From Hook to Book

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Oh, what a feeling..!

Sheldon excited

That feeling when your brand new story/character/world becomes real and – OMG, it/he/she speaks to you!

Especially when you feared after finishing your previous project (of many drafts and years) that the same passion might never strike you again.

Despite reading many blogs/interviews/author biographies to the contrary – the promise of a long-held idea becomes real. Maybe even has legs!

Oh, what a feeling!

 

 

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My Tribe (SCBWI Australia East/NZ)

Der Arme Poet

Writing is such a solitary endeavour. Of course, we writers/illustrators/creators are no longer isolated or starving in a garret as in years or centuries past. (Forgive the aside, but is it only me who perceives ‘starving in a garret’ as somewhat romantic when transported to 20th century Paris? I could happily go hungry in such company as F. Scott-Fitzgerald, Stein, Hemingway.)

Alas, in reality, I like my food/wine and comfort too much to suffer such deprivation. But I do look to the company of like-minded hearts and creative souls.

Writers/Illustrators are a tribe, co-joined by our aspirations and drive to create and share our stories. We want readers to thrill and thrall to our tales and to see our work in print. Often it can be a long road to publication and the initial marks of ink, publishers’ cruel rebuffs. So we look to our peers to commiserate, communicate, collaborate and coalesce. What better way than at a writers’ conference?

syd-conf-logo300pxI am privileged to be part of the warm and welcoming team of SCBWI Australia East/NZ and to serve as Assistant Co-ordinator of SCBWI Vic. Every two years we gather under the banner of the bi-annual conference in Sydney and mentorship of Regional Advisor, Susanne Gervay. The warm, funny, all embracing Susanne inspires all to believe their publication dream is possible. Of course, adding in a little luck, perseverance, industry savvy, research and a measure of talent too.scbwi-crew

The 2016 SCBWI Australia East Conference was a fantastic gathering of the tribe in September at the Menzies Hotel in Sydney and a great chance to catch up with friends and peers and meet many new members attending. It was brilliant too, post-conference, to hear of all the wonderful outcomes in contracts, representation and requests that came out of SCBWI 2016.

scbwi-vic-crewFantastic, detailed conference reports by Dimity Powell and her roving reporters plus lots of pics can be found on the SCBWI blog. But here are a few tips and tweets from the conference: Be poignant. Bestow ideas. Don’t give up the day job. Never risk starvation. Unless you’re in Paris, sharing a garret with F Scott-Fitzgerald. Pre Daisy days, of course!

 

 

 

New Year / New Edition/s

Roller-Coaster Ride new coverWhat better way to start the New Year than with a new edition of an old book baby! Just before Christmas, I was delighted to receive the new Cengage Learning multicultural version of my 2001 title Roller-Coaster Ride, re-illustrated by Samantha Asri to set the story in the Middle East for early Arabic readers.

I was surprised to find only a couple of words had been changed in the text: the main character’s name has changed from Rosie to Yasmin; hot dogs have become shawarmas (an Arabic meat dish cooked on a spit and served on a plate, or in a wrap etc.) and Asri’s vibrant illustrations portray Middle Eastern dress and an updated, ultra-modern theme park. Otherwise the book is pretty much as originally published.Rollercoaster Ride

I thought the best time to share this new version was when I was also launching a new edition of moi. You know, New Year’s resolutions and all that. Okay, it’s only one week into 2016, but so far, I’m on track to a new, improved version of Chris Bell writer. A fitter, slimmer, less creaky version! Well, I’m hoping so anyway.

Roller-Coaster Ride French editionToo many hours at the desk last year resulted in way too many sessions at the physiotherapist trying to straighten out the kinks and creaks and knead some very stiff, un-cooperative, lower back muscles back to their natural state. (Though I’m beginning to wonder if that state has permanently altered.) My own fault! Even though I stand up at my stand-up desk (at times) and regularly get up to make an obligatory cup of tea, I still can’t unpretzel this body. I admit though when I’m in the writing moment, the cup of tea goes cold, the sun shifts in the sky and all else is forgotten. It’s then the neck resorts to angle stupida and correct typing posture slumps into compaction mode.

Chris Bell on bike 2016

So time for a drastic author makeover, thanks to Santa, who brought me a brand new bike for Christmas. (Isn’t it gorgeous?) Yay! It’s fantastic fun too. Nothing compares with the wind in your face and thrill of zooming down the road. (Downhill is the only way I can zoom – yet!) But, oohh, it’s such hard work on the way home. Certain muscles are being dragged screaming to the party and complain bitterly of a hang-over the next day. But onwards I go, rewriting the book on Chris, determined to wrestle this reluctant body into healthy compliance. Oh, there’s plans  for other radical edits too. i.e. swimming. In an actual swimming cossy even! Pilates – an ongoing redraft. (I love it.) But foremost, less wine, less chocolate and desk snacking, more exercise in general and more awareness of the world beyond the desk.

Hello, 2016. Let the new regime rule. Now where’s my Fitbit?

 

 

Young Writer Comps and Opportunities

Prize Winner - image by www.lumaxart.comCalling all young writers, playwrights and poets! While I’ve been gallivanting around the UK, these past few weeks, heaps of regular and new young writers’ competitions and opportunities have opened up. Some are closing soon.

So flex those writing muscles and get your entries in fast. (Only if they’ve been buffed and polished and proofed, of course.) You’ll find further details and some great new resources on my Young Writers’ Resources page, such as details of three KSP residential places in WA, The John Marsden and Scribe Non-fiction Prizes, plus lots more comp details, events and happenings.

All fabulous opportunities to get your writing in front of judges, publishers and selection panels and there’s some not insignificant cash prizes on offer too.

So get those stories and poems in fast for the comps closing soon.

Some tips for success:

  • Follow submission guidelines (exactly)
  • Redraft, redraft, redraft
  • Read your work aloud to pick up jars and jolts and to check for rhythm
  • Vary your sentence structure
  • Be strenuous at spell-checking and proofreading
  • Give your work a few weeks “air time” (you’ll pick up things you never noticed when you go back to it after a break)
  • Flick off that fear goblin nagging on your shoulder. If you’ve put in the work – it’s ready. Repeat – flick and submit.

If you know of any writing opportunities or competitions for young writers, not listed on the YWR page, I’d love you to leave me the details in a comment or email me the link. Thnx. And Good luck!

A Room with a View

How great and inspiring has been my view over recent weeks? What writer would curse the happy distraction of sunflower heads nodding and bees puddling in pollen? Whenever I looked up from my desk they made me smile. Sunflowers copy

Every day for a fortnight, new ones to see!

Sunflower view copy

My cheery bird’s eye view. (Okay, there is a zoom lens in play!)

Sunflowers Bees puddling copy

The bees forgot to visit the beans in their thrall. And at times I forgot to write!

Last sunflower copy

Now it’s time to farewell the last solo sunflower and get back to work.

But I am going to plant more next year and, in the meantime, a few colourful distractions to take their place.

Don’t all writers need a room with a view?

(aka reason to procrastinate.)

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.

It must be January…

…because it’s Month of Poetry. Yay!

What an inspirational way to launch the year and reinvigorate the writing muscle. Month of Poetry is run every year in January by the very talented and lovely Kathryn (Kat) Apel who gives experienced and novice poets alike a forum to write and post a poem a day, and exchange comments and feedback with one another. This is my third time participating and I’m learning so much and about so many (new to me) forms.mop12

It’s such a wonderful way to jump into the writing year. And a fabulous kick-start for me after a complete break from writing since the beginning of December. Though it’s been wonderful to take time-out, it’s also been quite strange because I can’t remember the last time I spent so long away from a WIP, blogging or some form of writing. But after several months focused on rewriting my YA historical novel, and two house moves in between, it was definitely time to rest and play. And finish unpacking boxes!

my year

I’m really looking forward to this year. So much is on the horizon and lots happening for this writer. I’m heading to Varuna Writer’s House in March to take up my two-week Residential Fellowship and I can’t wait to catch the whispers in its walls and soak up the inspiration. I plan to write up a storm.Varuna Writers House

I’ve taken on an exciting new role as Support to our new Victorian SCBWI Assistant Regional Advisor, Caz Goodwin. And I’m really looking forward to meeting more of our members and participating in the exciting range of events planned for this year.

SCBWI Conf-logoI’m attending the SCBWI International Conference in Sydney in July. It’s going to be fantastic to catch up with some online friends and writing buddies from around Australia and meet lots of new ones, not to mention attend all the fabulous sessions and panels.

A quick trip to Tassie will enable me to tweak a couple of descriptions and double-check a couple of locations in my WIP.

So welcome 2014. I’ve cleared out my email inbox, tidied my desk, and, at last, filed my considerable WIP research. Phew! That was a job and a half. So I’m ready and raring to go a hunting words. The best part is to so look forward to getting back to work, doing exactly what I love.

Moving House and Stuff

Well, we’ve moved house. And moving house is BIG!

Because we have TOO MUCH STUFF!

Moving house 2After all my best efforts to cull unnecessary bits and bobs and dispose of the long gathered minutiae we’ve accumulated over twelve years in the house we’ve just vacated, I thought I’d done a pretty good job.

But as you can see in the pic, I’ve boxes of stuff still unpacked. Stuff that’s now living in the spare room upstairs, because there’s no room in our small temporary abode. That’s right. We still have one more move to go. So I will have another chance. But, unlike the pressure of getting down a word count in writing, no one gave me a box or volume limit when packing. Though you’d have thought so from the sighs and moans of the movers who had to cart our boxes up the stairs.

The fact that there is so much stuff relegated to storage, not immediately needed, tells me I didn’t do the ruthless cull on my house that I’d do during a good word count slash on a WIP.

I guess it’s the same quandary. Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s worth keeping. We hold on to lines and extra linen we love, beautifully crafted sentences and spare salt shakers, hard wrought descriptions and hard bought dishes that we just might need one day.

But, if I can live without all this extra stuff for several months – and not miss it – until the house we’ve bought settles, do I need it?

I suspect the problem is it’s a bit like superfluous plot lines and peripheral characters. We don’t usually need them, but they’re awfully hard to dump. They took time to dream up and craft. We might want them back for another purpose the moment we’ve written them out or off.

I sold a couple of freestanding towel rails that I now really need back. Too late!

At least we never have to lose anything entirely in our writing. We can cut and cull to our hearts content and pop it all in a saved file, ready to grab back if needed. Op shops and online purchasers are not quite so understanding or restorative.

So I’m probably keeping way too much. And it’s not helped by the fact we are moving into a larger house again soon.

I really do like a good word count slash. The work always comes up stronger, clearer, cleaner without the dross. Now if I can just get rid of some more of my crap – pardon, I mean stuff – I’m sure my house will be cleaner and clearer too.

But can’t I just store it in the shed for a few months until I’m sure I won’t need it again?

Moving house is actually very exciting and cathartic. Not to mention inspiring for this writer after coming across a removalist who desperately belongs in a story. Stay tuned!

Eiffel Tower Perspectives

Shadow of the Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower - tourist through the bus window view

Eiffel Tower summer sparkle

Beneath the Eiffel Tower daytime

Manuscript Mapping/Scene Interrogation

Lots of authors use index cards to map their plot, create scenes and work out structure or scene placement.

Last week I used a similar exercise to track my novel’s progress using index cards, preparatory to restructuring the manuscript.

First: I wrote up every scene/story break in my novel. I was gobsmacked to find there were one hundred and twenty four scenes. Is that way too many? They seemed appropriate during the writing. But since it sounded so many, I went to my bookcase and checked out lots of books. Some have few story breaks, but to my relief, others had lots and lots too.

The aim of the exercise was threefold.

1. To check for crucial and strong scenes (hoping there’d be lots)
2. To interrogate whether each scene grew the plot and propelled the story forward
3. To enable me to juggle the scenes when I (shortly) experiment with the structure.

I used a system of stickers and stars to denote:

  1. Crucial scene
  2. Strong scene
  3. Rewrite scene
  4. Delete scene
  5. Propels plot
  6. Merge (really short storybreaks) into next/previous scene

I’m now thinking I should add a couple of new coloured stars to track story arcs and conflicts too.

Now on this third draft, every scene is going to have to justify its existence. I plan to recheck if I’ve been over-generous in my assessment or too harsh. (I did get into the playing with the stars and stickers, and want to be sure I didn’t get carried away.) Mostly I’m aiming for a balance that will work for the story. It’s not an action thriller so every scene won’t be action, but I do need to check whether too many scenes are narration/introspection/action/conflict, and if the ratio works.

It was a really interesting exercise in that so many little things emerged to check, rewrite, explain too. It also revealed how I’ve neglected some of my transitions, and though I know how much time has elapsed since the last scene, in places, I’ve forgotten to tell the reader.

That’s the benefit of not looking at the full manuscript for some months. Much jumped out and is clearer now. All in all though, I’m pretty pleased how it’s all coming together.

Next week I’m advancing to cutting and pasting. No, not with clag and scissors – even more fun – with text.

If you have any tips or methods to work out structuring your manuscript or interrogating its individual scenes, I’d love to hear about them.

(PS: If you’re lucky enough to be a Mac user, a fantastic sounding program called Scrivener lets you index your scenes on an online corkboard. Too cool. Can’t wait to check out the PC version – due out next year.)

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