It may be because I tell them that ideas are everywhere, that I’m gathering bits and pieces all 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.
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:
A Single Stone was announced as the winner of the Griffith University Children’s Book Award at the Queensland Literary Awards!
When the last copy was edited and the last proof was read and A Single Stonewas finally off to the printers, I turned to my husband and said, “Well, that’s about as Bruce Willis as I get.”
He knew what I was talking about because he’d heard me muttering and ranting a lot during the writing process – Yes, but what actually *happens*?Raise the stakes! Back story over steaming broth is not a chapter!
And so on.
Things happen in A Single Stone. It contains actual plot. This may sound ridiculous, but for me, forward narrative movement is the hardest thing of all. I like to sit in the small moments – as a reader and a writer … as a person, those are what I’m most interested in. As silly as it sounds, I have to remind myself that things do need to happen in the story – and not just inside my characters’ heads. Hence the muttering and ranting. Hence my self-satisfied glow when I thought about the cracking pace and tension and high-stakes plot points I had finally managed to achieve in this book. I am fast-paced action thriller – HEAR ME ROAR!
Hence my wry smile when reviews started coming in on Goodreads:
A beautifully written, quiet adventure …
This was a slow-burning, unputdownable delight.
In a way, it moves quite slowly but I couldn’t put it down.
Quiet. Slow. No matter what I do, these words follow me. And even though I don’t seem to have much choice in the matter, the truth is that I’m quite happy to own them.
Bella and the Wandering House, junior fiction for ages 6-10-ish, will be out this September from Fremantle Press, with gorgeous illustrations by Nicholas Schafer. I’m thrilled to have this story finally stepping out into the world …
Once, there was a girl called Meg. She was a reader and a collector of fragments – pithy observations, random snippets of stuff. She liked scribbling things down, twisting words about, but she was not a writer.
One day she was driving with her four-year-old daughter and her daughter’s same-aged friend, “E”, in the back. She was driving E home after a sleepover and she started messing about, being silly. Is this where I turn, E? Or the next corner? Wait … are we on the right street? Oh, no! I think we’re lost!
Because everyone knows that four-year-olds love whimsical play. But E rolled his eyes and said, in a world-weary tone, “You know where my house is.”
Meg thought it was a shame for a four-year-old to be world-weary, so she tried again, with this: “Well, I know where it was yesterday, but who’s to say where it will be today?” Continue reading →
WAYRBA is a readers’ choice award, organised on a statewide basis for young readers, with students nominating their favourites. There are eighteen nominations in the Younger Readers category this year, mostly from Australia but with a couple of international titles in the mix. To the best of my knowledge, Duck for a Day is the only book in this category by a West Australian author. I haven’t had a book on the WAYRBA lists since my first novel, Annabel, Again, was nominated back in 2008, so I’m thrilled.
Once school goes back (tomorrow!), readers all over the state will start their engines and get down to the business of reading and voting for their favourites.
It’s great to see my little duck still quacking along; here’s hoping Max makes some new friends before voting closes at the end of September.
So yesterday was World Read Aloud Day. What a great idea! I love reading aloud. When I write, I often test a sentence I’m not sure about by reading it back to myself over and over, listening for the way the rhythm falls. It’s something poets do all the time but it really helps for prose as well.
But I also just love reading aloud. Now that my daughter is older, I don’t really get to read to her, though I am prone to sudden attacks of poetry. Someone will say something that reminds me of a poem and the next thing my unsuspecting family knows I’m standing in the kitchen with a book in my hand, holding forth. They love it! (I swear)
In celebration of World Read Aloud Day, I got to do something really fun. I signed up on a register over at Kate Messner’s blog and volunteered to Skype visit with some schools. Even though it was *World* Read Aloud Day, most of my requests came from the US. With the time difference I could only fit a small handful in because while they were waking up to their school day, I was getting ready to head for pyjamas. For me, it was World Read Aloud Night, because I started Skyping at 10.30pm and finished after midnight.
Yes, I know he isn’t exactly Mr Curly. That would be like saying I’m Ruby, or Cassie, or possibly even Max.
But last weekend at the Perth Writers Festival, I met the maker of Mr Curly and of many things duckish and otherly delightful – Michael Leunig. I’ve made no secret of the fact that the original inspiration for Duck for a Day came from an interview Leunig did with Andrew Denton, but beyond that, I’ve been a long-time fan of Leunig’s work, which my father shared with me from a very early age. The corkboard above this very desk is dotted with tattered Leunig cartoons, snipped from newspapers here and there over the years.
In December, Sue Whiting tagged me in “The Next Big Thing” book meme which has been doing the rounds. It was Christmas, and I was on holiday. I said, “Thanks, but no.”
In January, Nicole Hayes tagged me again. It was the New Year and I didn’t want to start 2013 off with “busy work”. I said, “Thanks, but no.”
So let’s file this one under attrition, war of. Or perhaps it’s more that Amanda Curtin happens to have caught me on a day when I’ve given up on achieving anything other than small fragments of ‘stuff’.
So here is one such piece of stuff. The meme asks writers to answer ten questions about their forthcoming work. So that’s what I’ve done. It does seem that I’m a bit constitutionally averse to things like this, and don’t do very well at disguising that. If you detect essence of curmudgeon in any of these responses, that’s the reason.
And where I use the cunning technique of splitting the first sentence in order to form a pointlessly catchy title for the post. A title that tells you nothing much at all. A title that if it tells you anything, tells you that this is going to be one of those shapeless, formless catch-up posts that people who are fond of articles with titles like “Ten Top Tips For Terrific Blogging” are so appalled by.
So I’ve been busy – busy being hard on myself for not having finished the novel I began so-called ‘fast-drafting’ at the beginning of the year. Apparently for me, fast drafting means an average of about 12.6 words a day. Which are then thrown out the next day, to be replaced by 12.6 possibly better ones.
But then I’ve been busy remembering that I have three books coming out in the US this year (No Bears, Duck for a Day, and Surface Tension, now known as Below, about which I shall write a vastly more terrific post at a later date), and two in Australia (Ten Tiny Things, Wreck the Halls, about which, terrific-ness, also later). And that I have in fact been occupied rewriting and copy-editing and proofreading and visiting schools and libraries and conferences and answering interview questions and doing promotional stuff here and there and everywhere and the many, many other bits and pieces associated with what it means to have five books coming out in the same year.