Australian Outback

The 5 Essentials of How to Choose a Children’s Book Topic

My heart will always belong to Australia, my home, even though I have been fortunate to both live and travel overseas. I have experienced different places and cultures but will always come back to the place that I love the most. In my writing I reflect my passion for this wonderful country, her wildlife, and her striking beauty. Last week I was fortunate to be invited to write a guest blog for Joseph Drumheller on his site. Below is my guest blog post that will explain my thoughts on how to choose a topic for a children’s book that will touch the heart and lives of children everywhere.

1.  Write from Personal Experience. Always lookout for those experiences where you can say “there’s a story in that.” Ideas come from some of the most everyday experiences. I like to use my experiences exploring our beautiful and vast country to write stories that include our amazing wildlife, including my newest release “Frazzled Freya.”

Frazzled Freya_cover_amazon_001Have you ever been to the Australian Outback? To say it is very hot is an understatement. It is a place of contradiction, where you can see forever. Harsh and dry yet lush and beautiful. I just spent the last two years living in the Top End of the Northern Territory, exploring her wilderness and beauty. The days are long, hot and sticky. At times you are soaked from perspiration the minute you walk out your front door. The sun burns your skin and you feel as though you will melt if you don’t find shade fast. Yet in the midst of all this there are mountains, caves and even waterfalls in magnificent gorges. The colours of which are simply stunning as the light hits the red rock at sunset. I’ve swum in an Outback waterhole and dived under a waterfall. I’ve climbed to the top of an escarpment and watched the sun set over beautiful wetlands that stretch to the end of the earth. I’ve wandered through ancient Aboriginal campsites in caves so high above the heat of the desert floor that there is actually a cool breeze. I’ve been amazed by the incredible rock paintings just waiting to be found within these caves. I’ve even watched an amazing colourful array of water birds take flight across the wetlands and billabongs, all the while keeping an eye out for lurking crocodiles.

2. Write from Your Passion. If you are passionate about a topic, it will come out in your writing. All my experiences blossom into ideas for children’s picture books that help spread an understanding of our unique and massive country. The animal and birdlife that call Australia home share a special place in my heart, one that I hope to share with children from all around the world. The colours that are used in the illustrations depict the harshness and the heat of the landscape, yet portray her beauty as well. As I research the creatures in my stories, I discover interesting and fun facts that I like to include at the end to enable the book to become a learning tool. It becomes a place of discovery and wonder that encourages children to research further and understand a little more about this magnificent country.

DSCN06713. Find some Interesting or Intriguing Facts. Children thrive on learning unusual facts. Search for fun facts that will intrigue and delight the reader and develop a sense of curiosity. I add a fun fact page on each character at the end of the book for children to springboard into their research. Did you know a frill-neck lizard can only open its frill when its mouth is also opened wide? One fact that even I found hard to believe was that the spinifex hopping mouse is so adaptable to the dryness of the desert that it absorbs all the water it can so much that its urine is actually solid! That’s a pretty clever way to survive when there is a lack of water supply. Goannas lay their eggs in termite mounds and leave them there for incubation, only to return when the time comes to help dig out the little hatchlings. Then there are geckos, amazing little creatures with a sort of suction cap on the souls of their feet that enable them to defy gravity and walk upside down across the ceiling of your house. I’ve lived with these little fellows and they make great visitors to your home. They tend to eat the mosquitoes, which is quite an advantage living in the tropics.

20140825_1831264. Write about Relatable Characters.  Children enjoy characters they can connect with. Characters that have problems or emotions like their own. Freya is the heroine in this story. She is a rather timid frill neck lizard. The idea to choose her as my main character was a simple one. Observing the way frill neck lizards react in the heat of the sun, running for shade, made her the obvious choice. They are harmless little reptiles that don’t stay out in the heat of the sun for very long and in fact if frightened, will stand on their hind legs and runaway as fast and as soon as they can.

Chlamydosaurus_kingii5. Include a Moral or Lesson.  It needs to be subtle not obvious or preachy. Children like to feel that they have come to learn the lesson by reading the story, not by being told. With the help of her friends Freya learns to face her fears and realize that not all things are as frightening as they may appear. Through Freya’s plight children discover that it can be good to step outside of their comfort zone to help overcome their own fears.

The sights, colours, smells, experiences, all that encompass the Australian Outback have helped bring “Frazzled Freya” to fruition. My passion for sharing this wonderful country and the unique wildlife contained within her borders, is a topic I have chosen to write children’s books about. What topic would choose?


We Drove a Sunburnt Country Part One.

Stockman's Hall of Fame, Longreach Qld.For six days, three states and over four thousand kilometers we drove across a sunburnt country from Darwin at the top end of the Northern Territory south/east to outback central Queensland and down through the back of NSW to Canberra and home to our quiet little cosy country estate.. Along the way I couldn't help remember and recite a famous Australian poem that we were all taught at school (and loved) when we were young :- Dorothea Mackellar's "My Country."

I love a sunburnt country, A sunburnt country of sweeping plain and far horizons. A land of sweeping plains, Of rugged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains. I love her far horizons, I love her jewel-sea, Her beauty and her terror- The wide brown land for me!

We packed up the car and said goodbye to our view of the jewel sea, in this case the Arafura Sea as it enters Darwin Harbour. Within minutes we were in the harsh dry outback of the Northern Territory. Flat sweeping plains as far as the eye can see broken only by the occasional rugged mountains and an abundance of termite mounds so numerous it is impossible to count. First stop, Pine Creek, a tiny old gold mining town with nothing much open on a Sunday morning, so it was non-stop then to Mataranka for a promised legendary Mataranka pie. Another really tiny outback town, it's main claim to fame being the autobiographical novel "We of the Never Never" by Jeannie Gunn and immortalised in the 1982 movie with Angela Punch McGregor in the leading role. Set in Mataranka, the book was written about the authors life and experiences moving to such a harsh and isolated area in 1902 when women, albeit white women, were not seen to be on the land or help their husbands on outback cattle stations. The relaxing hot springs at Mataranka. A pleasant reprieve from the hot desert sun.If you spend an afternoon swimming in the local thermal springs you can then partake in a cool ale at the local watering hole while watching the legendary movie. We didn't stop long enough to do this as we had previously experienced the Mataranka hot springs in all their glory on another occasion. Over 1,100 km and and 12 hours after saying goodbye to Darwin we finally pulled in for the evening at Barkly Homestead, and yes, believe it or not, we were still in the Northern Territory! When travelling in air conditioned comfort it is easy to forget just how hot it is outside, (particularly as we approach the summer months in Australia and the "build up" in the NT) that is until you open the car door and step out into the furnace. It was 7:00 pm and yet still 45 degrees C with a formidable burning hot wind.

Avon Downs police station in the middle of nowhere.Day 2 we set of bright and early before the heat set in and began our journey well. We planned to cross the border into Queensland and reach Mt Isa in time for morning tea. Should have known all good plans always go astray. As the sun and heat rose and we cruised through the sweeping plains gazing at the wonder of the far horizon, we came around a sweeping bend in the road and over a "flood" bridge only to find a pot hole in the middle of the road almost the same size as our car. Too fast and too dangerous to swerve we hit the pot hole and hoped for the best. Sure enough we blew out the front right tyre. Not a problem! Just pull on over to the side of the road, unpack the bags from the boot, lift up the flap and look inside to where the spare tyre should be. Were my eyes deceiving me? We have a brand new car and NO spare tyre! Who would have thought? It may have seemed naive of both of us not to check before leaving Darwin but we both assumed a new car would come equiped with a spare tyre! There we found ourselves in the middle of the outback, heat rising every minute, and not a soul in sight for miles. "Not to worry" said hubby, "I'll wave down the next truck driver that comes along and get him to radio for help."

That was real successful! Turns out in the heat of the outback CB radio signals don't reach futher than 10 km at most. The nearest small town was 70 km away and Mt Isa was still 300 km ahead. Not to worry, don't despair, believe it or not, just 200 m further up the road was Avon Downs Police Station! Who would have believed it! In the middle of absolutely nowhere stood a police station! We limped the car up the road and found the local policeman just opening up shop for the day. His response, "So the pot hole has got another one has it?" He helped us organise a tow-truck into Camooweal, 12 km east of the NT border into Queensland, population 300 (on a good day when all the indiginous folk are in town to do a head count) so the tow truck driver told us.

What do you get if you cross a kangaroo with a buffalo? The Buffaroo at Camooweal. A buffaroo of course!

It stands proudly outside the Camooweal Roadhouse. The story goes that one evening a couple of truckies were having a drink at the local pub and began to discuss who were tougher, Queenslanders or Territorians! The more they drank, the more vocal they became, the Queenslanders insisting their kangaroos were tougher than the territories buffalo. It didn't take long before the idea came to pass that the strongest of all would be a cross between the two. It just so happened an artist was listening to the conversation and drew a sketch on a coaster. Before he left he showed the bartender and asked if they would like one? A few weeks later to the towns surprise a special delivery arrived. The Buffaroo now stands pride of place for all to see as you arrive in the sleepy outback town.

Instead of reaching Mt Isa by the intended morning tea break of 10:00 am we finally arrived at 5:00 pm, just in time to call it a day.

Frazzled Freya is Coming!

The Australian Outback is a harsh and dry place.Not the ideal environment for a game or race. Freya is too frightened to go out and play. So she hides in the shadows to watch all day.

Her friends are all out in the heat of the sun. But Freya is too frazzled to join in their fun. Can Freya face what frightens her so? Or will she forever hide and say no!

Frazzled Freya is my second pictured book beautifully illustrated by Dianna Budd. If you adored her images of Emma the Eager Emu and her other Australian bird friends, you will equally enjoy the delightful designs Dianna has brought to the pages of my latest story.

While Emma has the tenacity to chase her dreams and try to learn to fly, Freya is a rather timid frill-neck lizard who, once again with the help of her friends, (this time desert dwelling animals) must learn to have courage. Will she come to the realisation that the only thing to fear is fear itself?

What are you afraid of? Come on a journey of self-discovery with Frazzled Freya and see if you can face your inner monsters too!

Freya title page1_001 Copyright Sandra Bennett and Dianna Budd