Princess Betony is now a series

The Princess Betony books were always going to be a series, but now the second book, Princess Betony and the Thunder Egg, is due to hit the bookshops in the first week of March, so booksellers will start shelving them in the series section!


I”m getting more and more excited about the Betony books as I see Tamsin Ainslie’s wonderful illustrations. You can check out some of them, plus games and free stories, at

Click the Betony tab at the top of this page to see more information about the books!

Outlines and adaptations

With some trepidation I sent the first draft of the outline for Victor’s Quest (the musical) to the composer, Peter Rutherford, and our producer, Neil Gooding, this week.  Given that I know they like the book, it might seem silly to be so nervous (still am!) but the nerves come out at the beginning of any new venture, I think.

What I found interesting in writing the outline was how previous experience adapting someone else’s book for television helped.  A long time ago, I adapted Mem Fox’s Night Noises as a For the Juniors episode.  Because Night Noises is a picture book, there just wasn’t enough story for a half-hour episode.  But on each page, the old lady, Lily Laceby, is dreaming about/remembering a piece of her past, so we took each of those images and wove a little scene/story out of it.  It was an education in seeing the difference between what works on the page and what works on screen (or on stage).

So in making my own adaptation, I started from a premise that nothing was sacred.  It’s remarkably liberating.  As it happened, I kept fairly closely to the book but cut out some scenes where people sat down and ate or thought for a long time, because that would slow the action down too much, and inserted three extra scenes to introduce characters and establish motivation.

I had to make a conscious effort to forget Kim Gamble’s illustrations, too.  Kim did both Victor books and it’s very hard now to imagine a scene without his images.  But the stage version will be significantly different.

Night Noises was my first drama script.  We had some great actors in that show:  Queenie Ashton played Lillie and Noah Taylor her brother in the past. Lots of others, too.

Working with those people, I learnt about leaving spaces for actors to expand into… it’s a hard thing to explain, but the script shouldn’t tie everything down; the writer wants to control everything, but you can’t.  That’s the trade off:  working with composers, actors, producers, directors, animators, puppeteers and all the other technical staff gives your script a richness and depth – and a rigour – you can’t get on your own.  But the final result may not be what you had imagined.

I have missed that collaboration and that sense of ‘goodness me, I didn’t know that scene worked that way!’. It’s why I love working with illustrators on books for kids – I relish the extra layer of meaning and life that the illustrator gives to the text.

On the other hand, one of the things I like about writing adult books is that what I imagine is what there is…

…lucky I get both, I guess!

Circus Oz

In my current effort to see as many performances with music as possible, I was lucky to be treated to an outing to Circus Oz (thank you, Katherine!)  Circus Oz, for those who don’t know them, is mostly acrobatic and physically based – think Cirque de Soleil seasoned with Australian irreverence and much better music.

A great time was had, although it was a stinking hot day and the big top turned into a sauna.  I was particularly struck by the band, and in particular the drummer.

I have a confession – I am learning the drums.  I started almost two years ago, and I’m at the stage where I know how much more I have to learn.  I have a wonderful teacher, Bruce Stephens, and he has guided me through some rocky places already.  The Acquisition of The Drum Kit(s), for example (another time, I might tell that story here).

So I now watch the drummer in any band (I used to watch the singer) and the drummer at Circus Oz was fantastic, both as a musician and as a performer.  Very inspiring.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the acts, the experience at Circus Oz made me acutely aware of how important sound quality is for dialogue.  The acts often included patter or commentary which could not be properly heard, and this meant that the nuances of the jokes and their relationship to the performances were lost.  In the end, I think most people just stopped listening and watched.  There was more than enough in the performances to keep everyone entertained, but I thought it was a shame that whatever they were trying to do in the script was lost on the audience.

The lesson for me for Victor the musical?  Not too many words and make them directly related to the scene.

Hairy Maclary

Went to see Hairy Maclary and Friends at the Opera House Playhouse.  A much younger audience than we’re aiming for, obviously, but lots of fun.  I find I am already assessing shows differently.  As a scriptwriter, I’ve always tended to analyse how a theatre production is put together – in fact, my sister won’t go to the theatre or movies with me anymore because she says I spoil the illusion by dissecting ‘how they did it’ afterwards!  But my focus has been on what you might call the storytelling aspects of the craft.  Now I find I’m looking more closely at staging and costs.

For example, the Hairy Maclary show has seven cast members.  That’s big for a kids’ show, but was forced on them by the books.  They had to have all the dogs on stage at once, because the stories require that.  That makes six actors, plus at least one human (Miss Plum).  Although the dog actors take other parts (Sam Stone, Schnitzel Von Krumm’s family, bees), it’s still quite a hefty cast for a one-hour production.  This means that the ticket cost is quite high:  between $29 and $49.  That might not seem a lot compared to an adult play, but imagine if you have four kids – for the good seats, that’s $245; for the worst seats, it’s still $145.  A lot to pay for an hour.  I’d love to know if other venues charge as much for this show, because the Opera House can charge a premium.

There was also live music – a guy on a keyboard, who also operated a bubble machine at the end.  Now this was interesting – not having pre-recorded music allowed the actors to interact more with the audience, as this show was very much the ‘behind you, behind you!’ style of kids’ performance, where there is no fourth wall and the kids are part of the action.  With pre-recorded music, it would be very hard to do a lot of this, it seems to me.  Less improvisation is not necessarily a bad thing, however.

The stage design was beautifully flexible.  Nothing came down out of the flies except some spiders, who could just as easily have been on a long pole.  So the show doesn’t need a proscenium arch theatre.  The scene changes were done by the on-stage cast rolling scenery around or pulling it out.  Simple and effective and completely acceptable to an audience raised on Playschool, which does the same thing even more simply.  You could stage this on a dais in a shopping mall; you could stage it in theatre in the round; you could stage it in a church hall; you could stage it in a school playground, if you had to.

So much to think about!


It is quite hard to find a copy of Into the Woods! But the lovely City of Sydney library has a VHS, it appears, so it’s a trip to the city for me this week.  I am doing quite a bit of research (hehe).  This requires me to go to lots of musicals and musicalish shows.  No, really, it does.

So last week I went to Annie and Tubular Bells for Two, and last night saw La Soiree at the Opera House.  What a fantastic show!  Athletic, sophisticated, hysterically funny and beautifully staged.  But definitely not for children!




Victor the Musical!

I’m very excited.  Yesterday I had my first formal meeting with Neil Gooding and Peter Rutherford about turning my kids’ book, Victor’s Quest, into a musical.  I’m doubly excited because Neil and Peter are letting me have a go at writing the play and the lyrics (which is, interestingly, called a ‘book’).

Neil Gooding is the producer:  check him out here.

Peter Rutherford is the composer:  you can read about him here or, better yet, go to iTunes and download his recent shows, Love Bites and The Hatpin.  Then you’ll know how lucky I am to be working with these two.

While I started writing as a scriptwriter for kids’ TV, I’ve never written for the stage except doing Readers’ Theatre adaptations of a couple of stories.  So the process will be fascinating.

Already there are surprises.  My first job is to do an outline.  Although we’ve agreed to aim for a 75 minutes performance without an interval, Neil and Peter don’t need me to stick to specific timings in my outline or first draft.  Musicals, they tell me, tend to be too long to start with, then get whittled away in workshops and tryouts until only the bits that work are left.

This is sooo different to the way I usually work, in either script or prose.  TV scripts are so precisely timed that there is no wiggle room, and woe betide a writer who turns in a script which is too long.

When I write books, I tend to write more in my second draft than my first, so I have found it best to aim a little below – if my contract says 100 000 words, I will aim for 90 000 in my first draft, knowing I will have to add things once the editor gets to it.  I have a tendency to not explain things well enough, or not to flesh them out enough, and editors frequently ask me for ‘more on this section, please’.

So I find the idea of writing more than you need and then cutting back quite challenging!

Peter is looking at the book now to see which bits ‘cry out for a song’ – he’ll let me know and I’ll incorporate that into the outline.  Some are obvious, but I was fascinated to hear him say that he liked Victor’s Quest more than Victor’s Challenge for a musical because there were more gaps in Victor’s Quest where Victor is just doing stuff, where the music can come in.  So beware of dialogue, I guess, unless it’s sung!

My tasks:  to write the outline and to watch Into the Woods, Peter’s favourite musical.

I will keep you posted.