Sarah Armstrong

Sarah Armstrong

New South Wales

Speaker type

  • Author

Sarah grew up in a family with no television, which meant she was a voracious (if fairly indiscriminate) reader, and was determined to be a writer. She became a journalist at ABC Radio where she won a Walkley Award. In the late 90s, she left the ABC and moved to the hills outside Byron Bay to devote herself to writing fiction. She wrote three acclaimed novels, including Salt Rain which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award.
Her first children’s novel is Big Magic, for readers aged 9+ (published by Hardie Grant in May 2022). Big Magic is a rip-roaring mix of modern day adventure, family drama, and magical realism, set in a travelling circus. 11-year-old Tulsi shares a rare, secret ability with her mother – they both have Big Magic in their veins. When her mum gets trapped in a parallel universe, Tulsi sets off on a race against time to save her. She has to learn a lifetime of magic in a flash, voyage through alternate worlds, magic battle her evil grandmother and change the course of destiny. Oh, and save the circus too.

The sequel to Big Magic will be out in 2023.

Sarah has been working as a highly regarded writing teacher for nearly twenty years. She works with primary and secondary students, mentors teen and adult writers, and teaches adults’ classes and workshops, including the Byron Writers Festival’s The Year of the Novel course. She also lectures post-graduate creative writing students at Southern Cross University.

Her writing presentations and workshops in schools are dynamic and very practical, and her goal is to get children excited about writing and reading. She shares the writing tools she uses in her own books (such as how to get a first draft down really quickly). She explains her own writing process from first idea to published book, and takes the students behind the scenes of a writer’s life with stories and photos. In her workshops, Sarah emphasises the importance of rewriting, and demonstrates how helpful brainstorming is for plot ideas.

She lives with her partner, the writer Alan Close, and their daughter in the northern NSW town of Mullumbimby (which features in all her novels, albeit slightly disguised!).

 SA2

WORKSHOPS & TALKS

PRIMARY STUDENTS

TALK

Behind the scenes of a writer’s life

Half-hour talk to a group (upper primary) about where her ideas come from, and the fun and hard work of being a full-time writer. Discussion of a book’s life from the first inkling of an idea to publication. Sarah will touch on the importance of setting and character in writing and how it informs her own writing. Using stories and photos, she will take students behind the scenes of a writer’s life.

WORKSHOP

The writer’s toolkit

Small-group workshop (up to 30 children) 60 - 90 min (grades 4, 5 & 6)

Sarah’s workshops are very interactive and practical, and students will start writing straight away. She’ll teach them freewriting (her #1 tool) and brainstorming, and guide them in coming up with their own story idea and story plan. She will draw on examples from her own work and that of other writers in exercises on character, plot, setting and dramatic tension. Sarah will hear some of the young writers read their work; she’s well known for her detailed, constructive feedback. There will be time for student questions throughout, and at the end. The 90 min workshop allows for more feedback and questions.

HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS

WORKSHOPS

Get Your Writing Flowing

Small-group workshop (up to 30 students) 60 - 90 min

Sarah draws on her years of experience as a novelist and journalist in this very hands-on, practical workshop. She’ll teach techniques to get students’ creativity flowing, as well as concrete, practical tools to create narrative tension, deepen character, and create a sense of immediacy for the reader. She gives comprehensive handouts, with examples from others’ writing, and illustrates with anecdotes from her own writing experience. She gets the students writing straight away, and they’ll do lots of writing throughout the workshop. This workshop works best for a group of the same stage or a group of keen writers across a mix of stages.

Topics covered include: free-writing as a brainstorming tool and fast, effective way to write a first draft; the drafting process – how a first draft is different to the final draft; exercises to flesh out character; using detail to show rather than tell; writing a ‘sensory brainstorm’ to generate material to bring a piece of action alive; a strategy for creative writing in an exam; student Q and A. 

Bring Your Writing Alive

Small-group workshop (up to 30 students) 60 - 90 min

In this practical workshop, Sarah will teach students techniques to get their writing flowing, as well as concrete, practical tools to create narrative tension and to deepen character. She explains how students can write ‘scene’ to create immediacy for the reader and to show rather then tell. Most students write in summary and find it a revelation to learn about writing in scene. She gives comprehensive handouts, with examples from others’ writing, and illustrates with anecdotes from her own writing experience. She gets the students writing straight away, and they’ll do lots of writing throughout the workshop.

This workshop is also suitable for keen and focused stage 4 students.

Topics covered include: Free-writing as a brainstorming tool and fast, effective way to write a first draft; fleshing out character using free-written character histories; when to show and when to tell; using scene to ‘show’ and create immediacy; writing a sensory brainstorm to add effective detail to scene; a strategy for creative writing in an exam; student Q and A

 SARAH

Testimonials

  • The kids have been so inspired by your session! They loved the free writing concept and are all utilising it.

    Emmanuel Anglican College - 2021

    Emmanuel Anglican College - 2021
    Sarah Armstrong
  • Sarah brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her classes. She is a dynamic and energetic presenter who encourages students to push their boundaries and achieve greatness. She’s a kind and encouraging mentor who helps students develop characters and stories, and is a pleasure to work with.

    The Rivers Secondary College - 2021

    The Rivers Secondary College - 2021
    Sarah Armstrong
  • I couldn’t recommend this workshop highly enough. Sarah is one of the best teachers (of anything) I know. Her capacity to give very specific, targeted, positive and encouraging feedback makes it possible for all who attend her workshops to understand what strengths they have and how they can improve, without ever feeling despondent about their capacity to do this hard thing we call writing. She has an experienced writerly eye, combined with genuine care for her students. I mean, what more could you ask for?

    Year of the Novel - 2020

    Year of the Novel - 2020
    Sarah Armstrong
  • Sarah visited our school as part of the Byron Writers Festival Storyboard event. She was exceptionally well received by our students! She taught the students how to use free writing to expand their ideas and deepen their writing skills. Our creative writers from Year 10 and 11 were involved in the workshop and Sarah was able to engage very well with this age group. Many of the students have asked when Sarah is coming back! There is no doubt that the students gained many new skills in how to write creatively and overcoming blocks that arise. She has also delivered a workshop to some of our senior students in Year 12 English Extension 2 who were all able to progress their compositions in positive ways following her work with them.
    I highly recommend Sarah.


    Cape Byron Steiner School - 2017

    Cape Byron Steiner School - 2017
    Sarah Armstrong
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Sarah Armstrong