Somerset Literary Festival Reports 2017/2018

Somerset Celebration of Literature 2018

Summary of my day at Somerset 15th March 2018 – Part One By Jill Smith©May 2018

Combining what I’ve previously put on my blog about the day, each person’s bio in the Somerset Programme. Then I’m going to say what I saw and what I thought. I hope this will give you insight into the day I experienced. I’ll need to do this in daily segments as each session was about 45 minutes long and I wrote copious notes. 

9.15 to 10 Jaclyn Moriarty

Jacklyn Moriarty bio black and whiteJaclyn Moriarty is well-known as the prize-winning, bestselling author of novels for young adults (and sometimes for slightly older adults). A former media and entertainment lawyer, Jaclyn’s books include the Ashbury-Brookfield series and the Colours of Madeleine trilogy. The first two books in that trilogy were both awarded the NSW Premier’s Literary Award and the Queensland Literary Award.

The first thing on entering the venue was a book cover on the screen – The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone. She explained a bit about why Bronte grew up with her aunty.A-Corner-of-White cover

I loved how she explained a little about her life but had the kids wondering how she learned to stand up to a bully, and how she learned to swear. This story had the students in the palm of her hand.

Jaclyn then explained that she was one of six kids and to receive pocket money for each story they had to tell. Every night before she went to sleep she told a story.

As you get older people tell you ‘YOU CAN’T’ rather than ‘YOU CAN’. She always wanted to prove them wrong and become a writer. She studied law and waited till she became a Lawyer, then she would write a book. She decided she wanted to be a writer in England, she moved to Australia. She was a Lawyer in Sydney when the 2000 Olympics were on. The Olympic Torch relay went past her building. She didn’t want to wait anymore, that was when she decided to try again.

Then she wrote a book. Her first book was Feeling Sorry of Celia.

moriarty-jaclyn-bio picJaclyn then brought up images of the different covers of her book – The Australian cover, the English cover and the American cover. She asked the kids which they liked best.

She went on to explain her love of colours and their meanings –

Green – loves nature, good heart, fresh rainforest, people feel calm

Blue – heal or cure illness, very friendly, good to friends

Yellow – least likely peoples favourite colour, babies cry, studying and optimistic, her favourite colour

Red – Smart, danger, makes you feel warm

My notes became a bit disjointed at this point as I became as engrossed as Jaclyn’s audience.

Jaclyn said she always writes a plan. She said her sister (Laine) never plans, she just writes.

She has a blue bowl filled with chocolates and strawberries on her desk when she writes. She walks across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and back. She wrote a chapter on a cliff. Her favourite smell is cinnamon. Smells evoke memories. She draws on these memories to write.

Jaclyn asked the students what were their earliest memories were?

The answers were interesting and demonstrated where ideas for stories can come from.

A – One said they remember being in a high chair, she threw fruit on the floor and wondering why everyone was looking at her.

A – said she drew on his sisters’ picture even though she was told not to. Jaclyn said that was a moment of defiance.

A – one said adults asked him how he could draw sitting on a couch, he said it’s my spot.

A – Another said first memory was the shock of falling out of a boat.

A – uttered a first full sentence in the back of the car, only having said words to this point, and his mum nearly had an accident.

Jaclyn said these are all triggers. When she writes she asks – what is this characters earliest memory? Why? How could that make the character who they are?

Questions at the end of the session from the students –

Q – What’s the difference between Australian and American writing?

A – Places may sound strange to Americans – she wrote in one book about a cliff at The Gap – American clothing company called The Gap – confusing to them. In Australia, we use some bad language and Americans don’t like that. Different spelling in some cases and different meanings such as in Australia we say kitchen bench while in America that’s a chair to sit on.

This session went very quickly and I enjoyed it immensely. I’d already purchased A Corner of White, I asked her to sign it before leaving, knowing that at the bookshop there can be long ques for signatures and I did have the next session to go to. I’d already read the blurb and first chapter while waiting to get into the Seniors Common room at the start of the day. You can see my review on the Book Reviews Children’s/YA’s tab.

Somerset Celebration of Literature Part 2

Summary of my day at Somerset 15th March 2018 – Part Two By Jill Smith©May 2018

This session was in the Performing Arts Centre which I had to dash to as my session with Jaclyn ended at 10 am and this started at 10.15am. This is a day of running from one place to the next, which makes the whole experience immersive. I love soaking up the vibes of this beautiful school and seeing the kids’ faces as I walk past and they either go from class to class.

10.15 to 11 Jackie French

Jackie-French-bio pic 2Jackie French AM is an award-winning writer, wombat negotiator and was the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2014-2015 and the 2015 Senior Australian of the Year. In 2016 Jackie became a Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to children’s literature and her advocacy for youth literacy. She is regarded as one of Australia’s most popular children’s authors and writes across all genres – from picture books, history, fantasy, ecology and sci-fi to her much loved historical fiction. ‘Share a Story’ was the primary philosophy behind Jackie’s two-year term as Laureate.

I arrived at the venue with only a hand full of people in the first couple of rows. I quickly joined them as Jackie was already on stage with two students waiting to do the formal introduction.

Jackie asked, ‘Does anyone have any questions while we’re waiting for the students to arrive?’ Who would say no to that offer? So she began –pennies for hitler cover jackie french

‘Pennies for Hitler’ is a book she wrote because many people she knew in her early life had survived being interned during the Second World War. This experience as a three-year-old left her wanting to write about it. It screamed at her, this is not as simple as goodies and baddies, there were many grey areas. Every solution is going to cause pain for someone. Whenever you think something is simple, you’ve probably oversimplified.

Then she was introduced by the students. Jackie is an Australian Author, Historian. She loves wombats, has dyslexia and writes Historical fiction.

Goodbye Mr Hitler by Jackie french coverShe began by asking the students who thought books were boring. Then she made a bet with everyone in the audience that every child there who thought this will want to read when they are engaged. She said that publishers spend a lot of money on the covers to get the attention of young readers. Then she suggested that if you want a magic potion, to make you better at school, (up to 15 IQ points better), you can by reading. That readers younger than 24 with every book they read, can increase their IQ and therefore makes you more intelligent.

Understand – What if? She had dismissed zombie stories for years, but, she’d been enticed to read them and she discovered Zombies are human but not quite human – thinking about this stretches your brain.

Read it because you enjoy it. At school – sometimes they have to read – rather than want to read. Be honest about a book.  Imagery makes the book better, only the image is too weak will the book fail.diary of a wombat cover jackie french illus bruce whatley

Jackie explained she writes about things that move her; about courage, compassion, and innovation. We are all descended from the hero’s going back through history, man has always been heroic.

She is never bored. She wants to write books kids can read in one sitting.

Be very wary of people who make you angry, hatred is contagious – Hitler is a good example of this.

She then read excerpts from her Hitler Books. She then implored the audience, especially the students to stand up and say ‘This is wrong!’ against the slappers. We owe the soldiers who sacrificed so much for us that.

There are different kinds of wars. She experienced a battle facing bushfires. She along with a few friends (only five people), battled a blaze for two days and two nights, till they put it out. She met a blind girl who helped because she could feel the air on her skin, she was able to save the horses, although the sighted people couldn’t see through the black ash in the air, the blind girl could tell the direction the fire was coming from.  She wrote a book from experience fighting fires, based on real things. When people are facing their hardest struggles, people do wonderful things.

Another character that Jackie researched to write about was Miss Gilly. She was not a lonely lady but was never recognised, as WWI ambulance and hospitals were manned by women who never were acknowledged by the war. This woman was a cross between James Bond and Downtown Abbey.

The session ended all too quickly and I fervently believe that any of the students taking up the Jackie French challenge will grow in intelligence and enjoyment of life.

My day at Somerset … part three

Continuing my summary of my day at Somerset Celebration of Literature March 2018, it’s now June but I have fond memories of the day. The session after Jackie French was after a short break in the Great Hall and it was a stimulating panel session.

I try to do a panel session as I usually only get the one day so try to get the most out of it by seeing as many authors as I can. There was a Literary Lunch at 12.30 but that wouldn’t allow me time for the next session I wanted to go to so I stuck with the panel session. A panel usually means several authors in one session, in this case, three – Megan Daley, Steph Bowe and Nikki Parkinson with a competent host asking the important questions to set up the Q&A.

The Panel Session was on Blogging

 Summary of my day at Somerset 15th March 2018 – Part Three By Jill Smith©June 2018

11.15 to 12 PANEL – Story Telling in the Electronic World – Megan Daley, Steph Brown & Nikki Parkinson

daley-megan-somerset bio picMegan Daley is passionate about children’s literature and sharing it with young and old alike. She firmly believes that YA literature is far better than adult literature and that picture books are works of art which should adorn the walls of art galleries and libraries. Megan is a Teacher Librarian and was recently awarded the Qld Teacher Librarian of the Year by The School Library Association of Queensland.

Nikki Parkinson is a former journalist-turned blogger and author. She blogs on an parkinson-nikki-somerset bio picaward-winning fashion, beauty and lifestyle blog, ‘Styling You’. Her first book, Unlock Your Style, was published in 2014 by Hachette Australia. Styling You won the 2015 Queensland micro business Telstra Business Award.

bowe-stephanie-sommerset bio picSteph Bowe was born in Melbourne in 1994 and now lives in Queensland with her family. She is the author of Young Adult novels Night Swimming, Girl Saves Boy and All This Could End. She is a Stella Prize Schools Ambassador for Queensland and a 2016 May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Fellow.

The MC introduced herself and the session by asking the question  How do you make money from Blogging? How did you start?

STEPH – I started book blog at 14, doing interviews with writers, started as ‘Hey teenager of the year’ – now it’s just in her name.

NIKKI – is now ten years into blogging, journo for 20 years, had started a website for a business going to start but then went into blogging, she would write make comments and chat. She grew an audience –

MEGAN – her blog was a grief- gift to her brother who’d died, she’d just had a baby, she enjoyed the engagement with an audience, writing review and connecting, she has a UQP book soon to be released, a teacher librarian.

MC – Do you write for the audience or does the audience find you?

NIKKI – a bit of both

STEPH – Writing about what you’re passionate about

NIKKI – the weird little rambles tell the audience who you are

MEGAN – it’s a balance between reviews and rambles, share a part of yourself

MC – How do you establish your voice?

MEGAN – it starts about what you write about, blogging is a discipline

NIKKI  – something you have to keep feeding, a blog is your home base to the social media, rules change

STEPH – not thinking much of the clutter, it’s still storytelling, it’s a way to develop and express your own ideas

NIKKI – Youtube, Twitter, Podcasts all link back to the blog as its the base

MEGAN – own the content on the blog, not social media

STEPH – Websites you may have posted on might have gone under but on your own blog you can reshare

MEGAN – my blog is a platform for a catalogue of my work

MC – Asks the audience – How many read a blog every day? How many use a blog as a base? (after an impressive show of hands to both questions) Asks the panel -The money side of things – What is the background of the commercial side of blogging?

NIKKI – Very few are persistent and consistent enough for many years. YouTube, Instagram link to the blog and build a community by building an engaged audience taking them back to buying your products. I was approached by earning from my blog with sponsorships, online store and affirmative market then wrote a book.

MEGAN – This is my experience also. I didn’t know about affiliate links. I get a small percentage of my income from freelance writing UQP. It’s all about increasing income streams and it takes time.

STEPH – I started at fourteen and never made money out of my blog. I used it as a stepping stone, writing book reviews, getting books from authors. I’d written a novel and authors online recommended an agent. The online community gave me a way to promote books engaged with book blogging. I didn’t directly make money from writing, mainly teaching, related to writing and speaking about writing.

MEGAN – other bloggers get affiliate sales, reviews on her page, Elliot Awesome, incoming books.

NIKKI – Blog about what you’re into.

MC – When can blogging go bad? As a Lawyer, she asked the panel about words and content issues. 

STEPH – No, my tip when writing online – never put anything online that you don’t want your Nan to see. People really exist.

NIKKI – Yes, keep it clean, the internet is forever, even if you take down a post, you can still and will encounter criticism and it will affect you. Ask yourself, could I say that to someone’s face?

MEGAN – I taught social media online and met many friends online. She’d been Trolled badly, she thought it wouldn’t affect her but it did.

NIKKI – you don’t expect to have insults hurled at you. Set the tone, delete if not getting good comments with without being judged.

MEGAN – much the same with me, I’ve grown and learnt from being online.

MC – Blogging is fantastic, have friends, have a voice, you can moderate when your readers are giving feedback.

NIKKI – three strikes and you’re out.

MEGAN – blogging is a real discipline and an amazing platform.

NIKKI – showcase your case on your terms

MC – time for questions.

Q – Is it reliable?

A- Read blog but comment on FaceBook or another platform, be flexible and have good content.

Q – What’s the next best thing?

MEGAN – create your own niche, you bring to it your offer on your blog.

NIKKI – be yourself.

STEPH – write about your obsession. I always wanted to be a writer, that’s my passion.

MC – in summary, read many people’s blogs, try your own with professional settings, none of us knows where it can lead.

My day at Somerset Festival – Part four

I went to my next session after lunch in Marquee 3. It’s always an experience in the marquees on the oval as it’s either sweltering hot and desperately uncomfortable or wet, muddy and sweltering hot. So having been a Somerset veteran I knew what to expect. As for the presenters, I wonder what they think. I’d met Cath before and was early enough to re-introduce myself and enthuse over finally buying ‘Graffiti Moon’, which I promptly asked her to sign. I’ve already done an interview with Cath that you’ll find on the ‘Interviews Gals’ tab. As you can tell I’m a bit fan of this creative talented lady.

Summary of my day at Somerset 15th March 2018 – Part Four By Jill Smith©June 2018

12.45 to 1.30 Cath Crowley

cath crowley picCath Crowley is a young adult author published in Australia and internationally. She is the author of The Gracie Faltrain trilogy, Chasing Charlie Duskin, and Graffiti Moon. In 2011, Graffiti Moon won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Young Adult fiction, the Ethel Turner Award for Young People’s Literature, and was named an Honour Book in the Children’s Book Council, Book of the Year. Cath lives in Ballarat, Victoria. Title List includes; Take Three Girls, Words in Deep Blue, Graffiti Moon.

Cath introduced herself as an author for usually fourteen-year old’s plus. Explaining her books ‘Words in Deep Blue’ and ‘Grafitti Moon’ are for this age bracket. She also admitted that she is nervous public speaking.

Graffiti Moon is about a girl in love with Shadow who she’s never met. Ed is Shadow. It’s the last night of year 12 and the group of teenagers are planning to celebrate, and maybe deal in a nocturnal activity they don’t usually do. What Show does is art. The story is about the importance of art.

In Melbourne you are allowed to be a street artist, taggers just tag their names. Cover designs can change, the yellow can is the first.  The other cover is more about the art.

In school, Ed was not very good at English. He could hardly read and relied on his friend to do the words to go with his graffiti, so Poet was his night roaming cohort.

Cath needed strategies for the book, to figure out how to plot and plan how these boys would go out at night.

Falling in love can be dangerous. Art can change peoples lives. So she started with the characters.

To get a feel for her characters she drove around at night to a park near home. She got a bit lost and ended up meeting four guys who came out of nowhere, they were covered in tatts who wanted her to sign a form saying she was their mum so they could skip school.

The idea of a night-time poet spraying poems became the voice of a character which the catalyst for the book.

She had a phone call from a graffiti artist and questions came to mind. What would it feel like to be an artist? He hadn’t told his mum about and he had an alarm but slept through it and was busted. Blue – the colour of hope was on his hands.

The graffiti artists she met would tell her their ideas for stories and she would write them down. They thought the stories were dumb, but they weren’t.

Lucy – vibrant colours – glass blowing shapes. The idea for her interest in glass blowing came from Prince Ruben Drop, you can look it up on YouTube – always forms a teardrop in ice water, top of teardrop won’t break but the tail falls apart.

Ed is tough, but pick on his reading and he gets upset.

Jazz appeared in the book when she was writing it.

When you get a red pen marking had enough respect to go through and correct. That’s the first edit. She got stuck on a girl in the basement. She deleted it then rewrote it. She deleted the whole book and rewrote it.

Cath said Phillip Pullman and J. K. Rowling inspire her. She then invited questions from the audience.

  1. What made you decide to write?
  2. She was always telling stories and wrote letters to her brother.
  3. Why did you call the book Graffiti Moon?
  4. While teaching I started an editing course. She was interested when her friends started talking about their characters like they were real.c

Cath finished up by saying she won’t write anything she doesn’t want out there.

Feeling – dreaming all the time. She moved to the country and found writing late. Now she dreams of writing.

My day at Somerset – Part Five

To round off a marvellous day, I rushed from the marquee on the oval up to the room that used to be the Library now called the Senior Learning Centre, and I knew it had air conditioning and comfortable seats. I arrived before the children and took a place at the front of the room. Rachel Spratt was setting up. The first thing she did was draw a sketch on the board of Nanny Piggins. I admire anyone who can draw and my heart cheered. Her young daughter was drawing smiles on the whiteboard.

Summary of my day at Somerset 15th March 2018 – Part Four By Jill Smith©July 2018

1.45 to 2.30 R A Spratt

R A Spratt bio picR.A. Spratt is about to launch the first book in her new series The Peski Kids, The Mystery of the Squashed Cockroach. The story of siblings who have to stop fighting with each other for just long enough to fight crime. R.A. Spratt also wrote Friday Barnes, Girl Detective, an eight-part series set in an exclusive boarding school with deeply eccentric staff and students.

She also wrote The Adventures of Nanny Piggins, a nine-book series about an impossibly glamorous flying pig who ran away from a circus to become a childcare worker and flagrantly ignore all contemporary theories about healthy eating. R.A. Spratt enjoys getting hate tweets from exasperated readers who claim to be dying of frustration due to the cliff-hanger endings. R.A. has written for 32 different television shows. Even she has trouble remembering what they were all called.

R.A. Spratt lives in Bowral, Australia with her husband and two daughters. She has three chickens and five goldfish, and a desperately needy dog.R A Spratt at Somerset best

The children were younger than in previous sessions and Rachel was loud and grabbed their attention from the start. Before she began the session I whispered to her daughter ‘I bet she’s a great mum!’ She agreed with a nod. 

Rachel started by saying she was fabulous, that everyone there should know that from the start.

Then she explained that she was a children’s writer and TV writer.

She asked the audience if they knew who Nanny Piggins was?

There was a lot of giggling and affirmative answers.

She then asked – who likes books? – who’s your favourite author? She went on to explain about Nanny Piggins. She likes to make the titles self-explanatory – like Nanny Piggins Saves Christmas. She read a little of the story. Then she introduces the characters – Derek, Samantha and Michael. Nanny Piggins is a Pink Pig and 4 feet tall while Boris is a 10-foot dancing Bear!

Where do you get your inspiration from? – Her answer to her own question is that you should treat your brain like a compost bin. Chuck in an idea and it can come out as something you can use.

She got one idea from an awards night, her brother was getting an award. The Deputy Headmaster asked if there was anyone who could play the piano.  So she wrote a story that showcases Boris as a ballet dancer.

She brings out her props her ukulele and flute.  She runs to the window to yells out at the window. The audience found this hysterical.

R A Spratt at window SomersetShe loves Jane Austin, Robin Klein – Halfway across the galaxy turn left!

How does she use her imagination? She does school presentations and works from home she loves dates and chocolates.

Never let having terrible ideas stop you writing. She’s had seventeen books published already and the next one is about to be published.

Brother is rich and she always runs him down. Lots of emotion and drama in her life with a conflict between brother or sister.

So one kid in the audience asked Rachel – how many years have you been crazy?

She baulked briefly then went on in a more serious vein. Comedy writers are really good at lateral thinking; sometimes they cover the painful parts of their life. She had a hernia as an infant and was in constant pain. It made her process information differently.

She picked up her ukulele and sang.

She concluded by saying it’s super important to think creatively. Whatever you do in life is problem-solving. Think of all the possibilities.

As the audience left the room I grabbed the chance to say thanks for a wonderful session and get my copy of Friday Barnes Girl Detective signed. This was my last session and I knew when Rachel goes to the bookshop there would be a cue to get her signature. I left the school happy for another dose of writing inspiration.


Somerset Literary Festival 2017

Yes, it rained and the ground was squelchy! Yes, it was hot in the marquees! Did I mind? Not a bit. It was a great day. I only wish I had been able to go to more sessions.

Robet Newton Somerset 2017I started the day with Robert Newton, a firefighter and writer who said he could see himself retiring from firefighting but never from writing.

He never wanted to be a writer growing up but when his brother moved overseas he wanted to keep in touch so he started writing letters. Life was a bit boring so he’d send stories of embellished childhood memories. His brother said, ‘these are good, you should do something with them.’ That was the only encouragement he’d ever had for anything other than sport. It was the start of his obsession with writing and creating characters first. His books published to date are: RunnerWhen We Were TwoThe Black Dog GangSaturday Morning, Mozart and Burnt ToastMr Romanov’s Garden in the SkyThe Khaki KidMy Name Is Will Thompson, for children all developed to tackle difficult subjects in a way kids can relate to. He was a very engaging speaker. The picture above is of him signing the book I purchased from his works.

Nadia Sunde Sorting Hat Somerst 2017Next session was in the Great Hall and I was able to enjoy the oh’s and ah’s of a large audience of rapt students as Nadia Sunde wove a magical spell in her session playing the role of Professor Francesa Falconette Exploring the Magical World of Harry Potter.

Needless to say, it was a spellbinding session.

Nadia Sunde Somerset 2017The rain departed for enough time for me to leave the Great Hall and walk down on the sodden oval to Marquee Three to go to my next session with Kim Kane.


Kim, having been trained as a lawyer, had all her notes on hand. A few images and videos to share Kim Kane Somerset 2017snippets of where her inspiration for stories came from, along with a very old shoe. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about ‘time slip’ novels and how she researched her books. I fear some of the students may not have been so engrossed, but for me, Kim delving into research and where different information led her and affected her writing was fascinating.

As was the case in all the sessions, and has been my experience of Somerset Celebration of Literature that I’ve experienced over the years, the children as the best questions.

Rachael Craw goodreads bio picThe next session was after a lunch break and back in Marquee Three this time to see Rachel Craw. She did delve into the writing process itself. She loves strong female characters and found her first book huge and unwieldy, only being reshaped when she was encouraged by manuscript assessors, who later became editors and then her agent. The result is a series starting with Spark (Spark, #1)Stray (Spark, #2)Shield (Spark, #3)Kill Switch (Spark, #1.1)The Book That Made Me as one of the anthology contributors, Black Room (Spark, #2.1)Scar Tissue (Spark, #3.1). She has trouble letting go of a story and tends to keep editing until the book is forcibly taken from her by her agent. Her stories are coming of age tales with strong drama. I hope to read the whole series in the future.

From then I hurried onto Marquee One to see Soraya Nicholas who writeSoraya Nicholass stories for
younger children about horses in her ‘Starlight Stables’ series. I was particularly interested to hear what she had to say as my granddaughters are mad about horses. I was as surprised as she was when her grade three little people audience were led in to hear her talk. Soraya had pictures of her horses and explained how her covers were photos of three girls and three horses depicting her characters. She loves writing and to keep the image of the characters and personalities of her horses in mind she has a wall of pictures beside her when she writes.

Her books are Pony DetectivesBush Bolts,  Starlight Stables: Bush Bolts (Book 3), Starlight Stables: Saving Starlight (Book 4)Gymkhana Hijinks, and Saving Starlight

I bought five books on the day and I’m nearly finished reading ‘Starlight Stables’ Pony Detectives.  I will give this to my granddaughter shortly after I’ve written a review.

That was all the sessions I attended on the day, however, I met and spoke to other authors when in the book tent, or just at the coffee shop. I bought one book because I liked the cover – Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy by Karen Foxlee. I took the opportunity to get the author of that book to sign it too, that was another treat.