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Sweet 2016

Happy 2016 to you!

1. Above is my reading pile/s for Perth Writers Festival Schools and Teachers Days. Luckily I’ve already read a couple in that list, and it is proving a pleasure to make my way through the rest.

2. If you’re free on Saturday 16 January, come to the State Library of WA for free writing/reading workshops for kids – details here.

3. 2016 is already looking exciting writing-wise: I have started the year doing an edit for a novel I first drafted last year, and will be out at the beginning of next, and the calendar is filling up with lots of fabulous things, including the Asian Festival For Children’s Content in Singapore in May (thank you, writingwa and Department of Culture and the Arts!). More of both forthwith.

4. I spent the first day of 2016 swimming in the clear, shark-less waters of Yallingup with cousins and kids. The evening before, we saw these folk head for the hills. A visiting Irishman suggested that the sight of them to us must be ordinary: we put him straight. The elegant strangeness of a kangaroo can never be ordinary.

5. I wish you all a year of books, and the open-minded curiosity they create.

The Flyaway Girls: what Katy thinks

Waiting for first reviews to come in can be nerve-wracking, so getting one like this makes one’s writerly heart sing.

I’m not sure about the recommended reading age – I would have thought The Flyaway Girls is definitely at the young (and younger) end of that spectrum. If you’ve read it, what do you think?

Reading Time’s Katy Gerner said:
I found The Flyaway Girls refreshing and innovative. The vast majority of the books that I have reviewed for young people have been about romance, sex, dangerous bullies and family violence. It was a treat to read a book in which none of these played a part.
The Flyaway Girls is about life balance and also about learning to accept that although you can be very good at something you will not necessarily be the best. Other themes include nurturing relationships and making amends.
Chelsea is devoted to gymnastics and is recognised as the being the hardest worker at her club and a great performer by her coaches. She is also ambitious and hopeful for her future. This is until a new girl joins her class and, despite no previous training, quickly grasps skills that took Chelsea hours of practice to achieve. Chelsea can’t even enjoy hating her because Telia is a lovely girl and looks up to her.
The characters in the Flyaway Girls are also well-drawn, likeable and realistic: they become irritated, confused, try to be helpful and take themselves too seriously.
The environment in which the story is set is normal too: there are no long periods of suffering. Chelsea is uncomfortable with her father’s new girl friend but deals with it, her friend that makes snide remarks also has a good side and when Chelsea is snubbed by her long suffering friends, she makes new friends.
Lawrinson’s writing style is vivid, her descriptions of gymnastics interesting and her humour light. I recommend this book for girls aged 11-15.
Lawrinson has written more than ten novels including Bye, Beautiful which was a 2007 CBCA Notable Book and Chess Nuts which was a 2011 CBCA Notable Book.

The Flyaway Girls: what Kate thinks

I got my first two advance copies of The Flyaway Girls in the post the other day. This is my twelfth book, and the sight of the final product after years of writing, researching, editing, more editing, and even more editing never fails to delight me.

This novel almost never got written, and, after that, it almost never got finished.

And the reason it got finished was because I gave a copy to my colleague’s daughter. I was so close to the novel that I’d lost any sense of whether it was any good or not, and I was so rusty after several years away from Real Writing that I felt I’d almost forgotten how. So I asked Kate. Now, I’ve never met Kate, but I know she’s a keen reader, so I sent her mum an unfinished copy and asked if Kate would do me the honour of reading and commenting on the manuscript.

She did. She loved it, and passed it on to her friend and her sister. They loved it too, endingless or otherwise.

This week, it was fabulous to be able to pass on the novel, complete with ending, to Kate. And even more fabulous to get this response.

Many thanks to the Penguin Random House crew, past and present, for their patience, dedication, and for their cracking cover. (Which Kate and her sister also heartily approved, I might add.)

The book is dedicated to Amanda Quigley, the wonderful coach of Southside Gymnastics Academy.

But my biggest thank you goes to Kate. Kate, thank you!

The Flyaway Girls will be out in August.

The Flyaway Girls – book and blurb

Nearly five years after its beginning, the idea I wrote about here has turned into an actual book. With an actual blurb. And it has a title.

The novel started with me musing: what do you do if you’re good at what you love, but not the best? Do you give up? Do you keep going with different expectations? How do you measure success? Is success what you make yourself, or what other people think of you? What, in the end, really matters?

Nobody gets what they want in life, not all the time, anyway. There is luck and there is talent; there are the x factors of background and wealth, temperament and timeliness. Part of learning to be a human being is managing the gap between what you want and what life allows you to have. And you start learning young.

So, here is the story of Chelsea and Telia, gymnasts, friends – rivals?

It is out in September.

All praise Penguin for the gorgeous cover and the title. And all praise to Amanda Quigley of Southside Districts Gymnastics Academy for her inspiring coaching of gymnasts and invaluable and direct advice to one writer, me. Also thanks to my junior readers/writing coaches, Kate and Anna and Kate’s friend, for inspiring me to get it to the finish line.

Kindling Words

Folk don’t often become writers, illustrators or editors without possessing a reasonable degree of introversion: it is necessary to get the work done. However, creators are in need of communion with their people. Often this happens informally: we meet up at festivals, or are introduced through fellow artists, or at book launches. Here in Western Australia, organisations like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, WritingWA, the Literature Centre and the ASA also provide forums and courses where creators at all different stages of their careers can get together, exchange information, and drink a lot complain about contracts bemoan the state of publishing talk.

In Australia, though, there is nothing like Kindling Words.

Thanks to the Copyright Agency and the Department of Culture and the Arts, I got to experience Kindling Words East in February this year – and be changed by the experience.

Seventy five established writers, illustrators and editors, lucky enough to have been chosen from a lottery system, gathered at the Essex resort in snowy Vermont to discuss, over three glorious days, what we do when we make stories for children and young adults. The rules are strict: no pitching to the editors and no sharing personal information about others. The focus is on deeply contemplating the craft of what we do: no discussion of contracts or book deals, just the real stuff. Each day there was a keynote speech by a writer and then an illustrator. There were readings. There were shared meals and conversations over those meals about Everything. There was warmth and intensity and a palpable creative charge. In the afternoons you could retreat to your room to write (as I did), or join in whiteboard discussions instigated by participants in various locations around the resort.

I cannot do justice to the level of inspiration that gathering generated, nor can I adequately describe the warmth and kindness with which I was treated by all the participants, and in particular by the organisers. The weather was also an experience: minus twenty five, with snow so cold you couldn’t make snowballs.

Stay tuned for the results.

Farewell to fourteen

1. It’s hard to think of a word to adequately describe this year: let’s settle for hectic. But I have managed, in spite of everything, to write in the margins (ha! see what I did there?).

First, the indomitable Patricia McMahon and I have finished a draft and (almost) a redraft of Lark (can’t sing) Jaz, or whatever the title will be of our joint endeavour. I have also redrafted the still-untitled (though I have some great contenders!) gymnastics novel, which will be published in June 2015 by Penguin. And my current project has just been supported by the Department of Culture and the Arts for 2015, and its panel of peers, for which I am immensely, indeed staggeringly, grateful.

This one is going to matter.

I am also beyond grateful for the Department of Culture and the Arts and the Copyright Agency for supporting my upcoming residency at Kindling Words East in the US, a residency specifically for professional writers, artists and editors – more of which in the New Year.

2. This is my summer reading list:

One of these things is not like the other

3. My old comedy buddy Jude Bridge won the Scarlet Stiletto Award this year: see here. Judy is a writer of quirky, funny, heartfelt short fiction: she’s been published all over the place in recent years, and I hope to see a collection of hers on shelves near you sometime soon. You won’t read anything like her anywhere. She’s the one with the sausage in her mouth, from back in the day:

The wonders of latex

4. This is a blog about writing, but I have to acknowledge the hideous events of the past week, and shake my head in horror, along with the rest of the world. For my money, the best piece about one of the hideous events is Randa Abdel-Fattah: if you haven’t read it, it’s here.

5. A special thank you to The Literature Centre and its staff for its support of me this year, and to Writing WA. We writers and illustrators are so lucky to have such vibrant agencies supporting us in Western Australia. And, while I’m at it, thanks to all the SCBWI crew – you know why.

6. May 2015 bring peace to you all, joy if you can find it, lots of good books, good friends, good conversations. And time to breathe, reflect, and appreciate the life you have.

Persistence pays off

1. Way, way, way back a long, long, long time ago, I wrote about starting a new junior novel. I didn’t think I would ever finish it, despite spending a wonderful few weeks watching the talented gymnasts at Southside Districts Gymnastics Academy in January 2011, courtesy of the coach and owner, the marvellous Amanda Quigley.  Well, thanks to some astute young readers (who loved it even without an ending) and other creative supporters, in January 2014 I finally finished the novel that I think will be called Almost Good Enough, and next year it will be published with Penguin. I can’t tell you what it took to finally get to this point: it has been a very, er, eventful few years in between, and I am extremely happy to have it across the line.

Moral of the story: Keep Going. Just Keep Going. In writing as in all other things.

PS I hope to be able to deliver more exciting writing news soon.

2.  Recognition can be long coming. Witness these men:

My dad, waving at his wife, his daughters, his granddaughter.

3. It’s been 40 splendid years of these folk: my primary school best friend sent this to me from England today. Oh nostalgia!

A is for April

1. It occurred to me that so much of writing is waiting: waiting for ideas to come, or the next scene; waiting to see whether publishers like your latest offering; whether readers like it. Writing is, in this sense, the antithesis of modern life, modern communication, which is all instant, and rarely cause for pondering or reflection.

Peripherally related to this: at the recent Perth Writers Festival, one of the guests at the opening party talked about hard-copy publishers as legacy publishers, implying, perhaps, that they were going the way of dinosaurs. But such publishing, like writing, will always have its place, I think, even if its role changes. Hardcopy books invite slow contemplation in a way ebooks don’t (regardless of subject matter – who’s with me?!). Not all stories require contemplation to be effective, but it is one of the things that matters to me.

2. The book I’m writing with the incomparable Patricia McMahon continues to be a joy, and, not only that, but we’re getting closer to the/an end. The manuscript is fattening, and we’re still bristling with new ideas.

3. I’ve just finished reading Christos Tsiolkas’ Barracuda. It took me months to get through it: I wanted to savour every chapter. Has anybody else read it? It was thought-provoking at every conceivable level. Today the Miles Franklin long list was released, and it didn’t appear, which is baffling to me. (Maybe, as happened to one of my favourite YA books of last year, the publisher didn’t submit it?) Anybody else read it?

4. We’ve been getting out of the city on the weekends lately: visiting places not-too-far-away. Here is a picture of the moonscape-like Pinnacles. I’d never been there before – I’d always had the impression it would be underwhelming. It was not.

5. Life has been stressful lately, but I am lucky to work with great folks, with great ideas. Like, visiting new bars like Bobeche on a Friday night. Which serves a kind of tea I heartily approve of:

Fab in Fourteen

Happy New Year, dear reader! (You know who you are.)

This year is about Writing. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise, coming from a writer, but the last couple of years have been, well, distracting, not to put too fine a point on it. So even though many aspects of my life are the same, and I am as pushed for time as I ever was, I am bringing a writerly focus to it all.

It’s starting off well:

1. I sent off my first manuscript in years, after fabulous feedback from a colleague’s 10 year old daughter and her friend (thanks, young Kate!) It needs work, but the act of completing it was A Thing.

2. Below is New York, in which I met up with the wondrous Patricia McMahon, co-author of my current project. We went to see The ABC: Why Children’s Books Matter at the New York Public Library, curated by Leonard S Marcus. We both cried, listening to EB White himself read the end of Charlotte’s Web. At other times, we trotted through Central Park, thrashed over our manuscript over lunch and dinner, took ourselves to the theatre. New York was fabulousness itself, despite the polar vortex that was being visited upon the city for the duration of our visit. It restoreth the soul.

3. I am chairing three sessions at the Perth Writers’ Festival (see here for details.) I’ve never loved reading a bunch of books so much, and while I’m aware that really I should be a bundle of nerves at this point, I’m way too excited for that. Hannah Kent, AJ Betts, Will Kostakis, Claire Zorn, Joe Ducie, Sarah Turnbull, William McInnes.

4. Who knows, I might blog more, about Actual Writing this year.

Stay tuned. Stay warm. Stay well.

Grand dames meet up at Grand Central

New York Public Library: hitherto only read about in books

This should be a travelling show (hint). It featured ‘our’ Shaun Tan, too.

When advertising fails to anticipate Big Events

Imagining in minus gazillion temperatures