Author Archives: Meg McKinlay

About Meg McKinlay

Children's Writer & Poet


So I know what you’re thinking …

Thank goodness the rhinoceros is launched. Thank goodness the tour is over. Thank goodness we don’t have to see any more ‘arty’ photos of the book by the beach, or in a boat, or framed weirdly by random sticks. Thank goodness we don’t have to humour any more of Meg’s crazed attempts to draw rhinoceroses in tutus/jumpers/both at once.

Maybe she’ll go back to her cave now and stop shouting LOOK! MY BOOK!

Yes, well. About that.

There’s a little more shouting to come, my friends. Because if September was rhinos, then October is:

this guy …





                and this guy …





It’s this book …


Drawn Onward, a picture book for older readers, which is utterly and absolutely unlike anything I’ve ever done before, is out now from Fremantle Press. Drawn Onward is a palindromic exploration of shifting perspective and the power of the inner voice, with the text taking readers from the glass half-empty:

There is no light on the horizon and it is foolish to think you can change anything at all

to the glass half full:

You can change anything at all. It is foolish to think there is no light on
the horizon.


Don’t get it? You’ll have to read it. Honestly, given my complete lack of spatial intelligence I’m still not quite sure I get it myself!

When I wrote this, it was a neat little conceptual challenge, but I knew it would never be a book. I knew that it was both unpublishable and unillustratable. But for some reason I eventually hauled it out of a drawer and sent it to Fremantle Press, with the following winning pitch:


Fremantle Press being Fremantle Press, with their trademark out-of-the-box thinking, said they were “keen to discuss”, to which I replied, “Blimey! Okay, then.” And the rest is history.

Actually, the rest is them finding Andrew Frazer, who had never illustrated a book before, and saying, “What do you reckon?” and him, having absolutely no idea that this was clearly unillustratable, going ahead and illustrating it anyway, with stunning results.

Drawn Onward will be officially launched at events in Bunbury this Saturday 7 October, and in Perth on Wednesday 8 November. In the meantime, Andrew and I have been travelling around to bookshops hither and yon – him working hard on window installations and me swanning in at the last moment for a photo op. And both of us being delighted to hear booksellers raving about the book and adding large and luminous stacks to their front counters.

A Rhinoceros By Any Other Gender…

As many of you know, I have a new picture book coming out very soon.OUASR_CVR_HR-RGB

Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros will officially hit bookstores on 1 September. I’ve blogged previously about the inspiration for the book, and a little about the process of writing it. During that process, many things changed. Some were big – like the title. Others were small – a shift in phrasing that made a line sing, an ellipsis that opened up the ending.

And there was one that was both – tiny but enormous.

Here’s the last line as it appeared in one of the roughs:


If you’ve read the book, you should be able to spot the difference. If you haven’t, then know this: across many, many drafts, and until quite late in the process, my small rhinoceros was male. And then at a certain point, I said huh?

Because my small rhinoceros was male for no good reason. For no reason at all except that I had unconsciously defaulted to that without a moment’s thought.

When I realised this, I was shocked. Being female, I have some skin in this particular game. I’m pretty damn enlightened, if enlightenment is even what’s required here. I have a PhD in feminist literary theory. I have taught women’s studies. And I had given this no thought whatsoever.

I said to my editor, Stop the presses!

And then I gave it some thought whatsoever. I turned my rhinoceros into a female, just to see how I liked it. To see if it changed things.

Reader, it changed everything. It gave the story new layers. It connected me with the story in a deeper way. It gave me the opportunity to use the phrase ‘rhinosplaining’ when talking about the way the older rhinos speak to the small rhinoceros.


I am so glad I changed it. Utterly chagrined that it very nearly wasn’t even a question.

And now the book is almost out, and being read by other people, and getting reviews, I’m something else. I’m stunned at how intransigent ‘he’ seems to be, despite the fact that it isn’t even in the book.

People read the story – they read ‘she dreamed’, ‘she waved as she sailed around the bend’, ‘she trailed a hoof in the water’, and numerous other gender-specific lines. And then they sigh and hand it back to me and say, “Oh, gorgeous. I love the way he …”


This book currently has two reviews on Goodreads and one of the reviewers, despite having presumably paid close attention to the book, refers to the rhinoceros as ‘he’.

I read the book to kids in schools and then ask for a show of hands as to whether the small rhinoceros is male or female. And without fail, at least 50% think she’s male.

I wonder whether it’s simply because she’s intrepid and adventurous. Because she does stuff and goes her own way. I’ve had boys tell me girls can’t use hammers, build boats – She isn’t strong enough to carry all that wood! She’d be too scared by herself! If a girl built that boat it would definitely capsize!

I’ve had girls grin quietly and argue loudly. I’ve had fantastic discussions with kids of all ages, nudging them towards confronting their own unconscious biases.

I am loving the whole damn thing.

I am so glad I changed it. I am so glad I thought about it. And I solemnly vow never to not think about such things ever again.


Five Days Under the Big Sky

It was the best of festivals, it was the best of festivals.

Last week I spent five days as a guest of Big Sky Readers and Writers Festival, which takes place annually in Geraldton, an hour’s flight north of Perth.

I love flying to Gero, not only for the glorious vistas but also because I love watching the flight attendants try and somehow cram meal service into the approximately 35 minutes of level flight time.

I love Big Sky for other reasons, and they are many.

For years, fellow writers and illustrators have been enthusing about Big Sky. It’s the bestival of the festivals! they say. Because they are punsters like that. If you get invited, you absolutely have to go!

This year, I did, so I did. And now I get it.

From the tiny plane trip we took out to the Abrolhos Islands, where we spent a night soaking up the serenity, snorkelling in crystal clear water, communing with a playful sea lion, and generally feeling a million miles away from all things stressful …

… to the visits to local schools, which were full of enthusiastic teachers as well as highly engaged  kids.

From the seamless organisation, creative programming and unfailingly cheerful staff …

… to the warmth and enthusiasm of the audiences.

When I speak at a festival, I always hope that those listening will come away nourished in some way; post-Big Sky, I actually feel nourished myself. And if you know anything about me at all, you’ll know this is a rare feat!

I’ve always loved a big sky, but now I want to live there. It truly is the bestival of the festivals.

A Quick Note From the Trenches

Hello, dear people. I am currently occupied with life rather than writing (Oh, as if the two could be separated! you exclaim, but yes it seems they can and indeed sometimes must), but now take a break from life-rather-than-writing to celebrate the US publication of A Single Stone earlier this month and wave across the distance to those new readers who have been stopping by.

People ask me how sales are going and I say, “I have no idea”, because I don’t.

People ask me how reviews are going, and I say, “As they always do,” because how could it be otherwise?

Because it’s a book, a story, a subjective thing, and some people like my writing and some people don’t and there is nothing at all I can do about that. What I can do is try and make the way that I write the very best version of itself it can be, and that’s something I work on every day. (Except for now. Because now is life-rather-than-writing. As I have said too many times already and will not mention again.)

I will return to writing-not-life soon enough and will bring you some A Single Stone-related news on that front. Which may seem odd, because how could a book which is well and truly already written be part of my future writing? Watch this space for an answer to this curliest of questions.

But for now, here is a sprinkling of US reviews which have filled my heart with gladness:

The prose flows gracefully, like rivulets down a mountainside … A beautiful, sparkling gem
Kirkus (starred review)

[A] gripping story, McKinlay (Below) believably evokes the dangers inherent in Jena’s burgeoning autonomous thoughts and actions in a tightly controlled dystopian environment where her grace and power ultimately prevail.
Publisher’s Weekly

McKinlay’s stark yet effective prose and layered world-building, reminiscent of the dystopian societies created by Margaret Atwood, combine in a haunting novel that will stay with readers. Younger readers ready to tackle the heavy subject matter will join older YAs in delving into this unusual, evocative title recommended for both middle and high school collections.
School Library Journal

Utterly enthralling … a great story that will immediately hook a wide variety of readers.
The Loud Library Lady

A Single Stone is incredibly unique. The world McKinlay has crafted is nuanced and thoughtful … The clever intertwining of religion, politics, and ethical dilemmas takes A Single Stone into territory beyond other genre hits.
Sea Reads

Yikes. Just, yikes. This book has some serious grit in it. …It’s painful and gruesome to read, but so fascinating at the same time that I devoured the entire book in one sitting.
Read Till Dawn

I ask you – how can you not love a review that starts with “Yikes” and then goes on to recommend the book?

A Single Stone has also been named as a Junior Library Guild Selection, which I’m told is a very good thing indeed.

US readers/teachers/librarians and folk of all stripes, if you’re looking for more on the book, including links to a bunch of interviews, teaching resources, and other bits and pieces, then do visit this page on my website. And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Once Upon a Time …

… there was a small rhinoceros.

It hung on the wall of an art gallery in Subiaco, all the way back in 1997. It was part of an exhibition entitled Three Narrative Artists.

And it looked like this:

intrepid-journey220-x-160_edited-1[“Intrepid Journey” by Sue Templeton]

It was right near the entrance, and when I walked in on opening night, it stopped me in my tracks. There was something about the image I found intrinsically appealing.  Or perhaps it was the combination of image and title – the word “intrepid” together with the rhinoceros and the boat.

It stayed with me, as things sometimes do unexpectedly. That’s something I love – that you never quite know what’s going to catch the light for someone. It isn’t always what you’d expect. In this case, it was a small rhinoceros.

But here’s where it gets interesting, because many years passed. Many, many years. And I guess my memory isn’t as good as I thought it was. Because when I thought about the rhino, I saw it as a tiny thing in a tiny boat on a very very wide and vast blue ocean. And I  remembered the title as being simply “Intrepid”. I told myself it was the perfect marriage of that single-word title and the image that lent it appeal for me. Except that it wasn’t a single-word title and it also wasn’t a vast open ocean. In fact, looking at it now I’m not even sure it’s an ocean. Maybe it’s a desert. Maybe it’s a lava field. Maybe it’s the surface of the moon.

When I contacted the artist recently, and she kindly sent me a copy of the image, I was a little taken aback. I loved it still but it was quite different to how I’d remembered it. Somewhere along the way,  I had changed it. I had started to spin my own narrative around it, to transform it into something of my own.

At a certain point, I realised that that something was a picture book. A story began to form around the small rhinoceros, and while I was thinking and writing and letting things percolate, I came across a few interesting things. Like this:


.. which is a still from a Fellini movie entitled “E la nave va” [“And the ship sails on”], which features a love-sick rhinoceros on a cruise liner, among other zany things.

And this:


… which is a sculpture of a wolf in a boat outside a museum in Canada. While I was tinkering with my rhino manuscript, author/illustrator Katherine Battersby posted a picture of this on Facebook. Which of course led me to immediately freak out and write faster because clearly she was about to become similarly inspired and write an identical book.

Because that is the level of paranoia that all writers share.

And then, right near the end of the writing process, when I was musing on all of these images, and wondering whether any of them were connected and if so who had been influenced by whom, I happened to glance up at my corkboard and see this:

samrhino[postcard by Samantha Hughes]

At which point, I realised that for some time, a small rhinoceros had been watching over me while I worked.

While I can’t be sure, it’s no big leap to say that this image probably has something to do with the fact that the rhinoceros finally pushed its way to the front of my creative mind after all this time.

You just never know what the light’s going to catch, and when it’s going to catch it. And it’s in that spirit that I’m so grateful to everyone who creates, who makes art and ideas and adds them to the well from which we all draw; I feel very privileged to be part of this community.

I can’t share much of my rhino yet, but here is a tiny sneak peek from the proofs, which in turn features an even tinier glimpse of my absolute favourite page.

leiliarhinoproofs[source: Leila Rudge Instagram]

I’ll have more to say about this book over the next few months, but for now it’s enough to announce that Once Upon A Small Rhinoceros will be sailing onto shelves in August this year. It’s illustrated by the always-marvellous Leila Rudge, and somewhere along the way it became a book of my heart. I can’t wait to hold the real thing in my hand and to see it making its way out into the world to readers.

2017 Reading Challenge

I must admit that I’ve never found reading to be a challenge. But for the last couple of years I’ve seen others posting about the Australian Women Writers Challenge, and in the spirit of connecting with other readers, and also perhaps being a little more conscious about who and what I’m reading, I’ve taken the plunge and signed up.

There are four levels of the Challenge to choose from:

  • Stella: read 4 – if reviewing, review at least 3
  • Miles: read 6 – if reviewing, review at least 4
  • Franklin: read 10 – if reviewing, review at least 6
  • Create your own challenge: nominate your own goal

But happily there is a caveat – you don’t actually have to review if you don’t want to. So I’ll be reading and sharing little snippets as I go (most likely via Twitter and Facebook) but I won’t be reviewing as such. For as much as I love talking about books, as an Australian writer myself I just don’t feel comfortable reviewing others.

I initially signed up for Franklin, but am not sure what I was thinking as I’m almost there already. A better challenge for me is to step outside my comfort zone a bit, which tends to be contemporary literary fiction, and I’d also love to get back to reading more poetry.

So I’ve gone ahead and created my own challenge, and here it is:

  • 10 poetry collections
  • 5 speculative fiction
  • 5 ‘classics’ (from the AWW Challenge website: “books that might once have been popular but which have now fallen out of favour.”)
  • 3 romance (I never read this; it’s a huge and possibly snobby blindspot for me. I’m going to give it a whirl)
  • 3 non-fiction (again, not a genre I read much)
  • 3 short-fiction collections
  • 50 total (with the remainder being my much-loved lit-fic and probably a healthy dash of YA & children’s in there, too.)


I will also be running my very own writing challenge, which will be to write 3 books by an Australian woman author, being me. My progress at the moment is slow but steady. I don’t have a fancy logo for this challenge. I could probably make one but that would be procrastinating, and we all know where that leads and it is not to the writing of books.

The Year of Taking a Deep Breath …

… and writing a great many things …

… is here. It’s here.

What is she talking about? you mutter.

Upon which I refer you to my earlier post, The Year of Doing Way Too Much and Nowhere Near Enough.

And then I say this:

In 1999, in an airport departure lounge, I scribbled the beginnings of what would eventually become my first poem.

In 2001, I said out loud to someone for the very first time that I was interested in maybe writing something one day. I remember this very clearly for reasons I will save for a future blog post.

In later 2001, I had an idea for a picture book, and thought it was excellent and bound to be published.

From 2001-2006, I collected approximately 762 rejection letters for that picture book, other picture books, chapter books, Young Adult novels, and novels of indeterminate genre and readership. I also published a few poems.

In 2007, my first novel, Annabel, Again, was published.

In later 2007, my poetry collection, Cleanskin, was published.

                     2782WALK_AnnabelFULL02.indd    Cleanskinhires

From 2008-2015, I published a further 11 books for children and a far-too-small handful of poems.


In 2016, I wrote far too little and was overwhelmed by far too much. I had RSI in my wrists and my broader chronic pain condition was flared up so often it was being described as ‘acute-on-chronic’. I was managing everything very poorly while working very hard to make sure that no one saw that.

In August 2016, I made the decision to leave my day-job, scale back my volunteering, and stop taking on freelance work. I had to stop squeezing writing completely out of the picture and also start looking after myself a whole lot better. I told very few people about my decision, partly because I was quietly freaking out about finances, and partly for day-job confidentiality reasons.

In November 2016, my novel A Single Stone won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award, bringing with it an insane pay-check of $80,000 tax-free.


In November 2016, approximately six hours after the announcement, I sat bolt upright at 3am, freaking out because now people might think I was doing all this because of my win. Because all of a sudden I was too good for this other stuff. Because pish-tosh! I didn’t need it any more. Because I had become an instant diva.

In the cold light of the next day, approximately six hours after 3am, I thought, “Meh. Who gives a rat’s what people think?”

And after a long process of extrication and handover and the winding up of many things …

On 9 January, 2017, I woke up to my first official day as a full-time writer.

And spent it writing this post.