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

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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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A Picture Book By Any Other Name

I have a new publication out this month. It’s a picture book. It’s nothing at all like a picture book.

Allow me to explain.

Back in 2003, I was an aspiring children’s writer. My aspirations took me regularly to the local library, where I would comb review magazines such as Magpies and Viewpoint – to see what was being published, and by whom, to find reading recommendations, and – let’s be honest – to torture myself with little frissons of envy

One such frisson – more of a seismic tremor, really – occurred when, scanning the review columns, I happened upon the title How to Make a Bird, by Martine Murray.

Instantly, I was a mix of excitement and regret. For I knew exactly what this book must be – a slightly weird, lyrical picture book about someone trying to build a bird from raw materials, about the tangible and the intangible, maybe even the existential. And oh, how I wished I had written it. It felt like a perfect fit for me, rightfully mine somehow. If only I’d had the idea first.

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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 Still Counting

Last week, I posted a little something about where I was ten years ago versus where I am now.

It’s a post I almost didn’t write because I was worried it would seem braggy. CHECK OUT ALL MY SWAG! AND THIS IS JUST IN ONE WEEK! NEXT WEEK I’LL SPLIT THE PUBLISHING ATOM!

It wasn’t meant to be like that. It was intended as a kind of self-talk, a rejoinder to the messy stuff that goes on in my head, which seems to focus almost entirely on how I could be writing faster or better or differently or just plain more, and never mentions – hardly even seems to notice – the good stuff.

When I shared last week’s post, I prefaced it with the comment: “A few things have changed.”

And that’s true. But here’s something that’s even truer: most things haven’t.

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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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So That Just Happened … and also that

It’s been a busy few days. It began on Friday morning when I sat bolt upright at 3am and realised the year was drawing to a close and my annual carbon footprint was altogether too small.

Happily, this was easily remedied. I rolled out of bed and drove immediately to Perth airport. I flew across the country and all the way up to Brisbane. Then I drove to a hotel, stayed overnight, and at the crack of dawn, flew home to Perth again. And just like that, I was back on track.

While I was in Brisbane, a ridiculous thing happened, and it looked a bit like this:

QLA2    20151013_091353

A Single Stone was announced as the winner of the Griffith University Children’s Book Award at the Queensland Literary Awards!

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