Frill neck lizards

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?


5 Fun Reptilian Facts

Frazzled Freya and her other quirky Australian reptilian friends had a fantastically fun time sharing unusual facts about themselves during her week long ebook launch party. As so many fabulous people played along with the fact or fiction questions, Freya thought it might be a good idea to share the love in a blog post for those who missed the party but might still be intrigued. DSCN1303 - party hat Freya is a frightened and timid little frill neck lizard who is too shy to go out into the heat of the outback sun even though she is desperate to join in the fun and games with her desert friends. Naturally, our first fact had to be about these amazing little creatures.

Frill Neck Lizards : - Are a cute little lizard that has a frill that goes all the way around their neck. When they feel threatened or frightened they will try to make themselves look bigger and scarier by opening their frill as wide as possible. However they can only do this at the same time as opening their mouth really wide too! If this doesn't scare away the predator, the frill neck lizard will stand on its hind legs, turn around and run away (only on those back legs) as fast as possible to climb to the safety of the nearest tree. Frill neck lizards have southern cousins, the Eastern and Western Bearded Dragon, which are so similar in appearance they are often mistaken as frill necks. The bearded dragon's frill however, does not go all around their neck.

Next we met twin velvet geckos, Gabbie and Grace. They scamper all over the desert floor having lots of fun playing games like tag.

Oedura_lesueurii_2Geckos :- Found all over the northern tropical parts of Australia as well as Indonesia and Thailand, geckos are curious little creatures. They will come into homes and share your living space, making themselves very comfortable eating mosquitoes and other small insects. Geckos have unusual sticky pads on the underside of their feet, sort of like suction caps. These enable the little fellows to not only climb vertical walls very easily but to defy gravity and walk upside down along your ceiling as well. For further information on these curious fellows click the link below.

Sloan snake is the antagonist in Freya's story. He believes she would be a rather tasty treat to eat. Sloan is a Northern Brown Tree Snake.

Bronze_back_tree_snake_at_Mysore_zooNorthern Brown Tree Snakes :- Contrary to popular opinion, the Northern brown tree snake is actually not as dangerous as you might think. While its southern cousin, the Eastern or Common Brown snake is considered the second most venomous snake in the world, the Northern brown tree snake has it's fangs so far in the back of its mouth, that it cannot open its mouth wide enough to get a big enough bite on a human. If bitten, you will still need to seek medical treatment but you will survive.


Me standing in front of an enormous magnetic north termite mound in Litchfield National Park in the Northern Territory.

Joanna Goanna is another of Freya's special outback desert friends. She enjoys playing games with Gabbie and Grace and doesn't understand Freya's fear.

Goannas :- The amazing thing about goannas is that they utilize the climate of termite mounds to incubate their eggs. Once the goanna has laid her eggs, she digs holes into the termite mLace_Monitor_Sideounds and buries her babies to keep them safe and snug until they are ready to hatch. When the time approaches, the mother goanna returns to help her babies dig their way out of the mound.

Last but by no means least, we met Freya's only friend that is not a reptile. Molly is a Spinifex Hopping Mouse who proves to be rather wise. As she is the only mammal in our story, I included a few more extra facts about her.

512px-Bilby_at_Sydney_Wildlife_WorldSpinifex Hopping Mice :- So named because they can be seen hopping on their hind legs just like a kangaroo. They are nocturnal desert dwelling mammals, that can survive on little to no water during the dry season. Because of the lack of water they are omnivores and will eat whatever roots, shoots or insects they can find. They have very effective kidneys that absorb every drop of water from their waste which in turn makes their urine solid instead of liquid.

I'll be discussing these interesting facts during the print book launch of Frazzled Freya this Saturday 9th July 2016 at the Paperchain Book Store in Mnauka at 2:00 pm. Come along and join in the fun if you happen to be in Canberra this weekend.

As a thank you to all who participated and in honour of our cute little heroine, I included this video clip of a frill neck lizard where you can see exactly how they react when they feel frightened. After filming she is let go to run back into the bush. :)