… 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 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.
… 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:
[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.
[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.