Finding the Heart

Image by June Perkins

The last few months I have been revisiting picture book drafts and short stories, that didn’t feel like they were quite there yet.

Something special was missing.  I just couldn’t put my finger on it.  But I didn’t want to give up on the potential.

I had to have a huge break from them to see these pieces with a new heart.  I attended a few workshops and made tips lists for myself.  I read books on writing.  I read books I loved.  I waited and then I leapt back into my stories with hope!

What was I really trying to say in them?  How could I give them the life they deserved and make them leap off the page into the reader’s imagination?

I reflected on where do I want to go with my writing?  Where do I want to take the reader?  How can I invite them to a conversation without a set idea of the answer?  How can I make them care about the characters?

My new notebook for jotting down ideas in inspiring spaces, just looking at the cover makes me smile.

Here are the top ten techniques that have been helping me find the heart of my stories.

  1. Visualising the scenes and story boarding the works, including consideration of the turns pages to keep someone reading.
  2. Ensuring a story is played out to a length that allows me to do everything I intended without limitations (some picture books are short stories!)
  3. Changing the perspective the story is told from but retaining the overall scene and setting.
  4. Adding a sense of rhythm in the language from poetic techniques and keeping that going throughout the piece so it is a musical sound to the ear.
  5. Recognising when I am in the mood to work on a particular piece and going with the call of the muse.  Especially when it comes to hearing the music of words in my head.
  6. Removing the ‘thought verbs’ and rewriting the scenes without these.
  7. Playing with point of view, by extending it, restricting it, moving from first person to third person until it feels just right
  8. Adding the back story and pulling the back story out and hinting at it.
  9. Leaving the stories on a tricky point and day dreaming options to resolve that.
  10.  Changing the title to a key phrase in the story that I can use as a motif throughout the work.

So far, so good with this methodology.  One picture book became a short story and was successful in making it into an anthology.

One picture book remains a picture book, but the characters are so much closer to what I wanted them to be, and this one feels almost ready for submission.

Another three picture books are in the process of rewrites and again may be short stories, or short chapter books.

One flash fiction piece, from the ideas for my much longer memoir, made a long list for the Brisbane Writers Festival.  I will go back to the piece again and work on it and submit it somewhere.  Maybe I have lots of flash fiction pieces ready to go!

Another picture book is a definite chapter book and is progressing well.  This one had a change of perspective

My utmost thanks to Gabrielle Wang, Isobelle Carmody, Virginia Lowe, Giuseppe Poli, and Trent Dalton, for enabling me to press on in this journey with something they said in a talk, a tweet or a workshop, or something that they wrote that sparked a renewal of this journey, and also to other people who regularly read my work and give me some ideas of how to develop it.

Meeting Trent Dalton at the Brisbane Writers Festival

Some people are great sounding boards, as I tell them the story the solutions begin to just pop out of my brain, so thank you to anyone being that.

Today I have a whole day to write and revise.  I might even begin to tackle  unfinished novels.  Whilst I love revising, I keep jotting down new ideas and give myself space for free writes. 

One series of new ideas, free writes, is just called Australia’s Maya Angelou, and in this space I can write anything mostly from memories,  I am not sure if I will ever share it, but it is a place where anything goes with my writing, and I just experiment with all of the things outlined.  I think in these free writes there are more stories, poems and even one day finally that elusive memoir that might mean something to others.

So signing off from blogville land, to go visit my characters and their worlds, with a renewed sense of joy and a willingness to craft them until they have that special something.

June Perkins aka Gumbootspearlz

Gregg Dreise Presents

It was a wonderfully dynamic, interactive, educational and personal guest presentation by Gregg Dreise, an award winning illustrator and writer of books like Silly Birds and Mad Magpie, at the recent Book Links AGM at the State Library of Queensland.

Gregg is a descendant of the Kamilaroi tribe, from south-west Queensland and north-west New South Wales. You can find out more about him on the Speakers Ink site.

Gregg  began by honouring the Indigenous people of the local area we were  meeting in, and then gave the audience a sample of what he does when goes on his various visits into the community, but especially into schools.This gave us a chance to learn some of his language and sing it, and do the accompanying actions just as the students would.

Then he used a number of images to structure his talk around the memories of his upbringing, including one of his mum as a little girl, which he gave a a thought provoking back story to.  I’m not going to fully detail that here, as I think that will be something Gregg may one day do himself if he ever writes a memoir or maybe if he is busy one of his family might do this.  If you attend one of his presentations you will hear it directly from him as well.

Gregg  gave some critique of the notion of ‘blackness’ and Indigenous identity as well how little diversity appears in Australian children’s books, in libraries, publishing and schools. 

This observation was used to spring board into suggestions of how illustrators might consider including more diverse characters in their picture books.

However, it was suggested not to do this in a tokenistic way, or with stereotyping, but in a naturally inclusive way. 

Later on this point was discussed further by the authors in attendance of the AGM.  As authors shared with Gregg that they have little control over the work of illustrators if they are not author/illustrators.  He suggested that authors could at least make a note about wanting diversity in the illustrations of their book.

Gregg said, non-Indigenous could still include Indigenous characters, but should ensure they do their research and be accurate in those portrayals.  If there is an opportunity to include, do it! But just do the research.

He said often, however, there are picture book stories  that require very little change of the writing to embrace an inclusive society, rather a subtle change in illustration where the main character could be Indigenous instead of Anglo Australian, or in a wheelchair instead of walking is what makes the difference.  He gave us a specific example, which he had gained permission from the author to do so, to show how simple the task of inclusivity can be.

He did not advocate however taking on traditional stories, and explained that authors who truly want to support Indigenous people should instead empower an Indigenous person to tell and illustrate that story.

At times it might be relevant to consult Elders when undertaking a project, but the writer should be open to the answer being no, or yes and not try to railroad communities into assisting them with their research or books.

Mentoring is a rewarding experience, and can not only be taken on board as best practice when wanting to support Indigenous people, but can and should be acknowledged.  This is also work he himself does for regional and remote students especially.  Equally if writers receive assistance in research or from Elders they should acknowledge it.

On a positive note Gregg observed that in film and television there are great advances in diversity and the positive deconstruction of ‘blackness’ with films like Black Panther and also Star Wars.

He shared that Indigenous authors and illustrators should avoid stereotyping their own communities, and showed us an illustration where he represented the different skin shades of Indigenous Australia today.  Sometimes ‘blackness’ is taken as a sign of Indigenous authenticity, when it is not the major indication in contemporary society.

Another very heartening aspect of Gregg’s presentation was sharing the story of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and his work mentoring young Indigenous writers and illustrators.

So far we have gifted more than 260,000 new books to over 250 remote Indigenous communities where books are scarce.
Working with more than 30 generous publishers, we gift culturally relevant books to schools, libraries, playgroups, women’s centres, youth centres and other service organisations.
We have books available for babies through to adults, 40 per cent created by Indigenous authors and illustrators, with a new catalogue released each year. 

He is hosting a group  of talented Indigenous creatives in Sydney soon and taking them to Google and Hachette so they can aspire to become writers, illustrators and more.  It’s all about the doors that writing and books can open and broadening the horizons for Australia’s Indigenous people.  This work is made possible through a bequest from Pamela Lofts.

He showed us an example of a beautiful book co-produced with a school, which exemplified the kind of work possible.

I was very blessed to have a fantastic earlier discussion session with Dimity Powell and Gregg where we discussed the potential of  picture books and poetry to contribute to social justice and unity in diversity in the Australian literary community and how we might advance that happening.

June Perkins, Dimity Powell and Gregg Dreise

It was a highly uplifting and inspiring conversation for all three of us, and  we will be continuing our conversations as like minded, but very diverse background humans.

There were of course many more things shared during the presentation and this day, so this blog is only highlights that particularly struck me.

Book Links will  be sharing a blog of the day with several comments from participants in the AGM.  I will add the link to this post when it goes up.

All the best,

June Perkins

Some Facts on Cultural Diversity Australia (2014)

For more information check out

HUMAN RIGHTS AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY

 

This makes for interesting reading and all the following are based upon studies and surveys.  I particularly like the infographic above which summarises a longer document.

Australians identify with more than 270 ancestries.

Most new migrants say they feel a strong sense of belonging to Australia and that this feeling deepens over time.

Most Australians (86 per cent) support action to tackle racism in Australia.

The vast majority of Australians (84 per cent) believe that multiculturalism has been good for Australia.

18 per cent of Australians surveyed said they had experienced discrimination because of skin colour, ethnic origin or religion.

The most often reported location of discrimination was the neighbourhood (58 per cent), followed by shopping centres (42.8 per cent) and at work (39 per cent).

I will see if I can find a more recent reference.   I encourage you to go and read the rest of resource.  

What music do you write to?

Ripple Poetry

What music inspires you to write?

I like instrumental music with atmosphere.  Violin, Cello, Guitar especially.  Impressionists on the Piano are also quite beautiful.

Lindsey Stirling is one of my top picks on the violin.

I love that she is sometimes inspired by Writers,  as with Song of the Caged Bird.  She also has no limitations to what kind of music she plays, classical, rock, and more.

Writing with music gives me, a speaking beat, a mood, changes in pace and the ideas for story.

Sometimes my characters have their own music.

Imagine you have a character who is Jazz speaking to a character who is Rock and Roll.

Perhaps you have a Celtic Folk mother with a Punk Rocker son.

As for Lindsey, her music videos, with their dance, narratives, costuming, lighting and artistry can add another layer of inspiration to the writer.

This week I will concentrate on…

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