

Violet is determined to control her future. But what will be the price of her rebellion?

Belinda Murrell – Children’s Author

At about the age of eight, Belinda Murrell began writing stirring tales of adventure, mystery and magic in hand illustrated exercise books. Now Belinda is a bestselling, internationally published children’s and YA author with a legion of loyal fans and a history of writing in her family that spans over 200 years. After studying Literature at Macquarie University, Belinda worked as a travel journalist, editor and technical writer. A few years ago, she began writing stories for her own three children – Nick, Emily and Lachlan. Her 27 books include The Sun Sword fantasy trilogy as well as the popular Lulu Bell series for younger readers. She is also known for her collection of historical timeslip tales including The River Charm, The Locket of Dreams, The Forgotten Pearl, and The Ivory Rose, which have been recognised by various awards, including Honour Book KOALAS 2013, shortlisted KOALAS 2015, 2014, 2011, and 2012, CBCA Notable List and highly commended in the PM’s Literary Awards. Her latest book The Lost Sapphire is set in Melbourne in the 1920s. Her website is

BM On rocks

Small Beginnings, 14: Sheryl Gwyther

Small Beginnings–in the wilds of far north Queensland, by Sheryl Gwyther

With sisters and cousin--I'm the cheeky one!

With sisters and cousin–I’m the cheeky one!

Is creativity part of our genetic makeup? Perhaps. But I know for sure – living an unrestricted, happy-go-lucky childhood in far north Queensland in the early 60s was the genesis of my creative life.

I’ve always made things, even when I was small – from doll-houses out of cardboard boxes and miniature furniture out of matchboxes, drawing and painting pictures, to building cubbyhouses in trees that doubled as Tarzan’s home, pirate ships, smugglers’ caves, dragon lairs or a princess’s castle.

My younger sisters (Meryl and Robyn), and I didn’t own many kids’ books. Our Aladdin’s Cave was the Innisfail public library in far north Queensland. It’s where I discovered the joys of Narnia and Enid Blyton el al, and where my journey to being a writer began.

Those stories fed our adventures. Being the eldest of a mob of sisters, cousins and neighbourhood children meant I instigated and led many escapades. We roamed the streets and the scrub surrounding our town on the weekends, dodging ticks, taipans and cane toads, the smell of burning sugarcane in the air – only coming home to eat and sleep.

We were Tarzan swinging from ropes strung in the neighbourhood’s huge tropical fig tree; the Swiss Family Robinson on their deserted island; pirates and smugglers, cowboys and Indians. I told ghost stories to scare the hell out of the littlies; and wrote stories about princesses and witches which we acted out, with me bossing everyone around, of course.Night_page1_writing

Once I pretended to be a journalist – that idea likely came from observing Lois Lane in an early Superman movie we’d seen at the Saturday matinees. I interviewed the milkman and the rubbish-man, with my trusty spiral-bound notebook (bought especially for the occasion) and a pencil behind my ear.

Then one day, at 11-years-old, I discovered a small book my mother had kept from her college days. It was a play about Lady Jane Grey who in 1554 was beheaded after being Queen for a few days – the first time I’d seen the format of how a script was written. What an epiphany! All you had to do was follow the directions.

I guess I must’ve been an over-zealous director. Or the antiquated dialogue was too much. The neighbourhood kids disappeared, then the cousins – until just before we were to put on the play under our stilt house with its hard dirt floor, the only actors left were my two sisters and I. Luckily, the lure of dressing up in costumes was enough Night_page2_writingto enthral and keep them.

The show went on. We gave up trying to follow the play’s real script, making up the words as we went, with great hilarity, giving Lady Jane Grey (me, of course) a truly dramatic send-off.

Memories that spark images in my brain, that feed my stories, even today.

My home territory--crocodile country

My home territory–crocodile country

Small Beginnings 13: Emma Viskic

Aged about 12

Aged about 12

I grew up in a half-built suburb on the outskirts of Melbourne. Stories lurked everywhere: in the swamp at the bottom of the hill, the building sites surrounding my home, and the endless, awkward hours at school. Once I learned to read, I began writing the stories down. As an eleven-year-old heathen, I talked my way out of the weekly RE class in order to write in the library. Those hours bashing away on the librarian’s clunky Olivetti typewriter were my happiest at school.

Photo on 21-05-2016 at 7.55 pm

From the ms in question!

I wrote everything: fantasy and science fiction, thrillers and spy stories, including a John le Carré rip off, complete with atrocious English accents: “Beany, the drug operation’s gone rotten, the tip off was a bad egg, a no goer.” But a common thread ran through it all, and is still central to my work today—the observing outsider. In going through my writing for this blog, I unearthed a story from primary school about a blind man; one from my early teens with mute protagonist; and, from my late teens, one featuring a girl who becomes invisible: I spent the day watching, observing others’ blindness of me. I was unnoticed, unseen. I was invisible. I said not one word the entire day. No-one noticed.”


Last year my debut novel, Resurrection Bay, was published. It features a profoundly deaf detective, Caleb Zelic, who, to quote the blurb, “has always lived on the outside – watching, picking up telltale signs people hide in a smile, a cough, a kiss.”

Put together like that, it all looks a bit troubling, but luckily I’m a writer, so I get to call it a unifying theme.Res Bay cover

Emma Viskic is the author of the critically acclaimed crime novel, Resurrection Bay. She has won the Ned Kelly S.D. Harvey Award, and the New England Thunderbolt Prize for her short form fiction, and been published in Review of Australian Fiction and Award Winning Australian Writing. Also a classical clarinettist, Emma divides her time between writing, performing and teaching.

Small Beginnings, 12: Felicity Pulman

FP early writing_0002I began writing stories in primary school, using exercise books stolen from the classroom stationery cupboard.  I’ve always loved stories but, growing up a long time ago in a small town in Africa, books for children were expensive and not readily available and so, when I ran out of my own, my friends’ books and library books to read, I wrote and illustrated my own stories and poems.

I loved Enid Blyton’s boarding school stories, and this illustration comes from ‘Belinda Joy at The Towers’. (Unfortunately it’s copied in black & white so you can’t see the green dresses, trees and grass which are still vivid in the original.) Ironically, Belinda’s first letter home reads ‘Dearest Mum and Dad, I love it here …’  My boarding school sagas stopped when I actually went to boarding school some 200 miles away in Salisbury (Harare), aged 11.  The reality was so awful, so very different from what I’d read about, that I rather lost faith in stories, and these stories in particular.

What amuses me, looking back on them, is the sorts of activities I gave my characters. My elder sister’s wedding was mixed up with ice skating (the most exotic thing I could imagine from tropical Zimbabwe!) and playing tennis – both sports played within a couple of pages. Clearly I had no real concept of climate or geography, but at least I was still making use of my own observations and experiences!

Learning to surf on annual childhood beach holiday in Natal

Learning to surf on annual childhood beach holiday in Natal

Another huge favourite was The Magic Faraway Tree, which has influenced me throughout my writing career.  I was always on the edge of my chair waiting for the characters to be trapped when the land at the top of the tree moved on, taking them with it – as it inevitably did!  I realise now how powerful was the influence of these novels, as most of my stories are about finding a home, trying to fit in and to belong somewhere. And pervading most of my writing is my early indoctrination in all things English.

In the Shalott trilogy, five teenagers find themselves trapped in medieval Camelot after fooling around with a Virtual Reality programme (shades of The Magic Faraway Tree!)  In the Janna Mysteries (now released as the Janna Chronicles) Janna is left alone and abandoned in 12th century England at the time of the civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda. And, exploring my love of magic and fantasy, history and legend, are tales of ghosts (Ghost Boy & A Ring Through Time, both set partly in Australia’s past) and my latest novels (for adults) I, Morgana and The Once & Future Camelot, which are a partial rewriting of Arthurian legend – and what came after!

Fashionable new perm, with grandmother

Fashionable new perm, with grandmother

My biggest regret is that my loss of faith in telling stories lasted through my teenage years and through my early married life, and it was only in my forties that I once again found the joy of creating characters and writing their stories. But my early childhood reading, perhaps combined with my experience as a migrant coming to Australia shortly after I was married, has left an indelible mark. Thanks to Enid Blyton’s stories I learned to read at an early age and also discovered the joy of writing stories of my own – a blessing, but also a warning, perhaps, to be careful what you choose for your own children and grandchildren to read!

Although it took me a long time to recover the joy of writing stories and to take my ‘hobby’ seriously, I’ve discovered that my imaginary life is sometimes far more real (and rewarding) than my real life as I travel to far off lands and become the person I’d like to be (depending on which character I’m writing!)

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.