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.
Now that I’ve finished launching other people’s books, it’s time to launch my own!
A Single Stone, my new speculative fiction title for ages 10+, will be launched by AJ Betts on 7 May at the gorgeous Kidogo Arthouse in Fremantle. I’m irrationally excited to have this book finally making its way into the world, and hope readers will be too.
Thanks to people who have more patience for event planning than me, along with the usual book sales and signing the launch will feature wine & nibbles, door prizes, & cake.
I hope you can make it! Please see below for all details and RSVP to me directly (or run the risk of there being NO CAKE FOR YOU!). Feel free to also share this invitation with your bookish networks.
I’m thrilled with the news that Candlewick Press has picked up A Single Stone for publication in the US. Details are still to be determined but at this stage it looks like we are heading for a release in late 2016.
I’m very curious to see what the editorial process brings this time around. With Surface Tension/Below, there were numerous ‘Australianisms’ we discussed as part of that process. In some cases these were simple matters of terminology – do we leave ute as is or change to truck? If we keep the bush, will that conjure the wrong image for US readers?
But others were broader, relating more to socio-cultural differences – the way school house/faction systems work here; the leadership structure at local councils, and the like.
Given that this book is speculative fiction, and set in a world of my own devising, it might be tempting to think those sorts of things won’t apply. But even though it isn’t realist, I suspect the world I’ve made is unavoidably inflected with my Australian-ness. You can take the story out of Australia but you can’t take Australia out of the story etc.
I guess we’ll see. I’m looking forward to it, in any case.
In a neat metaphorical moment, the news of the US deal came to me like this:
I love that my email program red-flagged it as a likely scam, for no apparent reason. It’s exactly how my imposter-syndrome brain responds when confronted with good news of any kind. It was quite amusing – and a little confronting – to see it literalised like that.
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
After my last post, someone said to me – in a friendly way – that they were surprised to see me jumping on the dystopian bandwagon and wasn’t that kind of over already anyway?
Me being myself, my first thought was Hmm, I wonder what a dystopian bandwagon would look like? Would the wheels be falling off? What would they be made of? Where would it be going and would you need a ticket to ride?
Me still being myself, my second thought was Actually, where does that idiom come from, anyway? [For those interested, Theodore Roosevelt, apparently]
Finally, I laughed. Because the thing is – writing-wise, I’m completely incapable of jumping on any moving vehicle. On any moving anything, actually. Including, probably, snails.
As we launch into 2015, I’m delighted to be able to announce that the book formerly known as Set in Stone is done and dusted. After the usual last-minute doubts and shenanigans, I’ve somehow managed to let go and send it out into the world and off to the printer.
Sentences uttered by me during the seemingly endless rounds of last-minute proofreading include, but are not limited to:
I don’t think I’m wedded to this comma
I will fight to the death for this semi-colon
I need a three-beat word that means “tenacious” and has a falling cadence. Oh, wait …
Who cares about widows and orphans anyway?
In the course of said shenanigans, the book has a new title and will shortly be winging its way into catalogues, bookstores and review pages (we can only hope) all over the country, as …
A Single Stone
It’s a perfect fit for the book and I’m quietly thrilled with it.
Back in May, I mentioned that I was diving into revisions on a new book. Back then, my working title was “Set In Stone”, but that has since been set aside in favour of something more fabulous, about which more later. I probably should have known better than to tempt fate with such a dogmatic title in the first place. My next WIP is going to be entitled, “Don’t Change a Word”.
The last few months have seen me dipping in and out of that manuscript as needed, in the midst of various other bits and pieces including Book Week and its many joys.
Just yesterday, I moved the latest draft off my desk and back onto my editor’s. There is more work to be done, but with each round, the scale diminishes. Eventually the spiral of revisions will narrow to the finest of points before finally disappearing, and the book will move into the hands of others.