journal

DANCE WITH ME ON THE ROAD

December 23, 2016

Dance with Me has just finished a whirlwind tour of the Nillumbik shire. We started with two fun-filled dance-themed storytime sessions at the Diamond Valley Library, to coincide with the Australian Ballet Company kids’ workshops.

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Then, there was music and craft aplenty in The Common’s popular storytime corner.

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And we finished the year with a bang as part of The Eltham Bookshop’s 12 Days to Christmas celebrations.

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THE SUGAR AND SPICE COLLECTION LAUNCH!

October 9, 2016

I’ve just landed back in Melbourne, but I’m still flying high after my trip to Newcastle for the launch of The Sugar and Spice Collection at the Wallsend District Library. It was such a thrill
to join the rest of the “team”, including illustrator Gwynneth Jones and authors Anouska Jones and Susan Whelan, for a truly magical day.

There were balloons and pom poms in hot pink and orange, cupcakes (even ballerina cookies, fairy bread and pony food), stories, craft activities and lots of laughs. Huge thanks to
EK Books, MacLean’s Booksellers, the Wallsend District Library, author Deborah Kelly (our divine MC), Luke Arms (who took the fabulous photos below) and to everyone involved for creating such a special launch.

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PUBLICATION DAY

October 1, 2016

It’s here!! Happy publication day Dance with Me. Illustrated by the oh-so talented Gwynneth Jones and published by EK Books, the book is sold individually and as part of a gorgeous boxed set, The Sugar and Spice Collection, which includes books by Anouska Jones and Susan Whelan, also illustrated by Gwynneth. And the launch of the collection is set for October 8 at the Wallsend District Library, Newcastle. Hope to see you all there, with bells and dancing shoes on.

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BIG NEWS!

June 23, 2016

I’m very excited to be working on a second picture book for EK Books with (insert drum roll) the lovely and amazing Penelope’s Nest. If you aren’t familiar with her work, have a peek at her website – it’s absolutely stunning! And here’s a little teaser as to what the book, due for release early in 2018, is about…

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CBCA CONFERENCE

Here’s my article for the CBCA Vic newsletter:

A snap shot of this year’s CBCA Conference, written by CBCA Vic member Penny Harrison

As a new picture book author, I was delighted to learn I’d won tickets to my first-ever Children’s Book Council of Australia conference, in Sydney, on May 20-21.  Thanks to the CBCA Victorian branch, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the heavenly world of children’s books for two days. Surrounded by more than 300 people, all passionate about children’s books, I enjoyed an awe-inspiring line-up of speakers and events exploring the theme READ: Myriad Possibilities.

Each speaker left goosebumps, beginning with Libby Gleeson’s opening at the Menzies Hotel about the impact of reading on neural pathways.  Picture-book partnerships was the session I had most looked forward to and the host of presenters did not disappoint with plenty of laughs and fabulous insights into their adventures and creative processes.
Some interesting and quirky facts from this session:
Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro are a comic sensation and, yes, there is such a colour as ‘spiritual red’ (you’ll find it in their latest picture book Elephants Have Wings).
Janeen Brian and Ann James have a wonderful way of complementing each other’s work and much of their book, I’m a Hungry Dinosaur, was written in a hotel room.
Mark Greenwood and Terry Denton are seasoned travel buddies, journeying to remote parts of Australia together to research their picture books Jandamarra and Boomerang and Bat.

Another stand-out speaker was author/illustrator Trace Balla whose concurrent session gave us a peek at her intricate artistic process, which involves an impressive amount of bushwalking and ‘taking photos’ with her pencil and sketchbook.

Margrete Lamond (Little Hare – Hardie Grant Egmont) was enthralling with her thought-provoking lecture on the nuances of art and the power of the artist/illustrator to evoke emotion in the reader.  And the softly spoken Jeannie Baker held a captive audience with a detailed discussion on her latest book, Circle, following the ancient pathways of the godwit birds.

The CBCA, celebrating its 70th birthday, treated us to a stunning musical feast paying homage to Julie Vivas and Margaret Wild. The illustrations of their beloved picture books were shown on screens while a singer and chamber orchestra performed the compositions of conductor/composer George Ellis in a breathtaking operatic recital of the words.

The conference dinner was also a wonderful chance to mingle with fellow delegates, a glorious mix of authors, illustrators, publishers, librarians and teachers from all over the country. Speaker James Valentine had us in fits of laughter with his self-deprecating wit as he regaled with tales of his journey from Ballarat school boy to radio announcer and author.

Sadly, an early flight meant I missed some literary legends on the Friday, including Children’s Laureate Leigh Hobbs and Graeme Base, but, overall, my experience of the conference highlighted the incredible dedication of the CBCA and its many members to engaging young readers with quality Australian literature. I felt honoured and enriched to be part of it, and came away with a head full of ideas and a suitcase laden with books.

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May 6, 2016

So, this happened just recently:

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The CBCA Victoria member winner of a free registration to the CBCA National conference was Penny Harrison. Penny is the author of a picture book due out in October and says ‘I can still recall the thrill at seeing the first illustration for it. Everything I had dreamed was forgotten as the illustrator’s imagination and talent swept me away. I am fascinated by some of the inspiring partnerships in Australia and I am excited at the chance to learn more about the power and possibility of such collaborations at the Picture Book Partnerships session’. Congratulations Penny!

I’m so jazzed to be attending my first conference and so grateful to CBCA Victoria for the opportunity. Looking forward to all the stimulating sessions, the conference dinner and all those glorious picture books. Stay tuned for a full wrap-up of the conference here.

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SMILE CRY BOOK LAUNCH

April 11, 2016

I was so lucky to be able to attend the launch of Smile Cry (EK Books), by Tania McCartney and Jess Rackyleft, at The Little Bookroom, in Carlton, at the weekend. This was Jess’s debut launch and it was such a delightful affair, complete with a ukulele player, cupcakes and champagne.

As for the book itself, it’s a beautiful flip-over picture book exploring the fine nuances of our emotions. Piglet, Bunny and Cat are gorgeous characters that will help children recognise and talk about the different shades of their feelings, whether it be a “cosy under blanket smile” or a “tutu in the wash cry”. And, of course, the illustrations are to die for!

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SPOTLIGHT ON: AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR SALLY FAWCETT

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I first met Sally Fawcett in an online classroom, studying Writing Picture Books with the Australian Writers’ Centre. It wasn’t long after the course that Sally signed her first contract with EK Books to illustrate and write What Could It Be? Sally’s passion for teaching, art and creative writing shone through from the moment I met her and this book is brimming with that same passion. It’s vibrant and insightful as it encourages children to look beyond the obvious and explore the world of shapes and colour. It’s a wonderful way to get your kids thinking laterally as they are shown each shape and then invited to search for that shape in many different forms across gorgeous, detailed double-page spreads. This delightful interactive book is perfect for tapping into your child’s imagination and creativity, and teaching them how to look at the world from a different perspective. Here, we chat with Sally about her the book, her background and her future plans:

Tell us about your background?
I grew up in a single-parent home and went to public schools.  Although I went to a high school that offered a ‘Special Art’ program, I did not join up because I didn’t think we could afford the $50 fee. Looking back, I know my mum would have found the money and, if I could go back in time, I would do it! Silly me! I did not study art after school either. Instead, I learned how to draft house designs then decided a desk job wasn’t for me and studied a Bachelor of Education.  I love teaching, but I also love to write and draw. After my third child was born, I got an amazing wave of creative energy that had me up ’til midnight each night making art. Then I started writing and joined these three loves (teaching, writing and drawing) together to create picture books.

How did your first picture book, What Could It Be?, come about?
While participating in the 52 Week Illustration Challenge, I really opened my mind to thinking creatively about how I could interpret the theme word of the week. This led me to think about how shapes can be incorporated into artwork and then I thought about what else geometric shapes could be transformed into. This sparked a concept for the book.

As a primary teacher, what sort of stories interest you?
I like stories that can be used as springboards into other lessons.  It always works well to begin a new topic with a picture book that explores ideas relevant to your lessons. Stories with humour and not too many words are always fun to read aloud, too.

 

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How would you describe your writing style?
My writing style is pretty short and to-the-point. I do not write with a lot of description, so I think my style suits picture books, where the pictures can do the describing for me.  I did try to write an early reader without pictures and I realised it’s just not for me, at this stage anyway … although I do have an idea for a middle-grade fiction. I’ll have to work on it.

And what about your illustration style?
My illustration style is emotional (although not so much in What Could it Be?).  Generally, I like to create art that elicits an emotional response from the viewer.  My next book, which I am currently drawing the illustrations for, explores a range of emotions and I am really enjoying drawing my little girl character’s moods.

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 How do you like to work?

Without continuous interruptions from children, which is rare!  I like to play music. During the illustrating of What Could it Be? I played one album over and over and over for 10 months solid. It was an Italian singer called Mango. The lyrics are all in Italian and I can’t understand them, so I found it really good to put me in a zone for drawing without being distracted by singing along.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on my next picture book illustrations.  I am now obsessed with Cat Empire and Jack Johnson music, so this is my new soundtrack for the next few months.

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THE PLOT THICKENS

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“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden”
– Frances Hodgson Burnett

 

It’s pretty much the perfect time to get out into the garden. Of course, if you have kids, any time is a good time. Gardens are fodder for the soul and imagination. They allow kids to explore, create, dream, wonder, and get good and dirty. Spend a few moments outside each day, encouraging your kids to pull weeds, pick home-grown veggies, plant seeds, dig holes, feed worms and watch things grow.

 

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Some great ideas for getting your kids into the garden include:

  1. Start your own veggie patch or herb garden. It doesn’t have to be big, but get the kids involved in planting seedlings and hunting out pests, such as snails or caterpillar moth. Stephanie Alexander recommends starting with something that will reward quickly, such as radishes, snow peas or lettuce.
  2.  Give your kids a patch of dirt and let them plant whatever they like. Try something colourful, such as sunflowers, marigolds or pansies. Natasha Grogan, of The Sage Garden, says it doesn’t have to look beautiful; it just needs to be their patch where they can move dirt around, plant seeds or flowers, and, yes, step on the odd seedling.
  3. Try a nature walk or scavenger hunt through your garden. Give the kids a list of things to find (eg a yellow flower, a weed, something rough etc).
  4. Start a worm farm or compost bin. This is a wonderful way to teach kids about recycling food scraps, the natural cycle of organic waste and what goes on beneath the soil.
  5. Create a fairy garden or terrarium. Get the kids foraging for pieces of green moss, lichen-covered twigs, interesting stones and flowers to decorate their miniature world with.
  6. Talk about the benefits of enticing birds, bees and butterflies into your garden and help the kids make bird feeders and bird/butterfly baths, and plant native species rich in pollen.
  7. Finally, don’t forget to introduce your children to some of the dreamy garden picture books out there. Here are some of my favourites:

 

Sally’s Secret, by Shirley Hughes

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This was my all-time favourite picture book as a child and I’m holding it responsible for my deep love of gardens. I still daydream about finding a secret place, tucked away among the camellia bushes, just like Sally does. Sally loves building cubbies in all sorts of places. Then, one day, she discovers a truly special cubby, which is perfect for sharing with a special friend. Shirley Hughes always draws such poignant characters and Sally (and her friend, Rose) are no exception. Shirley invites the reader into the world of Sally’s imagination, bordering each illustration with enchanting, exotic cities and lush flowers and foliage. You’ll want to venture into the garden and eat plums and biscuits off leaf plates, too.

 

Ruby Red Shoes, by Kate Knapp

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Ah, Ruby, how I love your stripey stockings and red Mary Jane shoes. Ruby is a sweet-as-pie character, with a penchant for gardening, birds and French-speaking hens. If you’re looking for a book to inspire your child to move slowly through the world, taking notice of the little things, this beauty from Kate Knapp is for you. Plus, Ruby has the most amazing veggie patch you’ll ever see.

 

Grandpa Green, by Lane Smith

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It’s hard to describe just how much I love this book. It’s whimsical and wonderful as it explores the memories of a boy’s great-grandfather through his fantastical and elaborate topiary garden. It covers his birth and his bout of chicken pox, along with his school years, military service and marriage. There’s a dash of humour and a gentle, reflective tone as we wander through the garden, which helps the elderly man reminisce and connect with his family.

 

The Night Garden, by Terry & Eric Fan

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What is it about topiaries that have the power to create an air of mystery and stir the imagination? Here, a new picture-book dynamic duo has created a magical book to treasure. Set in a grey, depressed town, it focuses on William, an orphan who notices one morning that a tree outside his window has been sculpted into a spectacular owl. In the days that follow, new topiaries appear, each more beautiful and elaborate than the last, transforming the town into a place of colour and celebration – until, one night, William discovers the night gardener himself.

 

The Imaginary Garden, by Andrew Larsen and Irene Luxbacher

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Here’s an endearing book about the bond between a little girl and her Poppa, and their shared love of art and gardening. Theodora loved her grandfather’s old, rambling garden. But his new apartment balcony is not suitable for a garden. Instead, Theo and her Poppa tap into their creative side and turn a blank canvas (and the bare balcony) into a vibrant, colourful new garden. Beautiful mixed-media illustrations capture the connection between the two characters, along with their creativity.

 

Isabella’s Garden, by Glenda Millard and Rebecca Cool

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Yes, I admit I often judge picture books by their covers. And this gem, featuring the artwork of West Australian Rebecca Cool, definitely had me at hello. A glorious medley of colour and movement, the artworks take us through the seasons in a little girl’s garden. Glenda Millard’s rich and rhythmical words weave magic as we follow Isabella sowing her seeds, dancing in the rain, picking flowers, climbing trees, rugging up for winter, and then starting the process once more. It’s a beautiful introduction to the cycle of seasons in a garden.

 

The Plant Sitter, by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham

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OK, so this book is out of print, but if you can track it down on eBay or Amazon, you simply must! Just as indoor plants were big in the seventies, so too was this delightful gem from the team behind Harry the Dirty Dog. Tommy takes on a summer job caring for the plants of friends and neighbours who are on holiday. His natural talent with plants soon sees them thrive, turning his home into a veritable jungle. His parents are not pleased, but Tommy is an amazing character, turning to books and research to solve the problem. He learns how to prune the plants and even propagate them, creating lots of little plants to give away to his customers.

 

Rose’s Garden, by Peter H. Reynolds

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A teapot, a garden and Peter H. Reynolds. Talk about the ideal ingredients for an oh-so lovely picture book. This one definitely stole my heart with its plucky character Rose, who sails the seas in a large teapot, which she fills with seeds from the different places she visits. When Rose decides it’s time to plant her garden, she finds a dusty piece of earth in the city to sow her seeds and there she patiently waits for it to bloom. Before long, word of her faith spreads and children from around the world gather in Rose’s garden. Inspired by Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, the namesake of several gardens, this is a luminous story.

 

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, by Kate Messner & Christopher Silas Neal

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Now here’s a perfect book to provide kids with an insight into the workings of a garden throughout the seasons. Lyrical and beautiful, it explores the growing world of the garden over the course of  a year, taking us through the many tasks of the gardener, from standing with a handful of seeds and a dream, to picking zucchini and snapping brittle stalks. It alternately looks at the busy, hidden world and lives beneath the dirt: skunks snuffling and digging, earthworms tunneling and “spiders stilt-walking over streams”. It reveals gardens as bustling and ever-evolving places where all kinds of creatures can be found.

 

The Little Gardener, by Emily Hughes

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Oh me, oh my, this book makes me swoon every time I open it. The lush and vivid illustrations of Emily Hughes are as full of life and colour as the story itself. It’s about a tiny gardener who loves to tend his garden but is overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task, especially as the weeds start to take over (hands up if you can relate!) The little gardener’s one success is a glorious scarlet zinnia, but it draws the attention of two human children who pitch in while the gardener sleeps to rid the patch of weeds and help the garden bloom.

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REAL-LIFE STORIES

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There’s something about biographical picture books that makes me a little giddy.  They open a window into a new world and share a glimpse at the lives of some pretty awe-inspiring people. And there’s an amazing variety out there to choose from. They’ll have children asking questions and dreaming of what they, too, will be one day. Here are some of my all-time favourites:

 

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Exquisite! That just about sums up this book introducing children to the early life of artist Henri Matisse. Written in one long, lyrical sentence, it captures the rich and colourful world created by his mother during his childhood in a dreary northern French town.

 

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Oh, how I adore this gentle and poetic introduction to the life of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. The ethereal illustrations of the amazing Julie Morstad and the achingly poignant prose of Laurel Snyder are bound to enchant little ballerinas everywhere.

 

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The delectable life of Julia Child has inspired these two gems in the picture-book world. The first, with sweet-as-pie illustrations, again from Julie Morstad, is a story loosely inspired
by Child, but it should be enough to whet the appetite. And then there’s Jessie Hartland’s  
quirky and comprehensive book, jam-packed with snippets from Julia’s life, ranging from her childhood and time as a spy in World War II, to her French cooking classes and TV shows.

 

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No group of biographical picture books would be complete without a little something on Frida Kahlo. The renowned Mexican artist has inspired an assortment of picture books, but these two are probably my favourites. Each is as vibrant and luminous as the artist herself, not to mention her work. This is definitely a woman to introduce your children to.

 

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An important and inspiring book for children in Australia, The Little Refugee tells the story of comedian Anh Do’s escape from war-torn Vietnam in a boat and his childhood in Australia. Based on Do’s award-winning memoir, The Happiest Refugee, it’s told with the same warmth and humour Do is renowned for.

 

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Kyo Maclear has come up with another beauty, this time inspired by the life of writer Virginia Woolf. The cleverly executed (and divinely illustrated) book is loosely based on the relationship between Virginia and her sister, painter Vanessa Bell, and Virginia’s struggle with depression.  It’s an uplifting and significant story to share with children.

 

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This book makes me swoon every time I read it. Every child will relate to the young Jane Goodall’s wonder at the natural world, from her observation of where eggs come from, to her desire to help all animals. The segue from childhood to adulthood and the realisation of Jane’s desire is stunning.

 

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Author Tania McCartney has created a fun and lively story to introduce children to Captain James Cook. A school play sets the scene for this retelling of Cook’s life as a mariner and adventurer, covering life-changing discoveries and interesting snippets, such as Cook’s love of maps and shiny buttons. Christina Booth’s delightful illustrations capture the mayhem and charm of the school play, complete with babies in the audience and chickens on the loose.

 

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This remarkable series of biographical picture books includes the likes of Douglas Mawson, Don Bradman and Mary Mackillop (look out for Meet Nellie Melba later this year). Meet Sidney Nolan is one of the latest  – and one that captured my attention (being a huge Nolan fan). This story reveals how the painter developed his iconic Ned Kelly series of paintings and shone the international spotlight on the Australian art world. I just love Sandra Eterovic’s illustrations.

 

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Oh my! Here’s a beautiful picture book that gives us a peek at the life of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. The little boy’s love of words is expressed in an enchanting way through the illustrations and hand-lettering of Julie Paschkis, who immersed herself in the poet’s world by visiting his home town, learning Spanish and reading his poetry while working on the book. It’s a wonderful reminder of the beauty of books and the power of the pen.

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CREATE EXPECTATIONS

What is your creative process? Do ideas sneak up on you when you least expect it? Do they flow constantly? Or do you have to drag them, kicking and screaming, from your subconscious?

For me, it’s a struggle. The harder I search for inspiration, the more I find it eludes me. I’m sure it wasn’t always that way. When I was young, I loved art and crafts and was always writing – poetry, journal entries, stories, books. And my mum encouraged me (and my four brothers and sisters), surrounding us with music, books, art and loads of crafty projects. At the age of five, I won a state-wide art competition for Taronga Zoo (that’s me on the left and, yes, that’s supposed to be an elephant!)

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I’m not sure what happened to that five year old, but somewhere along the way I formed the belief that I couldn’t draw or paint and stopped. It was even the case with creative writing. Sure,
I’ve been a journalist and feature writer for almost 20 years, but I have always carried the belief that I couldn’t write creatively. Maybe it was a bad mark on a story for school. Or maybe it was an off-the-cuff negative comment from a friend or sibling. When it comes to creativity, it’s so easy to become bogged down with self doubt and anxiety.

Then, one night, when I was up late with my second baby, I had the sudden urge to write a children’s story. I was hooked. I took a course with the Australian Writers’ Centre on writing picture books and started on several manuscripts. Creativity was, and still is, a struggle, but I’m still hooked. I love coming up with an idea and just letting it simmer for days, even weeks, writing snippets here and there. Sometimes, I might have a burst of inspiration. But I love having something creative bubbling away in the back of my mind.

Here’s an article I wrote for the magazine House of Wellness about the world’s renewed interest in craft and creativity. Whether you’re looking to make a full-time career out of it, or find a hobby that helps you chill-out, connecting with your creative side is a sure-fire way to achieve calm and contentment!

Of course, there are so many pitfalls for the creative – procrastination, comparing your work to others, that desire to have just the right environment or notebook. To help make things flow a little more easily, I’ve been devouring books on creativity (I call it research, rather than procrastination, by the way). Some of my favourites include:

Craft for the Soul, by Pip Lincolne (Penguin)

Meet Me at Mikes blogger, author and craft extraordinaire, Pip Lincolne has written a delightful ‘self-help’ book to help get your creative juices flowing. It’s about getting the most out of your life and taking the time to notice the details. Pip recommends writing, taking long walks, treating yourself to home-baked goodies, catching up with friends, or watching a good movie, as ways to help your creative life flourish.

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The Creative Seed
, by Lilian Wissink (Exisle Publishing)

I started this book one evening and was still reading at midnight. I had really hit a creative block and it was exactly what I needed to read. This is a fabulous guide for anyone wanting to delve into the creative world. It looks at the common hurdles for those struggling to tap into their creativity – self doubt, procrastination, comparison – and provides insightful exercises to increase your self-awareness and help rediscover your creative strengths.

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The Fantastical Flying Creator
, by Tania McCartney (e-course)

Here’s a gem for budding children’s authors and illustrators, or anyone who wants to connect with their creativity. Picture-book author and illustrator Tania McCartney has put together a detailed guide on reaching your true creative potential. She covers everything, from honing your craft to marketing your work. It’s brimming with pearls of wisdom and practical advice on looking after yourself, keeping your “axe” sharpened and how to navigate your way through the industry. There are also plenty of great exercises to help you achieve your creative goals.

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Motherhood & Creativity: The Divided Soul, edited by Rachel Power (Affirm Press)

When you become a mother, you’re instantly torn between your children and that urge to follow your creative dream. Here, writer and editor Rachel Power has compiled 22 inspiring interviews with women opening up about that wrench between motherhood and creativity. Interview subjects include singer Clare Bowditch, actors Rachel Griffiths and Claudia Karvan, and writer Cate Kennedy. It’s a beautiful insight into the challenges and joys of combining motherhood with a passion for creativity, and one many will relate to.

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Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers, by Susan Shaughnessy (HarperOne)

My older brother gave me this book when I was a young teenager. I had announced to the family that I wanted to be a journalist. I have been dipping in and out of this perfect pocket-book of meditations, quotations and essays ever since. It’s filled with quotations from famous writers, along with Susan Shaughnessy’s own meditations and insights on how to jump the hurdles to creativity, develop a discipline, dare to take risks, and strive for daily inspiration and motivation.

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There are shelves of books on creativity out there to help get you motivated. For more, check out this fabulous BuzzFeed post from Ashly Perez, on the 37 Books Every Creative Person should be Reading. And just get started.

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