Archive for October, 2009


There are many ways in which to tell a story. Some of us use words. Others use images. This lady uses sand.

Her tale is about the German invasion and occupation of Ukraine during WWII. I’d suggest grabbing a box of tissues before you sit down to watch her weave her magic. She’s absolutely brilliant.

Illustration Monday

For the moment I’ve vacated my mind of rabbits (a tough job) all to make way for a rather stubborn duck – the star of my latest picture book project. Although his title of ‘star’ is contentious. He may well be thrown from his throne by a character that is definitely, 100% NOT a duck. These two have been waging a little war in my head for the last few weeks, both competing for attention in their own unique ways. Duck is demanding and difficult but endearing in his own way. Not-Duck is free spirited and willful and also a little loopy. The project is still in the character design phase at this stage, but I’m almost ready to do up a storyboard. I’ve made the images below using ink, watercolour and digital collage.





sewThe business of writing is an interesting road. It brings surprising twists and turns as you journey along it. I remember early on (we’re talking years ago) I thought that after finding an agent and getting that first contract, all the stress would go. I learnt quickly that the truth is that each stage brings different stressors. I thought that with all I’d learnt so far and all I’d seen others go through that I was reasonably prepared. What I didn’t expect was the pressure.

Since signing with my agent, and even more so since getting my first book contract, I’ve been feeling this incredible pressure. Pressure to live up to people’s expectations. Pressure to keep producing work (and to better myself each time). Pressure to use the time I have to be really productive (because everyone keeps telling me I’ll have no time soon). Pressure to follow the path that people want/expect me to follow (picture books Vs novels). Pressure to be successful (whatever that is). Pressure now knowing that I’m no longer writing just for myself. Pressure that is sometimes completely unnamable but follows me around the house.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot – it’s impossible NOT to think about it because it’s keeping me up at night! – but the ultimate truth is that the pressure is coming from me. My agent is wonderful to work with, and completely happy to work at my pace. My editor is delightful and is currently away, so we’re not even working on edits yet. But me – I suppose I’ve always had high expectations of myself. I think many writers do – how else do we continue to write through rejections? We’re constantly told that this industry is so tough to break into, so now with my first book looming my brain is saying ‘this is your chance’ and ‘don’t stuff it up’ and ‘if you don’t keep working hard it will slip away from you’.

I can laugh at myself, though. I’m only a few months in and I already sound like a drama queen. Where I’m at is exactly where I’ve always wanted to be. I feel incredibly lucky and will never complain (kick me if I do). But I’m still learning. I feel pink and new. There are no rules for writing as a career, so I’m just trying to find what works for me.

The feeling of pressure most concerned me because I was having trouble writing. But today I’m back on the keyboard, fingers clacking over letters and words appearing on the screen. My Writing Critic’s voice is strong, but I’m fighting him better today. One word at a time. One foot in front of the other. Shrugging the pressure from my shoulders and trying to get back to just enjoying where this road takes me.

I wonder if others have had unexpected reactions to the different steps in seeking publication?

Website Makeover

They say if you’re going to have a website, you need to keep it up to date. There’s nothing more annoying than visiting a favourite author’s site, only to find it doesn’t have their latest information on it (or even worse – it was made when dinosaurs roamed the earth). I’m usually pretty on top of updates, however there were some parts of my site that I was avoiding. So today was the day for it: with frilly apron on and equipped with a trusty broom and some toxic cleaning products, I swept out all the cobwebs, dusted the shelves, repainted the walls and put up some new pictures. While the design has remained the same, there’s plenty of new info:

  • I’ve updated Writing Methods, as with experience my process has changed
  • I’ve updated Illustration Techniques, since finding my artistic mojo
  • And most exciting: I’ve added a Books page (even though I have little to put there just yet)


Feel free to hop off and check it out (and let me know if there are any missing links or embarrassing spelling mistakes…)

Grant Me Motivation

rabbitfaqA few months ago I attended an ASA seminar on applying for writing grants. I always expect to come out of such talks feeling motivated and ready to take on the world, however invariably it’s the opposite. Instead I leave with a head full of new information, feeling intimidated by the task before me. Call me slow, but I tend to need a day or two to emotionally digest new information.

I suppose I had reason to feel overwhelmed. Applying for grants is a lot of work. They’re wily beasts to craft – it takes practice to perfect the art and get the tone just right, and much like a novel they should go through several drafts. Then there’s no guarantee that after all that effort you’ll actually get one. Grants are coveted prizes, so there’s serious competition for them. I’m currently wrangling with my first grant application and was whingeing about it to my fiance the other day:

Me: Man this is hard work. I’m spending all this time crafting this silly thing when I don’t even know if I’ll get one!

Him: Isn’t that what you do every day with your writing?

Me: *silence*

He’s so right. Each day I willingly devote majority of my time to creating stories that I’m never really sure will see the light of day. I don’t need certainty to do that, so why should I with a grant application? In the ASA session there was a great quote from Narelle Oliver, who said that every time she even considers starting a new project, she applies for a grant. She’s not always successful, but this way it has simply become a part of her writing process. When I grow up, I want to be just like Narelle.

Now that I’ve recovered from the seminar and digested all the information, here are some tips I picked up on writing grant applications:

  • Tell a story: Treat the application like a story you’re writing. The judges get hundreds of applications to trawl through – if you start yours with a refreshing or startling tidbit about your project, they’ll be more likely to remember your proposal (and emotionally connect with it)
  • Don’t be shy: Contact the organisation running the grant and ask questions – they’re typically helpful and will guide you through the projects of yours that may be most appropriate for their grant
  • Edit: Treat your application just like a novel. Redraft that baby until it comes up to a high shine
  • Don’t give up: You may not be awarded a grant the first time, or even the first few, but each time you’ll get better at writing them and you will get there eventually

So enter the wide world of grant applications boldly: go write, apply and conquer. And if you need a whinge, you know who to come to – writing these things is tough…

The Fun Theory

Who wouldn’t love a theory about fun?

The Magician’s Elephant

2009-10-13We all have them. Books we wish we’d written. And for me, there is no other author that has written more of them than Kate DiCamillo. She writes the kind of books I can only dream of creating:

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

The Tiger Rising

The Tale of Despereaux

If you haven’t read them, do it. Now. I’m not certain how she does it, but she fills each of her tales with such magic and wonder and heart aching truth. She’s really quite brilliant. And it would seem she’s done it again with The Magician’s Elephant:

I could cry for wanting to read this book…

Planning or Pantsing

Rabbit - runI’m updating my website: a slow and laborious process, but I’m getting there. Looking at the ‘writing’ section makes me realise that my writing methods have changed. It’s nice to have those moments in life – a yard stick where you can look back and realise how far you’ve come. I wrote that section 18 months ago, and a few novels on, I’m amazed at just how differently I do things.

I used to be a pantser. I didn’t plot or plan my stories – I used freewriting to muddle my way through a first draft, flying by the seat of my pants. I enjoyed this immensely – the thrill of the chase, the adrenalin at the discovery of a new plot point. I always felt that planning would take this away from me. But in the end it left a mudpit of a manuscript I had to attempt to save in the second draft: characters that were still figuring out who they were, worlds only partly explored, tangled story arcs.

I used to just think this was the way I did things (that it was my ‘style’ of writing), but now I can see that fear was driving it. I was terrified at the thought of planning. What if the ideas didn’t come? What if I sat down to plan and couldn’t think of anything? My inner writing critic (that awful voice that tells you your writing is no good) was strong back then, and could only be silenced when I wrote fast enough to leave it behind. If I stopped to plan, it could paralyse me in an instant. So I was running fast to keep ahead of my fear.

So much has changed. I now trust myself enough that I no longer need to run. After writing so many stories, I know that the ideas will come if I give them time. I trust that I can solve the plot problems that will arise and that the characters will talk to me if I give them space. The biggest epiphany happened about a week ago: I’m now so good at silencing my inner writing critic that he rarely bothers to show up. With my fear now contained to a minimum, I’m free to plan. I love letting the ideas move around my mind for months, asking questions, identifying the plot holes to fill and studying the story arcs. I love prodding the characters to learn their vulnerabilities and determining how the story can best reveal these. I love the intricacies of putting the puzzle together, all before putting pen to paper. I suppose I now understand the demands of ‘story’ more intimately.

Early on in my ASA mentorship, Kate said something that made me think about all this. She commented that you can still experience the thrill of discovery during the first draft when you have planned it. Planning doesn’t take that away, it just makes the process less messy. But I’m still hesitant to describe myself as a planner just yet. I’ve worked out how tricksy this writing process is – just when I think I have myself pinned, I start a fresh project that demands a completely new approach.

So you never know. In a few years time I may be back here saying: “Move over planning, I’m back in the pants”.

Why Blog?

Rabbit - playBlogging about blogging. Talk about circular logic. But there is a reason: Jonathan Crossfield has just released the latest Top 50 Australian Blogs for Writers. While I didn’t make the top 50 list, my blog debuted at #68. The rabbits and I are pretty happy with that. It made me think back to December last year, when I first decided to create this blog. My sole reason was to create a place to talk about writing (and to give my poor fiance’s ears a break). Back then I didn’t realise just how valuable a blog could be.

I’m often asked whether I think writers should blog. My short answer is ‘yes’. My long answer? These are the unexpected gifts my blog has given me:

  1. Networking: I met a number of the people currently in my face to face writing network through this blog. Some of them are bloggers. Others found me through the winding corridors of internet links. But all came to me through a shared love of writing and literature. So much for the stereotype of the isolated writer – I don’t think I’ve ever felt so connected.
  2. Opportunities: This surprised me the most. When I started this blog, I imagined only my family, long-suffering friends or dog would read it. If I was lucky. But I’ve had all sorts of publishing people contact me through it. I’m still not really sure how they found me, but it became really valuable when my agent was submitting my first manuscript. Several of the editors had already come across my blog, and others found it afterwards and requested to see more of my work based on what I’d discussed on here. It still freaks me out every time I realise someone ‘important’ has found me here, and I have to reread the last 10 posts to make sure I sound pseudo-intelligent and sane.
  3. Voice: Blogging has helped me to develop a narrative about the way I write – to gather my thoughts and reflect on the things I’ve learnt along the way. While I share that here, I’ve also been able to adapt several posts and sell them as articles to magazines. The statistics feature on my blog gives me instant feedback on the posts that have most connected with people, which is what first gave me the idea.
  4. Self-Esteem: It still makes me feel great each time someone leaves a comment. On the bad days, the rejection days, the ‘I can’t write’ days, this blog and the people who visit me here are a wonderful fountain of support and joy.
  5. Confidence: This blog has been part of the ladder that’s lead me to being able to say, in public, that I’m a writer and illustrator. I no longer apologise for the fact. Or give my old job title because it’s just easier. I’m a writer. And an illustrator. And I love it.

So I’m obviously pro blogging, but realise it’s not for everyone. You have to have some internal desire to be heard, which I think most writers have anyway. If you do decide to take the plunge, keep in mind the following:

  1. No matter what you may think, people WILL read it. So consider what you say and don’t post too hastily.
  2. Authors are public figures. If you set-up a blog as a writer/illustrator, only put up things that represent you well. The blog will become part of your brand (and you never know when an agent or editor might find it)
  3. Be upfront about how often you plan to post and try to stick to it. This way, when you build up a readership, they’ll know how often to stop by.

What have others learnt about blogging? Any surprises or unexpected benefits / negatives? Anyone else as addicted to blogging as I am?

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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