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.
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.
With Below having been out in the US for a couple of months now, reviews have been coming in, and it’s made me realise something.
I was nervous about this book.
That is perhaps a little odd as it’s been out for two years in Australia already. It’s had plenty of reviews and feedback from readers over here. I’m not sure why I felt nervous about the US release; it just somehow felt like I was diving into a different sort of pond. Even though Candlewick had already published my picture book No Bears and chapter book Duck for a Day, there was something different about this, perhaps more of myself in this work somehow.
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.
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.
There was this, which I knew was coming but was a thrill to see all the same. It’s the Davitt Award I blogged about last week. It is on the large side and I have no idea where to put it, but perhaps I can clear a space for it on the Bookshelf of Narcissism. I’m sure the duck won’t mind shoving over a little.
Then there was this, which I had no idea was coming, and was therefore a different kind of thrill. It’s a letter from Simon Crean, congratulating me on Surface Tension having been judged a ‘highly commended work’ in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. What a lovely note to receive out of the clear blue sky. I had no idea such a category even existed.
In excellent news, this letter is quite small and foldable, making it relatively easy to slip in between volumes on the Bookshelf of Narcissism. The duck is bound to be pleased.
Back in July, I was surprised to find my novel Surface Tension on the longlist for the Children’s/Young Adult Fiction category of the Davitt Awards, which are presented annually for crimewriting by Australian women.
The reason I was surprised is simply that across the many, many drafts I did of that book, I never once realised that what I was writing would fit into that genre. I was really just exploring an image, and shaping the sort of narrative that seemed to flow naturally from that process. When the longlist came out, I said, Huh? Really? Cool. And then I called my mother, because she is possibly Australia’s most avid reader of crime fiction, and I knew she’d get a kick out of it.
It was a long longlist, full of great books, and I never imagined I’d get any further. Then in August, the shortlist was announced, and it was somewhat shorter. Three books. And mine was one of them.
I had to call my mother again.
… 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 second post in the three-way blogapalooza I’m sharing with Anna Branford and Sally Murphy. Because it’s part of a series, I’ve followed the same format for the title, but the first thing I should say is that I think it’s misleading.
You don’t ‘get edited’. I’ve never ‘been edited’. It’s not a passive process in which the writer sits back and waits for the editor to tell them what needs to be done. It’s a dialogue – a back-and-forth that begins with the text, moves to the editor, bounces back to the author, who returns to the text, then bounces it back to the editor, and so on thusly for the term of your natural life (or so it can seem).
When I show people the six-page editorial letter for Annabel, Again, or a marked up draft of Surface Tension, I get some interesting reactions. Some people actually draw back in horror. But isn’t it your story? How can you let them? From time to time I hear people – often aspiring writers – talking about the way publishers insist on ‘changing’ people’s work, to shape it to fit their own set of parameters.
But really, that’s not how it works. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. If a publisher were to take this approach, I too would walk very quickly in the opposite direction.