Somerset StoryFest 2019

Somerset Storyfest 2019 – Report – Part One

somerset standSomerset was brilliant again. I attended sessions presented by inspiring authors and had a great time. Of course, had I booked sooner, I could have gone to a couple of magical workshops, but, as they are sold-out, I bought tickets adapting my programme. Some sessions were packed, as in The Great Hall, and others were a handful of eager students or two or three mixed grades. The Marquees are hot – (but I was prepared). The Great Hall is air conditioned but at times hard to hear the kid’s questions (the students ask the best questions).

“…a festival of storytelling for the whole family.”

Wednesday 20th March

Session 9.15 am to 10 am – Marquee 3

MGB at computerMichael Gerard Bauer’s first novel The Running Man was the 2005 CBCA Book of the Year for Older Readers. Since then four more of his books has been shortlisted for CBCA awards including his very funny picture book Rodney Loses It! Which was the 2018 CBCA winner in the Early Childhood category. His other very popular and award-winning works include the Ishmael series, the Eric Vale series and Just a Dog. His most recent publication is the young adult novel The Things That Will Not Stand. Michael’s stories have been translated into 12 languages and sold in over 40 countries.Rodney doll MGB

Michael is a man I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several times and he is a genuine and funny man. He began by telling the children about his book. His first picture book idea. The illustrator Chrissie Krebs from Melbourne. He explained, in a dancing way, that when he walks, he makes up rhymes as he marches to a beat.

The promotion to these younger students of his picture book ‘Rodney Loses It’ was a ‘Where’s Wally’ event. Rodney loves to draw but he is always losing things. He asked the children to find the missing objects. He involved them by getting a selection of children up on stage to help. They loved it.

Then it was question time. (I did already mention that the kids of all ages ask the best questions.)

MGB Rodney Loses It coverQ. Why did you want to write the book? MGB – I wrote one years earlier that didn’t get published, it was my son ‘losing it’ getting angry. This is better as Rodney is a Rabbit and the illustrations show where the things he loses go. This was how he tried again to make the story work.

Q. Did you and the illustrator write together? MGB – No, they didn’t even meet till after the book was published and they won a medal – Book of the Year 2018.

Q. Did you choose the front cover? MGB – Both he and the illustrator needed to decide, and the publisher suggested a few changes and decided it for them.

Q. What did you do before you wrote a book? MGB – I was a teacher of English because I like words. I wanted to be a Ninja or a Rockstar or even a songwriter before that.

Q. How did Rodney lose his slinky? MGB – It sprang up in the air and got caught on the light fitting.

Q. Where do you get the book from? MGB – The bookshop here.michael_gerard_bauer-450x576

Q. Are there any more books? MGB – I’ve written sixteen different books including ‘The Running Man’, they include the Ishmael series, the Eric Vale series and Just a Dog.

Q. Why did Rodney have problems? MGB – You need a challenge, to make the book interesting, a problem or a challenge to solve, otherwise it would be boring.

Q. Where do your ideas come from? MGB – I lose things too.

MGB just a dogQ. Where did you get the bunny? (there was a Rodney doll on the podium) MGB – The illustrator Chrissie Krebs makes soft toys, she made the Rodney doll for him and one for the publisher.

Q. Will you write more books about Rodney? MGB – Yes

Q. Do you have any narrative in the book? MGB – Good question, the illustrations show the missing things. That’s the narrative as Rodney is alone at his desk.


Somerset Storyfest Report 2019 – Part Two

Bren MacDibble bio picSession 10.15 to 11 am – Marquee 1

Bren MacDibble was raised on farms all over New Zealand, so is an expert about being a kid on the land. Bren lived in Melbourne for many years, but now lives and works on a bus travelling around Australia. How To Bee, her first novel
for younger readers, won the 2018 CBCA Book of the Year Awards, The NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, and the NSW Premiers Literary Awards, and was shortlisted for several others. Her second children’s book, The Dog Runner has just been released.

This is for an older group of children. Bren is another Facebook friend and I was looking forward to hearing her speak.

Bren began saying she wrote ‘How To Bee’ released 2017 about a time in the future whenHow To Bee coverthere are no bees to pollinate the flowers, thirty years after the famine, children hand pollinate the flowers.

‘The Dog Runner’, is another famine novel set closer to our time, the story revolves around Ella and her brother. She got the idea for this from ‘dog mushing’ with a scooter behind a dog led, under fifteen degrees. Dogs love running.

Why does she write books about scary worlds? Kids these days hear and see what’s happening around us, it is scary. Things like Queensland being the skin cancer capital, just one example. Children are taking on environmental issues – act as if you’re in a crisis. Kids previously were not told anything, now kids see too much.

the dog runner coverShe writes about love, security, strength and purpose for young readers to take comfort in. Talk about environmental issues. If you look for excuses fear will hold you back, we need to act. Fear will stop you from being creative. Solutions need creativity. The dog runner – the first ones to change will survive. Encourage creative thinking and exercise creativity.

Use imagination muscle as it makes you smarter.

Growing up, she was limited in the reading available to her. She had to grab a chance to read a chapter of a book before her brother got it. She remembers vividly ‘Dune’ that she had to read as fast as she could. It’s a big book and the ‘Dune’ wars showed no mercy. Her younger brother would snatch the book before she’d finished reading her chapter. The book itself gave her ideas. Skin suits are an amazing idea. Someone’s (the author’s) idea coming up with an imagined solution to an imagined problem.

Suggest solutions – Bees not diseases, aboriginal grains, can save Australia and possibly the world. Kangaroos for meat. Loss of Biodiversity, most urgent aspect of sustainability, fungi, bacteria depleted. Biodiversity – complex functions.

Reading – feels like magic on the inside – shows how other people feel.

People will be interested in your solutions.

A great idea is Electric self-drive cars. It’s cool and safer. Cityscape could completely change our air quality will improve and there will be less crashes.

Environmental alternatives – Solar, Wind, Water, Lithium Battery. More radical change.

Then it was question time. Bren ran about the room with her microphone to collect the queries.

Q. Has she always been a passionate writer? Bren – Yes, always good at telling stories. Writing something she enjoyed. Our history became stories.

Bren MacDibble profile pic

Q. How long does it take you to write a book? Bren – Depends on how hard it is.

Q. What age were you when you published your first book? Bren – ‘How To Bee’ published two years ago. She had been writing for the school market and it took twenty years to learn to write it well.

Q. How long did it take you to write ‘How To Bee’? Bren – about a year to write.

Q. How many books have you written? Bren – I wrote for educational services and ‘How To Be’ has won three major awards. ‘The Dog Runner’ is about to be released.

Q. What made you start writing? Bren – I have always been writing, I write to learn.

Q. What is your favourite genre? Bren – Science Fiction.

Q. What inspired you to write a book? Bren – Both food shortage and food security, the catalyst being Science Fiction conference and farmers competing with overseas imports. I asked – Are we self-sufficient as a country? Can we support ourselves?

MacDibble bio picQ. When did you become an author?Bren – twenty years ago.

Q. What is your greatest accomplishment in writing? Bren – Getting ‘How To Bee’ out. Nine years empowered accomplishment.

Q. What are your favourite books?Bren – Neil Stevenson – Snowcrash had all the elements I love like a computer virus, robot dogs, girl, skateboards and downloads.

Q. What inspired you to write about dogs? Bren – always wanted to have kids travelling across Australia with dogs.

Q. What goals are you trying to achieve? Bren – To make a living off writing, books to do well, and maybe to have a book turned into a movie.

Q. How do you come up with ideas for your books? Bren – I shove everything in I’m passionate about.

Q. What does your family think of you writing? Bren – husband happy, mum loves it, son not impressed.

Q. How old were you when you started writing? Bren – very young, mum wouldn’t teach me to read but I was very determined to learn.

Q. What’s the process of publishing? Bren – Open door contests – Allen & Unwin Friday pitch. Once I had a contract it took a year, overseas needed an Agent, it’s a long and tedious process – but let all that go.

Q. Who’s your favourite author here? Bren – Cath Crowley is great.

Q. What are you doing to change the world apart from writing books? Bren – Using an environmental platform, talking about it, getting over the fear. I live on a bus so that means I have less impact on the environment.

Q. What type of novel will you write next? Bren – Science fiction, post-apocalypse, post-famine.

The children in the front row had notebooks and pens at the ready for a wonderful presentation. I’m sorry to say they took few notes. The book – How To Bee – Bren wrote about passionately with her environmental issues abounding, it is award-winning. Her speech was delivered more like a lecture and I saw the kid’s eyes cloud over with disinterest. They did engage during the question time and I’m certain Bren with more experience of public speaking would have the kids enjoying the session. I wrote copious notes and feel her message was powerful but being that she read from her page of notes and didn’t have eye contact with the students, she lost her audience. Afterwards, I asked Bren if she had been to Somerset before and been to other sessions. She explained that she’d been living on a bus and had not been before. I totally understand as public speaking is not my forte, but her words were true and powerful. Had she had the opportunity to go to other sessions and see the other authors receive wrapt attention, she might have picked up some useful tips. 

(Personally, suggesting children protest when they don’t understand the full ramifications, can be a dangerous thing. Such as close coal power stations, people lose jobs, the Australian economy suffers, with no real tangible effect on the environment. Will the country slipping into bankruptcy help when coal is a valuable and available resource? Let children think about all the consequences before taking a day off school to march in the streets.)

Somerset Storyfest Report 2019 – Part Three

Session 11.15 to 12 noon – The Great Hall Louise

Zanni Louise is a picture book and fiction author based in Northern NSW. She’s written ten books for children, including Errol! Mum for Sale and the Tiggy and the Magic Paintbrush series. Her books sell in 20 countries and have been translated into multiple languages. Two have been long-listed for the CBCA awards and Archie and the Bear was selected for the White Ravens catalogue by the International Children’s Library. Zanni advocates for creativity and imagination and loves teaching writing to adults and children. She is part of the Byron Writers Festival StoryBoard program.

Zanni is also a Facebook friend of mine and I was delighted to see her presentation in the Great Hall. It was a relief to be in air conditioning.


The student introduction mentioned ‘Tiggy and the Magic Paintbrush’ and the Errol series. The room was packed and her hook to get the students involved was to set up an interview. It went from strength to strength from there.

The job interview was for an Author.

You are the best person for the job if you are: –

  1. Engaging and like playing games
  2. If you like being bored. Being bored is very important as not being entertained lets your mind roam. What happens is that your mind chases down ideas to make a story. My working life is like this – Zanni lies down on the stage. Stories come when I’m lying down.
  3. If you have a head with a brain inside you have imagination
  4. Perseverance – try and fail – try again – finish something
  5. Are any of you magic? Magic is making something out of a bunch of different things.

Zanni announced – you all qualify for being an author.

Tiggy magic paintbrush Birthday party trick cover‘Tiggy and the Magic Paintbrush’ idea came when one day she was folding clothes and her daughter was playing games and jumping on the bed. What would you do if you could print a friend? She wrote Wyn and the 3D printing machine. Early readers stories. She sent it away and the story was rejected. Zanni cried. Then she saved the idea and changed the name from Wyn to Tiggy, and the 3D printer to a paint brush.


Zanni sent the story to a different publisher and received a four-book contract, with Gillian Flint as the illustrator.Too-Busy-Sleeping cover Zannie

You are never too old for picture books. Zanni teaches writing for picture books. The story idea was a seed in the soil – inspired by emotions and observing how people feel.

Emotion – excited – frustrated

She wrote the first draft then edited and tweaked it. She sent it off to a publisher and discovered it’s an amazing business with lots of people doing different things.

Sent as a word document to the editor who sent it back with lots of red marks – oh no!

Okay, an Editor is good, they make the best story we could, reduce it down from five hundred words down to three hundred and fifty words. They suggested the main character solved her own problems. The illustrator was from the publishing house using colours and shapes on the page creating movement.

Two years later we had a finished book. The text and images came together.

archie and the bear coverArchie and the Bear had a different illustrator David Mackintosh.

The magic of picture books is that you can look through the book and read it without text.

As in Errol – a blank page with a blob helps the story take place with simple drawings that would take you through. The end pages are like wrapping paper.


Mum for sale – lets trade story ideas. Here are a few.

  1. A kid can print $100 bills and has to hide it because it’s illegal.
  2. The life story of a stick that falls into the sea, going all around the world.
  3. A little boy goes around the world and he loses his mum.
  4. A Mars Bar and you get eaten.

Writing is like dancing – (Zanni gets the kids involved)meet-zanni-1

The publisher asks – can you write a series of books about ballet? You can make anything out of nothing.

Bailey (a boy from the audience) gets up on stage and shows his dance move, like a caterpillar crawl.

Idea – Stardust School of Dance – books have relationships with people.

Question time

Q. How do you normally start your books? Zanni – with an idea from my notebook, I might draw a version of my story.

Q. Why does it take so long? Zanni – A lot of people are involved so it takes time, art takes time.

Errol-coverQ. When did you want to become an author? Zanni – When I was six I started, I didn’t think it was a job, I love picture books. When I had kids in 2015 I decided to try.

Q. What was your first book? Zanni – Too Busy to Sleep, but I knew I had a long way to go.

Q. How old were you when you wrote your first book? Zanni – Thirty-one

Q. What’s your best book? Zanni – I can’t choose. My favourite is Errol. I like to make kids laugh.

Q. How many books have you published? Zanni – Ten books published, I write a series.

Q. What’s your favourite Tiggy book? Zanni – A Birthday Party Trick

Q. What was your job before you were an author? Zanni – I worked in an Art Gallery. I wrote manuals on how to drive trucks. Training manuals, writing ten to twelve thousand words a day.

Q. Do you think you would write a book about bullying? Zanni – Maybe, I didn’t in my current book.

Then it was lunch time and I made my way happily to the Quadrangle. I ate my lunch perched on a seat, watching the bidding at an auction for an author to be slimed! Then I decided to change my next session and I’m glad I did. 

Somerset Storyfest Report 2019 – Part Four

LUNCH – In my previous post, I said I changed sessions. I did go to the ticket office during the lunch session. I didn’t get to see who was slimed, although I suspect it was Belinda Murrell. I changed one of the Friday sessions and kept this day as its original schedule. I’m so glad I was one of the half dozen (older level students) to make it over to the Year 11 Common Room to hear Clare Sultmann speak. Her story is amazing, inspirational, and at times, graphic description of events the reason a mature audience attended.

Session 12.45 pm to 1.30 pm – Year 11 Common Room

bookcover Clare SultmannClare Sultmann

The story of Clare Sultmann is one of strength, determination and adversity. After a devastating blow, she demonstrates how her unwavering determination has her standing on her own two feet.

The 23-year old aspiring lawyer woke up one morning to start her normal daily routine and headed out to complete her 10km circuit run. Little did she know that very morning would change her life forever. Over the coming months, she battled,
not only to stay alive but to save her legs and walk again on her own two feet. Although the physical and mental obstacles she faced were overwhelming, her strength and determination were unwavering. Standing On My Own Two Feet is Clare’s first novel and autobiography which chronicles her journey from despair to happiness with a myriad of life lessons learned along the way.

Clare introduced herself by saying in 2000 she started writing ‘Standing On My Own Two Feet’, the title would make sense shortly.  The book was published in May 2013.

She continued to give the background to her life. When she was young, she didn’t know what to do. She went to Uni at UQ and graduated with a Business Degree, still not knowing what she wanted to do, she obtained a Bond University scholarship and lived in Robina while studying Law at Bond. She was always very athletic as a Junior Tennis champion in Queensland, she also succeeded in Dragon Boats National Titles. Fitness is a very big part of her life. When she completed her Law degree at Uni she would move to London, using Sydney as a stepping stone. She always planned things, that was the way she was. Her law degree was fast-tracked. January 2000 drove down to Sydney with her parents driving behind her. Their only daughter needed to ring every day to say she was alright. May 2000, she lived at Bondi Beach going for a 10k run every day before catching the ferry to work. She felt very accomplished. Her work at KPMG she was a consultant in the area of taxation. In fifteen weeks, she would be going to London.

Sydney was cold. On this Friday morning, 18th August 2000. Unusually she had a ‘should I or shouldn’t I’ feeling about going for her run, it was cold and it would be so good just to hop back under the covers at 6 am. Shaking herself out of that reverie she began her normal routine, got dressed, into her leggings and t-shirt and headed out for her run. Clare was determined to keep fit as outward appearance was important to her. At 23 with her life planned out, blond hair tied back for the run she headed out.

Only 200 meters from her unit a garbage truck didn’t see her and ran over her. Worse, the truck stopped on top of her. All she felt was a deep burning. There was an ambulance on the next corner. She was screaming. No one would answer her. Police arrived and she continued to scream at the garbage truck man. ‘You’ve already ruined my life.’ The truck had to be lifted off her to release her. She was taken to St Vincent’s hospital. She was conscious and spoke to her mother who said she was driving down. She asked her mother – why are you driving? Her parents drove to Brisbane and caught a plane.

clare visitors at hosp in book imageThe ambulance paramedic gave her 2000 dose of morphine, enough to kill a horse, which gave her no relief, she was in agony. The Triage Code One – degree life-threatening situation. They operated for thirteen hours to save her life, with three surgeons.

Her thoughts when she woke were. Do I have my legs? Yes, but! What about my job? In intensive care? She was lucky to have kept her legs, but the garbage truck had severed blood flow, her veins and arteries were gone. It was a question of – life or limb?

In September 2000 she began a month flat in bed. In October she’d been in hospital six months. Learning to walk again and the skin grafts were the next challenge. Clare was in incredible pain when standing.clare in hosp starting to walk

The support from family and friends saw me through. ‘Let’s get these legs moving,’ was her mantra. Most nights she had visitors. Forty-two are still some of her best friends. She’d write letters. Her mother stayed at her side the whole time. She had thirty-seven operations. And was in the rehab hospital from February 2001 for over six months. She was twenty-three and was now a different person. She got very depressed. Her mum always said ‘Clare, things will get better.’

The lessons Clare felt she’d learnt through this ordeal were. You need much love to get through this. In prosperity, our friends know us. In adversity, you know who your friends are.

There are defining moments in a person’s life that show your future strengths. At eleven or twelve in 1989 in a tennis competition. She was asked if she was going to forfeit or play on. Getting up after a fall is what sets you apart from others. That’s what she did.

Bikers groups get terrible press, but, when she was in the hospital the ‘King Cross Bikers’ came to give patients presents. ‘Skull’ was the father of a kid who had a teddy bear, with empathy and care, the boy chose to give it to her.

Clare said her mother told her. ‘It’s not the accident that will define you. It’s where you go from there. You are so much more than your injuries.’

Oprah and ClareOprah Winfrey quote: ‘What do you know for sure. No matter what you think, nothing is certain. Spirit can overcome.’

In 2011 she returned to work part-time. Work gives you a sense of purpose. Her work kept her focused.

Clare graduated with Master of Law Degree from Uni of Sydney in May 2004.

The book was cathartic.

How the book was published was with help from Johnny Elvers (not sure if I got this name down correctly) and Peter FitzSimons edited. The book was everything from her journal. The publisher Halstead Press came on board.

Then she showed photos of her at the Dorset Orthopedic Clinic, Hampshire, UK November 2005, sitting beside a cabinet filled with prosthetic limbs.clare Cam William Joseph

She began working for a charity – ‘Young care’ in April 2006 to 2007 for Age-Appropriate Care. The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in helping others.

She met her husband Cam and they married in 2010. She has three children William, Joseph and Amelia.

She has gone on to the Bar as a Barrister.

Has a women’s networking site – Dear Molly – and lives in Noosa.

Somerset StoryFest report 2019– part five

There’s not a lot of time between events, by the time I went up to Clare briefly and said how much I enjoyed the session it was time to make my way to the oval to Marquee 2. This was a young audience and only about two grades. As I’ve already mentioned, the Marquee’s are hot. Right from the start, Lucas has his young audience in the palm of his hand.

Session 1.45pm to 2.30pm – Marquee 2

Lucas Proudfoot with instrumentsLucas Proudfoot

Lucas Proudfoot is one of Australia’s most versatile children’s performers, playing guitar, didgeridoo and stompbox to over 120,00 kids each year. He is a multi-platform storyteller, sharing stories through his music, books and live performances.
In recent years, he has been touring Australia performing his cultural show, Circular Rhythm, where he delivers an entertaining and contemporary Indigenous Australian music experience, inviting young audiences to learn about Indigenous cultures through a live show full of fun and interaction. He has shared stages alongside a host of Australia’s most renowned children’s performers including Hi5, Justine Clarke, Jay Laga’aia and Yo Gabba Gabba, performing his cultural show, Circular Rhythm. Lucas is a proud member of the Tweed Coast Aboriginal and Islander community and lives on the Gold Coast with his wife and their young daughter.

Lucas started by saying he’s a performance artist, who had been on Playschool.

He introduced his instruments and the characters they portray.

BILLY BLUE TONGEBilly Bluetongue – the Drum or Stompbox

Pat the Wombat – Pat-THE WOMBATDidgeridoo

Koolaz-selfieKoolaz Koala – plays guitar.

In the first twenty minutes, he had connected with the kids.

Lucas Proudfoot at Somerset StoryFest 2019

Lucas began by saying stories come in many different ways, heritage is a big part of his.

His Grandfather was ‘Proudfoot’ and that’s his Scottish side. It’s easy to start when you’re passionate about things.

He grew up at Nan’s place where he would go fishing and follow tracks down to the beach. Jullum – fish, is a big part of his background, catching mud crabs among the mango trees. They would eat all that food, and they had music.


The music was – lucas proudfoot guitar mad expression

Short – Fast – Fun

Lucas said his parents were teachers

Dad played the guitar and Uncle played spoon on the belly (this had the kids in hysterics).

Lucas said he writes about his experiences, the places he’s visited and the people he’s met. There’s a little about the languages and learning about cultures in each of his books.

books Lucas Proudfoot all 3 coversThe Proudfoots

Magic Globe? What Magic Globe?

Shaka Shaka Hawaii

Rocking in Japan

Culture – not all aboriginals play the didgeridoo, not in South Australia, Victoria or Tasmania, they did not play the didgeridoo only in Arnhem land they did.

Why do we paint a didgeridoo?

To give it a point of difference and to tell a story. This one has the story of the diamondback turtle.

Somerset StoryFest Marquees


What a magical way to end the day. The kid’s laughter ringing in my ears.

After ending the day on a high I couldn’t wait to get back for more on Friday.

Stay tuned for the next instalment.

Somerset StoryFest report 2019– part six

Friday was a shorter day for me, I made every session count. Having bought and read ‘Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy’ by Karen Foxlee. She was first on my Friday list. I headed straight to the oval to Marquee 2.

Friday 22nd March 2019

Session 9.15 to 10 am – Marquee 2

Karen-Foxlee bio picKaren Foxlee

Karen Foxlee is an Australian author who writes for both kids and grown-ups. Her first novel The Anatomy of Wings won numerous awards including the Dobbie Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book. Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy, Karen’s first novel for children, (which I read and loved) was published internationally to much acclaim while her second novel for younger readers, A Most Magical Girl, won the Readings Children’s Fiction Prize in 2017 and was CBCA shortlisted the same year. Karen lives in South East Queensland with her daughter and several animals, including two wicked parrots, who frequently eat parts of her laptop when she isn’t looking. Her passions are her daughter, writing, day-dreaming, baking, running and swimming in the sea.

Karen was introduced as an award-winning author of five novels aimed at grades 5, 6, Lenny's Book of Everything coverand 7.  Lenny’s Book of Everything won independent booksellers of the year award.

Karen outlined that she would be talking about how stories come to be. How writers become writers and that there are so many different ways to tell a story.

Q. Do you think stories are important.

ophelia-and-the-marvelous-boy coverA. Yes

Q. Why turn our minds to stories

A. Escape, entertainment, to pass down history, to get away, to feel better about yourself. Turn to a book to learn to cope with difficult situations.

Karen said when she writes a book its to entertain, words sing so you want to keep turning the page. She wants her readers to think about things, all the things you have to deal with. Writers plugin to keep the world electrified.

How she became a writer was at six and a half she was bored and hot. She had a feeling karen-foxlee-special-note Ophelia and the Marvellous boyand she wrote a story. She had created something out of nothing. That was so powerful. She wants to recreate that feeling. She’s practising, taking time to practice. Lots and lots of practice.

Q. Where do you get your ideas from?

A. They come from everywhere, family life, maps, clouds, feelings – they all stew in her head.

Q. Where do you get your inspiration?

A. I’ll give you an example of an idea that came from experience. At twenty-five, I was backpacking, visiting a castle, looking all through the rooms. One part was blocked off. Along the corridor slightly open big arched wooden door. She went through the barrier and through the crack in the door. It was a storeroom and inside was a glass coffin, inside the coffin was a skeleton, on its head was a crown. What if you went into a museum and saw something you weren’t meant to see? That’s where Ophelia’s story began.

Karen-Foxlee2Lenny’s came from a feeling. When I write I have three random ideas in mind and my job is to write a story that links them.

1. What does it feel like to be different? When I was young I had curvature of the spine and I had to wear a back brace. I felt different.

2. The idea bubbled up – a boy grows up and he grows and grows, and keeps growing.

3. The story had to include a set of encyclopedia. Before computers where would you go to get information? The Library. You’d go to a card catalogue, go up to a reference section and pull out the book you need. The encyclopedia was Google before Google.

Q. What do writers use to start stories?

A. Pencil, memories, imagination, notebook and the best question – What if?

One day when my mum came home from hospital an encyclopedia salesman came to the door. The ideas don’t always come together right the first time. It needs to be written a second and third time.

Door – heart – feeling. The mother had a feeling. Davy grew. They had a Burrell’s Build it at Home Enclyopedia Set.

Karen loved looking up things in their encyclopedia.covers_anatomyofwings karen foxlee

A – Ants – bulldog ants, Amphibians, Albatross has a 3.5-meter wingspan, Abominable snowman.

B – Beetles – Lenny loves beetles – there are over 350,000 species of beetles. Davy loves birds.

C – Canada – there was a place in Canada they want to run away to.

The story is about love, friendship, to make you laugh or cry and what is there to know.

Q. What is the best thing about being alive? (Karen asked the children)

A. Family, friends. Experiencing new things. Learning crazy facts. Discover new things. Challenges. To help others to learn to succeed. Gods creation in nature. To reach for the stars. To feel fulfilled. To live for every single moment. To be your own person. (what wonderful answers)

A most magical girl cover Karen FoxleeQ. How did you feel when you saw the glass coffin and skeleton

A. Glad I took a risk and looked

Q. Why did you choose to be an author

A. I always wanted to tell stories

Q. What’s your favourite part of life?

A. My daughter and the natural world.

Q. What’s your favourite book?  A. Lenny’s book of everything.

Q. What was the first book you wrote? A. The Anatomy of wings told from a ten-year-old girls point of view. A girl who likes facts.

Q. Who did you look up to when you were young?a most magical girl alternate cover

A. My older sister, teachers, my mum and authors.

Q. What do you think your next book will be about?

A. A magical story and water dragon who doesn’t like water.

Q. What is the meaning of life in your words?

A. Love, kindness, don’t take anything for granted.

Q. In one word – how would you describe your books?

A. Adventures.

I went to a museum in London and there they had recreated Victorian era street with a carriage, pretty, prim and propper. I saw The Most Magical Girl in that street.

midnight dress karen foxlee coverQ. Have you got inspiration from other peoples books?

A. Yes, The Snow Queen from Hans Christian-Anderson – in Ophelia her version of the Snow Queen appears.

Q. What was your passion before being an author?

A. Writing, Nurse, love to help people.

Q. If there was one thing you could change in your career, what would it be?

A. Believe in yourself from the beginning.

Q. One fantasy animal you like, what would it be?   A. Dragons.

Q. What story mostly shows you and your family in it?

A. A bit of me in all my stories, maybe the first book, The Anatomy of Wings.

Somerset StoryFest report 2019– part seven

This was the session I changed from my original purchases.  Mainly because having been moved by Clare Sultmann’s story on Wednesday I felt this story of recovery over adversity would be of more interest to me than the three young poets. I’ve nothing against poetry or youth, it was my choice from gut feelings that I go for this session, and I’m so glad I did. 

10.15am to 11am Venue – Spartans Indoor Baseball Courts (due to school renovations)

Samantha Bloom and Penguin the MagpieSamantha Bloom and Cameron Bloom

From the lows of a devastating injury to the highs of representing Australia as an athlete, and inspiring an upcoming Hollywood movie, Sam’s path has been anything but ordinary. In 2013, Sam’s dream life turned into a nightmare. On a 2013 family holiday in Thailand, Sam leant against a rotten balcony railing, falling through it and crashing six metres onto the concrete below. She suffered devastating injuries that left her paralysed from the chest down. Broken and hopeless, Sam reached her outer limits of suffering. But with courage, determination and a little help from an unlikely feathered friend, she made her way back from the edge, scarred but undefeated.

Samantha was introduced with her husband Cameron. They would relate how in 2013 penguin-bloom hard coverSam suffered devastating injuries, and how, a little magpie they named Penguin, would save the family.

Sam began. From a young age, she had a sense of adventure. Her mind was set on two things, travel the world and to become a nurse. She worked in a cake shop. She met photographer Cam, as they were kindred spirits, they set off to travel the world for two years. The more remote and exotic the better. They met Catherine, an Australian doctor in Ethiopia. They were inspired. They wanted to go back once their boys Ruben, Noah and Ollie were old enough to travel to Africa. There was too much unrest in Cairo so they went to Thailand and that’s where they went to a beautiful hotel. sam hospital with boysThey stood on the beach after a swim. Sam felt life was perfect. They stood on a balcony to enjoy the views, she leant against the safety rail and it gave way. She fell six meters to the concrete pathway. There was a pool of blood from the back of her head. The three boys saw it.

The journey changed, she was taken to a hospital close by. Her whole body was battered, her back was broken. She would never walk again. She was taken to Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney where she spent seven months in hospital. They were all looking forward to Sam coming home.

Once home Sam found it much harder. It didn’t feel like her own home or be a good sam and penguin recoverymum. They represented the world she’d lost. She wasn’t the same anymore and she missed the old Sam. She thought about suicide.

Then they found an injured magpie. They decided to give it the best shot. They called it Penguin and this bird was something that made them all happy. Penguin gave her a purpose. Sam laughed for the first time since the accident. Penguin was her constant companion. Never kept in a cage, we were her family. She found it hard to leave the lounge. Penguin would sit in the Frangipani tree.

Every morning at 6 am she came in. The boys had adopted a baby sister. A small creature that made a big difference. When we went out, Penguin was always excited to see them return. At 3.30 they called each other in bird calls, the boys mimicked the bird calls.

bloom familySam said watching Penguin get stronger every day made her feel she wasn’t useless. She could still add value and purpose to those around her.

Penguin had spent more time outside, sometimes going away. On Ruben’s thirteenth birthday, they said ‘imagine if Penguin came back today’. People around them knew Penguin. She did arrive at a nearby property but wouldn’t go to their friends, Cameron had to go and pick her up. When Ruben returned home and Penguin was there he rushed inside calling to her in bird song. Cameron took a video. Sam said simply – he was very excited.

Sam couldn’t do any of the sports she loved but she could kyack. So she took up racing sam and penguinand started training six times a week, going to the gym three times a week. She had a goal to compete in Kyacking in the Para Olympics. Travelling again was wonderful. Winning races and medals were not as important as being active.

Before the accident, her favourite place in the world was Palm Beach, Sydney on the point. She thought she could never go back there. Her first Christmas at home she was woken at 4.30 am and four friends were waiting for her. They carried her to her rock. Ruben sprinkled rose petals there. It was her Christmas present to be on her rock. One by one her friends left her. They allowed her twenty minutes to sit on her rock alone.

Now she knew anything is possible if your creative and determined.

xpenguin-bloom.coverShe’ll never accept being in a wheelchair for life. Surfing had been her passion before the accident, now laying down she started surfing again. She entered the Australian Adaptive competition and won. Then went onto the World Adaptive surf challenge. She can duck dive and Cam pushes her onto the waves. She made it through to become World Champion. At that moment, she was taller than everyone else, for once.

Sam said now she’s super grateful. You’re never too old or damaged to do what you love doing. Anything and everything can be taken away at any time. Strive to be the best you can be with those you love most. Accepting the love of others can help make you whole.

Penguin at two years old was ready to find a mate. Male Magpies are white and black on the neck but females are grey.

When the boys were at kindy they would take the kids sandwiches at morning tea and Penguin would fly down there.

Cam said it was an incredible story, Sam is goal orientated, and her World Championship participation showed how much she’d changed.

Q. How do you feel you’ve changed in yourself, what affirming things?

A. Sam – I’ve completely changed, I’m happy and content. I still don’t like my body. I’m resilient. I have amazing support and from Cam and the boys. I’ve not spoken publically before so this is new for me.

Q. What inspired you to share your story?

A. Cam – I made an Instagram account for Penguin. When the press picked it up and the book happened. Bradley, the author of the book, which was a wonderful process.

Q. How much involvement will you have in the movie?

A. Cam/Sam – we are executive directors, it’s being filmed in our house, all Australian production. We have to move out of our house while they make the movie.

Q. As an athlete how do you stay motivated?

A. I’ve always been competitive. I found Kyacking, not enough speed. I’d grown up surfing and that was when the fun feeling returned. The picture of me kyack training showed the strain. Surfing is better.

Q. Would you have found the unconditional love the same if it had been a dog?

A. Sam – a dog might be similar. Cam – I don’t agree, Penguin was wild, not a pet. The powerful thing was that she could have left at any time.

Q. How are they going to do a Magpie in the movie?

A. They have a bird wrangler.

Somerset StoryFest report 2019– part eight

Now the best part of Somerset is there are times you can get more bang for your buck by going to panel sessions. The sure to be winners in my book. This year I was limited by both time and resources so I needed to cram as much of the author’s inspiration into my visit to Somerset as I could. Therefore, I picked for my last session: – Take Three Girls – a book and panel comprising Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood.

Session 10.15am to 11 am –

Take Three Girls – Year 11 Common Room – Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood

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, Graffiti Moon (I’ve read and loved) and Words in Deep Blue. 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. Words in Deep Blue won the Indie Book Awards Young Adult Fiction of the Year 2017, the Gold Inky Award 2017 and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction. Her collaborative novel Take Three Girls, written with YA luminaries Fiona Wood and Simmone Howell, won the CBCA Award for Book of the Year: Older Readers 2018 and was shortlisted for a Gold Inky Award 2018.

Simmone Howell is the award-winning author of YA novels Girl Defective, Everything SimmoneHoweell-1Beautiful and Notes from the Teenage Underground. She also writes non-fiction about dream houses, teen movies and ways to map a city. She lives in Melbourne and is currently working on a memoir about her formative female influences.

fiona woodFiona Wood is the award-winning author of three interlinked novels, Six Impossible Things, Wildlife, and Cloudwish. The books are published internationally and are Junior Library Guild Selections in the US. Take Three Girls, co-authored with Cath Crowley and Simmone Howell, won the CBCA Book of the Year, Older Readers, was shortlisted for the Indie and Gold Inky awards and has been honoured by the International Youth Library as a White Ravens selection. Before writing YA fiction, Fiona worked as a screenwriter. She lives in Melbourne.

Take Three Girls cover

This beautifully crafted, lively novel captures the good and the bad of female friendship” Bec Kavanagh Books + Publishing, 5 stars.


3 award-winning authors.
1 compelling book.

ADY – not the confident A-Lister she appears to be.
KATE – brainy border taking risks to pursue the music she loves.
CLEM – disenchanted swim-star losing her heart to the wrong boy.

All are targeted by PSST, a toxic website that deals in gossip and lies. St Hilda’s antidote to the cyber-bullying? The Year 10 Wellness program. Nice try – but sometimes all it takes is three girls.

Exploring friendship, feminism, identity and belonging. Take Three Girls is honest, raw and funny.


Now to my notes, after the introduction of all three ladies, Cath Crowley began with a reading from the book. The end of that scene shows Clem practising playing the cello alone and not wanting anyone to see her.

Q. How did you three ladies meet?

simmone-howell torso bio pic b&wA. Simmone, I write for television went to an event to talk about ‘The Secret Life of Us’ there I met Fiona through another writer at the writer’s centre. Fiona, we had the same publisher and attended the same writing retreat. Cath, me too.

Q. How did your relationship grow as you were writing this book?

A. Fiona, we were already friends and were well down the road to creating together. Simmone, it takes a long time, we don’t want to jinx it, by freeing us to write our sections then putting the work together. Fiona, how it developed made the characters’ friendships better and stronger. The earliest things we decided to make sure writing this book wasn’t going to wreck our friendship. Cath, though trying to tie the story together, the editing is the most difficult thing, we were constantly applying changes, the editor on her shoulder with two other people made it ok.

Q. What the book is about effects teenagers our age. (the host and her audience)Cath Crowley in chair

A. Simmone – the main thing online lumber secrets that are negative, toxic, viral things – each girl individual thing to deal with – Clem back to her own body image and finding a place in the world. Fiona – before internet bullying it would stop when you went home, now online it’s 24/7, being prosecuted rarely is a horror. Cath – made the reference of a secret tracker. Fiona – we didn’t want to sugar coat it, we won ‘Book of the Year.’ Simmone – realistic on the share the load. Cath – wade into the world.

Q. How did you go about structuring your novel?

A. Simmone – pre-planning, Fiona TV writing experience – getting the details. Fiona – this will be so much fun, chapter planning each one of us had a character. Each, two writers, write the same scene, from different points of view. Cath – we mapped out where the characters stand in relation to one another. Simmone – people remember differently.

Fiona wood Bio PicQ. All three of you are strong women, what does Feminism mean to you?

A. Simmone – Equality is not what you look like. Cath – same opportunity to the same pay. Fiona – Feminism has a bad rap, we need to go back to the meaning – Political equality, Economic equality, Social equality, Fundamental Social equality. There are still demonstrable differences.

Q. How do you think peoples outlook has changed in the last ten years?

A. Fiona – we have become immune to normal – nobody questioned it – at that time description of the status quo. Those questions asked now frequently look at with fresh eyes. Young people need to ask questions. Simmone – Now people are asking questions when I was at school, we didn’t. Cath – I love the way the world is now, very hopeful, the world is changing. Fiona – people are pushing back. Only a small percentage, so little and threatened.

Q. Relationships of the three girls in the book, did you want to protect your character?somerset stand

A. Simmone – Clem had self-esteem, she thought the boy was good and easily influenced by him but not a good relationship. Not needing external validation from boys, now – its change male opinion previously more important than female.

Q. How you drew inspiration from when you were at school?

cathcrowley-39A. Cath – I lived in the country and wanted to get out, I loved music, art, reading and literature. Fiona – I grew up in a middle-class safe environment, but my father was an alcoholic and there was pressure in the family to keep it a secret. Be authentic to herself but keep the family secret. Journals were more revealing.

Q. Did you slip into the characters you were writing?

A. Cath – Yes, while we were discussing them. Fiona – as professional writing it helps to keep you focused. Simmone – Emotionally true and everything else will follow. Cath -we were learning more of the craft using a whiteboard, fine-tuning the characters, cleaned up. Fiona – by the end of the book we knew all the characters.

Q. Why do you think YA’s read this type of book?

A. Simmone – wanted to write a book that was real for right now. Fiona – Online Simmone Howell - author photooptimistic ideas to gain strength and support each other’s back. Cath – freedom to be yourself. Fiona – deliberately structure wellness program people can feel ashamed of but constructive conversation helps.

Q. Write a book in a day story beats – plot pursuits?

A. Fiona – Story bead is something that happens in the story, narrative progression. Simmone – Save the Cat eight beats. Fiona – Film writing and novel writing depends on structure.

Q. How hard was it to stay on target?

A. Cath – amazing things happened to change the story but we kept to a plan.

fiona Simmone and CathQ. When writing what circumstance did you have?

A. Fiona – age group readers and how would you feel.

Q. Who are your biggest idols and inspirations?

A. Simmone – there are so many, artists who are true to themselves. Fiona – Jane Austin – a sense of humour. Cath – Jacinta Ardern said (and I didn’t note the quote)

Q. When you started this project did you think you would win an award?

A. Cath – no, it’s amazing.

Then we’d run out of time and the students moved on after photos were taken. I’ll hold happy memories of my day and a half at Somerset StoryFest 2019, for the rest of my year. I plan to get there next year and see more.

I hope you enjoyed my eight-part report.