Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The next big thing

It may be Boxing Day here in Australia, but apparently THE NEXT BIG THING BLOG thingy must go on.

Last week the very lovely Deborah Abela tagged me on her blog, as part of a chain of blog posts by writerly types called THE NEXT BIG THING, where authors are invited to wax lyrical about their next book.

Today it's my turn, and I’m going to be answering a bunch of questions about my new novel, Portraits of Celina, which comes out next April. Then I have to tag more writers who will tell you about their new books next Wednesday.

So let’s get this show on the road.

What is the working title of your next book?

Portraits of Celina. It will be out in April 1 next year – no joke! I’d show you the cover – it is amazing – but I’m afraid I can’t as there is going to be an official “reveal” and competition in February. Stay tuned.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea snuck up on me. I was writing a totally different book for a younger age group, but it wasn’t working. After some scathing but "right on the money" feedback from my daughter, I decided to ditch that particular project. But the set-up and back-story I had created intrigued me and I couldn’t let my characters go. So I decided to go for a bit of an explore and see where it took me.

What genre does your book fall under?

This is a tricky one as it doesn’t fit neatly into a particular genre. A haunting thriller perhaps? It’s for readers aged 12+, and the back cover blurb describes it as “A ghost story. A love story. A story of revenge.”

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

There has been much discussion and daydreaming about this among the editors at Walker Books. But I think Ashleigh Cummings who played Debbie in Puberty Blues and Tomorrow When the War Began would do a great job of Bayley. Oliver I’d choose a hot newcomer from NIDA. Gran is definitely Jacki Weaver. And Bill Hunter (if he were still with us) is the perfect Bud.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When the grief-stricken Anderson family moves to the lake house in faraway Tallowood, Bayley hopes that this will be their chance for a fresh start, but the house was witness to an awful tragedy forty years earlier and Bayley becomes entwined in her murdered cousin’s desperate yearning for revenge.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Walker Books Australia
will be publishing Portraits of Celina.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

About eighteen months – I wrote most of it on the train during my morning commute to work.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Can't really answer this one yet – though some readers have seen parallels with The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

 Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My daughter, Lizzie, inspired (or strongly suggested) I ditch my original idea (which sucked, in her humble opinion) and explore the setting and characters and set-up I had created. She was so right!

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

Early readers (my publisher, editors, sales and marketing team, sales reps etc) have all commented on how genuinely creepy and suspenseful the book is. And there is a twist at the end of the story, which has taken everyone by surprise and has had them looking at me through narrowed eyes and saying things like “I didn’t know you had such a dark side, Sue!”

So that's it from me. It is now my duty to pass the baton on to other writers and as it is the holiday season and everyone is lying around a pool or on the beach somewhere reading the current big thing, I have only managed to tag two writers - the gorgeous and talented Sue Lawson and Steph Bowe. They will be posting on January 2. 

So long!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Handing over the reins

I have just finished going through the copy edit for Portraits of Celina. In the next week or so, the manuscript will be typeset, so apart from a final proofread, the work is done and soon Portraits of Celina will be a book. (Not out until April 2013 though.)

I should be excited - and I am - but I am also feeling bereft. Why? That is what I have been asking myself the past couple of weeks.

Mostly, I think it is because I am sad to say goodbye to Celina and Bayley and Oliver and Seth and all the other characters and their individual dilemmas and quirks and personalities. They have been such a big part of my life for the past few years, and I'm not quite ready to bid them farewell.

I'm sad too because once Portraits of Celina becomes a book, I can no longer tinker with it, no longer tweak or massage or improve it. I can't add that fantastic new element I just thought of in the shower, or that acerbic line of dialogue that just came to me. I can't change anything. It will be all done and dusted and handed over to the readers. And in many ways, it will no longer be my story. I will have lost control and be handing over the reins to those readers. It will be their story - the story their imaginations create from my words on the page.

But isn't this handing over to the readers what I have been aiming for throughout the writing of the book? Isn't it for the most part what has driven the writing? The answer, of course, is yes, and if I'm totally honest with myself, the handing over isn't really making me sad that I am losing control, it is just a teeny bit scary. I love my story and my characters, but what will my readers think?

Such a wide range of emotions. That amazing roller-coaster ride yet again.

And I know the best way to get over these feelings is to stop wallowing and to get cracking with the next book.

But that blank page is pretty scary too!

So, I am putting on my brave hat, and after I press post to this, I am going to open a new word document and write "The Awful Truth" and start writing. (At least one sentence anyway.) Wish me luck.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The end

I have been thinking about endings a lot lately. For two reasons. Firstly because I am giving a talk to a group of novel writing students in a week or so about getting the climax and ending right, and secondly because I am working on my revisions for Portraits of Celina and working diligently on, among other things, getting the climax and ending right. (And it has been SO hard, but I think I am getting there. Slowly.)

Endings are important. Endings are worth the effort.

Because after all - and I don't know where this quote originated (sorry) - "Your opening will sell this book, but it is your ending that will sell your next."

A while back I blogged some killer openers. So in the interests of symmetry and fairness, here are some cracker endings.

The Book Thief, Markus Zuzak

"All I was able to do was turn to Liesel Meminger and tell her the only truth I truly know. I said it to the book thief and I say it now to you. 
I am haunted by humans."

Looking for Alibrandi, Melina Marchetta

"You know, a wonderful thing happened to me when I reflected back on my year.
'One day" came.
Because finally I understood."

The Help, Kathryn Stockett

"Maybe I ain't too old to start over, I think and I laugh and cry at the same time at this. Cause just last night I thought I was finished with everything new."

Chocolat, Joanne Harris

"Hoping that this time it will remain a lullaby. That this time the wind will not hear. That this time - please, just this once - it will leave without us."

All That I Am, Anna Funder

"Bev tips the half-cup of black fluid down the sink. She pulls the phone from its cradle in the wall, dials the necessary number and starts to clean."

My favourites here have to be The Book Thief and Chocolat, but they all give you that wonderful sense of completion, don't you think?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Snapshots of Children's Book Week 2012

I know Book Week was over weeks ago. But I have been busy working on revisions for my novel Portraits of Celina (Out in April), and haven't had a chance to post about my Book Week adventures. Until now.

Book Week 2012 was a wonderful week full of warm welcomes, enthusiastic students and teachers, terrific displays, amazing lunches and morning teas and lots of fun storytelling and joy about books. (And a crackly voice that just hung in there. Phew.)

A big thank you to the teacher librarians who hosted me and did such a fab job of preparing their students. Here are a few pics of some of the highlights. 

Uncle Alien by Jake at Caddies Creek

Sunday, August 19, 2012

On the road again - Book Week 2012

I'm sitting up in bed, snug, my doona pulled up to my chin. It's gloriously sunshiny though a little windy outside. The house is quiet, and I am savouring this last tiny shard of peace, solitude and calm, before chaos reigns again.

This week is Book Week - the busiest, craziest week of the year for children's authors and illustrators in Australia. (So busy for some that it becomes "Book Month", but for me with a full-time job, it's just a week.) It is the week when schools and libraries hold bookish events, have character parades, invite authors and illustrators to speak, congratulate the Book of the Year winners and celebrate the joy of books and stories.

I love it.

So once I hop out of bed this morning, I will be dusting off my giant spider puppet, giving my cardboard fire engine a bit of a shine, packing my dress-up clothes (and some "real" clothes as well), collecting up my books, and all the while, rehearsing my stories in my mind (in case I have forgotten any of them!). Then it's time to hit the road. Five days, five schools, fifteen sessions, hundreds and hundreds of students. To coin a famous phrase: "I'm excited!"

Happy Book Week everyone.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Finding the five-year-old me

I am doing a workshop in Canberra in a few weeks’ time on finding your inner child and writing from deep within a child’s point of view. In preparation for this, I have been spending my morning train writing time going for a bit of a wander down memory lane, trying to reacquaint myself with my inner five-year-old.

Memory is a strange beast. I don’t think I have a particularly good long-term memory and the events and feelings I am recalling of my former and very much younger self are really just tiny snippets – snapshots, but with only part of the picture in sharp focus and the rest kind of bleary. And it’s the bleary bits that I have been trying to tap into and bring into sharper focus. Often without much success. And when I have remembered something more fully, it is hard to ascertain how much is actual real memory and how much of it is my own invention. It’s been an interesting exercise.

I did recall an early childhood “friend” and event that I had totally forgotten about though. Her name was Jennifer (last name unknown) and these are the things I remember:
  • She was related to someone famous – perhaps Bobby Limb (can’t be certain) and the five-year-old me found this amazingly exciting. I was in awe of her because of it – even slightly jealous.
  • She was pretty and tidy and frilly and I aspired to be like her. I thought she was a much, much better person than me. She fascinated me.
  • I was invited to her birthday party at her house. I felt that it was a great honour to be invited. I was excited and nervous about going.
  • Her house was white and large. Two storeys – which to me meant that she was also very, very rich. Inside there was a wide sweeping staircase that I longed to climb, but wasn’t brave enough.
  • In her backyard there was a wooden cubbyhouse fitted out with play stoves and tables and shelves and couches. Another sign of wealth. There was a swing hanging from a tree and the grass was the softest and greenest grass I had ever felt or seen.
  • I recall Jennifer in a white frilly dress swinging wildly on the swing, her long blond curls streaming out behind her.
  • I felt that she was out of reach for me. And that I was just lucky to have been invited to her party.

Interestingly, there are lots of things about the party that I can’t remember – things you would think would have been important to the five-year-old me, such as: any other children or people, party food, presents, balloons and party games. Not sure what this means, but I find it intriguing.

I came across an article on a similar topic the other day by Alane Ferguson about channelling your inner teenager that is worth a read. I have much stronger memories of my teenage years. Perhaps that is why I have been attracted to writing novels for young adults of late.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

On the laps of their parents

"Children are made readers on the laps of their parents." Emilie Buchwald

I love this quote! (I know, I am a little “quote” crazy at the moment - forgive me.) But doesn’t it say it all? 

Last blog post touched on the importance and worth of reading, and the joy of becoming a lifelong reader, but how do we get our kids on that path?

Reading to your child from an early age is most definitely the first step.

It is one of the most wonderful ways to develop positive attitudes to reading. And I believe there is no better way for a child to discover the magic and power of story, to engage their imaginations and for reading to be associated with feelings of warmth, nurturing, security and love than, as Emilie so eloquently put it, "on the laps of their parents".

In the National Year of Reading, let’s have three cheers for the parents out there who are laying this important foundation, so their children have the best chance of becoming lifelong readers – so they too can say one day: I love2read.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

For the love of books

I am a wordy. There is no doubt about it. I love writing. Reading. Words. Story. Books.

Lately, I have taken to collecting those catchy sayings and sentiments that often appear on Facebook declaring a similar love of books.

Things like:

"I love walking into a bookstore. It's like all my friends are sitting on shelves, waving their pages at me." Tahareh Mafi

"Sometimes when I'm alone I like to sniff books." Source unknown

"Bookworms will rule the world - as soon as we finish one more chapter..."

"Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers." Charles William Eliot (My personal fave.)

I have a stack more! I don't know why I have started collecting these - they sing to me somehow, warm my heart and reassure me that there are others who share my love of the written word and my belief in the power of story. 

When I was a Primary School Teacher, I always endeavoured not only to teach my students how to read, but also to guide them in taking their first steps on the path of becoming lifelong readers. 

Research and experience have told us that reading has many benefits, that it is important. Reading improves vocabulary, concentration, focus and memory. It develops active mental processes, and helps children to become engaged learners. It stimulates the imagination and reduces stress. It provdes a wonderful escape.

But wait! There's more.

Most importantly, reading allows us to explore what it means to be human. It allows us to walk in someone else's shoes for a while, to view the world through someone else's eyes. To experience what it is like to be courageous or weak; shy or alone; to be persecuted, misjudged, misguided; to be bullied or shunned. It allows us to develop empathy and understand many different realities. 

And in the words of CS Lewis: "We read to know we are not alone." 

Three cheers for the National Year of Reading. I love2read!

Sunday, June 10, 2012


How can you not love a book that opens with the line, “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”?

I have just completed I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. This is a gorgeous novel written in the 1940s. I absolutely adored the eccentric cast of characters and their bohemian life in a crumbling English castle.

Of particular interest to me was central character and narrator, Cassandra, who fancies herself as a writer. The novel is written in the form of her journal where not only does she recount the happenings of her life and the goings on within her family, but where she also intends to capture all their characters and “put in conversations” in order to improve her writing style, which she feels has been “stiff and self-conscious” up to date.  

She is not always satisfied with her “captures” and vows to work harder at her craft.

“I am aware this is not a fair portrait of him. I must capture him again later.”

“How can one capture the pool of light in the courtyard, the golden windows, the strange long-ago look ...?”

“Capture father! Why, I don’t know anything about anyone!”

What glorious fodder for a writer – and what excellent advice. I love the notion of “capturing”. Isn’t this exactly what we try to do as writers? To capture characters, moments, feelings and places and somehow translate them into words on the page. To capture them precisely or evocatively or eloquently. Or originally? Uniquely?

It is also interesting to note that Smith was so anxious about her novel that once she completed the manuscript, she worked on her revisions for a further two years, where she wrote and rewrote every line. It shows! The characters are so superbly drawn and deliciously quirky, the relationships between the characters complex, authentic and true, and the voice of the narrator doesn’t miss a beat.

For writers and aspiring writers this book is a must-read. There are so many lessons hidden within each page. I don’t know how I have managed to get through life without reading it before now.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Thank you, Mr Sendak

“The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind.
And another.
His mother called him “WILD THING!”
And Max said: “I’LL EAT YOU UP!”
So Max was sent to bed without eating anything.
That very night in Max’s room a forest grew
And grew–”

And so begins the magnificent Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. This wonderful romp into the imagination has such special meaning for me. Published in 1963, it was a controversial, rule- and ground- breaking book.

Though a child of the Sixties, Where the Wild Things Are isn’t part of my childhood memories. In fact it wasn’t until I was a young teacher in the Eighties that I became aware of it. And it was love at first sight.

Where the Wild Things Are was the book that inspired many a lesson and spirited reading; the book that I could recite from memory (and frequently did); the book that terrified my own children (perhaps it was that spirited reading and my over-enthusiastic gnashing of teeth!); the book that opened my eyes and heart to the world of children’s literature; and ultimately the book that stirred in me the desire to become a writer of children’s books myself.

One sizzling hot day on a trip to New York I accidentally stumbled on a gallery in Soho that housed a collection of original drawings, roughs and paintings from Where the Wild Things Are. I was in a particularly grumpy mood this day: it was stinking hot and we’d just missed the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. My husband ushered me inside the gallery primarily because it was air-conditioned and we were desperate. When we realised that is was a children book illustration gallery, I can remember the wry smile that played on Pete’s lips. Pete is not a children’s book enthusiast, but he knows his wife. And when we went down stairs and discovered the Maurice Sendak drawings, he knew he’d struck gold. We stepped back out onto the sweltering pavement an hour or so later, after a wonderful discussion and tour with the curator, and my eyes were happy, my heart full.

Maurice Sendak passed away this week, aged 83. But his books live on, and will continue to inspire and bring great joy to young (and not so young) readers.            .
Thank you, Mr Sendak. Rest in peace.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


A new idea is slowly awakening. Slowly revealing itself to me. Piece by tiny piece. 

And I desperately hope that I can gather up all these beautiful pieces and weave them together to make what I can see in the confines of my mind and feel deep within the chambers of my heart come alive on the page. Time will tell, I suppose. But for now, I am a listener and a receiver, a ponderer and wonderer, a hunter and gatherer.

This is what I gathered today. And yes, I think I am gathering a love story. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

What next?

With my YA manuscript complete and with my publisher awaiting verdict, I have had a small and much needed break from writing, but now I know it is time to get on to the next novel.

And here lies my dilemma. I have been promising myself (and some of my readers) that the next novel I write will be a sequel to Get a Grip, Cooper Jones (You're an Idiot, Cooper Jones). I have worked out the structure of the novel (which I am excited about), know the basic plot and themes, have several pages of notes and ideas and a strong opening scene. I love writing from Cooper's perspective and am keen to delve back into his world at Wangaroo Bay. I am poised to go. But ...

Another idea has come to me. It is still rather nebulous, but tantalising nonetheless. All I really have is a title: The Awful Truth. A couple of opening lines, and the beginnings of a playlist that seems to capture the mood of the idea that is keeping me awake at night.

What should I do? Which book should I write?

Here is the first song on the playlist. Fix You, Coldplay.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Today's inspiration: The 10 pm Question

This is what has inspired me today.

"Frankie stared as usual at the painting hanging beside Ma's bed. It was dark and a little menacing and not at all the kind of picture Frankie would want to look at as he went to sleep, but Ma was devoted to it. A ghostly woman with long yellow hair stood, waiting, beside a four-poster bed hung with draperies. The brushwork was so fine you could make out each strand of the woman's hair and the strain on her knuckles." 

From The 10 pm Question, Kate de Goldi, p 33
Evocative writing that shows so much about Frankie in a beautifully subtle way.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Walking and writing

Recently, it was my daughter's 21st birthday. To celebrate we headed down the coast with a small group of her friends to a cedar cabin in the wilderness. There was much eating, drinking, surfing, swimming, laughing, swinging in hammocks, sitting around camp fires - it was a great weekend. A wonderful celebration.

Over the summer, I had been working diligently (and wrestling often) on my second draft of my WIP, and with about a dozen people to cater for and entertain over this particular weekend, I welcomed the chance to leave it at home and party for a while.

But I don't seem ever to be able to do that! Not completely anyway. I may have left the manuscript at home, but the story is always in my mind and no matter how hard I tried to push it out of my thoughts, it always pushed its way back in. (I don't think it helped that the property we were staying on was very similar to the setting of my novel.)

Every morning and every afternoon I headed off up this road for a bit of a walk. And this is where I rediscovered the power of the walk. And even more so, the power of letting your mind wander aimlessly.

Each time I walked up the road and back, I returned with some new insight. Some tiny detail to add to the fabric of the prose. An interesting sentence. A snippet of dialogue. A plot flaw revealed. The place where I could add some emotional depth or further characterisation. Magic.

The manuscript is now "complete". And today I am going to send it to my publisher. Deep breath. Fingers crossed. Wish me luck.