Sunday, 22 November 2015

unfinished trifles

I have several little side projects going at the moment, dear reader. It's great fun but I'm feeling frustrated. I can't seem to finish ANYTHING. Is it the time of year, the stars, my hormones? It's like my brain is zigzagging through a lolly shop, pointing in all directions, yelling, 'Here! here! here!' Strange metaphor. See what I mean? I can't get anything straight at the moment.
I supposedly finished book two of Danny Best last week. On time and all gorgeous. My publisher was delighted with it and it went straight to Mitch (illustrator) and Steph (designer) and Eve (editor). However. After chewing my nails for several days I decided, no, the balance in that book is not right (the Danny books are made up of short stories). I want it back! So I have retrieved the manuscript and I'm writing another story and shoving one of the 'finished' ones aside (it can go in book three, it won't be wasted). I get irritable when projects are not checked off within a reasonable timeframe and tied up neatly in a satin bow. Schedules mean a lot to me. I don't enjoy feeling scattered. But I must take heart. I remember reading about the Coen brothers. Apparently they have half-written projects and undeveloped ideas languishing All Over The Joint. They pick up and put down and chop and change. Clearly they do get some things finished, so that's a comfort. I do think, too, that this 'magpie phase' is part of the creative process. I've been here before. Pecking about randomly. Hopping from leg to leg. Picking up bits of glass, diamond rings...and dead bugs. 
Meanwhile, I've been painting food (for one of my unfinished projects). Here are some Maira Kalman inspired cakes. And a trifle. My mother used to use homemade Swiss rolls (soaked in sherry) at the base of her trifles. SO DIVINE! She would also sprinkle the top layer of cream (and crushed jelly) with chopped walnuts. I can't draw chopped walnuts. They end up looking like dirt. So I popped a couple of strawberries on my trifle. And a sweet wafer, for dipping in the custard and cream... 
Until next time
I remain
Yours with a glass of sherry (which I will DEFINITELY finish).
Jen xx

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Monday, 9 November 2015

I want to create but I'm scared!

Today from Baxter Street, two of my Favourite Gals, Marie Forleo and Elizabeth Gilbert, yak about creativity and fear and shit sandwiches (ha!) and writing and getting published and loads of other stuff. You must watch this, dear reader. You must! A warning though, it's long. You might have to flag it for later when your minions are snoring. Make a secret date. Delicious!  Oh, and if you haven't seen Ms Gilbert's TED talk, do get on it. When I was teaching creative writing to women I had all my students watch it. It's that good. xx

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Friday, 30 October 2015

words and pictures. and cakes.

Hello, dear reader! Are you good? I hope so! I'm trying to write really fast because I have put on SEVEN kilos and I need the exercise. Otherwise I will have to cut up the bedsheets to make new frocks. So this is a speedy entry. Fingers flying, pulse racing, calories burning. Yes indeedy. All thoughts of warm banana cake and buttery cinnamon toast and vanilla ice cream with chocolate crepes are fervently dismissed. 

Now. Where was I?

As a warm-up exercise in Year of the Spark we have been doing thumbnails of the masters. Herein you might recognise Van Gogh's, Haystacks? Or perhaps Van Gogh's, Daleks.

Either way this is a terrific exercise that really teaches you to LOOK and think about composition, tone, all sorts of stuff.  I adore doing these classes with Lynn Whipple and Carla Sonheim. These amazing women have truly made my year. 

Meanwhile, I'm still nuts for Mindy Lacefield. Her videos are sweet and inspiring and she's so talented and generous. Lately I've been drawing along with this video and generally sploshing about. (In so doing I've also fallen head over heels for Kate Mann. Am I the last to discover her music? Probably. Sigh).

You might ask, why are you so obsessed with bloody rabbits, Jen? Who knows? But I've learned to follow obsessions. You might remember a while back when I kept drawing eggs and cupcakes? (I don't really expect you to remember, I know you're busy. Sheesh, ask a silly question.) Anyway, that little obsession went on and on until VOILA I had an idea for a picture book. Now looky look! Here's the final cover!

I'm over the moon about this book. Sue deGennaro's artwork is tender and funny and utterly enchanting. I can't wait to share Clarrie's story with you, dear reader, but it won't be out until February 2016 so I will have to zip it for a little while longer... 

We have a fractured long weekend here in Melbourne this week. Meaning, Tuesday is a public holiday but not Monday. Still, I have caught up on my writing commitments so I intend on doing lots of gardening and drawing. I will also be working on the website for my Writing Books for Children course. I'll be teaching that next year. I'll get in your ear about it later.

Bye for now, dear reader. I hope you have a charming weekend. Eat a scone for me, won't you?
Until next time
I remain 
Yours with my nose pressed against the cake shop window
Jen xx
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Tuesday, 20 October 2015

domestic ramblings

Spring is fluttering by here in Melbourne, dear reader. We've had a few hot days, a few muggy days and a few PERFECT, made-to-order, sunshiny, lollipop days. I've noticed the occasional blowfly blundering through the house, too. Those dozy heralds of summer always remind me to dig out my sunscreen and Birkenstocks.

I went to Castlemaine. Do you dream of escaping to the country, dear reader? I miss the big skies and often crave the slower pace and the ease with which the locals relate to one another. I dream of buying a big old place with some kind of outbuilding that I could convert to a studio/writing school. I remember one time, the local Sunday school was for sale. I was tempted. Indeed I was. 

Don't you adore shops in higgledy-piggledy cottages? The owner of this one and I had a lovely chinwag. I bought a parasol and some divine Christmas cards.
I wrote a story called Servery Goes to Hollywood. It's about a severed arm who tries his luck in the motion picture industry. He gets lots of parts especially in horror films. But things don't go according to plan and it turns out the high life is not all it's cracked up to be. Severy is a minor character in the first Danny Best book. Actually, he's not much more than a doodle in that book. But in book two he gets his fifteen minutes. The manuscript for Danny Best book two is due to the publisher November 2. I'm on track. Praise be.
Severy is a stickler for nice manners.
Severy got his first big break playing himself in Danny Best: Full On.
We launched Danny Best: Full On at the Little Bookroom, Carlton, on Saturday October 10. It was a gorgeous afternoon brimming with laughter and high jinx. Left to right: Heidi Arena (launcher), Mitch Vane (illustrator), Lisa Berryman (publisher HarperCollins), Jen Storer (author), Steph Spartels (designer).

Mitch made dog poo brownies. So inspired! Apparently they were delicious, too...

I bought a Sandra Eterovic print from a shop in Smith Street, Collingwood. Himself and I are in search of a new dining table. We have a formal dining room in our new house and space to seat hundreds! Well, perhaps not that many. But we are overjoyed about this turn of events and planning a big Christmas Eve sit down dinner. Our current table seats four so you appreciate the urgency... Alas, no table but instead this gorgeous print. I haven't had it framed yet so it is sitting on the piano among the baby photos and vintage china. She looks right at home, don't you think? I've been following Sandra's blog for many years. Sandra recently provided cover art for a children's nonfiction title, too. See below. So, so lovely.


I designed a new website for my Writing Books for Children course. The website (and the 'school') will be launched shortly. I'm very excited about this project. It's taken me AGES to pull it all together and now it's here I can scarcely believe it. I will send you a link to the new site the moment it Goes Live. Gosh!

Bye for now, dear reader. Don't be a stranger. Do leave a comment or blow me a kiss if you feel so inclined. I'd love to know you are really there and not just a 'stat'.  
Until then
I remain
Yours in a pretty tea cup 
Jen xx

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Thursday, 15 October 2015

day by day

Short and sweet today, dear reader (hallelujah, you're probably thinking). I just wanted to tell you about this little book - which I haven't read yet but I am going to because I know it's fabulous! As part of our warm-up for this month's art lesson in Year of the Spark, we were asked to write 300 words describing our daily rituals. For some of us no day is the same. But for artists and writers there is generally some kind of pattern. I am sorry to say I wrote 338 words, dear reader. I exceeded the word limit to include my little dog at the end. How could I edit her out? How? 
Do you have any daily rituals? This is a lovely writing exercise in and of itself and my instincts tell me you would enjoy doing it. It also prompts us look more closely at how we are spending our time and where we could squeeze in more creativity.
PS I know that last time I promised you an 'experimental post'. Suffice to say that post is still in the Baxter Street Laboratory. But it's coming! 
Until then
I remain 
Yours with a cup of Lady Grey
Jen xx

My life is solitary with flashes of frantic activity. I always start the day with a cup of Lady Grey. If I’m in the thick of a book I will go straight to my desk at 7.30 am and write in my pyjamas. If I’m troubled, if the writing is not working, I will tap dance around, filling my day with errands and lots of self-doubt. When I am scared enough (ie I can’t avoid the deadline any longer) I go for long walks. That’s when I get truly immersed and start to solve problems. When I’m working on a book, I write 500 words a day Monday to Friday. Often I write more but 500 is my happy point. (Each book in my Truly Tan series is 45,000 words, my standalone novels are around 70,000). Because I have several books on the go at once, I’m often caught up in design and editorial meetings, either online or face-to-face. Between times I do loads of admin, a sprinkling of school visits, plus book signings, blogging and promo trips. I never write a word when I’m on the road. I need long stretches of solitude to achieve anything storywise. However, I do some kind of visual art whenever I can. Even if it’s in bed at night. I have a bottle of ink and a pen by my bed. One day I know I’ll spill ink all over the white doona. But I’m a risk taker! I often sleep with my manuscript, too. My partner does most of the cooking so long as I do the hunting and gathering. This works brilliantly for us. My adult son and his girlfriend float through the house regularly, grazing on whatever they can find, studying for exams etc. They like coming here to work as their flat is tiny. And we have more food. In the evenings I walk my little dog. Although mostly I carry her. She’s seventeen and blind. But she still enjoys getting out and having a sniff around.

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Thursday, 24 September 2015

this is work, right?

Sometimes my publisher says, 'Jen, don't tell them how much fun we're having or they won't think we're working'. And it is like that. Sometimes. Occasionally. Okay, often. This time of year is particularly busy for kids' authors as there are all sorts of festivals and bookish celebrations going on(including Book Week which really should be renamed Book Month). Here's a quick rundown of what Jen Storer Children's Author has been up to.

I appeared (not out of a cake) in The Story Peddler's tent at the Melbourne Writers Festival. How gorgeous is this little venue? This is a Sally Rippin initiative. Most of you, even my overseas readers, would be familiar with Sally's work especially her phenomenally successful Billy B Brown series.  Sally's energy and creativity is boundless and I have no doubt this venture will go from strength to strength. I was so delighted to be involved! Please pop over to facebook where you can keep up with their whereabouts. Meantime, below is a sweet little video that will give you a peek into the shenanigans. (Dear reader, I wore a dreadful skirt that day. The weather was freezing and I had a last minute clothes crisis. A skirt with a side-split was such a Poor Choice. I groan with embarrassment whenever I reflect on it. Thank goodness you only see it for a 'split' second.)

Ensconced in the Story Peddlers Tent, I read from my forthcoming book, Danny Best: Full On. No bums in Danny's stories. No, no, no. Sally even put up a sign for me.
I have done a string of school visits lately. One visit in particular has stayed with me as the majority of kids were from asylum seeker families. Bright, inquisitive, enthusiastic children. It was an honour to spend time with them. My visit was supposed to be a session with the grade fives and sixes but in the end the entire school came along. 

I had a book launch! Yes, my new novel, The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack is officially Out Now. You can see the cover and the book trailer over yonder in the margins of this blog.

The book was launched on a gorgeous sunshiny day at my local bookstore. I was thrilled to have Judith Rossell, author of the stunning, illustrated novel, Withering-by-Sea, bust the bottle of bubbly (so to speak). Jude is also a friend of Lucinda Gifford's (the illustrator of Angus Jack) so the three of us managed to bumble through beautifully and have a lot of giggles. Of course, I was a little nervous about what Jude might say in her speech. She had mentioned she would probably talk about where Lucinda and I went wrong... If you were one of the sparkling crowd that day thank you again for coming along and making it so special. The Fourteenth Summer has galvanised my passion for illustrated novels and already Lucinda and I have plans for another. If you would like background information on the book plus lots of insider knowledge please take a squiz at (it's incredibly pretty and only went live today so you, dear reader, will be among the first to clap eyes on it). If you are an aspiring author/illustrator, a bookseller, librarian, parent or BELOVED READER it will give you loads of insights into the story and our creative processes. To purchase a copy of the book you can do so here or you can buy it from  

Judith Rossell, Esteemed Launcher. Lucinda Gifford looking on lovingly.
And yes, there was only one book for sale...  Hotly contested, dear reader, hotly contested.
I love this photo because you can see the sunshine pouring in. Also, Tan is hanging about in the background making her presence known. Bless her.
My friend, Sal Cooper, won the lucky door prize. Sal is an animator. Check out her stunning work here. One of my favourites is The Dawn Chorus. I love love love it! Sal had a studio near mine at the Abbotsford Convent. That was, until Sal's studio got invaded by bees and she had to move. It was awful! Like something out of a Stephen King novel. 
Here's the gorgeous illustration I had framed for the door prize. Much of the action in The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack centres around a ramshackle junk shop. When they see Lucinda's incredibly detailed illustrations many readers in the northern suburbs of Melbourne quickly guess which shop inspired me (it's a local 'off-beat' icon). 
Lastly, on Friday I attended a fabulous Author Day hosted by HarperCollins Publishers. This year the Melbourne event was held in the Herald Weekly Times building, Southbank. These author days are such a treat. Authors, illustrators and literary agents don't often get the opportunity to come together like this, to meet with the team (including the CEO and the publishing directors from each division), to be hear from all sorts of accomplished presenters (we even had a session with the dazzling Jaki Arthur), to learn, exchange ideas and enjoy fully-catered professional development. (The arancini balls were a wonder. There was lovely fruit too, dear reader, but I passed in favour of the scones). HarperCollins are incredibly supportive and proactive and hold their creatives in high esteem.  I came away totally zonked (information overload) and yet bubbling with enthusiasm and new ideas on how to run my Author Business (and it is a business, dear reader, make no mistake). By the way, I also had the chance to catch up with Alison Goodman. I have a reading copy of her forthcoming YA novel and I was busting to tell her how much I am LOVING it. It's called Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club and basically it's Jane Austen meets Buffy. It's one of those books you just want to live in. I would seriously love to go horse riding with Lady Helen. And I am terrified of horses, dear reader! When the book comes out I will flag it with you.

Time to go home and I am searching the skyline for Flinders Street station. Where is it???
And finally FINALLY we have moved house! I had a couple of weeks without my studio and without internet and I was demented. But I am pleased to report that nearly everything is now in order. 

We are getting to know the new house's quirks — the wonky latch on the front gate, the window blind that is jammed on DOWN, the scent of fried garlic and shrimp paste from a nearby Vietnamese restaurant, and the distant beats from the music venues. Oh, and the way the pink glass in our bedroom window catches the morning sun. We are settling in happily.

Until next time, dear reader, when I am planning an extra special, Experimental Post for you,
I remain
Yours under the teacups and bubble wrap.
Jen xx
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Saturday, 29 August 2015

the wheel of life

 I'm so sorry I haven't written in the longest time, dear reader. 'Get out!' I hear you say. 'You are a swaggering rogue, Jen Storer, and you have no right calling yourself A Blogger.' I understand if you only read on in order to laugh at my grammar. Or if you have already flicked me off in favour of Mary Tyler Moore reruns on Youtube. In which case you are not reading and, as my kids used to say, I am sad for that. 

'Nevertheless!' to quote Katharine Hepburn, here's what I've been up to.

In Year of the Spark, we've been painting like children. In this spirit, Carla (one of our teachers) recommended the most wonderful book (The Innocent Eye) and as I wait for the clipper ship to bring it to me I am trying to draw like I once did.  Did you always draw a flower under every tree, dear reader? And did everyone have visible teeth, AT ALL TIMES? (What a frightening world it would be.) I also had a fetish for drawing girls wearing ties. This is not because I went to some posh, Picnic at Hanging Rock, tie-wearing private school. It's because when I was eight I had a gorgeous, sleeveless orange dress with a white collar and a paisley neck tie. Since then every girl that springs to mind wears that same outfit. Perhaps I need to be more creative. But it's so...Tilda Swinton, don't you agree? 
Jean Dubuffet, 1944. He nailed it, yes??

I have been unashamedly ripping off Maira Kalman. I am so madly in love with her work and her sense of colour makes me swoon and I have discovered that copying her work gives me enormous insights into her creative process, the nuances, the decisions, the palette and compositions. Copy, copy, copy! It's a brilliant way to learn.
I've also been copying stills from my Wes Anderson book. Look at Adrien Brody. Just LOOK AT HIM! Right, moving on.

That's Maira on the left (ahem). My point of reference is 13 Words, the book she did with Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler). I'm sure I've told you about it before. The book is genius. A wonderful parody of the old school reader and such a joyful example of how children stray off track when telling a story. You know, 'and then they got in a car and they drove along and they were going to buy a hat for the bird but there was a baby working in the shop and the goat said...' Get the picture? It's a stunning book, visually and textually. (Gosh, did I just write a review? Surely not.)

Coincidentally, in my local art class (which doubles as my weekly therapy session with the glorious Katie Roberts) we've been studying colour so all this other stuff dovetails beautifully. 

I've been in Sydney, too.

And Brisbane. And Melbourne,(which is where I live). But this time I had to be here because I was presenting with the HarperCollins Children's roadshow. For Christmas. Yes, you read right. Christmas preparations are well underway in the publishing world. I felt so privileged to be involved. Myself and two other authors, Alison Goodman and Katrina Nannestad, city-hopped with the entire gorgeous, kids' publishing team and in each city we presented our latest books to an esteemed gathering of booksellers, librarians and other delightfully bookish luminaries. There were also lots of audio visuals and rollicking presentations about other books on the HCP Christmas list including the latest offering from David Walliams, the new Crayon book by Oliver Jeffers and the next madcap instalment from Tim Miller and Matt Stanton. All in all it was Book Lovers Heaven.

Here's my hotel room in Sydney. We stayed at the QT Hotel which is enormously theatrical and luxurious. I highly recommend it should you ever be high and dry in central Sydney. Look how pristine it is! But not for more that sixty seconds. I cannot for the life of me keep order in a hotel room. I am a born FLINGER. Which is why I get awfully nervous when travelling sans Himself. I lose everything. Constantly. From my earrings, to my phone, my shoes, my handbag and definitely All Important Papers. When Himself is with me the first thing he does is set up an IT centre and an official Place. He does! He sets up the phone chargers, the laptop and iPad chargers and centralises all bits and pieces including my jewellery (which if left to me, is the first thing to go missing). 
Next door to the QT.  I hung about  humming, 'Deep Water', but sadly Richard did not materialise.  I had the Good-bye Tiger album when I was a teenager (vinyl of course) and I used to play it every morning while getting ready for school. (I'm so drunk and the car won't go/ My crazy eyes keep lookin' out to sea).
Meantime, we are up to our oxters in packing paraphernalia as M Day draws ever closer. Half our worldly goods have already gone. Even as I pen this I am seated on a tea-chest, sipping Drambuie, wondering where the last eight years went. But never fear. Baxter Street is a state of mind and our new house is practically a mirror of this darling little place. Except, the new house sides onto a bluestone lane. Yes! A lane. How I love lanes! I can almost hear the clip-clop on the night cart's horse. I feel like a heroine in a nineteenth century novel. 
But more on the new digs soon.
Thank you for your patience and perseverance, dear reader.
Until next time (when I will be hanging curtains, and making biscuits in my new oven),
I remain
Yours in Spinning Colour 
Jen xx 
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Monday, 3 August 2015

oh, great journal, I am not worthy. even though you only cost as much as a (gourmet) pizza.

I bought this Strathmore journal about a year ago. Don't be fooled by its modest attempt to look ordinary. It was hugely expensive by my standards and the moment I got my hands on it (I bought it online so it was home delivered in a most auspicious manner), I felt a rush of pleasure — and a thump of dread. It was so beautiful, the paper was of such high quality, that as I opened it flat and cracked it's elegant spine, I felt entirely unworthy. In fact, I felt like a fraud. Every time I tried to use it my shoulders shot up past my ears and I became so tense I needed  an osteopath.  And what, dear Jen, did you draw on its sacred pages? Ha! It was so awful I began to recoil every time I saw the cursed thing. I swear, The Strathmore, (as it is wont to be called) began to mock me. On some creepy level I felt like Dorian Grey. I ended up stashing the damn thing under a mound of Frankie magazines. And for the next twelve months I avoided its demoralising jeers and went back to scribbling and scratching in my cheap Officeworks journals. The ones with paper so crappy it is more like the butchers paper I drew on as a child. But this weekend all that changed. Damn the cost. Damn the 'you're not an artist' demons. I'd been watching Mindy Lacefield again. I wanted to do a mixed media collage and I needed paper that would hold up. So I shoved the Frankies aside and hauled out The Strathmore. And this is what I made (see below). I used acrylic paint, water colour, layer upon layer of old dress pattern paper, matt medium, marker pens, glitter paint, coloured pencils, more or less anything I could get my mitts on. And do you know what? The Strathmore never flinched. It took it all with grace and generosity. For me, the experience was as humbling as it was liberating. Why do we do this to ourselves, dear reader? Why do we punish ourselves for being beginners? Why do we block ourselves when it comes to growing, expanding, trying new things? It's so perverse and such a pitiful waste of time. I remember when I was in primary school, there were two girls in my class, yes TWO, who had Derwent pencils. One of them I can't remember. The other, a dainty little thing, was nonetheless a champion swimmer. She had white blonde hair that had turned green from the chlorine. A champion swimmer and she had Derwents. That girl had it made. And every so often she would deign to let one of us Use Her Derwents. It was such an honour. And so nerve wracking. She would hover over us like a little green gannet, squawking warnings as we earnestly decorated our Social Studies heading or whatever it was. Her words, 'I do not want to sharpen them so don't press too hard' still ring in my guilty ears. 
Have we all had such humiliating experiences along the way? Is that what makes us so mean spirited towards our inner artist? Who knows. I don't have time to be Jung. But be mindful of it, dear reader. Be warned. No matter what you want to dabble in next, don't let the demons drag you down. Don't waste your energy wrestling with them either. Just acknowledge their presence, keep calm and carry on. In my experience that's the best advice. 
Now. I'm off to buy another Strathmore. Just you watch me. xx

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Saturday, 1 August 2015


I'm finding this exercise really helpful in terms of capturing ideas for stories. Putting a few sentences into an eight page book focuses your imagination and makes you build a little world where before there was just a jumble of lines in a notebook. In the lesson, Carla suggests that we have our story in mind before painting the background, which is great advice. Except, weirdly, the opposite is working for me. I am painting all these mixed media backgrounds and then I sit back and wait to see what the colours, textures and patterns evoke in me. The green and yellow in this one made me think of backyards in summer. Then, flicking through my old sketchbooks, I came across a random scribble I did when I bought my first box of water colour crayons (about two years ago). Waiting evolved from there. For me, entire novels have emerged out of such random beginnings and no doubt it's the same for most writers and storytellers. This is another reason I encourage all aspiring and emerging authors to play, play, play!

Some days are all about waiting.

Even the nicest moments feel empty.

Until the waiting is over.

(This needs an edit. I would delete 'back' if I did the spread again.)

Grabbing crayons like a kid in a lolly shop!

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