Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sue Lawson: on influences – or of Shakespeare and British Blue Cats

Sue Lawson and I started our writing careers at roughly the same time, and it seems that over the last dozen or so years our paths keep on crossing, and we have become buddies as well as colleagues. So it is my great pleasure to welcome her to my blog today where she will be discussing her latest release, Pan's Whisper, and the things that influenced her in the writing of this poignant novel.

Over to Sue.

Sue, thank you so much for inviting me to visit your blog to chat about Pan’s Whisper.

I thought it would be interesting to talk about influences, as I’ve been asked and know most writers are asked how much of our work is autobiographical. 

I guess for me the simple answer is not much is directly from my life – though I did have a pet chook when I was about 12 (Tessa), I grew up on a wool property (After) and my grandfather did die aboard the Montevideo Maru (Finding Darcy). Rather than being stories about me or my life, my books are influenced by my experiences and the questions that these raise.

Pan’s Whisper was sparked by a conversation with my younger sister about an event from our childhood, which both of us remembered differently – she recalled it with fondness, while I remember it was an uncomfortable experience. Strange thing is I can’t remember the details of the discussion now, just the question it sparked – why do two people have such different memories of the same event?

Once I start writing it’s inevitable that important influences in my life slip into a story. In Pan’s Whisper two of my great loves are featured – Shakespeare and Smocker (pronounced Smocker as is soccer).

From the moment our English teacher, Mr Samuel, started reading Romeo and Juliet to our class, Shakespeare’s language, humour, tragedy and unforgettable characters had me hooked. So that influence is obvious. But what about Smocker?

One of my early memories as a child was an ABC radio program we used to listen to on Saturday morning, called I Smocker. (Before you right me off as ANCIENT – we did have TV, but ABC radio ruled our home.) Smocker, written by Eugene Lumber, was the story of a British Blue cat who lived with Patrick the Irish terrier next door to Nasty Neighbour Norton. It was hilarious! I can remember my complete joy when I received the two books, I Smocker and Smocker Takes Off for Christmas.

Sue's fat ginger tom, Smocker
So great was my love for Smocker that I named my first pet, a HUGE ginger tom, after him.  My Smocker was every bit as unique as Eugene Lumber’s Smocker, though not quite as mischievous. (Or well bred – he was a moggy!)

When I was writing Pan’s Whisper, I wanted somewhere for Pan to keep her treasures and it had to be something that also gave her comfort. A tin or box would be too hard and cold. While trawling the internet, I stumbled upon a picture of a pyjama holder from the 80s and knew I was onto something. The moment I decided the holder had to be a cat, I knew its name was Smocker.

Sue's rabbit pyjama holder she found on Etsy that sparked the idea

Thanks so much for having me Sue.
All good things must come to an end, particularly this close to Christmas, and thus the Pan’s Whisper Blog Tour ends tomorrow at http://cherrybananasplit.blogspot.com

Hope to see you there!

All the best for the success of Pan's Whisper, Sue. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Scouting landscapes

I've been on a road trip through the central west and outback NSW. Marvellous country. Essentially, I was on holiday, but I was also scouting for material for my work in progress, which is set on a wild property somewhere in rural NSW.

I live in a small coastal village, so it was easy for me to write authentically about life by the sea in Get a Grip, Cooper Jones and Battle of the Rats. The sea is such a part of me, I swear I have salt in my veins.

Although I have spent quite a bit of time in the country over the years, country life and all that goes with it is less familiar. That's why it is so important for me to experience it first hand. To drink in the smells, immerse myself in the sights and sounds, and experience the joys and hardships of rural life, take note of the minuscule that will add authenticity to my work.

Here are some of the visual images I brought home with me. We live in a vast land.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Will the real Cooper Jones please stand up

August and September have flown by in a blur of school and library visits, Book Week events, festivals and conferences. It has been an absolute blast, and although at times I have been on the brink of exhaustion, I would do it all again.

There were so many highlights - too many to mention - but one that I do want to share is when a great young lad by the name of COOPER JONES introduced me at one of my Brisbane Writers Festival sessions. He did a great job with his speech; he was funny and clever and I couldn't help but get a photo of the two of us afterwards.

Coincidentally, this Cooper Jones goes to my niece and nephews' school and his family won a pack of my books (including Get a Grip, Cooper Jones) at a school fundraiser earlier in the year, so it was extra special that Payne Road School was asked to do the introductions and that Cooper was chosen.

Thanks, Coops. (By the way, he assured me that he isn't quite the idiot that the Cooper in the book is and that his life, thankfully, isn't spinning out of control.)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Stories - they'll take you places

I have been talking a lot these past weeks about story, and in particular story journey.

I love how a story, well told, will take hold of you and transport you to a new and/or different reality; how characters, well drawn, will become like new friends - people you want to hang out with for a while; and while you are hanging out with these new friends and going on a journey with them, you not only get entertained, but you also get to discover a little more about what it means to be a human being.

Here's my favourite quote for the week (another from the wall above my desk):

"Stories not only move us, they motivate us because we can see in them echoes of possibilities for ourselves."
Peter Guber, Film Director

Brilliant, isn't it?

Packing my bags today as I'm off to Brisbane for the Ipswich Literature Festival, Brisbane Writers and CYA conference. Looks like my stories are taking me on a bit off a journey too!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Word Play - Brisbane Writers Festival

So excited to be part of Word Play at Brisbane Writers Festival. I will be joining many fab children's authors including Wendy Orr, Susanne Gervay and James Roy.

I will be doing two writing workshops, two general sessions and for the first time ever an online session - that's a little scary.

I also have the luxury of having a whole session devoted to the writing of Get a Grip Cooper Jones. Can't wait. Hope to see some of you up there.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Book Week facts and figures

Well, Book Week is over yet again and I must say I had an awesome week.

The kids at every school I visited were fantastic: warm, friendly, welcoming, excited, funny, interested, motivated - awesome. And the school / council librarians were fantastic too, going out of their way to make my day - and most importantly, the kids' day - the best it possibly could be, and to enthuse all about books and reading and writing. What an important job they do!

Here is the week in a nutshell.
Number of kilometres driven: 759 kms
Number of schools involved: 8 (including 4 who visited Marrickville Library)
Number of sessions: 16
Number of children I spoke to: 960+
Number of times I dressed up as a firefighter: 9
Number of times I told my "Antarctic" story: 8
Questions that I had never been asked before:

Did you tell lies when you were a child?
A: Very rarely. Perhaps that's why I like telling stories now - it gives me the opportunity to "stretch the truth".

How many books have you written that haven't been published?
A: Not counting the numerous unfinished manuscripts gathering dust in my bottom drawer, probably about six.

When you walk down the street do people run after you screaming and wanting your autograph?
A: No.

Favourite display: The giant cactus and spiders at Narraweena.
Number of words added to my work in progress: 0 (Not surprisingly!)

Feeling a bit weary, but there is no time to rest.
Next week is Literacy Week, and the week after that I fly up to Brisbane for the Ipswich Literature Festival, Brisbane Writers' Festival and the CYA conference.

More fun ahead!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Flexing the writing muscle

I have this quote on the wall above my desk. It's from Jodi Picoult. I can't remember where I got it from.

"Write until it’s a muscle you can flex on command."

This says so much, don't you think? And it is really good advice, and something I have been working on of late. 

And you know what? I think it's working. This year, almost every day, no matter what, I have spent some time working on my current work in progress. It has required a lot of discipline and I have had to be creative and tenacious in making writing part of my daily routine, but as a result, my "writing muscle" is getting stronger and more obedient and I am so much closer to the whole "flex on command" thing. 

Making writing a habit is well worth the effort, me thinks.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Killer first sentences

I'm a sucker for a cracker opening sentence.

Here are some of my favourites.

"We came on the wind of the carnival." Chocolat, Joanne Harris

"Joseph fixed his eyes on the coffin and thought of silkworms." The Running Man, Michael Gerard Bauer

"Change tiptoed into our lives with her eyes down, like a shy chick coming late to class." Boofheads, Mo Johnson

You are going to die."
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

"My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973." The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold

"The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do." A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Poetic images and the world wide web

I am working on text revisions for The Strange Little Monster and the Swamp Goblin today. (Sequel to A Strange Little Monster, illustrated by Stephen Michael King.)

My editor suggested that I should try to make a couple of important lines more poetic - to create stronger images. Great advice. If only I could find the right words!

Sitting in my tiny study this chilly Sunday where does one go for poetic inspiration when the words won't come of their own accord? Of course there is the thesaurus - always a good place to start. But often so limiting, especially when we now have the world at our fingertips with the world wide web!

So I googled some key words, phrases, concepts etc and in seconds I had sound bites, YouTube clips, gorgeous photos, poems, articles, quotes and much more spiralling across my screen, providing me with more than enough inspiration to create the images I needed.

Although often diverting and the cause of much time-wasting the WWW is also the most amazing resource for a writer!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A special kind of magic

Don't you love that special kind of magic that happens when you open a book and start reading a well-crafted story? There are few pursuits that engage the imagination in such a powerful way.

Love this from The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. (p8)

"How long did I sit on the stairs after reading the letter? I don't know. For I was spellbound. There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic."

So that's my inspiration for today.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Notable Australian Children's Books 2011

Earlier in the year I was thrilled to learn that Get a Grip, Cooper Jones was named as a CBCA Notable Book in the Younger Readers category. Today, I received in the mail the CBCA publication, Notable Australian Children's Books 2011, One World, Many Stories that comprises of an annotated list of all the notable and short-listed books.

I have to admit to being really chuffed that my little story was included in the notable list and in this publication. Coops is in such esteemed company, among so many wonderful books written by so many talented authors!

Here is Cooper's annotation. (Page 20)

"Laced with wit and humour, with strong descriptive passages, this very Australian beach and bushfire story, told in the authentic voice of early adolescent Cooper, will have appeal for both male and female younger adolescent readers, dealing as it does with themes of trust, identity, increasing self-awareness and growing independence. Coops is a likeable and reliable narrator, allowing the reader to fully appreciate his struggles and conflicts in coming to terms with himself, his parents and the insecurities and responsibilities of approaching independence."

It left me grinning. Widely.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Powerful Words

I was flipping through my current notebook the other day and found a number of quotes from books that I had enjoyed earlier in the year. They included several from A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. (Brilliant book! Superb writing! A must-read for lovers of story.)

Gorgeous lines such as:
"There are worse things than being invisible," the monster had said, and it was right. Connor was no longer invisible. They all saw him now. But he was further away than ever."

"The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do."

"Connor held tightly into his mother. And by doing so, he could finally let her go."

Under these copied out quotes, I had scrawled the following note to self:

This is what I want to emulate. Not the style or voice or theme - but the intensity of emotions. I want my readers to WEEP, SOB, TO FORGET TO BREATHE. This is what I must do."

Wow - talk about putting pressure on myself! But it's good to be clear about what I am aiming for. It may take me a lifetime, but this is what I hope to achieve in my writing one day.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Today's inspiration

These are the words that have inspired me today.

"Because it was such a very small class, they had a very small classroom, which was perched right at the top of the school. Up four flights of stairs, way up in the sky, like a colony of little birds nesting on a cliff, blown about by wind with the high, airy sounds of the city coming up the hill in the ocean breeze."

Page 6, The Golden Day, by Ursula Dubosarsky. (Allen and Unwin.)

Beautiful, eh?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

What inspires you?

Last week I did an author interview for Bug in a Book. You can read it here. One of the questions they asked was whether I had any role models who inspired me during my journey as a writer.

This really got me thinking. It got me reflecting on all the wonderful people who had supported and/or mentored me over the last dozen or so years. The friends, colleagues, relatives, writing buddies, acquaintances who read the many drafts of my early manuscripts, offered advice, gave feedback, shared my passion, listened to me vent my frustration and on occasion provided a shoulder for me to have a cry on. Then there was those whose courses / workshops / events I attended, who inspired me by their passion, enthusiasm, intellect, skill, talent, their willingness to share the lessons they had learnt along the way. Wow. I owe so much to so many. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

But I also came to a bit of a realisation about what inspires me most these days. And that is good writing: carefully crafted words on the page; elegant prose; vivid imagery;  clever storytelling that evokes strong emotions; stories with shape and verve and originality; characters that have blood coursing through their veins, that leap off the page and demand my attention. That's what gets me going, what motivates me to keep writing.

What inspires you?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sorry, I've been writing

It has been a while since I posted, but I have an excellent excuse. The best excuse for a writer, actually.


This might sound rather weird. Isn't that what a writer is meant to be doing? A writer writes, right?

Well, a writer should write, but this writer over the past few years has found it increasingly difficult to find the time to write the story she really wanted to write: a YA thriller.

Like many writers, TIME has been my greatest enemy. And my writing time has been whittled down to tiny snatches squeezed into a busy schedule of full time work, school visits and speaking engagements, family commitments and the need to eat and sleep occasionally! And these tiny snatches weren't enough for me to be able to make any significant progress on my novel, which of course has been very frustrating.

So what's changed?

Firstly, I made a commitment to myself. This year was going to be my YEAR of WRITING. Writing was going to take precedence for a change. And I was going to FIND the time. (Easier said than done. I can see you all nodding!)

But then the planets aligned and some things changed that have enabled me to honour this commitment.

Due to change in an employment situation, I now have a house-husband. My wonderful Pete has taken over most of the household duties, and suddenly my weekends have freed up and much larger snatches of writing time have appeared, which has been great.

But even with this extra time on the weekend, I still found it hard to make progress with my novel. It seemed that I spent most of the weekend trying to get back in the headspace of the story, to hear my characters and find my voice, and by the time I actually got going it was Sunday night again, and I'd only just begun. A lot of energy spent with very little gain.

Then the second thing happened. I had a birthday and received a very special life-changing present. A new laptop - a MacBook Air. Now I know this is going to sound like an ad for Apple, but this little beauty is the main reason for my renewed writing vigour. It is so light and portable, I take it everywhere with me, and if I have a few spare minutes I flick it on and get going. Even if I have a bag full of manuscripts to cart back and forth from work, it is so light, I can still take it with me on my long daily rail commute.

And to be honest, I don't add hugely to my word count, during my commute, but it doesn't matter. I read back over what I have written, make notes, edit, fiddle around the edges. But all of this allows me to stay in the headspace of the novel and when the weekend arrives, I don't need to claw my way back in. I'm there. Ready to go.

Can you tell I'm excited?
Must fly - I have a new chapter to write.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Wonderful Picture Books in the Making

I returned to Blacktown Library on Saturday and what a wonderful surprise I got. I couldn't believe how much progress the kids had made with their books. They had been working so hard! Some had nearly finished.

The previous week they had made storyboards and started their rough illustrations with Sarah Davis and now a week later many had started on the final copy of their stories and also their final illustrations. Wow. Was I impressed.

Now they must finish their books off, hand them in for publication and then put on their best outfits and turn up for the launch party!

You can read Sarah's blog about the program here.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Picture Book Creators of the Future

Had a blast last Saturday at Blacktown Library, working with two groups of enthusiastic young people creating amazing picture book stories. This week they will be working with illustrator, Sarah Davis, making storyboards and illustrating their stories. Next week both Sarah and I will be working with them, helping them to polish their work and put the finishing touches on their books. Such fun. Such a great initiative.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I did it!

Oh the power of making a promise in writing  for all to read on one's blog. Yesterday, I vowed to change my wicked ways. I vowed to put my head down, apply superglue to my backside and get stuck into my writing. And, what do you know, I did.

It wasn't easy. I resisted. I struggled. I complained. But I persevered. And I made a vital discovery.

I was working on a chapter book that I was asked to rework. The editorial feedback was spot on - it all made perfect sense, but every time I came to one particular section of the plot, I became stuck. I couldn't find a satisfying way forward. I studied my characters' motivations, their actions and reactions. I tried a dozen different approaches, but I just couldn't crack it.

It was time for some drastic action. So I gave the whole story an almighty shake up - rearranged the order of events, changed the focus of the story slightly and voila! My problems were more or less solved.

I have had a wonderful weekend of writing. The story I have been agonising about for months has been reworked and polished. Tomorrow I may think it all sucks - but regardless, I have made REAL progress.

Thank you, oh blogosphere. Probably no one even read yesterday's promise to myself - but it doesn't matter, it did the trick. The drought is broken. And I am thankful.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A promise

This year I resolved I was going to focus on two things. One: do what I can to continue to promote Get a Grip, Cooper Jones. And two: work on the craft of writing and write as often as possible, hopefully completing the reworking of a chapter book, long overdue, and also my YA novel that has been gathering dust for longer than I care to admit.

Well, it is almost March and while I have lots of festivals and school visits coming up to promote Cooper, YAY!, I have fallen very short on the developing my craft side of my resolve and have only reworked two lousy chapters of my chapter book and done nothing with my YA or my "craft" so to speak.

But this is about to change! Today. Really.