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PLOT & CHARACTER with author Elaine Ouston

While I was doing research for another book about Australian and British animals, I came across the Australian megafauna that roamed our land before and just after human settlement, around 40,000 years a go. They fascinated me, as I had never learnt about them at school. I discovered the children in my circle of family and friends had no knowledge of these amazing creatures either. Their interest in learning about them increased my desire to write a story that included the animals.

I set out to make my series, The Mystery of Nida Valley, educational as well as entertaining. The story is about a group of teens who discover a hidden valley where Australian megafauna and dinosaurs roam, and are protected by a magic order. They discover it is their destiny to join the fight to save the valley from the greed of an ex-member of the order. The information on the creatures is woven into a story that contains magic, time travel, villains and adventure.


The setting for the story is a rainforest valley in Queensland. If you are going to set your fantasy story in the real world and use real creatures, you need to make sure your information is accurate. I trawled the internet and libraries for accurate information.

My primary source on the megafauna was a book called The Megafauna of Australia, by zoologists and science writer Danielle Clode. The information on the dinosaurs came from Museums and University websites. The plants and other native wildlife in the valley are from my knowledge and from a book Rainforests of Australia by, Leo Meier and Penny Ficcis. It is always a good idea to list your research and even record the sources on the inside page of the book, so readers can do follow-up research, or any librarian or teacher can confirm the information.


I am a plotter, someone who likes to have a strong outline of a story before they start. To me writing a story without a simple plot is like taking a journey without a map. As I sat and plotted this story, my mind returned to my discussions with the children. Some of the questions they asked shaped the story. For instance, ‘Did they live with the dinosaurs?’ and from a four-year-old, ‘Were there dragons too?’ As I love fantasy, I decided to include the three groups, megafauna, dinosaurs, and mythical animals. It is a strange mix and it was interesting coming up with a way to make the valley’s creatures credible. (Well, as credible as fantasy has to be).


The characters in a story are very important too. The main characters should all have different traits and personalities to add interest to a story. If all your characters act the same and agree on everything the story is boring. One of the things I learnt early was that if a story has no conflict it is not a story. So make your characters different. For instance, in my book, Meg, the main character, is feisty and not good at following direction, but her best friend, Amanda is Miss Goody-two-shoes and a good scholar. She and Meg argue over Meg’s reckless behaviour, and Meg vacillates between being pleased about Amanda’s knowledge and being envious.

The second book in the series will be released, hopefully, before Christmas.

Writing Activity:

In my book, Meg and Amanda face a marsupial lion. Research the marsupial lion and write your own scene from the lion’s point of view as he encounters the two unknown humans in his territory. What is he thinking as he stalks them? Does he catch the girls? Do they notice him? What would the girls do to escape?

Where to buy: The Mystery of Nida Valley can be purchased from your local bookstore or ordered by them through Dennis Jones and Associates.

On line at: http://www.booktopia.com.au/search.ep?keywords=The+Mystery+of+Nida+Valley

Signed and personalised copies are available from http://www.elaineouston.com

Other outlets and more information can be found at http://themysteryofnidavalley.com

Teacher’s notes are available at http://themysteryofnidavalley.com

Book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHjkaC-rrQk

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THE MAGIC BOX – Writing Activity

The following poem was written by Nick aged 8, based on the format used in an existing poem.

Looking at how other people write can help you work out the sort of writer you are and what works for you.



 By Nick aged 8


I will put in the box

An ocean of melted chocolate

A single pinch of every herb

A dragon’s tooth with the moonlight

glancing down on it


I will put in the box

The laugh of my family

The breath of a serpent

And the scales of a crocodile


I will put in the box

The egg of an eagle

The lick of my rabbit

And the scratch of my cat


I will put in the box

The hug of my mum

The strength of my dad

And the intelligence of my brother


My box is fashioned from

The greenest emerald

The bluest sapphire

And the palest diamond


I shall hide my box

At the bottom of a volcano

For in generations

Some lucky person to find
This piece was based on the original poem by Kit Wright called The Magic Box, first published in Cat Among the Pigeons by Penguin. Kit’s poem is also found in several anthologies and teaching texts. The Magic Poem is a great one for kids to build on and can be used for writers of all ages.




  1. If you had to go somewhere and all you could take was a magic box with the things you loved most, what would you take?
  2. Make a list of ten things and write a poem about them.
  3. Describe the ten things in an interesting way. (Remember to use all the senses; sight, sound, taste, touch and smell)
  4. Describe what the box looks like
  5. Where would you hide it?
  6. Write a poem putting together everything from the previous steps.


  1. Select the most important item from your magic box.
  2. What if it was taken from you?
  3. Why do you need this item?
  4. Who took it and why?
  5. How does the theft make you feel?
  6. How would you get the item back?
  7. What would happen if you couldn’t get it back?

Write a story with you as the main character and the theft of the item as the story problem. How will you overcome this problem?

What obstacles are in your way to stop you overcoming it?

How will you resolve your story?

To see Kit Wright’s original piece, or for more information about how to use this poem to inspire young writers in your classroom or home, here’s a great link:




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