Blog Visitor – Megan Higginson on Writing and Illustrating

Today’s writing guest is Megan Higginson who loves to write and illustrate stories of monsters, aliens, and mind-blowing places and asking questions like, ‘What if?’ She hopes her stories and illustrations will help readers to look at their life and the world around them with new eyes. 

I have come to know Megan through the Duck Pond community, of Jen Storer and also through Creative Kids Tales. I was thrilled when she illustrated one of my poems for the Creative Kid Tales Story Collection 2.   I am delighted to have her as a special guest on my blog.

1) What motivates you to write? What keeps you writing?

I always have characters talking to me and wanting to go on adventures. When I was a kid it took me until I was seven or eight to learn to read. After I learned to read, I was a total bookworm but never thought I was a writer as I have dyslexia and thought I was too stupid to write stories. In class I would write a story for a class assignment (primary and secondary) and it would be so different to everyone else’s I always thought I did something wrong. And the class usually ended up laughing at my story too. I realise that I just approached life differently and my stories where actually offbeat and funny.

As I child, sometimes, I would close the last page of a book and all these different characters would talk to me and we would go on adventures. I never told anyone as I thought I was nuts. For me it was another form of escapism. Yet, I’ve since found out that this is what writer’s do. In answer to your question, I have so many characters chatting to me about this adventure and that adventure they’d like to go on, I think I’ll be writing until the day I die and still have another story begging to be written.

 

2 a) You illustrate also? How long have you been doing that for? How do you prepare for your illustrating jobs?

In 2017 I joined the 52 Week Illustration Challenge at the encouragement of Giuseppe Poli. In fact, you can read about my journey to this point in a blog post, How I Overcame My Fears and Dived into the World of Illustration.  At that stage it was about practicing and learning about illustration, so I also took Nina Rycroft’s inaugural Illustration eCourse in 2017. I’m friends with an illustrator as well, so Ester de Boer has helped me immensely by giving me feedback on my art pieces, areas to improve, and different exercises to enable to me to get better. I’m a member of Creative Kids Tales. Therefore, when Vol.2 of The Creative Kids Tales Story Collection was announced, I decided I was ready to put myself out there as an illustrator. All nine of my illustrations were accepted and now published in the collection available now, including one I did for your poem.

For June Perkins, ‘Sleipnir’s Children’

 2 b) So, how do you prepare?

For the collection I read over the story and then I pretty much just dumped whatever came to mind onto the page. Lots of really scribbly pictures, and half-formed ideas. From there I weeded out what I thought would work and what didn’t. Then I moved onto planning the piece and getting it down onto the page in pencil, and gradually worked it up in layers of paint/pencil/ fine liner, whatever medium I’ve decided was best for that story, until I was happy. And then I finished them off in Photoshop. If I’m stuck on something and can see it’s not working, I ask Ester and she can always spot the little details that are problematic which I’ve missed. She always knows a work around. I fix it and then the picture pops.

I’m about to illustrate my first picture book and I’m doing the same sort of thing. However, in addition to my usual dumping, scribbling and refining the characters and composition, I will be mentored through the process of illustrating my first picture book by well-known illustrator Nina Rycroft, along with Ester de Boer. So, lots of support.

3) Tell me about your self published book?  Why did you choose to self publish?

‘Raymund and the Fear Monster,’ was originally written for some children in a Philippine orphanage whom I’d met while on a mission trip in 2013. However, I realised it had broader appeal. About the same time, I started writing other stories and decided that this was what I wanted to do seriously. In 2015 I took a Writing Picture Book course with Cathie Tasker at the Australian Writer’s Centre. I tried to make ‘Raymund’ fit within the parameters of a picture book. I tried to shove it under 600 words. It was like trying to shove a huge fluffy pillow into a tiny box. It just didn’t work. I did come up with a shorter different version which is now published as Freya and the Fear Monster in the Creative Kids Tales Story Collection Vol 2. Things that Go Bump. Yet, I knew Raymund’s story still needed to be told. I kept reworking it. It kept popping out everywhere until I wanted to throw up on it, burn it, and never see it again.

In 2016 three things happened within a week. 1) I read Jen Storer’s blog post, Right Story, Wrong Format. Why it’s important to stay true to the story. I also attended my writer’s group where we did a dialogue workshop. I played around with some dialogue from Raymund and I finally didn’t want to throw up on it anymore. I actually felt excited about it again. And then I read a picture book about a dragon who ate children (I know. Weird right. Fun story though) and realised I had started the story in the wrong place. I went and rewrote Raymund and it was so much better. I submitted it to one publisher who I thought if anyone would take it, they would. They didn’t. Probably because it is waaaay over the current trend in word count and a rather niche topic. So, Ester and I decided to partner up and do it ourselves. Penny Springbrook at Bookcover Café helped me polish ‘Raymund’ and I am so happy with how the story ended up.

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4) What have been the highlights of the journey?

I think watching my story come to life under the skilled hands and creative brain of my illustrator has been a major highlight. It’s a different style to what is normally used in picture books. However, when we’ve taken the illustrations and even the mock-up into schools, it’s been warmly received by the students and teachers. And that’s before it was published

5) What have been the challenges?

I think for me personally, has been the wait. We started this journey in late 2016 and it’s now 2019. Ester was busy illustrating other picture books she’d been contracted to at the time. She started planning December 2017 and began the illustrations in January 2018. However, having said that, I was happy to not be a pushy author and just leave her be and work at her own pace. Ester’s work is incredible and the amount of research she put in, and the details of her illustrations are amazing. I thought our book would look wonderful. But, not in my wildest dreams did I think it would look this incredible.

I think it’s also been a highlight, as well as a challenge working with a graphic designer. Ester and I had very clear ideas as to how we wanted our book to look and I’ve discovered it can be hard work putting a picture book together. However, it’s finished and it’s how we envisioned our book would look like. It’s a fun book.      

 6) What/Who are your major creative influences?

Writing: I love Anne McCaffrey, Frank Perretti, Wendy Orr, Jen Storer, Tony DiTerlizzi, Adam Wallace, Dee White, Jackie French, Alison Reynolds, Allison Tait… well you get the picture. Each of them has influenced me in various ways.

Illustration: As a child I loved the impressionist era (Of course, I didn’t know that it was called this at the time). As a child I loved the bush and was captivated by the artworks people like Tom Roberts, and how they captured the light of the Australian bush. I thought it was incredible and I always wanted to paint like that. I’m learning.

I didn’t know it as a child, but I loved Arthur Rackham’s illustrations. I would pour over his work for hours, studying his line work and detail and wishing I could draw like that. Tony DiTerlizzi is another one. I love his imagination and I love that he’s current and I can get online and see videos of him working on an illustration.

Aaron Pocock is another artist whose work I love. Hmmm. I’m sensing a theme. Fantasy. Anyway, Aaron is so versatile. He does cartoons, and huge gorgeous oil landscapes. However, it’s his fantasy artwork I adore. So, from him I endeavour to use colour well and think how to use colour to portray emotion. Ester de Boer’s work I admire. Her imagination is insane, as are her detailed line work. So, from her I’m learning to let my imagination run wild, to play and have fun, and to always add little details to my illustrations.

Thanks Megan for sharing your story!

Submissions Week

The world in and outside the window – June Perkins

This was a watershed week of submissions for me.

I have spent most of the year reworking and editing a number of promising writing pieces, and working out whether some earlier projects are short stories, picture books or novels.  Sometimes I don’t know in the early drafts what the final form will be.

Each piece chooses its destiny, as I write and rewrite.  I play, experiment and do radical things when it just doesn’t seem to be working but the story tells me it must be told.

Then there are some other tips I have picked up during the year like to, remove telling not showing from my work through avoiding ‘thought verbs.’

The other thing that’s happened is now that so many rules have been absorbed about writing I pick and choose which ones to follow.  This is based on which ones improve my writing.  Sometimes I even reverse a rule.  I will share more about that one day.

The most enjoyable part of editing is reading my pieces loud to find the musicality and poetry.  I realise I love things that have a beautiful sounding and flowing sentence, but it must also be purposeful.  My family often hear me in my room doing this and wonder who I am talking to.  ‘Just editing’ I say afterwards.

So with all of these things now happening, I reworked some stories I have always wanted to tell, and sent three completed pieces off.  All three were reworked pieces that I have filed away to keep working on and had rediscovered.

If they don’t place in the competitions, and even if they do, I will then begin submitting to other places like publishers.  There are so many competitions and not all of them result in publication.  The stories feel just right to me.  They still make me laugh or cry.

When I write I go looking for magic sentences, engaging characters, and use setting as a character when I can.

Now onto some much longer pieces, to apply the same process!

As well as editing and reworking, I do keep on writing new pieces.  But my patience for the time a work might take to come to fruition has grown.  Especially when the difficulties with it that niggle at me feel solved!

Over and out, off to do more writing.

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

Middle Grade Fiction with Gabrielle Wang

At the recent packed annual SCWIBI Queensland  Professional Development Workshop, I  appreciated Gabrielle Wang sharing her creative process with us. She gave us some inventive and wonderful ideas to improve our work in second drafts and shared her personal story of the importance of perseverance and the value of a mentor and challenge.  Do visit Gabrielle’s site to find out more about her books, and buy or borrow them!  They are fantastic and I can’t wait to read more.
Sheryl Gwyther, SCWIBI coordinator for Queensland,  and Gabrielle are pictured above sharing a concertina book with us. In this book Gabrielle told the story of a treasured object visually.  The true story of the object from real life was created first, but then she invented a story inspired by it, on the flip side. This process produced an idea for a story I am going to begin writing today! Gabrielle said that that you can use this same process to map chapters of a middle grade book and then she showed us one of her books mapped out visually.  The key is to use no words, but just see the story like a movie in your head, and draw your pictures based on that.  You do not have to be an artist for this to be useful. Gabrielle likes working organically so that not everything is pre-planned before she writes, but can be inspired by everyday events.  However, the visual planning ensures that she sees the story unfold in her head and carries it there and can intuitively respond to how the characters unfold.
I love being a member of SCWIBI, and learning from skilled and enthusiastic people about their writing process and their challenges and victories in writing, publishing and life.  The support from this and groups like Write Links has assisted me in developing as a writer and finding like minded people who are passionate about writing and reading literacy for young people and children.

The image above is taken by Danielle Freeland, who kindly took this group photograph with nearly everyone above’s phone for them.  She is a wonderful writer herself.  Thanks Danielle!   It was wonderful to  catch up with writers from the Gold Coast, and Sunshine Coast on the day as well.  A big thank you to Sheryl for organizing this for members and Gabrielle for visiting from Melbourne.  A brilliant day!

Responding to Art with the Written Word

Ray Crooke, Fragment Woman with Blossoms, QAGOMA, Australian Collection

I have made significant progress on a poetry project, writing poems for The Words and Pictures  project at QAGOMA.

Which is just as well as there are just four days left for my final selections and edits.

Some of the works  have  inspired more than one poem.  One even inspired four pieces.

I now have to select which ones will be the most interesting or evocative for the people visiting the gallery.  I might share some of the others that don’t go in, here on my blog.

It is not easy as I am quite happy with each version, but then I have a vision of how all the works fit together and want them to be spaced throughout the gallery which will help guide me to the right ones for the series.

Also one of my goals is to  give the poems and micro stories a broad appeal, such that people of many ages might enjoy reading them, including people familiar with my work on Magic Fish Dreaming.

So now my role is to curate the right balance of my own work, to show that I love writing for children, families, youth and adults.

I look forward to seeing how the public respond to the writing once it is up on the Gallery Walls.

I have a few butterflies of course, but it is quite exciting to share poems alongside art works, and have them interact with each other.

If you visit, feel free to leave a comment on my blog and QAGOMA instagram (will let you know some hashtags) as I would love to know what you think.

I’ll let you know the dates it is up soon.

All art works featured courtesy Queensland Art Gallery, Australian Art Collection

Rosalie Gascoigne,  Lamplit,

 

From Fred Williams's, Fragment from Echucha Landscape
From Fred Williams’s, Fragment from Echucha Landscape