Cristy Burne

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Curated by Kids: Perth Writers Festival

In 2017 I was lucky enough to interview some of the 2017 Kid Curators for the Perth Writers Festival. One year later, it could be me in the author hot seat, being interviewed by the kids as part of Perth Writers Week! (How exciting!)(/me trembles in boots)

Find out more about the Curated By Kids program here.

My interview with the curators first appeared in Crinkling News.


The hottest stars of the children’s book world will be at the mercy of ten kids this Perth Writer’s Festival.

The kid curators are a specially selected team of book lovers. They’re in charge of designing and hosting interactive sessions across the biggest day of the PWF program: Family Day.

“I was extremely happy to get in,” says Madelaine Mayo, 10. “I screamed! But I’m also a bit scared, excited, terrified. Everyone will be coming to see what we do.”

Jarvis Hicks, 11, says he was “a mess” when he found out. “I was so happy.”

By kids, for kids

The team are now working hard to brainstorm ideas and invent workshops.

“Everyone’s really nice,” says Zoe Wallin, 10. “We all read books, we all think alike. When you read, you have that imaginative thinking, so you’re a bit more creative, a bit more out-there.”

Madelaine agrees. “I love being surrounded by other people who love books.”

Each of the ten curators brings their own talents to the table.

For example, Jarvis is an illustrator and actor with experience in multiple musicals, Zoe is a keen author of horror and action-adventure and a member of her inter-school public speaking team, and Madelaine is an accomplished writer, winning last year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Make Your Own Story Book competition.

Backstage passes

On the day, the team will be working even harder: interviewing authors and illustrators on stage, publishing book reviews on the festival blog, managing all the details behind the scenes, and then relaxing backstage in the festival Green Room to munch on cake and hobnob with the stars.

The curators were formally introduced from their front-row seats at the launch of the Perth International Arts Festival last week.

“Helping a massive festival that everyone in WA knows about… I’m quite nervous, and really excited at the same,” says Zoe.

As well as planning and hosting Family Day, the lucky ten receive training and mentoring for their roles, and book prize packs for their school and personal library.

Meet the 2017 Kid Curators

Jarvis Hicks, Host, Interviewer

  • Recently read book: How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
  • I most want to meet: Donovan Bixley, author/illustrator of Much Ado About Shakespeare and Lance Balchin, author/illustrator of Mechanica

Madelaine Mayo, Producer, Reviewer

  • Recently read book: Nancy Drew and the Bungalow Mystery by Carolyn Keene
  • I most want to meet: James Foley, author/illustrator of Brobot

Zoe Wallin, Host, Interviewer

  • Recently read book: Ratburger by David Walliams
  • I most want to meet: Oliver Phommavanh, author of The Other Christy

What does the 2018 Curated By Kids program hold? You’ll just have to come along to Perth Writers Week and find out…


– BARGAIN for U.S. readers: Takeshita Demons hardcover copies selling on Amazon at 80% off!

– Interview on One Writer’s Journey: Check out this interview with me on the One Writer’s Journey blog.

– Society of Women’s Writers workshop: I attended a fun and useful plotting workshop, run by John Harmen and partly funded by the Society of Women’s Writers (thank you both!). John used THELMA AND LOUISE as a plotting example and even reading the plot summary made me teary. What a great film! Wouldn’t you love to write something in that vein?

– Script debut: I’m thrilled that my short script, SHELTER FROM THE STORM, is being performed next month in Queensland, by the Miles Regional Arts Council. I’ve always wanted to write something slightly absurdist with a sting in its tail. I haven’t quite been able to make it  work for children’s fiction, but an adult radio play? Sure! Why not?


Mahtab Narsimhan: she’s scarier than she looks!

– Asian Festival of Children’s Content: I’m also excited to be preparing to present at the 2014 Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore. I’m jetting over there thanks to WritingWA, who are just fantastic at spreading the good word on writing opportunities in WA.

I’m presenting Whatever Happened to Non-fiction, on non-fiction for children. It’ll be a fab, fun session, followed by Mark Greenwood presenting Breathing Life into History, and I’m telling you, he does it well! Looking forward to it!

I’m also co-presenting a session on scary stories for children, with Canada’s Mahtab Narsimhan. Mahtab’s TARA trilogy draws inspiration from Indian mythology and is maybe a million times scarier than TAKESHITA DEMONS. I’m scared just writing about it! I can’t wait to meet her and present our session: Are YOU afraid of the dark?

Perth Writer’s Festival: And of course….this weekend is the Perth Writer’s Festival!!! My favourite time of year! If I could, I would camp at UWA all weekend with my notebook and pen, sucking up ideas and inspiration and caramel milkshakes with lots of ice. Instead, I’m dragging my children from tent to tent and hoping they’ll stay still/quiet/dry enough for at least a couple of ideas and inspirational moments, and about 50 milkshakes.

Hope to see you there!


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More pie charts in the arts: How did the 2012 Perth Festival rate?

Cut and paste!
The 2012 Perth International Arts Festival finished last week and my two-year-old son and I used the 100-page brochure as cut-and-paste fodder for his big-boy scissors. It’s a fab brochure for this: brightly coloured, full of stunning photography and creative, interesting people.

But as we chopped and pasted and chopped and pasted, I began to notice a trend. We were only cutting out pictures of men.

‘Naughty, naughty me,’ I thought. I want my boys to be respectful of men and women, to understand that boys and girls can do anything. So why was our pasting sheet plastered with pictures of men?

Where were the women?

I began to seek out pictures of women, to correct the balance.

But behold! Pictures of women were few and far between. How could this be? In a hundred glossy pages celebrating forms of art as diverse as theatre, opera, sculpture, writing and film… How could it be so hard to find a picture of a woman?

The Count, Perth-Festival-brochure-style

Since yesterday was International Women’s Day, and because I believe you have to see and acknowledge inequality before you can start to fight it (see VIDA’s 2011 Count here), I did a little Count of my own .

The result? 70% of the adult faces in the brochure are male. Even when you ignore contemporary music (where just 12 of 118 faces are female), there are still 50 more male faces across the hundred pages.

Number of men and women represented in the 2012 Perth Festival brochureNumber of men and women represented in the 2012 Perth Festival brochure, excluding contemporary music

Notes on how I counted:

* The stats for contemporary music were so much in favour of men that I made a second pie chart, ignoring them. It didn’t seem to make much difference.

* There were a few images in which people are covered in feathers, wearing full-body lycra, or have a rabbit on their head; I couldn’t tell if these people were men or women and have thus left them out.

* I haven’t tried to include every audience member or background blur, only people who are in focus or in the foreground.

* Children were counted separately. Interestingly, there were heaps of cute little girls in the opening pages, but they soon petered out. By the last page, boys and girls were equally represented.

* I’m pleased to point out that although coverage of the Perth Writers Festival was a tiny four pages, men and women, boys and girls were pretty evenly represented. So yay for that at least.

Breakdown of representation of men, women, boys and girls in the 2012 Perth Festival brochureMore numbers to be crunched?

The number of men and women portrayed in the brochure is only the tip of the iceberg. Anyone care to examine how they were portrayed?

How many women are portrayed as lovers/part of a couple with a man? How many get their own picture, all to themselves?

And I haven’t looked at how many actual performers were men or women.

I’m starting to sound like my fabulous English Literature teachers from high school (thank you, thank you, for opening my eyes), so I’ll leave it there.

If you want more on the debate, check out Tara Moss’ recent Book Post post or today’s all-Australian pie charts in an article by Matthia Dempsey, editor-in-chief of BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine, on Crikey.

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How many people in this photo?

Answer: 5.5?

I love this photo…it was taken about ten minutes before my presentation for the Perth Writers Festival started.

Do I look nervous? NO!

Am I nervous? VERY! (Check out my white-knuckled hands!!)

Thanks to everyone who turned up early…It was great to meet you and chat, and you helped settle my nerves too 🙂

And thanks to the disembodied head: it has travelled with me on so many journeys. Maybe one day we’ll find the rest of her?

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Happy snaps from the 2012 Perth Writers Festival Family Day

Who thinks the Perth Writers Festival rocks?

It was awesome!!! I want a writers festival every weekend please!!!

My presentation was on the beautiful Tropical Grove Stage, which looked and felt like a jungle clearing.

It was the perfect setting to tell spooky stories of Miku’s school camp (and my school camp!) and I think everybody jumped (or laughed) in all the right places.

And then I stepped in something gross...

Thanks to everyone who came along…

I really appreciate it and hope you had a great time. I sure did. It was fab to meet so many keen readers and to talk books and writing and wild imaginations with you all.

I’m both sorry and stoked that Filth Licker sold out.

I’m stoked cause that means you liked my presentation, and I’m sorry cause some of you had to miss out.

If you wanted a copy and didn’t get one, you can order one from your local bookstore, and if it’s anywhere near Perth I’ll try to pop into the store and sign it for you.

Thanks again for your support and smiles and for laughing at my jokes 🙂 (And thanks to the Perth Writers Festival volunteers and staff for making the day really special!)



How to get published: a second year of secrets at the Perth Writers Festival

The secret’s out!

This time, last year, I was secretly pregnant and attending the 2011 ABC of Publishing seminar at the Perth Writers Festival.

This year, my secret is literally out, so I took him (3-months-old already!) and sat at the very back of Publishing: The Whole Shebang.

Since I could only sit for as long as he would quietly sleep, my coverage of the seminar is incomplete, but…I did grab some choice quotes from the first session of the day. Thanks to everyone who spoke and to storyteller and MC Glenn Swift for a fabulous and interesting morning!

Shona Martyn, publishing director for Australia and New Zealand at HarperCollins

What is she looking for? “It’s not all about money, but it is about books we can sell.” Shona publishes around 150 new Australian books every year. Of these around 40 are childrens books, 40 are fiction, and the rest are non-fiction or from the ABC books list. Around 30% of HarperCollins books now sell through BigW, including commercial and literary fiction.

What are your chances? Shona’s keen on manuscripts arriving via an agent, “someone who can target individuals within the organisation and knows how they may respond to a particular manuscript”.

No agent? Shona recommended entering awards such as the HarperCollins Varuna Awards for Manuscript Development, administered via the wonderfully inspiring Varuna House. (I had a couple of weeks at Varuna a few years back and it was amazing…tapping away up there in the treetops, I felt I was a writer for the first time.)

Any advice? Shona stressed that you need to do your homework before you submit anything: first impressions count, she said, so don’t send your manuscript too soon, and research the publishers you send it to: know their specialities. She also said writers courses and writing workshops were “very worthwhile.”

End comment? “Research, and professionalism. That’s the best advice I can give you.”

Erica Wagner, children’s publisher at Allen and Unwin

What’s hot? Erica mentioned trends in:

  • series
  • YA or crossover novels (with appeal to young adults and adults)
  • graphic novels
  • mid-level fiction (10- to 12-year-olds)
  • Indigenous stories (“These books could be put out as adult books, but to me it’s really important that children read them.”)

What’s not? The non-fiction market, says Erica, has “just fallen right away.” There’s also been a general downturn in book sales, partly because of the crash of REDgroup retail (booksellers Borders and Angus & Robertson), which effectively removed 20% of the market. To illustrate, Erica pointed out that where once a picture book print run might have been 3000 or 4000 copies, it’s now just 1500 or 2000 copies. (But, the news was not all gory: she also said book club sales are on the rise and that a book club order can add 3500 or 4000 copies to a print run.)

And what about apps? Apps? What apps? “We have yet to discover a business model that works,” says Erica. Apparently the people who make apps only want to work for real money (as opposed to the people who make books, who seem prepared to work for next to nothing)(and yes, that includes me!)

What is she looking for? Erica works three days a week and paints in her spare time. She refuses to get bogged down in the business of publishing. “The way I cope is to focus on the content,” she says. And that means you need your story to explode off the page. Erica said she’s always hoping to discover “a stunning new voice,”(and wow, that hit me hard. My work doesn’t just have to be ‘good enough’. It has to be ‘stunning’. That’s an awesome call-to-arms! Yee ha! Inspiring stuff!)

No agent? Fear not! You can still get your manuscript to the people who need to read it. Check out Allen & Unwin’s Friday Pitch for the low-down on submitting to their weekly slush pile (but a slush pile that will get read!). (The Friday Pitch has a tiny two-week turnaround. Bravo Allen & Unwin!)

Any advice? “The most important thing is knowing where you’re going to sit in the shelves on a bookshop. What will your book sit next to? What is it competiting with?”

Henry Rosenbloom, of independent Melbourne publishers, Scribe.

What is he looking for? Serious non-fiction and fiction. Henry is a passionate publisher and will pass on a commercially viable book if he doesn’t agree with its politics. “It’s important we have a very good book available on issues that are current. There must be a strong case for why your book should come into existence. ” This policy is paying off: Scribe were Small Publisher of the Year in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2011.

What are your chances? Scribe put out 60 to 65 books a year, but only about a quarter of these are sourced from Australia. Henry said there are two reasons for this:

1) By going overseas, Henry can access very good, quality books that are unavailable to him on the Australian market (because they get snapped up by the larger publishing houses), and

2) Going overseas is simpler: Since Scribe doesn’t have to create or edit the books, they can publish more books. “We employ roughly 12 people, not all full-time,” says Henry. “If we tried to put out 60 books in a year, everybody would be dead in about three months.”

So what are your chances? “We take punts on debut fiction all the time, and sometimes those bets pay off.” But today’s industry-wide Australian book sales figures for February, says Henry, indicated a 29% drop on last year’s sales. “The book industry in Australia is in a state of transition, to put it politely,” he says. “To put it more directly, it is in a state of crisis.” Aussie book sales, he says, are not just declining, “they’re falling off the back of a cliff,” and the same thing, he says, is happening in America and the UK.  “At least half the books we publish fail.”

If you want your non-fiction book to sell, Henry recommends you either be an expert in your field, or have an “extremely compelling” memoir.

No agent? Send a professionally writen letter. “First impressions are vital. All that letter does is get you through the door, but without it, you can’t get through at all.”  Henry suggested submissions to Scribe have about a two-week turnaround. (More efficiency for nervous writers…thanks Scribe!)

Any advice? What makes a successful work of fiction? “It’s the voice. It’s the story. It’s the character. It’s the plot. It’s none of those and all of those. It’s being captivated by what you are reading.”

Question time…

Question time yielded more interesting tidbits, two of which really grabbed me:

Would you take a self-published book?
Yes, Yes, and Yes. Although all three publishers indicated that if you want to pursue this route, you need to show you have readers for your book, and that your market hasn’t already been exhausted.

Should writers write to trends?
Shona: “Write what you care about, and be aware of trends. Go for what you know.”
Erica: “I can’t bear to think of trends. By the time you’re written and published you might be at the very end of a trend.”
Henry: “It’s very hard to publish cynically and succeed. Don’t write cynically. You have to write what you know about, care about and believe in.”
(I think that’s ‘no’, ‘no’, and ‘no’?)

So there you go…and that was only the first session!!

Can anyone suggest any links to coverage of the rest of the program? It was lovely fun playing peek-a-boo under the trees, but it did mean I missed large chunks of the day!

Cheers and see you at the festival!


Finland, here we come

Exciting times ahead!

1) I’m performing at this year’s Perth Writers Festival Family Day…yee ha! I’m working on all-new material, including a super-spooky Japanese ghost story and some stories from my own super-scary school camp. I’m hoping to spend as much time as possible at the festival (baby permitting). Heaps of fab childrens writers will be there. Keep your eyes peeled for:

– AJ Betts (author of fab YA Wavelength, recommended if you’re stressed about this year’s exams, or if you’re not),

– Karen Blair (launching her new book complete with live animals!),

– Meg McKinlay (author of Surface Tension, which will keep you reading late into the night),

– Frané Lessac and Mark Greenwood (launching their latest book, or are they)(it’s about a liar)(or is it?),

– Sally Murphy (author of the award-winning Toppling),

– Briony Stewart (winner of a Realise Your Dream fellowship to the UK),

– Julia Lawrinson (sex, sex, sex…need I say more?) and

– Lara Morgan (fresh from finishing the last book of the futuristic Rosie Black Chronicles).

It’s going to be FAAAAAAB!

2) I’m off to Finland! Or at least, my books are. (Take me with you, please!! I’d love to visit Finland!) Takeshita Demons and The Filth Licker are both being translated into Finnish. They’re both due to appear in Finnish bookshops this year…yee ha! Or should I say, siistiä!

3) Winner of the 2010 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Childrens Book Award, Tom Avery, is racing up the Amazon UK charts with a new project: serialised short fiction. Check out his post on the pros and cons of writing in serial (although it seems to be all pros right now: well done Tom!!)

So many of the writers and illustrators I know and love are rolling in success at the moment…and it’s great to be around them! Inspiring stuff.

Now I just need to find my way free from the sleep deprivation, nappies and caterpillars….
(The caterpillars are doing very well, thanks for asking)(4 of the 9 are now in cocoons; 1 is preparing its cocoon; 2 have passed on to the Great Caterpillar Field In The Sky, and 2 are *stil*l feeding their grubby faces)(soooo fat!).

(“I hope they’ll fit in their cocoon,” says our toddler 🙂 :-))