Sunday, January 4, 2015

Christmas, bushfires and Cooper Jones

Happy holidays everyone!

We had our family Christmas at my place this year, which of course meant lots of preparation, including a mid-summer spring clean and the peeling of many vegetables.

It also meant that some of the family stayed over for a Christmas sleepover. This is not one of our usual family Christmas traditions. In fact, it is only the second time it has happened. The last time was in 2001, when around 3 pm on Christmas afternoon, just as we finished our Christmas lunch, raging bushfires swept over the escarpment and our little village was surrounded, cut off and our house filled with stranded friends and family, many of whom stayed not just for Christmas night but for several days.

We had no power. Very little food. No communication with the outside world. When not hosing down friends' houses or rescuing their pets or keeping watch on advancing fronts, we sat out in the street with neighbours and shared a drink or two.

It was a strange time. A surreal time. A time that came to be known as Black Christmas. And a time that eventually inspired my mid-grade novel Get a Grip, Cooper Jones, which was published eight years later in 2010.

No houses were lost in my village, but many were lost in surrounding villages and in various parts of Sydney. Miraculously and thankfully no lives were lost. And now in 2014, with fires tearing through the Adelaide Hills and rural Victoria, I am once again reminded of that time. My thoughts are with you all! Stay safe.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Three things

This is not a post about things coming in threes. I do not believe in that notion at all. Rather, this post is simply about three things that happened a week or so ago, which all represent positive steps along the twisty track that is my journey as a writer. And they are all “firsts”.

So, as they say on reality TV, in no particular order, here they are:

1.     For the first time ever, I have my own dedicated CREATIVE SPACE/STUDIO. Pete bought me a beautiful desk a few years back, but I have never had a space for it that was ALL mine; it was always housed in a multi-use space, one that I frequently had to move out of when family members came and went (as they tend to do these days). But I now have MY space, complete with what I like to call my “thinking board”. My creative juices have become a torrent!

2.     For the first time ever, I have signed with a literary agent – Pippa Masson from Curtis Brown. This, I believe, is an important career move, one that feels very right.

3.     For the first time ever – drum roll please – one of my books has WON an award. A SWIM IN THE SEA, illustrated by Meredith Thomas, won the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Awards for the 3–5 years category. Yee- ha! As an ex-literacy teacher, winning this award was extra-specially sweet.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What did my Book Week look like?

Book Week is always lots of fun. And always terribly hectic. This is what my Book Week looked like this year:

  • One road trip to Canberra for the CBCA Book of the Year Awards announcement.
  • One broken down car at Canberra airport where I stopped to pick up author Claire Saxby. Sadly, said car needed to be towed away and have a short holiday in our national capital - which meant I missed most of the award ceremony!
  • One yummy CBCA ACT Book Week dinner.
  • Many many hours of driving (in Pete's car) in terrible traffic and even worse weather to schools for school visits (all on the other side of Sydney to me). 
  • Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of smiling faces and enthusiastic young readers and writers. I am always blown away by the creativity, enthusiasm and passion of the kids I meet (and their teachers). 
  • One trip to Melbourne for the Book Design Awards + author meetings + a visit to Melbourne Writers festival + a little book research + beautiful sunshine.
  • Graham Byrne and Claire Saxby
    Graham won the Crichton Award for 
    Big Red Kangaroo
  • One radio interview with Julie Clift on ABC Broken Hill about Book Week and writing for children (while sitting on the floor in Melbourne airport - I'm all class!).
  • When one child brimming with excitement declared: "Oh my God, I can't believe the real Sue Whiting is really here!"
  • When about two hundred children spontaneously, unexpectedly and joyously joined in with my reading of The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, which they ALL knew off by heart. It was a little overwhelming actually and left me a little dazed - in a good way. (I think I had a bit of a rock star moment - got the feeling of what it must be like when an audience sings your lyrics back to you.)
The actual week is over - but the festivities aren't! The next couple of weeks are pretty hectic too starting with the CBCA BIG BOOK DAY OUT tomorrow at the NSW Writers' Centre.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Writing makes me happy

I have been writing professionally for fifteen years. So you'd think I would have worked it out by now. But in the last few weeks, more than ever before, I have come to the simple realisation that writing makes me happy. And that when I'm not writing, I can get a little cranky with life.

The past twelve months have been tricky. And life, as is often the case, has been getting in the way of my writing. This, coupled with several failed attempts at starting new novels, a cranky parrot on my shoulder, in full voice, telling me how rubbish my writing was, and inspiration and motivation as capricious as Sydney weather, meant that I was starting to question whether I even had another story in me. Perhaps Portraits of Celina was going to be my last novel.

Then, when my guard was down (and my spirits too), by chance I saw a video of a giant squid. This resulted in a light bulb moment, which led to others, and soon I was connecting several (quite random) ideas and, before I knew it, I was at the computer, with a new way in to one of my false start novels.

And I am so HAPPY. I feel like I am BACK. My characters are chatty and demanding and constantly charming the socks off me. And I am glad to be charmed again. I am glad to be writing.

Because writing makes me happy.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Family fossicking, striking gold and the importance of story

Just before Christmas, quite accidentally, I stumbled upon this photo on the internet.

And dissolved into tears.

Why? Because this is a picture of my "narnie" – my paternal grandmother – and up until that moment I had never seen her face. And, as I read the caption underneath – Doris Gwendolyn Moss 1896–1961 – I realised that apart from knowing her as "Narnie", I didn't even know her name!

Narnie died when I was just a baby and I never met her. And as with many families, circumstances meant that I knew very little about my extended family or heritage. (Nothing really – and what I thought I did know, turned out to be wrong!)

But now, thanks to Joy, the wife of my cousin, a tenacious family historian who writes a blog that contains many stories about my father's family, I know so, so much. And together we have uncovered many incredible stories about Narnie's heritage that involve first and second fleet convicts, the first settlements of Norfolk Island and Van Diemen's Land, and even far-flung places such as the remote island of Saint Helena where my great, great, great grandfather crossed paths with Napoleon during the time of his exile there.

The stories we are uncovering are rich and complex and sometimes heart-breaking. But what I am finding the most intriguing is how important these stories are to me. They have changed me. I feel as if I understand myself so much better and I can't imagine not knowing these things.

Story has always been important to me. I love how it helps us to understand what it means to be human, how it connects the past and the present and illuminates possible futures. And now, with the discovery of these family stories, I feel as if I have struck gold.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Where can you get it?: one advantage of technology in the book trade

Unbelievably, it is almost a year since Portraits of Celina was released. It has been a fantastic year and I have been really happy with how the book has been received. But a year on, it is unlikely to be found on very many bookshop shelves - this is just the way it goes - and I have had a number of people of late ask: where can I get a copy?

So ... if you can't find it at your local bookshop, they should be able to order it in for you. It is still in print and available.

But now, with new technologies, the life of a book has been extended.

It is still available at a number of online bookshops such as: Booktopia and Bookworld.

And it is also available as an ebook, so can be purchased from many ebook retailers such as: iTunes and Amazon/kindle and Kobo and Bookworld.

Isn't it nice to think that even a year after release, a book is still readily available? One advantage of technology in the book trade!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Loving the day job

Is it just me or has time flipped into warp speed? The days zip by so fast that sometimes I'm left dizzy. Has it really been two months since my last blog post? Wow. Time to rectify the situation.

Photo courtesy of Claire Saxby
The last two months have been busy with the release of A SWIM IN THE SEA, which has had some gorgeous reviews and has turned up in some unexpected places and on some unexpected lists. But, in truth, what has been keeping me particularly busy is the DAY JOB.

Which is not all bad. Because I am one of those lucky people who actually loves her job. Working in publishing for the past ten years has been a wonderful journey for me – a profession I never even thought of until I was actually doing it. (Weird, I know.)

But I love it. And feel very privileged to not only have a second career (I was a primary school teacher for twenty-five years) but to be in a job where I get to work with a fabulous team of creatives – editors, designers, authors, illustrators – to make gorgeous BOOKS for children and young adults. How can you not love that?

Some things I love about my job making books:

  1. Being a phantom – lurking in the background quietly guiding and encouraging my authors to create the very best story they possibly can.
  2. Being a puzzler – pondering on where each piece of the story puzzle should go, which pieces need to go altogether, and which pieces need to be added to create the best result –  the complete and perfect story. 
  3. Finding solutions and coming up with ideas – something that is so much fun when you work in a supportive and creative team! Many heads working to the same end results in many great ideas being hatched.
  4. Typography and book design – thanks to all the designers I have had the privilege to work with, I have such a wonderful new respect and love for beautiful typography and clever design.
  5. Holding a finished book and knowing every step of its journey. That is a very satisfying feeling. Only topped by witnessing the joy on the authors' and illustrators' faces when they get to hold their "babies" for the first time.
How luck am I?