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.
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.
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 me, 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.
Back in May, I mentioned that I was diving into revisions on a new book. Back then, my working title was “Set In Stone”, but that has since been set aside in favour of something more fabulous, about which more later. I probably should have known better than to tempt fate with such a dogmatic title in the first place. My next WIP is going to be entitled, “Don’t Change a Word”.
The last few months have seen me dipping in and out of that manuscript as needed, in the midst of various other bits and pieces including Book Week and its many joys.
Just yesterday, I moved the latest draft off my desk and back onto my editor’s. There is more work to be done, but with each round, the scale diminishes. Eventually the spiral of revisions will narrow to the finest of points before finally disappearing, and the book will move into the hands of others.
You may have noticed that my 2014 goals did not include blogging. However, I break radio silence to report some report-worthy news:
I have a contract for a new book.
It’s a book I’ve mentioned here and there over the last couple of years, including, most recently, here.
When I was writing it, I thought it was YA, but when I finished it, I realised it’s junior fiction – in a similar sort of pocket to my 2011 release, Surface Tension (Below in the US). I’m not sure how that works, but it does.
I worked extremely hard drafting and re-drafting this manuscript before finally submitting it. This means I only have approximately another 27 drafts to do before it approaches a publishable state. For me, this is an excellent result.
I’ve just learned that the book is tentatively scheduled for an April 2015 release, which means that all 27 drafts must be completed by October-ish this year. It’s totally doable. I just have a gazillion tons of backstory and world-building to stuff into the seams of the action.
Two years ago, in December 2011, someone on a discussion board I sometimes frequent asked if anyone was up for some ‘fast-drafting’. The goal was to complete the first draft of a novel over their winter (our summer). I’m a slow writer but three months seemed on the doable side. It would be good for me! Optimistically, I raised my hand. A thread was opened and we duly began to post our progress.
Two weeks ago, in December 2013, I submitted the draft to my editor, having long abandoned the thread out of sheer embarrassment. My ‘progress updates’ to that point had mostly consisted of explanations as to why I was making none.
At one point, shortly before I fled, I commented:
I swear that when this book is done I’m going to go through this thread, collate the many reasons I have offered for my lack of progress, run them through Wordle, and generate a giant cloud of excuse-o-rama. If nothing else, it might show me where my problems lie.
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.