Archive for May, 2009

Waiting

Rabbit - sitCan anyone honestly say they enjoy waiting? I don’t think humans are born with natural fountains of patience. Trouble is, this industry is full of opportunities to test a writer’s patience: waiting for a response to a submission, for replies from agents/editors, for contracts or rejections, for feedback or good news or pigs to start flying.  All this waiting leaves writers with plenty of time to wallow in their own self-doubt and insecurities. Or maybe that’s just me.  Anyway, instead of trying in vain to grow a patience organ, I think instead writers need to become masters of distraction.  Here are my top 6 forms of distraction:

  1. Get out of the house: coffee, a movie, and catching up with friends are all sure fire ways to keep my head from imploding
  2. Watch an old favourite: pull out a DVD that’s sure to make you laugh and cry, nothing too serious, but with a focus on escapism. My current top picks are Pride and Prejudice (BBC version), Mulan (Disney), 10 Things I Hate About You, and Empire Records … please don’t judge me
  3. Baking: my fiance knows that if he comes home to fresh scones, I’ve had a bad day. Baking makes me happy
  4. Gym: adrenalin is good. Running is my drug. Working out also helps to combat the negative side effects of distraction tip number 3…
  5. Taking my pup for a walk: fresh air combined with my puppy’s never ending well of joy in the small things always makes me smile. Also my dog park is full of lovely people who love to talk about dogs and don’t know about my writing, which equals distractions aplenty
  6. Blogging: a great way to feel connected, understood and heard. This is clearly my choice of distraction for the day!

These methods can only be used to overcome short term waiting periods (by which I mean a day or two). If short term waiting turns into long term waiting, then the above methods constitute procrastination. Unfortunately most waiting in this industry is long term, which can only really be battled by jumping into the next writing or illustrating project. No one has said it better than Stephen King: bum in seat, and write the damn book.

But I do allow myself a day or two of distraction. So, now that I’ve finished blogging I’m off to cook some scones. Anyone else have any good tips to share?

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Picture Book Baby

Rabbit - runI must apologise. I’ve been neglecting this blog horrendously. But that’s because I’m a new mother … of a picture book baby.

As mentioned previously, I’m currently taking a break between novel drafts to focus on a picture book project. She started off small and pink, wailing for attention, and once I gave her some she demanded it all. Over the last month or so she has grown in fits and starts, and is slowly blossoming into all I know she can be. At times it’s been joyous. Other times painful. But so worth it in the end.

In many ways, illustrating can be tricky. One illustration may take an entire day, and even then it may not be working the way I hoped.  After spending so many hours of focussed attention on one image it’s easy to get too close, making it impossible to pinpoint what isn’t working. Each time this happens I have to remind myself to go through the following steps:

  1. Get a non-illustrators opinion: their unbiased eye is often the best at spotting problems (my fiance is an absolute star at this)
  2. Get an illustrators opinion: it’s easier to talk craft with other illustrators
  3. Try illustrating the scene from a different perspective: this can make a flat scene more dynamic
  4. Jot down a series of words about the scene, focussing on character motivation and emotion: it helps to pinpoint exactly what the image should be capturing
  5. Go back to the drawing board: get away from the scene, pull out fresh paper and start playing

Just today I finished assembling all the text and images – there are only a few fiddly things left to do before it’s ready to be sent off into the submissions ether. Below are a couple of scenes I’ve been working on over the last week, using watercolour, collage and digital art.

2009-05-27

2009-05-27a

2009-05-27b

Bundaberg WriteFest 2009

Rabbit - floatOn Saturday, a group of both aspiring and published authors, agents, editors, librarians and teachers gathered in Bundaberg to discuss literature and the craft of creating. The day was orchestrated by Sandy Curtis, a local author of thrillers and romantic suspense novels. Sandy gave the day its heart. She was always smiling, even when running around organising speakers, and was welcoming from the first moment I e-mailed her through to meeting her face to face. She deserves many congratulations for putting together such an incredible event.

I was most looking forward to meeting a writing friend of mine, Kathryn Apel, who until then I had only known through an online group. Luckily we had much time to talk writing and share inspiration, and Kathryn has such a warmth to her that I soon felt like I’d known her for years. She’s just released her first picture book, ‘This is the Mud’, an Australian tale told with rollicking rhyme and humour. She opened the festival, discussing her journey towards publication and inspiring us with her determination. I also got to meet many other wonderful people whose work inspires me: people like Roland Harvey with his detailed illustrations full of wit and humour, and Mark Svendsen whose ‘Circus Carnivore’ I just adore.

The highlight of my day was meeting with Sophie Hamley and Kristina Schulz. They were both so warm and engaging, and put me immediately at ease. We discussed the craft of writing / illustrating and clients of theirs who inspire me. They had encouraging words to share in regards to my work, and I look forward to keeping in touch with them and watching what develops from here. The three of us sat together on the plane back, so we drank wine and chatted and laughed. It still makes me smile!

The festival was incredibly intimate and by the end I knew most of the presenters and many attendees. I feel lucky to have attended, and came away full of inspiration and already looking forward to next year’s festival. Bring it on!

Editing Bible

2009-05-12There are many different stages of editing. With my mentorship novel, I (thankfully) have finished the huge, plot altering style editing. Over the last 8 months I have done numerous rewriting drafts, crafted all my characters carefully, explored the hidden folds of my world, reordered plot points and polished the pacing to a high shine.

Next step? The final fiddly edit, a whole other realm of editing. It’s about tightening, pruning, fastidious shaping of sentences, dialogue, the five senses, and making your prose sing. For this stage, I have discovered an editing bible: Writing Tools ~ 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark.

This book smoothly guided me through the final fiddly edit, reminding me of old techniques I’m familiar with and introducing me to new ones. It’s beautifully set out: each tool has several pages devoted to it, with clear explanations and examples. I’ll likely reread this book again before I begin editing future novels, or at least skim the title of each tool as a quick way to get into that head space. Here are some examples from the ‘Nuts and Bolts’ section:

  • Begin sentences with subjects and verbs: “Make your meaning clear early, then let weaker elements branch to the right”
  • Activate your verbs: this is something I think I’m quite good at, and yet with a gentle reminder, I still found many weak verbs hidden in my prose
  • Take it easy on the -ings: this was new to me, but I found it to be a powerful tool in making my prose more immediate
  • Fear not the long sentence: a good reminder, as I tend to use shorter sentences, whereas a variety offers a more dynamic paragraph
  • Establish a pattern, then give it a twist: “Build parallel constructions, but cut across the grain”

Other great tool titles include: Get the name of the dog, Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction, and Place gold coins along the path. On an aside, yesterday, in the middle of editing, I left my desk for just a second. My adorable yet cheeky little pup, motivated no doubt by the lure of the winter sun splashing over my desk, discovered how to jump from my chair up onto my writing desk. I literally found him as captured below, red pen in mouth, crouched over the chapter I was editing. Now on first glance it may indeed look as though he is simply chewing my pen, but I like to think he was trying to help me edit…

2009-05-12a

Happy Dancing

Rabbit - lookYou should be glad that this is a blog as opposed to a vlog (video blog) because today I am happy dancing.  It is something others should never have to witness, but I am more than happy to talk all about it. Legs are flying, arms are circling, and there’s a grin as big as pluto on my face. Why? Because I’ve had good news.

Bundaberg WriteFest has been making a name for itself by providing incredible opportunities for writers.  For the second year running they have run a competition where writers with a completed project could submit a query, sample pages and synopsis, with the chance of winning an interview with an editor or agent. I was one of the lucky writers whose project was chosen by Sophie Hamley, super agent with the Cameron Creswell Agency.

Sophie represents many children’s authors whose work I really admire, including Tristan Bancks and Aaron Blabey, as well as several wonderfully talented girls from my writer’s group. I’m incredibly excited to be able to meet her, and am really looking forward to learning from her wealth of knowledge and experience. I also get to attend the festival, the only problem being that I’ll have to choose which sessions to attend (they all look great).

So, I’ll be jetting off to coastal Bundy next weekend for a day immersed in writing. Care to join me in my happy dance?

Addendum: Late last night I found out that the editor also chose my project. This means I also get to meet with the delightful Kristina Schulz, the children’s editor from the University of Queensland Press. Although she has been upfront in saying that unfortunately my project does not suit their current publishing list, I can still benefit from her vast industry knowledge and editorial experience. What a whirlwind of a day!

Building Worlds

Rabbit - psychicAs a writer, I experience moments where I feel all powerful.

With my current fantasy novel, I have spent the last few years creating an entire world, filled with people and creatures and tribes and religions and landscapes that have all tumbled from my mind.  When I stand back from it all, it almost doesn’t seem possible that I created this.  It’s been with me for so long that I find myself thinking: surely this world has always existed?  It’s such a strange and wonderful thing.

Yet with that comes unexpected feelings too.  A sense of responsibility.  When I’m having to make decisions about the world I’ve created – naming structures, shaping a tribe, choosing their fate – it can feel a little frightening, too.  I feel the pressure to get it right.  To make it real, and give the people I’ve created the life and the world they deserve.  Even worse, when I find a gap in my world.  A stone I’ve left unturned (which happens more frequently that I would like).  The guilt, of not giving my characters a complete world in which to roam.

The life of a god is lonely (*wry smile* as I compare my little writerly self to a god). No one can help you carry the world you’ve created.  The responsibility falls to your shoulders.  The decisions are yours alone.

On a lighter note, when world building, the temptation to create everything from scratch lures.  But there’s a whole world of mythology out there already to draw from: folk lore and legend and long existing magic.  I was taught early on, with the wise words of Isobelle Carmody, that a reference to mythology in books gives readers something familiar in an unfamiliar world, which in turn makes it seem more real.  I find this little pearl of wisdom demonstrates this particular lesson quite nicely indeed (and has the added benefit of making me smile):

2009-05-02

Originally found here.


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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