Writing Time

For an author writing time is a precious gift and I’m grateful to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries for providing me with 13 weeks of funded creative writing time via a Creative Development grant. This means that the manuscript I’ve been trying to write between doing other day-job-work will actually be written!

The project is for middle-grade readers with a probable final word length of around 30,000 words. I have characters in place, chapters roughed out and it’s exciting to see the story coming to life as I start joining the dots. My aim is to complete a read-through draft ready to submit to publishers by mid-February. I’ll be posting four progress blogs between now and then sharing details of my writing journey, how the characters are unfolding and updates on the elusive word count. The latter goes up and down as I edit. The working title of my story is Scout and the Big Rig. More details in another post soon …

Speech Pathology Awards

This morning The Dog with Seven Names won the Best Book for Language Development in the 8 to 10 category of the Speech Pathology Awards. What a week! I’m thrilled to win this prestigious award. Little dog’s fictitious tail is wagging. 

Today I’m presenting at the wonderful Celebrate Reading Conference in Fremantle, so I’m unable to be in Melbourne to accept. Lisa Riley, Publisher for Young Readers at Penguin Random House has stepped in again to accept on my behalf. Thank you Lisa.

The Speech Pathology Awards support literacy development and celebrate richness in language. Winning is a great honour for me. Here is my acceptance speech with some background of how the story came to be. 

Harry award pic

Thank you for this great honour. I wish I could be with you at the awards ceremony today however I have a prior commitment, presenting at the Celebrate Reading Conference in Fremantle, WA. Thank you, Lisa Riley, Publisher for Young Readers at Penguin Random House for representing me and accepting the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Award on my behalf.

My heartfelt thanks to the organisers, judges, sponsors and supporters of the Speech Pathology Awards. I am thrilled to win the Best Book for Language Development in the 8 to 10 Years category, especially with such prestigious fellow shortlistees. The Speech Pathology Awards are greatly valued by children’s authors as they celebrate all that is significant and precious in children’s literature. I love the way the judging criteria is broken into seven book elements and each element is then subdivided into four or more sub-points (35 in total). This level of detailed reading and seeing of books is professionally delightful.

When I read the judging guidelines, I was humbled that the judges felt that my Dog with Seven Names met such thoughtful and considered criteria. In particular I loved that they felt Dog represents diverse Australia, creates a sense of wonder, mystery and excitement, has universal appeal, tells a good tale and leads to conversation during the reading and long after the book has finished. I’m not sure which of those two latter elements I was most excited by.

As a regional author living five hours drive from what is said to be one of the most isolated cities in the world, it’s wonderfully reaffirming that a story set in wartime in an even more regional area of north-western Australia, told from the point of view of a dog, can win. Although I am far away, please imagine me at this moment sharing the good news with my peers at The Literature Centre. We will raise a glass to you all and later when I am home in Albany, my rescue dog, Harry, will receive an enormous bone. Writing anthropomorphically was not easy and watching the way he interprets our world often inspired my writing. Thanks Harry!

The Dog with Seven Names was one of two PhD Creative Works. The other work, The Shark Caller is told from a very different anthropomorphic viewpoint. Thank you to the University of Western Australia for scholarship funding. Thanks also to my agent, Clive Newman, my patient family and the team at Penguin Random House. Special accolades to Publisher, Zoe Walton and Editor, Mary Verney for their wise editing.

To research this story I travelled to remote parts of Western Australia’s Pilbara and Kimberley regions. I wanted to visit Port Hedland, Marble Bar and the harsh bushland beyond Australia’s hottest town. I went in search of the secret WW2 airfield at Corunna Downs and imagined Liberators lumbering north on bombing raids in 1943.

I timed my research trip to coincide with Broome’s extreme low tide, one of the few times each year when the wrecks of wartime flying boats are visible in the mudflats. I stopped to remember the countless women and children who died there and in a beautiful moment of synchronicity, met the daughter of one of the Dutch pilots. Karen Hasselo’s dad was 99 and living in Melbourne. She’d made the trip to photograph the wreck of his plane. I focused on sounds and smells, trying to imagine these settings from a dog’s perspective and I also thought about the child evacuees who fled their northern homes for safety in Perth and Geraldton.

The Dog with Seven Names explores a little known aspect of Australian history. I am grateful that winning this important award will help bring diverse voices from the past to the attention of contemporary readers. Writing can be a solitary and sometimes frustrating occupation. Days like this make it all worthwhile. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

 

 

 

The Nance Donkin Award

I’m thrilled to announce that today I was awarded the Society of Women Writers Nance Donkin Literary Award. This national award is given biennially to a woman writing for children. Thank you Lisa Riley, Publisher for Young Readers at Penguin Random House for attending the ceremony on my behalf. I’m deeply honoured to receive an award in memory of this pioneering Australian author and as I’ve outlined in my acceptance speech below, the award links back to the first steps I took on my writing journey with the WA branch of  the Society of Women Writers. The image below shows me accepting the SWW Bronze Quill Award in 1992 with baby Sophie (now 27) in tow.

Jumping ahead to 2019 …

Here is my Acceptance Speech for the  2019 Nance Donkin Literary Award

Thank you for this great honour. I wish I could be with you at the awards ceremony today however I am in Albany, Western Australia, taking part in the University of WA (Albany campus, where I work as tutor) 20 year celebrations. Thank you, Lisa Riley, Publisher for Young Readers at Penguin Random House, for kindly representing me and accepting the Nance Donkin Award on my behalf.

As a regional author living five hours from what is said to be the most isolated capital city in the world, it’s wonderfully reaffirming and humbling to be chosen as winner for a national award that recognises and encourages women who write for children. Although I’m not with you in person today, I know that we are all together in spirit as women who write.

The Society of Women Writers will always hold a special place in my heart. As a nervous young aspiring author, living away from family and friends on the other side of the country, I joined the WA branch of the Society of Women Writers. A warm circle of kind, wise and supportive women welcomed me. I’d found my tribe. I was teaching at the time and could not attend weekday meetings, so I joined a magazine group. How I looked forward to seeing that bulky envelope sticking out of my letterbox each month. I’d make a cuppa then settle down to read my fellow members’ offerings, write gentle suggestions for them and pore over their feedback on my own scribblings. This group provided valuable encouragement and counsel as I learnt my craft. Years later when a few SWW members decided to begin a critique group focusing on writing for children and younger readers, I became editor.

The WA branch of the Society of Women Writers also sponsors the Bronze Quill Short Story Award. It was the first writing award I won, in 1992. My story, Gokiburi (meaning cockroach in Japanese), was loosely inspired by moving north to Carnarvon as a young Victorian-trained teacher after living in Japan for three years. The story is about a Japanese wife trying to adapt to life in a new place, something I’d experienced both in Tokyo and in the west.

I’m thrilled to now win another Society of Women Writers Award, one that honours an inspirational, dynamic Australian woman who was a pioneer of children’s literature. Sadly I never met Nance Donkin, however I know that, amongst many other things, she worked tirelessly to enable children’s authors to visit regional schools, a cause very dear to my heart. Each year I travel to remote communities across Australia, reading stories and facilitating workshops for hundreds of students. I love quirky outback stories and now serve as Remote Regions Advisor for the WA branch of my current tribe, the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators. Now, when I visit students across WA and beyond, I will think fondly of Nance and her important work in promoting regional school visits.

I would like to thank my peers, the family of Nance Donkin, the judges and all who facilitate this prestigious award which inspires and validates children’s literature. Thank you also to my agent, Clive Newman and publishers, Fremantle Press, Walker Books, Cengage Learning and Penguin Random House for publishing my nineteen books to date.  I hope there will be many more.

Writing can be a solitary and sometimes frustrating occupation. Moments like this make the months of writing, researching and editing worthwhile. I am deeply humbled to receive the Nance Donkin Award. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Librarian Superheroes

Librarians are superheroes. All year they inspire a love of reading and research by making their libraries dynamic and exciting places to visit. Then in Children’s Bookweek they shift into Overdrive. My visit to Bunbury Catholic College today took things a step further …

with Colleen Edwards

The students have been studying Lighthouse Girl as well as partner titles, Light Horse Boy and In the Lamplight. So library staff, Colleen Edwards, Sharon Castelli and Sue Connelly made a lighthouse, as you do 🙂 As well as three book-themed story nooks, one for each ‘light’ title. Visiting the BCC library  was like stepping into a professionally curated WWI museum with my books as the focus. It was fabulous. I felt so honoured.

Colleen, Sharon, Sue and other BCC teachers have helped students weave English and History studies, creating beautiful displays as well as carefully researched journals and poster. I loved the way they used books as a springboard to deeper research on topics such as the Purple Poppy and wartime sport.

There was an In the Lamplight nook, a Lighthouse Girl nook and a Light Horse Boy nook.

The students were inspired by the ‘above and beyond’ staff creativity. They had great questions, were curious about all kinds of issues associated with WWI and had a deep understanding of wartime Australia and beyond. When I thought things could not possible get better the sessions ended with two students presenting me with a lighthouse, the prototype of the larger one. There are chocolates hidden inside and it even flashes!

Thank you Bunbury Catholic College for an epic day. xx

with Pippa and Natalia

World Octopus Day & Entangled Ideas

There is alchemy in the business of writing. Authors are often asked where their ideas come from. Divine inspiration, shells on a beach, talk-back radio … Sometimes I can pinpoint a moment, more often a story grows from linked moments of wonder or interest.  As ideas come together and bubble, a manuscript grows, and sometimes, with luck, this mash turns into a book. Some moments that sparked The Shark Caller involved diving on reefs in PNG’s New Britain area as well as snorkeling in Marovo Lagoon (Solomon Islands) and WA’s Greens Pool.

Greens Pool was especially significant as it became (in my mind) the fictitious ‘Abalone Cove’.

In the opening scene of The Shark Caller a teenage boy dies in mysterious circumstances at Abalone Cove. A blue-ringed octopus is involved. I once saw a blue-ring in Greens Pool; just a surprised flash before it turned sandy brown and crept away. Greens Pool is a magical place to swim. When I lived in Denmark my regular loop involved a long lap, from a rock that sometimes hid a wobbegong to the far end where a Gloomy Octopus lived under a large rock. Her garden of shells gave away the entrance. These shark and octopus encounters swirled around in my imagination, along with the evocative rocks that guard Greens Pool. I added PNG diving experiences,  environmental worries and my own sense of communities being linked by oceans. This all gave me a strong sense of setting to draw on during the long writing process.

Greens Pool, WA

If you’d like to read more about The Shark Caller, here is a post from last World Octopus Day.

Returning to Port Hedland

Last week I returned to Port Hedland, the first time since 2015 when I was researching The Dog with Seven Names. After a breakfast presentation with the Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Camilo Blanco and I visited DOME café, the refurbished hospital where my fictitious dog lived in 1942.

The first time I visited this site, the hospital building was fenced off and in disrepair. Travelling back in 2015, the most I’d hoped for was to be able to take photographs through the wire fencing. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at dusk to find lights blazing in a newly renovated building. I went inside, ordered a coffee and walked along the verandahs, imagining the scene in World War Two when dozens of burnt patients were evacuated from Broome after the strafing of Dutch flying boats. It’s just one of the passages in my novel which was enriched by being able to walk through the old hospital rather than view it through holes in a fence. Thanks DOME, I love your policy of keeping our heritage alive by restoring historic buildings.

Cafe’ manager, Hannah shared interesting renovation details and even mentioned a ‘presence’ felt by some visitors (perhaps there’s another story there). Thanks to the Town of Port Hedland, Librarian, Gill Westera and Port Hedland SHS for inviting me to Port Hedland to share The Dog with Seven Names. I look forward to visiting again in 2020 when I’ll also travel to other book settings such as Marble Bar. In the meantime, you may like to follow these links to see photos from previous research trips to Broome and Port Hedland.

Researching WW1 Veterans

Last year the Year 5 and 6 students and teachers at Corryong College spent months researching and gathering information about 57 Light Horse men from their town and the surrounding district. The result is a professionally bound and just released book, Light Horseman of the Upper Murray.

lhmen

The book is a valuable reference and I was honoured to learn that this project was inspired by a class reading of Light Horse Boy.

Researching family histories and community members who served in wartime is a great way to foster students’ interest in history. Teachers Stephen Learmonth and Georgia Dally invited their local RSL and historical society to be involved and also enlisted the support of Dr Honor Auchinleck (granddaughter of General Sir Harry) Chauvel). During a visit to Corryong I was impressed by the knowledge and research skills of these young students and you can read more about this visit here.

I wonder whether any other schools have created similar collections? If anyone knows of one I’d love to hear about it …

Wearing Purple Poppies for War Animals on Feb 24th

Have you noticed people wearing purple poppies on February 24th or purple poppies beside the traditional red ones on Anzac Day?

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prelim. sketch for ‘Light Horse Boy’ by Brian Simmonds

Purple poppies commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of animals during wartime, and funds raised by sales of the pins helps The Australian War Animal memorial Organisation (AWAMO) establish memorials, train PTSD support dogs and care for retired animals that have served their country.

Thousands of horses, dogs and pigeons have accompanied Australian servicemen and women into battle while animal mascots including wallabies, cockatoos, cats and dogs have brought comfort to troops far from home.

Books honouring some of these animals include Anthony Hill’s comprehensive Animal Heroes and Maria Gill ‘s ANZAC Animals,  exploring the backstory of Australian and New Zealand war animals. Mark Wilson has created three picture books about war animals, including pigeon story, Flapper, VC.  Meanwhile, Torty and the Soldier by Jennifer Beck and Fifi Colston celebrates a tortoise that went to war. A  few other titles for teens and adults includes Horrie the War Dog , Bill the Bastard and Prince of Afghanistan. These are just a few titles, there are many more.

Lest we Forget these brave animals.

The best of times, the worst of times

I feel as if I’ve been channelling Charles Dickens lately and was going to write this post last week, but my fractured foot and shoulder cause more tiredness than expected.

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …’

Four weeks ago, just before the Perth Writers Week, I slipped while walking Harry the dog on Albany’s Mount Clarence. It was an uneven trail, not hard bushwalking, however my right foot curled under and my left shoulder smashed into a tree. It hurt.

7am is peak dog-walking time but no one came by. I set Harry free and to his credit he resisted the urge to find bandicoots and stayed by my side. Good dog. I’d left my mobile phone at home and hubby was in Perth, so I balanced on a stick and hobbled half a km until kind neighbours found me and took me to hospital.

X-rays showed a complex lisfranc fracture . I had to abandon my Perth Writers Week sessions to spend the weekend with my foot raised waiting for surgery. The operation was scheduled for 26th February, the day the 2019 CBCA Notable Books are announced. Two of my books were eligible; In the Lamplight and The Dog with Seven Names.

I came out of surgery in a druggy haze to learn that not one, but both books had been listed. That certainly helped take my mind of the foot! The next morning, still feeling groggy I checked my emails and saw something about news being embargoed? After a fuzzy reread, I learnt that The Dog with Seven Names had just been shortlisted for the 2019 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards . It was listed with five other titles in the Patricia Wrightson category. The best of times, the worst of times … 

Fast forward three weeks, post op. My two weeks of immobile ‘toes above nose’ resting is complete and I’m now able to move about with a little mobility scooter. Still no weight-bearing for three more weeks, however I’m allowed to shower sans boot, which is a highlight of each day. I’ve had to rearrange work commitments but nine weeks after the accident at the end of April, I’ll be flying to Sydney for the NSW Awards announcements – winner not known until the night. I’ll then fly on to Launceston for a CBCA Tasmania organised mini speaking tour.

Thank you to those who’ve sent get well wishes and helped in practical ways (dog walking/meals). I’m trawling back through messages but can only be at my desk for short periods. If I’ve missed an email from you or been slow to reply, this is the reason why. x

‘In the Lamplight’ ED! serialisation

I love creative interpretations of my stories, from those first collaborative peeks at an illustrator’s artwork, all the way through to stage and street theatre adaptations.

My ‘Light’ series has inspired all kinds of reworking. Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy were inspiration for a Black Swan Theatre stage adaptation in Perth/Albany which then toured regional WA. Lighthouse Girl also inspired the Little Girl Giant’s story in the PIAF street theatre, The Giants (type Giants into my blog search for photos), the song, Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Caddy Cooper, another song, Message of Hope performed at the WA Massed Choir Festival, and many less formal school productions.

One of my favourite collaborative adaptations began today with the first instalment of an abridged version of In the Lamplight in the West Australian’s ED! supplement.

The ED! supplement is a fabulous supporter of WA authors and illustrators. Both Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy have been serialised and I loved seeing students poring over class newspaper sets, reading about Fay, Charlie, Jim and other characters.

Once again the ED! designers have created a beautiful two-page spread and today I was excited to read that next week will feature details of the suffragette movement as a tie-in. I hope readers across WA will enjoy the serialisation as much as me.

 

The Spirit of Silver Brumby Lives on

Before meeting Dr Honor Auchinleck in Corryong last November, I wondered what it would be like to be the daughter of one of Australia’s most beloved children’s authors, Elyne Mitchell and the granddaughter of General Sir Harry Chauvel (WWI Commander of the Desert Mounted Corps). Daunting?

Perhaps, but as you can see from the photos (my mother Audrey Davidson is the middle person), Honor is down to earth and fun. She’s also passionate about promoting the Elyne Mitchell Writing Awards. These awards encourage writers to explore different aspects of regional life in Australia (with urban dwellers also encouraged to share their dreams of rural life). There is also a photo-story category.

In October I will have the great honour of speaking at the awards ceremony in beautiful Mitta Mitta, Victoria. The awards are now open for submission. Entries can be sent from now until August. Good luck!

 

Wishing friends and readers a safe and peaceful festive season

Thank you teachers, librarians, booksellers, readers and the teams at Fremantle Press, Penguin Random House, Black Swan Theatre, the Literature Centre and CBCA for your support throughout 2018. It’s certainly been an eventful year, with the publication of two new books, In the Lamplight and The Dog with Seven Names, a UK launch and book tour, Candlewick’s US release of Nanna’s Button Tin, school visits across WA and NSW, and the regional WA tour of Black Swan Theatre’s wonderful adaptation The Lighthouse Girl.

Other 2018 highlights include ASA mentoring the super talented Amelia Mellor, speaking at the National ALEA/AATE Conference, Write Around the Murray and the CBCA NSW Kids Bookweek event. I love being part of the friendly and inclusive children’s literature community. Special thanks to the SCBWI West team for all that you do to support creative spirits.

2019 looks like being another exciting year. More about that in a few weeks. In the meantime I’ll be enjoying a quiet family Christmas at home, with plenty of beach-time, reading and the odd glass of bubbles. I’m also happily writing something new. Stay safe and thank you for helping to make 2018 a good year.

 

Stereo Stories – Living in the 70’s

During this year’s Write Around the Murray festival in Albury, I attended a fabulous music/words performance project called Stereo Stories. I was so inspired by the concept and shared memories, that on the plane home next day, I wrote a song-memory of my own. You can find it here on the Stereo Stories site. And here is the fabulous Skyhooks record cover that inspired my story. The Skyhooks website says this debut album sold 300,000 copies. Does it bring back memories for anyone else?

Skyhooks_4.jpg

Horrie the War Dog

Like my fictitious WWII story about The Dog with Seven Names, Horrie was a beloved and very special war dog, so special that two books have been written about him. The first, Horrie the Wog Dog by Ion Idriess was published in 1945. A subsequent book, Horrie the War Dog (2013) written by Roland Perry, explores aspects of Horrie’s story which were raised by Anthony Hill’s research and book Animal Heroes. Each title adds to the mystery and controversy surrounding this beloved WWII mascot.

Horrie was an Egyptian terrier, adopted by Private Jim Moody and the men of the First Australian Machine Gun Battalion. He is credited with saving the lives of many Australian soldiers. When Horrie heard enemy aircraft he barked, giving men time to run for the trenches before their camp was strafed. Horrie was smuggled on board a troopship bound for Australia, that much is agreed. The next chapter in Horrie’s life is steeped in controversy.

One account reports Horrie being destroyed by quarantine officers, another claims an elaborate ruse was carried out with Horrie being substituted by a pound dog on death row. Two weeks ago I was in Corryong (where there are said to be many Horrie lookalikes) and visited a beautiful statue dedicated to this enigmatic mascot. The statue was unveiled during the 2016 Anzac Day service and shows Horrie in an alert pose on a kerosene tin in Egypt. He looks happy.

Besides reading the books dedicated to this little terrier, there are interesting accounts from the AWM here, on a site dedicated to Ion Idriess here and ‘The Australian’ here. Aspects of the varying reports can be compared here. I like to think Horrie survived. What do you think happened to him?


If you’d like to read more about the adventures of a dog in WWII, I’ve written a book called The Dog With Seven Names.

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Corryong Light Horse men and mascots

Corryong and the Upper Murray region is renowned for courageous and skilful horse riders. A statue in the main street honours Banjo Patterson’s ‘Man from Snowy River’, the grave of Jack Riley (claimed to be the legendary ‘man’) lies on a hill above the town and a bush festival is held each April. Last week I was fortunate to visit Corryong College and meet the Year 5 and 6 students who have been studying Light Horse Boy and researching the WWI light horse men with links to their town.

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photo: Stephen Learmonth

Each student has researched one of 57 WWI soldiers from the Corryong region and this research has been compiled into an historical publication ‘Light Horsemen of the Upper Murray’. The book is a valuable reference with evocative photographs and fascinating personal details which bring history to life. Through the process, some families have rediscovered previously forgotten connections with great great uncles and grandfathers. The project has been led by teacher and military enthusiast Stephen Learmonth and Georgia Dally. I was honoured to be welcomed into Corryong College to share details of my own research and to compare stories linked to WWI soldiers, their faithful Walers and other animal mascots.  More about the latter mascots in my next post…

The visit came about after I received a letter from Dr Honor Auchinleck, daughter of Elyne Mitchell (The Silver Brumby) and granddaughter of General Sir Henry George (Harry) Chauvel. In this letter, Honor described the children’s project and sent kind feedback regarding Light Horse Boy. After my presentation, and Honor’s commemorative address to the students, we enjoyed lunch at a local café. More also about that and the Elyne Mitchell Writing Award in a following post. In the meantime, thank you, Stephen, Honor, staff and Year 5/6 students. It was wonderful meeting you.

World War One 1914-1918 resource list – NEW

Thanks for this comprehensive list 🙂

Just in time for Remembrance Day we have compiled a list of fiction and non-fiction reading about World War One. It comprises picture books, some material for middle grade and also resources for high school. It is an excellent starter for a school library collection. We hope you find this useful and as always we welcome suggestions for additions to the lists. World War One Resources

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Yikes, we found more artwork …

Brian Simmonds and I are both spring- cleaning, and we’ve found fifteen more images for the November sale. Anyone who has already contacted me to express interest should have received an email with these images by now. Please advise if you haven’t.

Free pick-up delivery is possible for Albany and Perth.

Large concept sketches for In the Lamplight $100

Large Concept sketches for Lighthouse Girl $100.

November Artwork Sale

‘Light’ series illustrator, Brian Simmonds is offering original artwork for sale at half price throughout November. Large charcoal sketches which appear in the books will sell for around $250-$350 instead of approx $700. There are also preliminary roughs for sale at bargain prices. The images appear below. If you would like more information about a particular image please email me via the contact link on my website or Facebook message and I will send a full price list. These photos were taken on my phone and so apologies for the quality – the originals are gorgeous. Artworks are in Albany but could be brought to Perth. I am removing images as they are sold…

Original illustrations from In the Lamplight $350

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The Shark Caller – students’ artwork

What a wonderful thing  it is to receive artwork inspired by one of my books.

Kelby Murray is a Year 5 teacher at Bunbury Cathedral Grammar who has been reading The Shark Caller with her Year 5 class. Some of her students created beautiful drawings, inspired by different scenes in the novel.

Molly drew the villagers having a discussion and also the evocative scene later in the story where Izzy summons her courage to swim back to the boat. This is exactly how I imagined the boat would look from below. Grace drew Izzy diving through the cave. In the larger original, you can notice finer details and see how Izzy’s toe webbing is growing back, what clever crafting …

The writing process can be solitary and it’s lovely to see how readers imagine these scenes. Thank you Kelby, Grace and Molly for sending your artwork. Your pictures make me smile every time I look at them.