From Hook to Book

Archive for the category “The Creative Process”

Libraries Rule for Research

As a writer of historical fiction, many an hour I’ve spent to great result in the State Library of Victoria, PROV and various local and overseas’ libraries. So it was dismaying for me to read a recent blog post on research, on a major, international writing website, that alleged researching your novel in a library is an “old school” approach. Excusez moi!

Old School research!Many research rarities can only be found in physical libraries, especially unpublished manuscripts, obscure, old and out-of-print books, pamphlets, annuals etc. It is often in these that true gems can be found – through authentic, first-hand accounts and records, in the language and tone of the era. Many such items that I’ve utilised in my research cannot be bought or found online. So for me, Libraries Rule for Research. (Of course, Wikipedia, Trove and the internet are invaluable resources, and usually my first point of reference, and often the way I source some hard to find references. But it’s madness to count out the usually necessary attendance in a bricks and mortar library required for certain aspects of research.)

IMG_3515My first YA historical novel idea originated while rummaging in an antiquarian bookshop, where I turned up a small volume that had been published as a result of a much longer PhD written in the 50s. The moment I opened it, I thought, ‘there’s a story here’.

Chris Bell NLASo it was one of the highlights of my research and writing life recently to visit the National Library of Australia in Canberra on a fact finding/checking mission and finally have the chance to view the full manuscript of that original PhD. A copy, yes, but the text in its entirety. Oh, the prickles of anticipation as I carefully leafed through the precious pages. I know the place of subject so well in my mind, it almost came to life in front of me.

What an amazing place is our National Library! One of inestimable resources within its totally 21st century, digital age, tech savvy environs, and a fabulous example of research the modern way. I pre-ordered all my materials online from Melbourne on the Sunday and arrived on the Tuesday to find them all ready and waiting for me. I then had opportunity to source further material for two other novels and access and download several academic papers and articles I’d not seen or known of previously through the database.

I wondered if it was just me who felt a buzz of expectation in the air, despite the quiet of the surroundings and studious attitude of my fellow readers. I don’t think so from the avid looks on the faces poring over piles of books, magazines and exciting packets of papers. Still it did not equal the hum in the Special Collections room where readers and researchers dipped into cardboard boxes offering up manuscripts, maps, collections of letters and all kinds of ephemera – present and past. (Yes, I was guilty of a little sticky-beaking on my way past – strictly in the name of research for this post, of course!)

P1030047 Conscription voteI found an unexpected treasure trove myself, sharing my PhD manuscript box: a bounty of letters, cards and periodicals belonging to a politician from the exact era of my current WIP. Imagine my delight when I brought them out and found letters dated 1916, written by a politician discussing the conscription referendum. A serendipitous bounty!

Pandora archiveSo after falling a little in love with the NLA, I was extra delighted to have been asked, just the week before my visit, if I would permit the NLA’s PANDORA Web Archive to archive my blog From Hook to Book for posterity.

“PANDORA, Australia’s Web Archive, is a growing collection of Australian online publications, established initially by the National Library of Australia in 1996, and now built in collaboration with nine other Australian libraries and cultural collecting organisations.”

The name, PANDORA, is an acronym for: Preserving and Accessing Networked Documentary Resources of Australia.

I feel particularly honoured to have From Hook to Book included in the archive, considering Pandora state in their manifesto, they “select those (websites) that they consider are of significance and to have long-term research value”.

So now it’s time to return to a more regular blogging schedule – inspired – after taking time-out over recent months to prioritise my WIP. I can’t let posterity down.

 

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A New Friend for Marmalade – Alison Reynolds

Today I welcome international best-selling author, wonderful writer and friend, Alison Reynolds to celebrate the launch of her, and very talented illustrator, Heath McKenzie’s newest picture book A New Friend for Marmalade.

Alison Pith Helmet

A New Friend for Marmalade is the sequel to Alison and Heath’s first collaboration, A Year with Marmalade, which has sold more than a whopping 30,000 copies and is being released in the USA by publisher Simon and Schuster in July. Alison is also the multi-talented, best selling author of the Ranger in Danger, Why I love and Baby Talk series as well as the gorgeous picture book The Littlest Bushranger. 

Hi Alison,

Welcome back to From Hook to Book. Thank you for stopping by on the very first day of your blog tour. Warmest congratulations to both you and Heath on the launch of A New Friend for Marmalade, your gorgeous new Marmalade adventure.

Thanks for the invite, Chris. I love reading From Hook to Book, so very nice to be here.

A Friend for Marmalade_COVER_PB copy

Ella, Maddy and Marmalade are best friends. Then one day everything changes when Toby, the boy from across the road wants to play with them. This gentle story is about accepting people, even when they do things a little differently from you. And it all revolves around a very special little cat named Marmalade.

 

Alison, I’m so in awe of how in A Year with Marmalade you manage to portray the complexity of how we are all different and play differently, yet can play together. Can you explain the thought process or process of elimination it takes for a picture book author to boil down such complexity to a minimum of words that expresses it so simply and beautifully?

I actually wrote this by writing a list of my thoughts about the two friends from A Year with Marmalade, and a new annoying boy  who wants to be friends, but doesn’t understand how to make friends.

I  jotted down random thoughts, for instance Toby, the new boy, annoys the girls so I thought of what he could do to annoy them without meaning to be annoying. I didn’t actually worry about the storyline, but kept writing down images and thinking what if? Eventually, a story emerged. I eliminated a lot of the extraneous words  and ideas that didn’t further the main narrative. There’s usually no room for going off on a tangent in a picture book. I always have to remember that simple is good, especially when you’re dealing with complex issues.

A Friend for Marmalade_Internals_PB_Page_06 copyA New Friend for Marmalade is really as much about the girls’ acceptance of a new friend too. There’s a significant, but subtly shown, change going on when the girls must not only share their space and creative play, but their beloved cat Marmalade too. There’s a lot going on. A lot of tolerance required by the girls for the new boy who clumsily upsets their games and yet still wins over the affection of Marmalade. As the writer, what came first for you the theme or the story?

This book started with the theme. The publisher suggested the sequel be about friendship and accepting other people even when they are different to you. I imagined an exuberant boy, Toby, who wants to be liked and make friends with Ella, Maddy and Marmalade. Astute Marmalade can see that Toby is a good friend, although he is very different from him. It takes the girls a little longer to realise this, but eventually they do. I can imagine how irritating the girls found it that when they were trying to give Toby “the cold shoulder” and Marmalade loved Toby. I really enjoyed writing that strand.

The resolution in the story got me to thinking and wondering: Is it the commonality of the childrens’ shared concern/common goal to rescue Marmalade that unites them in friendship as much as tolerance? Do you think this is a strategy that schools and those working with children might employ to bring together warring factions or isolated children – a common goal or concern?

I think by the resolution, the girls were beginning to soften towards Toby. They had the example of how much Marmalade liked Toby, suggesting that Toby was really a nice person. I do believe that sharing a common goal unites people. And the process of working together allows you to get to know another person better and most times you end up liking them.

I do think a shared concern or common goal can be used to bring together warring factions or isolated children. Often people don’t like somebody they regard as being the “Other” but once they are in a situation to really know them, their feelings can change. I don’t think that children are often given the skills to befriend somebody who is different to them. They can feel awkward and scared of doing the wrong thing and hurting the other person’s feelings. It’s easier in a sense to isolate that person. I can remember being scared of children who were different when I was little. I’m not sure why looking back.  I never bullied anybody, but I probably kept away from children who were perceived as different.  I didn’t know what to do. In this book I’m trying to show that if you accept that not everybody is the same, that can lead to different, special friendships. Toby’s brilliant idea to use the cape not only acts as a solution to Marmalade’s problem drawing the children together, but also provides the children with an excuse to be together and develop a friendship. I always felt they all wanted to be friends, but only Marmalade knew how to make a new friend.

Have you experienced a “Toby” in your life, Alison? If yes, what swung your affection his or her way?

I’ve met a “Toby” or two. Luckily, I’ve developed much better social skills and know to give people “a go”. I think if you look hard enough there’s always something to like in most people. Nobody was born mean, and most people are lovely if you give them the chance.

I should also admit that I based the character on the exuberant character of our beloved Labrador, Toby. He would run through boxes, upset drinks with his wagging tail, and lick our faces if we fell over. He never meant to be a slobbering nuisance. He just wanted to join in.

A Friend for Marmalade_COVER_PB copyA Year with Marmalade_cropped

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alison, I’ve heard a thrilling whisper that Marmalade is taking a trip abroad. Can you tell us about this exciting development?

Yes, A New Friend for Marmalade has already been released in the UK by The Five Mile Press UK and is padding in A Year with Marmalade’s paws by being published by Little Simon (Simon and Schuster US) in July this year. He is a well travelled cat!

A New Friend for Marmalade is published by The Five Mile Press ISBN: 9781743466599

Visit Alison on her website www.alisonreynolds.com.au.

WIN, WIN, WIN! – GREAT WRITER & PET OWNER COMPETITIONS:

As part of Alison’s blog tour she is offering some fantastic prizes in two different competitions. Anyone, any age, can enter her  fantastic PET PHOTO competition and AUTHORS get the fabulous opportunity to JUMP THE PUBLISHER’S SLUSH PILE.

Jump the Slush Pile

Win a free pass to a Children’s editor’s desk. Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the A New Friend for Marmalade blog tour and add the initials CB. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.

Win a free pass to a Non-fiction commissioning editor’s desk.  Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the A New Friend for Marmalade blog tour and add the initials NF. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.

Win an assessment of Chapter One of a chapter book by the fabulous mentor extraordinaire Dee White. http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/   Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the A New Friend for Marmalade blog tour and add the initials DW. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.

Win a free picture book assessment by Alison! Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the A New Friend for Marmalade blog tour and add the initials PB. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.

Pet Photo contest – for all ages!

Marmalade the cat is full of personality. Do you have a pet with personality? Win a piece of artwork by Heath McKenzie. Send along a photo of your personality-plus pet to www.alisonreynolds.com.aualrey@msn.com.au or upload to https://www.facebook.com/alison.reynolds.524

Random book giveaways!

Just leave a comment on one of the posts in the blog tour, comment on facebook or even email me that you want to enter competition to win A New Friend for Marmalade.

FOLLOW ALISON’S BLOG TOUR

11th March Dee White – review and post http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com

11th March Chris Bell – interview https://christinemareebell.wordpress.com

12th March Angela Sunde – interview with Heath http://angelasunde.blogspot.com.au

12th March KBR – book giveaway http://www.kids-bookreview.com

13th March Boomerang Books – Post with Dimity Powell http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/author/dpowell

14th March KBR Guest post http://www.kids-bookreview.com

14th March KBR Review http://www.kids-bookreview.com

14th March Sally Murphy – Meet my book http://aussiereviews.com/reviews/blog

15th March Buzz Words – Interview http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com

17th March Ask the Bean Counter – Mr X http://www.alisonreynolds.com.au

17th March Pass-it-on Post and Review – Jackie Hosking http://jackiehoskingpio.wordpress.com/school-magazine

18th March Ask the Publisher – Kay Scarlett http://www.alisonreynolds.com.au

Tagged

Alison Pith HelmetI have been tagged by lovely and prolific writer and friend Alison Reynolds to share my writing process in the “Tagged” blog tour. A bit of a worry since, as a child, I was “Chris of the Scabby Knees”, more likely to fall over than tag anyone. So just as well email is faster than me at tagging.

The Littlest bushranger_FRONT COVERAlison Reynolds is the author of the gorgeous A Year with Marmalade and The Littlest Bushranger picture books as well as the popular Ranger in Danger (choose your own adventure) series. And, “TA DA”, very, very soon a brand new Marmalade adventure. In fact, I’m excited to host Alison – next week – on her whirlwind blog tour to help launch A New Friend for Marmalade.

To find out more about Alison and more of her brilliant books you can visit her website at http://www.alisonreynolds.com.au.

What am I working on?

I am working on a YA historical novel set in convict Tasmania. It’s a bit scary saying that, because really it’s done and time to send it out into the world. That’s the hard part though, because a writer always fears – it might come back.

DSC03909 copyHow does my work differ from others in its genre?

When writing my last two novels, both the main characters’ voices  arrived strong and distinct. I hope this originality of voice will help set them apart from some other historical works. I write very much from story rather than the historical period I’m writing in. Of course, I want the details and history to be correct, but I don’t want to give my reader a history lesson. Detail is soon sacrificed if it ruins the moment or pace.

Rue de Kanga - Peronne copyRooDeKanga 1918 Peronne copyWhy do I write what I write?

These days I write mostly historical fiction because it’s become an absolute passion for me and, as it turns out, it’s what I’ve always loved most to read. Starting with A Little Bush Maid by Mary Grant Bruce, back in the days when I could read all night by torchlight to get to the end of a book or crash to sleep trying. I get so lost in the research, learning about the different ways of doing day-to-day tasks, gutting and skinning rabbits, lighting a fire, dressing and talking, that sometimes I forget to write.

I love that I get to talk to so many interesting people from all over the world too, including an ex-Scottish coal miner, the owner of a French chateau, and an expert on antique weapons, discussing everything from botany to broomsticks, cockatoos to crinolines. Plus I’ve been fortunate to go to some truly amazing places. A lot of the time only in my mind, yes. But my research has taken me to Scotland, down a real coal mine, onto the battlefields and into towns in France still bearing the scars of WW1, and forced me to face some fears stepping nervously through tunnels deep under the city of Arras.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How does my writing process work?

My process varies depending on what I’m writing. For short titles, I tend to plot first and then write out the story. But for my historical novels, I found the settings first and then the main characters arrived. I always knew what the problem/conflict was to start, just not how my character would solve it. With a basic starting point, I wrote to find out how things turned out. Themes and subplots emerged later, through many hours of daydreaming, midnight musing and redrafting, as well as during the writing.

ww1 mortar in wall IMG_1351 copyUntil I really get to know a character, many thousands of words into the writing, I can’t know how they will react to different challenges or what decisions they might make. Sometimes they surprise me and their decisions can lead to a plot twist that I wasn’t planning on. I can write copious notes in notebooks, ideas and scenes, and possible scenarios for the story, yet when I look back, months later, it has all turned out so differently. The character/s I planned in my notebook never turn out the same as the one/s that come to life on the page.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s  thrilling when a new character I hadn’t planned turns up. Shattering when one dies unexpectedly, yet rightly for the story. Sometimes things occur because they’re inevitable and no other way things could have worked out.

Then the editing process begins. Stuff gets chucked out, stuff gets rewritten and stuff gets added. So I guess my process is not systematic, though I’m always in control, even if I do have to wrench it back sometimes from my characters.

Now it’s my turn to tag. I’m out of breath, but have managed to catch up with three wonderful writers and friends.

Liz CorbettElizabeth Jane Corbett is a fellow writing group buddy and beautiful historical fiction writer. When she isn’t writing, Elizabeth Jane works as a librarian, teaches Welsh and blogs at elizabethjanecorbett.com. In her spare time, she also writes copy and reviews for the Historical Novels Review. In 2007, an early draft of her historical novel, Chrysalis, was shortlisted for a HarperCollins Varuna manuscript development award. In 2009, her short-story, Beyond the Blackout Curtain, won the Bristol Short Story Prize. Another story, Silent Night, was also shortlisted for the Allan Marshall Short Story Award. She is currently in the final stages of re-drafting her original historical novel. She expects to have it ready for submission by the middle of the year.

clairesaxbyThe multi-talented Claire Saxby is hard to catch. She’s busy, busy with three new picture books in production and the author of the stunning Big Red and gorgeous Sea Dog.  Claire writes fiction, non-fiction and poetry for children. She has published picture books and chapter books, short stories and articles. Her poetry appears in magazines, anthologies, on train walls and in museum resources. Claire lives in Melbourne and loves it, despite what anyone says about the weather.

Claire’s most recent picture books are ‘Meet the ANZACS’ illustrated by Max Berry (Random House), ‘Big Red Kangaroo’ illustrated by Graham Byrne (Walker Books) and ‘Seadog’, illustrated by Tom Jellett (Random House) which won the  Speech Pathology Award for Young Children in 2013. You can learn more about Claire on her website.

KatApel_Bully_B&W_SmLastly I’ve stretched all the way to QLD to tag the beautiful and very talented, Kathryn Apel. I met Kat through Month of Poetry, which she runs and coordinates each year. Kat was born and bred a farm girl – but she’s still scared of cows! Kat lives amongst the gum trees, kangaroos and cattle, on a grazing property in Queensland. Her chapter book, ‘Fencing with Fear’ is part of the Aussie! Read! series, and her rural rhyming picture book, ‘This is the Mud!’ has been read by Justine on ABC PlaySchool. Kat’s verse novel for younger readers, ‘Bully on the Bus’ will be released in July, with UQP. Prior to publication it won the published author’s manuscript section of the 2012 CYA Competition.

Kathryn co-ordinates Month of Poetry each January, and has had poetry published in magazines and on CD in Australia and New Zealand.

You can read more about her work at katswhiskers.wordpress.com

Authenticity vs Action

Certain indisputable beliefs were planted in the minds of all television-watching children of the fifties and sixties raised on a diet of cowboy and wild west movies. And of course John Wayne.

john-wayne imageSettlers rode horses, carried guns, could shoot an indian off a hillside half-a-mile away and pick off their dinner prey with a single shot.

And that’s what I believed about hunting and shooting in colonial days. But it seems our forebears in Van Diemen’s Land – circa 1830 – were not blessed with the sharp shooters of the American wild west. They could neither afford nor had access to rifles or shotguns, their single option being to purchase the cast-off Brown Bess muskets of the British military. Even the military themselves could not afford to upgrade to the easier loading, more accurate rifled guns.

Muskets proved useless though to hunt wary kangaroos, wallabies and emus. The timid creatures, unused to white man and his weapons, were quite safe from the inaccurate Brown Bess, even if they had been curious enough to stick around and see what the noisy, long, hit and miss sticks were about.

Muskets work best at a range of no more than twenty yards (18.28 metres). Beyond that the hunter would be lucky to hit his target. Too close and there wouldn’t be much left to salvage for the cooking pot.

Settlers, convicts and bushrangers used snares to catch rabbits, which were populous already in Van Diemen’s Land by the 1820s. To go after larger game, they used dogs aka imported hunting hounds. Even the first settlers on the island, the aborigines, quickly converted their own hunting strategies to include the skill and speed of dogs.

tasmanianaboriginesNative herbivores, having lived a previously dogless existence, bar the thylacine who it’s believed went in for a more ambush than pursuit attack, were no match for the speed and power of the dogs. The open grasslands of Van Diemen’s Land provided a perfect environment for the chase and few places to hide.

An interview with Dr Leo Laden (antique gun authority and owner of the Colonial Arms Museum in Perth) provided me with a detailed explanation on loading, firing and the range of the Brown Bess for my novel. Thanks to him, I’m pretty confident I could load a Brown Bess. Hitting a target, I’m not so sure about. But it seems even well trained soldiers were more lucky than reliable at hitting their targets in the Brown Bess era. Dr Laden explained how, to his disappointment, modern day movie reenactments of colonial life and war more often pursue effect rather than authenticity. I’m confident though, with his guidance, that I’ve got my story portrayal right at least.

Don’t you love writing in the days of the internet? Articles, experts, videos only a Google search away. Who have you interviewed lately? I’d love to know what you are researching?

If you’d like to see the Brown Bess in action, click on the youtube video link below.

The Littlest Bushranger comes to town

Today I welcome wonderful writer and friend, Alison Reynolds to celebrate the launch of her latest picture book The Littlest Bushranger.

Alison Pith HelmetAlison is the multi-talented, much published author of the Ranger Danger series, A Year with Marmalade and For You Mum amongst her many other titles. Prolific, dedicated and professional describe Alison’s work ethic. Gorgeous, evocative and imaginative describe her books.

The Littlest Bushranger embodies all these adjectives and is a delightful rendering of a child’s imagination at play. Vivid descriptions transform an ordinary backyard into the bush, a bird into an outlaw, a hose into a snake and the adventure begins with Jack in pursuit of the villain.The Littlest bushranger_FRONT COVER

When Jack’s big sister Lil starts school, he is left with only his faithful dog Hector for company and Lil’s favourite toy to protect. But an ordinary day transforms into an extraordinary one when Jack’s called upon to do battle with a fiendish villain… 

This book will prove inspirational to today’s child readers who often miss the chance to day-dream and explore their imaginations with so much fully formed fare lade on for them in video games, instant digital amusements and movies on demand. It brought so many memories back to my mind of games of make-believe my sisters and I shared as children and adventures in my own imagination. I love the reminder that make-believe is fun and can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.

The text of The Littlest Bushranger evokes Jack’s adventure through strong verbs and fast paced action. The fantastic imagery of the “murky billabong”, a dark shape swooping, hurdling a snake, splashing through a billabong, paint word pictures in my mind as vivid as the wonderful images on the page.

Heath McKenzie’s  http://www.heathmck.com fabulous illustrations show the wild adventure in Jack’s imagination – the fierce battle, his grim determination and the friends who help him battle their foe. I love the return to reality at the end when the billabong reveals as a wading pool, the sword reverts to a broom and Jack’s trusty stead becomes his bicycle.

I can’t resist asking Alison a few questions on the topic of make-believe.

Alison, I got the strong feeling whilst reading The Littlest Bushranger that you were closely connected to this type of imaginative play. How much did your own childhood influence the idea and development of Jack’s story?

A huge amount. I didn’t realise until I finished how much of myself was in the book. I loved playing imaginative games, including some that lasted for days. I had a secret passage behind the cotoneasters along the driveway, I would make tomato soup out of rust on top of the incinerator and dragged all the furniture out of my cubby house onto its. That was my penthouse!

Can you share one of your favourite childhood games of make-believe?

I played one named, rather macabrely, Death. With my two friends we would act out a scenario that resulted in Death, which we would all chant in sombre, dramatic tones.  I remember the first one I did as a sort of demonstration model was me staggering along in a desert, panting and then slowly collapsing into the sand. I was lost in a desert. The death throes lasted for a long, long time.

What do you believe is the role and/or benefit of make-believe in children’s lives?

I think make-believe is extremely important. You can control your own environment. Often children feel as if they have no control in their reality. Children can express their feelings in play and storytelling.  It’s also a lot of fun. I remember how there were no limits in my imaginative play. If I wanted to fly, I could do it!

Will we see further adventures of Jack?

I’m crossing my fingers as I have some more adventures up my sleeve that I would love to share with Jack.

As part of Alison’s blog tour she is offering some fantastic prizes along the way, plus a great opportunity for non-fiction writers, and a fantastic MONSTER drawing competition. 

Jump the Slush Pile!

Win a free pass to a adult non-fiction commissioning editor’s desk.

Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the The Littlest Bushranger blog tour and add the initials NF. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.

Monster Competition:

There are a couple of monsters in The Littlest Bushranger. One’s a bunyip, and the other an outlaw/monster who steals Lil’s telescope. What sort of monster do you like? Send along a painting/drawing/model of a monster and you could win a piece of Heath McKenzie’s amazing artwork for The Littlest Bushranger.

Upload your own best monster to https://www.facebook.com/alison.reynolds.524 or email it as a low res jpeg file to alrey@msn.com.au and we’ll upload it. If you don’t have a scanner, take a photo on a smart phone and email that!

Two categories. Under 12 and 12 plus, including grown-ups. Entries close 25th June!

The Littlest Bushranger The Five Mile Press June 2013 ISBN 97817434664977

The Littlest bushranger_FRONT COVERFollow the other stops on Alison’s book tour and watch out for further prizes along the ride including: a piece of Heath McKenzie’s artwork from The Littlest Bushranger, a picture book assessment by Alison Reynolds, 2 free passes direct to an editor’s desk (you get to skip the slush pile), copies of The Littlest Bushranger. Just comment on the posts.

June 11 Kat Apel  http://katswhiskers.wordpress.com/blog/

June 12 Chris Bell  https://christinemareebell.wordpress.com/

June 13 Angela Sunde  http://angelasunde.blogspot.com.au/

June 14 Boomerang Books  http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/author/dpowell

June 18 Dee White  http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/

June 19 Kids Book Review  http://www.kids-bookreview.com/

June 20 Ask the Editor. Interview with Melissa Keil  

www.alisonreynolds.com.au

June 21 Ask the Sales Rep. Interview with Melinda Beaumont   

www.alisonreynolds.com.au

 

Writing Through the Ages (of my children)

When I first started writing, my kids were six, nine and eleven, and I found coming up with ideas on what kids were into doing, liked, disliked, got up to, came very easily, especially when inspired by my live-in research/demographic sample. It took a long time for me to realise that as my children grew up, the ages of my protagonists had increased too.

Gorgeous babyNow my babies are all adults and I find it interesting that I’ve written an adult novel. I think there might be a connection there. (I am, of course, still writing YA and kids’ books too. Mind you, they are novel-length of late and the output slower than shorter-length works.)

So I’m really excited that I’m going to become a grandmother shortly. I could gush here all day about the multiple, personal ways, I’m excited, but this a writing blog. With that in mind, I’ll just say how excited I am that I will get to tell lots of spontaneous, made-up stories and see the world again through the eyes of this special little person. Also I know that I won’t only go exploring through his or her experiences, because I remember the wonderful world of make-believe my own children reopened the door to – in my imagination.

Being busy writing some tough and reality-based stories over recent years, I’ve missed the world of whimsy and fantastical imagination. I’ve missed cuddling the soft, downy cheeks of newborns and giving horsey rides around the house too. I can’t promise the knees are up to any horsey rides, nor wait to welcome this new member of our family and, dare I say selfishly, lots of new story ideas too.

So a question for fellow writers: Do you find that the ages/stages of children in your world have influenced the age group or genre you write for?

How Sweet It is…

to be a writer!

photoGot to love it when you get to make old-fashioned toffee in the name of research.

This batch is a tad bitter because I was trying to make it as if I couldn’t adjust the heat on the gas, since the toffee in my story is being made a very, very time long ago, under less than ideal conditions, in my new YA historical.

And since I must suffer for my art, I had to eat it too. It was actually very delicious toffee. But don’t tell anyone, because a writer’s life is supposed to be full of bitter pills.

What fun/scary/fabulous things have you done lately for your art?

The BIG Question in your Novel?

Big ProblemThe first time I was asked: “What is the big question in your novel?” I responded with a blank look.

BIG question??? Hmm! Hadn’t really thought about a BIG question. I was just writing what I hoped was a cracker of a story and following my main character’s journey through a testing and changing time for women during the era of The Great War.

“Wrong. No! You must be writing to answer a question,” insisted my uni research tutor.

Really!???

Turned out, I was actually asking and exploring quite a few questions, but it took me some considerable effort to seek them out and, even more so, to articulate them and find the core question.

Being an historical novel, I thought, at first, that my questions would be very different to those that might be posed in a contemporary story. I considered them to be all about a woman’s right to happiness and did they have any rights to it, over duty, in the era of 1912 – 1920? I thought the question not relevant to young women in western society today, who often have so many choices.

Eventually I worked the major question in my novel through to:

At what point do we question the rightness and rationale of what we’ve been taught? (Or should we?)

Of course, this turned out to be a timeless question, relevant to as many women/people in the world today as much as a century ago. A right of passage and a question that – in some form – has  been explored and debated in books the world over – through every genre.

Bunyips Don'tI remember having a debate with my Writing for Children tutor, several years ago, when I wrote a glowing review on the picture book Bunyips Don’t by Sally Odgers and illustrated by Kim Gamble. My tutor maintained how could the book end with a celebration when Young Bunyip had moved to the sunny side of the swamp with new friends leaving old Bunyip alone? To her, Young Bunyip was bucking his heritage and a selfish creature for deserting Old Bunyip. I argued that Young Bunyip tried to encourage miserable Old Bunyip, living in the dank and dark, that he could dance and play (be happy) on the sunny side of the swamp and to come with him. Old Bunyip chose not to just because Bunyips Don’t dance and play and live on the sunny side. He chose to live the same old unhappy life rather than make a choice to change. In the end, my tutor was more convinced but still struggled with Young Bunyip “abandoning” his heritage and his kind’s way of life.

Doesn’t enjoyment and love for a book often come down to reader perspective?

If I hadn’t been going to uni, would I have ultimately learned as much just in the writing of my novel and formulated the same BIG question? Perhaps!

But the scope of my Master’s degree insisted I explore and articulate the social context and big question of my novel leading me to discover and thrill to what I discovered were the many layers to my story. Many intentional but some that I found had emerged organically too.

Chris pre-grad (Large)So last week, I walked the ramp to the RMIT graduation stage with a huge grin on my face and grasped my degree, very pleased and proud to be a Master of Creative Media (Creative Writing) with Distinction.

Now – onward to get my novel published. And discover the BIG question in my new manuscript/s.

Often I hear writers asked, did your idea spring from plot, character or setting? Not, what question are you asking. So I’m asking you: Do you write with a BIG question in mind?

Chris post graduation (Large)

The Paper-full Office

It’s time to put my office back together, after emptying it for new carpet, but I cringe to re-store all the boxes of old manuscript drafts and files. I’m wondering what to keep and what to chuck?

Even the tax man only makes me keep my paperwork three years. Am I just being precious keeping all these manuscript drafts of my published books, not to mention multiple drafts of many unpublished titles?

I’m so far distant from a paperless office I’m out the other side. In fact, adding much more paper, I will be – on the far side of the door. I truly don’t mind lots of books and paper stuff, but… seriously, it’s time to cull.

Surely even well-known authors who donate their work and boxes of manuscript to the Lu Rees Archives don’t keep everything? Or perhaps they do and that’s why they donate their life work when still living, to get the boxes out of their homes.

With that thought, I ducked into the website of the Lu Rees Archive to get an idea of what they do hold. Heaps, it seems, and, very interestingly, they also tell you how to look after your papers. I discovered I’m breaking all the taboos and shortening my paperwork’s life span by using metal pins, staples and rubber bands amongst other no-nos. The website explains that “metal rusts very quickly and leaves permanent marks. Rubber bands quickly disintegrate, leaving marks. Self-stick removable notes easily fall off, and when they do remain, may shift from the desired spot and leave a sticky residue. Sticky tape eventually loses its sticking capability and leaves marks as well as a residue. Liquid paper and correction tape wear off and crack.

One great and surprising tip recommends using HB pencil to label your files etc, because pencil lasts for centuries and doesn’t damage like inks and pens. Lots to learn if fame ever finds me and my work.

But, since I’m not famous, yet, and running out of room, perhaps a mini cull would suffice.

How many or much do you keep of old drafts, notes and paperwork from your manuscripts? Is there a good reason to keep all or any of it? Please let me know your method and ideas in the comments?

A Make-over Mess

Living in our house right now is like living in a renovator’s delight.

One simple makeover/reno job has upturned, upset and upended every single room in the house. (Much like a manuscript makeover does a story.)

We started with a major expense project – new carpet – but not an overwhelmingly physical operation, one would assume. Then again we all know what happens when one assumes.

Long had Mr B complained about the unevenness of our floors and berated their long gone out-of-business builder, who built a lovely home, but took a few shortcuts and not just with the floor. (A bit like a writer thinking no one will notice that bit, being too busy taking in all the fabulous metaphors and striking similes.)

So we couldn’t do the simple take up and dump the carpet – or preferably pay someone else to break their backs doing it – and get our new carpet laid immediately. We needed to investigate the problem/s lurking beneath the underlay.

Do, do, do, do. Do, do, do, do! (Cue ominous Jaws theme here!)

Yes, Mr B was right. (He has to be occasionally.) Those flooring sheets had peaked – pushed together unevenly, or swollen, as I’m told flooring is apt to do – ALL OVER THE HOUSE. Creating hills and valleys and now, some twelve-years post being laid, unsightly lines in the carpet. Not to mention the room where the builder’s flooring didn’t quite meet the walls, leaving gaps for dust and dirt to vent and over the years discolour the carpet along some edges.

White carpet I might add. Not my choice, but it was here when we bought the house. So Mr B has had a big job planing off every join and now we are back on the level – bar the last two rooms to be done  – albeit in a hell of a mess.

It seriously reminds me of trying to do a manuscript makeover and the more you do, the more problems you find or work needing to be done. And before you know it the manuscript that, before you fiddled, looked not far off ready, begins to look an insurmountable mess. Bits that need rewriting, moving, fixing and uneven bits found everywhere.

But then you approach it systematically, move some things, discard others, refresh a few gappy sections, and you begin to see what it could be. Still it’s damn daunting when everything’s pulled apart and you discover a few other tweaks timely. For example, a good time to paint a couple of walls too. Might as well while the landscape is clear and changes sparking fresh ideas.

It’s that creativity and new ideas that keep me inspired. I know it’s going to be great when it’s done.

One added bonus/pest of our carpet makeover is that all my books had to exit the bookcase/s to take up the carpet. (Explaining why my office is one of those last two rooms due to the effort of packing and sorting “too” many books.) I know this looking at the fourteen packing boxes I’ve filled. And that doesn’t count the six full shopping bags I took to the op-shop.

With a blog post in mind, I wrote down some of the titles of books I’ve sorted “to read” and the “keepers”, but like everything else in my office, I think those pages went into a box.

I feel a little guilty to be heading off to Tassie next week for research and leaving Mr B to finish on his own. But I’ll come back to oversee the new carpet being laid and begin the task of putting my house back in order.

I know I’m going to come back really inspired to get stuck into writing this new project, and that will prove a great impetus to get my house in order faster.

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