'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Sunday 7 August 2011

Guest Post: Hazel Edwards

KBR is super excited to welcome best selling author Hazel Edwards. Author of too many books to mention but best known for 'There's a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake'. Hazel is discussing easy reading challenges, Ebooks, & e-series. Take it away Hazel.

On her e-series 'Project Spy Kid's':
What makes the character Art different is that he’s an excellent problem-solver but he’s a bit light on reading skills. Having a resourceful hero in an easy-to-read series, who has a few literacy challenges, is novel.

When I initially created Art the sleuth, I didn’t expect him to travel further than one junior novel. Now he’s gone global in an e-book series and even has a logo and merchandise created by illustrator-designer Jane Connory. These eBooks are an exciting new way to get kids reading and involved with new technology. 

I usually start with a character dossier: 
Original Art ‘Dossier’ 
(he has grown a little since I first created him. And illustrator Jane Connory has given him and his sleuthing friends a ‘make-over’ ) 
Art has slow teeth and he’s always waiting for them to wobble or fall out. An asthmatic, he’s forced to swim a lot and his family has a history of asthma. He uses a puffer but wants to work up to running in a cross country race.

Art is always losing things, especially one of a pair, like sneakers and wicket-keeping gloves.

He wants to be a spy and has an unusual name so he introduces himself by pretending to be different people in different places. Unfortunately he has a short –term memory and has trouble remembering who he is where and when.

He loves myths and legends but reads only maps and diagrams because he’s not a good reader. He’s attracted to the sounds of swear words and jargon.

A scrounger, he snacks on supermarket samples , is always sending off for freebies and putting his parents’ names on lists for wonderful prizes.

His room is full of hanging models, dangling from strings on the roof. He loves making military models, but is personally clumsy.

The series begins when he wins an unusual prize in a competition which he enters under an assumed name. Now he must keep the prize hidden from his parents and it is a giraffe!

His friends are India, Mars Bar and the big dog Tiny.

The first, stand- alone print story was Winning a Giraffe Called Geoffrey. That was so popular I began the series, but the fourth title set at Melbourne Zoo was written much later with the same sleuths Art, India, Mars Bar and Tiny the big dog .

When Jane and I decided this year to collaborate on e-formatting the titles and releasing them from my website (www.hazeledwards.com), we had to update a few electronic references. Like polaroid cameras. New covers and a series title Project Spy Kids were created to link the stories:
  • Winning a Giraffe Called Geoffrey 
  • Mindspaces 
  • Birds on the Brain 
  • Zoo Poo Clues 
One of the challenges for an author who has written other books in-between is remembering tiny details like the name of the street in which I made Art live in the first book.

I try to use different settings and different kinds of mysteries.

I like the idea of having more than one book in which to develop a character. However, since I always had a possible TV adaptation in mind, a variety of settings was also important. The mystery format enables the writer to research and utilise new backgrounds. So I keep learning new facts like greyhound racing, wind farming or wedding dove photography.

Since I deliberately set out to write a mystery, my major character Art needed to be a problem solver. Characters need to be believable. Resourceful Art is good at solving problems, but his weakness is reading. He doesn’t always win and having to handle failure is a realistic challenge with which readers can identify. So can non-readers.

Readaholic India and troublesome Mars Bar provide contrasts. Somehow the dog Tiny began to develop a life of his own, partly based on the antics of our dog Phantom.

For a character to have a life beyond one book, it needs to be someone who grows and someone about whom the reader cares. Readers’ letters often ask ‘what happened to him next?’ and unless I write a sequel, I don’t know either.

Workshopping stories for pace, humour and sequencing is an important stage for me. When I trialled an earlier Mindspaces draft, a student suggested: ‘I think you should make the wedding bird do less droppings because birds don’t drop so much in one day.’

Usually I write 5-6 drafts and at least one version is read as a serial to an appropriately aged group. This might be read by me or by the teacher who makes notes.

I chose the problem-solving contest Tournament of Minds as the setting for Mindspaces because as a judge, mentor and problem setter I was familiar with the fun of Tournament Day. When I spoke at a small businesspersons’ breakfast I met the woman who releases doves at weddings, and that’s where the Birds on the Brain idea was researched. She even took me to the bird market.

For Zoo Poo Clues I went up in a hot air balloon, interviewed the pilot and talked with the keepers at Melbourne Zoo as well as visited exhibits like the Butterfly House. Then I planned where my character Art would run in the actual zoo.

Then, we updated The Frequent Flyer Twins series into e-formats. Amy and Christopher are Asian-Australian 10 year old sleuths who solve mysteries at various airports. They are UMS (Unaccompanied Minors) because their eco-photographer parents travel a lot. These stories are a bit longer, but still use the mystery themes to ‘hook’ readers. Again, some of the plot twists and clues had to be changed because kids are now familiar with mobiles and airport/customs security.

Titles in the Project Spy Kids:

  • 978-0-9871078-6-2 – Winning a Giraffe Called Geoffrey 
  • 978-0-9871078-7-9 – Mindspaces
  • 978-0-9871078-8-6 – Birds on the Brain
  • 978-0-9871078-9-3 – Zoo Poo Clues 

The Frequent Flyer Twins:

  • 978-0-9871078-0-0 - False Bottom 
  • 978-0-9871078-1-7 - Gameplay 
  • 978-0-9871078-2-4 - The Ideas Pirates 
  • 978-0-9871078-3-1 - Artnapping 
  • 978-0-9871078-4-8 - Fleeced 

Now we’ve extended the idea of a series by providing a free downloadable ‘Design Your own Mystery’ sheet where readers can plot their own, based on the sleuth cast ,which also have curriculum and reading outcomes.

So ‘e’ is for easy reading challenges, E (Electronic) books, & e-series.

Jane Connory’s folio is online at http://www.janeconnory.com. Also Jane has documented the techniques she used to illustrate The Frequent Flyer Twins on line at http://janeconnorysblog.blogspot.com.

http://www.hazeledwards.com/shop where you can register to browse or buy these titles online $2.95 each. Free posters, wordgames and activities.