Tag Archives: writing process

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 that 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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Sea Monkeys, Sunny Boys & Skylab: Writing the 1970s

Just the title of this post makes me all kinds of nostalgic. This is because I was a childCoverfinalmedRES in the 1970s, which is when my new book, Catch A Falling Star, is set.

1979, to be specific. May-July 1979 to be specific-er.

And exactly that specific because it’s set against the backdrop of an actual historical event, the uncontrolled loss of orbit and eventual crashing to earth of Skylab, one of the world’s first space stations.

I’m told that the 1970s is long enough ago for Catch A Falling Star to be considered historical fiction. Luckily for me, though, having direct experience of that period, I didn’t need to do the kind of research this genre normally calls for. I grew up then! I remember stuff like sea monkeys and Sunny Boys and yelling SunnyBoyout “Spunk!” and lying on the warm concrete at the pool all day because skin cancer hadn’t been invented yet. The only things I needed to research were Skylab facts and figures – the exact timeline, direct quotes from newspapers, that sort of thing.

That’s what I thought, in the beginning.

Hahahaha.

Excuse me while I beat my head gently against this wall.

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A Rhinoceros By Any Other Gender…

As many of you know, I have a new picture book coming out very soon.OUASR_CVR_HR-RGB

Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros will officially hit bookstores on 1 September. I’ve blogged previously about the inspiration for the book, and a little about the process of writing it. During that process, many things changed. Some were big – like the title. Others were small – a shift in phrasing that made a line sing, an ellipsis that opened up the ending.

And there was one that was both – tiny but enormous.

Here’s the last line as it appeared in one of the roughs:

Rough4

If you’ve read the book, you should be able to spot the difference. If you haven’t, then know this: across many, many drafts, and until quite late in the process, my small rhinoceros was male. And then at a certain point, I said huh?

Because my small rhinoceros was male for no good reason. For no reason at all except that I had unconsciously defaulted to that without a moment’s thought. Continue reading

The (Not-So) Accidental Aurealis

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.

Aurealis ASingleStone_HiRes

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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.

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Ten Years and Still Counting

Last week, I posted a little something about where I was ten years ago versus where I am now.

It’s a post I almost didn’t write because I was worried it would seem braggy. CHECK OUT ALL MY SWAG! AND THIS IS JUST IN ONE WEEK! NEXT WEEK I’LL SPLIT THE PUBLISHING ATOM!

It wasn’t meant to be like that. It was intended as a kind of self-talk, a rejoinder to the messy stuff that goes on in my head, which seems to focus almost entirely on how I could be writing faster or better or differently or just plain more, and never mentions – hardly even seems to notice – the good stuff.

When I shared last week’s post, I prefaced it with the comment: “A few things have changed.”

And that’s true. But here’s something that’s even truer: most things haven’t.

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Can You Put Me in a Book?

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 Handsupall 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.

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Shifty Shades of Grey

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.

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A Wrinkle in Writing

I’ve been thinking lately about creativity. About the complicated relationship between humility, confidence, and arrogance. About the precarious balance between the conviction that we might actually know what we’re doing and the gnawing fear that we don’t – a balance which is required to produce anything worthwhile. Or at least that’s how it seems to me.

I’ve been thinking about imposter syndrome.

And I’ve been ironing. Usually a school uniform, in the morning, at the last possible moment.

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Through a Glass, Darkly

Although I haven’t had much writing time of late, I’m always thinking about it – about stories and writing and the way words hang together. And in the midst of all the things that have been keeping me from writing – among them copyediting and proofing a forthcoming novel and continuing the grind of renovations we’ve been doing on the house – something occurred to me.

d02f0-pavers1You see, I like these pavers.

I’m not housey. I’m not decoratey. I’ve been driven to the depths of frustration over having to make so many banal choices during the renovating process. I don’t care about tiles or paint or – god help us all – grout colour. But at the same time, you have to choose something. There’s a process you have to move through and perhaps not caring should make it easier, but it doesn’t seem to have worked that way for me.

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