I am looking down the pathway of writing my way to the mountain of my completed first draft.
Using my plan and outline as a map and continuing to read books that inspire me when I become stuck, I have reached my fourth chapter.
I am following the plan, but letting the characters help me construct them as I write them. I look forward to seeing you at the other end of the first draft.
I was delighted to write two and a half chapters today.
At this point I am trying not to censor each sentence and perfect it but rather get the character and my plot and scenes down cleanly and then I will work on other aspects in my second draft.
With this draft I am determined to get my structural plot, pacing and introduction of characters very clear.
I have started reading Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars. (2016) It’s so beautifully written and delightful, you just want to read it from the first paragraph. This will be the task of my second draft.
During February I spent the month revising workshops and resources about structure as well as beginning a quest to re-read some of my favourite childhood books. I also began to locate more contemporary books for middle grades and youth to unravel for their structure and best features.
I am putting enormous amounts of efforts into outlining, researching, and structuring prior to beginning my full write ups of the first draft of middle grade novels. Furthermore, I am seeking to support this by my study of the books I love and admire. They are my friends as I make my journey through the first drafts.
I especially enjoyed revisiting the Worst Witch, and examining the length of the book, chapters, scenes, and how black line illustrations were distributed throughout. It is so well balanced, with just enough of description, dialogue and humour to appeal to the young reader. This book still makes me giggle!
Structurally there are small cliffhangers, a gradual raising of the stakes, foreshadowing, and scenes which make the story come alive. It is extremely well done. I paid close attention to the things that could help improve my own writing. Although of course I do want to foster my own voice and style.
As for Pippi Longstocking, what a character – super strong, generous, creative, brave and so true to herself always. There was perhaps a chapter I didn’t enjoy so much, the section about Maids, and that’s partly because of all the studies of literary representation I have done, which make some aspects of this a little outdated, although I do think Lingrid is very tongue in cheek and having a go at the way the tea party goers discuss their maids. This article from the Guardian is well worth a read Pippi Longstocking, Books Charged with Racism.
“”It is not that the figure of Pippi Longstocking is racist, but that all three in the trilogy of books have colonial racist stereotypes,” said Wollrad. “I would certainly not condemn the book completely – on the contrary, there are many very positive aspects to the book, as well as being very funny, it is instructive for children as it not only has a strong female character, she is against adultism, grown-ups being in charge, and she is fiercely opposed to violence against animals – there is a very strong critique of authority in the book,” she told the Local.”
Pippi Longstocking has some subversive elements to it though, which made it well ahead of its time and so it is still despite sections that might not read well to modern audiences a book worth reading. The inspiration surely of movies like Home Alone.
Both Worst Witch and Pippi Longstocking are heart warming representations of friendship that avoid the sickly sweet, as well as being about overcoming prejudices others may have against you.
So it’s back to working on my novels.
Now I must get back to finishing touches of my plan, and begin the writing of the first chapter of one of them.
I have known Pixi, ever since we met at a Writing Group in Wollongong. She once kindly gave my family tickets to go to see Circus Oz as well when we last caught up in Brisbane over ten years ago! I was delighted to hear she has recently published a book on circus especially for children, but attractive for all ages. Pixi has lived and studied circus, and her book is written from a true first hand and an academic researched understanding of what circus actually is.
Pixi was born in Perth and studied classical ballet. She worked on circuses in Germany and England, flying trapeze, aerial ballet, riding elephants. Back in Australia she married a fellow-performer on Swiss Circus Royale in the “big top”. A founding member of Circus Oz, Associate Artistic Director for the first three years of The Flying Fruit Fly Circus. She has an associate Degree in Visual Art at Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), BA (1st Class Hons. Writing) and a Masters at Edith Cowan University. She self-published Bunty Armitage – Circus Girl (2014); Tempo – a circus romance (2015) both on Lulu.com; A Book of Circus (2017) and you can order on FB. She is the Oceania Co-ordinator, World Circus Day and Co-organiser, Australian Circus Festival.
1.What is your earliest memory of circus?
Seeing Bullen Bros Circus or Ashton’s Circus, or possibly Wirth’s Circus (can’t remember which but saw them all) in early 1950s in Perth. It always rained when the circus came! My main memory, is of massed girls spinning in the air, the sound of the circus band, andthe evocative smell of exotic animals.
2.When and why did you begin to write this circus book?
It grew out of another project, a serious, slightly academic picture book on the history of Australian Circus. I felt it was important to share the important cultural aspects of circus in the colonies and in the present day; most people have no idea of this rich, vibrant history.
3.Why did you pick the style of the book? And how would you describe it?
This is a picture book using real photographic images of historic and contemporary circuses and performers. The use of drawn or painted illustrations was not a consideration as too much of “circus” is presented as fantasy while it is, in fact, gutsy and earthy and real.
4.Why did you independently publish your book?
I’ve been submitting unsuccessfully to publishers and agents for quite some time, even though I had a Second and a Highly Commended from the Children’s Book Council of NSW “Frustrated Writers’ Awards” which ultimately led nowhere, so decided a few years ago that I just better do it myself as I can’t seem to get past the gate-keepers of the book publishing establishment.
5.Who is your main interested audience for this book? Why?
The Book of Circus is designed for young circus audience members, circus fans and collectors of circus books; it has eye-appeal for children (target audience) and grandmas who buy treats at the circus. For adults it contains information about general circus history and some facts about circus animals. It is a resource for schools, libraries and other interested parties with listings for all the travelling circuses in Australia, circus schools, circus shows and circus equipment suppliers.
6.What five words would your use to describe this book?
7.Share your favourite short excerpt from the book.
Given the current (and puzzling) hysteria surrounding clowns, I’m quite pleased with my explanation aimed at young children in an endeavor to normalize our clown colleagues:
“Clowns are ordinary people wearing face paint and funny clothes”.
8.What is your favourite image in this book? Why?
I love them all, which is why they’re in the book, but I have to admit to particularly loving “l is for lion” – young Cassius West from Stardust Circus with his favourite lion cub, just beautiful. This family of animal trainers, acrobats, aerialists and circus proprietors shares a special affinity with the Big Cats.
9.What advice would you give to anyone wanting to go into circus work?
Aspiring circus performers and workers need to understand that it is a way of life, not just a job, whether you are an artiste, an animal handler, the fairy-floss maker, or the on-site school teacher. Rather like farming, really, in many ways: the weather, the outdoor aspects, the animals, the constant harassment by animal activists, but with the bonus of constantly changing scenery! So if you chose this path you have to be committed 100% to 24 hour days, 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year. Hard work? Yes, of course, but more rewarding than you could ever imagine.
10. What advice would you give to new writers when picking a topic to write about?
Let the topic pick you. I never meant to write about circus, but it just keeps happening, ha, ha!
How to get hold of the book
Pixi is now taking orders for A BOOK OF CIRCUS. $15 plus postage. VIA email: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can find out about her other circus books via Lulu
Saturday 29th April 2017, was a day to be inspired as authors shared their writing journeys and ideas on the power of words with writers and readers gathered at Bracken Ridge Library. Both sessions were chaired by Sheryl Gwyther (introduced by Adele Moy), an Australian children’s author. She writes novels, chapter books, short stories and school plays for children and short stories for adults. She is the recipient of two Australian Society of Authors’ Mentorships, and two May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Fellowships as well as a SCBWI International Work-of-Outstanding-Promise award.
Michael Aird, Keeaira Press, began by explaining how he went from working in a factory with a low level of literacy and working out the spelling of words for the lunch order with co-workers to a dawning realisation that his older co-workers were unhappy; he realised this was not the life for him. He obtained a university education, developed a passion for photography and after graduating with anthropology combined his talents. Michael has since created over thirty varied books with Indigenous authors covering, art, history, heritage, fishing, and a manual arts teacher on his life teaching in a remote area, and some of his own works. He has learnt a lot in this process, including that some people are easier to collaborate with than others, artists can often be disorganised, some artists and writers are fantastic at marketing and promoting their books, as well as that larger print runs often give a better quality printed book.
Duncan Richardson, Michael Aird, June Perkins
Duncan Richardson took us on his journey of finding a genre that suited him and mentors that told him the truth. He began writing poetry, and still likes to do this, but found that the children and young adults’ literary community provided a more supportive group environment than that of poetry. He works as an ESL teacher and found that sometimes his students were an inspiration for stories, as well as history. He shared his interest in speculative fiction. Duncan shared that he has had mentors along the way who have told him what he needed to hear, not necessarily what he would like to hear. For instance one mentor said he really shouldn’t write drama as he knew nothing about it. Duncan shared some beautiful quotations about inspiration and showed us several of his books. Today Duncan is a highly imaginative storyteller (he still likes writing poetry), who has a real passion for writing YA novels and chapter books. He continues to have an interest in history. He feels like he has found his forte. Later in question time, an audience member asked him for more details about where his ideas came from. They were particularly intrigued by Jason Chen and the Time Banana.
I shared my journey‘ outlining five major influences: my birth family, nature, my family today, writing groups and spirituality of the Baha’i faith. I especially focused on the racism my family endured when living in Tasmania, which in some ways lead to the loss of one of my brothers, and how education, my family and community, played a role in empowering me, to create the poetry book for children and family Magic Fish Dreaming, a subtle celebration the oneness of humanity – which is reflected in its illustrations. I feel compelled to write by the desire for the children of the world to grow up in a world free from prejudice. I shared a moment of celebration where my brother wore a grass skirt and was proud of who he was and was featured on the front of the paper. This was a fairly emotional moment. I shared stories of my family growing up and having my Dad read stories to us and tell us always to work very hard to be treated equally to others in the society we were part of, and later learning more cultural stories from my mum when I began to ask her questions. I read and showed photographs (as I love photography) of these influences and concluded my presentation by reading a poem – River Song. Some of the stories I shared can be found on ABC Open.
(Note: I won a mentorship from the Australian Society of Authors and spent 2017 honing my craft on Picture books. This was during the time of the kickstarter.)
Later in question time to the panel I shared some details about kickstarting and how it is suitable for projects that should happen, have wide community support, but which publishers won’t take on for a number of reasons. One has to have a real passion for what one is creating for crowdfunding.
Susan Johnson, author of My Hundred Lovers,The Landing, and many others, a novelist and journalist, spoke naturally and informally on her life. She always loved to read, and feels that the majority of writers begin as readers. She spoke about her beginnings in Sydney and the shock of moving to Nambour. From a place where people marched against Vietnam, to a much more conservative place, which as first she resisted.
She shared with us memories as a journalist of meeting Mrs Whitlam (who she found quite shy and awkward) and more recently many other interesting people such as artist and film maker Tracy Moffat, but also that she found journalism quite an easy form to write in (she wanted to assure us she wasn’t putting down journalism as a writing form but it is so different from fiction). Fiction for her personally by contrast to journalism requires immense work (but pays less), and ‘good fiction shows the knots of life and experience,’ and probably one needs life experience before being able to write really good fiction. ‘Most good fiction is written after people turn 30. There are rare exceptions to this rule.’
Susan said today most authors doing well will only receive a $10,000-12,000 advance, whereas in the past they might have received $80,000. On average Australian authors earn $14,000 a year. So the vast majority of writers of fiction, other than say people like Geraldine Brooks (a good friend) have to hold down other jobs, and this is why she works as a journalist and adjunct lecturer, whilst writing fiction, despite having many novels published. Susan was lucky enough to have literature board grants and residencies, and was able to live overseas whilst she was writing one of her novels. These were brilliant experiences.
Although Susan has had many books published, she still feels like a relatively unknown author. She feels it is the prize winners who become the best known Australian authors.
She shared later in the panel questions that journalism has given her the discipline to write, and so she wakes at 5 am before the other responsibilities in her life as a single parent, and writes fiction and then goes off to her work as a journalist.
Lauren Daniels, an editor who worked for many years for Interactive press, spoke about the rich diversity of books she has edited by Australian authors. She told us stories about the power of words, repeating that phrase throughout her talk to remind us of the theme. She began with her story of how editors are like the mid wives for other books. She loves to edit books with a social message. The books she has edited cover topics like, homeless youth, refugees, black birding, history, death, adoption, the history Tasmanian serial killers and there were many others.
She told us the story of Tilly Brasch, the first person she edited a work for. Tilly came to her with a story about her son’s mental illness and her original intention was not to create a book but a pamphlet, but Lauren saw the potential for this book to have the power to change the situation for other people going through what Tilly was.
Lauren explained the role of an editor. One of their roles is to assist the author to avoided being sued and another is to help them work out their main goal in telling the story. Key components of her editing are honesty, empathy and integrity, and this has meant she sometimes lets go of some editing jobs if the book and or author lacks this. Lauren did work on her own novel, but with her first novel couldn’t find a publisher after 20 attempts, but a friend reminded her she had walked inside many other’s stories and bought their books to fruition and publication and that is a great thing to have done.
(Editors note: The manuscript for her novel, The Serpent’s Wake: A Fairy Tale for the Bitten was shortlisted with the 2016 Half the World Literati Award.)
Lauren told us some engaging anecdotes about her life, working as a volunteer for assisting homeless and displaced people, her father reading her Moby Dick (which she dramatized for us!), her reading a piece of writing to Veterans after winning a writing competition. This moment of reading to the veterans clearly showed the power of words to her, as she saw grown men crying as she read.
She shared her family’s response to her declaration of wanting to be a writer, ‘Oh no, you’ll be an alcoholic’. This came from her grandmother who had known and served Hemmingway. She spoke of how she was teased in her early life for having a stutter. In retrospect this experience of social isolation, plus a love of books, led to her love of writing. Lauren also told us that she once wrote to Stephen King and received an encouraging reply. Lauren is particularly moved by writers who refuse to be ruined by trauma.
Jacqueline Henry, a Bayside Journalist, and now also author of fiction and children’s stories shared her story. She is delighted to not be an ‘ambulance chaser journalist’ but one who interviews remarkable people, or ordinary people doing remarkable things. She decided in her fourties, despite her love of journalism, that she wanted to explore writing fiction. She announced this to her family with great gusto, but nothing came of it for a while. That is until she began to just try to write 1000 words a day (or close to) and rise at 5.30 am in the morning to do so. She treated it just like her job in journalism, and turned up to write her fiction every day. Jacqueline encouraged the audience to accept that whatever they write there will be a diversity of responses, even from people who on the surface all seem the same. One must expect that and celebrate this even.
Jacqueline’s speech was engaging and relaxed. She encouraged the audience to hone their craft, and to learn from the rich diversity of authors talks and how to’s on youtube. You don’t need to go and do a degree to become an author, but you do need to work on your craft.
The audience asked some interesting questions, including Do you need to go to university to become a writer? Writing experience regardless of your education can come through the act of reading, writing and reflecting. It is the time you put into it, and the experiences or story you might share with an audience, and finding your audience that are all part of the journey. Sheryl also asked the panel some questions. One of which was where they saw themselves ten years from now? Susan said she would love to win a literary prize but she wasn’t sure if she would achieve that ten years from now! Everyone wanted to still be writing!
A big thank you to all presenters, organisers, sponsors and special guests to the festival from council, Councillor Amanda Cooper and the Society of Women’s Writers Queensland, Brisbane Libraries, Brisbane City Council,
Lauren, Sheryl, Adele and Jacqueline
Images from Sheryl Gwyther, Jo Hoffman, Lauren Elise Daniels, June Perkins, Kara McLeod