Thursday, June 30, 2011

News from home

I pushed Tully out into the world in 2009 and I hear from her every now and then. I heard back from her just last week — she's found her way to Germany, hanging out with El and the gang from Chasing Boys at Arena publishing, which was very exciting news. Can't wait to see the new cover — I wonder how different it will be from the Australian version which was designed by Regine Abos.

Talking about Regine, she will be speaking at the next Victorian SCBWI meeting on Saturday 23 July. Rege is an incredibly talented designer and her presentation should be a great insight into the design process. Hazel Edwards, one of the most inspirational teachers I've ever had, will also be talking, as well as illustrator Felicity Marshall who will be talking about her book The Star. Can't wait!

Monday, June 27, 2011


Some days
lack inspiration
any action

Some days
sparkle like the sun
pushing past
green leaves
like a breeze

Some days
just are.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

What Katy Did

'As for your algebra,' she said, 'if it is that very dirty book
with one one cover and scribbled all over the leaves,
you will find it under the kitchen table.'
(What Katy Did, Susan M. Coolidge)

I suspect Katy may have had some influence on my own maths aspirations as I was growing up. The Katy Series, by Susan M. Coolidge, was a favourite of mine that I read and reread and pondered and sighed over. I understood that the book was old (much in the same way that my teacher at school, Miss Nunn, was old at aged 22) but it was only years later that I found out the first book in the series, What Katy Did, was published in 1872. The books are sitting on my bookshelf now (after a rescue from the garage when I was blessed to get a whole room for writing a couple of years ago) and I am too wary to look back over the pages through the eyes of an adult.

Susan M. Coolidge was the pen name of Sarah Chauncey Woolsey. She was an author of children's books in the 1800s — a time when there were few books written specifically for children. She worked as a nurse during the American Civil War and it was after this that her writing career began.

I have read thousands of books over the years, but I would consider the favourites from my childhood to have had the most impact on my life. That's why I consider writing for children such an honour.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A hard habit to break

Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man,
but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.
Mark Twain

Mark Twain - he looks grumpy, doesn't he? By all accounts the man had a wicked sense of humour and I would have like to have met him. Huck Finn was one of my childhood companions, Tom Sawyer another close ally.

So, to the habit of writing. I've been told that if you do something every day for 30 days, it will become entrenched as a habit. I guess this might be some of the thinking behind the NaNoWriMo idea. I know that it is easy to get into the habit of not writing, but that is not a habit that I would like to encourage. A little bit of writing every day. Down one step every day. It's not a lot to ask...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Take Cover

When I was a young 'un my music came on vinyl records and the cover art for the album was nearly as important as the music. Bobby Dazzler (1974 vintage apparently) was quite laid back compared to some of the covers coming out then, and included such star performers as Suzie Q (Daytona Demon), Paper Lace (The Night Chicago Died) and Miss Linda George (Mamma's Little Girl). Songs that I had long forgotten until I checked out the playlist but the cover I had never forgotten, its lure of pseudo neon typeface... and incredibly expensive use of tin foil. Of course I ditched my vinyls as soon as CDs came in, but the covers never translated to the smaller format and the excitement was lost.

In much the same way, I am wondering how the digitization of books will affect book covers in the future. While it is true that you cannot judge a book by its cover, I just can't help but pick up beautiful looking books, if just to feel them and check out the blurb on the back. Basically, they have me at hello. Angel Creek is a gorgeous cover and the story inside lives up to its promise. And once you finish the book, it can sit as a piece of art on your bookshelf.

Or is that just me?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Writers can learn from Olympic Athletes

“Quantity produces quality.
If you write only a few things, you’re doomed.”
—Ray Bradbury

When strangers learn that I write books for children, two responses that continually pop up are:
1) When are you going to write a book for adults?
2) I'm going to write a book one day — I just need to get around to it.

I'm going to skip the first response today and move right on to the second. When talking to students about writing, I always equate writing a book with running a marathon in the Olympics. Participants in this arduous sport do not wake up one day, don their Olympic gear and decide to take part in the gruelling race. Athletes at this level undergo years of training, exercise and mental preparation. They will lose some races and there will be times when they wonder if all the effort is worth it. There are many things you can do to help achieve your goal of 'writing a book one day' and one of them is to write, write and write. Consider it as a way of warming up your muscles, testing your limits and preparing yourself for the big race to come.

Happy running.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

When is a book a children's book and when is it something else?

Okay, a long title, but that's basically the gist of my thinking today.

There are books that kids love to read and there are books that kids might come to like and then there are books like my lemon crocheted dress my great-great aunt made me when I was 9. My GGA Sylvie was a fearsome woman with a sharp tongue and whiskers on her chin and hands like claws due to extreme arthritis. One day she presented me with the said dress which had satin lining and was in a shell kind of crochet which would have taken her many painful hours to execute.
I had to wear that dress at least once when she came to visit, if only to prove how much I appreciated her gift.
I would have to have been the least favourite dress I ever had.

It was a child size dress.
But was it a child's dress?

If you get what I mean...

Friday, June 10, 2011

Peace, sister

I have a friend who is her own worst enemy when it comes to criticism. No one can be as hard on her as she herself is. When her friends look at her we see a caring, warm, funny human with a lot of special qualities and untapped talents. While most of us have heard the nagging voice of self-doubt that picks away at self-confidence, hers is a constant companion. She came to mind when I read these words just recently:

"Attacking the self with criticism and negativity is one of the most common forms of violence. Peace begins with me. When I take responsibility for changing my consciousness, another giant step towards world peace is taken..."
Judith Pemell, The Soul Illuminated

Have a good long weekend, people. Take care.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Under the Milky Way Tonight

I have returned home to a raft (I hate this term) of little urgent jobs that need doing, so have been holed up in my study working my way through them, accompanied by my party music mix on my iTunes. It's kind of like working with a bunch of friends I haven't seen for a long time, but you know that you'll just hit it off whenever you meet again. I love The Church's Under the Milky Way — it takes me back to the 80s in a way that no other song does, which is strange because it was just another song in the 80s when I was there. Maybe it's the melancholic strum of the guitar?

I left behind a green garden and returned to our two front garden trees showing off their naked limbs to the world. They try to look scary but they don't fool me. Instead I just enjoy seeing the lichen on their branches which is usually covered by green leaves and marvel at the tenacity of the last orange leaves as they cling on. Then there's the rhododendron showing off as it does every year while the mist settles over the hill just over our horizon. Winter in Melbourne. You've gotta love it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

She's back...

May Gibbs Fellowship 1st June

In the last week of my fellowship, I had an issue with the blogger template which would not allow me to log on. I decided to stop playing with technology and concentrate on the writing. Good plan. When I logged on tonight, it was working again - oh bliss. My last ten days was crammed full of things I had to do, things I wanted to do, and things that surprised me.

My biggest surprise was that the Year 9 group of boys at Prince Alfred College that I presented to in Norwood were great. I decided to talk about Six and was ready for a range of reactions — these were Year 9 boys — but the boys were incredibly polite and if they were bored they hid it very well. Alle was my minder for the session and she gave me a lively intro, and then the boys asked some interesting questions at the end, so all in all, a fun session.

I met up with Katrina Germain, author of My Dad Thinks He's Funny — if you haven't seen this book yet, grab it, it's loads of fun — and we had some quality author chat time, which was great after a long time of just knowing each other via email.

The last day I spent at Immanuel College in Novar Gardens and gave a presentation on writing non-fiction (using my Burke & Wills book from the Our Stories series from black dog books) with the Year 6 kids, who were again great fun and had loads of questions, the best one being, 'So, how big is your laptop?' Special mention to Oscar — sorry I missed out on reading to your class, buddy. Definitely next time.

Had a lovely dinner with the May Gibbs crew on my last night in Norwood. I could have spent hours more hanging out with them and chatting about the industry. Lovely to meet Nan Halliday finally and to get a chance to really talk to Janeen Brian— author of the fabulous award-winning Hoosh — who I had met online only in my previous life as an editor.

I finally took a photo of the Lord of the Rings art installation near the Burrow — a set of gigantic rings which lit up at night in different colours and helped me find my way home every day. The toll of the chimes rang out into the Norwood darkness with a satisfying dong, dong, dong (x 12) and heralded midnight one last time for me as I packed up my little house and turned it back into The Burrow. Then I got up early on my last day and wrote my minimum number of words required for the day, before closing the door one last time.

If you have the chance to apply for this Fellowship, I would urge you to do it. It is available to published authors. Hop on the May Gibbs Website and check it out. To sum it up, I have always fitted my writing in around my life. For the past month, I have fitted my life in around my writing. What an amazing experience.