Sunday, 17 May 2015

Maurice Saxby Mentorship Program - Week 2.

The second week of the Maurice Saxby Mentorship was just as exciting as the first. It has been the most wonderful experience.
Week 2
Day 5

Today we met out the front of Allen & Unwin publishing house with great anticipation and excitement. We were greeted by Erica and Jody who were so nice and friendly and interested. They wanted to learn more about us and then share advice wherever possible. Jody took us through the multiple possible book designs she had been working on recently. It gave me a really good understanding of the editor/publisher role and all the steps in between to get a book published. They spoke about near hits and misses in the selection process and what made some stand out and others get overlooked. It was blatantly obvious that to get published was a competitive business and the nature of publishing had changed immensely over the years. Erica offered us some great tips and questions to ask ourselves to ensure our book is at the best possible submission standard. Allen and Unwin had a really nice family feel and I couldn’t help imagine being part of their publishing family!

We also went to the iconic Readings bookstore in Carlton. There it was explained to us how they arrange displays, offer advice, write reviews and suggest good reads to customers. Basically new releases are on prominent display for one month then they get moved on for the next wave of new releases. It was interesting and made me more aware of that next step in the production line to get books into the hands of readers.

Day 6
Today was always going to be a unique experience. Ken Harper a puppeteer was going to entertain us. And he did not disappoint! He uses the traditional Punch and Judy stage and had a group of junior students shrieking with excitement and laughter at his performance. He used a range of characters and kept the students involved in various ways. The raucous crowd responded enthusiastically to the show. At the end he showed them how the ‘stage’ worked. It was fantastic to see this age old form of storytelling and entertainment. A reminder of another medium that can be used for stories and literacy development and enjoyment.

Day 7
It was such a treat to go to the state library. I am embarrassed to admit it was my first time there! I am happy to report it definitely won’t be my last. We met with Juliet Rodgers who explained about the collections of books they have and how they are available for reading and research. We gathered around the table to view some of the collections she referred to. Some of the books were so old and delicate we needed to hold them whilst they sat on a pillow. These old books were in remarkable condition considering the age of them. Juliet was knowledgeable and passionate about her area and it was inspiring to listen to her speak.

We went to Phoenix Park library to look at some of Amanda Coper’s collection of original artwork and preliminary drawings. She had the younger students captivated as they wandered around trying to locate the preliminary drawing in the published book. It was so interesting to see some of the comparisons across a broad range of books. It was wonderful to watch the kids getting excited about the stories and the illustrative process behind the books.

Next up was a chat with David Metzenthen. He was very entertaining and charismatic during his discussion! It was great to hear his publishing journey and where it’s taken him. I really enjoy listening to the process other writers go through. I found it interesting that he doesn’t let anyone read his writing until it is ready. I also realised that being an established author does not mean you are free of doubts about your writing and its intention. Nor does it guarantee publishing. It was a good reminder not to take yourself too seriously and enjoy the writing process along the way. Sometimes the outcome is not the important part.

That evening, after an already big day, we had the Publishing Q & A to enjoy. The panel included a selection of people in the know including, an agent, book buyer, publisher, editor and author. Erica Wagner did a great job hosting and keeping the discussion going. It was so interesting listening to the perspective of the book industry from each person depending on their background. After the previous couple of days I now have a really sound knowledge and understanding of the process from submission to selection to publication to promotion to being read. The best part was speaking with like-minded people and soaking in their passion and knowledge for literacy.

Day 8
I was really looking forward to the workshop today with Kirsty Murray. I planned on attending the first one but ended up staying for both as they were quite different. I was particularly interested in this session because it was a writing workshop with teenagers (my YA audience) and her books include historical fiction. A genre I hope to tackle one day. The first session was with Yr. 9 boys who were drawn in from the start. Their noses were almost touching the page as they wrote continuously for 5 minutes. ‘Stream of consciousness writing’, which is something I now plan to do more often. Often during writing I am held back by thinking too far ahead. This uninterrupted, no thinking writing meant I could just scribble and see what came out. She also did an exercise called ‘Places of the heart’ which meant they could choose a setting/scene from their life they had experience and could write about. I enjoyed participating in this writing activity.

The next group was with Yr. 9 – 11 boys who had nominated to participate in the creative writing workshop. Kirsty elaborated more during this session and challenged the writing a bit further. She questioned their reasons for writing and the things to think about when writing. They boys completed a couple of writing activities which I also participated in and thoroughly enjoyed. I got so much out of these sessions because even though they were for the teenage audience I could apply the teachings to my own writing. Some things were reminders; some were new considerations for me.

Day 9
Well all good things must come to an end … Luckily our last day was to be fabulous! Helen had managed to arrange a meeting with John Marsden at his school, Candlebark. What a privilege to talk writing with such a renowned and respected writer. Funny timing really as I had just listened to him speak two nights previously in Geelong about his school and educational philosophies. This time the focus was going to be all about writing. Two inspiring sessions with the great man in one week! John welcomed us into his office and was happy to answer our questions. He shared some anecdotes from his journey and a particularly entertaining story about criticism to the ending of ‘Letter from the Inside’. I actually found this book two days after the meeting in a second hand book store in Queenscliff. I’m looking forward to reading the controversial ending.

From here we went to historic Dromkeen where Geraldine greeted us and shared her vision to restoring Dromkeen to its former glory as well as her wonderful plans for the future. We got to look at the former owner’s picture book art collection. It was like stepping back in time to primary school! I have new found appreciation from the last two weeks for illustrations used in books and the process to include them. Not to mention the talent behind them. We were also treated to a delicious lunch! I left Dromkeen looking forward to returning one day but feeling inspired to have faith and follow my dreams.
I want to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to the CLAN committee for the amazing job they do in organising the Maurice Saxby Mentorship Program. Thanks so much for running such an amazing program! I was thrilled to be part of it and will always cherish this extraordinary experience.



  1. Thanks for sharing this, Melissa.
    Can't wait to see what springs out of you after this amazing experience.

    1. Thanks Alison. I can't wait to see where it takes me as well!