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.
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.
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.
In case anyone needed more evidence that responses to art are subjective, Below recently featured on two unexpected – and surprisingly juxtaposed – 2013 wrap-up lists.
List the First: “Best Book Covers of 2013”
List the Second: “Best Book Hidden Under the Worst Cover”
While I’m genuinely surprised by the second one, I do sort of love that it fits with the notion of things being hidden below the surface, which is central to the story in Below.
Back in April, I wrote about having received a copy of the audio book version of Below. I flippantly said that when I got a spare 4 hours and 10 minutes I was going to listen to the whole thing.
A few weeks ago, realising that I was unlikely to get a spare 4 hours and 10 minutes, I cued up the first of the CDs in the car, and began listening in small increments – 15 minutes on the way to school, another 20 on the way to work, the occasional extra 5 sitting in the driveway because I simply had to hear how a particular chapter ended (I wrote this book quite a long time ago!).
While I was listening, a few things occurred to me:
1. I have no idea how voice actors do it.
All the characters in Below are voiced by one person – Tara Sands. That’s Cassie, Liam, Mum, Dad, Elijah, Hannah, Mayor Finkle, and one or two other bit parts. And the story really is acted, rather than simply being read; it’s brilliantly done, and it was a real treat for me to hear my characters coming to life like this.
Here’s an interesting article I read recently about voice acting; I had no idea it was such a burgeoning field but it makes perfect sense when you think about the rise of e-books.
So in my last post I was gleeful over reader letters that had arrived in the mail. Today, there is more postal goodness, though of a different kind.
This morning, the white van roared up my driveway (FedEx – it always feels American somehow when it’s FedEx, doesn’t it?) to disgorge this:
Audio books! I have audio books! Unabridged. 4 Compact Disks. Approx. 4 Hours, 10 Minutes. The school run will never be the same.
I’ve been thrilled to have Candlewick Press pick up some of my work for US publication over the last year. There are all sorts of reasons why this is a good thing for me professionally, and those probably go without saying.
Lately, though, I’ve been on the receiving end of some more unexpected benefits. Letters! Actual letters coming to me from kids in the US. I get a bit of mail from kids here in Australia, but contact often tends to come via email. I’m not sure why that might be; perhaps there’s something exciting about the idea of picking up an actual pen (or texta) and sending a letter across the world. I know I’ve been having lots of fun writing back.
Two years ago, I wrote about how much I loved the cover for my forthcoming novel Surface Tension. In fact, I loved it so much that it helped me re-write the book. I loved the dreamy quality of the image, the muted colours, the hazy lack of clarity, the stylised but somehow childlike way the drowned town was represented.
When I was told that Candlewick wanted to re-jacket the book for its US release, I wondered what they could possibly come up with that could match it. To be honest, I was a little skeptical, a little apprehensive.
Yesterday I wrote about creative ‘coincidences’, perhaps more aptly described as a certain kind of alignment. Anna Branford, author of the gorgeous Violet Mackerel books had an interesting take on this in the comments, in response to which I will simply nod my head and refer you there.
If you want to see a really interesting example of how this sort of thing might work, check out this Derren Brown experiment in subliminal communication. It’s fascinating stuff.
But to the point I was writing towards yesterday – Surface Tension and the oh no! moment. Here’s what happened.