Archive for the 'Getting Published' Category

Writing Resolutions (and some thoughts on white noise)

Rabbit - lookIt’s the beginning of another year and I’ve been thinking a lot about my writing. 2012 was my first year as a full time writer with a book out (and then two). It was an amazing year but it certainly brought a bunch of new challenges, pressures, and the need to juggle more balls. My time has changed. It’s not that I don’t have time, it’s that time is precious and I want to use it wisely.

With that in mind I have three writing resolutions for 2013:

Enjoy Blogging Again

I began blogging because words were just busting out of me and I needed somewhere to put them. Plus I loved thinking about writing / illustration, and if I didn’t put my thoughts somewhere I was going to drive my family crazy speaking about it constantly. This hasn’t changed – I’m still overflowing with words and love speaking about the industry (and still drive my family nuts). BUT nowadays I funnel most of my words into my manuscripts (deadlines!) and spend much time speaking about craft at festivals and schools. Weeks go by without me blogging and I feel guilty about it. And a guilty blogger is not a happy blogger. So: I’ve given myself permission to blog only when I feel like it, and about whatever writing stuff I want (rather than what I think I should blog about).

This means there might be spans of time where I don’t blog. If you want to keep up with me I’d recommend you:

Reduce White Noise

A big part of writing for me – in fact, probably the biggest – is the thinking. And I need lots of time to think: time where my mind wanders around and about and back again, allowing ideas to swirl and come together. I’ve been practising this skill my whole life. I started daydreaming as a kid (my grade 3 teacher wrote it on my report card as a negative but I knew otherwise). I think deeply about things. I’ve never been able to hear a story or anecdote without taking it a hundred steps further in my mind. And as a writer I rely on this trait.

That’s where white noise comes in. In the last few years we’ve gotten pretty good at eliminating ‘wasted time’ with the invention of the smart phone. We no longer sit on buses and stare out the window, or wait for a friend to arrive at a cafe by watching people go by. Because we pull out our phone. We’ve filled our heads with white noise – Facebook and twitter and blogs and always being accessible by email. For most this may not be an issue. But for me I’ve removed my mind’s chance to wander, daydream and ask ‘what if?’. I’ve filled it with other people’s status updates, blog posts and (often) inane chatter. Why this is a problem: I don’t think about my stories as much. I have less new ideas.

My plan is to cut back the white noise. Severely. It’s not easy, as my iPhone habits are quite ingrained, but it’s getting easier. And guess what? The ideas are already flowing better. I also like myself better when I spend less time on my phone. I smile more and have more to say about the world.

PS. My thoughts on this became more concrete after reading this awesome blog post on Nathan Bransford’s site (make sure you read right through).

Year of Writing

People assume that being a full time writer mostly involves a lot of … well … writing. Sadly, this isn’t so, which I discovered all too well this year. Most of my time has been consumed by business type stuff, promotion, travel and speaking work. This year has been a real eye opener. I’m still learning how to manage it all, and to be honest I’ve hardly created any new work. I miss writing. So I’m officially naming this my Year of Writing. I’ve resolved to put it first again.

Come hell, high water or the zombie apocalypse, there will be writing.

And on that note, I’m sneaking back to the first draft of my YA novel. 25,000 words and counting…

Brave Squish Rabbit

I love mail. Bills – not so much – but letters and postcards and invites and … packages. Oh yes, especially packages. Most especially those that come in the shape of books. Or those with little white rabbits tucked away inside. And yesterday I received just such a package.

These are the final print proofs of the Australian version of Brave Squish Rabbit, which will officially be released on October 1st, just after the US release date of September 14th. And this version has a very special difference. Something we’re super hoppy excited about. Which is…

It’s glow-in-the-dark

It was all my editor’s idea, who has been looking for the right book to use this effect on. Along came Squish with his second tale, set at night and with luminous little glow bugs on the cover. It couldn’t have been more perfect. It’s taken quite a mammoth effort to get the printing of this book just right, and the UQP editorial team and I have spent much time together in dark cupboards testing glowing samples. Not quite how I imagined this whole publishing thing would work. But a lot of fun :)

The glow effect is on the glow bugs on the cover and the little stars on the back:

l always imagine that because I have spent so long illustrating a project and have seen it every day on my computer screen, that I wont react when I see the final book. But it’s just not true. When I opened the package I might have been heard repeating the words ‘It’s a book! It’s a book!’ like some kind of neanderthal who has just discovered the written word. Needless to say, I was pretty excited. I’m really proud of this book, and so thankful of the support my two publishers have given me in helping bring it to life.

But I wasn’t the only one in this household who was excited about the arrival. You can see what happened below:

First, Squish (who has a giraffe beanie on – don’t ask) wanted to read his story

Then my pup, Frank, got jealous and wanted in on the action

Like all good siblings, they finally settled their differences and decided to share

Anatomy of an Edit

When I first started writing I loathed editing. I much preferred the freedom and playfulness of a first draft. Editing felt like hard work. And it can be. But I think what this actually reflected was my lack of confidence as a writer. When editing you have to be able to make tough choices – cut characters, significantly alter the story structure, change settings, murder your darlings etc. And how do you make these choices? By knowing your craft. Understanding characterisation, world building, story arc and sentence structure all direct how you shape your story. And while these things can be learned, they are only really absorbed with time.

As I’ve become a more experienced storyteller, I’ve come to really love editing. When I first read a manuscript after letting it sit for a good month or so, I can suddenly see all its flaws (and an occasional strength too). I get a flood of ideas about how to make it a stronger story. Instead of getting the old rush of dread I now tend to get excited – all the possibilities! And I think this comes from the confidence of feeling like I know what I’m doing (mostly).

A few days ago I edited an old short story of mine, which I last looked at about 18 months ago. It was far from a first draft, but even so I made some major changes. In case it’s helpful, I thought I’d break down some of the editing choices I made:

I tend to do a basic edit on paper, make some notes, then do the bigger restructuring on the computer

  • Change of tense: The story is a humorous mix of thriller and action. Originally it was written in first person past tense, but it struck me quite clearly that it needed to be in present tense. Even though it’s in first person, the past tense removed the reader from the action. Present tense made it feel much more immediate – it sat you more firmly in the protagonist’s shoes and better built the tension towards the climax.
  • Sentence order: The first sentence is vital. It’s a lead in to the story, the character, the setting and the voice. It was clear that my first two sentences needed to be switched. The same was true for several other paragraphs. The first and last sentence of every paragraph needs to lead the reader in and out of an idea, and with distance I could better see what each paragraph was about and how to do this. I also restructured many a sentence, shifting the stronger words to the beginnings and ends.
  • Beef up the action: My characters have a bad habit of just standing around talking, instead of DOING things. The first three paragraphs of my story set it up well and were a great intro to the voice of my character, but there was absolutely no action. In each one I had to have my protagonist doing things that revealed his character, instead of just relying on voice. The old adage – show don’t tell.
  • Character motivation: It wasn’t always clear why my character was making the choices he was. To make readers better empathise with his drive and his choices towards the climax of the story, I had to thread in some subtle tells about his character earlier.
  • World building: The story is set in the future. On a spaceship. But it was written by a girl (hi) sitting in her suburban home in her PJs. On rereading it a number of words and phrases jumped out as inconsistent within the world of the story. For instance: I had mentioned an astro park, so was setting up an earth that no longer had real parks but instead made fake ones for people to wander through. But then later I compared a man’s arms to tree trunks, which was my suburban voice intruding. It doesn’t fit in this story as trees are not a regular part of their world. My protagonist is a pseudo mechanic in a world of machines, so he’d more likely compare the man’s arms to thick pistons.
  • Bring on the funny: The voice of the story is quite wry and sarcastic. A number of times I dropped out of the voice and had to work to keep it consistent. I also added a few bits of funny to keep up the pace and offset the creepier moments.

There were likely lots of other decisions I made along the way that I’m not even aware of. It took a few hours to finess all the changes, but I’m really happy with how the story has come together.

So I’ve embraced my inner editor. It’s no longer a chore, but a challenge I look forward to. In fact, I so love editing I have started editing others’ work. I’m now doing picture book and early chapter book manuscript assessments through the QWC. And loving it.

Now after waxing lyrical all about my editing crush, I must get back to working on my novel. My latest WIP. My first draft. Hmm … anyone sense a whiff of procrastination?

The Measure of Your Dreams

How do you measure success? It’s not an easy thing to do. Plus it looks different for everyone. Yet when you’re working really hard at something, like writing and illustrating, it’s really important to know what you’re striving for. Would big book deals and flashy literary parties really make you happy? Would fancy-pants awards and fame make you feel valid? I can’t really say I’d say no to any of this, but it’s important to define what success really means to you.

I was reminded of this recently at a Pogues concert in Sydney, when swaying away to their awesome Celtic punk ballads. While that may sound like the tangent of the century, I wont make you try to follow my mind and will make the link for you: one of their songs, ‘A Rainy Night in Soho’, has the lyric the measure of my dreams

It took me back a few years, to a time when I’d been throwing everything I had into writing and illustrating, yet didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Or at least that’s how it felt. I was incredibly unhappy. This beautiful creative thing that used to make me feel so free was falling flat. I was even starting to begrudge it a little. Embarrassingly enough, it took stumbling across one of those naff kind of sayings (you know the ones that circle facebook) to wake me up. It was typed up on a little cue card and stuck to a friend’s cork board:

It’s not about the destination, but the journey

At the time I’d never seen this saying and for some reason, at that particular moment, it cut through something in me. I realised I had my focus all wrong. I was so focussed on things mostly out of my control – namely getting published – and it was making me miserable. I suddenly realised that if I didn’t enjoy the actual writing (the journey), then nothing that happened from there was going to make me happy. So then I had to redefine what success would actually look like for me. I had to really think about what I was aiming for and what might make me happy.

I came up with the following, which are kind of goals and (for me) a more healthy focus:

  1. Work on the projects I’m called to: I don’t ever want to focus too much on what I think the ‘market’ might want from me. Instead I hope to make the art that calls to me, so I keep enjoying my writing and illustrating and make more honest art (I hope)
  2. Be respected by my peers: I realised I don’t actually need to have my name recognised by the general public, or even book lovers. But having my work respected by other writers / illustrators (especially in my field) does mean something to me
  3. Get to work with those who enjoy me / my work: be they other artists or publishing professionals
  4. Be able to do this as some sort of career: not necessarily live off it (as nice as that would be), but have it as my main focus

These are all things I have more control over, and they’re still true for me today. I’ve had each of them happen for me in different ways, some small and others more obvious. And after shifting my focus I started to find joy in my art once more.

If you’re honest with yourself, what would success look like for you?

Stop Motion Animation-ing

It’s now official. There is a second book in the Squish Rabbit series. The files have all been sent to the printers. As we speak I’m awaiting the first unbound print proofs from my publisher. Somewhere in the last few months my second book even found itself a name…

Brave Squish Rabbit will be released in September this year.

And there was much rejoicing (mainly from those close to me who are likely sick of me in stressed illustrator mode, where I spend a lot of time doubting myself, eating cereal and not sleeping). The National Library of Australia is the first to have it up on their site, with a hilarious description that goes something like:

Squish, a little rabbit who is afraid of nearly everything, ventures into the night during a storm to find his friend, Twitch, who he fears may have encountered chickens.

With a new book comes the need for a new book trailer, so I’ve been toying with a few ideas. For my first book I learnt an entire new animation and editing program in order to make the trailer, and it took a good month of experimenting to create something I was happy with. You can see the product below, which has just passed 2,500 hits on YouTube:

Not one to make it easy for myself, I really want to do something different for book two. Inspired by a few clips I’ve seen recently I decided to try my hand at stop motion animation. I’ve had to do a bunch of research in trying to determine the best program to use, and have just downloaded a trial version of iStopMotion. This morning I had a go at making my very first halting and oh-so-very-B-grade stop motion video.

I’m still not sure how I’ll make the book trailer in the end (my aching back votes a firm ‘no’ to stop motion) but feel free to check out my attempt below:

I used a funky freeware tune composed by Mike Vekris (I think I was referencing some Peter Gabriel-style Sledgehammering)

Stay tuned to see how it all evolves…

Merry Squishy Christmas

Look what arrived in the mail:

My very own Squish Rabbit Christmas cards! This was a delightful gift from my US publisher, Viking. It turns out they select one book from their list each year to turn into a Christmas card, so they can send it out to all their contacts. They left it as a surprise that they’d chosen my book, so I only found out when a big box of cards arrived on my doorstep. I’m absolutely thrilled, as is Squish. It is, after all, this little rabbit’s very first Christmas.

Among my many treasured Chrissy presents I got some amazing bookish gifts this year. A favourite is the first volume of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic, which I’m a little addicted to and nearly through already. I also adore my new copy of Tim Burton’s deliciously dark and playful The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy. The two combined have re-jigged my desire to start developing up an idea I have for a strange / sweet / melancholy kind of graphic novel. But more on that another time…

I have just arrived back from Woodford, the amazing folk festival held on the Sunshine Coast each year, where I called in the new year. I dug up this photo from last year’s festival, where I got a henna tattoo to celebrate the year of the rabbit.

2011 has thoroughly spoiled me, with my first book out, two publishers I adore, overwhelmingly lovely reviews and so much support from YOU dear readers. Thank you. If this year to come is even half as good as the one just passed then I can count myself blessed. A big Happy New Year to you all and bring on 2012!

The New Yorker

Squish Rabbit has now been out hopping around bookstores for four months in the US and three months in Aus. He’s certainly an active little rabbit who appears to be less shy than I first thought. Most recently he’s popped up in none other than The New Yorker, who have called him ‘whimsical’ and ‘charming’:

Battersby’s illustrations mix whimsical line drawings with touches of colour from fabric and paper collages

Squish appears in the December 5th issue, which is out on shelves now.

Squish and I have also visited a few other writerly-type-places recently. Reading Time, the gorgeous journal for the Children’s Book Council of Australia, recently published an article about my writing and illustrating process. They also did a lovely review of Squish Rabbit, saying:

The depth of the story is in the rabbit’s emotions which come through the pictures. Squish is drawn simply with a black outline, but has plenty of personality showing through the shape of his body, ears and eyebrows … Just right for 2-5 years olds, and anyone who has ever felt lonely or small.

Buzz Words (the e-zine for writers, illustrators, publicists and anyone involved with children’s books) also did a delightful review of Squish, saying:

This adorable children’s tale is not just a picture book with cute characters. Squish Rabbit’s simple wisdom will withstand the test of time … A perfect pre-kinder introduction to making friends.

Finally Cynsations, Cynthia Leitich Smith’s blog all about the world of writing and illustrating for young people, interviewed me about what it is like to be a new picture book author / illustrator. Here’s a snippet of what I had to say about where Squish Rabbit began:

Looking back on my childhood, Squish Rabbit certainly captures my emotional truths. I recall vividly what it was like to feel small in a big world …  I remember having important things to say, in a world where big people get listened to first. I recall having questions and thoughts and ideas bubbling up inside of me, and yet having no clue how to say any of it. This is ultimately why I started writing and drawing – to express all those things I had trouble voicing.

Now I’d best get off the black-hole-of-productivity that is the internet, as I have a very important date with my little rabbit. We’re still on deadline with his second adventure. The fateful date is creeping ever closer, and we still have a few scenes to complete…

Wish me luck!


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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