How’s 2015 treating you?

I’m loving it! I’ve just finished reading The Luminaries, which is AMAZING and totally worth the months of dedicated reading it took me to finish. I’m also:TH 160

– writing a fast, funny chapter novel (at least my children think it’s funny),

– preparing for the 2015 heARTlines festival of children’s literature and book illustration,

– writing about rooftop wind turbines, gold leaching using glycine and nutrient spillover in farming, and

– working on some fab fun Scientriffic and Helix articles on diving for treasure, stunt doubles and the secret life of reindeer.

Busy? Yes.

Enjoying it? Double yes.

Need to go to bed early? You better believe it :-)

Digging in the dirt

Below is a short article that first appeared in this month’s Scientriffic… When I read Terry Gates’ comments, I think digging Rhinorex out of the rock is much like editing a novel out of a mess. What do you think?

“King noIMG_5089se” dinosaur discovered

Some dinosaurs had bony head crests, others had spiky armour. This newly discovered herbivore had an enormous nose.

Named Rhinorex condrupus, where rhino is the Latin word for “nose” and rex means “king”, the dinosaur’s fossilised bones were found in Utah, USA.

“It took two years to dig the fossil out of the sandstone it was embedded in,” says researcher Terry Gates. “It was like digging a dinosaur skull out of a concrete driveway.”

The bones had hardly moved in the 75 million years since the dinosaur died, a clue that leads Terry to suspect Rhinorex died quickly, perhaps in an attack by giant crocodiles that roamed the swampy estuary where it lived.

Terry estimates Rhinorex was around 9 metres long and weighed nearly 4000 kilograms, including its nose.

“The purpose of such a big nose is still a mystery…We are already sniffing out answers to these questions,” says Terry.

How’s your 2015 shaping up? Invented anything crazy yet?

I’m writing a manuscript with my five-year-old, which is quite an entertaining process. He has some off-the-wall ideas, which is just what I need for this book!

If you’re feeling creative, why not give yourself ten minutes to play on paper. Maybe try drawing something crazy-fun, like these awesome yokai artworks.

Thanks to Takeshita Demons fans for sharing their fab work! I love it! Spooky stuff!!

Cristy Burne eating grilled cricket

Mmmm. Eating grilled cricket at Scitech. Tastes like toast.

You read it here first:

This year I am finally going to finish that book. You know. The one I’ve been writing for THREE YEARS!!

It should never have taken this long. I have all the excuses, and it has been a fabulous learning journey, but at the end of the year day, it’s time to put the thing to bed.

This year is the year.

I hereby swear and promise: if I don’t finish writing (and editing!) my book this year, I’m going to eat a grilled cricket. Make that two grilled crickets.

Oh, that’s right. I’ve already eaten two grilled crickets. (All in a day’s work.)

But seriously. This year is the year.

So, enough of this post. I’m off writing!
And enough reading of this post: be off with you too. Go and do something you desperately want to do.

Happy New Year people!

DemographicsWhat’s on your reading list for 2015?

Any books featuring diverse characters?

Julie M. Fiedler recently contacted me about the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award and prepared a fabulous presentation on the award, which is for diversity in children’s fiction, and was won by Takeshita Demons in 2009.

Diverse books to read in 2015

In her presentation, Julie recommended a number of books featuring diverse characters for use in the classroom, and I’m adding them to my To Read list for 2015: lack of diversity

  • Esperanza Rising – by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • Bud, Not Buddy – by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes – by Eleanor Coerr
  • I Never Saw Another Butterfly – a collection by Jewish children who lived in the concentration camp Theresienstadt

And I recommended one of my all-time favourite books:

Take The Long PathTake The Long Path – by Joan de Hamel

This is the book my Kiwi grandfather gifted to my youngest sister, just weeks before he passed away, so it’s special in our family as well as being an incredible book: a thrilling adventure story about belonging and heritage.

It has everything I think a great children’s book should have and I’ve just bought myself a copy for my birthday.

I can’t wait to read it again! Have you read it? It can be tough to find a copy, so good luck (or you can ask to borrow mine :-))

Download Julie’s presentation on the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award

There’s nothing I like more than making lists to mark the start of a New Year, and 2015 is no different.

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to clear out the Piles of Important Things, to leave more space for thinking and writing and creating New Important Things.

And while clearing, I found this:

Santa science show

Graham Walker and I with our hands-on Santa-science show. What fun!

It’s a clipping from the local paper, celebrating a super-cool science show that the fabulous Graham Walker and I wrote and performed at the Canberra Centre a few more than ten years ago, just for laughs, just because we loved doing science shows, just because we could make up bad puns and people would clap :-)

The G-nome project?

Liquid nitrogen and Rudolph’s nose?

Teleportation down the chimney? (Remember this was the year that Australian National University scientists teleported a laser beam for the first time! Oh, the magic!)


As you can see, I’m having a ball going through the pile, and sticking to the Do It Now school of meeting your New Year’s goals.

Help! It’s Jan 1 and already I’m flailing!

If you’d like a little nudge for making your own New Year resolutions, you might like to paint eyes on a daruma, read my #1 recommendation for writers writing resolutions, or simply soak up some encouragement from another of the Important Things: my first ever letter of acceptance.

Happy 2015 everyone! Let’s make it a ripper!

What are your resolutions this year? Care to share?



Sophie Sakka dressing NAOAs well as being an amazing scuba instructor, experienced Japanophile, and all-round-fabulous-woman, my lovely friend Sophie Sakka is a humanoid robotics researcher.

When we first met, Sophie was teaching a robot to jump.

Now, she’s launched a non-for-profit organisation aimed at bringing robotics and the arts closer together, and within the reach of ordinary people.

8706_679726695425929_4471715117916355550_nI think Sophie’s terrific, and wanted to share her work with the kids of Australia, so I wrote an article for CSIRO’s Scientriffic magazine.

And now, with thanks to Scientriffic, I’d love to share that article with you…(and PS: if you have curious kids aged 7 to 10, and you’re looking for something fun to read and do, I totally recommend a Scientriffic subscription.)

AtSuper-models-Scientriffic just 58 centimetres tall, NAO is dressed to impress. Modelling outfits by French designer Marie Rebérat, the robot recently starred in its own fashion show, performing dance routines programmed by robotics researcher Sophie Sakka.

“I entered Marie’s shop to buy clothes for myself,” says Sophie, founder of arts-and-robotics organisation Robots! and researcher at the Research Institute in Communication and Cybernetics of Nantes, in France. “I had the robot with me, and Marie fell in love with it.”

Sophie and Marie decided to stage a fashion show, starring NAO.

“We used Marie’s outfits and my programming,” says Sophie, who is teaching NAO how to copy human movement. “The show was such a success that we extended the idea, running public shows for a month.”

Performing might come easy for some, but for NAO, every move must be carefully programmed.

“NAO can also sit down and stand up,” says Sophie, “and I’ve made it climb stairs. The hardest thing for NAO is balancing.”

And as we approach the mad, final run-up to Christmas, it feels like the hardest thing for me is balancing too. I hope you’re having a great Silly Season and I’m looking forward to a fab 20145 (already?)!


The finished product: the text panel for Guanlong – hooray!

Want to be paid to learn new things?

Be a science writer!

I recently worked as a writer on the Australian Museum’s TYRANNOSAURS – MEET THE FAMILY exhibition, now touring New Zealand.

Prior to this job, if you’d said “tyrannosaur”, I’d have screamed “Rex!” and started running. I knew they had teeth, I knew they had claws, I knew they were extinct.

And that was it.

Well, turns out, there’s a whole lot more to know about tyrannosaurs, and I was lucky enough to learn some of it on the job.

Making every word count

The process for writing museum panels is a long one.

– Each panel is short — some less than 100 words — but they each have to grab attention, communicate a message, and add value to the visitor’s experience.

– The TYRANNOSAURS panels had to work for kids and adults

– They also had to steer clear of any typically Aussie references: the exhibition is touring different countries, so it needed to work for audiences around the world.

–  Accuracy is most important of all. I worked with a paleontologist on the panels for this exhibition, to make sure everything was spot on. Every fact was triple-checked, every sentence was scoured for ambiguity.

Ten drafts, 200 words

The panel pictured above introduces a primitive tyrannosaur named Guanlong wucaii, meaning Crown Dragon. We’ve only found two Guanlong specimens, so not a lot is known about this dinosaur. It was my job to communicate the key facts in something super-interesting and engaging. What do you think?


Guanlong wucaii: the crown dragon

Guanlong is one of the oldest tyrannosaurs known: it hunted 95 million years before T. rex.

Height: 1.1 metres tall at the hips.                 

Length: 4 metres.

 Lived: 160 million years ago (Late Jurassic).

Discovered: By T. Yu in 2002, Xinjiang, China.

Meaning crown dragon, Guanlong was named for its flashy head-crest. Fragile, hollow and made from fused nasal bones, the crest may have been attractive to other Guanlong. Such a showpiece is unusual in a predator.

Shaking hands with Guanlong
Guanlong isn’t your typical tyrannosaur: it has long arms and three-fingered hands for grabbing and ripping. But the shape of its teeth, skull and pelvis all link it to the tyrannosaur group. Like many tyrannosaurs, it almost certainly had feathers.

Trapped in a footprint
The two known Guanlong died in the same way: they fell into the muddy footprint of a massive herbivore and were trapped. The 6-year-old died first and was probably trampled by the adult, who arrived later. Both skeletons are almost complete.

Likes: Elaborate headwear.

Dislikes: Being called primitive.





Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,538 other followers

%d bloggers like this: