Posts Tagged 'inspiration'

Inspired

Ever since I was little I’ve experienced a certain kind of overwhelming feeling – often when looking at something inspiring someone has created. It’s like a bigness within me. A swelling in my chest. A feeling that I could laugh and cry and scream all at the same time. I’ve long had trouble articulating it, but I think it’s a need to express something.

I’ve since realised that it is this bigness that I am chasing every time I sit down to write or draw. It’s as if I’m trying to capture it, that essential thing that drives me as a person, and with each project I feel I’m getting closer. But when I finish, the feeling is always still there, so I delve into the next project. It was Isobelle Carmody who first named this for me. In a workshop of hers I attended back in 2006, she said we all have questions that drive us as writers, and each novel is an attempt to answer them.

I still get it most strongly when viewing others’ work. A brilliant film, an inspiring piece of design, a lyrical dance, a moving piece of music. I experience it when I watch many of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, like Mononoke Hime and Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind. I had it when I read The Book Thief, and more recently while reading A Small Free Kiss in the Dark. But my favourite of the moment is the music of Mumford and Sons, four young men from West London who speak to my soul. Listen to this live version of ‘White Blank Page’ and see if you don’t want to go out and create something beautiful:

Feel free to share the things that inspire you.

Developing a Style

Rabbit - lonelyA friend of mine recently asked how I found my illustration style. What I like about this question is that it made me realise how far I’ve come. Not long ago, I still felt I was struggling to find myself as an illustrator. But when I stood back, I realised that I am starting to develop more of a brand – a consistent style that could become uniquely recognised as mine (I hope).

But how did I get here? At school I loved drawing cartoons, copying Loony-Toons and Warner Brother’s characters and even creating a few of my own. As my art developed it became a lot like my personality – quite finicky and perfectionistic, something that drove my senior art teacher mad. He taught me to loosen up and explore other techniques, which I’ll be ever grateful for.

When I first became interested in illustration, my beginning years were spent imitating (not intentionally) the styles of those whose art inspired me. People like Stephen Michael King, Oliver Jeffers, Lauren Child and Tohby Riddle. I can still see their lingering influence on my work. My mum inspired my use of watercolour, a medium she’s always been passionate about. My use of collage comes from having always loved textural art that draws you in and makes you want to touch it. I’m also influenced by anime and manga, an art form and style of storytelling I adore. Studying graphic design and learning about art history also helped. Along the way I picked up things I liked and left behind those I didn’t. The more I drew, the more my own style began to emerge.

I always say that I use the computer to construct my art because I’m an anxious illustrator. In the end, that finicky part of me has crept back in and actually helped to develop my style (my art teacher would be disappointed!). The computer allows me to experiment with colours and textures while being able to go back, or move the composition around if I change my mind. It takes away my anxiety of doing something ‘wrong’.

I hope my style never truly stops developing. I know each project I tackle challenges me in new ways. Someone once said that the day that your craft becomes easy is the day you should stop. I’ve posted my latest project below: a few early sketches of some monsters who’ve been running around my head.

2009-07-25

Festival Fanfare (part 2)

Rabbit - climbI have now officially unpacked after the Whitsunday Voices festival (orderly Andrew was very restrained, and never said anything over the last few days). While unpacking my suitcase, I was also mentally unpacking, thinking through all I experienced and learnt. My favourite thing about the festival was that I had plenty of breaks, which allowed me to sneak into several of the other author / illustrator sessions to watch them work their magic…

  • Michael Gerard Bauer: Even with a tough crowd (well over 200 mid-graders) Michael had them captivated with tales from his childhood, revealing events that influenced scenes in his books. He’s a natural storyteller and had us all in stitches, and ignited a love of literature and stories in even the most reluctant reader
  • Sally Rippin: Sally is just delightful and discussed the evolution of several of her books, followed by an illustration workshop. She cleverly broke down the drawing of complex forms into simple shapes, and had the kids marveling at what that they could create with her help
  • John Marsden: John is a master at audience participation and used several clever games and volunteers from the audience to demonstrate how stories are created. I find his passion for stories and good writing is catching (the audience clearly felt the same way)
  • Boori Pryor: If you ever get the chance to see him speak, don’t miss it. He’s like the rockstar of kid’s literature. Storytelling is clearly in his blood, and he has a wonderful way of making every child in the audience feel like he’s speaking to them alone. He naturally involves the entire audience in his performance, reeling you in with his energy and humour. Then he whipped out his didgeridoo and had the kids doing dance interpretations of australian wildlife. I laughed so hard I actually cried when one little boy did a hip-hop style butterfly (the kind of butterfly you wouldn’t confront in a dark ally)
  • Matt Ottley: Matt ran an illustration workshop that literally had the audience wide eyed and gasping in awe. He started with simple shapes, then the audience marveled as, with a few lines, they emerged as characters from his books. He had kids draw ‘Mr Squiggle’ style doodles on the board, then transformed them into funny animals and fantasy creatures. Every child in that room left with the desire to learn to draw like Matt.

After all that, on the final day we had the big literary dinner. When I say ‘big’ I mean it – over 400 people attended. There was much chatting, socialising, eating and drinking. Even some dancing (although not on tabletops, as Michael Bauer would have you believe). Below are some photos of the night, which prove even us ‘reclusive’ writer and illustrator types can scrub up alright for a party.

2009-07-23

Michael and I (we may be on a table at this point - you'd never know)

Robert Newton (writer), me and Steven Herrick (poet)

Robert Newton (writer), me and Steven Herrick (poet)

Marc Macbride (illustrator), me, Matt Ottley (writer/illustrator) and Sally Rippin (writer/illustrator)

Marc Macbride (illustrator), me, Matt Ottley (writer/illustrator) and Sally Rippin (writer/illustrator)

Festival Fanfare (part 1)

Rabbit - floatAs mentioned in my last post, I was invited as an emerging author to speak at Mackay’s Whitsunday Voices youth literary festival. I returned to Brisvegas many days ago, but after several days of festivities followed by the big literary dinner, I’ve only just caught up on sleep and rejoined the land of the living.

The festival itself played out over Thursday 16th and Friday 17th of this month, and was run by a bunch of delightful teachers, volunteers and students. I had the opportunity of speaking with all the kids from prep through to grade three – kids who were enthusiastic, engaging and full of both thoughtful and hilarious questions. They truly made little-old-me feel like a rock star (I was even asked to sign many drawings and school diaries!). Several of my talks were in my original grade 4 and 5 classrooms, which brought back some very vivid memories of my childhood self.

While each talk varied slightly depending on the class, they looked something like this:

  • Storytelling: I introduced myself as someone who tells stories through words and images. We also discussed the history of storytelling and how it has evolved
  • Reading: The classes were my first test audience for Squish Rabbit. It was such a thrill to see how they responded to the story. I was constantly amazed at how their minds unpacked the characters and events
  • Discussion: There were lots of questions about how I made the images and where the ideas came from
  • Illustration Workshop: I went in armed with a cartooning workshop on people, but all the classes requested I teach them how to draw Squish and his Squirrel friend Twitch, which was great fun
  • Characterisation: After the drawing workshop, the kids created their own versions of my characters by adding colours, clothes or props. They were so imaginative that I had to share some

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2009-07-21b

2009-07-21c

2009-07-21d

Agent Twitch

2009-07-21e

Daddy Squish, mummy Squish and baby Squash :)

Even though I was invited there to talk, I feel like I left with more than I contributed. Everyone was so generous and the kids filled me with energy and self-esteem, as well as many ideas for future stories…

Overactive Mind

Rabbit - lonelyI wish I could go back to that teacher that said I was a daydreamer.  She wrote it on my report card like it was a bad thing.  She also said I never had my mind on the task.  Well I’d argue that I did, just not solely on the task she deemed important at that exact moment.  While I was solving the maths problem she had put in front of me, I also may have been:

  1. Watching the boy outside on the monkey bars a) wondering what was he doing out of school, and b) developing an emergency plan if he were to fall and land on his head
  2. Thinking about hockey training that afternoon, including what I wanted to achieve and what my coach expected of me
  3. Planning the homework I had for that evening, and how much I could fit in after training
  4. Wondering what might be for dinner

My mind still works like that.  Processing a seemingly endless list of often unrelated things at any one time.  In fact, it only seems to have gotten worse since I began writing.  Now I actively encourage stories and characters to run around my mind while doing other tasks, in order for the ideas to grow.  This morning is a good example.  I got out of the shower with 2 new blog post ideas (including the first few paragraphs of each), the outline of an article I want to write, and a new wording for a scene that for no explicable reason popped into my head (not even from my WIP).

And it was only a 5 min shower.

I’m certainly not complaining – it’s the only way I can juggle so many different roles and projects, but it does make me appear a little vague sometimes.  Anyone else suffer from an overactive mind?

Slave of the Subconscious

Rabbit - sockThe mind is a strange and wonderful thing.  Many a writer has struggled with a significant plot point, only to have their subconscious solve it after a long walk, a nap or a shower.  In fact, this is something I have learnt to actively use as a technique to solve problems.  Something that alludes me during the day, will often become apparent overnight.  If I have stumbled into a plot hole, a character inconsistency or an idea that just isn’t coming together, I simply make sure I’m thinking about the problem before I fall asleep that night and when I wake the solution is usually clear.  For those who haven’t experienced this, it might sound a tad strange, but as a writer who talks to her characters, I’m used to strange looks.

Today this phenomena shocked the breath from me, when I discovered my subconscious is working away on a story I hadn’t even realised was still in my head.  After completing the third draft of my mentorship ms nearly a week ago, I set it down to rest a while.  When I did I knew one character, Craikor, had disappeared for too long from the action in the middle of the story, but was content to tackle this in the next draft.  Meanwhile I began work on another novel of mine to gain distance from the mentorship novel.  However yesterday, Craikor piped up and began talking to me.  Just one sentence – a bold statement about another character (he’s quite feisty).  To be honest I sort of ignored him – firstly I wasn’t sure where his statement would fit into the current story, and secondly I was annoyed at him for intruding on my work on a different story (with very different characters).  However last night I moved in and out of dreams about Craikor, and woke with a clear image in my mind of a scene where he says the line he’d said to me.  It was the perfect way to introduce him into the middle of the story, and also revealed information about his motivations.  So I had to abandon my carefully laid plans to continue with the other story today, and sit down to write Craikor’s scene.

I was led astray by a feisty fire wight.  Characters can be pushy.  I’m learning to follow their whims and their voices more, however I still find myself fighting them occasionally.  It’s a losing battle.  So, is anyone else a slave to their subconscious?

The Wall

sewEveryone hits it eventually.  The dreaded wall.  Luckily my wall seems to be made more of a kind of transparent fabric rather than bricks and mortar, so it has slowed me down but not stopped me.  I’ve been working on the third draft of my mentorship novel for a few weeks now.  While the planning was tough, the actual writing has been flowing quite well.  Until now.

There’s always a place in a manuscript (often several) where the writing gets really tough.  For me it was a particularly tricky scene to write – smack bang in the middle of the novel – the dark point for my protagonist.  Writing through this scene and out the other side has been hard work.  I’m pretty stubborn though, so even in these stages I still write every day.  On the good days, I do well above my daily word quota, but on days like these I just skim the minimum.

It’s not unusual that during the difficult stage of any novel a new idea comes along to tempt me with its freshness.  Christine Bongers recently blogged about this phenomena, using a really clever analogy.  But like Chris, I’m finding ways to work on both projects.  The new idea has become like a reward, which I only get to work on once I’ve gotten through (at least) my quota of words for the novel redraft.  It’s also a very different project: a picture book, where I get to play with words and images.  It’s actually the perfect project to start while redrafting a novel, because the smallness of it is quite refreshing.  I’m also finding that, since starting the new project, I come back to my novel each day with more energy.

The new idea came after yet another person asked if I’d done anything with Squish, the small rabbit that runs across this blog.  So essentially, I’m fighting the wall with a small white rabbit.  He must know kung-fu, because he’s certainly doing a good job of it.

Note: My working title for the story was ‘Squish, the Small Rabbit’ but for obvious reasons it has since changed (just read it aloud).

The Graveyard Book

2009-03-11I haven’t blogged about individual books yet on this blog, but staying true to her name, the Well Read Rabbit does read a LOT (about 3 or 4 books a week) and felt compelled to write about this one.

Neil Gaiman is a genius.  Not just your run of the mill ‘has a brain bigger than a small planet’ or ‘invented something life saving’ genius.  But a genius of words and worlds.  I have always been a big fan of his, from his picture books (Wolves in the Walls) to his children’s novels (Coraline) and Adult novels (American Gods).  But for me, The Graveyard Book went beyond.  It is part fable, part adventure, but always subtle and genuine and real.  A story that moves between worlds, shifts your sense of reality and is imbued with magic, but was ultimately about a small boy growing up and trying to find his place in the world: Gaiman combines such things with an enviable ease.  He has a wonderful ability to create characters that experience incredible things, but always react calmly and thoughtfully, and they are all so uniquely quirky and vivid and flawed.  The writer side of me knows Gaiman as the king of dialogue.  Dialogue is an art that is deceptively hard to master, and his always reads like a song.  I agree whole heartedly with Garth Nix‘s assessment of the book:

I wish my younger self had the opportunity to read and reread this wonderful book, and my older self wishes that I had written it.

But it’s not just Garth and I who felt this way about this book.  So did the Newbery Medal committee.  And Gaiman was his usual charming and unassuming self when he twittered about the morning the news was announced:

First: ‘Mr Gaiman briefly ponders putting marmalade in tea, then realises he has lost his mind.’
Then: ‘About to drink second cup of tea without Marmalade this morning. Also, I just won the Newbury Medal for THE GRAVEYARD BOOK.’
Finally, it sinks in: ‘Newbery, not Newbury. Also F***!!!! I won the F***ING NEWBERY THIS IS SO F***ING AWESOME. I thank you.’ (sans expletives, for the sake of innocent ears and eyes)

Gaiman’s way of tackling the question ‘Where do your ideas come from?’ has always fascinated me.  In the dedications section of the book, he mentions that his first spark for The Graveyard Book happened when watching his 2 year-old son ride his tiny tricycle through gravestones one summer (twenty-something years ago).  But apart from this, he is often a little more guarded in his discussion of the topic.  I suppose he gets the question a LOT.

Anyway.  Buy the book.  Read it.  Love it.  Then talk to me about it (there’s nothing I love more than a good book natter).

Overflow

Rabbit - lookNon-writers often ask where my ideas come from.  As a follow-up I’m sometimes also asked if I ever run out of ideas, or fear that I someday might.  This is possibly the easiest answer ever.

No.

I don’t.  Know why?  Because every time I finish writing a novel, in the next few days / weeks I have at least two completely new ideas for novels.  Most of these ideas develop into fully fledged stories with characters and plots I’m passionate about.  I’m not entirely sure why this happens.  Maybe it’s because, suddenly, a significant amount of room has been freed up in my head which is allowed to be filled with new thoughts and ideas.  Maybe it’s because writing a novel requires a lot of creative energy, yet when the story is done it’s impossible to just turn it off, so the energy flows straight into something else.  Maybe it’s because I’m a little bit manic.  Either way, it means my ideas are growing exponentially, in a way that I’ll never be able to keep up with.  That notion kind of thrills me, but also kind of terrifies me.  It also makes me wish I didn’t need to sleep so many hours a day.

It also reminds me of a wonderful quote, by Gabriel Zaid that goes something like:

Books are published at such a rapid rate that they make us exponentially more ignorant.

Exponentially ignorant.  Love it.  I’m fighting that losing battle by reading several books a week.  Why not join me?

Writing Blues

Rabbit - angryI’ve read a few posts about the writing blues of late.  There must be something in the air.  Or the water.  Or maybe it’s all this hot weather (or extreme cold if you’re in the northern hemisphere).  Anyway, it made me realise that the last time I blogged about the ever present writing critic (the little guy* that sits on your shoulder telling you your work isn’t good enough), I didn’t talk much about how I battle him.  In fact, I wasn’t really sure how I did until I consciously thought of doing this post.

I realised I have developed a few methods over the past years in fighting the writing critic (which for me are most relevant when writing the first draft):

  1. Hemmingway: Still my most effective method is throwing Hemmingway’s quote at him (which I did talk about last post).  Hemmingway said that ‘All first drafts are shit’.  So when my writing critic starts having a go at me during a first draft, I use this quote to tame him, ie. I tell him it doesn’t matter if the writing is bad, because it’s just a first draft and can be fixed in the next one.  In the second draft I tell him any problems he’s throwing at me can be fixed in the third, and so on.  I find it shuts him up pretty quickly and allows me to keep writing.
  2. Don’t re-read: When I first start working on a draft, I’m always tempted to go back and read what I wrote the previous day.  Problem with this is that it slows me down long enough for my writing critic to start up.  Re-reading can often awaken my self-doubt and make it harder to start up again.  At most I allow myself to read the last paragraph if I need to reorient myself to the scene.  Once I’m a few thousand words into a draft, the urge to re-read disappears anyway, as I become lost in the flow of the story.
  3. Write fast: This technique I learnt in a workshop with Sarah Armstrong.  Free writing is a technique used by many writers, especially in the first draft, and is basically writing fast enough to override conscious thought and is about just getting the words down on the page.  The great side effect is that you also write too fast for the writing critic to catch-up.  Mine doesn’t have a chance to intrude while I’m free writing.
  4. Daydream: This is something I’ve discovered I cannot do without when aiming to write every day.  And the big benefit – it takes away the fear of the blank screen / page.  Each day, before sitting down to write, I need to have let the story and characters roll around in my head.  This is often while at the gym, cleaning, or in the shower.  Times when your body is engaged, but your mind is left to wander.  It doesn’t always happen automatically – sometimes when really busy I have to make myself consciously think about it, otherwise I just end up thinking about the shopping list or the million other things I need to be doing.  Once you have let the next scene unroll in your head, sitting down to write wont be so frightening and the writing critic is less likely to kick in.  I find the characters have already told me what happens next.
  5. Chocolate: Drown him out with chocolate.  Or peanut butter toast.  Or ice-cream if I’m feeling really naughty.  Mint choc-chip, if you must know.  On second thoughts, this might not really help.  It’s sort of a last resort.  But it sure makes me feel better.

The journey of writing can be tough, but it’s also exciting, exhilarating, liberating and wonderful.  I’m forever learning and I bet in a year’s time I’ll be able to add to this list.  No doubt others have different methods of fighting their critic.  Or a favourite guilty snack.  Care to share?

* By the way, any guys reading this: I’m sorry that I refer to my writing critic as a ‘he’ – mine is a he, but not all of them are!  Nor am I making a comment about men!


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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