Debbie Kahl – YA & Children's Fiction Writer

{May 8, 2011}   My first blog ‘tourist’ – Elaine Ouston and The Mystery of Nida Valley

Hello everyone!  Today is a very special day. It’s the day I have my very first blog ‘tourist’, the fabulous Elaine Ouston.

I met Elaine through the CYA Conference a number of years ago, and I have watched her publishing journey with both curiousity and admiration. As those of us who are writers know, the hard part starts after you’ve finished your book. Publishing is a very difficult market to break into and, even though your manuscript might be brilliant, it may never be published through traditional publishing for a variety of reasons. Which is why Elaine, alongside a number of other emerging writers, are pursuing alternatives such as independent publishing.

Today we chat to Elaine about her publishing journey and her debut YA fantasy novel – The Mystery of Nida Valley.

Elaine, tell us about your book:

The book is called, The Mystery of Nida Valley. It is set in southeast Queensland. It is about a two teens, who, while searching for a friend who has gone missing, stumble into a hidden valley where time has stood still and Australian megafauna roam. The story contains ghosts, time travel, magic, and many adventures with these ancient animals. There are also dinosaurs; like the Muttaburrasauras, and the winged Pterosauradon that the children learn to ride. A deadly fire dragon adds further danger to the mix, along with a wicked ex-member of the magical group, The Guardians of Nida that cares for the valley. It’s a tale of magic, time-travel and adventure for readers aged 10+ and it’s the first book in a series about a hidden valley full of ancient animals, dinosaurs, and much more. It is being distributed Australia wide through Dennis Jones and Associates.

Did you always want to be a writer?

I was always interested in writing, and it was one of the career choices my high school career guidance officer suggested. The other was art. I choose art, and studied graphic art. I worked in that profession for many years – working for advertising agencies, newspapers, and running my own advertising design business. During that time, I studied creative writing and marketing so I could offer my clients a complete service – design, art, copywriting and marketing. I wrote advertising copy, press releases, and company profiles, etc.  

Was this your first attempt at fiction for children?

I’ve also written a short animal adventure novel for my grandchildren using the animals of Britain and Australia. The aim was to teach them about similarities in the living habits of British animals to Australian animals. That story is now published as Lost in a Strange Land. I was hooked on writing for children at that point, but it wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I was able to devote time to my writing.

How did that lead to the Mystery of Nida Valley?

I discovered that some of my grandchildren were not interested in reading but loved fantasy movies. I decided to write a fantasy story, Barben’s Magic Quest, with them as the characters. I hoped that might get them interested in reading. It didn’t work. The ones that didn’t read just found out what happened from the ones that did.

Why did you choose to write in the fantasy genre?

I have always had a love of fantasy fiction and after the phenomenal success of Harry Potter, it seemed to me that many children had the same love. The megafauna story, The Mystery of Nida Valley, was perfect for this genre. The perfect way to take the children back to this era was by fantasy.

Do you have formal training in writing, and do you think it is necessary to become an author?

I would recommend some formal study. However, for fiction, all the knowledge of how to write is useless if you don’t have a creative imagination. At the start of my graphics career, I studied writing at TAFE to help me with advertising copy, press releases, and other writing that was necessary for my advertising and marketing business. But when I started writing children’s fiction I realised I needed more. I enrolled in a Master of Letters in Creative Writing programme at the CQ University, and even though it was hard to go back to study after so long, I really enjoyed it. The benefits outweighed the stress.

Do you recommend a writer having a manuscript edited before it goes to a publisher?

Yes, I do. In this competitive environment the manuscript has to be the very best it can be when it reaches the publishers. Even though I now do editing for other writers, I had my manuscript professionally edited by two editors who work for agents and publishers. I realise how easy it is for a writer to miss any problems that remain after their last edit. We are far too close to the story, and read what we know should be there. My completed story also went to a couple of experienced authors for a final read, and then to a professional proofreader. 

Why did you decide to independently publish?

Becoming a published writer is the hardest thing I have ever tried to do. I soon learnt that rejection by a publisher is not always because your work is not good enough. There are many other factors to be taken into consideration. Timing is the one that seems to be the major factor. A publisher’s editor told me that if you submit to a publisher who has just signed a book similar to yours (for instance, fantasy/adventure) they will pass on yours so the books are not competing with each other. This makes sense to me as a businesswoman.  So with many wonderful compliments on the writing and the story, but no contracts, I decided to jump off the merry-go-round of the publishing world and do it myself.

Where can we buy your book The Mystery of Nida Valley?

Printed copies can be purchased at you local bookstore. If it is not in stock, ask them to order it for you through Dennis Jones and Associates. They are distributing the book Australiawide. A printed copy or eBook is available at from website with payment through PayPal. You can also purchase the card packs there. The books will also be available from online bookstores in both forms. 

Thank you Elaine for joining us here today and we wish you incredible success with your book.


In conjunction with this blog tour, you can go in the draw to win one of three copies of the book. Go to and check out the Collector Cards page. 

Then send Elaine the answer to this question: What megafauna animal would you like to see in the flesh and why?

The competition will close at midnight on May 15th 2011.

The winners will also be eligible to enter the Code Cracker Game.

And on a final note, if you’re lucky enough to live in Brisbane, make sure you join Elaine at her book launch at Black Cat Books, Paddington on the 19th of May, starting at 6pm. Also in attendance will be Aaron Pocock, cover designer for The Mystery of Nida Valley. Please contact Black Cat Books to confirm your attendance. We would love to see you there! 🙂


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