Archive for August, 2009

Soapbox

Rabbit - angryOk. I’ve warned you. Soapbox time.

I often get frustrated when writers complain about all the ‘crap’ that gets published. Especially when they go on to say that their ‘masterpiece’ has been rejected by agents and publishers. Then there are those who detail how hard they’ve slaved over their unpublished novel, feeling personally affronted that this supposed ‘dreck’ gets pumped out by publishers. (Note: I don’t think I’ve ever been in a conversation like this – I usually read such things in the comment thread of other blogs)

I can honestly say I’ve never thought this way. Taste is very subjective – what I loathe in books, I know others pronounce as genius. I’d never question why a book has been published. Behind every book there is a writer who, just like me, had a dream to get published: who lost sleep over producing this book, who worked with publishers to make it the best it could be and who worried about what others would think of it.

There. I’ve said it. Now I’ll step down, ducking the rotten tomatoes, and refer you to someone who said it better. Go visit Rachelle Gardner, an American literary agent with WordServe Literary, who blogged about All Those Awful Books.

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Setting and the Tax Man

2009-08-23aI’m constantly amazed at how vividly a place can influence my writing. Its feel, its smell, the lay of the land, the palette of the landscape, the way the wind feels when it pulls at your hair. Every place is unique, which is why setting is so important in books. Setting gives us an immediate insight into the mood of a novel. A strong and tangible sense of what kind of story you’re entering and the characters you might encounter.

2009-08-23bI got to thinking about this recently while on holiday in New Zealand. Driving through the patchwork hills, in a climate so different to our own, the feel of the place vividly conjured the setting and characters from a story of mine. While walking along a river, the characters began to interact in my mind again, commenting on the terrain and noticing things I had not. I had a similar experience last year while in England, and on both trips kept a diary of these observations.

2009-08-23cIn the final two drafts of the junior fantasy novel I worked on during my ASA mentorship, these diaries became invaluable. When first writing this story, I chose a slightly more European setting due to a need for a land with clear seasonal change – harsh winters and long dry summers – a climate as hard as the tribes that drive the plot. In early drafts I focussed more on the characters and their story, but in later drafts I had to work to clarify the setting.

Yet the setting only became vivid and real once I had walked the land of my story. Once I had lived the winter that left only the hardiest plants alive, kicked my feet through muddied puddles of leaves, walked under clouds of ash and ice and marveled at skeletal trees greeting the morning sun.

Do you think Mr Tax Man will scoff when I insist that my ski trip to New Zealand was driven by a need to become intimate with the landscape of my story? And is it shallow to set my next story on an island due to a desire for sand and sun? Caribbean, here I come…

Get the Name of the Dog

2009-05-12I’ve started editing one of my novels again and have pulled out my editing bible to help me get back into the right headspace. It’s an unassuming but brilliant little book called Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark. I suggest everyone buy themselves a copy (I get no money for that advertisement). One editing tool I particularly like was conjured the other day during a conversation with my fiance. It happened after he’d read a review I did of Kathryn Apel’s delightful debut picture book, This is the Mud!, and went something like this:

Andrew: He he he

Me: *frown* What are you laughing at? (I can tell he’s laughing at me, rather than at something wonderfully witty I’ve written)

Andrew: You said ‘beef cow’ in your review

Me: And…

Andrew: Why wouldn’t you just say cow?

Me: Because it wasn’t just a cow. It was a beef cow.

Andrew: You’re so clever, intelligent, witty and wonderful. No wonder I’m marrying you (or something to that effect)

Anyway, the point is that I included that detail because if I’d just said ‘cow’, people would have automatically imagined a black and white dairy cow. When writing is unspecific, people’s minds automatically generate stereotypical and uninteresting landscapes. Small details are an immediate way to conjure vivid images, helping the viewer to feel as if they’re standing knee deep in mud in that paddock with a looming great beef cow. The writing tool this conversation reminded me of in Clark’s book is:

Get the Name of the Dog: dig for the concrete and specific, details that appeal to the senses

The name comes from a journalism office, where the editors would remind their reporters not to return to the office without “the name of the dog” – not because they would necessarily use the detail in the story, but as a reminder to keep their eyes and ears open. Clark also says that “when details of character and setting appeal to the senses, they create an experience for the reader that leads to understanding”, and gives a range of fascinating examples highlighting just that.

All this sounds simple enough, but I still find non-specific nouns lurking in my prose, even on the third read through: flowers and coffee and women that should be tulips and espresso and spinsters. Small details that immediately change the way a sentence rings. Words that give a clear image and conjure a mood the reader can’t mistake. When you say that your protagonist kicked a can, do you want us to see an indifferent nudge with the foot, or a moody thrashing? As a reader, I get annoyed when there isn’t enough detail – my mind automatically fills in the void, and if I’ve gone in the wrong direction, I get frustrated when (a few lines on) they reveal what was actually meant.

Specific, simple, sensory details – quiet but vivid writing – is some of my favourite prose to read. Now back to editing my novel in an attempt to achieve just that…

DIY Cover Art

Cold Hard Truth: the design degree I invested all those hours, sweat, tears and money in was a waste of time. OK, so I didn’t invest any actual money, just accumulated a massive HECS debt that I’ll die with. Ahem. Anyway, I didn’t need to learn about visual communication, art history, typography and book binding in order to design book covers. Alien Onion showed me the light. Turns out it’s all rather simple, really.

COVER ART FOR DUMMIES:

How to create your debut YA cover

  1. Go to Fake Name Generator – the name that appears is your author name
  2. Go to Random Word Generator – the word listed under ‘Random Verb’ is your title
  3. Go to FlickrCC – type your title into the search box. The first photo that contains a person is your cover
  4. Use Photoshop, Picnik, or similar to put it all together. Be sure to crop and/or zoom in
  5. Post it to your site along with this text

Here’s mine:

2009-08-13

It’s so YA. Tense and Meaningful. Definitely a ‘coming of age’ type novel – a young man balancing on the brink of childhood and adulthood. Check out the author’s name. Who doesn’t love a pun?

Confession: I had to cheat slightly, as my first random verb was ‘prognosticate’, which (oh shock) yielded nothing on Flickr, so I had to go with the next one. The original image can be found here. And there’s a great gallery of DIY covers over on 100 Scope Notes which you have to check out.

So go fly my pretties and see what you come up with. Please post links if you do…

Sound Waves

As most of you know, while in Mackay for the Whitsunday Voices youth literature festival I was interviewed at the local radio station, ABC Tropical North. I got to have a chat with the delightful morning show host, Aaron Stevens, who was incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic. We talked all about the festival and the importance of books in children’s lives, and also discussed some of my work. If you’re prepared to lose 6 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back then feel free to listen below (by the way, the images are of the Mackay beach side suburb I grew up in):

Those astute listeners will have picked up on my clumsy plug for this blog…

The Land of Kiwis and Ice

I’m back! No broken bones and luckily not as sore as I expected to be. We had such a great time, I think NZ has made regular skiers out of us…

Two mad powder monkeys

Two mad powder monkeys

Just another lovely day at Cardrona

Just another lovely day at Cardrona

2009-08-09c

The view from our lodge

2009-08-09b

Sunset over Lake Wanaka

The elusive snow bunny, usually shy but this day preening for the camera

The elusive snow bunny, usually shy but this day preening for the camera


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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