It’s been a big week!

Emu has been shortlisted for the Environment Award.

Then there was lunch with Walker and Black Dog peoples from both sides of book-making. I received my copies of the US version of ‘Emu’. It has a dust jacket and looks very swish.


That evening I was lucky enough to attend the announcement of the Text Prize. There was a shortlist of four manuscripts and Kimberley Starr won with The Book of Whispers. Look forward to seeing this novel set in the 11C making its way into print.

Friday signalled the beginning of Reading Matters. So many wonderful sessions, so many people to catch up, and to meet. I actually had a conversation with someone who teaches at the school where I was a boarder (many moons ago). What are the odds? The conference opened with a panel of YA readers and finished with video ‘Shelfies’ from more young readers. Both groups were wonderfully articulate and thoughtful. Laurie Halse Anderson (US) was amazing, as was Sally Gardner (UK).  Priya Kuriyan shared her illustrations. Highlights for me included the discussion between Sean Williams and Jaclyn Moriarty about Science and Magic and the panel with Laurie Halse Anderson and Sally Gardner – very different but equally passionate. I also love the opportunity to mix with so many book people. I saw some sketches for an upcoming book (oh my giddy aunt they’re gorgeous!), and realised why another manuscript is still not ready to be a book. There was a wonderful reception in the beautiful Queens Hall in the State Library and then a dinner at Supper In, Melbourne icon. I came away exhausted but full of ideas and inspiration.

Sunday included a celebration for son2’s birthday. Always lovely to be surrounded by my boys and their girls.

This morning sees the official release of two new books. ‘My Name is Lizzie Flynn’ and ‘Meet Weary Dunlop’. Asking me to choose a favourite is like asking me which of my children I love best. I hope they both find their way in the book world and that readers enjoy them.

A visitor!

In this centenary year of Anzac Day, it’s not such a surprise that there are a few books on both sides of the Tasman about the Anzacs, but it was curious that the illustrators of these books (Max Berry and Bob Kerr) independently portrayed mateship in this same way. 
Today, I welcome NZ author Philippa Werry and her book about three Anzacs, ‘Best Mates’. Philippa and I got cyber-chatting about the similarities in the covers of our Anzac books for young readers, and other aspects of writing both generally and specifically. 
Here is part of our conversation …
‘Best Mates’ is an Anzac story from the perspective of one of three friends who move from growing up together to setting out to war together. The language is spare and evocative, the watercolour and pencil illustrations are gentle and telling. Congratulations to you both!
Thank you!

What a coincidence that our books, released at very similar times have such similar covers! I love the cover image of ‘Best Mates’ flipping to the inside cover image of uniniformed mates. What is it about our Anzacs that make this mateship such an important feature?
I love the cover of “Meet the Anzacs”,  too! That’s an interesting question – maybe it was something to do with being so far from home, and it was your mates who reminded you of who you were and where you came from. My father was in the Air Force in WW2. Growing up, we sometimes saw old photos of his crew, but he very seldom met any of them after the war – maybe once or twice, and some Christmas cards and the odd letter exchanged.  But when he died a few years ago, we got a letter from one of the members of that crew, saying that he had always counted my father as among his closest friends. That was the sort of bond they had.

How did you come to this story? How long was the process from idea to publication?
Before this, I had already written my non-fiction book (“Anzac Day: the New Zealand story). When I went into schools and talked about that book, I found that some children had a clear concept of what Anzac Day was all about, but others weren’t even sure what day it was. So I wanted to try and write something like a picture book, that would bridge that gap. It probably took just over a year from writing the text to publication. Books for Anzac Day have to work around a publication  date of March/April so the deadlines are often quite strict!
How challenging was it to find a voice for “Best Mates”? It’s such a big story and there is so much information. When did you decide that you were going to tell the story of three mates from the perspective of one? Was this an early decision, or did it evolve during research?
You’re absolutely right about its being a challenge to find the right voice for such a “big story”. For a long time, I just couldn’t see how to fit the idea of Gallipoli into a picture book format. Then I had the idea of writing it not from the point of view of battles and campaigns, but by focusing on three young men who grew up together and went off to war together.  Once the opening lines came into my head, the rest of it followed quite naturally. 
Can you talk a bit about your research? Where do you begin? Where was the most telling information? How did you distil the research to the brevity that you have, without sacrificing any of the depth?
I think I had actually done a lot of the research earlier, for my book on Anzac Day. By the time I came to write “Best mates”, a lot of the info was already in my head, and it was a matter of paring it down and down, trying to see things through the narrator’s eyes and to focus on the three young men. There were some quite specific things we needed to research – like when long distance air travel became more common, and whether the star and crescent symbol would have been in use in Turkey in 1915.    

Bob Kerr’s illustrations are beautiful, full of subtlety and truth. What level of collaboration was involved?

I love Bob’s illustrations and I feel privileged to have been able to work with him on the book. He is an amazing artist and has worked on some other remarkable war art and exhibitions. Picture book authors and illustrators often seem to work quite independently, but in this case Bob was generous enough to share a lot of his process with me, and we met up several times in his studio or over coffee to talk about our vision for the book.  He had also been to Gallipoli himself about 7 or 8 years ago and was very careful to get the landscape and the historical details right. A poignant coincidence is the fact that Bob’s studio is in a building that once housed a photographer’s studio where many young men going off to WW1 had their photos taken; the negatives were rediscovered recently and now form the basis of a museum exhibition at Te Papa (http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/topic/3780). I love that you’ve included the Turks in ‘Best Mates’, reflecting the similarity in circumstance for the trench soldiers. This acknowledgement of ‘the other side’ seems to be a more recent inclusion in war literature. Why do you think this is important?
Yes, I think it’s true that we consider war now from many different perspectives, not just the front line soldiers but everyone who was affected – and in WW1, that was nearly everyone. The families back home, the nurses, the chaplains, stretcher bearers, conscientious objectors  -and of course the “enemy”. Something we’ve forgotten for a long time was that at Anzac Cove, we were actually the invaders – so no wonder the opposing forces fought back so bravely.

How will you share ‘Best Mates’ with young readers?

I do a lot of school visits with a NZ Book Council initiative called Writers in Schools, and I start by finding out what the students already know about Anzac Day. Then we fill in the gaps together – for example, students (and grownups!) often know about the first landings on April 25 1915, but have no idea how long the campaign lasted, or what happened in the end.  I was lucky enough to go to Gallipoli for Anzac Day 2014 with a group called Gallipoli Volunteers (run by Conservation Australia), so I also have lots of photos from that trip.  After we’ve talked and I’ve answered questions, I finish up by reading “Best mates”. By then, they’ve got a much clearer picture of the Gallipoli campaign so the book helps put it  all in perspective. I have had some very moving responses to it. There is one double page spread (you might be able to guess which one) where I often hear audible gasps and cries of dismay.  What’s next for you?
I’ve got a number of talks, workshops and school visits lined up, some around Anzac Day itself, and as part of the Schools Programme in the Auckland Writers Festival in May.  I’m also on the organising committee for Tinderbox 2015, a national conference for New Zealand children’s writers and illustrators in October. Family life and writing fit in and around all of that! 
Phew! Busy! Best of luck with your endeavours, Philippa, and thanks so much for visiting. I found it fascinating to learn about your process, the life of this book, and about your classroom presentations. In fact, I may even borrow aspects of your presentation when I’m visiting schools this year. 🙂
You can visit Philippa here and visit her Children’s War Books blog here

Book Week

I love Book Week. A chance to share all the things I love about books and writing. And at Firbank Grammar on Wednesday last, I was able to share with the whole school. And more. The gorgeous preps wrote me some illustrated letters complete with custom-made envelopes. And in a bonus bonus, I met up with a childhood friend – not seen for (ahem) many years. Was lovely to have a very brief catchup.

On Friday and today, I was working with Year 8s writing War Poetry. They came up with some amazing images in their poems.

This Friday I’m off to Buxton to workshops with Preps, 1s and 2s. Love a sing and dance I do! So we’ll be reading stories, singing, dancing and making gates I think.

Twilight Zone

My middle son had surgery this morning to remove his four wisdom teeth. The procedure has been streamlined since my older son had the same surgery a few years ago. Much quicker, which has to be better for recovery. He walked into theatre, and walked out of the hospital. Feeling kinda weird, but not too spaced. Hopefully he’ll recover quickly.

But that’s not the spooky thing. The patient a couple ahead in the line was from his school, the one a couple after from his playgroup. And it’s not like we live in a small town where that’s a likely occurence. We live in a big city. Lots of schools, lots of surgeons, lots of hospitals. Yet how often do coincidences like that happen? Often.

Great stuff for fiction, coincidences. Not that I’m thinking of fictionalising his surgical experience. But I might use the coincidence…

Reading Matters 2

I ran out of time the other day to really finish writing about RM conference, so here we are again.

After the sessions on Friday there was a reception, peopled by delegates and speakers but also by many other Vic creators. It was quite difficult to move really…not because of crowding but because everytime I tried, I’d start another conversation or waylay/be waylaid by other people. Fantastic fun, gorgeous food. Some good potential connections too. The exhibition ‘Independent Type books and writing in Victoria’ was also opened, but I determined to go back to that another day.

Back to the program…

Cathy Casssidy, Mo Johnson and Chris Wheat talked about romance in their stories, including the appropriate levels of romance for diff age-groups. More books for the wishlist ( CC Angel Cake, MJ Boofheads, CW Screw Loose)

Another session was titled ‘Where I’m coming from’ and the writers were the blue-haired Anthony Eaton, Mal Peet, James Roy and Randa Abdel-Fattah. Each talked about their background and entry into particular stories. About now, I stopped taking notes really because I just wanted to listen.

So I’m really sorry about the sessions I’ve missed recording, but the content was inspiring. It was great to spend time with known faces, and to meet new ones. My final job is to empty my bag of all the business cards (okay and that serviette) and sort them.

Reading Matters

I’m just now surfacing after a fantastic weekend at Reading Matters Conference. This conference is held every second year and is an initiative of Melbourne’s Centre for Youth Literature. The focus is works for young adults, which includes everything from Libby Gleeson/Armin Greder picture books to crossover novels that could equally be read by young adults and …well…all other adults.

I didn’t take many notes as I was too busy listening but here are a few of the bits that spoke to me…

John Green, author of Paper Towns talked about being an individual around whom the world spins. He said that perspective sometimes changes as we age…but sometimes not. He reported being sure that everyone around him was alien and sneaking out after bedtime to catch his parents out of ‘human costume’ but they were always too fast.

Teenagers like to read about themselves, AND about ‘other’. He also said he often knew his characters much better than he knew even close friends.

Alison Goodman (The Two Pearls of Wisdom) and Isabelle Carmody (The Stone Key) shared a conversation about their writing processes and more.
Isabelle reads non fantasy as inspiration…more for style than content. For her landscape comes from character emotion…bog might indicate depression, a mountain might indicate character is feeling better. For Alison, landscape was setting. Isabelle takes no notes but continues to ‘gather’ ideas until she has enough to begin writing. Alison reported being much more of a planner.

Reimagining History was the title of a session with MT Anderson (The Astonishing LIfe of Octavian Nothing), Bernard Beckett (Genesis) and Michelle Cooper (A Brief History of Montmaray).

MT Anderson talked about novels being ‘alienation from what you know so you can reapproach what you know’

and all talked about their wish to explore the strangeness of the time they wrote about. Each would be keen to visit the worlds about which they wrote…provided they could first be vaccinated!

Several writers read from their novels including Adrian Stirling (Broken Glass), Tristan Banks (Mac Slater: Cool Hunter), Cathy Cassidy (Angel Cake), Mo Johnson (Boofheads.

Libby Gleeson and Armin Greder discussed their collaboration through six books so far.

Other speakers included Anthony Eaton, Mal Peet, James Roy, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Amra Pajalic and (a jet-lagged but you wouldn’t have known it)Tim Flannery.

Add in fantastic food, plenty of opportunities to mix with librarians, teachers, publishers, editors and fellow creators and you have the recipe for an exhilarating but exhausting weekend.

I have still to go through my collection of contacts and cards (and yes, even one set of details on a cocktail napkin) but that will all wait for a day or two.

Tomorrow I’m off to Melbourne’s south east to do some workshops with Year 9’s. Really looking forward to it to.

Happy New Year!

Two weeks into the new year and the publishing world is returning from holidays. I’ve had conversations about changes to an accepted manuscript and submitted some supplementary material for another book due out next year.

And I’ve had my first rejection for the year. And it hurts. I was sure this manuscript was a good fit for the publisher and my agent agreed. Conventional wisdom suggests not spending a night in the same house with a rejected manuscript, but this one will be sleeping here at least tonight.

I am heartened by a conversation with a writer friend who has just placed a manuscript. She reports that the story began in another form and underwent several metamorphoses before this sale.

Where there are words, there is hope.

The value of networking…

This time of year is always busy. Nuts, even. There are Christmas parties and annual get-togethers and all manner of things. There can even be unexpected work offers (see earlier posts).

Networking is a nebulous thing. It’s intangible and impossible to measure. I’m sure there are many worthy definitions available but in the words from ‘The Sound of Music’ it’s a bit like trying to pin down a cloud.

In my previous job in community health there was a community nurse who was a really strong and articulate advocate of networking, maintaining that it was essential to make the connections with those doing the same thing, in order that opportunities could evolve. She struggled sometimes to convince her employer that these early meetings with people would produce improved health outcomes for the young people she sought to help. But she always delivered the goods. And sometimes she was as surprised as anyone at the entry points.

Networking in the children’s book industry is a bit the same. Attending conferences, annual lunches and even smaller groups can seem expensive and often purely social, but they are all about making connections, being open to opportunity, in whatever shape it may present itself. At the very least, there is time to spend with friends and associates.

Lunch last week, enjoyable on many levels, provided two potential opportunities to follow up and also some links with new people. Lunch yesterday was across town and travelling on the train I discovered I was on the train that featured the Moving Galleries exhibition. We may have had to change carriages and unseat (gently) the gent sitting beneath it, but I was chuffed to see my poem ‘in the flesh’ on the wall. Of all the trains, on all the suburban lines, we happened to get on this one…

It’s all about networking…

Which way will it go?

Our dog is about two years old, about three years newer than our extensions. We didn’t factor in a dog door when we planned our extension, because at the time a dog wasn’t on the agenda. But now we have Emmi and she’s an inside/outside dog. For the past two years that’s meant that we’ve had to leave the back sliding door open. Good for her, not good for heating in winter, or cooling in summer. Particularly not good for keeping flies out. Because of the design, it’s been very difficult to work out how to incorporate a dog-door.

But Eureka! We found one. At the curiously named ‘Pig in Mud’ online store. But our troubles were not yet over. Our door is too tall for the standard ‘Patio Dog Door’ and too short for the tall door. Of course. It was even too tall for the standard door plus the extension piece. Sigh. Many phone calls, a custom extension and delivery woes later the door arrived yesterday. Magic. It fits easily, keeps the flies out. What more could we want?

Well, it’d be nice if the dog would use it. So far, she’ll use it if we lift the flap for her. But otherwise? No. So today, when she wants to go out, she calls me, as yesterday, the flies called me. To mangle a proverb…you can lead the dog to the flap, but double-sigh, you can’t make her go through it.

Fingers crossed that she works it all out.

There is a parallel to writing, but I’m not going to explore it. I’m too busy helping Madam in and out of the back door.

Good or bad idea?

In the last little while I’ve been working on a few projects. One is a second story in what may one day be a series. The others are in the research stage. The first is a story set in early Melbourne, but not to do with gold. The second is around traditional stories. The third is the differences between sheep and goats.

The first draft of the contemporary story is almost complete. In all three of the other projects, research is proving a little more challenging. The local library provided the starts, and the internet helps but I think I’m going to need to spend some time in town at both the Immigration Museum and the State Library.

Should I be pleased that I’ve discovered an opportunity to fill a gap, or concerned that perhaps the interest/market for these topics isn’t there? Who knows? As my mother would say, time (and some more research) will tell.