Sunday, May 29, 2005

What a week! My footy team, the Crusaders, has just won the Super 12 Final.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

I have just spent a week up in Sydney, having a wonderful time. My book "Farm Kid" received the NSW Premier's Literary Award for children's books (called the Patricia Wrightson Prize) and I attended the dinner on Monday night. It was a great experience, very nervewracking and seeing Gough Whitlam in the audience didn't help. I sat at Table 9 (good omen - my birth date) with Julie and Laura from Penguin, and also Julie Gibbs, along with Donna Rawlins and Simon French. As the night went on, my shaking got worse. However at the crucial moment I did manage to get up on the dais and receive the award without falling over!
The following is my speech, and the note at the end explains why I'm putting it on my blog.
***Farm Kid began in 2002, at a summer school in Fresno, California, where I wrote two poems about my childhood on our farm. Over the next 12 months it grew into a story that I cared very deeply about, but I was never convinced that it would be published. After all, it was about a farm and it was poetry.
My thanks must go first of all to my writing group, Western Women Writers, to whom I now owe an enormous chocolate cake, and to fellow poet, Kristin Henry, who was a very experienced and understanding sounding board.
Special thanks to Julie Watts at Penguin who, much to my astonishment, said yes, we’ll publish it, and Christine Alesich, my editor, who worked so hard with me on shaping the final book. Thanks also to the illustrator, Christina Meissen, for her wonderful cows.
And thank you to my husband, Brian, who is now very used to waving his hand in front of my face to bring me back from wherever I’ve “gone” this time.
I hope that Farm Kid resonates with everyone who reads it, and I hope lots of people do, not only kids. The problems caused by drought are not going to go away and the losses that come with it reach far deeper than money. When someone tells me the book has made them cry, then I know it’s working.
Recently in an article in the magazine, The Monthly, Malcolm Knox talked about book sales, and prizes as consolations: I quote: “So and so won the Premier’s Award, which is nice for her but the book sank.”
All I can say to that is “Not if I have anything to do with it”.
Now, I actually met Malcolm Knox at the opening night party of the Writers' Festival, and thanked him for the quote, and the article, which was very interesting. He said, "You realise that that wasn't a quote from me, it was from a book publisher."
I said, Yes, I did realise that but it was hard to make that clear in the speech. He wouldn't reveal which publisher had actually said it; however, I did promise that I would explain my use of the quote to listeners or readers, so here it is. If you want to read the full article (it's about the effect of Bookscan on literary publishing in Australia) see the new magazine "The Monthly".
The festival itself looked interesting, similar to the Melbourne one but many more political sessions, and little on writing itself. I would have loved to go to one of Alice Sebold's sessions, but had to fly back home Thursday afternoon. I did a reading with other Premier's Awards winners on Thursday morning, and then was really disappointed to discover that the bookshop had no copies of my book in stock!! As there were several people who came up to me after the reading and said they wanted to buy "Farm Kid", I was even more disappointed. If you're reading this and would like a copy, please do order it (this is the desperate author speaking who wants to cry when people say they can't find my books in the shop).
I met many interesting and lovely authors and publishers during the week, including Sharyn November (Penguin US/Firebird) and Marion Lloyd (UK publisher who now has her own imprint with Scholastic). Also Ursula Dubosarsky, Margo Lanagan and Sam Wagan Watson. And at the dinner I got to shake hands and talk to Tim Winton!

Saturday, May 21, 2005

At the moment I am struggling through a huge book - "Doomsday Book" by Connie Willis - that a friend lent me. It's a time travel novel, about a girl who gets sent back to 1320 by a machine/net thing run by academics at Oxford Uni. I say struggle because it's very dense and moves back and forward rather than just being about her in 1320. It's interesting though, so I will keep going. In the meantime I just had to buy and start reading Sue Monk Kidd's new book "The Mermaid Chair". I loved "The Secret Life of Bees" and I have to admit that so far (up to Chapter 5) this one is just not engaging me. It's a novel about a woman who is happily married but somehow discontented, has a crazy mother and has to go and look after her for a while and launches into a disastrous "affair" (so the blurb tells me - I'm not up to that yet). I don't know ... it just feels like many things I've read before. I'm hoping it sweeps me up soon and carries me away!
No writing this week, apart from a speech I have to make on Monday night which is totally scaring me to death. More on this next week, when the cone of secrecy is lifted.
I had written, finally, (during one of the less engaging conference sessions last week) a more or less draft of a picture book I have been playing with for a few weeks so should work on that this weekend. After I finish class prep and a variety of other jobs on my list. No wonder I am hanging out for the school holidays again. And I imagine those writers with kids are dreading them!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

After much fiddling on my end and some (more and more desperate) emails to the Blogger people, I now have Comments!! And no doubt I will receive none. But a few people have emailed me - thank you - so hopefully now all will go smoothly.
A full day of classes yesterday, and we are into the workshopping part of the semester. Five lots in Writing for Children class and two stories in Short Story 2. Everyone is so different - diferent voices and styles, different ideas, and of course, different mistakes. And the challenge is always "how can this be made better? how can this problem be fixed?" There is never a magic answer, only suggestions and ideas, and then it's back to the drawing board for the writer.
I had a long phone conversation with a writer friend on Sunday night, describing the conference and what happened and what I heard. It helped to crystallise a few things I had been thinking about - just like workshopping really! And it reminded me, more than anything, of another weekend I went to several years ago, where two of us writers sat at dinner one night and worked out some very interesting theories on how male writers behave in public (i.e. at conferences where they are "on show") and how female writers behave. By behave I mean how they present themselves to the audience, and to those around them between sessions.
Male writers seem to have personas, and a certain confidence in their abilities and achievements. On the weekend, most of the male writers presented themselves as humorous, breezy and relaxed. And the females were serious, self-deprecating and calm. Except for one young woman who was genuinely hilarious.
So those theories were proved again - and trust me, I am not being sexist. I am merely observing how people present themselves and there are always exceptions. So I won't go on and describe the circles theory of "who you know" !!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

I have just been to the Youth Literature conference in Melbourne - Reading Matters. Another excellent conference organised by Agnes Nieuwenhuizen and her trusty band of Mike and Lili. Over 300 people there this time, more than ever, but mostly teachers and librarians. It is not a writing conference, it is a books and reading conference and focuses on new books and writers, how stories are written (which is the bit of interest to me) and ideas and issues.
There was quite a bit of emphasis on issues this time - lots of talk about refugees, how to write fiction that explores issues without being didactic, do books make a difference? The overseas guests were Adeline Yen Mah, Tessa Duder (NZ), Karen Levine (Canada), Malorie Blackman (UK) and David Fickling (UK).
David F was of the most interest to me as he is a publisher and his authors include Phillip Pullman and Mark Haddon. He was very genuine, humorous and gave me, as a writer, hope about the state of publishing. I have problems with the bean counters, the ones who write the contracts, and there were a few editors and publishers in the audience. When he spoke about books with such passion and described how to "capture" an author (kind of like enticing fairies or elves - leaving delicious food out on the lawn and staying very, very quiet), I saw a lot of the editors nodding and smiling. A heartening sight.
There were some very good sessions - for example, one on girls's stories and one on boys' stories which raised some interesting points. Malorie Blackman was very energetic and talked about her writing with great enthusiasm and clarity. Karen Levine did a presentation on her book "Hana's Suitcase" which is about a suitcase which survived the Holocaust and how this Japanese woman tracked down who owned it (a 13 year old girl who died at Auschwitz) and then found the girl's only surviving relative. There were quite a few tears in the audience for that session!
My favourite quote for the weekend was "Outside a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside a dog, it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Tried to work on the novel on the weekend - tried to focus, but nothing was happening. I was in that space where I hated the whole darn thing and wished I'd never written it! Well, not quite, but I think that's why sometimes I find rewriting so hard. There are days of writing like that too. Some days you sing, some days you groan.
I put it away and decided to come back to it in a few days when I feel more positive. In the meantime I have been writing poems, experimenting with a new verse novel idea. As if I don't have enough just-started or unfinished pieces hanging around. This is where I marvel at Jane Yolen, who talks in her journal about working on all sorts of things all the time, going from one to the other.
That raises the eternal question for me - if I was able to write full-time, would I have the discipline to produce? At the moment, I squeeze writing in amongst teaching and other necessities, and I'm pretty determined to find those spaces of time. But if all I had was time, would I use it as well?
On the reading front, I read Louise Rennison's new book over the weekend - "And That's When it Fell Off in my Hand". (I think in the US they have titled it "Away Laughing on a Fast Camel" for some reason.) It is pure fun, had me laughing out loud quite a few times, and thoroughly cheered me up.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

I have been looking at a few other blogs recently - it's fascinating to see all the different styles and approaches. One was writing and poetry news items only (quite boring but useful), another was aimed at teen readers.
I have been reading Jane Yolen's online journal for several months now. She is so down-to-earth and talks about what she is working on, as well as rejections and acceptances of manuscripts and news from home. She likes readers to email her with comments and I've been quite excited to see that recently she has used a couple of my emails. I did enjoy her story of the fat and gaunt cows. Go to and click on the journal link.
The early part of the week is always about teaching for me. Workshopping in most classes is either underway or about to start. It can be a tedious exercise if students don't contribute or understand what they can get out of it. I know that at the moment it's feeding back into my own writing by showing me how to more easily cut out what is not necessary, and also to acknowledge my gut feelings about a section. The tendency is to ignore that feeling - to think, Oh it'll be OK as it is.
On the weekend I had a three page section that had a lot of necessary explanation in it. That's what I told myself at first. Then I had to acknowledge that those pages were long and wordy, and find a way to trim them back.
What is hardest to workshop is the great story that is well written, but something just isn't working in it. We had one of those the other day, and it took a while before I could hone in on what it was. Basically it was the movement back and forth in time - too slow and explanatory. Everything in the story could easily take place in the "now" of the story. I'm looking forward to seeing what the student does with it, as it is potentially a very good story.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Yesterday we had a forum for children's writers which went well. Lisa Riley from Penguin spoke (or should I say, she answered my prepared questions and then lots of audience questions) and of course everyone asked about the series (Nibbles, Bites and Chomps). She was very generous with her information and advice.
Meredith Costain was the guest writer. Her experience and range of books is amazing. Lots of non-fiction, which I wish I could write, or at least feel more committed about writing, and beginner readers that really interest me. They are a real challenge - making something substantial out of so few words.
The Q&A session was interesting - a bit unfocused, I thought, which was possibly my fault, but I'm not sure how we could have done it differently. It seemed to get sidetracked a lot. However, in the evaluations people gave good suggestions on what they'd like next time. Many requests for business pointers, how to make the business side run more smoothly and how to deal with tax etc.
I have been working on the middle grade novel, cutting mostly, and so far have got rid of about 9 pages. It's great to be able to finally stand back from the story a bit and see what isn't necessary, what is slowing it down. I had one whole scene and when I looked at it again, I thought - why is that there? So out it went.
Trimming and cutting - with big editor's scissors, not writer's clinging - will continue!
Despite trying twice and also emailing Blogger people for help, the Comments function still does not work here. But you can email me at