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Ubud Writers and Readers’ Festival

Dear Reader, Greetings from Ubud!

Thanks to writingWA, I am here and about to do my third workshop and first panel session in a festival crammed with fascinating writers and stories, set in tropical (and appropriately humid) paradise, with equally fascinating punters. Apparently Hanif Kureishi yesterday inquired as to whether there were any Australians left in Australia: I am staying in the ridiculously beautiful Ananda Cottages, where most of Perth is also currently residing.

It is a gift to be here. As a writer who also works (very) full time, sometimes the balance between creativity, work and life is a little bit, er, challenging. Events like this remind me that it is worth it and that I am incredibly lucky.

As an added bonus, I have just posted off a new manuscript. Fingers crossed, everyone!

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Jakarta International School: such a great bunch of writers!

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Dyatmika School in Denpasar

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My writing location for the week

Book Week shenanigans

It is that time of year again, where those in the world of children’s literature wander far and wide, aided by teachers, librarians, TAs, and parents, to celebrate the books made to expand the imaginative horizons of our kids. Although we in the trade have taken to calling it Bookweekmonth, as gigs start before and continue after it, Book Week itself concluded yesterday. For me, it started with the WA Children’s Book Council dinner and ended with me having visited Dianella, Inglewood, Osborne Park, Southern River College and St Brigid’s in Lesmurdie. The library gigs were sponsored by the Children’s Book Council, an organisation of volunteers who do so very much to connect books and kids. Go 2&5!

I am exhausted, happy and grateful for the wonderful kids and young adults I met this week – including a girl who shared the name of my protagonist from my first novel, Obsession, and had also gone to Kemmy high school. Quite a freaky coincidence, what?!

Here are some happy snaps from some of the above:

Gee, June!

Dear reader, where does the time go?

Last month I was privileged to be a part of the Big Sky festival in Geraldton. It was a peak life experience, of which fact I was aware at every moment. From travelling to the stunning Abrolhos Islands, with their history of mutineering and murder, guano-mining and crayfishing, to meeting warm, engaged audiences, re-visiting Geraldton schools and  meeting fabulous writing colleagues, it was delightful, fun, thought-provoking and occasionally terrifying (in the seven-seater plane). Trudi Cornish and her team did the most remarkable job putting it all together and making us all feel welcome and at home.

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Charlotte Wood, Rachael Woods, Alison Lester, Jock Serong, me and Michael Leunig

At Big Sky, the remarkably eloquent Gideon Haigh spoke about A Scandal in Bohemia , which I am now engrossed in. It is an exploration of the life of talented and spirited Mollie Dean, who was murdered while walking home in Eltham, Melbourne in 1930. This week another murder in Melbourne, of talented and spirited Eurydice Dixon, has made reading this even sadder: the tragic loss of a talented young woman, again. On a personal level, apart from despairing and being furious about the danger of being a female, I am reminded of the rape and murder of my friend Carita Ridgway, and the way the sense of loss never goes away, only, at best, diminishes.

I leave you with something cheering, my daughter’s latest painting-in-progress:

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Dog love and laureates

I know I have been remiss on the blogging front, but I just have to re-blog this wonderful post from the clever and delightful Cristy Burne, about Hecta. Check it out here.

In other news, last night I chaired a session on the Life of a Children’s Laureate at the inaugural Scribblers Festival. Leigh Hobbs, PJ Lynch and Chris Riddell were funny, thought-provoking, and generally delightful as artists and as human beings – pretty sure the audience would have been happy for them to keep going all night. Here are some pics of the evening:

 

Fabulous, frenetic, festivally February

Happy 2018 to you!

It is a year since the launch of Before You Forget. The video, produced with the help of so many of you, is being used far and wide to help convey what it’s like to be a teenager with a father developing Alzheimer’s, and the book is doing likewise. I will be speaking about Before You Forget at A Night With Our Stars, organised by Joanna Andrew (and Children’s Book Council folk) and now going into its second decade, if memory serves me correctly. It’s like speed dating: each writer and illustrator gets three minutes to spruik their wares, and punters can stock up their school libraries in the break. It’s a bunch of fun for everyone. If you’re interested in hearing the varied and wonderful books written for children and young people in Western Australia, you could do worse than come and have a listen.

I started a fabulous new day job in the new year, just after frantically finishing my middle grade manuscript and sending it off to my publisher. Now we wait, with fingers crossed, or with thumbs pressed together, as they say in German (she adds, apropos of nothing). It really doesn’t get any easier, sending off your work to see what reception it’s going to get, although it is probably marginally less nerve-wracking than the first time (marginally).

It is Perth Festival time, my favourite time of the year: so far I have seen Il N’Est Pas Encore Minuit, a French company of acrobats whose show was clever and warm and mindboggling in equal measure; and yesterday the Barbershop Chronicles, energetic, funny, thought provoking. It was a wonderful way to start Festival frenzy.

This year I will be doing fewer school gigs, but I am delighted to be heading to Geraldton again in May for Big Sky. More details when they are available.

My daughter is starting a business doing portraits, mostly of older people. Here, for your viewing pleasure, is her latest.

Of All Things October

I am about to go to Albany for my final two days working with the Talented Young Writers program, workshops organised by The Literature Centre for kids who love reading and writing. They come from different schools to a host site (in Perth, the Lit Centre itself in Freo) to spend four days each year working with different writers and illustrators. As a writer, it is a gift to be with these young, enthusiastic and brimming-with-talent people. The feedback the participants give confirm that they love the days as much as we do: from this week, a St Mark’s student wrote:

“Honestly this was my favourite ever day at the Lit Centre. Not only did I learn a heap and write things that I am pleased with but Julia’s stories and background was super interesting to hear about. I am grateful to have this opportunity and thankful to have learned so much in such a short time!”❤️

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Creative kids writing, the Literature Centre, Fremantle

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Lesley Reece, me, and the wonderful library staff at John Willcock College, Geraldton

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This week I also had the pleasure of speaking to Nadia L King, Paper Bird Fellow, and Jen Jackson about all things YA on Thursday night, at the gorgeous Paper Bird book shop in Fremantle. There was a small but enthusiastic audience, including Nadia’s two intelligent and informed daughters.

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My daughter travelled to Melbourne last week to speak at the Be the Change conference, the national conference of Alzheimer’s Australia (now known as Dementia Australia). She talked about growing up with a father who was developing younger onset Alzheimer’s; the isolation and distress of it; the transformative power of art: of she and Gemma writing /discussing/workshopping Before You Forget with me, and creating her own art. It was a hard thing for her to do, but the connection she made with others going through the same thing, including parents with younger onset Alzheimer’s, was incredibly validating. I do not have words for how proud and pleased I am that she could do this. My thanks to Dementia Australia, especially Celina Day, for making it possible for Annie to attend.

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Annie’s painting of her dad

 

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I’m sure I have other things to note, observe and celebrate, but I shall get packing now. Happy reading, happy writing, happy spring to you all.

 

Stitching Stories in September

August and all its Book Week fun is done for another year, dear Reader.

I had the pleasure of presenting to kids from year one to year eleven (not in the same session, you’ll be pleased to hear). I didn’t travel anywhere too far-flung: St Thomas’ Catholic School in Claremont; Victoria Park library, attended by various schools in the area; and Applecross High School, where my week ended with a self-selected group of inquisitive and lively kids. It was such a fabulous few days, I wished Book Week would never end. I will have my own version of Book Month later this year, when I travel to Geraldton, Albany and Fremantle (hey, it’s up the train line) for The Literature Centre’s Talented Young Writers Program. I can’t wait, already.

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Before You Forget, the scarf

 

Book Week was also special because my dear friend Bri early-surprise-birthdayed me a scarf on which is printed the text of Before You Forget (obviously not all of it). I absolutely adore it: it’s harder to think of a more personal and lovely gift for a writer.

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CBCA WA Branch Dinner, costumes preferred

 

On my YA reading pile: Zana Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow is breaking my heart, while Cath Crowley’s Words in Deep Blue is putting it back together again; I also started Claire Zorn’s One Would Think The Deep and desperately need to get hold of a copy to continue. The trio were honour books and winner of this year’s CBCA awards, and worthily so (although how the judges pick from so much excellent work is beyond me).

Am writing: slowly, slowly, I’m threading my narrative needle and stitching my new story, a middle grade novel about a moral quandary (pre-ordering yet?!), among other things. It’s amazing how a change in perspective can reveal where the gaps are: I changed from first person to third and thus sewed up one set of holes. No doubt others will appear elsewhere.

Wishing you all a super spring.

 

Joyful in June

It has been a bit quiet on the writing news front, dear Reader, and the rest of life rather hectic, which accounts for my sparse blogging. On the news front, though, I am now about a third in to a middle grade novel, which has had ‘it’s got legs’ approval, so I’m very excited about this. Starting a new novel is as feeling-your-way-in-the-dark as it ever was: I am a beginner every time. Which is the joy (more of which below) and frustration both of this writing life.

Yesterday was the Perth launch for Dianne Wolfer‘s beautiful new picture book, Nanna’s Button Tin, illustrated by Heather Potter.  Button-festooned Frané Lessac started a new trend by launching a picture book by way of reference to Captain Koons’ speech in Pulp Fiction: I’m sure Tarantino could never have imagined this would be one of the uses to which his script would be put, but I think more books should be launched in this manner, although it was possibly confusing to the small children present, who almost swallowed their buttons as adults in the audience guffawed about grandfathers dying. (You had to be there.) Anyway, it was a beautiful event for a special book. I have such admiration for Dianne and her creative openness and writing trajectory, and it was most excellent to see the latest in the Wolfer oeuvre.

Following this were the mainland events of the SCBWI Rottnest Retreat. I was excited to attend this not only so I could catch up with my SCBWI buddies and meet some new ones, but also because my publisher from Penguin Random House, Lisa Riley, was one of the panellists. The session on children’s and YA publishing was enlightening and sobering: Linsay Knight from Walker Books said that out of the 360 submissions (from published and unpublished authors) Walker had received since November, only one had been acquired, with a couple of others making progress. Penguin Random House received 2300 manuscripts in 2016, with many, many picture books among those: given that only 12 picture books are published each year, that gives you some insight into the odds. However, the final word was: if you have a great story, it will out. Eventually! Many, many thanks to the SCBWI volunteers who make the retreat possible: it is a wonderful thing you’re doing, and we know how much work (and prayer: see James Foley below) go into these things.

And speaking of good stories outing eventually, it was wonderful to be at dinner with Michael Speechley as he received his first offer of contract from Penguin Random House. Joyful in June, indeed!

Review-y things

Dear reader, I have been rather pressed doing exciting writer-y things, such as attending and presenting at the Perth Writers Festival, hosting writing workshops with year 10s at Frederick Irwin School in Mandurah, and moderating election forums on where-to for Western Australian writing funding. I’ve also been getting this video out into the world.

I’ve also had some lovely reviews of Before You Forget: here’s an edited sample to save you clicks (full list here):

From Joanne Morrell in Westerly

…And although the major theme in Before You Forget is based on early-onset Alzheimer’s, there are many fitting storylines for an adolescent readership, providing relief to the book’s tragic topic: a love interest for Amelia in the cute boy next door and a disobedient Jack Russell called Hecta. Lawrinson captures the essence of youth in Amelia. Her character is unfalteringly comical, witty and emotionally charged with every page turn. Her relatable qualities will be a big hit among young readers. Before You Forget does not stray from Lawrinson’s other work, which boasts her usual style of engrossing prose and examination of major themes. But this novel, I feel, has been her biggest challenge yet: incorporating her and her teenage daughter’s heartbreakingly personal story of having lived and in a sense lost her husband and her daughter’s father to early-onset Alzheimer’s. Lawrinson pours first-hand knowledge into this novel about family, friendship and loss.

From Love to Read Local (writingWA)

Established young adult author Lawrinson takes on new ground in this tragi-comic exploration of the impact of early-onset Alzheimer’s on a family. Told through the eyes of Year 12 art student Amelia, the story is unflinching in its description of the effects of this heartbreaking disease, but leavened throughout with heart and humour. As Amelia navigates the difficult terrain of adolescence, she must also come to terms with her father’s personality change, erratic behaviour, and subsequent diagnosis, and renegotiate her relationship with both parents as family dynamics shift. A wry, resilient character, Amelia is above all realistically drawn – at once angry and sad, short-tempered and tender as she tries to find a place for herself within an experience that makes little space for the young. As well as shining a clear light on an important topic, Before You Forget is a compelling story full of compassion, tightly and beautifully told.

From Liz Derouet

I love Julia Lawrinson’s work. Bye, Beautiful (2006) is still one of my favourite YA books, bye-beautifulever. Before You Forget is very different. It is set in the present day with real life issues. The embarrassment felt by Amelia from her father’s increasingly weird behaviour, and her own knowledge that she should be more supportive, is raw and honest. She manages as most her age would, maturing and developing throughout the narrative in a gradual way. In her own way of coping with her need of support and father’s health, she is unaware of Gemma’s slow self-destruction and demise. Lawrinson’s clever way of showing, not telling, has readers see this before Amelia. Both Amelia’s and Gemma’s needs for each other threatens to clash in a detrimental way.

This is an interesting read. While involving a devastating, irreversible diagnosis, it also contains humour and wit. Characterisation is strong and the narrative flows well from the first sentence. Sub-plots and minor characters are as well rounded and well written as the major players, making this, for me, an entire package. This book will do well in public and high school libraries.

From Trish Talks Texts

Julia Lawrinson’s tight exploration of the effects of early onset Alzheimer’s is tough going. Not only because of how long it takes to diagnose Amelia’s dad, but also because of how distressing it is for him, and for the people around him. We see him give money away to strangers, embarrass Amelia at a shopping centre, and we see the grief it causes him when his licence is taken away. It’s not pretty. …

I loved Amelia’s wry observations, and her humble approach to life. While she did bemoan her situation, she never sounded whiny or melodramatic. I thought she dealt well with a terrible tragic situation and is going to be okay. The realism of her situation is important and appreciated.

Before you Forget is recommended for readers who like their contemporary novels a bit gritty, a bit sad, and involving a character who faces adversity bravely. I also love this cover.

Before You Forget: launch speech notes

Last night Before You Forget was launched at The Literature Centre by Laurie Apps, President of the Fremantle Tennis Club and all round fabulous human being. The following are the notes for my speech, from which I deviated from time to time. It followed the first screening of the emotional and beautifully shot Before You Forget video, directed by Kori Reay-Mackey, to be posted in the near future. Thanks to all who came: we had 150 people sitting, standing, celebrating. It was quite a night!

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Lesley, Mailee and the Literature Centre team for hosting this event, and for being such supporters of those of us who create literature for young people. This place is our home and our refuge.

(Ad libbed thanks to Laurie Apps, director Kori Reay-Mackey, video donors, and Penguin Random House)

  • Alan Genoni was a brilliant English teacher at Kelmscott High School, encouraging me early in my creative writing endeavours, and I am honoured that he is here tonight – as well as delighted that he also won Western Australian High School Principal of the year last year.
  • Judith Ridge, guru of literature for young people, is here from Sydney, and I’m thrilled that this is also her first time to Perth: we’ll make sure it’s not your last.
  • The energetic force of nature that is Susanne Gervay is also here from our SCBWI family in Sydney, and it is gorgeous to have her here.
  • Katrina Lievense, art teacher extraordinaire from John Curtin, was kind enough to read through the manuscript and make sure I had the arty bits right: she and Anne McCaughey were my first readers, and I so appreciate their feedback: and I think they related to one of the themes of this novel – art as saviour.
  • Thank you to my colleagues from writing, health, teaching, parliament and law.
  • Graham Smith, John’s oldest friend, and his family are here tonight – until fairly recently, John could recite every move in the year seven chess final that Graham beat him in.
  • Gemma Maxwell, whose name I used with permission in the novel, and about whom you heard Annie talking about in the video, whose mum also had early onset, and to whom the novel is also dedicated – thank you, and Tessa and Farrel for being here tonight.
  • Thank you to all of you who have provided us with the nibblies – and especially Brioni Dunstan. I want to just say, Bri should have been in events management – as well as organising the food tonight, she threw a surprise party for me and Nigel a couple of years back, with the theme All You Need Is Love, a subject to which I will return, which remains one of the most lovely things anyone’s ever done for me.
  • And speaking of Nigel, I want to thank him for his daily love and kindness, which sustains me.

Speechy bit

So now, to Before You Forget, and why it is here, and why it matters so much to me – and will, I hope, to others.

The last five or six years have been trying, to put it politely.

If I were to describe it accurately, I would have to use all my Kelmscott words.

I have learned so much about human nature, good and bad – as someone wisely said, the best thing about the worst time of your life is that you see the true colours of everybody.

Sometimes, this resulted in a fondness for fermented grape juice, periods of insomnia, and acting out in extreme and self-destructive ways, such as deciding to do a law degree.

But these years were the impetus for writing the novel – indeed, made the writing of the novel essential to our psychic survival.

The last five years have also made me appreciate more than I ever have the value of human connection.

All of you here, and more who are not, have sustained me and Annie, in large ways and in small, practically, emotionally, spiritually, virtually or in person, and I truly cannot thank you enough.

I would like to make special mention of Morgan Yasbincek, Paul Webster and Shaun Salmon, who have supported John constantly through his illness, and keep doing so even though he no longer knows them.

But the star of this show is Annie.

I wrote this novel after seeing not only the torment that her father’s condition caused her, but also seeing how her loss, for the most part, was not acknowledged or understood by others.

There was no place for her in all the dealings with care providers, doctors, the State Administrative Tribunal, in all the horrible and unnecessary contests we went through over John’s care.

Her voice, her perspective, her relationship with her father were not heard, seen, or valued.

The system for dealing with people with early onset – in a framework of aged care – is woefully ill-equipped for younger people in general, and especially for younger people who still have children and teenagers at home.

This has to change.

Annie has become a strong, self-reliant, clear sighted and determined young woman because of what has happened to her – and I am so proud of her – and I know John would be too.

But I wish things had been better for her.

And I hope it will be better for the thousands of young people living with watching their parent’s deterioration, for those who lose parents when they are still alive, the living loss of early onset Alzheimer’s disease and its many variations and permutations.

So, this is what I hope Before You Forget will provide – an inside view on a little-understood disease and its effects on those living with it.

I also hope it’s a cracking good read.

I remember pitching Before You Forget to Jane Godwin, former publisher at Penguin, at our SCBWI retreat at Rottnest, saying ‘it’s about a girl whose dad has early onset and her best friend gets anorexia and her mother starts drinking and she’s obsessed with 9/11 – it’s a comedy, obviously.’

There is comic relief in the shape of a small and crazy Jack Russell named Hecta.

He is closely modelled on a small and crazy Jack Russell named Hecta who, despite regularly escaping out of doors onto busy roads, eating unidentifiable items from the yard or bins at Brightwater, humping poor patient Labradors until he does himself an injury, or stealing and eating glad-wrapped sandwiches from people’s handbags, manages to be the kind of dog that people look at and say, ‘Ah, isn’t he sweet.’

This novel reveals the truth.

Thank you all for being here, for sharing this ‘journey’ with us, and I hope this novel finds a treasured place in your hearts.

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