Posts tagged Australian author

Meet our October Star Author Lorraine Marwood

Our wonderful October Star Author is Lorraine Marwood.  Lorraine was born and raised in the country, and lived for most of her married life on a dairy farm. She is an award-winning poet who often writes about country life, and she has also published several children’s novels and collections of poetry.  Her books include a verse novel called Starjumps, Ratwhiskers and Me, and collections of poetry, including Note on the Door, and Guinea Pig Town and Other Animal Poems.

Thanks for joining us Lorraine!  We look forward to hearing all about your writing and books.

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Hello from Susan Green

Hello Christchurch kids – thanks for inviting me to visit you. I hope you are keen readers and keen writers, because during the month of September, I’m going to write about both.

CREATE A CHARACTER YOU LOVE
Perhaps some of you have read my book The Truth About Verity Sparks? Or the sequel, which came out in May. It’s called Verity Sparks Lost and Found. I am due to start writing the next Verity book and so at the moment my mind is buzzing with all things Verity. I love Verity. I am very proud of her – she is brave, clever and very sensible. If I was going to give you my five top tips for writing stories, at the top of the list would be “Create a character you love”. Verity is such a real character to me that she’s almost like an actual person. So this week I’ll be thinking about the things that make Verity seem real to me – and hopefully, to my readers as well.

Verity first came to me when I was walking around the streets of Melbourne, looking up at the tall, grand buildings built in the Victorian (named after the Queen, not the state!) era around a hundred and fifty years ago. They have carved decorations and big columns and huge doors and if you get a peek inside, often marble halls with more columns and more doors. They seem designed to make a person feel very small and insignificant. I imagined wealthy gentleman wearing suits and top hats strolling in and out…and I started wondering what it would have felt like, to have been little, poor and powerless in those days. And somehow Verity came into my head.

SETTING AND BACKSTORY
When you’re creating a character, you have to give your character a setting. You have to be clear about where and when the action is happening. Verity’s story starts in 1878 in London, where she is employed as a milliner’s apprentice. You also have to create a backstory. Backstory means the character’s history; his or her past. You might not use it in the story, but you use it to help you understand your character.
I made Verity an orphan. Unlike in real life, in fiction it’s always quite useful to have no parents! After her mother and father died, she went to live with her Uncle Bill and Aunt Sarah. They ran a used clothes stall in the East End of London, but it didn’t work out (mainly because her uncle was a cruel, drunken bully) so Verity was apprenticed to Madame Louisette, who owned a hat shop in a post part of town. As it turned out, Verity’s past is very much part of the plot of the story, but even if it wasn’t, working out your character’s backstory is a good idea.
Some authors keep files on their characters, or write detailed biographies. I don’t go that far, but I think you should do whatever is helpful to make a good story.

That’s all I’ve got time for today. Next post, I’ll write a bit more about creating characters – especially getting their voice right.

See you next time!

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Meet our September Star Author – Susan Green

Our super September Star Author is Australian author, Susan Green.  Susan has written two books featuring the charismatic Verity Sparks, The Truth About Verity Sparks and Verity Sparks: Lost and Found.  She always wanted to write and illustrate books, but gave away her art studies and teaching to concentrate on writing when she won a short story competition. The Truth About Verity Sparks was short-listed in the Book of the Year for Younger Readers category of the 2012 CBCA Awards.

Thanks for joining us Susan!  We’re looking forward to hearing all about your books and writing.

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A white-edged raging defence of comic books

There are two words which, when mentioned together, are guaranteed to get me frothing at the mouth in a barely controllable rage: ‘reluctant’ and ‘reader’.

The term reluctant reader is tossed about by the unthinking and the well-meaning in equal measure. It’s usually aimed at boys of a certain age, and I find it completely and utterly repugnant. I’m probably over-reacting (I have a tendency towards ranting) but hear me out.

I’ve seen it used as a pejorative: I suppose this book might be popular with the reluctant reader set. As if a book that kids actually want to pick up and read is somehow a bad thing. This sneering condescension is at the heart of a boorish them-and-us mindset from adults who ought to know better. You know the type: Tarquin and Jacinta devour books like starving geniuses, but Johnno (eye roll) well, I suppose not everyone can be a READER.

First of all, bully for Tarquin and Jacinta — good for them. Second of all, geniuses or not, they warrant no more or less consideration in their learning than does Johnno. How dare anyone be consigned to the big bin labelled HOPELESS because they don’t happen to share your ideal of what constitutes a good book. Perhaps if snotty parent/teacher/librarian could put a clothes peg on their nose for long enough to consider for a second that maybe Johnno doesn’t read because he thinks The Famous Five is outdated tosh, and he would be more than happy to lose himself in a story if only someone would show him a good one.

Which brings me to the subject of comic books. 

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I read a colossal number of comic books when I was a kid. Cracked, Cor, The Beano, Peanuts, Donald Duck, Richie Rich, The Archies, Phantom, Commando, Twilight Zone … and the daddy of them all: Mad Magazine. Under the careful tutelage of Alfred E. Neuman, I was introduced to literature and movies, to history and geography, to satire and word play. It piqued an interest in US history that continues to this day. Its soft scepticism and lack of reverence for authority probably nudged me towards my early career in journalism. When I was done reading textbooks or set novels, it was towards my stack of Mad Magazines that I gravitated. The owner of the local second hand bookstore would keep any fresh titles aside for me, knowing full well that I would buy them. For an inquisitive 11-year-old, they were my window to a mad world.

So rather than branding a kid as a reluctant reader, maybe they just need the right thing to read. There aren’t so many classic comics being published these days, but there has been an explosion in the field of graphic novels. If you’re worried your kid isn’t reading, I’d spread a bunch of graphic novels around the house like cockroach baits. Just like the real thing, they’ll start nibbling soon enough. You’ll be surprised where it can lead.

 

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Dream on, dopey

‘So, when are you going to write a real book? You know — for adults.’

How does one respond to such a question?

A knee to the groin? A sharp slap across the cheek? A ninja star to the throat?

No. Of course not. You smile benignly and say, ‘I already write real books. Kids are people too.’

I don’t buy the notion that books for children, particularly those aged nine to twelve — my target readership — are somehow inferior, or don’t meet the standards of a ‘book for adults’.  What does that even mean? Are the characters somehow illegitimate because they’re too young to shave? Are the themes irrelevant because they don’t involve a mid-life crisis?

Some of the wisest people I’ve met have been aged under twelve. Conversely, some of the dopiest people I’ve met have grey hair, wear suits and work in jobs that they hate.

I write books for middle grade kids for the very reason that they don’t wear suits and spend their lives in pointless meetings.

They have the luxury of youth and a lifetime of adventure ahead of them. I want to tap into that sense of, as the French say, joie de vivre.  You know, before they go grey and feel the need to buy a red sports car.

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It’s all about life on the cusp. About transitions. About security in the present and uncertainty in the future. Middle grade is where friendships are first tested, and sometimes found wanting. It’s where the simple things are often the most important things. It’s where a broken arm isn’t a tragedy; it’s part of the adventure. It’s a time of wonder, of first freedoms, of staying up later than you’ve ever been allowed before. It’s about failing. And trying again. It’s the first glimpse through the window of life and knowing with every ounce of spirit in your bones that there’s something amazing on the other side. And you have this one special friend, ready to explore it all with you.

Middle grade is life as a concentrate, distilled into its purest essence. And it is a privilege to write those stories.

So how did I respond to my inquisitor, the one who asked if I was ever going to write a real book? I flung a copy of my latest edition at his head. It bounced off, producing a red welt and a satisfying yelp of pain. ‘That real enough for you?’ I asked.

In my dreams.

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The thot plickens…

I’m up to my armpits in plotting at the moment.

Some writers adopt the headlight approach to their novels. American author EL Doctorow is credited with saying, ‘Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’

I’m sure that’s comforting for some.

I need to know where I am at every stage of my journey. So I take the obsessive military planner approach to my books. That is, I need high-res satellite imaging of every inch of the way and don’t bore me with diverting side trips to that picturesque lake back at the turnoff. My troops are massed and they have a plan to follow. The logistics are in place; the supply line is organised. We march at dawn!

I plot. A lot.

It always starts the same way. With a 240 page A4 spiral-bound notebook, and my lucky mechanical pencil (a LAMY scribble Druckbleistift that I picked up at a stationers in Auckland about ten years ago, if you must know.) I’ve used that pencil for all my books and would be lost without it.

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I always have a firm idea of where the story is going to go before I begin. I crack open the notebook and start, very simply, with the prologue. And I write. In pencil. For about three months. I average about three chapters a week. So over twelve weeks I can complete an 80,000 word novel. At least, the first draft of that novel. Once I’m done, if I have the luxury of time, I put it away for a month or so and let it fester in its own juices. Then I crank up the laptop and start the task of typing it up, embellishing and polishing as I go. At this stage some characters blossom and others wither. Various plot twists are crinked and action scenes are choreographed in minute detail. I can often be found prancing around the house, trying to recreate a chase sequence or a fight scene, just to make sure it’s feasible. It will take about six weeks to complete that second draft. Then the editing kicks in. I’ll go through the manuscript at least a half dozen times, making it perfect, before I submit I to my editor, who will then show me just how far from perfect it actually is. By the time the manuscript is ready to be typeset it will be on its tenth draft. The whole process — from notebook to bookshop — takes about a year.

Then I start again.

I’m up to Chapter 27 of my next book. There’s about six chapters to go. It’s a fairly involved mystery and it has taken a long time to set the dominos in place. I’m just about to push the first one, and it will be action all the way to the finish line.

And I know exactly where that finish line is — I have a satellite image of it seared into my brain.

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Lock up your puppies

Writers are asked a lot of questions. Where do you get your ideas from? How do you corral your thoughts? What’s your favourite cheese?

The one question I dread is: Why did you write this book? Especially when it’s asked in an accusing tone. As if I’d just kicked a puppy.

It’s not so bad when the emphasis is on the this.  When the emphasis is on the why — not so good.

I usually respond with what I call the reverse mountaineer’s defence. When a mountain climber is asked Why did you climb that mountain, the traditional response is: Because it was there.

When I’m asked Why did you write that book, I say: Because it wasn’t there.

It’s all about the creation. The taking of an idea, nurturing it with love and attention, building it out like layers of papier mâché, until it is round and robust and intriguing, and finally, in what was once vacant space, there is a story. Hopefully, it will be a story that will take the reader on a journey that will leave them breathless, and exhilarated and challenged. A trek through the imagination that is entirely satisfying, but also has the reader hankering for more. I want my readers to be little Oliver Twists, holding out their gruel bowls and making with the puppy eyes.

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It doesn’t always turn out that way of course. Not everyone is going to like what you create. I once asked a hall full of kids whether they thought one of my books would make a good movie. They all cheered, Yes! Except for their teacher, slumped in the back row, arms crossed over her chest, shaking her frowning head.

There was no gruel bowl and puppy eyes from her.

But you can’t take it to heart otherwise you’d never write anything. And while there are thousands of mountains to climb, there is an infinite number of empty spaces out there, just waiting to be filled with stories.

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Meet our October Star Author – Richard Newsome

Our fantastic October Star Author is Australian author, Richard Newsome.  Born in New Zealand, Richard moved with his family to Queensland in Australia when he was two and a half.  Richard has done all sorts of jobs before becoming an author, including working as a journalist, where he ‘chased after police cars while they chased after bad guys.’  He is the author of the action-packed Billionaire Series, which includes The Billionaire’s Curse, The Emerald Casket, The Mask of Destiny, and the latest book in the series, The Crystal Code.  If you love books filled with action, adventure and mystery you have to read the Billionaire Series.

Thanks for joining us Richard!  We look forward to hearing all about your writing and your fantastic books.

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So Long And Thanks …

If you’re a Douglas Adams fan, you’ll know that the only way to end that line is with ” … for all the fish”.

Although no one has actually given me any fish, so long and thanks for all the page views doesn’t really have the same ring to it. So I think I’ll go with this.

It’s been great blogging here as your Star Author this month. Thanks for having me. And for letting me ramble. I know I ramble. My editor knows it too. When Zac invited me to blog here, he suggested that 300 words might be a good sort of post length. I totally planned to take his advice. And then I started writing …

If I’m very disciplined, I might manage to keep my ‘So Long’ post under 300 words. Let’s see how I go.

I’m working on a young adult novel at the moment. It needs to be somewhere around 60,000 words. Maybe 70,000 max. I knew this when I started writing it but that hasn’t stopped me writing over 100,000 words. And in some ways I’m still looking for the story. But that’s okay. That’s how I do things. Somewhere in the middle of all the noise, I eventually find the stuff I need.

I hope that somewhere in the middle of the noise I’ve made this month, there were a few bits and pieces of interest to you guys reading along.

Thanks to all of you who have been reading. And thanks especially to Tierney and Ella, for keeping me company in the comments section, and giving me the opportunity to ramble even more.

If you’re interested in keeping up with what’s going on for me, I blog from time to time here: As In Egg.

However, I am a bad blogger, and often forget to add images. And sometimes words. If I’m busy, I have been known to abandon the blog for months at a time. It’s just how things work.

Despite being a bad blogger, I’m also running another blog at the moment. It’s called Ten Tiny Things, after a picture book I recently published with street artist Kyle Hughes-Odgers. It’s a place for secret somethings and hidden happenings and we’d love to have some submissions from New Zealand.

379 words and counting. Oh dear. I’d better go now, for real …

… BYE!!

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From Spark to Story …

One of the questions writers are often asked is where they get their ideas. It’s a perfectly good question but it’s also one I find perplexing. Because getting ideas is not my problem. If anything, my problem is having too many ideas. I think that once you open your eyes to what’s around you, there are stories absolutely everywhere.

I mentioned earlier that Surface Tension began with the image of a drowned town. But I also said that the image slept in the back of my mind for over 25 years. Because an image is not a story. Even an idea is not a story. For me, there’s a kind of collision that needs to happen before that initial spark of something begins to turn into a story – a sort of bumping together of two or more little fragments.

In Surface Tension, the image of the drowned town somehow bumped against a character idea I had. I was reading a book called The Member of the Wedding, by one of my favourite writers, Carson McCullers. In the book, a girl called Frankie has an older sister who’s getting married, and somehow Frankie convinces herself that she’ll be going with her sister after the wedding, which of course isn’t the case.

I started thinking about a character who was a ‘late baby’, born years after her older siblings, and who feels disconnected from their family history, all the stories that were made before she came along. Somehow that idea bumped up against the ‘drowned town’ image. I started wondering about a girl who not only missed the making of her family history, but also the place in which it was made. Maybe they lived in the town that got flooded? Maybe she never did and is now haunted by that idea. Ooh. What if she was born on the day it was flooded and that’s why she feels so connected to it? 

That’s where that story started. I can’t tell you why those two ideas connected in the way they did – that’s a mysterious part of the process that I often don’t quite understand. But I do love how it works.

A couple of the Lightning Strikes Books I mentioned in my last post came together in similar ways.

With Going for Broke, the two things were:

  •  An assembly I went to at my daughter’s primary school. There was a boy who had won a merit award for neat handwriting, who looked like he’d much rather have the shiny trophy a Year 7 kid had won for BMX bikeriding.
  • Looking through old photos and remembering my older brother’s attempts to break a world record when we were kids.

Once those two things had come together, the story began to form.

With Wreck the Halls, the two things were:

  • seeing my house on Google Maps and thinking it would be funny if something weird/embarrassing had been happening when the photo was taken, which would then be on the Internet for everyone to see.
  • knowing some people who moved, without realising, into a street where everyone goes all-out with their Christmas lights.

For me, ideas are easy. I collect them every day and jot them down into notebooks. And then I wait. I never say, I think I’ll work on this idea now. Okay, what can I write about? and I don’t say What if …? as I know some writers do. I just wait for an idea to join up with something else and push its way to the surface of  my mind.

Once it has a momentum and an energy of its own, once the story starts taking off by itself and I can’t stop thinking about it – that’s when I know it’s time to sit down and get cracking, to do the hard work of trying to find a narrative shape for it. And that’s when my problems really start!

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Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

So I said earlier that I’d talk about some of the unexpected places my books have taken me since I started this whole writing thing. And even though my last post was about my work travelling to the US, in this case I’m not talking about geography but something else entirely.

When I started writing, it was in tiny fragments. I’m a bit like a magpie and love to gather bits and pieces of observation – images that strike me, interesting sentences, snippets of overheard dialogue. I come to both reading and writing via poetry and am generally more interested in image and idea than in plot and action.

So it’s been a surprise to me that I’ve found myself from time to time writing books that are entirely plot-driven, that are all about hooking the reader and keeping the pace moving, where there isn’t really much time for savouring turns of phrase or wry, sideways observations about life.

These books are more about boys falling off various things – bikes, ramps, roofs. They’re about exploding hoses and cockroach eating and kamikaze penguins. The contain exclamations like “Mate!” and “Dude!” and possibly even one tiny fart joke. [I know! I am as surprised as anyone by this.]

The thing is, I’m a fairly serious person. I spend a lot of time taking things very seriously indeed. But years ago, when I was in the trenches trying to get published, I had a mentor read a YA manuscript I was working on. He liked it but he didn’t love it. And when we met in person, he said, “You know, you’re actually pretty funny. Why aren’t you writing funny?” He said he thought perhaps I was too busy trying to be all literary, making sure people knew I was A Serious Writer, and wasn’t letting myself have fun with the writing. It was highly offensive. And also somewhat correct. It was certainly worth thinking about.

So years later, when Walker Books asked if I wanted to write something for their new Lightning Strikes series – something fast-paced, plot-driven, full of humour and action and generally stuff happening, I thought, Why not?

So I wrote Going for Broke, which is about three boys who decide they want to win something more spectacular than a merit award for neat handwriting, and set about trying to break a world record.

Then I wrote The Big Dig, which is about three boys who decide what they really need is a pool in the backyard, and set about trying to dig one themselves.

And then I wrote Wreck the Halls, which is about three boys (you may be sensing a pattern here, astute reader) who decide they need some cash for a specific reason, and the only way to get this is to win the local Christmas lights decorating competition.

Wreck the Halls is my newest book, out just this month. It’s not the kind of book I ever thought I’d write; it’s a place my writing has taken me that I never thought I’d go. These books have been very challenging for me because I like to ramble. I like to play with words and ideas and set plot aside and go on and on and on (you may have noticed some evidence of this in my blogging style …). But there’s no room for that here. So these have been great, because they’ve taught me things: about pacing and plotting and writing with a strong narrative hook, and how sometimes – often – less can be more. All of these things have fed usefully back into my other writing, which is, of course, Far More Serious.

I think I’m finished writing this kind of book now. I don’t really have any more of this sort of idea and there are other stories pulling on me more insistently. But I’m very glad I did it. Not only did these books teach me things, but they were lots of fun to write. I can only hope they’re lots of fun to read.

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Lost In Translation …?

In my last post, I mentioned that Surface Tension will be released early next year in the US, with a new cover and a new title. This will be the third of my books to come out over there and people are often curious about how that process works, what sort of changes are needed and so on. So I thought I might talk a bit about how it’s worked for me.

Although I haven’t been asked to alter anything major, certain changes have been necessary for readability and to make some of the specifically Australian aspects of the books translate for US readers. I’m talking about things like:

  • In Duck for a Day, there is a gum tree which is important to the story. The US editor said their readers wouldn’t understand ‘gum tree’ and suggested we change it to ‘eucalyptus tree’. I thought that would sound strange – too specific or something, and it would also be constantly saying, Hey, kids, this is in Australia!, which isn’t really relevant to the story. I suggested we simply change it to ‘tree’ so kids would read ‘past’ it, and that’s what we did.
  • In Surface Tension, there was confusion over the ‘house system’ used for school sports. The editor was curious as to how Liam and Cassie could be in the same class but in different houses. I was confused by her confusion. It took a while for us to work out what the other was confused about. Then we still had to solve the problem in the text.

In both books, there were language changes here and there. For example:

  • The 4WDs and utes in Surface Tension all became trucks, something I find very amusing, given the image ‘truck’ conjures up here.
  • There was much debate over whether ‘toilet’ should be ‘restroom’ or ‘bathroom’. It absolutely could not be toilet!
  • In Duck for a Day, Max is not allowed to have strawberry lollies. But the US editor thought that meant lollipops and that was confusing for a while. After we worked out what was going on, we had to decide whether to say taffy or candy or sweets.

Luckily I really like messing about with words, so I found this whole process really interesting and fun.

Although Surface Tension became Below, both No Bears and Duck for a Day kept their original titles, and No Bears has the same cover. The Duck for a Day cover is almost the same, with a few small changes in colouring and the layout of design elements. Here are the two covers below so you can see what I mean.

Here, I think I prefer the Australian cover, on the left.

I like the way the title steps

down

across

the page.

I’m not sure what the reasoning was behind changing it, but it’s not something I feel strongly about so I was fine with it.

There is one other interesting change I’m still getting used to. In the Australian edition of No Bears, the main character’s name is Ruby, but the US editor said they had too many Ruby books at the moment. She asked if I would be open to changing the name, and I said yes, but I wanted it to be another name that I loved – something short and strong, with a lot of personality. I chose Ella, and so that’s her name in the US. Which is great, and I have no problem with it, but I still think of her as Ruby, which can get quite confusing sometimes. I occasionally get email from US readers, who say things like I love it when Ella says ABC, or Why doesn’t Ella do XYZ? and I think, Who on earth are they talking about?

And then I remember. That Ruby went over the sea and turned into Ella on the way. That my books are over there slightly changed. What is it they say – same, same, but different. I guess that sums it up.

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I Didn’t Mean It, Officer …

In my last post, I talked a bit about where my novel Surface Tension came from. This time, I’m talking about where it’s ended up because something quite curious happened recently and it’s made me think about the unintended places our work can take us.

I was very surprised earlier this month to learn that Surface Tension had been judged the winner of the Children’s/Young Adult Fiction category of the Davitt Awards, for crimewriting by Australian women. It’s always surprising to win something, but in this case it was particularly unexpected because I somehow hadn’t realised that Surface Tension was a crime novel.

That may sound spectacularly clueless, but I think it’s partly that I was more focused on chasing down the image than on writing a particular sort of story. When I began, I had no idea what sort of plot I was going to shape around the image; that came out of a sort of messy brainstorming process where I found myself thinking about  secrets and things being buried or hidden.

The other reason is probably that as as writer and a reader I’m more interested in ideas than I am in plot. In Surface Tension, I was less interested in what actually happened – the ‘crime’ or mystery narrative – than I was in the underlying ideas, and for me, those are about history and memory, the way the past is written (and overwritten) and who gets to tell what stories. So I think my eye was on those things and less on the nuts and bolts of the plot itself, and perhaps that’s how I managed to become a crimewriter without really noticing.

There are other ways in which my writing has taken me to unexpected places over the last few years and I’m going to talk more about that in another post. But for now, I leave you with two images. Because as we’ve established, all good blog posts require pictures, and also because these represent another place Surface Tension is travelling to – this time a literal place, being the United States, where it will be published early next year by Candlewick Press. The first image is the Australian cover and the second is the US cover. There are some obvious differences between the two and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Does one appeal to you more than the other? Which would you be more likely to pick up off the shelf?

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Water, Water Everywhere …

I’ve been thinking about the image of the boathouse in my first post. I think there are lots of reasons why this is appealing, but for me, one is the presence of water. I grew up loving the water and someone recently pointed out to me that it tends to crop up over and over in my work. I was skeptical at first, but it turns out they were right. Sometimes, writers are the last to know what their own obsessions are, but when you’re confronted with the evidence, it’s hard to argue.

In my first novel, Annabel Again, two friends live on opposite sides of a lake, which becomes central to the story. In The Big Dig, three boys set out to dig a pool in one of their backyards. In Duck for a Day, part of what the kids have to do is construct a ‘suitable aquatic environment’ for Max, the class duck, so there is a lot of concern with ponds and pools and mudbaths and the like.

But it’s in my latest novel, Surface Tension, that the watery theme really comes to the fore, and in this case it’s directly related to a childhood experience. Back in Year 7 or 8 I went on a school camp to a town called Tallangatta, in north-eastern Victoria, and the interesting thing about Tallangatta is that there are two versions of it – the town you can live in now, and the town that sits, drowned, at the bottom of a lake.

The marker at the site of ‘Old’ Tallangatta, and an article about the surfacing of Adaminaby, another drowned town.

Tallangatta is near Lake Hume and was flooded in the 1950s to make way for the expansion of the dam complex. When we were there, the water was quite low, and you could see some of the remnants of the old town above the surface, including the beginning of a road that led down into it. I remember being taken by the idea of setting off along the road and following it underwater all the way into the town. That image sat in the back of my mind for years until one day the line The day that I was born, they drowned my town came to me, and very slowly, a story began to form around it.

It became the story of Cassie, who starts swimming up at the lake in a quest for bandaid-free water, and Liam, who joins her up there for reasons all his own. As the drought kicks in and the water level drops, an old secret begins to come to light, and it’s up to the two of them to make sure it gets all the way to the surface.

Curiously enough, it’s just occurred to me that I have another water-related book waiting to be written. I wonder if there are other obsessions I’m unaware of? I guess I’ll have to wait for my readers to let me know.

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Well, Hello There …

Hello everyone! Thanks so much for having me as this month’s Star Author. It’s a rather sparkly title but I’ll try and wear it well.

So … a bit about me, to start? Not only am I from Australia but I live all the way over on the other side – near Fremantle, in Western Australia. It’s a brilliant place to live, near beaches and a little patch of bush, and one of my favourite things is staring out the window when I really should be writing.

Writing-wise, I’m all over the place. I came to children’s writing via poetry and have published everything from picture books through to novels for upper primary/lower YA. I continue to write poetry and wherever possible try to sneak poetic language into my prose.

As both a writer and a reader, I’m driven much more by things like character and images/ideas than by plot or story itself. The challenge for me is often trying to find a plot on which to hang the quirky little ideas that have captured my imagination.

I haven’t really decided what I’ll be blogging about this month, but that’s also in keeping with how I write. I’m not much of a planner and tend to launch myself into things, having faith that the story will unravel before me as I go. I’m very fond of a quote by the American writer EL Doctorow: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

I look forward to journeying to wherever it is we end up going this month, and I hope you’ll join me along the way. I should add that I’m the kind of traveller who likes to make sudden detours down unexpected tracks, so if there are any particular sights you think we should take in along the way, feel free to grab the wheel!

* Someone who Knows Things About Blogs once told me you absolutely must have a picture in every post, so here is a photo of a boathouse on the Swan River. I love that you can see the river through the open door because it didn’t have a back wall when this photo was taken. It sat like this for ages and whenever I rode my bike past it would make me think about imagination, and portals (which are kind of the same thing, if you think about it a certain way).

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Meet our September Star Author – Meg McKinlay

Our super September Star Author is Meg McKinlay from Australia.  Meg grew up in Bendigo, Victoria, in a book-loving, TV- and car-free household. On the long and winding path to becoming a children’s writer, she has worked a variety of jobs including swim instructor, tour guide, translator and teacher.  Meg divides her time between teaching and writing and she is always busy cooking up more books.  Meg has written picture books and novel and is the author of Duck for a Day, Going for Broke, No Bears, and her latest novel, Surface Tension.

Thanks for joining us Meg!  We look forward to hearing all about your writing and your wonderful books.

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Aussie author saying hi!

Hi there poeple – it’s very exciting to be here and chatting (well, kind of!) to you all. I’m fired up and ready to… to…well, to blog! I’ll hopefully be coming to New Zealand in June and am really keen to get to a rugby game. I think you guys have one of the most powerful teams on the planet in the All Blacks – I hide behind the couch when they’re doing the haka! That is one fearsome chant. One time I turned the sound down on the TV and put on a song that went something like… ‘Here we go gathering nuts in May, nuts in May, nuts in May, here we go gathering nuts in May, on a cold and fro – o – sty morning…’ But then I hid behind the couch again because I thought someone from New Zealand might have heard my silly song and got cross! ANYWAY…. I do love sport – Aussie Rules and cricket are probably my favourite two. Do you get to watch Aussie Rules in New Zealand? If you’re not sure who to barrack for and want a bit of a tip on an awesome team, then look no further than the MIGHT CATS! They are THE ALLBLACKS of the AFL – except our jumpers are blue and white hoops. I live in Geelong and have barracked for the Cats all my life. We’ve been in 4 of the last 5 grand finals and won 3 of them so I’m a very happy puppy at the moment. We’re not going so well this year. We’re just inside the top 8! My first 20 odd books are sporty. I’ll tell you about some of them in my next blog. Hope to hear from you… AND you… super soon! Byeeee, Michael

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April Star Author – Wendy Orr

Our amazing April Star Author is Australian author, Wendy Orr.  Wendy wanted to be a writer from the time that she learned to read and write when she was a young girl, and she’s been writing stories ever since.  She has had heaps of stories published and you’ll find quite a few of them in our libraries, including Spook’s Shack, Peeling the Onion, Raven’s Mountain, and her latest book, The Rainbow Street Pets.  Her most famous book is Nim’s Island, which was made into a movie in 2008 (it’s a great movie too!).

Thanks for joining us Wendy!  We look forward to hearing all about your writing, your books and what it’s like to have a movie made of your book.

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Check out our November Star Author – Sandy Fussell

Our fantastic Star Author joining us this month is Australian author, Sandy FussellSandy is the creator of the action-packed Samurai Kids series, which includes White Crane, Owl Ninja, Monkey Fist and the latest book, Golden Bat.  She has also written two standalone books, Jaguar Warrior and the award-winning Polar Boy.  Her favourite foods are sushi and chocolate, she loves sudoku, and if she was an animal she would be a wolf.

Thanks for joining us Sandy!

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Getting Published

Yesterday I drove up to Mundaring, a little community just outside of Perth, where my friend, artist Frane Lessac, and I spoke to a group of people about how to get published. It was a really fun session, with Frane and me each sharing our journey to publication and then talking about the dos and don’ts of getting published.

When I sat down to blog today I thought it might interest YOU to know just how a book gets published. So, here goes.

First, long before a book is something  I can hold in my hands or tell the whole world about or even read, it is just an idea. My ideas come from all over the place – from things I see, things that have happened to me, things I read about, or silly ideas which just come to me.

When I get an idea and decide to write about it, the next thing I do is plan my story. Usually the plan happens in my head – I spend a lot of time thinking about who my main character will be, and what will happen to him/her, and I work out what the main conflict or problem will be, and how it will be resolved at the end.

Once I have a pretty fair idea of what is going to happen in my new story, I write the first draft. This might take only minutes, if it is a picture book or short piece, or days and months if it is longer, but I do try to get the whole  first draft written as quickly as possible before I get distracted by the next big idea.

Once that first draft is written, I put it away. I don’t reread it it, or share it with anyone for as long as I can stand. This creates distance between me and the story, and means that  when I get it back out a month or more later, I am able to see what needs to be fixed – as well as what works, of course. Then I rewrite and edit and rewrite and edit and tinker until the story is as perfect as I can make it. Sometimes this takes many many months, or even years until I am happy with a story.

But, eventually  my story is ready to submit and I send it off to a publisher. Sometimes, the story comes back to me with a letter saying it won’t be published (there are lots of reasons for this) but other times, thankfully, I get a phonecall or email from the publisher to say they will publish my book.

That’s when the hard works starts, because no matter how good I thought the story was when I submitted it, now I have to work with an editor to make it even better.  And sometimes this can take a lot of phonecalls, emails and, of course, writing sessions. – which can take months.

When the text is finalised, the  publisher chooses an illustrator, who then works on the illustration in consultation with the editor. I don’t tell the illustrator what to draw or how to draw it, though I do get shown initial sketches and have the opportunity to provide feedback.

When the illustrations are finished (which can again take months and months or oven years) , the publisher puts words and pictures together and the book is finally ready to be printed.

Then, at least a year after I had that first idea – but usually two or more years – the postman brings me a parcel, with copies of the new book for me to enjoy, and copies of the book are then available in bookstores and libraries for people to read.

It’s a long process –  Head Hog took six years to finally be published – but when I hold a new book in my hands for the first time I always feel  really proud.

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