Interview with award winning Children’s Author, Krista Bell

I’d like to welcome Krista Bell to my blog today to congratulate her on her new book BURNING THE BAILS published by One Day Hill. The launch of Krista’s book is particularly good timing with the Ashes Series being played here against the Poms at the moment. My youngest, Toby, 9 years, wants to know, what are the Ashes, and what do they mean?

Read onwards dear readers…


Thanks for coming onto my blog today, Krista. Can you tell us, what was your inspiration for writing the picture book BURNING THE BAILS?

Thanks for having me, Neridah. Well, all my life I wondered why, when Australia wins the ‘Ashes’ Test Cricket series, the trophy stays in England? Then just a few years ago I was talking with my friend of twenty five years, Louise Clarke Morris, and she explained that the so-called ‘Ashes’ urn was not and had never been the trophy for the cricket test. I was stunned.

Get out, I am too.

It turns out that you need to ask the right questions if you want to hear a good story. Even though I had known Louise for years and had been vaguely aware of her family’s connection with the urn of Ashes, I had never actually asked her to tell me the story of their history.

Why? When? Where? Who had made the ashes and for whom? BURNING THE BAILS tells this story. Louise’s family story.



It’s a beautiful front cover. 

How do you describe the genre of this book?

This is an interesting question and difficult to answer. BURNING THE BAILS is a picture story book with wonderful illustrations that are painted in the naive style of Melbourne fine artist Ainsley Walters. They appeal to adults and children alike.

The story is firmly based on fact but I have taken literary licence by telling the story from the viewpoint of Russell Clarke who was six years old on Christmas Eve 1882 when his mother, Janet Lady Clarke, burnt the bails from a social cricket match played at ‘Rupertswood’,  the Clarke family’s Sunbury residence,  between local lads and the England cricket team who were out here to play Test Cricket after Christmas just as they do today.

Young Russell grew up to become Louise’s grandfather. His mother, Lady Clarke, was her great-grandmother! Bingo.

After the ‘factionalised’ telling of the Ashes story in BURNING THE BAILS, there are seven pages detailing the actual history surrounding the making of the Ashes. ‘Rupertswood’ is often called the ‘birthplace of the Ashes’.

Well, I truly never knew this, Krista. This is very cool history.

You’ve written some other historical based books, can you tell us a bit more about them?

WARRIORS tells the two stories of the terracotta warriors of Xi’an in China because I was totally intrigued when I heard they had been found in 1974 by farmers digging a well in their paddock.


Published by Windy Hollow Books and distributed by Peribo

Once I finally had the chance to visit the site I knew I had to tell their two stories: why and for whom they were made 2,000 years ago and how they were found by lucky accident just last century. Great stories.

That sounds awesome. I’ll put that on my reading list.

How do you go about validating your historical facts?

I do lots of background reading, mainly in books (I don’t trust Wikipedia!) but I really like to talk to people who are somehow connected to my story. Real primary sources, like my friend Louise.

With my picture book LOFTY’S MISSION which is set during WWII, I was able to interview a loft sergeant who had been in New Guinea and he was a fountain of information. Unfortunately, he has since died and my book is now out of print although it did well and was short-listed for the NSW Premier’s History Awards in 2008.


LOFTY’S MISSION is one of my favourite books ever. It’s beautiful and still readily available in libraries – go borrow it!

Krista, you’ve written a wide range of books, picture books, junior readers, chapter books and YA. Which genre do you enjoy the most?

Yes, BURNING THE BAILS is my 25th book for young readers. Picture books are a delight when they are finished but they are VERY difficult to write. Although I love the challenge and am very pleased with my picture books when they are published, I actually prefer the process of delving deeply into my characters and their stories in my junior fiction for 9-14 year olds which are typically 22,000-25,000 words long.

I really get involved and live their story for several months, if not years. I’m currently working on two sequential novels set in Italy and really loving my characters and their adventures and friendships, all based on my Italian sojourns of the last several years.

Sounds wonderful.

What is your next book to come out?

JACK’S BUGLE which is an ANZAC story set in 1915 is coming out in March 2014 (Windy Hollow Books). It is a picture book with illustrations by Belinda Elliott aimed at the whole of primary, as a gentle way in to discussion of war.

It tells the story of Aidan Jackson, ‘Jack’ to his mates, who is just 18 when he goes off to war and takes his shiny new bugle with him. Jack does not come home but his bugle does and it eventually finds the perfect home.

Oh, it sounds lovely.

Tell me, what advice do you have for new writers?

Be patient.

Read a lot of other people’s books.

Research your subject well.

Plot your story. Know where it’s going before you start.

Write, write and write it again. One hundred times if necessary.

Don’t be precious. Take criticism from people you respect and use it constructively to improve your writing.

If a story is not working, start again – or scrap it completely!

Find the right medium for your story: is it a picture book, a chapter book, a junior novel, a young adult?

Use vocabulary that corresponds to the age range for whom you are writing.

Read your work out loud so you hear it, especially when it comes to writing dialogue.

Be patient.

Yep, patience is a virtue in this industry, that’s for sure. That’s all great advice that I will be taking on board. 

Well, Krista, thank you so much for coming on to my blog today. BURNING THE BAILS is a wonderful book, congratulations to you and Ainsley Walters.

BURNING THE BAILS: The Story of the Ashes is a terrific story for young cricket fans. It answers a very serious historical question so it’s traight to the book shelf, I say!

Krista Bell is an award-winning author and an ABC Radio children’s book reviewer. Krista travels around Australia sharing her passion for books, and giving writing workshops and talks to adults. She is an entertaining and enthusiastic presenter for primary school children, her target audience.

Check out Krista’s website, it’s choc full of interesting things.

BURNING THE BAILS: can be found at any good bookstore. I’ve seen it on the shelves at Readings, Dymocks, The Avenue and Jeffreys so far. Here are the book’s details…

Title: Burning the Bails: The Story of the Ashes
Author: Krista Bell
Illustrator: Ainsley Walters
Publisher: One Day Hill, $19.99 RRP
Publication Date: November 2013
Format: Softcover
ISBN: 9780987313980
For ages: 5-8
Type: Picture Book

And last but not least, go the Aussies! 

Day 9 School workshop with Mark Wilson at Malvern Library


Mark started his talk by asking the Year 3 & 4’s from St. Joseph’s Primary School in Malvern, what do they like to do?

Sport pretty much came up first. And what do you do to become good at sport?


To do something well, we all need to practice, says Mark.

Drawing is the same, Marks tells us. He also tells us that he wasn’t a natural artist, but because he practiced a great deal and drew things over and over, he became a good drawer.

“There are no rules in drawing, you can draw anyway you like. You’ve all got it in you. You can do it,” Mark tells us.

Mark is incredibly encouraging and the children are poised and listening (as a result they’re very quiet!).

Mark has an impressive array of published books on display.

“What do you see in these pictures?” he asks.

– History (I told you the kids were switched on)

– Adventure (Yay!)

– Animals (Aww)

Mark’s mission in life is to save endangered animals: quolls, turtles, penguins, whales, dolphins, snow leopards…he obviously loves animals and has such gentle way explaining their habitats and how they are at risk of being destroyed.

“But I’m only one person. What can I do?” he asks the children.

Tell people.

Tell more people, and this is called a…

Chain reaction (these kids are great).

Mark tells them that if there’s 36 of them, and they all go and tell a person each, that’s 72 people, and when 72 people spread the message, then 144 people know about it and so on and on.

Very cool…the kids loved it.

Mark tells us a bit about his book ‘The Last Tree’. This was his childhood home in East Gippsland, where he grew up. The forest is being cut down at a rate of the size of the MCG a day (this got the message through) and there’s no-where for quolls to live anymore.


“Why else do we need trees?”

Oxygen. (Brilliant)

‘My Mother’s Eyes’ is another book written and illustrated by Mark. It was about his great Grandfather going to World War 1. He was 15 years of age and lied to get into the army. When he got to France, his commanding officer had him pose for a photograph in front of a machine gun to send home to his mother because the young ones always died first. It was incredibly moving.

Check out this website for ‘My Mother’s Eyes’ they have wonderful Teaching Resources.

Mark then got the children drawing and he did it in the simplest of ways. He drew shapes and the children followed his lead. He drew half a watermelon, then a circle, then two socks and before you knew it a turtle had emerged! The children were wrapt!

Mark runs a truly inspiring and beautiful workshop. He’s interesting and funny and the children loved it. What a treat for them!





About Mark Wilson:

Mark is a highly acclaimed author/illustrator Mark Wilson’s with many picture books to his name including ‘The Penguin Shore’ (a CBCA Notable Book in 1996), ‘The Castaways of the Charles Eaton’, ‘Yellow-eye’ (winner of the Wilderness Society Award in 2002), the Extinction Series: ‘I Saw Nothing: the Extinction of the Thylacine’ (a CBCA Notable Book in 2004); ‘I Said Nothing: the Extinction of the Paradise Parrot’; and ‘I Did Nothing: the Extinction of the Gastric Brooding Frog’ and ‘The Last Tree’ (2006). The Extinction Series also won a Wilderness Society Award and a Whitley Award in 2004, and ‘The Last Tree’ won a Whitley Award in 2007. Mark lives in Frankston, Victoria.