Tag Archives: writing

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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Speaking Youth to Power

Many moons ago when I was teaching at UWA, I heard a creative writing lecturer talk about how writers often find themselves ‘worrying at a particular knot’. Maybe they’re writing all kinds of different things, but somewhere in the midst of each of them, if you look deeply enough, or from the right angle, you’ll find some version of this one theme or concern.

The writer, of course, doesn’t always know this. Slightly fewer moons ago, when I was easing out of teaching at UWA, I had a student say to me, “It’s interesting how so many of your poems are sort of about containment.”

And I said Huh?

And she said, “You know … how you’re always talking about borders and margins, inside and outside, about edges and stuff like that.”

And I said, No I’m not … am I?

And then she showed me. And lo and behold, I was. And still am. At least in my poetry.

poetry2 Poetryimage1

There are similar knots in my work for young people, one of which I became aware of recently because it features in both The Penguins Are Coming! and DUCK! Continue reading

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

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

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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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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Kids Ain’t Kids

Last month I pondered a bit on the topic of ‘writing quiet’ – about what that means for me and for my work.

In the course of my ponderings, I mentioned some feedback I received on an early picture book manuscript, which read “Lovely language … but can’t something more interesting happen?”

Although that’s been useful food for thought in some ways, in another far more important sense it’s absurd.

Because how do we define ‘interesting’? Whose version are we talking about? There’s a kind of arrogance in that line, an assumption that the way the speaker sees the world – or the way in which she thinks kids see the world – is *the* way. That there’s a single version of ‘interesting’ which will speak to the readership, and that’s what the writing needs to tap into.

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Shhh! On Writing ‘Quiet’

When the last copy was edited and the last proof was read and A Single Stone was finally off to the printers, I turned to my husband and said, “Well, that’s about as Bruce Willis as I get.”

He knew what I was talking about because he’d heard me muttering and ranting a lot during the writing process – Yes, but what actually *happens*? Raise the stakes! Back story over steaming broth is not a chapter!

And so on.

Things happen in A Single Stone. It contains actual plot. This may sound ridiculous, but for Bookontableme, forward narrative movement is the hardest thing of all. I like to sit in the small moments – as a reader and a writer … as a person, those are what I’m most interested in. As silly as it sounds, I have to remind myself that things do need to happen in the story – and not just inside my characters’ heads. Hence the muttering and ranting. Hence my self-satisfied glow when I thought about the cracking pace and tension and high-stakes plot points I had finally managed to achieve in this book. I am fast-paced action thriller – HEAR ME ROAR!

Hence my wry smile when reviews started coming in on Goodreads:

A beautifully written, quiet adventure …

This was a slow-burning, unputdownable delight.

In a way, it moves quite slowly but I couldn’t put it down.

Quiet. Slow. No matter what I do, these words follow me. And even though I don’t seem to have much choice in the matter, the truth is that I’m quite happy to own them.

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