Archive for the 'Ideas' Category

Every Idea is Different (or how to make life hard for yourself)

It’s not possible to get overconfident as an artist. Because every time I feel a little like I know what I’m doing – every time I get the inkling that I may have something of this whole storytelling palaver figured out – an idea comes along that makes me a beginner again.

This is no coincidence. If I truly knew what I was doing, then the project would hold no challenge for me. It would mean I wasn’t learning, and such a project wouldn’t be able hold my attention. New ideas fascinate us because we have unanswered questions that float around them – things we don’t yet understand that we attempt to grasp by carrying the project through to its conclusion.

With Squish Rabbit, it was the first time my voice and visual style really started coming together, which was such a thrill. Of note is the fact that a significant feature of my illustration style is white space. Then along came Brave Squish Rabbit … which is set at night. So much for white space. I suddenly had to create spreads using full bleed colour – deep blues and blacks, which was a real challenge.

2013-11-22a

Next comes my latest project. It’s about a little bird on an isolated island. It has a single character (the bird) and a single setting (the island). Not a lot to work with in terms of creating a rich visual world with variety enough to carry an entire book.

I’ve spent the last few weeks storyboarding it out, and it’s certainly tested my creative problem solving. I’ve used more playful perspective, point of view and colour schemes than in any of my books yet. It’s been challenging and mind contorting and wonderful, and I certainly feel like a better storyteller for it.

2013-11-22b

Not that this will help me with my next project. Which, judging by my track record, will likely be about a limbless lion who lives in a tree…

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I’m No Poet (but here are some haiku anyway)

Rabbit - floatIt’s so important as a writer to stretch your writing muscles. To step outside your comfort zone and try something new. Maybe even a little frightening. That’s what I did this Sunday, all in the capable hands of Graham Nunn, an incredible writer often referred to as Mr Poetry in Brisbane. He’s running a year long ginko course, a Japanese tradition where writers go on seasonal walks in natural landscapes to inspire and write haiku*.

Haiku have always fascinated me, but outside of the obligatory attempts in high school English, I’ve never tried them. As a children’s writer I have heard it said that a great picture book creator crafts each page like a haiku – quietly capturing an image or sound or thought, pinned down on the page in just a scatter of words. This is how I like to write. As you may have noticed (in my New Years Resolutions) I’m also interested in becoming more mindful in my writing practise, so this course seemed perfect.

For our summer ginko we all gathered at Karawatha Forrest and spent over an hour (longer for an unfortunate pair who got lost…) walking through the bush alone, taking down observations. It was such a great practise in stillness – in staying present and writing down what the world offered up. Words started to feel new again. Afterwards we all gathered to work on turning our observations into haiku. Here are some of my first attempts:

heavy sun

crow pleads

with the rusted tap

^ Crows appeared regularly in other writer’s work too. Although the crows themselves seemed indifferent to what we were doing.

leaves gather

dead trees disapprove

of movement

^ This is an example of not letting automatic thoughts intrude. I went to write about gusting trees, as I’m so used to them blowing about outside my home office window. But when I really looked, in truth I’d never seen such still trees.

summer ginko

must walk

to keep still

^ This one was inspired by Mr Poetry himself. He suggested we do a bush walk, but recommended spending most of our time sitting still. I found I had to walk a long way in order to do one of the walks within the hour, leaving little time for sitting :)

fresh air

city girl

trips on pollen

^ The world tells us we should make the most of fresh air. However this girl suffers allergies.

A couple of other snippets:

an intrusion of crows

watch grass die

.

flys ignore

personal space

.

twin trees

argue

A final thought on haiku and why I love them. It is said they often explore the concepts as captured by the Japanese words Wabi and Sabi:

  • Wabi: a sense of loneliness or solitude
  • Sabi: the suchness and beauty of ordinary objects

Now doesn’t that make you want to go out and write a haiku? Or read some?

* We were practising the more modern form of haiku, which doesn’t need to adhere to the 5/7/5 syllable structure

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…

Inside an Illustrator’s Head

So I’ve been working on a new picture book. And for the first time in a while, this one is not about a little rabbit named Squish. The other day my mum asked me what Squish thought about being ejected from my mind for another character. I think he’s coping, but he’s definitely curious about ‘the new guy’ and is reserving judgement.

This is a bit what it all looks like…

It’s a strange thing to have a little blue pig romping around your mind. A strange and wonderful thing. I’m not sure where he will take me just yet, but I’m certainly enjoying getting to know him.

I also thought I’d better put up another photo, in response to this one from my last post:

There’s been a bit of contention as to what’s real. I labelled it as Squish Rabbit reading his own book while wearing a giraffe beanie. After all, it was a cold weekend in Brisbane. Some questioned whether I was being ridiculous (and to be honest, this does happen sometimes) and felt that this was actually just a giraffe toy pretending to be Squish. But here is photo evidence that the giraffe beanie does indeed exist:

I wore it at the Ekka yesterday. In public. And took a photo. I suppose this also serves as evidence that I am sometimes ridiculous.

An Ode to First Drafts

So I’m writing a new novel at the moment. My first young adult novel. It’s a wily beast of a thing. And this is kinda what my days look like (or my ode to first drafts)…

Writing with my pup curled on my lap

On the good days…

  • This is all I ever want to do. Write. With tea. In my pyjamas. With my dog. Always
  • Nothing is more joyous than frolicking through worlds I’ve made up
  • How can I get out of this social thing? My characters are more interesting than my friends
  • Outside a cyclone brews / tsunamis hit / aliens attack / squirrels take over government … but I’m still writing
  • Dinner? What do you mean ‘have I cooked dinner’? I have on my hands an angsty teen with supernatural powers and a world to save
  • Weeeeeeeee!

Writing at my fav local Italian cafe

On the bad days…

  • I’m so busy. I have to clean the dishes / fold the laundry / wash the dog / grout the something or other / find other things to procrastinate with
  • My desk is too messy to write. I need ‘space’
  • Look at the weather! It’s too rainy to write. Instead I’ll curl up with a book and feel melancholy
  • Look at the weather! It’s too sunny to write. Instead I’ll go frolic in the park and feed ducks
  • I know I came to this cafe to write but I ran into a friend / really interesting stranger / the guy from that TV show, who I must talk to
  • I have all this paperwork to do. Important paperwork. Like tax. And bills. And online quizzes about which literary genius I’m most like

Every day… 

………Good day or bad

………….Excuses or not

………………If the world is still revolving then I’m still writing

It’s the only way to get a first draft done

The Little Big Book Club

Last month I got an e-mail from my lovely marketing manager at UQP to say that Squish Rabbit had been chosen as an April recommendation by The Little Big Book Club (LBBC). Now I knew a little about this wonderful organisation, so I felt a bit chuffed, shared the news with my dog, then got back to work. About 10 minutes later I got a call from my editor at UQP to say that the e-mail they had sent may not have quite captured how exciting this news was.

And she was right. It was only as I learnt more about the amazing organisation that is The Little Big Book Club that I started to understand just how exciting it is to have a book chosen by them. The LBBC branched off from The Big Book Club, which was established in South Australia in 2003 as a not-for-profit organisation all about (summed up best on their website):

promoting reading, the discussion of books and the promotion of Australian authors and illustrators

And they do an incredible job of all of these things. Their national program includes an initiative called ‘It’s Story Time’ where each month they select three age appropriate picture books to get behind – promoting them to parents, carers and various early childhood sectors. The program includes three age brackets: 0-2 year olds, 2-3 year olds, and 4-5 year olds. They then use their monthly book recommendations as the subject of various newspaper editorial, advertising, activity suggestions, learning time downloads, online e-books, games and many other age appropriate resources. Since the program launched in 2006 it has featured over 234 titles for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, all of which can be found on their website. You can also read more about their amazing work here.

In preparation for the April selection of books, Leanne Williams has already written a great article all about books and self-esteem for the latest SA Kids Parenting Magazine. Not only is it incredibly informative, but it also includes the most delightful photo of Leanne’s sweet little girl sleeping with her copy of Squish Rabbit! Click on the image above to see the full article.

As I was recently in Adelaide, I popped over to the LBBC office in Norwood and got to meet the crew, who are just as energetic and enthusiastic about all things books as you’d expect them to be. While there we made a series of little videos where they interviewed me all about where my ideas come from, the importance of reading for kids (and what I was like as a young reader), Squish Rabbit, the sequel (Brave Squish Rabbit) and also technology and books. It was great fun, and they should be going up on the LBBC website soon. Until then, take a little sneaky peek below:

At the end of my visit the lovely staff also gifted me the most delicious smelling hand cream. Having just used it, scents of vanilla and jasmine are now wafting up from my keyboard…

Adelaide Fringe Festival

It’s so easy to get caught up in the time warp of writing and drawing. To spend too long in my own mind with only my ideas for company. Yet I find in order to fuel my ideas I need to keep my creative well full, by getting out of my head and seeing what the creative world is up to – reading, watching, listening … and attending the Adelaide Fringe Festival.

At least, that was my latest creative adventure. I was lured there by my poetically mischievous partner, with promises of music and plays and cabaret and street art, not to mention great food and wine. I was also an Adelaidian for a short while myself, so it was a thrill to return to a city I know quite well – but this time as a tourist.

In the months earlier I put on my designer cap to help create some posters and postcards for David’s performances. Then of course we had to set out and do some poster spotting when we arrived…

Postcards for the band shows at the Spiegeltent (credit: Justin Leegwater's moth illustration and Matt Leasegang's photography)

'Ghostboy with Golden Virtues' posters around the Fringe

Postcards for David's solo show with Richard, at La Boheme (think velvet, cocktails and cheeky bar staff)

Posters spotted 'Live' in North Adelaide

It was an amazing but ridiculously busy week, and my only regret is that amongst my own work and all the fringe happenings I didn’t get to catch up with some of my favorite Adelaide writers. Next time I will have to make it a more social trip. One of the benefits of having an artist’s pass was that I could get into all the shows for free, so I saw a LOT of art while there…

Fringe Highlights:

  • Michael Workman’s one man play Mercy – The tale of a Cuban man set adrift on the high seas with nothing but a pile of cabbages. A funny, moving and at times achingly beautiful love story, full of heart. Great writing too. While watching it, my chest swelled with all the things I want to make as an artist
  • Sam Simmons’ About the Weather – Another one man play, but this time full of Sam’s mad quirk and sideways meanderings. Loved it
  • The Table – Four polish man transform what appears to be an everyday wooden dining table into an incredibly diverse instrument. Their music moves from amazing soundscapes and playful percussion to hard electro-rock. Completely unexpected (I literally had no idea what I was walking into!)
  • Soap – Acrobatics, opera, comedy and modern dance all happening in bath tubs. This was a lot of fun (warning: if you must sit in the front, wear a raincoat)
  • Drinking cider and dancing with the band at the artist’s Fringe Club (and getting home after 5am…)
  • Delicious pizza at a stall in the Garden of Unearthly Delights (best we’ve had since New York)

Other Highlights:

  • Our only day off spent catching the tram out to Glenelg where we flicked through records, drank milkshakes and danced on the beach
  • Visiting my old favourite eateries to find nothing had changed – still awesome food, great atmosphere and delightful staff
  • Walking into the city through the parks and along the river
  • Visiting the lovely people at The Little Big Book Club (more on this later…)

What I could have done without:

  • Late nights and early starts (this wee rabbit is not as spritely as she once was)
  • A prank gone wrong that had David and I believing we had been violently broken into (Richard, I’m looking at you)
  • Cold nights. VERY cold nights. Adelaide weather, you had prepared me for summer heat!
  • Returning home to the worst flu I’ve had in forever

All up though it was an amazing trip. And not only is my creative well full, but my belly is also full of South Australian delights. It seems I have both some writing and exercise ahead of me…

Hopped into Haigh's for some choc-pepermint frogs but bagged myself a bilby instead


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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