Category Archives: Uncategorized

Welcome to the … aughhhhh

Sometimes a book takes its own sweet time. I’ve talked before about the long journeys some of my work has travelled from the initial spark to the published story.

There was Bella and the Wandering House, which took 14 years, and which I wrote about here.

There was Let Me Sleep, Sheep!, which was 13 years, and which I wrote about here.

There was How to Make a Bird (17 years, here.)

And Ella and the Useless Day (17 years, here.)

There are many reasons why so much time can elapse from pen-on-paper to publication. Sometimes it’s about the idea percolating and sometimes it’s about the writer procrastinating … or perhaps pondering. Sometimes it’s about the publishing world needing to catch up to the concept.

For the most part, this slowness has served me well. If How to Make a Bird had been embraced by publishers when I was first sending it out, it wouldn’t have ended up in the hands of Matt Ottley. It would be nothing like the beautiful art object it is today. If Ella and the Useless Day had been published in its original form, I would always have felt as if I’d somehow missed the point, not quite got to the heart of what I was trying to say. And I could never have collaborated with Karen Blair, who has brought much more to it than I could ever have imagined.

I say “for the most part” because there have been downsides – sleeping projects I’ve had to shelve because someone came out with something that was just too similar. Still, though, the hits have been relatively benign. Like most writers, I’m sure, I have a whole storehouse of fragments and snippets, endless beginnings of maybe-possible future things. Some have a little more momentum than others, have gathered more thoughts around them, begun to take on a somewhat recognisable shape. But even so, they’re still just beginnings, formative, not too hard to be philosophical about when I’ve had to let go.

Until now, that is.

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The Uncanny Magic of Illustrators

There are so many things I love about working with illustrators.

Firstly, and entirely self-servingly, having a co-creator gives me an easy way to accept praise about the book without resorting to my usual impulse to shrink away muttering, Oh, it’s nothing. It could have been better. Eh, it’s just a thing I did. Having an illustrator, and their inevitably glorious work, to deflect compliments onto makes my life a great deal easier.

That reason comes first only in this idiosyncratically ordered list though, because really it’s the least important of all the things I love about working with an illustrator.

One of the questions I’m often asked about picture books is, “But what happens if the illustrations aren’t how you imagined them in your head?” For the longest time I answered this in a kind of bewildered, half-stumbling way, without really understanding where the questioner was coming from. Because the thing is: I don’t imagine the illustrations in my head, or anywhere else for that matter. I don’t think visually, and I don’t ‘see’ the world or characters while I’m writing (or when I’m reading, for that matter; it doesn’t matter how elaborately the setting or a character or an anything is described, I can’t see it. What I’m doing instead is skimming those descriptive passages, grumbling about how pointlessly wordy they are, because who cares what it LOOKS LIKE?). These days, that’s how I answer that question, though it does lead to some bewildered, half-stumbling responses from the visually inclined questioner.

Something I’ve come to realise, though, is that even though I never have any idea of what I want things to look like, I always know how I want things to feel, how I want them to make the reader feel. I couldn’t begin to suggest how you might get there visually; I just know it when I see it. I’m not sure whether this makes me extremely annoying to work with – I don’t know… I just want it to feel less noisy, or lighter or … just airier? You know that feeling you get when bubbles pop on your tongue? Like that, except different – or whether it’s par for the course in the author–illustrator relationship, but in any case, it’s all I have.

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Ella Emerges from the Rubble

In my last post, I referred to “the glorious rubble” that was the process of excavating and clearing out my childhood home. And that, on account of me being me, that rubble fed inevitably into the creative well, setting all sorts of things in motion.

Today, I want to talk about the first of those things, which has turned into a gorgeous little picture book called Ella and the Useless Day. As is the case for a lot of my work, this is something I started working on many years ago, which has had a long and bumpy ride to publication. When I first wrote Ella, back in 2005, it was the story of a little girl and her father who have a big cleanout and take all the useless things they don’t want any more to the local tip. There, where the bulk of the story’s action takes place, they unload everything gleefully and toss it onto the piles of already-discarded items. In the background, however, out of sight to everyone but Ella, another little girl – the daughter of the tip gatekeeper – is equally gleefully purloining many of their ‘useless’ items for herself.

As we pull back further, we see the little on-site house where they live, which is partly constructed by and decorated with all sorts of salvaged things. As Ella and Dad drive away, congratulating themselves on having disposed of all those useless things, the little girl sets to work to repurpose them. At the very end, I imagined a wordless spread which would show the various interesting uses to which she had put them.

Pretty fun, right? I liked it. But no one else did. Or at least not enough to publish it. Across Australia and the US, it was form rejections all round, and so I set it aside, another failed project for the bottom drawer.

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On Creativity, Crap, and the Clearing Away of Childhood

Firstly, thank you: for your kind and enthusiastic and kindly enthusiastic responses to my last post. I am particularly heartened that people seem to like my scribbled poetry notes. These little fragments are where I feel most at home creatively and I look forward to rambling about them at length in the future.

For now, though, I’ve been thinking about the long, slow process of cleaning out my childhood home, which took place over the last couple of years – firstly in a big, focused burst, and then in dribs and drabs and trickles and whimpers. It was full of sadness and joy and reminiscence and teeth-grinding and head-shaking and many more things besides. We moved around a lot in the first few years of my life and I have blurry memories of that time, but the year I turned five, my parents bought the one and only house they would ever own, and proceeded, over the next 50-some years, to fill it with kids and memories and obscure family sayings and stuff. So much stuff.

I’m sure they threw plenty of things away over that time. They were sensible people, after all. A little quirky, sure, but then again, aren’t we all? They made conscious choices about what to keep – things that were useful, or might be some day, even if in some as-yet unimaginable way; things that had once been useful but were now broken but might be fixed at some future point or repurposed, possibly in some as-yet unimaginable way; things that had sentimental value or might have one day, depending on what events transpired in your life or the kind of person you turned into or a million and one other variables. Things that sparked joy or rage or indifference or even just a raised eyebrow and a mischievous line of thought: Hmmm, I don’t know what this is for and the kids won’t either. I will attach a label to it that says “MYSTERY OBJECT” and use it to bamboozle people.

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Getting the Blog Back Together

Hey. Hello. It’s been a while.

Three years, to be exact-ish. I do love a good ish.

Despite my silence, many things have happened. Writing things. Non-writing things. Big things. Small things. Hard things. Harder things.

In fact, when I look at the date of my last post – 3 May, 2019 – it’s immediately obvious to me why the silence began. It was exactly a week later that my father died, bringing with it the many things that loss does. And then, as my breath was starting to return, almost exactly a year later that my mother died, bringing with it the many things, compounded now and layered, and in the midst of it all I flew back-and-forth across the country multiple times, sorting and sifting through emotions and things and people and feelings, and walking and walking through the bush behind my childhood home, the clay of Bendigo feeling, as it always does, so firm beneath my feet. The metaphor that has struck me so many times over the years returning to me again, even as I wondered whether all that is now changed, whether I’ll keep coming back to this place, whether I’ll ever return to those scribbled notes, write that poem that’s been sleeping in the back of my mind for so long.

The thing is – one thing is – I talk too much and say too little. I ramble. I endlessly circle and get lost in metaphor. I start and don’t finish, can’t find a structure, resist it. Words have been difficult the last few years. Plot has been impossible. I don’t know yet if that’s going to change but I’m taking little steps. I don’t think we need the firmness of clay; I think we can learn to stay steady on sand, to soften ourselves as the surface shifts beneath our feet.

I’ve returned to this space several times since my last post, stared at the wall of white and the silence and wondered what to do with it. Who even blogs anymore anyway? Isn’t all this stuff on Twitter and Instagram and ye olde Facebook, served up in banter and small palatable bites?

The truth is that I quite like banter and palatable things. I’m even fond of a little biting. But I also like talking too much and saying too little. I like rambling and endlessly circling and getting lost in metaphor and forgetting all about structure and throwing words out into the white silence. I have things to say and thoughts to ponder and so I’ve decided to return to this little room of my own – sporadically, self-indulgently, possibly sometimes nonsensically. When I think about it, those three ‘ly’s sum up some really important things about my creative life. Random notes and scribbles, moments scooped up and stored, then set aside. Maybe they become something or maybe they’re already what they’re going to be, in all their mess and formlessness. Anyway. It doesn’t seem like a bad place to begin again.

Five Days Under the Big Sky

It was the best of festivals, it was the best of festivals.

Last week I spent five days as a guest of Big Sky Readers and Writers Festival, which takes place annually in Geraldton, an hour’s flight north of Perth.

I love flying to Gero, not only for the glorious vistas but also because I love watching the flight attendants try and somehow cram meal service into the approximately 35 minutes of level flight time.

I love Big Sky for other reasons, and they are many.

For years, fellow writers and illustrators have been enthusing about Big Sky. It’s the bestival of the festivals! they say. Because they are punsters like that. If you get invited, you absolutely have to go!

This year, I did, so I did. And now I get it. Continue reading

Once Upon a Time …

… there was a small rhinoceros.

It hung on the wall of an art gallery in Subiaco, all the way back in 1997. It was part of an exhibition entitled Three Narrative Artists.

And it looked like this:

intrepid-journey220-x-160_edited-1[“Intrepid Journey” by Sue Templeton]

It was right near the entrance, and when I walked in on opening night, it stopped me in my tracks. There was something about the image I found intrinsically appealing.  Or perhaps it was the combination of image and title – the word “intrepid” together with the rhinoceros and the boat.

It stayed with me, as things sometimes do unexpectedly. That’s something I love – that you never quite know what’s going to catch the light for someone. It isn’t always what you’d expect. In this case, it was a small rhinoceros.

But here’s where it gets interesting, because many years passed. Many, many years. And I guess my memory isn’t as good as I thought it was. Because when I thought about the rhino, I saw it as a tiny thing in a tiny boat on a very very wide and vast blue ocean. And I  remembered the title as being simply “Intrepid”. I told myself it was the perfect marriage of that single-word title and the image that lent it appeal for me. Except that it wasn’t a single-word title and it also wasn’t a vast open ocean. In fact, looking at it now I’m not even sure it’s an ocean. Maybe it’s a desert. Maybe it’s a lava field. Maybe it’s the surface of the moon. Continue reading

2017 Reading Challenge

I must admit that I’ve never found reading to be a challenge. But for the last couple of years I’ve seen others posting about the Australian Women Writers Challenge, and in the spirit of connecting with other readers, and also perhaps being a little more conscious about who and what I’m reading, I’ve taken the plunge and signed up.

There are four levels of the Challenge to choose from:

  • Stella: read 4 – if reviewing, review at least 3
  • Miles: read 6 – if reviewing, review at least 4
  • Franklin: read 10 – if reviewing, review at least 6
  • Create your own challenge: nominate your own goal

But happily there is a caveat – you don’t actually have to review if you don’t want to. So I’ll be reading and sharing little snippets as I go (most likely via Twitter and Facebook) but I won’t be reviewing as such. For as much as I love talking about books, as an Australian writer myself I just don’t feel comfortable reviewing others.

I initially signed up for Franklin, but am not sure what I was thinking as I’m almost there already. A better challenge for me is to step outside my comfort zone a bit, which tends to be contemporary literary fiction, and I’d also love to get back to reading more poetry.

So I’ve gone ahead and created my own challenge, and here it is:

  • 10 poetry collections
  • 5 speculative fiction
  • 5 ‘classics’ (from the AWW Challenge website: “books that might once have been popular but which have now fallen out of favour.”)
  • 3 romance (I never read this; it’s a huge and possibly snobby blindspot for me. I’m going to give it a whirl)
  • 3 non-fiction (again, not a genre I read much)
  • 3 short-fiction collections
  • 50 total (with the remainder being my much-loved lit-fic and probably a healthy dash of YA & children’s in there, too.)

awwchallenge

I will also be running my very own writing challenge, which will be to write 3 books by an Australian woman author, being me. My progress at the moment is slow but steady. I don’t have a fancy logo for this challenge. I could probably make one but that would be procrastinating, and we all know where that leads and it is not to the writing of books.

The Year of Taking a Deep Breath …

… and writing a great many things …

… is here. It’s here.

What is she talking about? you mutter.

Upon which I refer you to my earlier post, The Year of Doing Way Too Much and Nowhere Near Enough.

And then I say this:

In 1999, in an airport departure lounge, I scribbled the beginnings of what would eventually become my first poem.

In 2001, I said out loud to someone for the very first time that I was interested in maybe writing something one day. I remember this very clearly for reasons I will save for a future blog post.

In later 2001, I had an idea for a picture book, and thought it was excellent and bound to be published.

From 2001-2006, I collected approximately 762 rejection letters for that picture book, other picture books, chapter books, Young Adult novels, and novels of indeterminate genre and readership. I also published a few poems.

In 2007, my first novel, Annabel, Again, was published.

In later 2007, my poetry collection, Cleanskin, was published.

                     2782WALK_AnnabelFULL02.indd    Cleanskinhires

From 2008-2015, I published a further 11 books for children and a far-too-small handful of poems.

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The Year of Doing Way Too Much & Nowhere Near Enough

So it’s come to this, November. Or perhaps I should call you by your real name — almost-December-dear-god-where-has-the-year-gone?

2016 has been a year of many things. But mostly of two things, which are subtly connected. For me it will go down as i) The Year of Doing Way Too Much and ii) The Year of Not Writing the Novel I Should Have Written Long Ago (subtitle dear-god-where-has-the-year gone-is-that-my-editor-coming-quick-everybody-hide!).

In 2016, I encountered a perfect and unrelenting storm of day job and volunteer work and family stuff and RSI and book-related commitments and assorted essential but fundamentally not-writing administrivia, all of which combined to leave me with an amount of head-space/writing time which can be best characterised as nowhere near enough.

Herewith a Twitter-ish chronicle of my descent into chaos…

tweets2

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