Find your tribe in 2017

Your tribe might be in the suburb where you live, or might be online. Wherever and however you do it, surrounding yourself with people working on similar projects and with similar interests will support and inspire you with your own work.yoga-villa

This year has started well. It’s only the second week and I’ve already found some great groups that are going to help keep me motivated and positive when my confidence flags. When I hear the voice inside me telling me to give up, you’re no good anyway, why bother, I know I will have places to turn to for inspiration.

If you’re in any way, shape or form interested in yoga, then this 21-day challenge from Wanderlust could be for you. A daily video of about 20 minutes that you follow at home at any time. It starts tonight and is run by Schuyler Grant. My yoga teacher, Jolie Manza, said Schuyler helped her fall in love with yoga in a whole new way when she was living in NYC. That was enough for me and I have signed up! Plus Wanderlust – pretty fun mob.

If you live in Australia then MEGA is worth looking into. Standing for Mums Exercise Group Australia, there are tens of thousands of members over about 13 cities running all sorts of exercise and fitness classes – almost all for free. If you’re in Canberra, join the local MEGA on Facebook. I’m going to keep teaching a free child-friendly yoga class once a week when school goes back. It’s a great way to keep my mind focused on doing yoga and forces me to keep up my practice while I work on how to take my teaching to the next level.

And I’m also determined to try as many local yoga classes as I can. I found out today that my work has yoga on Thursday lunch times. Who knew!? So, I’m definitely feeling there are opportunities out there just waiting for me to find them.

If writing is your thing then you might want to check out Storystorm. storystormFormerly known as Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) it has changed its name and broadened its focus. Simply, register on Tara Lazar’s website and commit to coming up with an idea for a story every day. Could be a novel idea, or a picture book or a chapter book. Write it down, then at the end of the month sign the pledge and you’re up for some prizes. And it’s free. Talk about a great way to get inspired! Tara has some fantastic writers sharing stories about their writing life and tips.

Another group that I’ve joined for the third year is the 12 X 12 picture book writing challenge. It’s an online group with mostly North Americans as members and the idea is to write a picture book manuscript every month for 12 months. I haven’t quite managed this the first two years but I’m planning to do better this year. You can still join and, while there is a cost, you get valuable lessons on craft, writing, submissions, voice, research and much more. Mostly through webinars but the forums are great too. Julie Hedlund who runs it is wonderful and is very open about her own struggles with getting published .

I’m also hoping to get along to as many local writing events as I can this year. I went to two fabulous SCBWI events last year, including the national conference which was amazing. SCBWI also helps put children’s writers in touch to form critique groups and I’d love to find a new critique group to join.

I will also plan to make it to the Noted festival which last year was small, low key and a really fabulous way to meet some local authors and buy direct from the creators. Best colouring book ever by Paul Summerfield. My kids are huge fans now. I’ll try to get to some more workshops run by the ACT Writers Centre. They are brilliant at supporting local writers and there are some very talented people around to learn from.

It looks like a great year ahead! I hope it is for you too.

The CD is launched in Bali!

Ayo! Let’s Go! was officially launched in Bali at two fun-filled events in October 2016. It was so much fun to share the songs in public and see kids laugh, join in with actions and sing along.

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Mita, Reena and Olga in action at the Sunday Market Sanur

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“Took off with the bunch! I missed out on my lunch!” The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival event on Friday 29 October.

The Differences Between Monkeys and Possums was a great warm up and had everyone on their feet. Everyone agreed that monkeys were pretty naughty and could do all the things mentioned in the song. Nasi Putih was fun to do with the fast actions and some kids thought it was funny there was a song about white rice.

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“Monkeys stole my hat” – he he he!

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“Right above my head! The noise could wake the dead!” What an enthusiastic audience at the Sunday Market Sanur.

Children won Ayo! Let’s Go! t-shirts by proving they listened to the words of Bamboozled by Bamboo. They had to remember some of the 20 things mentioned in the song that can be made from bamboo.

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First we were tall and thin like bamboo. Then we were bendy like bamboo.

And some liked The Birthday Party best of all, singing loudly: “satu, dua, tiga, empat, lima”.

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Sing it out strong! “Buah-buahan, Buah-buahan.”

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It’s Komodo! “Look out! Don’t go too slow!”

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“Ayo ke pantai!” with Wisma Dantha on vocals.

 

 

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Afterwards, everyone had a goody bag with activity sheets, colouring in pages, pencils and a sticker.

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Arjuna and Reena. Just as well we had shade as it was very hot at the Sunday Market Sanur.

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The Howarth Family with their CD.

 

Ayo! Let’s Go! now on sale!

ayo-lets-go-cd-coverI want to say I was waiting with baited breath as the DHS delivery guy pulled up in front of my house to deliver the boxes of CDs. But I was away at the coast and the DHS guy had to leave them with my husband who respectfully left me the pleasure of opening up the boxes.

And when I got home, there they were! Sparkling blue and white covers with shiny shrink wrap protecting their gorgeous digipaks with lovely full colour printing and 16-page booklet tucked into the sleeve.

Yep, 16 pages. It was so big I had to contact CD Baby to ask if they could print a booklet that large. They sure could! And after a few short weeks of sending them the artwork by Louise Bell – more beautiful than I could have hoped – they were sending them back to me.

And now I’m making them available to everyone else through a  simple online form or digital downloads. Your choice! Postal orders are for Australia only.

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Ayo! Let’s Go! booklet page

5 parenting values we can learn from children’s classics

Earlier this year I unpacked boxes of my children’s books, not seen for several years and I found many of my old favourites. A nightly ritual began – our youngest would go to bed after a picture book, and my seven-year-old would race to our little blue couch to find where we were up to in the children’s classic of my choice. What surprised me is how long ago they were written. The language in some cases is hard to follow and a lot went over my son’s head but the stories are so compelling that he never lost interest. And there are some important lessons in these books.

 

 

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1960 edition bought in Fuller’s Bookshop, Hobart (back when the apostrophe was still used)

The Magic Pudding, by Norman Lindsay written in 1918. The character names are some of my favourites. And the way Bunyip Bluegum speaks so eloquently is what eventually saves the day. What I really like in this book is the enjoyment of just going for a walk. Not walking to catch Pokemon. Not racing to be first. But the fun of getting about on foot. Plus I love that they build a tree house to live in at the end.img_6291

 

 


1932 edition with beautiful colour platesAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll, 1865

Alice is bored. Bored!? Really? Why isn’t she being entertained by her parents or an electronic device? But because she’s bored she has the most incredible adventure of any book ever. Ever! There are so many cultural references that originate in this book it feels like compulsory reading for every child. So, let your kids get bored. And maybe they’ll have adventures too.img_6289

 

This is a reprint of the 1921 edition with colour plates

Peter Pan and Wendy by JM Barrie, 1911
It’s so interesting re-reading this book after seeing the Disneyfied Peter Pan and Tinkerbell characters for so long. There’s a surprising amount of death in this book. And tragic stories of children with no mothers. So this one is appreciation for one’s mother. I feel so taken for granted by my children that I like to see more appreciation of mothers – and maybe they’ll feel how sad it would be not to have one.

 

 

 

The Folk of the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, 1946
Now here are some kids with their heads screwed on straight. Even though they’re on holidays they can’t run off to the Enchanted Forest until they’ve done their work. Work!? Make children work? Yep, they garden and tidy their rooms and wash and mend their own clothes when they rip them. Okay that last one is maybe just the girls, but still, sensible working kids. Plus they leave no kid behind, even annoying Connie.

From the box set I was given when I was 7

 

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, 1950
Siblings need to stick together – though sometimes it takes a life and death situation to learn that . Mean Edmund who picks on his little sister really gets his comeuppance in this book. These four kids have no parents to watch out for them so they need to do it themselves.

 

When can you call yourself a writer?

I’ve been reflecting lately about when you can start calling yourself a children’s writer or a creator of anything. When you publish your first book? When someone pays you something for it? When you’re brave enough to say, this is what I do; maybe not full time, but hey, that doesn’t matter.

I’ve been struggling with feeling timid about telling people that I am bringing out a CD of children’s songs. It feels … presumptuous somehow. Like I should have a degree behind me, or at least some incredible expertise in playing an instrument, or an amazing singing voice. But all I have is a fascination with language, rhyme and catchy tunes.

Elizabeth Gilbert has written many things in her wonderful book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear which have strongly resonated with me. One is about having the courage to ignore the voice within you that tells you you’re being ‘self-indulgent and preposterous to do this crazy thing.’ She says living creatively is ‘living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear’. And let’s face it, there’s too much fear around. Fear people will laugh at me, won’t take me seriously, not like my work, and so on.

I know my work is not going to appeal to everyone. Some will think it’s too educational. Some will think it’s not educational enough. But that’s okay. No song or book appeals to everyone.

I could write a lot about how I’m not qualified to bring out a CD like this. But I won’t. When I say, all I have is a fascination with language, rhyme and catchy tunes, that’s not telling the whole story. I’ve been working on becoming a better writer for more than three years. I’ve taken workshops and courses in song writing, creative writing and children’s writing. I’ve gone to writing conferences and paid for manuscript critiques. I’ve joined online forums and critique groups and submitted my work for others’ review. I’ve entered competitions. I’ve attended a conference for Australian teachers of Indonesian to get teachers’ perspectives, I’ve asked for feedback from teachers and musicians. I’ve sung and played music throughout. And I’ve continued to write and revise and write and revise.

And each time I heard the voice inside me saying, there’s no point in doing this, you may as well give up now, I stubbornly persisted.

As Elizabeth Gilbert writes: You do not need anybody’s permission to live a creative life. Life’s so short so just get on with what you want to do and stop worrying about what other people think.

Also, your art doesn’t need to change the world. So true! I certainly didn’t write songs with the aim of more children learning Indonesian or having an appreciation for Indonesian life. I wrote them for me and for my children and because these are the kinds of songs I love.

All this is to say I don’t know what will happen in the future but that I’m extremely proud to have a CD that I’ll be launching next month. And sometimes it’s just about finishing one project so you can move onto the next!

For details of the launch on 28 October 2016, visit the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival.

Ayo to the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival!

First the exciting news. Ayo! Let’s Go! Songs for children in Indonesian and English is going to be in the children’s program for the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival UWRFheaderthis year. I’m just thrilled about this! It’s such a wonderful festival and the children’s program is fantastic. And free! I’m looking forward to coming back to Bali and launching the CD in the place where it all began.

The festival is on between 26 and 30 October 2016 with heaps of amazing writers coming from all over the world. I’m especially excited that Magda Szubanski is coming. I’ve seen her on comedy shows on TV for years and now she is gaining fame as a memoirist.

For anyone planning to come, the early bird tickets are still on sale. Don’t delay! Sometime in August they finish and the price goes up by 20%. For people with a KITAS the price is a bargain.

And for those of who planning to come with kids, the launch of Ayo! Let’s Go! is the perfect event for children aged between 3 and 9 who like music. The fantastically talented pianist Thomas Aro Zebua will be playing and the incredible singers Mita, Wisma and Olga Spoelstra will be performing some of the songs they recorded on the CD. We will be playing games, doing yoga and getting the children up and dancing and singing along with us.

Have monkeys ever stolen your hat? Do you like tropical fruit but hate mosquitos? Then this is the show for you!

I’m also planning to have prizes and something for every child to take home. Watch this space to find out when and where, or check the children’s program of the UWRF.

 

 

10 tips for recording children’s songs

Ayo! Let's Go! demo coverThe most exciting thing coming up for me in 2016 is that I have a collection of children’s songs recorded and ready to be released (Ayo! Let’s Go!). I’m so excited about this because it represents a lot of work I did while living in Bali. Just before I left Indonesia in December, I was able to book a music studio, get singers and a pianist together and finally record 11 songs.

I was recently asked for some tips on recording children’s songs. A friend is planning to record his original songs this year. Gee, I thought, I don’t know much – I’ve only done it once. But after reflecting, I realised I learnt an enormous amount from doing this recording. Here are some of my tips on how to prepare for a recording.

First – getting your songs ready to record

1) Revise your lyrics.

Two music teachers heard my songs in the early stages and the first thing they said was: too many words. I crammed so many words in some of my lines that it made it hard for adults, let alone children, sing. Not every song has to be Jack and Jill for rhythm and simplicity. But too many words makes it much harder to follow, especially for kids.

When it came time to prepare for recording I revised every single song. I scrutinised every word and every line. I took out innumerable ‘and’, ‘then’, ‘that’ and unnecessary conjunctions. If a word wasn’t completely necessary, I took it out. I even deleted whole verses when I decided the verse didn’t fit the pattern of previous verses, or made the song too long.

As the songwriter you have one way of singing your song. Trying to imagine how other people will approach it is much harder. Looking at your lyrics on paper as if they are poems makes this easier.

2) Be sure about the structure of the song (this might need to be step 1). It could be: intro, verse, chorus, verse, bridge, verse, chorus x 3 as ending. Or it could be more complicated. There is a wide range of children’s songs out there. It’s okay to do something complicated.

However, don’t be scared of repetition. Kids love that they know what is coming up next. Interaction is also fabulous. Have a think about how to include a call and answer, or some other interaction for the kids. One of my songs has an introduction that is completely different to the main song. I had actually written two bamboo songs and decided to combine them. In between the intro and the song I have a short spoken piece, and then there is counting through the song. It was fun to record, took longer of course, but because I had it very clear about who would do what, and what the accompaniment needed to do, it went very smoothly.

3) If you have time, money or friends who play more instruments, think about doing a more complicated arrangement. What instruments would be best for each song? I ended up going with a simple piano and voice arrangement for my songs, but I always thought if the songs needed it I could get other musicians to add drums, guitar or gamelan on top. Work out the basics first and then have a wish list for improving them.

4) Work out the key signature for each song. This was essential for me as I had a fantastic pianist, Thomas Zebua, creating the accompaniment. One of the first things he needed to know was the key for each song. I wasn’t singing the songs myself. In fact I had four different singers working on the album and we worked out the key for each song at the first rehearsal.

Then – have plenty of time for rehearsal

5) Phrasing, emphasis, dynamics, timing, pauses. All this gets worked out in rehearsal. If you’re the one being recorded you’ll have to record yourself over and over again. Ask yourself—and other people: Was that word clear? Should the song be slower or faster? Or should the tempo speed up? When I was rehearsing I was the one listening to the singers so it was easier for me to pick up on phrases that needed work. Pronunciation of English words was one area where we needed to go over some phrases many times. Funnily enough, even some of the Indonesian was improved upon in the studio when there were other Indonesians listening to the songs.

6) Practice the endings. I didn’t want all my songs to end the same way. I thought it would be dull if every song finished fading out, or if every song repeated the refrain three times and then finished. So I made sure some finished abruptly, some finished with piano, some faded out slowly. The same with beginnings.

Finally – what to expect in the studio

7) Book as much time as you can afford and be very prepared that that might change. I had some crazy idea that we could record 11 songs in one day. Well, we almost did, but that was only the piano. I had to book two more days in the studio after that to get the singers recorded. That was my inexperience showing up big time! Luckily I was in Bali in a small studio near my house in Sanur and the studio was available the following two days. I ended up having not just the Friday in the studio but Saturday afternoon and all of Sunday. It’s unlikely that a song will be recorded in only one take so if you’re the person who has hired everyone to be there, you have to decide when something needs to be done over and when it’s good enough. Singers only have so many takes in them and you only have so many hours in the studio.

8) Don’t forget the mixing. Most of the mixing for my songs was done in the studio straight after the recording and the engineer did a great job. That meant we both stayed in the studio for another two hours after the recording finished to make sure all the tracks were right, and I could leave with all the tracks pretty much finished. But I’ve still sent it to a friend who is a professional musician/engineer in Australia and he is working on it and getting it ready for distribution.

9) Take some photos. You might want to document this experience. It’s so much fun! I had a blast of a time in that hot little bamboo studio in Sanur. I got to listen to my songs sung over and over. And, while it was kind of stressful, worrying that we wouldn’t get it all done and wondering if the singers were getting quite the feel that I’d hoped, it was a fantastic experience.

10) And finally, get copies of all the files. Ask for every possible format that you might need. Mp3 for sure but if you want some more mixing afterwards, you’ll probably want them in a different format. Also, you might want the accompaniment by itself, with no voice over. If you’re a solo performer, suddenly you have your own backing track and you can be free to perform the song without having to play an instrument.

These are just the tips from someone who has gone through a recording experience once. Others are sure to have more.