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!
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 …
A while ago, I joked about having jumped on the dystopian bandwagon. But the truth is that post is a little disingenuous, because I don’t think A Single Stone is really a dystopian narrative. The furthest I would go is to describe it as “speculative fiction with dystopian elements”.
Oh, what’s the difference? Why split hairs?
In the first place, because if ever there is a hair to be split, I will pierce it with a fine-gauge needle. It’s just what I do.
And in the second, because the difference is important.
A true dystopia is exactly as it sounds, an anti-utopia, a “not-good place” to coin a literal translation. And I can categorically say that no world I ever write will be either utopian or dystopian. Because those terms imply a certainty about what’s good and bad, and those definitive, clear-cut divisions aren’t at all interesting to me.
What’s interesting to me are the shifty shades of grey, the ambiguities. I am categorically not interested in categorical statements, worlds, or characters; I want the stories that crawl out of the spaces in between, a world whose value system balances on their edge.
I recently received a question from a reader that stopped me in my tracks. When I was writing A Single Stone, she asked, did I know about children mining mica in India? She included a link to a newspaper article entitled, “India’s mica mines: The shameful truth behind mineral makeup’s shimmer” In reply, I said two things: Wow and I had no idea. In A Single Stone, young girls tunnel deep into mountains to harvest a mineral called mica. I chose to use this real-world mineral name for a few simple reasons:
Since childhood, I have thought of it as fool’s gold – bright and shiny but essentially valueless
It forms flakes and sheets
I liked the way the word sounded
It’s possible that some of these reasons are more compelling than others. Although I gave my mineral a real name, for the purposes of the narrative I invested it with some fictional properties. In hindsight, I’m not sure why I didn’t just invent something entirely fictional, as I did for some other elements in the story. Not having done so, there was now this unexpected real-world connection, about which I felt a little uneasy.
With A Single Stone making its way out into the world, I’ve been thrilled to hear that the cover is attracting a lot of praise. As someone who isn’t a visual thinker at all, I have very little involvement in the design process. When I’m writing (and reading) I don’t picture the setting or characters; even at the end of my sixty-third draft, I generally have no idea what people look like or where they are. This leads to my editor guiding me into the sixty-fourth draft with questions like, But how could they possibly see him from there? and Just how big is this valley anyway?
For this reason, among others, I’m perfectly happy to let designers and illustrators get on with their work independently. Once there’s a draft on the table, or early sketches, I might start to have some input, but until then, I’m completely content to leave things in the hands of others. As a result, I generally have no insight at all into how the design process works. And for that reason, I was absolutely thrilled when Gayna Murphy did this wonderful blog on how she went about designing the cover for A Single Stone.
We gathered, we laughed, we launched! I’m delighted (so very delighted, Amanda Betts!) to announce that the official launch of A Single Stone went off swimmingly on Thursday, 7 May.
Against the backdrop of a stunning Fremantle sunset at Kidogo Arthouse on Bathers Beach, a lovely host of friends, colleagues, and other possibly-soon-to-be-one-of-those-things folk ate, drank and were generally merry as Amanda (AJ) Betts launched the book in characteristically hilarious style.