Category Archives: writing

New in November

1.  The irony of November being National Novel Writing Month is striking this writer’s anvil once again as we speak (pardon the questionable image, it’s been that kind of a day).  For me, November is always frantically busy with non-writing-related activities, although lately I have paused to give thanks that I am in a different dayjob to the one which consumed vast amounts of my time and energy twelve months ago.  So I watch my fellow writers’ word counts increase through their NaNoWriMo efforts, while the only thing that increases for me is the distance between what I thought was the end of my work-in-progress and the actual end of said WIP.  But what used to be snarkiness re NaNo has transformed into something more gentle: I consider the vast amounts of creative effort being expended by others, and think that this can be no bad thing.

This benign view is probably fuelled by my excitement about my upcoming YA project.  I have tried and failed to get Ozco funding for a couple of years running (close but no cigar), and now I’ve decided to just Do It.  It’s writerly, it’s edgy, and I have no idea how I’m going to put it together.  I’m stupidly excited.  And therefore excited about everybody else’s creative work.

2.  It is spring, finally.  Here in Western Australia the weather wasn’t sure for quite a while, but now days are more blue than rainy, buffeted by pre-summer winds.  The wild fowl on the lakes are followed by their offspring, bottlebrush shrubs (bushes? trees?) are being set upon by squawking parrots, and red-tailed Carnabies are flying regularly overhead, though not in their former numbers.  I’ve planted spring onions, tomatoes, various greens, capsicum, cucumbers.  A few weeks ago, a complete stranger on a ride-on lawnmower, with a fanatic glint in his eye, levelled the weeds at the front of the house unbidden.  I’m going to plant a row of sunflowers there, and hope that next time he might mow around them.

3. My daughter is studying Bye, Beautiful at school.  That’s one way of getting her to read it!

4.  My junior novel is edited, rearranged, fine-tuned.  I’m on the home stretch, but facts, as they are wont to do, are getting in the way of a good story, so I’ve had to go back to the drawing board for a few things.  And I’ve just received the blurb for Losing It.  So things are in motion, after feeling like I was running on the spot for quite a while.

5.  I’m writing this on my iMac.  I’ve never had a computer of my own before (I know, I know), and I’m in love, and jealous as all get-out.  Now I know what all my writer friends have been going on about all these years, and no, this is not a sponsored post.

Children’s Book Week etcetera

1.  I have workshop/presentations in Geraldton and Albany for the Fremantle Children’s Literature Centre’s Youth Lit days; a day in Ballajura Public Library for City of Swan; and Merriwa Primary School.  I’m speaking to kids from year 1 to year 12, a prospect that is slightly terrifying.  (Still, I guess as long as I don’t read the year 1s the opening of Losing It I’m sure I’ll be fine).  I am preparing new material: the old stuff works perfectly well, but I want to stretch myself a bit, and the students.  There is also the possibility it will be a complete flop and the kids will go, ‘What the – ?’  Once when I was doing comedy we had a fabulous idea involving a potato peeler and a set of knitting needles.  The finer details escape me, but not the memory of the audience’s puzzled silence.  Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat.

2.  The daffodils are preparing themselves for spring: the teardrop bulbs that will release glorious yellow petals are fattening.

3.  I went to Sydney and Melbourne last month, to see my wonderful publisher and editors and for some much needed creative-battery recharge.  Which makes the fact I am on the third rewrite of my ghost story bearable.  While I was there I sat on Nina’s seat and wondered why I don’t live in Melbourne.  But maybe it’s better the city is like an affair: maybe daily familiarity would ruin the mystique and the passion.

4.  I promised in May I’d report back on my effort toward Moderation.  I’m doing quite well, thank you.*  Am I finally growing up?

5.  I ran away from my daughter’s subject selection night at her high school to eat chocolate fondue with another recalcitrant mother, dragging our daughters behind us.  So the answer to the question in 4. is clearly: maybe not.

6.  I was having a particularly bad day last week, and my old friend B sent me a message, saying: Today at our school we had a ‘surprise visitor’ (a teacher dressed in a Clifford the Dog costume).  A bunch of year four girls were disappointed because they hoped that YOU were going to be the guest.  They all so love Chess Nuts. 🙂

* Maybe not all the time, right?  But mostly.  Mostly is good.

Writing exciting

In an otherwise trying week, I had a burst of writing-related serendipity on Wednesday.  Sometimes, with writing, you feel like you’re trying to melt glass with your breath: it just won’t yield, and no matter the effort you expend.  Sometimes it’s not the writing itself: you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, you’ve lost your mojo, or you know what you want to say but not how to say it.  All you are doing is howling at the moon.  At other times, things elegantly, magically cohere.  Like last Wednesday: I talked new projects with a fellow writer at lunch, among many other soul-enriching things, then returned to my desk to find:

 a) a pile of Amazon-purchased books (see picture below, which also contains two others from my Dymocks Fremantle foray), and

 b) an email from my editor with the proposed cover of Losing It.  I squealed with delight and surprise.  I can’t share it with you just yet, but if you were to design a cover for novel about four smart seventeen-year-old girls making a bet to lose their virginity (yes, you can tell it’s fiction coz they’re so old, right?!), what would you come up with?

Stay tuned and I’ll show you what Penguin’s designer came up with.  It’s right.

Meantimes, the books included:

A Pattern Language, principally by Christorpher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein (if you want to understand why most urban planning doesn’t work well, check this out)
A Wrinkle in Time (I remember now that I wouldn’t pick it up as a kid because I couldn’t work out how to pronounce Madeleine L’Engle’s name – go figure.  Reading it now because of Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, which is the best junior novel I’ve ever read)
Bog Child, Siobhan Dowd
Noah’s Law, Randa Abdel-Fattah
M.T. Anderson’s Feed and Louis Sachar’s Holes
Gathering Blue, Lois Lowry
Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever 1793 and Speak (not pictured, because it’s in my suitcase)
Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia (I am ashamed to say I once marked a bunch of student essays about this novel without having read it myself.  Anyone else ever done that?)
and Lois Lowry’s The Giver

I will be making a dent in this pile soon, as I head off to read, write and talk to my publishers.  *breathes out*

Bits and pieces

1.  Back in the early 90s, when I first got into the writing scene in Perth, there was an incredible bubbling of energy, ideas and poetry collections from writers like Morgan Yasbincek, Tracy Ryan, Barbara Temperton, Marcella Polain, and Sarah French, to name but a few.  There were readings, arguments and frisson, friendships and collaborations, striving and success.  Even if, like me, you weren’t a poet, wouldn’t have known a cinquain if it jumped out at you in a dark alley and thought a pastoral was where cows graze, you were nevertheless swept up and along by the sheer creative whoosh of it. 

A similar thing is happening in the kids’ lit scene here in Perth at present, I noticed as I sailed westwards to Rottnest for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators third annual retreat, which I attended with folk like Norman Jorgensen and James Foley, whose Last Viking book launch I attended on Friday night, Briony Stewart, whose next book Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers is about to be launched, and Meg McKinlay, whose book No Bears was launched at Rottnest by the talent-fostering Sarah Foster from Walker Books – to name but a few.  I spent most of the time cycling around the very windy island, ruminating, and having long discussions about writing, the universe and everything with my fellow housies Meg, Patricia McMahon (into whose lap in the dark a quokka leapt) and the indefatigable Dianne Wolfer, but I did notice that same indefinable energy and enthusiasm that I remembered from way back when.  I also believe there was karaoke.

The lap-leaping quokka

AJ Betts getting funky

AJ Betts and Meg McKinlay vik-ing it up

Do you think I could add these to my parliamentary outfit?

2.  Steph Bowe was talking on her blog about the pros and cons of homeschooling, which got me thinking (I know, who knew?!)  The best school year of my life was spent doing what was then called distance education for year 11, and I was only allowed to do it because of a series of factors (like getting booted out of face-time school) went in my favour.  And I loved it: I loved being able to set my own timetable, work at my own pace, and be treated like an adult by my (invisible) teachers.  It did set me apart from my peers a bit, but given most of the peers I had at my high school, that was no bad thing.  It is a great way of studying, especially for the introverts among us.  Why should you be forced to be social if you don’t want to, just to learn?

3.  Here is my latest book haul (thanks, Lending Rights!)

They are: Jenny Downham’s You Against Me; Antonio Buti’s Brothers:Justice, Corruption and the Mickelbergs; Henry Hoey Hobson by Christine Bongers; The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom, which people have been recommending for years; my own copy of Boy on a Wire by sock-man Jon Doust; Michael Gerard Bauer’s Just a Dog, which made me weep; Melvin Burgess’ Junk; Happy As Larry by Scot Gardner; The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky (about whom I agree with Lili Wilkinson); Margo Lanagan’s Yellowcake (ditto); Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood; Isobelle Carmody’s The Red Wind; Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens; and the books I mentioned earlier, No Bears by Meg McKinlay and The Last Viking by Norman Jorgensen and James Foley.

A little oasis of time

As a full time employee, the joy of Easter is not about religious significance, although as a member of a family full of Catholics and having grown up with flurries of church attendance, I’m not altogether insensible to this. No, to me a clump of public holidays means some time to get some serious writing done.

This brings with it more or less equal portions of joy and pain. In relation to the first, the sheer joy of writing never leaves me: it is a kind of meditation, of time out from the clamour of obligation, of the pleasure of making stuff up, mind, world and fingers-on-keyboard mystically linked. The painful part is always: is it any good? Am I going to have to rewrite this (again)? Why couldn’t I have written Tender Morsels? Or Liar? Or any other loved book that is already in book form?

The other thing about writing that dements me is how very much of it is made up of rewriting, mainly because I mostly fail to get a manuscript right in the first proper draft. The number of dead-ends and false starts/middles/ends I have unwittingly sent my plot/characters/novels down are legion. I like to think that this is because I am so pushed for time that I don’t have time to hear the gears grinding (as Margo Lanagan wonderfully puts it) before it’s too late and I’ve been foot to the floor all the way down the aforementioned cul de sacs until I skid to a halt in front of the wall I should have seen from the turnoff. But the truth is probably that this is a very annoying but apparently inevitable part of my writing process.

I mention this because I am rewriting holus bolus one of the characters from the virginity novel (as yet untitled – nothing quite fits yet. Any (more) suggestions?) As I said to the Bunbury ECU students I met a few weeks back, it’s rare that I write a novel in which I don’t start off by sending a character down the emotional salt mines, before realising that the narrative has disappeared down the same hole.

One day, I just might learn, and save myself a pile of grief. It’s not looking likely.

On a more earthy note, we finally have some rain that is not in the form of flash flooding, or disguised as panel-denting hunks of hail. Reason for rejoicing indeed!