Category Archives: Junior Fiction

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.

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.

The Year of Doing Way Too Much & Nowhere Near Enough

So it’s come to this, November. Or perhaps I should call you by your real name — almost-December-dear-god-where-has-the-year-gone?

2016 has been a year of many things. But mostly of two things, which are subtly connected. For me it will go down as i) The Year of Doing Way Too Much and ii) The Year of Not Writing the Novel I Should Have Written Long Ago (subtitle dear-god-where-has-the-year gone-is-that-my-editor-coming-quick-everybody-hide!).

In 2016, I encountered a perfect and unrelenting storm of day job and volunteer work and family stuff and RSI and book-related commitments and assorted essential but fundamentally not-writing administrivia, all of which combined to leave me with an amount of head-space/writing time which can be best characterised as nowhere near enough.

Herewith a Twitter-ish chronicle of my descent into chaos…


This is why I haven’t been blogging. Because although there has been a lot of bloggable news, I simply couldn’t justify writing here when I wasn’t putting words on the real page.

Good things have happened in 2016. Many good things. And many of those have revolved around A Single Stone, otherwise known as my ASS, out of which the sun seems to have shone. (As a side note, I recommend bearing acronyms in mind when titling books; this enables you to receive email with subject lines such as “Your ASS is on fire!”, “I love your ASS” and “I saw your ASS face-out in Dymocks!”, to list just a few.)

As if last year’s win at the Queensland Literary Awards wasn’t enough, in 2016, A Single Stone was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature, the West Australian Premier’s Book Awards, and the West Australian Young Readers Book Awards. It was longlisted for the Davitt Awards for Crimewriting, named an Honour Book in the CBCA Book of the Year Awards, and won an Aurealis Award for Speculative Fiction. Phew.

Then, just when I was catching my breath, the most incredible thing of all happened. Two weeks ago, it took out the Young Adult category of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. Being shortlisted for any award is a very fine thing, and the idea of winning any award feels improbable and faintly ridiculous. But to win this one, with its accompanying tax-free prize money is absolutely life-changing, and it still hasn’t sunk in that this has actually happened.


A few people have said things to the effect that I must now feel validated, consider myself a success, be basking in some sort of shiny glow, and so on. And I’ve had to reflect for approximately 5 seconds to discover that I don’t feel that way at all.

To be brutally honest, what I care about is the money, because of the writing time it will buy me. Because fundamentally what I care about is the page that’s in front of me, my struggles with my work-in-progress, the story fully formed in my head that I can’t seem to shake loose, the characters I’ve fallen in love with to whom I am not doing justice at all. Yet.

The thing that makes me feel validated, successful, shiny is writing a sentence I’m happy with. And the simple fact is that in 2016, I wrote far too few sentences.

So there are changes coming. It took reaching this tipping point for me to sit up and do something about my too-many commitments. Things have been done, are being done. And with those changes, I’m hopeful that 2017 will be The Year of Taking a Deep Breath and Writing a Great Many Things. Because it has to be about the work. And the work has not been the work this year; the work has been shoved into a corner, almost completely sidelined. And that is just absolutely and totally ASS-about.

The (Not-So) Accidental Aurealis

Last week two things happened:

i) This shiny trophy arrived in the post! A Single Stone won the Best Children’s Fiction category of the 2015 Aurealis Awards. This was a mighty fine thing and I’m very grateful to everyone involved.

Aurealis ASingleStone_HiRes


ii) I was featured in The Australian Writers Centre’s “So You Want to be a Writer” podcast series, which was also a mighty fine thing and a lot of fun to do.

These two things are directly connected. It was the exposure generated by the award that put me on the AWC’s radar as a potential interviewee.

But they’re indirectly connected, too. During the interview, I became aware of a pattern in my responses. When the interviewer, Allison Tait, asked me how I became a children’s writer, I replied that it was sort of accidental. When she asked how it was that I started writing poetry, I replied that it was sort of accidental. We ended up joking about this; we even came up with a potentially excellent future book title: The Accidental Everything. 

(Which I immediately claimed, so back right off, writers!)

And then I started thinking about the Aurealis Award, and how I’d said in my acceptance speech that I hadn’t set out to write speculative fiction, that it had just sort of happened.

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The UK Has Me Covered

As 2016 rolls on, I’m getting ready for the UK release of A Single Stone.

One of my favourite parts of this process is seeing the different ways in which the same book is packaged for new markets.

With Surface Tension, I loved my original cover so much I couldn’t imagine an alternative. And then when I was presented with the US version – which ended  up having both a new cover and a new title – I surprised myself by loving it equally, and differently.

SurfaceTensionhires     Belowhires

In this case, we’ve kept the title, but opted for a new cover. And here I am again – loving the Australian cover of A Single Stone, being incredulous at the prospect of a change …

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Ten Years and Counting …

To quote one of the great philosophers of our time, Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Ten years ago, I was feeling a bit discouraged. I’d been submitting work to publishers for a few years and had amassed a thick folder of rejection letters. There were a few personal notes in there, too — a few “Not for us but keep writing!”-type comments, a few “Revise and resubmit?” requests.

I felt like I was close, but also that I could stay close for the term of my natural life, that there was no guarantee a door would open for me, ever. I had begun wondering how much longer I could justify putting time into this writing thing for nil return. I was working long hours in academia; I had a young child. I was stealing time from all over the place in order to indulge this … whatever this was.

I knew I’d never stop writing, never stop jotting down small fragments here and there. But maybe I should stop trying to shape them into stories; maybe I should stick with poetry, which was where I’d started, after all.

Two months later, I signed a contract with Walker Books Australia to publish my first novel, Annabel, Again.

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Can You Put Me in a Book?

Kids often ask this when I go into schools.

It may be because I tell them that ideas are everywhere, that I’m gathering bits and pieces Handsupall the time, that just this morning I quietly filed away a funny thing their teacher said, or a cool-looking tree just outside their classroom, or the way their glasses make them look like a superhero in disguise.

It may be because I tell them I’m always collecting character names, that when they tell me theirs it sometimes starts things firing in my brain: Humphrey for a villain? Or a duck? A villainous duck! Charis for a small girl on an important mission across a magical land. Noah and Abby and Ella and Ruby just for the solid, satisfying ring of them.

Eyes light up. Will you put me in a book? they ask. You could write about our class!

And the answer is always no, because I can never plan to write about things or people in that way.

But the answer is also always yes, because things sneak into my work when I’m not looking, and the kids and the classes and the schools I’ve been to over the years are there when I think about it, when I look back on the work after it’s finished.

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