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Planes, Trains, Cars and Bounty Hunting (or an overseas trip)

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Yep, that about sums up the next seven weeks of my life. Three planes, two trains and over three thousand kms of road will take us through seven countries on a massive European adventure. At least I’m calling it an adventure – some would call it insanity, considering how much driving we’ll be doing on the wrong side of the road, but I wont let that deter me.

And the bounty I’m hunting? Ideas, inspiration, writerly knowledge, illustratorly experiences, oddities and a whole lot of mischief. Plus, of course, rabbits. I am always on the lookout for rabbits. I will hopefully capture a few European varieties (you can see the ones I captured on my last big trip to America here, including the strange pink demon rabbit pictured above).

While in Europe I will get to do some pretty amazing things as a writer and illustrator, including*:

  • Scotland: I’ll be spending nearly two weeks in Edinburgh and St Andrews and several small towns in between, researching a young adult novel that I’m writing which happens to be set there. So much to look forward to … seaside villages all scuddy with cliffs, gothic churches, crumbling castles, eavesdropping on local teens. But most of all just generally absorbing the feel of the place and letting the world of my story settle into my skin.
  • England: I’ll be doing a short residency at Seven Stories, the UKs national centre for children’s books. I’ll get to be a part of some amazing exhibitions they’re putting together, browse their archives of original literary artefacts, help run activities for young people and learn from their expert staff all about engaging children in the world of books.
  • Italy: I’ll be attending the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the world’s leading children’s publishing event. I’ve had an image chosen for the second year running to be exhibited by the Australian Publisher’s Association Stand, and I’ll be featuring on their table doing live illustrations each day. Bologna also hosts an exhibition of the world’s leading illustrators, a bunch of professional development talks and is the years biggest networking event for creators, publishers and agents.
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My travelling visual diary

I can’t really tell you whether I’m excited or nervous or completely overwhelmed by it all. The feelings are quite indistinguishable. But either way it’s going to be amazing.

It’s not all work type stuff though. We’ll also be seeing my family in England, heading to Berlin for my man’s birthday, off to Venice just because, then driving in a meandering style (ie. we’ll likely get lost) down through Italy, southern France and into Spain.

Needless to say I may not be around much over the next two months. If you do see me here, make sure to shoo me away from the computer. I’ll likely have other things I should be doing … like freezing my little cotton tail off in the biggest cold snap in Europe since the 80s.

Now it’s time to get packing, if my pup will ever let me…

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* A significant part of this trip is generously supported by a career development grant from Arts Queensland.

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

Squish Rabbit Bookplates (and kids say the darndest things)

Meeting readers is such a cool thing, and along the way I get to hear funny stories about how kids relate to my books. One little girl told me (referring to Squish Rabbit) that sometimes she feels lonely too, but her family makes her feel better and that maybe Squish should find his family too. One mum told me that (in Brave Squish Rabbit) her little girl is obsessed with the tiny pair of scissors in the bottom corner of one page. Another family said their daughter asked about my author photo, so they explained that I was the lady who made Squish, and ever since she has been calling me Squish’s mum.

Because my books are out in the US, I often get e-mails asking when I’ll be stopping through the various states for book signings. And oh how I would love to come and meet my American readers. But this is tougher than it sounds, considering I live in Australia. So while I wont be there in person any time soon, luckily there are some clever people about who organised some lovely bookplates for me to sign, which is almost the next best thing. If you can get your hands on one of these, they can be stuck in the front of your Squish Rabbit books…

My publisher, Viking / Penguin, sent a stack of these for me to sign for some special fans:

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I was really touched when an amazing bookstore in the Mississippi Delta, TurnRow Books Co, got in touch to say they had listed Brave Squish Rabbit as a favourite Fall read. They then went to the effort of creating some specially made bookplates for me to sign, and sent them along with some books for special customers:

A close-up of the unsigned bookplates. Get in touch with TurnRow if you’re interested in purchasing a Squish Rabbit book with one of these original signed bookplates (while stocks last):

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…

Squish Does Japan (part 2)

Last post I revealed that Squish had snuck into a travelling suitcase and headed off to the land of sushi and Hello Kitty. Find the rest of his photos and scribblings below…

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Luckily, Brave Squish Rabbit managed to escape the scary city of Nara.

He was so excited to visit Miyajima that he climbed up and danced on top of one of Japan’s most sacred Torii gates. Fortunately, he managed to elude police when he finally came down. Naughty Squish Rabbit!

Brave Squish Rabbit very quickly developed an addiction to Taito Station, a Japanese games arcade. In particular, he couldn’t get enough of the “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” drumming game. Best fun you can have for 400 yen!

And now, in his bravest move yet – yes, braver than facing chickens or going back to Nara – Squish Rabbit will head to Tokyo!

[a few days later I received…]

The Miraikan (National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) building in Tokyo was under attack! Without thinking twice, Brave Squish Rabbit joined forces with 009 to come to the rescue…

… but, unfortunately, he got distracted.

Squish Rabbit’s trip to Japan had been WONDERFUL! He did NOT want to go home.

But then he remembered the toilets. And Nara. So he crawled into his futon (“It’s on the ground, but it’s not a burrow,” he said. “It’s not a bed either, but it’s goooood!”) and got a good night’s sleep before his trip back home. “Sayonara,” he said.

And then Brave Squish Rabbit made it all the way home before his bladder burst.

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Ah, Squish. Can I say how jealous I am? I’ve been wanting (desperately) to go to Japan for years, as I’ve had a long time love affair with all things Japanese. Their food, their culture and mindful traditions, their wonderfully finicky politeness, their clean design aesthetic, their animation (I want to live in the worlds of Miyazaki), their writings (oh to create characters like Murakami) and their art (Yoshitomo Nara does the best angry children).

And now my own character has made it over to Japan before I have. Clearly it’s time to get planning and scheming…

Squish Does Japan (part 1)

Very few know this, but Brave Squish Rabbit actually had a third launch. A secret launch. A tricksy wily sneaky launch … in Japan.

Yes, my little rabbit snuck into the suitcase of notorious children’s writer Julie Nickerson while she wasn’t looking. She was too busy preparing to set off on a long deserved holiday with her family to the land of cherry blossoms and anime. Once they were over there my clever little rabbit hacked Julie’s e-mail account and sent me the following trail of evidence as to his whereabouts. The images and words are transcribed exactly as I received them.

It seems he’s braver than I ever imagined…

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Brave Squish Rabbit packed his suitcase…

… and went to Japan!

Brave Squish Rabbit had to go to the toilet. “I’m not THAT brave,” he said. So he crossed his little legs and held on.

Brave Squish Rabbit had a moment of quiet reflection in Kyoto and contemplated life. And chickens.

Brave Squish Rabbit went to the beautiful ancient city of Nara.

Unfortunately, there were things there that were even scarier than chickens…

[We interrupt our regular broadcast to bring you an important community service announcement.] Squish Rabbit says “NO” to Nara.

Brave Squish Rabbit was launched today. ‘This is WAY better than Jetstar,’ he said.

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What a cheeky little rabbit! Stay tuned, as next post I’ll put up the rest of the photos from his trip…

Travel and Other Stuff

Apart from blogging recently about my book launches, I’ve been mostly absent from this blog since about August. And believe me, I’ve been experiencing some blogger’s guilt. So please see this post as a kind of peace offering. Or an apology. Or even a series of visual excuses as to why I haven’t had much time for blogging lately…

Book Week

A week all about celebrating children’s books, which started in Australia with the CBCA in 1945. This year the theme was ‘Champions Read’, and I got to visit some delightful schools in Brisbane and Toowoomba. These schools put on book fairs and parades and school wide decorations which must have taken weeks to put together. They went all out in showing their love of books, and they made Squish and I feel very welcome.

Look at all those Squish Rabbits! This school created a whole wall of amazing Squish creations in preparation for my visit

These are some of my favourites. There are ghostly Squish Rabbits, cranky ones and plenty of whimsical pondering ones

At this school all teachers and students dressed up as their favourite character from a book. This mother and son team are Squish and Twitch! (so cute)

One teacher discovered I liked stripes, and donated this hat from her book week costume. Think I’ll wear it at Woodford this year…

Cairns Trip

Not an official work trip for me, as I was just tagging along with my partner. But who wouldn’t find an excuse to escape to tropical Cairns? I took the chance to make it a bit of a writing retreat, and got several thousand words written on my latest work in progress (a young adult novel). After the work was done we were also lucky enough to score a trip out to Green Island…

We all live in a yellow submarine

Brisbane Writers Festival

It was my first year speaking at this amazing festival. I did a bunch of talks with grades 4-6 and a few writing and illustration workshops too. I had a ball, and got to meet so many amazing authors and illustrators.

Brisbane Writers Festival loves books

Write Around QLD / Cairns Writers Festival

Back to Cairns again, this time with Write Around QLD, a BWF initiative that takes authors and illustrators out to regional and remote schools in North Queensland. I was thrilled to be involved, however it didn’t quite go to plan … I may have gotten an awful tummy bug and spent most of the week in the hotel room … but I did get out to a few schools in the end. Next came the Cairns Tropical Writers Fest, where I spoke on a few panels and taught a picture book masterclass, as well as had the chance to meet many budding local writers. I love Cairns – it’s beautifully laid back and oh-so-friendly.

With Katrina Germain, a lovely and talented picture book author

David and I spent a funny night with Tim Ferguson, who was also on the festival bill (he’s not only a talented comic, but also really warm and generous)

Hurrah!

Not work related but worthy of a mention because … my little brother got married! We spent a stunning few days in Mt Tambourine and I got to be involved in the reception as the MC. As you can probably imagine, it was a suitably serious affair with no shenanigans what-so-ever…

Me and my little bro

Not sure who these clowns are…

Goondiwindi

David and I were invited out to Gundy (as the locals call it) to be involved in a festival through one of the schools. This was no small event – they had a massive assembly performance where all teachers and senior students performed skits, there was music and craft stalls and several days where artists were brought in to run talks and workshops. The whole shebang finished with a starlit night of poetry, where the kids performed the work they’d produced with David.

We knew we were getting close when massive cacti started cropping up along the road

We took pup with us and walked along the river each day

The kids and I created a Julia Gillard monster (their idea, not mine!)

Our wacky burger. When the kids had me adding all the farmyard animals, I decided it was necessary to add to the farmer too…

Kumon

I’d never heard of this amazing organisation until they contacted me. Kumon began in Japan but is now worldwide, and is a method of learning where kids are encouraged to advance their skills beyond what they’re learning at their schools. Some of the most exciting young minds in Australia are involved in Kumon, and each year they hold an awards ceremony for their highest achievers. I was invited as keynote speaker for their Brisbane conference and loved meeting all the enthusiastic learners.

They even provided me with a corsage – cute!

Talking about imagination and literacy

Home

But even with all the events and trips I’ve done and the amazing people I’ve met, the best thing about travel is arriving back home again…

Launching Brave Squish Rabbit (Part 2)

As promised, here’s the second launch in all its rabbity glory:

Melbourne Launch

Held at The Little Bookroom in Carlton North, on not just any day but the store’s 52nd birthday! It was incredibly special to be a part of their celebrations. Believe it or not, they are the world’s oldest children’s bookstore, and in my opinion one of the most warm and beautifully designed stores. They also did a lovely post about the day over on their blog. It was a surprisingly chilly Spring day in Melbourne, but that didn’t stop the little rabbits coming out of the woodwork…

A brave and squishy window display

Look at those decorations!

A very special rabbit hopped along to help us celebrate

The brilliant and cheeky man of children’s lit, Andy Griffiths, launched my brave little rabbit

In a demonstration of what it means to be brave, Andy unleashed a crawling hand into the little audience (and they were brave indeed!)

Pretending I can stil fit in a mini children’s chair…

Book signing (no spelling mistakes this time)

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A ‘secret treehouse’ image the kids and I created together – click to see a larger version (see if you can spot Andy’s signature ‘bum’)

A final callout to my wonderful man. He manages to love and support the strange lady that is behind Squish Rabbit, help put together these launches (ie. arrange the whole thing) and somehow still be smiling by the end of it all. You are truly inspirational.

Launching Brave Squish Rabbit (Part 1)

It seems like only yesterday I was playing around in my art room, finishing the first ever full colour image of my wee rabbit. But that was back in 2009. Now it’s nearing the end of 2012 and little Squish Rabbit has two books out in the world. I have to pinch myself sometimes.

Squish’s second title, Brave Squish Rabbit, was lucky enough to have not one but two lovely launches, in Brisbane and Melbourne. Thank you to all those who made them such special days – to the bookstores and writing community and family and friends and little readers and especially to all those wearing rabbit ears. Squish and I had a ball, as you can see from the photos below…

Brisbane Launch

Held at the delightful Black Cat Books in Paddington, on a bright September morning out on their back deck.

How to prepare for a starry night book launch: glittery cardboard, star stencil, scissors and (40 stars later) tenacity

How to prepare for a rabbity book launch: carrots, thread and a precise hand

The wall of Squish (and someone in the way)

My two favourite bunnies

The lovely Steph from Black Cat, getting serious about books!

Chris Bongers, teen novelist extraordinaire, did a beautiful job of launching my little rabbit out into the world of books

Those pesky chickens (Richard Grantham understands, who is playing his wonderfully moody sound track behind)

Some floppy eared bunnies – even rabbits feel sad sometimes (although one looks a little cranky)

Glittery cupcakes to cheer up the bunnies!

Skye Staniford did a beautiful set of songs for the little-uns while I signed books

With my lovely smiley publishers, Cathy and Kristina from UQP

My pup couldn’t come, but we still celebrated with him when we got home

Keep an eye out for my next post, where I’ll put up all the photos from the Melbourne launch…

The New York Times (.com)

There are many things I could be blogging about right now. In fact I seem to have spent the last month collecting things to blog about but lacking the time to do it. I’m experiencing a bit of bloggers guilt, as I haven’t yet posted about book week, Brisbane Writers Festival, my new project, the two Brave Squish Rabbit launches or any of the amazing schools I’ve visited recently … and I will get to all those things (I promise). But I’ve had a little news that kind of cuts through the normal scheduling.

While I may occasionally whinge (a little) about the intrusiveness of the blooming digital age, on Thursday I decided I quite liked it. Because a little bird (possibly a tweet) popped up from a New York Times editor with the following:

Click through and you’ll find a lovely article she wrote for NYTimes.com called ‘Be Brave, Little One’, where she reviews Brave Squish Rabbit (as well as another Australian picture book that sounds fascinating – check it out). With the approach of Halloween, she is celebrating books that “pay tribute to those little ones who manage to be braver than you might expect”. She gets right to the heart of the two stories, and she writes this about Brave Squish Rabbit:

The story Battersby tells is deceptively simple, but it conveys valuable ideas — for instance, that distraction, companionship and resourcefulness can help us to combat fearfulness. And acting brave even when you don’t feel brave makes a difference too.

They also include this spread as the feature image:

I’m thrilled they enjoyed my little rabbit, and Squish has been doing a happy dance (called a binky) ever since we read the article. Pamela also did a beautiful print review in the New York Times of Squish’s first story in their Sunday Book Review last year.

Now, as promised, I’ll be back next post with some book launch photos…


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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