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.
Yes, I know he isn’t exactly Mr Curly. That would be like saying I’m Ruby, or Cassie, or possibly even Max.
But last weekend at the Perth Writers Festival, I met the maker of Mr Curly and of many things duckish and otherly delightful – Michael Leunig. I’ve made no secret of the fact that the original inspiration for Duck for a Day came from an interview Leunig did with Andrew Denton, but beyond that, I’ve been a long-time fan of Leunig’s work, which my father shared with me from a very early age. The corkboard above this very desk is dotted with tattered Leunig cartoons, snipped from newspapers here and there over the years.
In December, Sue Whiting tagged me in “The Next Big Thing” book meme which has been doing the rounds. It was Christmas, and I was on holiday. I said, “Thanks, but no.”
In January, Nicole Hayes tagged me again. It was the New Year and I didn’t want to start 2013 off with “busy work”. I said, “Thanks, but no.”
So let’s file this one under attrition, war of. Or perhaps it’s more that Amanda Curtin happens to have caught me on a day when I’ve given up on achieving anything other than small fragments of ‘stuff’.
So here is one such piece of stuff. The meme asks writers to answer ten questions about their forthcoming work. So that’s what I’ve done. It does seem that I’m a bit constitutionally averse to things like this, and don’t do very well at disguising that. If you detect essence of curmudgeon in any of these responses, that’s the reason.
I’ve posted before about how ducks seem to show up in my life at odd moments. When I finished the revisions for Duck for a Day, I woke up to discover a duck on my doorstep. And when I sent the manuscript of a follow-up to my editor, I had a visit from a mother and ducklings.
More recently, I’ve had a bevy of ducks arriving on my doorstep. Ducks of different kinds, but very welcome all the same.
I am delighted now to present to you Duck the First, being the Candlewick version of Duck for a Day, which has just been published in the US, and which kicked off its life over there by somehow managing to get itself reviewed in The Wall Street Journal. The jacket is slightly different to the Australian release but apart from that there are only minor changes to the text, something which might perhaps be the topic of a future post.
The main thing is that it’s out, and people seem to be liking it, and that happily QUACK! appears to be an exclamation that knows no borders.
The last couple of months have been a busy time for me. As other writers will attest to, Book Week seems to have turned into Book Month somewhere along the line and I’ve only just finished a steady stream of school and library visits. I could give you a bunch of stats here but I’d rather sit down and get some writing done, so instead I’ll just say that I drove a lot, talked a lot, listened a lot, and laughed a lot. It was energising and exhausting, all at once. And bookings are coming in for 2012, which is lovely, but also a little alarming.
I am always amazed by the creative and insightful ideas kids come up with. There was a great wealth of these this year, but I have to say that my favourite comment from a student was: “Meg, you are the most expiring author I have ever met!” Coming at the end of a long day, this was at once motivating and accidentally apt.
Last week I posted about having submitted the draft of a follow-up to Duck for a Day.
Just after that, I experienced another of those curious alignments of which I am so fond.
It was about two years ago that I finished the revisions on the first Duck and the day after sending those off, I woke up to find a duck on my doorstep. At the time I wondered:
Is it a sign?
And if so, what does it mean?
Today I moved from one state to another.
Today I moved from this …
… to this:
From a whiteboard covered in scenes and scribble to one covered in nothing but possibility.
I did promise the occasional dash of random and I’m not sure I’ve really been delivering. To rectify that, here are two completely unrelated things:
Random Item #1
Surface Tension came out this week. This is excellent and I’m thrilled to see it on shelves. I’m told it received “a cracker of a review” in Bookseller + Publisher, though I’m yet to see it myself. As you do when you have a shiny new book, I’ve taken to picking up a copy, opening it, reading a few lines, sighing, and putting it back down.
Shall we call it Shiny New Book Syndrome? It is an identifiable disorder – I’m sure of it.
I’m starting a new novel. A chapter book, to be precise. To be even more precise, a follow-up to Duck for a Day, whose characters I love altogether too much to leave alone.
When I wrote Duck for a Day, I knew it needed to be around 8000 words (ish). So of course, I wrote 15000. Then I pruned it to 12000. Then I sent it to my long-suffering editor, and she wrote back to me and said, altogether unexpectedly, “I love this, but it really needs to be around 8000 words.”
Eventually, we got there.