Archive for April, 2009

Pippa’s Perfect Ponytail

2009-04-28On Wednesday the 15th of April, a very good friend of mine, Julie Nickerson, held the launch party for her first children’s book, Pippa’s Perfect Ponytail.  This book is a delightful early reader, released as part of Penguin’s highly successful ‘Aussie Nibbles‘ range.  The story follows Pippa, who is getting ready for her birthday party.  For parties, Pippa always wears her hair in a perfect ponytail, but on the big day, not everything goes perfectly to plan.

The launch was particularly special to me because Julie and I have been crit partners for many years now.  I have had the joy of watching both Julie and the story grow and develop on their journey towards publication.  So I was also incredibly touched when Julie asked me to launch the book.  It was such a joy, although Julie may have secretly regretted asking someone who knows her so well to speak publicly about her, because I may have given away a few secrets… (this is a snippet from my speech)

As writers, we’re often asked if the characters in our books are based on people we know.  Specifically, we’re often asked if our characters are actually us in disguise.  Writers spend a lot of their time trying to convince people that they’re not – that the characters in our stories are actually their own people, with their own unique quirks, strengths and weaknesses.  But I have a secret.  Pippa, the main character in this book, is actually a LOT like Julie.

Just like Pippa, Julie needs things to be not just perfect, but perfectly perfect.

There were about 80 children and adults at the launch, and lots of food, laughter and books.  Party games were played and creativity was encouraged at an illustration table (which the delightful Peter Allert helped me to run).  Following is a photo diary from the day, chronicling the general hilarity:

 

Me, pulling silly faces during my speech to entertain the kiddies (although not consciously)

Me, pulling silly faces during my speech to entertain the kiddies (although not consciously)

Julie, hugging me after my speech, possibly out of relief that I didn't give away anything too embarrassing...

Julie, hugging me after my speech, possibly out of relief that I didn't give away anything too embarrassing...

Julie doing a reading from the book

Julie doing a reading from the book

Julie playing 'Pin the ponytail on Pippa', but I think she got a bit confused about the rules...

Julie playing 'Pin the ponytail on Pippa', but I think she got a bit confused about the rules...

Julie signing books for her hordes of fans

Julie signing books for her hordes of fans

Sheryl, Ally and I being entertained by some books Julie created as a wee thing

Sheryl Gwyther, Ally Howard and I being entertained by some books Julie created as a wee thing

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Overactive Mind

Rabbit - lonelyI wish I could go back to that teacher that said I was a daydreamer.  She wrote it on my report card like it was a bad thing.  She also said I never had my mind on the task.  Well I’d argue that I did, just not solely on the task she deemed important at that exact moment.  While I was solving the maths problem she had put in front of me, I also may have been:

  1. Watching the boy outside on the monkey bars a) wondering what was he doing out of school, and b) developing an emergency plan if he were to fall and land on his head
  2. Thinking about hockey training that afternoon, including what I wanted to achieve and what my coach expected of me
  3. Planning the homework I had for that evening, and how much I could fit in after training
  4. Wondering what might be for dinner

My mind still works like that.  Processing a seemingly endless list of often unrelated things at any one time.  In fact, it only seems to have gotten worse since I began writing.  Now I actively encourage stories and characters to run around my mind while doing other tasks, in order for the ideas to grow.  This morning is a good example.  I got out of the shower with 2 new blog post ideas (including the first few paragraphs of each), the outline of an article I want to write, and a new wording for a scene that for no explicable reason popped into my head (not even from my WIP).

And it was only a 5 min shower.

I’m certainly not complaining – it’s the only way I can juggle so many different roles and projects, but it does make me appear a little vague sometimes.  Anyone else suffer from an overactive mind?

Character Profiles

Rabbit - playI used to be one of those writers who groaned at such things.  Looking back, I’m not really sure why.  Maybe because at the beginning of my journey I was just enjoying free writing.  Maybe because back then I’d only just written my first novel, so I hadn’t really realised their value.  Maybe because the mentorship has made me more focussed on the intricacies of plot and characterisation and the craft of writing.  Whatever the reason, now I can’t live without them.

Once I’ve sat with my characters through an entire first draft, it’s time to develop their character profile.  This way, in the second draft I know exactly what’s important to them and their story.  Some people would do this before the first draft, and maybe one day I will too (my techniques keep changing as I become more experienced) but for now that would terrify me.  I’d freeze, because I wouldn’t know what to write.  But after the first draft, I do, because I’ve had the freedom of playing with the characters and learning about them through their experiences and decisions.

Kate gave me a wonderful resource sheet I’ve been using, which includes a set of questions you must be able to answer about each character.  Some of the questions are more physical and descriptive in nature, but my favourites are:

  1. Their best qualities / strengths
  2. Their worst qualities / weaknesses
  3. What do they desire most?
  4. What is their greatest fear?
  5. What kind of childhood did they have?  How does that change their character now?
  6. How will they change through your story?  What lessons do they need to learn?

These questions sound simple enough, but when you have these things clear, your characters will suddenly become 3D.  Back story will naturally thread within their current tale, and they’ll begin to interact with each other in new and fascinating ways.  It also makes it much easier to tighten each scene, making every event in the book reveal things about each character; scenes that test their strengths and play on their weaknesses, or a plot where their greatest fear gets in the way of their strongest desire.  These thing can be used to create a character arc across the story where the reader witnesses your characters change and grow.

What has surprised me the most is question number five.  Strangely enough, this isn’t always something people naturally think about.  Yet whenever I do, suddenly my characters make so much sense to me.  Suddenly it’s clear why they’re anxious and constantly finding things to worry about, or why they’re an extrovert always vying for others’ attention, or why they’re a bully.  This is where the character’s back story suddenly comes to life in my mind, which then naturally weaves into the second draft.

Anyone else use character profiles?  Or have interesting questions to add to my list?

Slave of the Subconscious

Rabbit - sockThe mind is a strange and wonderful thing.  Many a writer has struggled with a significant plot point, only to have their subconscious solve it after a long walk, a nap or a shower.  In fact, this is something I have learnt to actively use as a technique to solve problems.  Something that alludes me during the day, will often become apparent overnight.  If I have stumbled into a plot hole, a character inconsistency or an idea that just isn’t coming together, I simply make sure I’m thinking about the problem before I fall asleep that night and when I wake the solution is usually clear.  For those who haven’t experienced this, it might sound a tad strange, but as a writer who talks to her characters, I’m used to strange looks.

Today this phenomena shocked the breath from me, when I discovered my subconscious is working away on a story I hadn’t even realised was still in my head.  After completing the third draft of my mentorship ms nearly a week ago, I set it down to rest a while.  When I did I knew one character, Craikor, had disappeared for too long from the action in the middle of the story, but was content to tackle this in the next draft.  Meanwhile I began work on another novel of mine to gain distance from the mentorship novel.  However yesterday, Craikor piped up and began talking to me.  Just one sentence – a bold statement about another character (he’s quite feisty).  To be honest I sort of ignored him – firstly I wasn’t sure where his statement would fit into the current story, and secondly I was annoyed at him for intruding on my work on a different story (with very different characters).  However last night I moved in and out of dreams about Craikor, and woke with a clear image in my mind of a scene where he says the line he’d said to me.  It was the perfect way to introduce him into the middle of the story, and also revealed information about his motivations.  So I had to abandon my carefully laid plans to continue with the other story today, and sit down to write Craikor’s scene.

I was led astray by a feisty fire wight.  Characters can be pushy.  I’m learning to follow their whims and their voices more, however I still find myself fighting them occasionally.  It’s a losing battle.  So, is anyone else a slave to their subconscious?

Illustration Friday

For me, when drawing, there is nothing more rewarding than when the ideas are flowing onto the page and they’re matching up with the images in my head.  This doesn’t always happen.  Certain projects take longer to come together, and sometimes what I envisioned in my mind doesn’t always work when it gets down on paper.  Luckily the former is true for my latest illustration project.

Below are some images I’ve been creating for the picture book concept I mentioned in my last post.  This project has been a dream to work on – a wonderful vacation for my mind each day,  in between the hard work of redrafting my novel.  Instead of wrangling with words, I’ve been tickling colours and shaping stray lines, enjoying the way it all comes together on the page.  It’s nice to have a project with no external pressures – right now this is just mine, folded away inside my mind, where I’m allowed to enjoy the ideas just for myself and dabble for the simple pleasure of creating.  In these images, I’ve been playing with how to express the story and emotions of my main character, Squish.

2009-04-10a

2009-04-10c

2009-04-10b

2009-04-10d

The Wall

sewEveryone hits it eventually.  The dreaded wall.  Luckily my wall seems to be made more of a kind of transparent fabric rather than bricks and mortar, so it has slowed me down but not stopped me.  I’ve been working on the third draft of my mentorship novel for a few weeks now.  While the planning was tough, the actual writing has been flowing quite well.  Until now.

There’s always a place in a manuscript (often several) where the writing gets really tough.  For me it was a particularly tricky scene to write – smack bang in the middle of the novel – the dark point for my protagonist.  Writing through this scene and out the other side has been hard work.  I’m pretty stubborn though, so even in these stages I still write every day.  On the good days, I do well above my daily word quota, but on days like these I just skim the minimum.

It’s not unusual that during the difficult stage of any novel a new idea comes along to tempt me with its freshness.  Christine Bongers recently blogged about this phenomena, using a really clever analogy.  But like Chris, I’m finding ways to work on both projects.  The new idea has become like a reward, which I only get to work on once I’ve gotten through (at least) my quota of words for the novel redraft.  It’s also a very different project: a picture book, where I get to play with words and images.  It’s actually the perfect project to start while redrafting a novel, because the smallness of it is quite refreshing.  I’m also finding that, since starting the new project, I come back to my novel each day with more energy.

The new idea came after yet another person asked if I’d done anything with Squish, the small rabbit that runs across this blog.  So essentially, I’m fighting the wall with a small white rabbit.  He must know kung-fu, because he’s certainly doing a good job of it.

Note: My working title for the story was ‘Squish, the Small Rabbit’ but for obvious reasons it has since changed (just read it aloud).


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

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