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 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.
The nominations for the 2014 West Australian Young Reader’s Book Awards have been announced and I’m delighted to learn that Duck for a Day appears on the Younger Readers list.
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.
… where I tell you I’ve been busy.
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.
So this is the third in a three-part series I’ve been working on with Anna Branford and Sally Murphy.
I’m not entirely sure what approach the others are going to take to this topic. There are, of course, all sorts of ways of defining ‘recognition’. There’s the formal recognition of awards and the informal recognition of people such as peers and readers and random strangers at the shops.
Very early on in the scheme of things, I remember being full of excitement because someone had found my website on purpose, by searching for my name, rather than accidentally, via some variation on “goldfish + ponds” or “hydrocodone”.
Once, I was doing laps at the local pool, complete with swimming cap and goggles, when I was stopped, mid-turn, by a lifeguard who wanted to know if I was “that writer-woman in the paper”.
More recently, after writing a letter of complaint to a local business, I was asked during a follow-up phone call whether I was “the” Meg McKinlay, putting me in the unlikely position of having to say, “Define the.”
These things are all recognition of a sort.
Last week I was interviewed over at Books for Little Hands. One of the questions asked what had been the highlight of my career so far and I found it a little difficult to answer, partly because of my maddening tendency to want to unpack the nuances of every word put before me.
I wanted to wrestle for a while with the word ‘career’ and what that really meant for me and whether it was the ‘right’ term for what I’m doing with this whole writing thing. And the highlights I arrived at had nothing to do with ‘career’ really and more to do with small creative satisfactions. So it may be that my response was a bit disingenuous. Possibly even pretentious.
And then the very next day something happened. I had a genuine career highlight, and it was this:
In April this year, my book Duck for a Day was adapted for musical theatre by Tony Bones Entertainment.
Since they only tour on the east coast, I didn’t get to see the show, but last week, the lovely Tony himself sent me a DVD of one of the performances. And I feel a little ridiculous, but watching it made me a bit teary.
Last week I posted about having submitted the draft of a follow-up to Duck for a Day.
Just after that, I experienced another of those curious alignments of which I am so fond.
It was about two years ago that I finished the revisions on the first Duck and the day after sending those off, I woke up to find a duck on my doorstep. At the time I wondered:
Is it a sign?
And if so, what does it mean?
Today I moved from one state to another.
Today I moved from this …
… to this:
From a whiteboard covered in scenes and scribble to one covered in nothing but possibility.