Posts tagged Steel Pelicans

Steel Pelicans by Des Hunt

Back in November 2010, Des Hunt told us about a new story that he was working on, which he thought would be called Steel Pelicans.  He told us all about the characters, the setting and a little bit about the plot, but he didn’t know whether it was going to get published.  I’ve loved all of Des Hunt’s books so far and Steel Pelicans sounded like a really great story.  Now you can read the finished story.

Steel Pelicans is about two friends called Dean Steele and Pete Kelly who are the Steel Pelicans of the story.  The story starts in Wollongong, Australia where Dean and Pete have spent most of their life.  Dean gets them into all sorts of trouble, especially when it comes to mucking around with explosives.  Pete’s parents don’t like him hanging around with Dean, and when Pete’s grandmother in New Zealand becomes ill his family decide to move to Auckland to look after her.  Dean doesn’t want Pete to go and gets him involved in one last dangerous stunt before he leaves.  It’s not long before Pete becomes friends with Afi at his new school.  Pete’s parents approve of Afi and let Pete go and stay with Afi and his family at their batch in Port Waikato.  It’s here that Pete and Afi stumble on a smuggling operation and find themselves in deep trouble, which only gets worse when Dean comes over for the holidays.  They’re about to learn that they shouldn’t mess with the Redfern family.

Steel Pelicans is a classic Des Hunt story with all the adventure, mystery and danger that make his stories so good.  His stories are usually set just in New Zealand but this story starts in Australia as that’s where the two main characters are from.  One thing I like about his stories is that they have a real Kiwi feel about them and they’re set in different parts of the country, from the Coromandel to the West Coast to Port Waikato.  He always adds an ecological message into the story and this time it’s about fishing and Paradise Ducks.  I always finish his books knowing that I’ve read a great story and learnt a little bit about New Zealand wildlife at the same time.  I really liked the characters of Pete (or Pelly) and Dean.  They’re almost complete opposites but somehow are still best mates.  I liked how Des Hunt added a second friend into the mix because it created some conflict between the three boys.  Des Hunt also really knows how to write scumbag villains, whether they’re gang members or drug dealers, and you can imagine that they’re the sort of people who might live in your neighbourhood.  If you’re a fan of Des Hunt’s books you’ll love Steel Pelicans, but if you haven’t read any of his books then this one is a great one to start with.

Recommended for 9+     5 out of 5 stars

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Steel Pelicans Update from Des Hunt

Steel Pelicans goes on sale 3 February 2012. In November 2010 I wrote about the story which at that time was in it’s very early stages. Here’s what has happened since.

I started writing Steel Pelicans on 18 October 2010 and finished the first draft on 4 March 2011. That’s almost five months, which is a little longer than usual for one of my stories. Of course Christmas and New Year came in that time as well.

The major change during the writing was that I shifted from the third person voice to the first person. To explain this, the original opening read:

As always, the view was fantastic. Looking north Pete could see across Port Kembla to the centre of Wollongong and a little further up the coast until the haze merged sea and hills into one.

After I changed the voice it read:

As always, the view was fantastic. Looking north I could see across Port Kembla to the centre of Wollongong and a little further up the coast until the haze merged sea and hills into one.

This change was made because in a lot of the story I had three boy characters in the same scene. In the third person I would always have to refer to each by name. In the first person, one of them could be referred to by I, me or my, making it much easier to write. However by making the change it meant that my storyteller, Pete, had to be in all scenes: something I wasn’t sure about until about half-way through.

At the end of the first draft the length was 62,000 words. Four rewrites and a month later it was 56,000 words. I’d removed about 22 pages. This was done to keep the story tense and get rid of the boring bits. The manuscript was sent to Harper Collins Publishers on 13 April 2011. I signed a contract another month later.

By July 2011 Harper Collins were beginning to consider the cover. I knew exactly the image I wanted: it was of a sculpture that sits on a pedestal in Brisbane River, Australia. As we were off to Darwin around that time, we changed our schedule so that I could visit Brisbane and photograph the sculpture. I think it captures the feeling of the story nicely.

Harper Collins finished their work on the book almost exactly a year after I had started writing. It was sent to the printers in Australia early November and I got my copies mid January 2012. I haven’t read it and I won’t. Only once have I read one of my finished books, and it was not the enjoyable experience I had anticipated. The problem was that I found things I wanted to change, and by then it was too late.

However I hope you will read it, and enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Ka kite.

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Des Hunt – Last post

It’s now time to start writing. Beginning a story requires a lot of thought. In the first few chapters there is so much information that the reader needs in order to make sense of what is happening. The difficulty is giving that information without making it boring. Here are the first four paragraphs of Steel Pelicans.

“As always, the view was fantastic. Looking north Pete could see across Port Kembla to the centre of Wollongong and a little further up the coast until the haze merged sea and hills into one. Somewhere up there, less than 50 kays away, were the southern suburbs of Sydney.

The view to the south was equally spectacular with a long curving golden beach backed by the near vertical hills of the Illawarra escarpment. In the foreground, a group of surfers floated, waiting for the swells that could be seen arcing across the bay. Pete wished he was down there with them instead of up on the hill acting as lookout.

It hadn’t been his idea to come here. He’d wanted to do it in the culvert down by the shore which was where they normally went. But Kyle had said that his new and better bomb needed somewhere different, and as usual Kyle had got his way. So Pete had been sent up onto the lookout to warn if anyone was coming, while Kyle and the others broke into the building below. So far, the only spies he’d seen were the pelicans riding the updraft in the afternoon sea breeze.

Hill 60 was its military name. During World War Two it had been the home of the guns that had protected Port Kembla against attack from the Japanese or the Germans. Neither came and the guns had long been removed leaving a few concrete buildings and a honeycomb of tunnels. Kyle reckoned it was the perfect place to test his latest pipe bomb. This was made from more than just matches. He’d added a chemical from school that would, in his words, make it nuclear.”

The explosion will, of course, go wrong, giving an exciting start to the story. It also gives the opportunity for Pete and Kyle to show their strengths and weaknesses. I like some excitement at the start as I believe it helps the reader connect with the story. Once I have their attention, I can then take things a little slower for a couple of chapters or so, and get all the essential information out of the way.

That brings me to the end of this month of blogging. I’ve enjoyed it, and have been surprised by the way that writing about the story has helped me develop my ideas. Will Steel Pelicans ever get published? I don’t know. All I can say is that it is seven years since I had a book rejected by a publisher. That doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen again: I’m always wary that if I let my standards drop I could once again get one of those dreaded rejection letters. If it is accepted, it will be 2012 at the earliest before it appears in bookshops. And it might not even be called Steel Pelicans. As a writer I can never be sure of anything until a contract is signed.

Many thanks to Zac and the team at Christchurch City Libraries for their help and encouragement. Ka kite.

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Des Hunt 5th Blog: The Storyline

By the time I’ve got the characters sorted, it’s time to give serious thought to the storyline.

I start at the end. Now this might sound a little crazy, but I like to know how my stories will finish before I start. To me writing is like a journey: you start from where you presently are, and end up in a different, new exciting place. And just like a journey, I think it is best to know where you are going before you start. That means I have to know what the climax is before I begin writing.

By doing it this way, I find that I don’t have to do as much editing. After completing any story there is always material that gets removed and some that gets added. It’s always hard to take out pages that you’ve spent hours writing; probably those words will never be used anywhere else.

I try to avoid this by good planning. But it is possible to do too much, and become a slave to the plan. A good story will flow in directions that were not anticipated. Characters often get a mind of their own and insist of doing things that you never thought they would. As a writer, you have to let that happen or the story will end up lacking something. It’s called verisimilitude. This word is pronounced ve-ris-i-mil-i-tood. It is a hard word to define, but here goes.

Writers of fiction are professional liars – everything we write is made up. If we do our job well then all this made-up stuff will seem real. However there is lots of fiction that can never be real: fantasy fiction is an example. And yet while we are reading it, good fantasy can seem very real – that’s if it has verisimilitude.

Take a Harry Potter story: if Harry were to pull out a mobile phone and begin texting, it would destroy the whole feeling of that reality. Likewise if one of my characters pulled out a magic wand and zapped the baddies, you would probably stop reading. Verisimilitude is an easy thing to destroy, but hard to create. If a critic says that some part of one of my stories seems contrived, then I know that I haven’t achieved the V-word, and it’s probably because I have too carefully followed my planning.

I can already see some things in my planning for Steel Pelicans that might affect the verisimilitude. One is the age of my characters: they could be a little young for the things I have in mind for them. But I don’t want to make them too much older as they could become too old for my readers to relate with. So I’ll have to watch what I ask them to do as I write the story, which could mean that the climax will be quite different to what I have in mind. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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Des Hunt’s fourth blog – Characters (Pt. 2)

I use a grid to work out my characters. Here it is for the main character:

Name Pete Kelly
Other names Pelly
Age 13
Defining Detail/Event Moving from Oz to NZ
Has to endure Taunts. Use the Pelly Can line. Ginga is used in NZ before Pelly becomes a derogatory name.
Appearance/Clothing Red headed, which can lead to some Rusty Pelican comments.
Mannerisms Scratches his head a lot.
Personality At first he is more of a follower than a leader, especially with Kyle. But in NZ he has to stand up for himself to survive.
Backstory Born in NZ but family shifted to Oz when he was two. Can’t remember anything about when he was young in NZ. Has been visiting with family to grandparents, but considers himself an Australian.
Blind spot
Failure to see that Kyle is not a particularly good friend. Kyle uses him to promote his own self-importance.
Conflicts Major ones with his family in the beginning. These get resolved through his strong actions at the climax
Resolution Required He becomes more confident to the stage where he stands up to Kyle. This saves Kyle’s life. He then realizes that in Afi he has a better friend than Kyle. Realizes that Kyle needs him more than he needs Kyle. This leads to an understanding that life in NZ might even be better than his life in Oz.

You may be surprised at how little I have about appearance. I have ideas of what they might look like, but unless it is important to the story I won’t give details in the book. I like the readers to put in their own images. My first novel A Friend in Paradise had no description of the main character, so the publishers thought they should show him on the cover. The boy they showed was nothing like what I’d had in mind. Fortunately, they no longer do this.

Next blog, I’ll talk about plotlines and problems.

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Des Hunt fourth blog – Characters (Pt. 1)

In this instalment I’ll talk about the characters for my chemistry-themed story called Steel Pelicans. In my earlier blogs I told about visits to Wollongong and Port Waikato to sort out locations for the story and to get ideas for the plot. Now I have to finalize ideas about who is going to have these adventures.

Before I started, I knew that the three main characters were going to be boys. Two were to be long time friends who are separated because the main character has to move from Oz to NZ. The third is a NZ boy who becomes a new friend with the main character. It is the conflict between old and new friends that will create the tension and climax of the story.

I know that having three boys is going to make the writing tricky. When all three are in a scene the words “he”, “him”, “his” could refer to any one of them. So I’ll have to refer to them by name more than I would want. There is a way to avoid this. I could write the story in the first person – that’s where one of the characters tells the story. Then I can use “I”, “me” and “my” for that character, who would be the main character. But there’s a problem with using the first person: that character has to be in all the scenes. I can’t, for example, have the main character kidnapped and tell of how the others go about finding him. As it’s likely that I may want to have some scenes back in Oz when main character is in NZ, using the first person is not an option.

Another way I can  avoid the overuse of names, is to give the characters mannerisms. Let’s say that one of the characters has bad pimples and is always picking at them. Then I can use a phrase such as “Again he picked at his pimples.” and the reader will know immediately who the “he” refers to. So it is important that I know my characters well before I start writing.

Read more about my characters in Part 2.

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Port Waikato – third post from Des Hunt

Adventure stories need places where adventures are likely to happen. I suppose they could happen in the middle of a city, but I like to choose places where there are fewer people.

Fortunately there are plenty of those in New Zealand. The third step in planning my new story Steel Pelicans was to find a location where my main character would have to live when he came to NZ. If you’ve read my other blogs, you’ll know that this story is to have a chemistry theme: boys messing about with explosives and dads who work in the steel industry.

I’d already decided that the father of MC would move from OZ to a job at NZ’s only steel mill which is in South Auckland on the Manukau harbour. However, lots of people live around there, so I needed another, less populated place for the climax. I chose Port Waikato.

I lived in South Auckland for almost thirty years and it is where our children went to school and turned into adults. When they were young we would often stay in a camping ground at Port Waikato, so I already knew the place quite well. But I hadn’t been there for almost 20 years and I figured that things might have changed. A return visit was needed. I found that it hadn’t changed much at all and was perfect for the climax of my story.

Sunset at Sunset beach, Port Waikato

Sunset at Sunset beach, Port Waikato

Port Waikato is where the Waikato River meets the sea. It has a river beach and a popular surf spot called Sunset Beach. It also has steep cliffs which contain fossils from Jurassic times, including some dinosaur fossils. There are large areas of sand dunes, swamps, mudflats, and dangerous undercurrents in both the river and the sea, and submerged rocks. All sorts of things could go wrong at Port Waikato, and in my story they would.

To tie in with my chemistry theme I wanted to have a P lab at Port Waikato. My main character and his friend, who was over on holiday from OZ, would get into trouble with the gang. I felt I’d have no trouble writing a climax that was explosive and very dangerous.  In fact it would be possible to make it too dangerous for the age group I write for – that’s something I will have to be careful with. The other thing I’ll have to take care over, is to not upset the locals.  So my gang will have to be outsiders who are upsetting everybody, not just my characters.

This dune buggy or something like it will feature in the story

This dune buggy or something like it will feature in the story

I spent two days there, photographing locations and walking over the dunes, climbing cliffs, and getting to know the layout of the land.  I discovered that quad bikes were the main way of getting around the place, so they will definitely feature in the story, as will a dune buggy.  Fireworks were on sale during the time I was there and I saw some very dangerous things happening on the beach. That gave me the idea to include fireworks in the story.

When I left, I felt I had more material than I was likely to use, which is a good thing, as it’s easier to throw away ideas than dream up new ones. I certainly had more than enough locations for the key events. What I had to do next was to sit down on my computer and sort out the characters that have all these adventures. I’ll tell you about them in my next blog.

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