story, science, technology and creativity

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Tips for writing a biography or family history from writing Aussie STEM Stars

This time next week my second biography in the Aussie STEM Stars series — Suzy Urbaniak: Volcano hunter and STEAM warrior — will be out in all good bookstores.

When Wild Dingo Press first approached me back in 2019 with the wild idea that I might write a biography of Dr Fiona Wood, burns surgeon and inventor of spray-on skin, plus Australian of the Year, National Living Treasure, multi-times winner of Australia’s Most Trusted Person and founder of the Fiona Wood Foundation, I had no idea how anyone (let alone me!?) could do justice to such a magnificent life story.

I’d never before written a biography. As a journalist, I’d written 1000-word or 2000-word feature articles and profiles of scientists and celebrities. But still…. a book-length biography of Fiona Wood!? I had no idea if I’d be able to do a good job.

Spoiler alert!

But (spoiler alert!), I said ‘Yes please’ to the project anyway. (Because who could give up the chance to work with Fiona Wood!!??)

I learned SO MUCH from working with Fiona and I loved the process so much, I signed up again to do a second Aussie STEM Stars, this time profiling Prime Minister’s Award-winning science teacher, geologist and founder of the CoRE Foundation Suzy Urbaniak. Both times I felt so incredibly privileged to be trusted with personal stories, to share their life lessons, and to try my very best to record these incredible life stories.

Hitting the books

The first preparation I did for this biography project was to hit the books: I studied and read loads and loads of biographies. I read biographies for kids and for adults. I read biographies of scientists and sportspeople and singers and stars. I learned as much as I could about how different writers approached the gnarly and unique challenge of writing someone else’s life.

Research, research, research

Once I had a grounding in how biographies could be structured, opened, closed and approached, I dived deep into my subject. Both Fiona and Suzy gave their time incredibly generously, but before we even exchanged a word, I had researched their lives for many hours.

I listened to podcasts they featured in, I looked up news articles, speech notes, research papers, a zillion websites and books too, if possible.

In Fiona’s case — after the media storm that followed the Bali Bombings — I had a file of notes that was 10,000+ words long. For Suzy I started with fewer notes, but since I’d already interviewed her six years earlier (hello, journalism career :-)), I had more confidence in how we might work together to write a biography that kids would love.

Let the interviews begin!

I only started chatting with Suzy and Fiona after I’d soaked up as much prior knowledge as I could. I was super-conscious that these remarkable women were busy making super-valuable contributions to patients, students, communities and our shared future.

So I tried to be efficient and strategic in my questions.

The Aussie STEM Stars books aren’t a long list of career achievements. They’re the true stories, anecdotes and turning points from childhood, told in narrative form.

The brief from Wild Dingo Press said: “These books must read like — and be as exciting as — novels.”

So, how to find the stories kids would love to hear?

Tips for interviewing for biographies…

Interviews aren’t just about getting the who what when where why how. You want to give your subject the space to open up, express feelings, ideas, thoughts, insights…and to uncover long-lost memories.

So, here are my top tips for interviewing people about their lives:

  1. Prepare: Like I said earlier, do your homework. Research, prepare, list a bunch of questions, and then sit down to listen.
  2. Record: Use Zoom or other software to record your conversation — but make sure you have permission to do this first! A recording means you can focus more on the conversation and less on your notes (because you can go back to check the recording for details later)
  3. Listen: Did I mention listening? Really focus on the person in front of you. What are they saying? What aren’t they saying? What words are they choosing?
  4. Be curious: Follow your gut…the questions that come up as you listen can naturally lead to more questions and then suddenly you’re down a fascinating rabbit hole you didn’t know was there.
  5. Relax: This is hard to do, but people can open up more when it feels like a casual chat and not a job interview.
  6. Go with the flow: Feel free to go where the conversation leads.
  7. Stay on target: If you sense that the conversation is going way off-piste, maybe it’s time for a new line of questions.
  8. Stick to a time limit: Not even the most focused subject in the world can talk and talk and give and give for hours at a time. Make sure your interview has a limit and stick to it.
  9. Batch your follow up questions: As soon as you sit down to write a scene or story, you’re absolutely guaranteed to discover you need more information. Rather than shoot off an email every time, batch your queries and send one email with 10-ish questions. (Sending 100 questions will freak your subject out :-))
  10. Ask for feedback: It’s vital your subject has ample opportunity to make sure you’ve told their story in a way that feels authentic and real to them. This means giving them lots of time to read through, mark-up and make suggestions for your draft manuscript. The whole point of a draft is that you get to make it better.

Thank you!

I’m always profoundly grateful to anyone who takes the time to share their personal story with someone else.

In the case of the Aussie STEM Stars, these amazing scientists, teachers and inventors give their time and their life stories in the hope that children who read it will be inspired.

Certainly, I’ve been inspired time and again by the chance to work with such incredible role models and change-makers. This series really a hugely special opportunity to learn more about all the different ways that Australia’s great STEM stars contribute, and all the different pathways they travelled to get there.

I’d absolutely love for you to read Fiona Wood and Suzy Urbaniak. I love these stories, I’m proud of these books, and I feel like readers will come away informed, inspired and encouraged to believe in a better future for everyone.

I think these stories deserve to be read wildly. If you do read them, I’d also absolutely love to hear from you with your feedback, thoughts, shelfies and reviews. THANK YOU for reading this far – you’re amazing! I very much value your support 💕🎉⭐

Thank you to my kids for this promotional tile😁😎😉

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Dungeon of Fire blasts off!

🥳 What a weekend!!!! ☠😻

Thanks to my co-author in crime, @denisknightauthor for all the work and imagination and words and laughs that went into publishing the third instalment in the Wednesday Weeks series of comedy fantasy science-meets-magic adventures! And huge thanks to everyone who attended today’s launch of Wednesday Weeks and the Dungeon of Fire 🔥🔥🔥 at @theliteraturecentre


The weather was dismal. The catering appalling. And the pizza recipes left a decapitated slug taste in your mouth.

Huge thanks to everyone who came to our very own dungeon book launch at @theliteraturecentre on site at the Fremantle Prison!!

What a pity the whole dreadful comedy launch was ruined by the awesome company. ❤❤❤ Goblin King Gorgomoth would not be impressed 😄🤩🥳😜🥰

Thank yous!

Especial thank you to Launch Legend, Children’s Book Council of Australia WA Branch past-president and lifelong children’s book supporter @nicholls_jan , and to our tireless and creative publisher and editorial team @hachettekidsanz , and to the Lit Centre team for a brilliant venue and all that support, and to our awesome photographer Elena, our super show volunteers, our supporters, families and friends and more 🥰🥰🥰 We love you!!

Comedy adventure childrens book gold

If you know a young reader who loves funny books, or a reluctant reader you want to hook on reading, or a science-lover who usually sticks to non-fiction…or basically anyone who loves children’s books and is aged 8+, then I totally recommend you hit up your local independent bookstore and ask them to pretty-please order you a copy of Wednesday Weeks!

There’s book 1, Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows (CBCA Notable Book and shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards!)…

Book 2, Wednesday Weeks and the Crown of Destiny (complete with sassy faeries, podiatrist trolls and deadly fungi and fun guy)…and

Book 3, Wednesday Weeks and the Dungeon of Fire (if you love runaway pizza train rides through a live volcano…well, let’s just say this is the book for you ;-))

Thanks again Elena for the awesome photos! There was laughter, there was tears (and not just on stage), there were crowds of toilet paper enthusiasts and vortex cannon fans. Plus a rude skull, DIY worms, Alfie Junior the robot and more. It was so much fun! Live event book launches are just the best!!! THANK YOU booksellers, librarians, readers, teachers, parents and book lovers everywhere for all the love our Wednesday Weeks series is receiving. We love you!

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Videos, resources, competitions, Opera House, Science Week and more!

Wednesday Weeks co-author Denis Knight and I have been super-busy making a bunch of fun Wednesday Weeks resources for National Science Week!

Teaching notes and STEM activities

You’ll find more information, including teaching notes and a 13 pages of STEM activities to try at home or in class, at our dedicated Wednesday Weeks page.

Science videos, blog posts and more

If you want more Denis-and-Cristy on your screens or to share with your students, check out our fun-and-funny science videos and activities.

FREE Sydney Opera House digital learning session

For the rest of the year, you can watch Denis and I working with Rad Yeo at the Sydney Opera House in this 30 minute video for National Science Week. To access the show, simply register here.  

Cristy’s mailing list competition

And in a bonus competition: Subscribe to my Not-Very-Often Newsletter and post online with #WednesdayWeeks you could also win a cooool pair of Wednesday Weeks earrings or a signed copy of Wednesday Weeks and the Dungeon of Fire!

And don’t forget… You can win the ultimate Wednesday Weeks prize pack

Individual Prizes – 5 lucky winners will receive:

·         A copy of Wednesday Weeks and the Dungeon of Fire by Denis Knight and Cristy Burne

·         A signed bookplate

·         A Wednesday Weeks fridge magnet

·         Exclusive access to a deleted scene from the Wednesday Weeks series

·         A personalised video message from Denis & Cristy

Class Prize – 1 lucky winner will receive:

·         A class set of 35 copies of Wednesday Weeks and the Dungeon of Fire by Denis Knight and Cristy Burne

·         35 signed bookplates

·         35 Wednesday Weeks fridge magnets

·         Exclusive access to a deleted scene from the Wednesday Weeks series

·         An online class visit from Denis & Cristy

Enter if you dare…

If you’d like to enter to win one of these AMAZING prize packs, show us how you or your class are the ultimate Wednesday Weeks fans! Get creative, put your thinking caps on and express your love for Wednesday Weeks.

Some ideas for how you can show that you are the ultimate Wednesday Weeks fan:

·         Create fanart of your favourite character or scene

·         Make a Wednesday Weeks character out of LEGO

·         Write fanfiction inspired by Wednesday Weeks

·         Write a short essay

·         Write a poem

·         Program a robot

·         Draw your own maze

·         Write a coded message

Spread the Wednesday Weeks love and share your entry on social media with #WednesdayWeeks! We’d love to see your entries!

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Win the ULTIMATE Wednesday Weeks prize pack!

Get creative and enter below for your chance to win one of the following prizes!

If you’d like to enter to win one of these AMAZING prize packs, show us how you or your class are the ultimate Wednesday Weeks fans! Get creative, put your thinking caps on and express your love for Wednesday Weeks.

Enter if you dare…

Some ideas for how you can show that you are the ultimate Wednesday Weeks fan:

– Create fanart of your favourite character or scene

– Make a Wednesday Weeks character out of LEGO

– Write fanfiction inspired by Wednesday Weeks

– Write a short essay

– Write a poem

– Program a robot

– Draw your own maze

– Write a coded message

Individual Prizes

5 lucky winners will receive:

– A copy of Wednesday Weeks and the Dungeon of Fire by Denis Knight and Cristy Burne

– A signed bookplate

– A Wednesday Weeks fridge magnet

– Exclusive access to a deleted scene from the Wednesday Weeks series

– A personalised video message from Denis & Cristy

Class Prize

1 lucky winner will receive:

– A class set of 35 copies of Wednesday Weeks and the Dungeon of Fire by Denis Knight and Cristy Burne

– 35 Wednesday Weeks fridge magnets

– 35 signed bookplates

– Exclusive access to a deleted scene from the Wednesday Weeks series

– An online class visit from Denis & Cristy

Spread the love!

Love Wednesday Weeks? Spread the Wednesday Weeks love and share your entry on social media with #wednesdayweeks

Enter here

Open to Australian residents only. Competition closes 11.59pm AEST 24th September 2022.

And don’t forget: If you’re a Not-Very-Often News subscriber (my not-very-often newsletter) and post online with #WednesdayWeeks you could also win a cooool pair of Wednesday Weeks earrings!

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Wednesday Weeks and the Dungeon of Fire by Cristy Burne and Denis Knight

PullUpBannerWednesday Weeks and the Dungeon of Fire is OUT!!!! I’m so excited and nervous and relieved.

It was a huge effort by myself and gallant co-author Denis Knight, and I’m so happy with the result 😍😁😅

And it TOTALLY makes my day to see reviews like this one:


(And don’t forget: if you’ve joined my mailing list and then post something this term with the hashtag #WednesdayWeeks then you’re in the running to win copies of Dungeon of Fire, or your very own Bruce-and-Alfie-Junior earrings!!!! Wooooo!!!!)

The Book Muse

Title: Wednesday Weeks and the Dungeon of Fire

A brown boy with a sword, a tiny robot, a girl with a blue hair streak, and an old man in roves with a staff run away from lava. Wednesday Weeks and the Dungeon of Fire by Denis Knight and Cristy Burne,

Author: Cristy Burne and Denis Knight

Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism

Publisher: Lothian/Hachette

Published: 27th July 2022

Format: Paperback

Pages: 290

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Gorgomoth the Unclean is back and he’s up to no good, of course. Can Wednesday and the gang beat Gorgomoth to the long-lost Stone of Power, or will the world be plunged into Never-Ending Darkness?

Just when it seems like Wednesday and Alfie might finally be free to get on with their lives without Gorgomoth ruining everything, the Unclean one rears his ugly head again.

This time Gorgomoth is on the trail of the long-lost Stone of Power, which he will be able to use to rule the nine realms and bring about the Third Age of Never-Ending Darkness.

Now Wednesday and the gang must beat Gorgomoth to the stone and pass three trials to see who is…

View original post 774 more words


Brisbane Writer’s Festival fun (and WA Premier’s Book Awards!)

I’m back from the Brisbane Writer’s Festival and it was so much fun I just had to post!

And, while I was in Brissy, I heard the news that Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows has been shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards! Molten!!!

And don’t forget: if you love tomato sauce, unfriendly cats, pizza trains and Bruce, you can pre-order your copy of Wednesday Weeks and the Dungeon of Fire NOW!

Thanks so much to all my readers and supporters and to all the volunteers and organisers and to everyone who reads and who reads to their kids. You are all legends!


What Wednesday Weeks is that?

Buckle up for a whole heap of #WednesdayWeeks news!

1) Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows is a CBCA Notable Book for 2022. Yay!

2) Wednesday Weeks and the Crown of Destiny could be even faster and funnier than Tower of Shadows (!?! is that even possible!?!?!), according to a highly scientific survey of random people and anecdotal feedback from early readers.

3) Wednesday Weeks and the Dungeon of Fire has a cover!! Co-author extraordinaire Denis Knight and I revealed it live on-stage using toilet paper and matching leaf blowers as part of CBCA WA’s A Night With Our Stars 2022. Yeeeha! Photos below!

You can pre-order your copy of Wednesday Weeks and the Dungeon of Fire NOW!

4) And as if all this awesome news wasn’t enough, @coffeebooksandmagic posted a super-lovely totally-gets-it review of Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows this week….and it makes me glow all over. Thank you to everyone to reviews children’s books and shares the love.

“This book is a non-stop middle grade fantasy joyride from start to finish. It’s like Percy Jackson meets Indiana Jones but with STEM. It’s like a kid’s coding app and an escape room had a baby and that baby was a book…

The first person narrative voice of Year 6er Wednesday is zippy, fun and irreverent, and a great sense of wry humour pervades the storytelling. Madcap, imaginative and amusing situations abound, and the friendships carry just the right amount of depth for this type and level of story.

This is a book that is truly aimed at its target audience – i.e. 8-12 year olds – and I am so here for that.” 


View the cover reveal video here.

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STEAM teaching ideas for your classroom

Time is precious. So if you just want the STEAM Teaching Ideas download, here it is.

Is it okay if I….?

Can I….?

What are we supposed to do…?


I work with thousands of students every year, and most of them are terrified of making a mistake. They think there’s only one answer: the correct answer.

But the world doesn’t work like that. Otherwise there’d be a perfect way to be a parent. And a correct way to be a teacher. And the right way to solve climate change. And guess what? There’s no right way, suckers.

Instead, we need to invent an imperfect way, try it out, learn from our mistakes, then try to improve.

That’s where creativity comes in.

Research shows that students who learn to think critically and creatively also engage better in the classroom. Creative kids = fewer issues with behaviour management AND more engaged learners.

But with so much squeezed into the curriculum and into our daily lives, it can seem like there’s no room for anything more.

Instead, we spend time training kids to memorise spelling and times-tables.

Is that the right answer?

Creativity is an essential skill for the future.

Science is just curiosity by a different name. Science is being allowed to try and fail, then try again.

Science is setting out to answer a question, enquiry-based learning, imagination, creativity, resilience, teamwork, making something out of nothing. Basically, it’s totally awesome.

A *huge* part of STEAM education — and science — is giving students the space to engage. Loosening the reins, allowing mistakes to occur, setting kids off on a guided adventure where the destination may not be one you’ve ever been to. This requires courage and trust and the support of those around you.

Because STEAM education isn’t about churning out perfect.

It’s about learning. And learning how to learn.

I’m not an expert in STEAM education. I’m still learning, every day, every workshop, every student. I’ve spent 20 years as a science communicator, which is all about providing students with opportunities to be curious. And I’ve spent the last three years team-teaching in schools across Perth as part of the Creative Schools program, which is all about teaching creative habits of mind.

And I want to learn more!

If you’re experimenting with STEAM in your classroom, I’d love to hear from you.

If you want to dip your toe into some practical ideas for trying STEAM in your classroom, I’m presenting an online STEAM education PD as part of the Brisbane Writers Festival.

If you want a list of brainstormed ideas for STEAM projects that link to my books, you can download it here.

And for more teaching and creativity resources from the Creative Schools program, check here.

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Blasting into 2022!

Hey team!

I’m writing this in the second week of school and my creative juices are ALIVE! I just love summer holidays: they’re such a great time to rest and think and refuel the body and soul. And I also love going back to school. Because kids and learning and doing are what it’s all about.

If you’re in to doing this month, there are loads of things to get involved in:

Perth Writers Festival

The 2022 Writers Weekend is on this year under the glorious trees of the Fremantle Arts Centre. There’s more information online, but what you most need to know is I’ll be there to work with you on telling a STEM-inspired creative story from 10:30am-10:55am for Family Day on 27 Feb! Free event.


If you’re a kid who loves making stuff with words – and you’re also curious about your world and science and STEM, then get on board for Term 2 of StoryLab! I’ll be your host and we’ll have a heap of fun writing with other keen writers. Bookings here.

WAYRBA voting

I’m *so stoked* to see OFF THE TRACK is shortlisted for a WA Young Readers Book Award. If you’re a kid and you live in WA then you can vote for your favourite books here. And remember: a vote for OFF THE TRACK is a vote for chocolate and icecream and adventures 😉

A Night With Our Stars

One for the adults-only crowd. ANWOS22 is on again and it’s always a sparkling highlight of the CBCA WA social calendar. There are laughs, there are book discounts (20% off if you pre-order through WestBooks) and there’s loads of opportunity to catch up with friends. I love it! Tickets sell fast and you can grab your ticket here.

The Lit Centre

Don’t miss out on this year’s Year 6 Young Writer’s Collective at the Lit Centre. I’ll be taking the Term 1 sessions and it’s going to be awesome! Find out more and secure your spot here.

Make stuff

If you get a quiet moment, check out these TO THE LIGHTHOUSE activity ideas. Maybe you’d like to write a diary from the perspective of a lighthouse keeper. Or you’re keen to design your own high-tech roller-coaster secret-tunnels all-in-one lighthouse? There are loads of ideas to check out.

Have fun!

This year is going to be a doozy! Remember to make time to laugh and create and catch up with your friends. And if there’s no time, just go for a five-minute walk. How beautiful is the great outdoors!?!?

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Free curriculum-linked TO THE LIGHTHOUSE activity booklet

Are you keen to teach To The Lighthouse in the classroom?

Perhaps you want to explore Isaac and Emmy’s story more deeply?

Or are you looking for curriculum-linked activity ideas that explore literacy, technology, arts, maths, HASS, sustainability and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and culture?

You’ve come to the right place!

You can download the free 27-page To The Lighthouse activity booklet here.

There are also curriculum-linked teaching notes for To The Lighthouse here.

About To the Lighthouse
SHORTLISTED 2019 West Australian Young Readers Book Award
By Cristy Burne
Illustrations by Amanda Burnett
Published by Fremantle Press
ISBN (PB): 9781925164619
Year level: Y3–6

– Sustainability
– Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures

Y3–6 English Y3–6 History/Geography Y3–6 Biological Science

• Family
• Friendship
• Adventure
• Honesty
• Forgiveness


‘Burne channels the restless energy of a pre-teen chafing at parental restrictions, and the thrill of pushing against the rules, even in small ways. She captures the essence of holidays, with hot chips at the beach and long bike rides. [Four stars]’ Books+Publishing

‘The illustrations were so cool because they were detailed. I liked that the author used sounds to describe the setting and the feel, not just saying what it was and used very descriptive words.’ Bailey, age 10, YARR-A

‘This is a terrific little junior novel: well-written, with just the right balance of naughtiness and retribution.’ Readings Monthly

‘Burne’s writing is lively and energetic and she has a gift for bringing characters and setting vividly to life on the page.’ Buzz Words

‘Cristy Burne has an easy-to-read writing style and students will enjoy her touches of humour interspersed throughout the novel … Highly recommended.’ Magpies

‘It is a wonderful read for both boys and girls … It is about adventure, fun, and making friends, whilst also being a very real lesson in trust and telling the truth.’ Lamont Books