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Saturday, 3 October 2015

WIN! A copy of Australian Kids Through the Years + Original Artwork!!

Okay--deep breaths. You're going to go bananas over this prize, in celebration of the release of Australian Kids Through the Years.

What a joy it was to work with Andy Joyner on this book--his illustrations are just astonishing, detailed, delightfully retro and so emotive. He's perfectly captured our Aussie kids through the years, including all they loved to do, play, eat, watch and read.

To celebrate, we are giving away a signed (by Tania) copy of the book and an original--yes, you read it right--an ORIGINAL artwork by Andy.

This artwork is a full sketch of the final scene in the book (Year 2000 and beyond) and it could be yours!

Are you peeping with glee?

To enter this comp, all you need to do is have a child aged 12 or under colour in this fabulous colouring sheet (below). Add the child's name, age, email address and postal address (Australian addresses only) and either post it to me at PO Box 171, Jerrabomberra NSW 2619 or email it to me

I will choose a winner--and let's just say I love bright and colourful! Entries close Saturday 31 October at midnight, and the winner will be announced right here early November.

Please note: entries without contact details will be ineligible. This is a game of skill not chance. The judge's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into. (Sorry--to run a comp, you have to put all that guff.)

I'm looking forward to seeing your entries!

PS: You can read a Mike Shuttleworth review of the book right here.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Vicious Reviews and How to Deal with Them

I did something for the first time this morning. I defended another author on Goodreads.

I’m hardly ever on Goodreads because I find it a rather scary place, with too much friction and far too much opinion, but I really enjoyed The Year of Living Danishly by UK journalist Helen Russell, and I wanted to give her a rating (incidentally, I gave the book four stars).

Sure enough, as I often find on Goodreads, I stumbled across many nasty ‘reviews’, including one that was rather brutal.

I do not know Helen Russell. I’ve never met her, in person or online. She did not ask for help nor even respond to the brutal review (no-response is what all good authors should do). Yet I felt compelled to support Helen. Not because the ‘reviewer’ didn’t like the book or had an opinion on the book—no, no, not at all. But because she assassinated Helen’s character.

Sorry, but this, in my book (‘scuse the pun), is NOT on.

You cannot include author assassination in any 'review'. It is so wrong, on so many levels, it's beyond offensive. The problem is so huge now, there are websites dedicated to 'stopping the bullies' on Goodreads and other sites, and to outing people who troll from author to author, assassinating or leaving serial one-stars on anything an author publishes ... and of course, as the weak so often do, retaining a 'private' account and pseudonym.

Anyone can be a reviewer now, thanks to sites like Goodreads, and this isn’t always a good thing. Like movie trailers, reviews (by the masses or otherwise) are utterly subjective and absolutely do hold sway when it comes to committing to one of the kajillion titles we’d all love to read. I’m certain that many an iffy review has kyboshed my desire to read a book I probably would have really loved, thanks to one person’s opinion. And this is part of the reason I’ve stopped reading reviews. On Goodreads, anyway.

But more than that—it seems that lifetimes of angst and pent up anger and frustration and hate are regularly and readily unleashed on unsuspecting authors, who really didn't ask for it. And this is an abominable thing. Hardly any author escapes it. I’ve also copped it.

The Year of Living Danishly was written by a warm, funny, self-derisive, inquisitive woman. It was an interesting read and at times had me utterly intrigued and laughing out loud. Yes, there were parts I found a little slow, and how I wish I had got hold of that book to give it a good edit before publication! But otherwise, it was a charming read that I really enjoyed. (And I learned a great deal—always a good thing.)

So this brutal 'review' (sorry--character assassination) essentially described Helen as shallow, not as ‘amusing as she thinks she is’ (forgive me—where does Helen state that she thinks she’s supremely amusing?), naïve, patronising, irritating, lacking in depth of thought, ‘tee-hee ignorant’, and made the reviewer feel embarrassed and like an intellectual giant by comparison (!). This infuriated me. The ‘reviewer’ even took pains to point out that Helen had neglected to report on all the things the ‘reviewer’ would have liked her to include in the book.


I see these types of ‘reviews’ a lot. Amateurs wanting a book to be the way THEY would like it to be. To paraphrase Elizabeth Gilbert on this topic, ‘then write your own damn book!’ These same reviews are often simultaneously designed to inflict a kind of hurt (why?!), that--like this one--is really pretty much libel. On Amazon recently, I discovered a review of one of my own books that labelled me as a stuck-up, smug, self-obsessed, lowlife person whom the reviewer wouldn’t even want to MEET, let alone know. She stopped short of saying she wouldn’t pee on me if I was on fire, but I just know her fingers were itching to type it. She also said she felt sorry for anyone who ever knew me or would know me.


And here I was thinking I’d written a book with honesty, warmth, humour (though I never once state how supremely humorous I am) and deep vulnerability. Where she came up with this assessment of me, as a person, via one of my books, will remain an eternal mystery to me. The review was so wounding, I very rarely read reviews of my books now—never on book sites and never, ever on Goodreads or Amazon where the screamed opinions of the clueless drown out the measured, dedicated, pro reviewers.

It’s kind of sad. Why should an author be terrified over reading reviews? I don’t mind if people hate my books but to assign such hatred to me, as a person? I'm just a mum who loves to write and draw! I'm just Tan!

Here’s a novel idea (‘scuse the pun, again): authors are real people. They have feelings. Hammering someone’s character because you didn’t like their book says more about the ‘reviewer’ than anything else. And I guess that’s something we have to remember, as authors. I wonder if these reviewers know how their reviews make them look to the Rest of World.

The thing is, we don’t have to like books. We can put them down. The ‘reviewer’ of Helen’s book didn’t put it down. Why did she waste time on something that so infuriated her? Let it go, dear ‘reviewer’, let it go.

This ‘reviewer’ also gave Helen’s book three stars (a giant rating considering her assassination) and that’s okay. She didn’t have to like it or agree with it. But to rant and rave about how SHE would like the book to have been written, and worse—to judge, belittle and assassinate Helen, is just atrocious, and my respect for sites like Goodreads would heighten immensely if they spent more time deleting ‘reviews’ like this—and, even better—banning such reviewers.

So, please, readers, think deeply before posting reviews that a) rant about how YOU would have liked the book to have been written (write your own damn book!), and b) never, ever assume to know the author or place any kind of judgment call on them. All books are written with heart and passion and no author expects every reader to resonate with or even like their work. What they do NOT expect is to suffer public vilification at the hands of someone they've never even met.

Also think deeply before relying on reviews. Be selective with the reviews you read and the sites you read them on. The majority of reviewers on Goodreads and book sites like Amazon are NOT qualified to provide much more than a subjective opinion. Sure, they have every right to an opinion, but if you want a considered, professional review from industry folk who know books inside out and would never in a million years vilify an author, be selective.

If you come across character assassination reviews, flag them to admin! Stand up against this abomination that so many angry people seem to be getting away with.

For the authors out there who have (or might) suffer a character assassination, take heart. You are not alone and the review is not about you or your work. It’s about the reviewer. Do NOT respond! Just let it go (though if the review is clear libel or is damaging for your book--and I believe all such reviews are damaging--alert your publisher to take action, and have someone else flag it to the site’s admin).

Lastly, if we can feel secure in the knowledge that WE know who we are--that we are not some imagined abomination from the tortured mind of some virtual stranger--then maybe touring the precarious minefield that is Goodreads, is something we can feel courageous enough to do once more.

Meantime, grab Helen’s book. It’s fabulous.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Signed Book Copies

Hello lovely people,

It's not often that I have personal book copies* for sale but I happen to have a few on hand at the moment, after a recent book stall.

I know many people love signed copies, so if you would like a signed copy of any of the following, just drop me a line at and we can organise it!

*I only have a handful left of the first five books. Apologies, but I'm only able to send to Australian addresses at this time. Hopefully very soon they'll invent molecular deconstruction and I can zap the books anywhere in the world in a nanosecond.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Ask Tania: How much of my in-process book should I reveal to the public?

Dear Tania,
How much should I say about my works in progress? I want to share what I’m working on but I’m unsure as to whether I should actually mention the book title or put some of the concept drawings up on my website. It’s not a question of being worried about someone else hearing my ideas, it’s more a matter of what level of exposure is the right amount. What would you suggest?

Hi, Jules,

The answer to this question depends on your publishing situation.

If you have a contract for a WIP (work in progress) and are actually in production, the general rule is to share either nothing, or very little until close to publication. You could check with your publisher for their thoughts on this. Some of my publishers allow little peeks at drafts or roughs (not finals or near-finals) and others would prefer nothing be revealed. Some creators post images that are a wee bit blurred or just a tiny slice of an image or character--but again, it's something you would need to check with your publisher.

Generally, however, you would not reveal the title or concept for your book, other than perhaps 'meet Johnny the astronaut' with an image rough. This reveals very little but piques interest.

I'm currently working on a picture book and I'll very occasionally share some peeks at my artwork along the way, but most of my 'reveals' will be about my creation processes rather than revealing too many visuals or concept reveals. You can see from this post just how much I've revealed/the focus of the reveal. The book isn't out till November 2016 and it's a comprehensive book with a high page count--so it's easy to reveal little bits. And I can continue to show little bits of my processes as time goes on.

At this stage in the book production process, I would never reveal title and content/concept. What I regularly do is add my WIPs to my Works in Progress list (you'll find it here, at the bottom of my BOOKS page)--but only when we are relatively close to publication, and again, depending on the publisher's wishes. You'll see on this list that I need to keep some titles quiet, so I've just written 'three more picture books, out 2017) or something like that. Other books, I actually mention the title.

If you are self-publishing or working on something that you will eventually submit (ie: you don't have a publishing contract with a traditional publisher), I think you can reveal a little more of your WIP than if you're contracted. Again, you want to be careful just how much because a little bit of mystery is a good thing. Revealing a lot or being 'everywhere all the time' can make people switch off, so balance things well.

I like how you said you're not worried that someone will steal your idea if you reveal a few things. Even if people could 100% guess what you're up to, the fear that your book will be snatched up and produced in a matter or weeks or months is highly unrealistic. And no one could ever do it as well as you're doing it, anyway!

I do think, in general, that reveals of some kind are a good thing because they build that all-important creator/reader relationship. People absolutely adore sneak peeks, and they can be a great thing if done well. They build anticipation and get people talking and bring people to your site/blog. And that's what we want!

If you have a character concept that you're keen to start marketing before the book is published, you could absolutely set up a Facebook page or website with a simple header image and a short synopsis. Don't give much away and perhaps just post little snippets on how things are progressing rather than showing too much imagery. The closer you get to publication, the more you can reveal.

When your WIP is close to publication, it's fine to begin revealing more. The cover (and this varies by publisher) is revealed to the public around 2 - 3 months before the publication date. A relatively short lead time is wise because people are strongly swayed by visuals and the last thing you'd want is people swooning over the cover, rushing out to buy it--and it's not available yet. Sale lost. If, however, they only have a few weeks to wait, they're more likely to track it down and buy it.

Good luck with the slow reveal!

See all the questions so far ...

Saturday, 19 September 2015

meeting characters and finishing them off

I've been working very busily on Le Book, and have completed quite a few pages this past week in particular (there will be almost 100). In creating my very first self-illustrated book, there's been two lovely things that have taken me by surprise--two things I very much love to do.

The first thing is meeting the characters visually. I'm so used to meeting characters in text. Sure, you envisage them in your head, absolutely--but to see them appear from the tip of a fineliner or paint brush--it's just a lovely, unexpected surprise. I often have no idea who will appear until I get to work.

The other thing I'm loving--and this comes as no surprise, as I'm an editor at heart--is the finishing. I'm hand-rendering most of this book in watercolour and fineliner, but I'm also digitising the artworks and creating full pages, touching up and correcting the hand-rendered works as I go.

This is a good, good thing for someone as impatient and imprecise as me! I find it astonishing that anyone could produce a completely finished artwork by hand--I bow down before you if you can do this. My style is just too loose and un-trained to operate with such finesse, so I give thanks to the Computer Software Gods for handing me the tools to polish up my mistakes! And, of course, being able to move objects around, play with them and see where they sit best--heaven heaven heaven.

Off to draw some bees, and who knows what they'll look like--I'll soon find out!

Saturday, 12 September 2015

o lovely spring

Isn't Spring just lovely? The older I get, the more I appreciate its fluttery, blossomy appeal. Things seem fresher and brighter--overnight--and enthusiasm and creative mojo seem to burn a little brighter.

I had a challenging August but September is a new month and I'm loving the renewed sense of energy that's come to my work, after an unwanted hiatus.

I haven't worked on Le Book (my first self-illustrated book) for many, many weeks--and sometimes, when you don't work on something for so long, you not only lose enthusiasm, you worry if you could ever draw or write or think creatively again.

The thing about reconnecting, though (and most especially reconnection done with baby steps) is that enthusiasm and creativity rush back quickly--as though someone has reached out their hand and turned on a tap.

So if you're worried. If you're procrastinating. If you're uncertain. Just do it. The tap will turn on.

Here is a peek at my recent spring wanderings around my neighbourhood and yard, and a peek at recent doodlings for Le Book that have totally relit my fire.

I hope your fire is being lit right now!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Rich and Rare Anthology

I'm so utterly excited (and humbled) to have a story in Ford Street's new Rich and Rare anthology of stories and poetry and artwork by some of Australia's leading talent. Out November, and already receiving a 5 star review from Bookseller and Publisher, contributors include:

Shaun Tan, Leigh Hobbs, James Roy, Justin D'Ath, Kirsty Murray, Simon Higgins, Gary Crew, Scot Gardner, Michael Gerard Bauer, Gabrielle Wang and many more.

Oh--and there's also some pretty spectacular cover artwork by Shaun Tan.

The book will be launched by Isobel Carmody on Friday 23 October in Melbourne--watch the Ford Street Publishing website for details.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Spring Reads Book-A-Day, days 1 to 5

Day 1: Garden #SpringReads #3LibraryLadies Matisse's Garden by Samantha Friedman and Matisse-reproduction illustrations by Cristina Amodeo (MoMA, 2014). A riot of colorful gardens in the way only Henri Matisse knew how, this stunning book celebrates the paper-cut artwork he produced, using Amodeo's own paper-cut artwork. A visual garden to behold.

Who could resist? Three lovely library ladies--Megan Daley, Trisha Buckley and Claree M--got together on Instagram to post a book-a-day to a theme--all in celebration of Spring.

I just had to join in (see my IG account here). I'm posting picture books, but you could post whatever genre you like.

Won't you come along for the ride? It's not too late to join in. Just use #3LibraryLadies and #Spring Reads. You may just find your next great read.

Day 2: Flower. #SpringReads #3LibraryLadies A breathtaking peek at a wordless walk that proves more fraught with meaning than words could ever say.

Day 3: Rain. #3LibraryLadies #SpringReads Adore adore adore Frank Viva's work, and this play on words with cut-out pages, is both a literary and visual joy.

Day 4: Colour. #3LibraryLadies #SpringReads These Puffin children's classics, with cover designs by the illustrious Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini, have my heart apace every time I look at them. Books have the ability to enchant even when closed with spine facing out - not only because of the prettiness but because of the magical promise of story crammed inside. When the books' colours are as bright and colorful and enticing as this - it's like living in a literary candy store.
Day 4: Colour II. #3LibraryLadies #SpringReads
Couldn't resist a second colour book - totally in love with the Pantone books! 

Day 5: Spring. ‪#‎3LibraryLadies‬ ‪#‎SpringReads‬ Yes, another obsession - Blexbolex and his colour/simplicity/whimsy genius. In Seasons, we not only enjoy the visual joys of Spring, we revel in all four seasons of the year.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

An English Year + A Scottish Year

Books 2 and 3 in the A Kids' Year series are released today!  

An English Year and A Scottish Year were so much fun to create and we're very excited about adding to this cache of books with a cultural focus. The books will be out in the UK in October, but there is a current run of books here in Australia, too. Be sure you snaffle your copy early, as stock is limited.

And be sure to watch this space for the next books in the series ... two more sensational places. I wonder where they'll be ...? Leave a comment below if you want to guess!

A Scottish Year

Meet Isla, Sophie, Dominik, James and Rashida — Scottish children representing a multicultural blend of culture and race that typifies our beautiful country. They will take you through a year in the life of Scottish kids, from celebrations to traditions to events, to our everyday way of life and the little things that make childhood so memorable. They are our Scottish childhood. 

A Scottish Year is a picture book bursting with national pride. It is a snapshot of who we are as a nation, blending our modern-day culture and lifestyle with past traditions and strong heritage. Its pages feature meandering text, dates and gorgeous illustrations, showcasing our five Scottish children at play, at school, at home, and enjoying the sights and sites of Scotland — from our heather-strewn Highlands to our historical cities, pristine outer islands and charming rural towns.


An English Year

Meet Aman, Victoria, Amelia, Tandi and George — English children representing a multicultural blend of culture and race that typifies our beautiful country. They will take you through a year in the life of English kids, from celebrations to traditions to events, to our everyday way of life and the little things that make childhood so memorable. They are our English childhood. 

An English Year is a picture book bursting with national pride. It is a snapshot of who we are as a nation, blending our modern-day culture and lifestyle with past traditions and strong heritage. Its pages feature meandering text, dates and gorgeous illustrations showcasing our five English children at play, at school, at home, and enjoying the sights and sites of England — from the northern moors and breathtaking Lake District, to our pebbly seasides, bustling cities and historical country towns.


Thursday, 27 August 2015

Encouraging Children to Read for Pleasure, Part 2

This is the second in my Reading for Pleasure articles. To see Part 1, click here.


One of the greatest things we can do to encourage kids to read for pleasure is to find ways for them to connect with works they can relate to and enjoy. The bulk and variety of books available on the market is astounding, and our local book industry boasts a formidable amount of quality books. This can overwhelm adults, let alone children, let alone reluctant readers.

My suggestion is to look at genre.

For teachers and librarians, creating some kind of book genre feature or event would be a great way to sift through the literary mire. Book-lovers will be there, on your doorstep but focusing on one genre more intently will bring in the stragglers—if they happen to resonate with that particular genre. So perhaps July is picture book month. August is illustrated junior fiction. September is young adult fiction with a romance focus or a focus on death.

We already know that once a child engages with a particular book, they eagerly lap up any further titles in the series. This sends a clear message that once children engage with a certain style, character, genre or even author, they’ll continue to seek out and read books of this nature. You can find books in varying genre on Kids’ Book Review.

Even when we identify genre, we will need to connect kids to books BEFORE we connect them to reading. We need to make books cool. Indispensable. Worth the time invested, and the literacy effort. We can’t insist. We can’t make it a chore. We can’t expect them to engage in a struggle, whether by content or competency. Kids don’t care about the priceless end-value of full adult literacy. They only know here and now. And here and now is all about them. About enjoyment and pleasure.


So, we know how to encourage kids to read for pleasure, but what are the pleasure deterrents to avoid?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Encouraging Children to Read for Pleasure, Part 1

Books are extraordinary objects. They may be comprised of ink and paper, but once opened wide, some kind of magic happens, and entire worlds tumble out. Books enchant, enlighten and educate. They befriend and support. They can take you on a journey. They have the capacity to lift, move and surprise. They can provide buoyancy, and sometimes, they can even rescue.

Reading brings colour, vigour, entertainment and satisfaction. It builds self-confidence, competence and intelligence. It fosters hope delight and creativity. It hones aptitude, imagination and independence. Engagement with storytelling links directly to emotional development, greater social skills, wider horizons and broader general knowledge. It can make kids more articulate, develops higher order reasoning, and promotes critical thinking. It brings with it an internal sense of freedom that only fluent readers can ever know.

Alas, there are so many who do not know that freedom. As an ambassador for the National Year of Reading (2012), our central message was to create a book culture in the home—to start with the child when they’re very young. To create a love of reading for PLEASURE. If parents read to their kids from the start, children begin to associate reading with being loved. If children can fall in love with books and reading via the avenue of pleasure and being loved, we have a far greater possibility of fostering life-long readers.

We want kids to see reading as a joy, not a chore.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

It's Book Week! Celebrating 70 Years

It's Book Week! And this year, the Children's Book Council of Australia is celebrating 70 glorious years of connection to story with this year's theme ...

Books Light Up Our World

And indeed they do! All over the country, kids, parents, librarians, teachers, schools and community groups are celebrating story with readings, author and illustrator visits, costume parades and special events that celebrate our love of books.

What will you be doing for Book Week? Be sure to drop into a local book store and stock up on new titles, or visit your local library to brings home a bundle of joy to flick through with the kids.

To celebrate Book Week, I'll soon be posting two articles on encouraging kids to read--or rather, helping them fall in love with books and story (making reading a joy!). These articles are for both parents and teachers/librarians and are excerpted from a recent talk I gave at Marist College Canberra.

Be sure to check out the CBCA's Book of the Year 2015 winners, honour books and notables, too! You can see them all here.

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