At the Beach

Just after I’d posted the photos of the kite surfers at the beach, the postie delivered copies of School Magazine which included my poem ‘At the Beach’.

How’s that for timing?

‘At the Beach’ was written after sitting at that same beach while my son was at a class. There wasn’t enough time to go home between dropping him and collecting him, so I went for a walk along the foreshore and then sat in my car and watched the sun set.

The poem is about birds and kites and dogs and children all changing colour as the sun descends and turns out the light. David Legge has painted a scene that could be this very beach, clever fellow.

Snowy’s Christmas

Sally Murphy is visiting today to talk about her new picture book, Snowy’s Christmas, illustrated by her brother-in-law, David Murphy.

1. Is there a difference between writing a fiction story and a Christmas fiction story? If so, can you elaborate?

I think whether it is set at Christmas or not, this is a story which addresses a familiar theme – the idea of a child (Snowy) coming to terms with being different – and discovering that it is that very difference that makes him special. But I suppose I did approach this story a little differently. Often I start with the conflict or character which will drive the story and go from there. In this case, I was influenced by the story of Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer, so already knew that I wanted a character who was different and whose difference would be important to Christmas. From there I needed to work out both who that character was and how he or she would be different as well as the twists and turns his new story would take.

2. Snowy is illustrated by your brother-in-law, David. Did it change the experience at all working on a project with a family member? In what way?

Working with David certainly made the project a lot of fun and also drew the rest of the family in, which is lovely. It meant that instead of maybe never meeting the illustrator, or meeting him at a launch or something, I was well aware of both who he was, but also where he was at in the creative process. There were emails and phonecalls and even sneak peeks when we caught up in person. It’s been a blast.

3. How is promoting a Christmas story different to promoting any other fiction project?

I suppose the window of opportunity is smaller. Few people will buy a Christmas story at any time other than the months leading up to Christmas, so we really only have three months to promote in before it pretty much disappears from the shelves – but it will be back again next year, so we’ll get another three months then. And, if it’s a real success, it could be back for future Christmases too.

I am relying less on school visits and festival appearances (there are not so many opportunities at this time of the year) and more on promoting to adults who might buy Snowy for Christmas.

Because it is a Christmas story, it is likely to get a good display position on bookshops leading up to Christmas. Lots of shops have special displays of Christmas titles, so hopefully Snowy will find a place on those.

4. ‘Snowy’s Christmas’ is very Australian. Was that a conscious decision or did the story just unfold that way?

No – it was very deliberate. I wanted to write a story which didn’t have any snow or ice or sleigh rides, and which spoke to Aussie kids with Australian characters and settings. But I think it will also appeal to children from other countries – who will enjoy the difference of the story.

5. You’re on the opposite side of the country from Random House, who published ‘Snowy’s Christmas’ and also on the opposite side of the country from David. How do you manage communication on a project like this?

Lots of phonecalls and emails. Most of the editing was done using a combination of emails and phonecalls. Kimberley, the editor, would email me then ring to talk through suggested changes. David and I also talked by phone, and texts, but I also visited him in Canberra last year which happened to be at the time he was working on Snowy, so I got to see him at work.

6. Do you think Santa has any leftover ‘fine and silvery’ magic to share? I’ve always wanted to fly

Me too! Maybe we need to write him a letter? But seriously, I do love the magic of Christmas. It has always been my favourite time of year, and I am delighted that I have now got a Christmas book in print.

7. Where can readers find ‘Snowy’s Christmas’?

In all good bookstores. I always say that – because I figure if they don’t stock it, then they’re not a good bookstore. Look for it in the Christmas displays at your local bookshop – or you can order it online from online bookshops including booktopia.

Thanks for having me here, Claire.

I like visitors, Sally. Thanks for visiting.

Visit other stops on the tour:

Week One: 4 October Deescribe Writing Blog

Week Two: 11 October Write and Read With Dale

Week three: 18 October Alphabet Soup Blog

Week Four: 25 October Here!

Week Five: 1 November Sally Murphy’s Writing for children Blog
Week Six: 8 November Aussiereviews Blog

Week Seven: 15 November Samantha Hughes’ Blog

Week Eight: 22 November Robyn Opie’s Writing Children’s Books Blog
Week Nine: 29 November Stories are Light

Week Ten: 6 December The Aussie Christmas Blog

Week Eleven: 13 December Tales I Tell [Right here]

Storytelling and the State Library

Last night I went to the State library for a forum on ‘The evolution of storytelling’ featuring three different storytelling styles. Speakers were storyteller and author Jackie Kerin, author Gabi Wang and Radio National presenter Michelle Raynor. Michelle spoke first talking about the challenges of storytelling in a landscape of rapidly evolving media technology. Then Jackie shared some history of the oral storytelling tradition before captivating all with her performance of ‘Edith’s Lyrebird’ and ‘Shark’. For more of Jackie’s doings visit her here.

Gabi talked about her Chinese heritage and her own history and how that informs her writing. She also showed us an amazing scroll that she completed as part of her art studies in China. She talked about her forthcoming novel, Little Paradise, and its origins. She also alluded to inheriting her mother’s sense of style (sorry Gabi, couldn’t resist) For more details visit her here.

Jackie is looking for the storyteller in Gabi’s wonderful scroll. The detail and fine brushwork is amazing .

Illustration Workshop

Yesterday was a gorgeous day here in Melbourne, crisp and clear. The morning was cool but the sun was shining and the breeze gentle. I went to CERES (Community Environmental Park) for an Illustration Workshop with illustrator Elise Hurst. This was a SCBWI-organised event but open to interested others.

The workshop was primarily pitched at writers who wanted to understand a little more of how an illustrator works, including basic drawing, watercolouring and storyboarding. It was hands-on with participants having a play in pencil and paint at shaping images. We saw how some realistic images easily lend themselves to adaptation as book characters.

We learnt about ‘happy accidents’ in painting and how illustration often uses empty space to indicate personality eg placement of a character on a page can indicate their state of mind.

The workshop was three hours but this was a whistlestop tour and I’m already keen to go back for a longer play.

The Launch

‘Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate’ was launched on Sunday at Collingwood Children’s Farm. I was up early making final adjustments to the cake and making sure everything was ready.

We were at the Farm early but not as early as many of the families for family day. It was Family Day, and goats were the feature and there were goats everywhere. Kids and nannies and billies. As we were setting up, we were serenaded by some gorgeous long-legged kids, welcomed by curious chooks (the biggest chooks you could hope to see) and assisted by Farm staff.

Launch went well, and included Sally, the goat, and her pining amour, Tripod who called to her from the other side of the barn. My brother, David, stepped in at the last minute to MC the launch and did a great job. Bridget, weekend farm manager who launched ‘Sheep Goat and the Creaking Goat’ confessed to a small distraction as she saw that Sally was a bit too close to my foot and began to worry that she (Sally that is) might wee on my shoe!

After Bridget had launched ‘Sheep, Goat..’, I read the book and Jude showed the pictures. We gathered a few passersby who slowed and stayed to listen to the story.

The sun shone, the air was warm, and all was well with the world. The gate cake was a hit, the sheep fairy bread (thanks Kim, Natalie and Michael) disappeared as did the sheep and the goat biscuits (thanks Jude).

Thanks to everyone who came and to those who couldn’t make it but wished us well. It was a fun day.

‘Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate’ is now well and truly launched! I’ll post more photos as I can.

The Cake

Cakes cooling. Yes, the top ones overflowed into the oven, a lovely chocolate lava spill…
The bottom ones are a double cake mix each, and two of the bar ones = a single mixture

Undressed, but ready to go…

Now, you might assume this is the final cake, and it certainly was intended to be. But there was a slight incident with a puppy and one of the gate posts had to be remade. That meant another cake cooked before we went out to dinner and cut and fit and iced when we returned at 2.30am. Oh and a colour-adjustment extra layer of icing next morning.

It measured just under 60 cm x 60 cm.

Then it was finished!