Archive for January, 2009

Like Trying to Wash a Cat

I read a great quote today about editing a novel, which said it can be like trying to wash a cat.  I relate to this, which says a lot considering my cat had an irrational fear of water.  Trying to wash her involved thick rubber gloves, a raincoat and plenty of Betadine for treating scratches – which gives you a clear image of how I sometimes find editing.  Luckily I’ve learnt much through the mentorship, which has made this process more pleasant.  The next stage will be the third draft, which Kate has described as working on structure and ‘making the writing sing’.  Parts of it sing a little already, but more of a bad idol audition rather than the polished rock-star performance I’m hoping for.  Anyway, this got me thinking about how the second draft unfolded.

I was lucky enough to have Kate’s experienced and objective eye to assess my first draft, and together we discussed where to take it from there.  The first thing was to identify the target audience – I was on the cusp of two, so we made decisions about whether to slightly simplify the language / world for a junior audience, or increase the stakes to appeal to a mid-grade audience.  After this we looked at what needed working on.  First up was world building: being a fantasy story, the world presented in my first draft was not detailed enough and I needed to get to know my races better.  For this I did lots of daydreaming, brainstorming and mind mapping, one of which appears below:


The next thing I tackled was character consistency: I tend to learn about my characters as I write the first draft, which means they change a lot as I go.  BUT by the end of it I know them quite well.  So I created character profiles for each main character (about 6 all up) which included a number of points about their personality / background, their core strengths and weaknesses, physical traits, and (because I also illustrate) sketches of their face and clothes (which helps with consistent descriptions).  My protagonist’s profile is below:


Lastly I did a detailed plot / chapter plan.  One of the most valuable things Kate taught me was a rule for weeding out chapters that aren’t working hard enough.  Every chapter needs to: 1. Propel the plot forward, 2. Develop character, and 3. Reveal more about the world.  I used these rules to write my plan.  Firstly I scrapped any chapters than were ambling along (more than I’d like to admit).  Then I looked at the skeleton I had: what each leftover chapter achieved and what plot points / character traits were not yet explored fully enough.  After this I made headings of every major event in the book in the order it happened and jotted down a summary under each of how the scenes would fulfil the above rules.  I put it all together along a timeline on a pin board (see below), with coloured paper highlighting major plot events.  Yes, I am a very visual person.  And maybe a little anal, but let’s not be judgmental.


THEN came the re-write.  I used sections of the first draft, but a lot of it was brand new writing.  The detailed plan made it much less scary and the board made it easy to track my progress, which spurred me on.  This whole process took me just under three months and the manuscript increased by ten thousand words.  Not sure what the third draft will look like, but I’m looking forward to finding out…


When Writers are Lost for Words

Rabbit - psychicI attended the Aurealis Awards on Saturday night, the annual Australian speculative fiction awards held in Brisbane.  The room was brimming with publishers, editors, agents, authors and wannabes like me.  It was a place where geeks of science fiction and fantasy were not afraid to speak out and embrace their geek-dom.  The alcohol might have helped.

But what really stayed with me about the night were the acceptance speeches.  As an aspiring writer, I often view authors as these rather enigmatic figures.  People blessed with an ability to express themselves intelligently in interviews, with market savvy and ever thoughtful things to say.  I suppose this probably comes from those we see most in the limelight, speaking about their craft in ways that makes everyone want to become a writer.

But it would seem even the most natural public speaker loses such skills when accepting an award.  I don’t think I have ever seen authors so humbled, touched, and yes … lost for words.  It was really quite endearing.  There were many brilliant children’s authors and illustrators represented on the night.  Shaun Tan won the illustrated book award for ‘Tales from outer Suburbia’, a surreal and poignant book exploring the Australian burbs.  Emily Rodda took out the children’s fiction award with ‘The Wizard of Rondo’ and Melinda Marchetta the young adult award for ‘Finnikin of the Rock’.  Isobelle Carmody was also up for an award, as was one of the hosts for the night, Simon Higgins (who I got to chat with, and is incredibly funny, down to earth, and clearly suited to writing his ninja novels).

We have several speculative fiction writers in my wider writing network, so I look forward to one day attending the awards in support of them as nominees…


What Kind of Writer are You?

Rabbit - exclamationSomething that often comes up among writers is the question: ‘What kind of writer are you?’  I used to think the answer was easy – that I had it all figured out.

I was certain I was a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer.  All this talk of character profiles, careful plotting and chapter plans kind of freaked me out.  The idea of it all felt stifling.  Where’s the freedom?  The sense of the story unfolding before your eyes?  No, I was certain that when it came to first drafts, I was a free writer.  When writing my first few longer stories, all I had was a main character, an idea of what was important to them, a place to start and a vague place to end.  And it was through the writing that the true story evolved – the twists and turns, secondary characters, all the various plot points, and often even I was surprised by what transpired.  It was exhilarating.

But.  Through the mentorship I’ve been doing with Kate, I have learnt something new about myself.  Where my first drafts are free written, it would appear my second drafts are much more planned.  Suddenly I understood the desire for character profiles and chapter mapping.  And instead of restricting me, it was liberating.  Now that I knew the story, I could pin down what needed to happen in each chapter, who needed to be involved, and how to build the tension and develop a strong emotional and action arc.  It made it so much easier to weed out those chapters that weren’t working hard enough and to do a full rewrite (which had previously terrified me).  So, now I had it down.  I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants first drafter, and a planned-anal-organised second drafter.  Yes?  No.

As it so happens, I just finished the first draft of a new novel … and I was a planned first drafter.  This story required a LOT of research, and involved the character solving puzzles along the way, which were vital to the plot.  So I HAD to know what was going to happen at each point.  While there were still some surprising moments during the writing, I mostly knew exactly what was happening and where the story was leading.

So … I have a new theory on this whole ‘what kind of writer are you?’ business.  At least for me, it would seem that where I once thought my personality directed how I approach a story, it is actually each individual story that demands how it is written.  Who knows how I’ll write the next story.  I’m not even game to guess.

So dare I ask: what kind of writer are you?


Publishing Fantasy

I LOVE this video.  It was made by a writer called Jackson Pearce, after getting her first book accepted.  In her own words, it’s:

A video about how I used to imagine the whole writing-and-getting-published thing worked.

Oh, if only.  I found myself dancing around with the song in my head for days after first watching it.  Enjoy

Why Write for Children?

Rabbit - balloonOver on Nathan Bransford’s blog (possibly my most favourite blog in the stratosphere) he’s had a guest blogger talk about why she writes for children.  She has given one of the most intelligent, eloquent and apt responses to such a question I think I’ve ever come across, and managed to capture everything that I feel so strongly about as a children’s writer.  Here’s a small taste of what she said:

I love the whimsy in children’s books. I love the saturated emotions, the dealing with real issues without overcomplicating them and over thinking them. I love how dark children’s books can be, how the stakes can often be life and death. And yet despite these elements I love how unsentimental children’s books are (contrary to popular belief of some writers who think children’s books must be morality tales, all sugary sweet; kids for the most part don’t put up with that nonsense). Children’s books don’t have time to revel in their self-importance. Kids are a tough audience and they’ll turn their backs if the story is less than stellar.

Her name is Adrienne Kress, and I really suggest you pop on over and check it out for yourself.  Enjoy.

Writing Disability

Rabbit - lookIt would seem that when they were handing out self-esteem, I got a dud-dose.  Either that or I’ve got a gland somewhere that’s not working the way it should.  Or I’m just that sort of person.  Anyway, never one to give up, I’ve embraced the fact and had to work on ways to manage such an affliction.

So, I might be talking it up a little, but writing and publishing and the whole shebang is a tough business.  They say you need a dose of talent, a liberal serve of extra-hard-work, and a lot of luck to break into it.  I think you also need to be able to believe in yourself more than anyone else ever will, and to learn how to enjoy the journey rather than the destination.  This has been the hardest thing for me, as for a while there I was completely focussed on where I wanted to be, and not enjoying the things I was achieving along the way.  I can become so goal focussed that as soon as I achieve one thing, I move on to the next goal without enjoying the moment long enough.  A magazine accepts a story, so will they ever accept another of mine?  Finished that first draft, but the story itself is a long way from polished.  This writing disability of mine means I’ve had to learn to consciously pull myself up – or practise what I like to call smack-myself-in-the-head psychology.  Remind myself to sit back and enjoy the journey.  Look out the window.  Smell the flowers and all that jazz.

My writer’s group is brilliant at celebrating every step, from finishing a first draft and receiving a positive rejection letter, to magazine acceptances and book deals.  So, today I’m celebrating all things, great and small.  I’ve nearly finished the first draft of a new novel, the first adventure novel I’ve ever written (and in a quirky voice that I have so enjoyed).  What about you?  I know all of you have something worth celebrating – I’ll provide the champagne if you provide the story.

The Quagmire of my Mind

Rabbit - climbPeople often ask where my ideas come from.  I can answer how to foster ideas.  Simply writing helps that initially, opening your mind up to grasp at the things that fly by it.  Then reading, TV, movies, art galleries, long walks, people watching, tumbling in playgrounds, dog park visits, random conversations and such all help.  But that still doesn’t really answer the question.  In fact the only thing that does is an example.

In mid-2006, a good friend was developing a computer game.  We were over their house when they were tossing around ideas for names, when they mentioned one they’d decided against.  Elementals.  As soon as it was said I had one of those wonderful spark moments.  The tiny flare of a lightbulb over my head.  The word sounded so alive.  Immediately small creatures crawled into my mind, born of the elements.  But what would they look like?  What kind of world would they live in?  What would they do day-to-day?  And when you start asking yourself these kinds of questions, an idea is born.

The idea grew in my mind for many months.  On a trip away from home I did some sketches, and the characters started to develop.  I also did much research: I found that elementals are actually mythical creatures that have ‘existed’ for centuries, and the myths and legends informed my ideas.  That Christmas I wrote the first draft of the story that had evolved in my mind, and it was the first novel length work I’d ever managed.  But in all ways it was a first novel.  A beautiful, exhilarating, and horribly flawed first novel!  Yet it was such a valuable experience and I learnt so much, but the most important thing it gave me was confidence.  I now knew I could write a novel.

That manuscript has been relegated a special place in my bottom drawer, but a year later the world was still in my head.  Inspired by an early image I’d drawn of a character with wilted wings, I wrote a new story.  It had fresh characters, but some themes and ideas filtered in from the old story.  And so the Black Luck Stone was born, the junior fantasy novel that won me the mentorship.



I have no idea what you’re talking about … so here’s a rabbit with a pancake on its head.

Beating the Writing Critic (with a club)

Rabbit - angryAll writers have one.  That little guy that sits on our shoulder telling us we’re no good, that every word we put on that page is terrible and not even worth the effort, that no one else is going to read it – let alone enjoy it – so why bother?  Even highly experienced and successful writers such as Isobelle Carmody and Marcus Zusak speak of self-doubt when writing.  So how to fight it?

The first writing workshop I attended at Qld Writer’s Centre many year ago was called ‘The First Novel’, run by Sarah Armstrong, and she talked about fighting the writing critic and getting through that first draft.  I think that’s where the writing critic tends to lurk the most – in first drafts, when we’re most vulnerable.

The single most effective technique I have for fighting my own writing critic is effectively telling him to bugger off.  Well, I suppose it’s slightly more complicated that that.  I think the most common thing our writing critics throw at us is ‘you can’t write’.  These are powerful words, and enough to make many people stop writing altogether.  But I’ve learnt to use a Hemmingway quote to throw back at my writing critic: ‘All first drafts are shit’.  First drafts are supposed to be a rabble of ideas, inconsistent characters, plots that don’t quite flow yet, clichéd metaphors and even worse.  First drafts are a place to get to know your characters and experiment with plot points.  First drafts are simply about getting the ideas down on paper.  It’s the later drafts that are used to go back and fix these things.

So whenever my writing critic tells me my writing is bad, I just tell him that it’s supposed to be that way.  After all, as Hemmingway effectively said, the role of a first draft is to be shit.  And who’s going to argue with Hemmingway?


Rabbit - lookTo write or illustrate, you need two kinds of space.  Head space and physical space.

Way back when I first decided to pursue writing and illustrating seriously, my partner and I sat down to figure out how to make me some physical space for it.  Some might think this isn’t as important – that it should be something you can do anywhere.  But I’m a big believer in having a dedicated space.  Somewhere you have that feels creative.  Somewhere to create a writing / illustrating rhythm around.  Yes, I’m all about routine.  When I’m in my office, I know it’s time to write, and I think this is important when we’re creatures of many different lives.  We all have many roles to move in and out of each day – writing is just one of them – and my dedicated space helps me to quickly get into my writing / illustrating mode.

I’ve been thinking about this recently after reading what some other writers have to say about their writing space.  Michael Bauer has posted on Inside a Dog about his office (I’m in love with a big curved wooden desk he found), and Sheryl Gywther has also been talking over on her blog about the music people listen to while writing.

So, my space?  I’m lucky enough to have room for both an art desk and a desk for my computer (which is essentially my writing desk).  At my writing desk I have a quote from Hemmingway (which helps me on bad days to fight the writing critic that sits on my shoulder).  I also have a cork board, which I use to pin up notes on whatever novel I’m working on at any one time – this helps me to move in and out of that world on a daily basis.  I’m also a big subscriber to sticky notes and coloured pens, for keeping track of different characters and plot points.  My most treasured writing companion is my mac.  He’s my ‘other’ man (I spend so much time with him).  I also have a big window with lots of greenery outside (great for people watching and procrastination).  And unlike Sheryl, I can’t listen to music while writing because the words of a song intrude too much, but I often listen to music while drawing.  For illustrating I also have lots of reference books close to hand on my shelf – favourite illustrated books and whatnot.

So, do others have a dedicated space?  Or a space that you’ve taken over?

About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

Released Sept 2012:


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