story, science, technology and creativity

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Make your own monster: in Japanese and English

Creating monsters with Japanese students at the Hyogo Centre

Me causing chaos at the Hyogo Centre…the students are inventing some awesome monsters!

I’m just back from a terrific conference with the Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators. It was great!!

I am all inspired and fired up to start work on ideas for a Takeshita Demons book 5 (and I think book 4 is nearly ready to start writing!)

Monster self-introductions

If you’re looking for inspiration for your own writing, or you want a fun activity for teaching Japanese language or creative writing, check out the new Monster Self Introductions activity on my website.

We gave it a try with some Year 9s at the Hyogo Prefectural Government Cultural Centre last week and they came up with some super scary (sometimes hilarious) monsters. Well done guys!!!

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Three cheers for the International Children’s Bunko Association


Even when you’re straddling two cultures, it’s nice to fully immerse yourself in aspects of one. Like having a chocolate fish moment. Matter of fact, I’d like one now.

Like Miku Takeshita, the hero of Takeshita Demons, many children leave their country of birth to live in another country. My sisters and I did, leaving New Zealand to live in our mother’s home country of Australia.

Lucky for us, Mum had already introduced bits and pieces of Australia’s culture. We visited grandparents in Perth, we ate Vegemite with our eggs, we read Aussie classics like Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, The Muddle-Headed Wombat, Blinky Bill, The Magic Pudding

Culture shock and a new name

Even so, moving to Australia was a culture shock and full of all the adventures of a new school, new friends, a new way of speaking, even new names (I was suddenly Creesty instead of Crusty). But we explored this new life and grew to love it and now, years later, we are bringing up our own children in Australia.

But we never lost touch with our Kiwi roots. My sisters and I are, and will always be, a mix of Australia and New Zealand. We still love New Zealand and the childhood we had there. And that’s great…it adds to the melting pot of culture and experience that makes up the world. I think that’s the way it should be, that it’s vital that no child is forced to give up one culture to fit into another.

Celebrating the world’s children’s literature

BUNKO is a Japanese word meaning ‘Storehouse of Literature’. It is made up of two kanji: BUN (sentence) = literature and KO (warehouse) = storehouse.

That’s where the International Children’s Bunko Association plays such an important role for ‘international’ children, who move countries a lot, or who feel they are straddling more than one country or culture. It was originally set up in the Japan, as a means for keeping English-speaking chidren living in Japan connected with their culture and literature.

Each branch of the IBCA provides a volunteer-run mini-library for bilingual and bicultural or multicultural children.

Branches now exist in Japan, England, America, Australia, Brazil, France, Italy,  Germany and beyond. Overseas branches provide childrens books and cultural experiences celebrating Japanese language and culture, and the Japanese branches provide for children from French, German, Korean and English backgrounds and cultures.

The Great Piratical Rumbustification by Margaret Mahy

Never read it? You should! Mahy is a genius and this is hilarious at any age.

Helping kids to feel at home, wherever that is and wherever they are

Each ICBA branch aims “to create an atmosphere in which the children feel at home,” and I think that’s such a fabulous thing.

Sometimes it’s just so comfy to slip into a different culture completely, to stop straddling the fence between two cultures and totally embrace one or the other, even if just for a few minutes.

I do this every time I open a favourite book from my Kiwi childhood, everytime I open a can of Lemon and Paeroa (yum!) or bite into a chocolate fish (yum!) or peel open a Pinky Bar (yum!)(not all of my memories are food-related, I promise :-))

So three cheers for the International Children’s Bunko Association! I think it’s a tremendous service.

And thanks to Mrs Keiko Holt!

Many thanks to Mrs Keiko Holt, Japanese advisor for the Takeshita Demons series, for introducing me to the ICBA. Mrs Holt is an integral member of the ICBA in the UK and an invaluable part of the editing process for each Takeshita Demons book…. THANK YOU for all your hard work!!!

(Thanks also to Like_the_Grand_Canyon for the yummy chocolate fish shot!)


More writing tips from the Perth Writers Festival: crime and fantasy

Paula Hart kids interactive mural at Perth Writers FestivalAfter the festival was over…

I’m sitting at home, taking out my metaphorical glass eye.

And I’m procrastinating wildly, because I now know for certain that I have to ditch the first 20,000 words of my new novel and start again.

It’s not that the start isn’t good; it’s just not the right start for the story.

Goodbye, enormous chunk of sweat and tears and typing

It hurts to know these first chapters have to go, but I’m not in total mourning because I know the new start will help the story to breathe.

So far I’ve been pushing words uphill and that’s never fun. I prefer to write when the story just won’t stop coming.

But for now, I’m tidying my desk, and as part of that I’m going through notes from last weekend’s Perth Writers Festival. I thought I’d share some tidbits from the workshops I attended:

Paula Hart, artist
Paula is the pen-genius behind the interactive murals that were part of the kids stage at Family Day. She drew the black-and-white characters and kids of all ages and sizes helped to colour them in. The images on this page are sections of that mural. I joined in the colouring and it was FUN! Thanks Paula!

David Whish-Wilson, crime writerPaula Hart kids interactive mural at Perth Writers Festival
David’s crime writing workshop focused on how to pull a braided narrative together.

The braided narrative is common in crime fiction, where each ‘strand’ is narrated from a different character’s point of view (written in third person). When woven together, the braided strands are strong enough to carry a more powerful story.

I usually write from just one person’s perspective, but as David pointed out, if you’re only inside one character’s head, you never get a detailed look at the motives and backgrounds of the other characters. And when you’re talking crime, that’s just too black-and-white. Who decides what constitutes a crime anyway? And what constitutes truth? You need several characters to weigh in with what they think.

Anthony Eaton, fantasy/childrens/YA writerPaula Hart kids interactive mural at Perth Writers Festival
I haven’t read Anthony’s fantasy, but his writing for kids is hilarious (as is his live presentation for kids: if you get a chance, see it!) so I was keen to meet him (plus his sister-in-law is in my sister’s book club, so we’re virtually family, right?).

Anthony’s workshop was on fantasy writing and I was horrified to learn that his recent trilogy took ten years to write, including two false starts (of tens of thousands of words each!!). That takes some determination!

Still, he seemed chirpy and he survived the rewrites to produce three awesome-looking books. I’m taking courage from this (deleting 20,000 words is nothing, right?; it’s just the getting-to-know-you stage of a book)(I try not to weep).

Anyway…Anthony’s top fantasy writing tips included:

– Story structure: Ditch ‘beginning-middle-end’ as a story skeleton and instead go for ‘interesting question + interesting answer = interesting story’

– Writers block: It doesn’t exist. If you get stuck with writing words, put away your keyboard, pick up your pencil, and sketch the scene you’re trying to write.

– Universal truths: Fantasy novels work best when they include some universal truths/touchstones of truth that readers can identify with. This can be as simple as a character needing coffee in the morning, despite living on another planet.

Did anyone else go to the festival? Any highlights? Any writing tips or recommended reads?


How to get published: secrets revealed at the Perth Writers Festival

I am EXHAUSTED and I didn’t present a thing today!

Instead I attended the Perth Writers Festival’s day-long workshop, the A-Z of Getting Published, and it was great! There were 200 people there and the entire session was MCed by Angela Meyer of Literary Minded, who kept things cool, calm and interesting all day long, despite Perth’s heat, the bright lights and the long hours.

‘D’ is for Don’t Give Up

The lineup was terrific, with info on how to get published, trends in publishing, how to get an agent, how to work with an editor, how to choose a publishing house, etc, etc. (See below for my fave moments from each presenter).

Many people may have come away from the day depressed by the reality of how hard it is to get published.

To these folk I say: don’t give up! All this doom and gloom is just part of the process of testing how badly you want to be a writer. The weak will fall by the roadside but the passionate will drag themselves from their knees and keep writing.

The publishing secret they didn’t reveal: Writing competitions!
I think one huge (and encouraging) thing was missed during the day: Writing competitions! Entering legit competitions is a great way to get your work under the noses of publishers and out of the slushpile.

There are heaps of great competitions out there, but also some less reputable ones that charge huge fees and offer little in return. The big rule is: do your research before you enter!

Some great writing competitions that are well worth the price of entering (or free to enter), spring immediately to mind (but there are a gazillion more and many are genre-specific…just Google):

  • The TAG Hungerford Award (West Australian writers)
  • The Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Childrens Book Award (International)
  • The Chicken House Childrens Fiction Competition (International)
  • Also interesting is the annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (International)
  • And the Voices on the Coast Childrens Writing Competition (an award with both I and Briony Stewart, who is also presenting at Sunday’s family day, have won in our time)(which goes to show it’s a great way to get a start in the industry :-))

But back to the A-Z of getting published…..

Favourite moments from the day.

Meredith Curnow, publisher from Random House:
“Some people have voice. Some people can long-jump. We all have things we wish we were good at.”

Mandy Brett, senior editor with Text Publishing:
“You have to ‘hear’ what is wrong with your work. Like music, you can develop your ear. You need to know what good writing sounds like.”

Clive Newman, foreign rights manager at Fremantle Press:
Fremantle Press don’t mind taking risks: they picked up Elizabeth Jolley after she had been rejected 57 times; they published Craig Silvey after his manuscript had languished on the desk of an unnamed major publishing house for two years; they took time to edit and trim A.B. Facey’s A Fortunate Life and gave it a life when noone else would.

John Harman, writer:
“Which is more important, plot or character? That’s like asking Cathy Freeman, which is your most important leg?”

Lyn Tranter, agent with Australian Literary Management:
Agents are worth their weight in gold: L M Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables, apparently sold her copyright to this work for a pittance and spent the rest of her life trying to get it back. So book contracts were complicated even back then! As Lyn said: “What she needed was an agent.”

Terri-ann White from UWA publishing
Terri-ann gave an interesting breakdown of where the money goes when a consumer buys a book: 10% to the author; 20-27.5% to the book distributor; 40% to the book seller and the rest to the publisher (0ut of which comes expenses including printing, design, editing, etc). The average number of copies sold when it comes to Australian fiction is 919. A good seller sells around 3000 copies.

Amanda Curtin, freelance book editor and writer
Amanda recommended authors create a style guide for their work, listing the correct spelling of character names, a family tree and chronology. This, Amanda said, not only helps you write your book, it also helps the editor who will be assigned to edit your work once it is accepted.

Emma Morris, publicist with Scribe
Emma’s message: Do any interview that comes your way. Forget your nerves and talk about your passion: the book. And embrace social media: Twitter, blogging, FaceBook.

Any other tips?
Do you have tips to share from today’s session or from your own publishing journey? I’d love to hear what you think!


10 activities for International Childrens Book Day

Want loads more FREE ideas, worksheets and resources? Check out my *TEACHERS* page.

Celebrating international childrens books

I am a member of the Childrens Book Council of Australia and recently received their terrific February newsletter.

In it was an awesome list of suggestions for ways to celebrate International Childrens Book Day, which is on April 2, the birthday of Hans Christian Anderson.

Here, shamelessly reproduced so you can get inspired with your own ways to celebrate, are their ideas:

Nine activities for International Childrens Book Day

1) read and promote stories by Anderson

2) introduce folk tales from around the world

3) invite parents from other cultures to share their childhood favourites and folk tales

4) suggest that your book club read an overseas childrens book

5) encourage children to write a story about a child from another culture

6) start a pen pal club with children from abroad

7) encourage each class to create a diaorama featuring a folk tale or story from elsewhere

8 ) explore flags, food, clothing, housing and stories from other cultures

9) invite fellow staff members to have a lunch or gathering where they speak for about a minute or so about their favourite childrens book and light a candle for world peace.

If you’re interested in celebrating International Childrens Book Day with other book lovers, check out your local branch of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY): many branches are celebrating with dinners, activities and more.

And idea #10? It’s my own creation: a monster activity involving international mythology and your favourite books

Want loads more FREE ideas, worksheets and resources? Check out my *TEACHERS* page.

Have fun and stay safe!

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Fight demons, learn about luck and choose a charm: Japanese demons webquest

Japan’s demons or yōkai are different from any you’ve known. Some yōkai like to shake beans. Others drink oil, or eat cucumbers, or ride your nightmares into the night..

Most of them would like to eat you.

If you want to stay safe, you’ll need to know more about how to attract good luck in Japan.

Step 1:  Choose your lucky symbol.
Are you a…

– Cat lover?
– Dog fanatic?
– Doll collector?
– Bird watcher?
– Lion tamer?
– Ghost buster?

Your mission:
1) Research one of Japan’s lucky charms and report your findings to
the class.
2) Decide which lucky charm your class will adopt. And remember, the
wrong decision could be fatal…

Download the Takeshita Demons webquest here.

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What colour were yōkai demons? Download colouring-in sheets

The Takeshita Demons books feature Japanese monsters and demons, called yōkai (or youkai).

Many yōkai were first drawn by Toriyama Sekien, a Japanese artist who lived in the 1700s. These colouring-in sheets feature his original drawings.

Head to the resources section of my website to download PDFs for these activities.

A kappa is a water-loving creature who keeps a bowl of water on his head. He loves to eat cucumbers, but he also drinks blood, so be careful!

A hannya is a demon who has been driven insane by jealousy and rage. Her face is marked with all the anger of other people’s souls.

Now you know a bit about them, it’s up to you to decide what colour they are!

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Japanese yokai memory game: test your memory, learn some Japanese and spook yourself out!

Want to hunt some yokai?

You’ve come to the right place! I’ve posted a new game:

It’s a ‘match-the-pairs’ challenge that uses the artwork of Toriyama Sekien.

Sekien is famous for his early depictions of Japanese monsters, better known as yokai.


It’s simple!

Use your mouse to click on any of the closed books: when you click, the book will open to reveal one of the yokai Sekien drew.

– If you find a pair, the books will stay open.

– If you don’t find a pair, the books will close and you must guess again.



Not only do you get to exercise your brain and have some fun, you also get to learn some more about Japanese demons, practise your hiragana and kanji, and SPOOK YOURSELF OUT!


(And huge thanks to my lovely and clever husband for making the game: what a champ!! xxx)

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Hiragana word search: Find the yokai demons and practise your Japanese

Want a fun way to practise your hiragana? Try this spooky hiragana wordsearch!

If you’re studying Japanese, then you alredy know that the Japanese language is written using three different alphabets: hiragana, katakana and kanji. Words can also be written in romaji, using the English alphabet.

This word search uses hiragana and features demons from spooky adventure story Takeshita Demons.

Can you find the yokai demons before they find Miku?

Head to the resources section of my website and you can download a PDF of the activity and its answer sheet.

Takeshita Demons hiragana word search: Find the yokai demons


ようかい                    溶解                Yōkai (demon)

ゆうれい                    幽霊                Yuurei (ghost)

みく                            未来                Miku (our hero!)

かず                           和                    Kazu (Miku’s brother)

たけした                    竹下                Takeshita (Miku’s family name)

かわにし                   川西                Kawanishi (where Miku lived in Japan)

ぬけくび                  抜け首            Nukekubi (cut-throat demon)

ぬれおんな              濡女                Nure-onna (woman of the wet)

さかばしら                逆柱                 Sakabashira (inverted pillar)

ざしきわらし             座敷童             Zashiki-warashi (house ghost)

ゆきおんな               雪女                Yuki-onna (snow woman)

おに                           鬼                    Oni (ogre)

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Awesome fun with Kappa and Tanuki

Kappa and Tanuki celebrate Christmas - DCcardWant to see just how ubiquitous yokai demons are in Japanese culture?

Check out the awesome tanuki and kappa animations and resources the Tokyo-Mitsubishi bank put together as part of an advertising campaign for their DC card.

The ads feature a shape-shifting tanuki and a (traditionally) blood-hungry kappa. And they’re very cute!

(I can’t imagine any Australian bank advertising their credit card using a vampire or werewolf, can you?)

But seriously, if you’re into cute, or you’re interested in Japanese culture, you should check out the animations in particular (an example here). They are super-cute and the manga-like voice bubbles are a great resource for learning Japanese.

Cherry blossum viewing with Kappa and Tanuki DC cardYou can download short movies, desktop art, icons and stationary templates.

Don’t forget to scroll through the menu at the bottom of each page for extra options.