Posts Tagged 'Isobelle Carmody'

A Stampede of Books (or Bologna Children’s Book Fair)

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I’ve been wanting to attend the Bologna Children’s Book Fair for several years now. It’s the biggest annual event in children’s books, making it an incredibly exciting place for a writer / illustrator. Now I knew it was a massive event, but this was purely an intellectual concept. It’s a bit like being told about a stampede, as opposed to standing in the middle of one. A glorious stampede, mind you. A stampede of colourful stuff from a child’s imagination.

The fair is “the most important international event dedicated to the children’s publishing industry”, and includes authors, illustrators, literary agents, licensors, packagers, distributors, printers, booksellers and librarians, all meeting up to sell and buy and meet and produce and discover all things to do with kids books. Sound exciting? It was.

There were 1200 exhibitors. From 66 countries. With 5000 professional trade representatives. And the exhibition covered over 20,000 square meters of floor space. Plus the fair was celebrating its 50th year. Now I may specialise in words, but those numbers sound pretty impressive to me. Here’s the sight I walked in on – this is one fifth of one side of one hall out of four, on the first and quietest morning:

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I spent three inspiring days wandering around the fair and being involved in all its amazing busy-ness. I got to meet up with the head of my American publishing house (Viking / Penguin) who was passionate and humble and funny and charming and all things you would want from a publisher. I also had an amazing meeting with my American agent, talking picture books and characters and lots of ideas for new projects to come. I got to spend time with the incredible ladies from Books Illustrated, Ann James and Ann Haddon, who are super supportive of Australia children’s book creators and who ran the stand that became my home for fair. They ran a live illustration table where I made art alongside some very talented Aussie artists (Alison Lester, Isobelle Carmody, Briony Stewart and of course Ann James). While illustrating I got to meet passers by who stopped to chat – other artists and publishers from all over the world. But none of this quite captures the spirit of the fair. No, that is best done with photos.

Here’s my US publisher’s stand. It was full of books and well-dressed-important-types and take away coffee cups. This was a quiet moment captured on the first morning of an otherwise bustling stand:

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Here is the Books Illustrated stand, and the two awesome Anns setting it up. See if you can spot the Brave Squish Rabbit cover and the feature illustration from the book:

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Doing live illustrations (with my terrible paintbrush grip – such a lefty):

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More live illustrating, using papers I’d collected on the trip so far (you can just see a couple of the drawings I’d already done in front):

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One of my favourite stands, a European publisher called Edelvives who make gorgeous books:

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There were quite literally hundreds of different publisher stands. So many books! Some funny:

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Some sad:

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But mostly just awesome. Lots and lots of awesome books:

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And more:

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And more. How cute are these guys?:

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But it wasn’t all just a bunch of people standing around talking about books. Sometimes it was a bunch of people standing around drinking and talking about books. Here we’re preparing for the Australian Publisher’s Association party (while Boori gets in some sneaky self promotion):

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And here we might be at the Irish Publisher’s Association party drinking whisky (all in the name of being culturally appropriate and warming the winter chest plate):

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I’d heard about the famous ‘illustrator wall’, where you can pin an illustration that people peruse throughout the fair. All up there were actually about eight walls. Here is one on the very first morning:

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And here it is again on day three:

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And this is what an author looks like after three days of wandering halls, reading, illustrating, meetings, being inspired and overwhelmed and just generally feeling like a very small fish in a big pond:

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Luckily, we were in Italy, so there was always good food at the end of the day. Salute!

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CBCA Book of the Year Awards

Ever since I was a little girl I was aware of the round stickers that occasionally popped up on Australian book covers. I didn’t know what they said or exactly what they meant, but I knew one thing: whether the sticker was silver, bronze or blue, the book was going to be good. As I got taller and older I learnt about the Children’s Book Council of Australia, the organisation behind the stickers, and that each year they ran awards to select the best Australian children’s books published.

Over a lifetime these stickers have informed much of my reading. As a wee one I was much more likely to pick up a book if it had one on the cover. As a teenager so many of the books I treasured were awarded (Gary Crew’s Angel’s Gate, Isobelle Carmody’s The Gathering and Melina Marchetta’s Looking for Alibrandi). As an aspiring author / illustrator, my reading list came directly from the award notable list (although I had often read most of them already). Then, as I became part of the writing community, each year I’d barrack for my friend’s book and my favourite picks.

This year the awards meant something different. I had my first children’s book ‘out there’. I was determined not to think about the awards, but a friend mentioned when the short-lists were announced and I suddenly found myself thinking (and stressing) about them a whole lot. It was kind of awful. Steven Herrick wrote a beautifully humble and honest post about how writers try to pretend that awards don’t matter – that we don’t mind whether we’re selected or not. I even tried to trick myself into thinking this, with lots of very sensible self-talk about the fact that it was only ‘my first book’ and that ‘so many amazing books are published each year’ blah blah etc, but it didn’t really work. I still harboured a deep secret hope.

Tuesday was the fateful day, and after all that stressing I still feel incredibly humbled and overawed with the news. Squish Rabbit was selected as part of the short-list for the 2012 Crichton Award, which aims to encourage new talent in the field of children’s illustration. It was also selected as a Notable Book in the Early Childhood Category of the Book of the Year Awards, which I’m thrilled about.

The Australian writing community is such a supportive one, and there was an outpouring of lovely congratulations and kind words – thank you. So many amazing books made this year’s lists, including those by some of my favourite people: Michael Gerard Bauer, Lucia Masciullo, Peter Carnavas, James Foley, Prue Mason, Sally Rippin and Wendy Orr. So proud to count these incredible writers and illustrators as friends.

The day’s celebrations included champagne, party poppers, a movie, a decadent Thai feast and a little pack of fun:

  • The Shin’s latest album: Their music makes me happy (and is part of the soundtrack for my latest novel)
  • Obi-Wan: A funny gift from my poet to remind me that Jedi like patience can bring rewards (for Star Wars nerds that would like to inform me that this is not actually Obi-Wan, I say to you that I had already named him thusly when I discovered this, and besides I like this name better)
  • My Neighbour Totoro: Possibly one of Miyazaki’s greatest films, which is quietly magical and so full of beauty, and one I have been meaning to get forever

Building Worlds

Rabbit - psychicAs a writer, I experience moments where I feel all powerful.

With my current fantasy novel, I have spent the last few years creating an entire world, filled with people and creatures and tribes and religions and landscapes that have all tumbled from my mind.  When I stand back from it all, it almost doesn’t seem possible that I created this.  It’s been with me for so long that I find myself thinking: surely this world has always existed?  It’s such a strange and wonderful thing.

Yet with that comes unexpected feelings too.  A sense of responsibility.  When I’m having to make decisions about the world I’ve created – naming structures, shaping a tribe, choosing their fate – it can feel a little frightening, too.  I feel the pressure to get it right.  To make it real, and give the people I’ve created the life and the world they deserve.  Even worse, when I find a gap in my world.  A stone I’ve left unturned (which happens more frequently that I would like).  The guilt, of not giving my characters a complete world in which to roam.

The life of a god is lonely (*wry smile* as I compare my little writerly self to a god). No one can help you carry the world you’ve created.  The responsibility falls to your shoulders.  The decisions are yours alone.

On a lighter note, when world building, the temptation to create everything from scratch lures.  But there’s a whole world of mythology out there already to draw from: folk lore and legend and long existing magic.  I was taught early on, with the wise words of Isobelle Carmody, that a reference to mythology in books gives readers something familiar in an unfamiliar world, which in turn makes it seem more real.  I find this little pearl of wisdom demonstrates this particular lesson quite nicely indeed (and has the added benefit of making me smile):

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Originally found here.

When Writers are Lost for Words

Rabbit - psychicI attended the Aurealis Awards on Saturday night, the annual Australian speculative fiction awards held in Brisbane.  The room was brimming with publishers, editors, agents, authors and wannabes like me.  It was a place where geeks of science fiction and fantasy were not afraid to speak out and embrace their geek-dom.  The alcohol might have helped.

But what really stayed with me about the night were the acceptance speeches.  As an aspiring writer, I often view authors as these rather enigmatic figures.  People blessed with an ability to express themselves intelligently in interviews, with market savvy and ever thoughtful things to say.  I suppose this probably comes from those we see most in the limelight, speaking about their craft in ways that makes everyone want to become a writer.

But it would seem even the most natural public speaker loses such skills when accepting an award.  I don’t think I have ever seen authors so humbled, touched, and yes … lost for words.  It was really quite endearing.  There were many brilliant children’s authors and illustrators represented on the night.  Shaun Tan won the illustrated book award for ‘Tales from outer Suburbia’, a surreal and poignant book exploring the Australian burbs.  Emily Rodda took out the children’s fiction award with ‘The Wizard of Rondo’ and Melinda Marchetta the young adult award for ‘Finnikin of the Rock’.  Isobelle Carmody was also up for an award, as was one of the hosts for the night, Simon Higgins (who I got to chat with, and is incredibly funny, down to earth, and clearly suited to writing his ninja novels).

We have several speculative fiction writers in my wider writing network, so I look forward to one day attending the awards in support of them as nominees…

 

Beating the Writing Critic (with a club)

Rabbit - angryAll writers have one.  That little guy that sits on our shoulder telling us we’re no good, that every word we put on that page is terrible and not even worth the effort, that no one else is going to read it – let alone enjoy it – so why bother?  Even highly experienced and successful writers such as Isobelle Carmody and Marcus Zusak speak of self-doubt when writing.  So how to fight it?

The first writing workshop I attended at Qld Writer’s Centre many year ago was called ‘The First Novel’, run by Sarah Armstrong, and she talked about fighting the writing critic and getting through that first draft.  I think that’s where the writing critic tends to lurk the most – in first drafts, when we’re most vulnerable.

The single most effective technique I have for fighting my own writing critic is effectively telling him to bugger off.  Well, I suppose it’s slightly more complicated that that.  I think the most common thing our writing critics throw at us is ‘you can’t write’.  These are powerful words, and enough to make many people stop writing altogether.  But I’ve learnt to use a Hemmingway quote to throw back at my writing critic: ‘All first drafts are shit’.  First drafts are supposed to be a rabble of ideas, inconsistent characters, plots that don’t quite flow yet, clichéd metaphors and even worse.  First drafts are a place to get to know your characters and experiment with plot points.  First drafts are simply about getting the ideas down on paper.  It’s the later drafts that are used to go back and fix these things.

So whenever my writing critic tells me my writing is bad, I just tell him that it’s supposed to be that way.  After all, as Hemmingway effectively said, the role of a first draft is to be shit.  And who’s going to argue with Hemmingway?


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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