Saturday, March 15, 2014

Family fossicking, striking gold and the importance of story

Just before Christmas, quite accidentally, I stumbled upon this photo on the internet.


And dissolved into tears.

Why? Because this is a picture of my "narnie" – my paternal grandmother – and up until that moment I had never seen her face. And, as I read the caption underneath – Doris Gwendolyn Moss 1896–1961 – I realised that apart from knowing her as "Narnie", I didn't even know her name!

Narnie died when I was just a baby and I never met her. And as with many families, circumstances meant that I knew very little about my extended family or heritage. (Nothing really – and what I thought I did know, turned out to be wrong!)

But now, thanks to Joy, the wife of my cousin, a tenacious family historian who writes a blog that contains many stories about my father's family, I know so, so much. And together we have uncovered many incredible stories about Narnie's heritage that involve first and second fleet convicts, the first settlements of Norfolk Island and Van Diemen's Land, and even far-flung places such as the remote island of Saint Helena where my great, great, great grandfather crossed paths with Napoleon during the time of his exile there.

The stories we are uncovering are rich and complex and sometimes heart-breaking. But what I am finding the most intriguing is how important these stories are to me. They have changed me. I feel as if I understand myself so much better and I can't imagine not knowing these things.

Story has always been important to me. I love how it helps us to understand what it means to be human, how it connects the past and the present and illuminates possible futures. And now, with the discovery of these family stories, I feel as if I have struck gold.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Where can you get it?: one advantage of technology in the book trade

Unbelievably, it is almost a year since Portraits of Celina was released. It has been a fantastic year and I have been really happy with how the book has been received. But a year on, it is unlikely to be found on very many bookshop shelves - this is just the way it goes - and I have had a number of people of late ask: where can I get a copy?

So ... if you can't find it at your local bookshop, they should be able to order it in for you. It is still in print and available.

But now, with new technologies, the life of a book has been extended.

It is still available at a number of online bookshops such as: Booktopia and Bookworld.

And it is also available as an ebook, so can be purchased from many ebook retailers such as: iTunes and Amazon/kindle and Kobo and Bookworld.

Isn't it nice to think that even a year after release, a book is still readily available? One advantage of technology in the book trade!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Loving the day job

Is it just me or has time flipped into warp speed? The days zip by so fast that sometimes I'm left dizzy. Has it really been two months since my last blog post? Wow. Time to rectify the situation.

Photo courtesy of Claire Saxby
The last two months have been busy with the release of A SWIM IN THE SEA, which has had some gorgeous reviews and has turned up in some unexpected places and on some unexpected lists. But, in truth, what has been keeping me particularly busy is the DAY JOB.

Which is not all bad. Because I am one of those lucky people who actually loves her job. Working in publishing for the past ten years has been a wonderful journey for me – a profession I never even thought of until I was actually doing it. (Weird, I know.)

But I love it. And feel very privileged to not only have a second career (I was a primary school teacher for twenty-five years) but to be in a job where I get to work with a fabulous team of creatives – editors, designers, authors, illustrators – to make gorgeous BOOKS for children and young adults. How can you not love that?

Some things I love about my job making books:

  1. Being a phantom – lurking in the background quietly guiding and encouraging my authors to create the very best story they possibly can.
  2. Being a puzzler – pondering on where each piece of the story puzzle should go, which pieces need to go altogether, and which pieces need to be added to create the best result –  the complete and perfect story. 
  3. Finding solutions and coming up with ideas – something that is so much fun when you work in a supportive and creative team! Many heads working to the same end results in many great ideas being hatched.
  4. Typography and book design – thanks to all the designers I have had the privilege to work with, I have such a wonderful new respect and love for beautiful typography and clever design.
  5. Holding a finished book and knowing every step of its journey. That is a very satisfying feeling. Only topped by witnessing the joy on the authors' and illustrators' faces when they get to hold their "babies" for the first time.
How luck am I?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Time to beach party

Well, the sun is shining, the weather is warming and the gorgeous blue sea is twinkling at me. And it is almost exactly the same sort of day when about ten years ago I was filled with a scrumptious child-like excitement as I headed down the cliff track to the beach to have my first swim for the season.

But as my bare feet hit the still coolish sand, a refrain started to play in my head:

I'm going for a swim in the sea, the sea, the big blue sea. 



The refrain persisted as I garnered up my courage, closed my eyes and plunged into the still coolish water.

I'm going for a swim in the sea, the sea, the big blue sea. 

It continued as I floated in the current (briefly - the water was actually rather freezing!).

I'm going for a swim in the sea, the sea, the big blue sea.

By the time I had plodded back up the track, showered and made some lunch, the refrain had become a poem - a poem that over the next few years would nudge up against a couple of other ideas and eventually morph into a story -  A SWIM IN THE SEA.

And this week, with the red and yellow flags standing sentinel on the beach, marking the beginning of the summer swimming season,  A SWIM IN THE SEA is now officially a book, illustrated by Meredith Thomas and published by Walker Books.

So I think it is time to PARTY! You can read about the launch here.


Beach party launch of A Swim in the Sea at Austinmer Public School.
And, as you can see, I am once again filled with a scrumptious child-like excitement as A SWIM IN THE SEA hits the shelves in bookshops around the country. Yip-ee!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Start something, stick with it, finish it … or start something new


Last Saturday I spoke on a YA panel with Lisa Forrest and Rebecca James at the Southern Highlands Writers’ Festival. It was a fun, relaxed session and I enjoyed the company of Lisa and Rebecca immensely. 

During the session Lisa gave an aspiring young writer some sage advice about writing. It went something like this: Read lots. Write lots. Start something. Stick with it. Finish it. Nothing startling, but well stated in a way that was easy to remember. And it provided a timely reminder for me.

So after my stern talking to self on Sunday, I started the week with a new resolve. I was going to get back to my YA WIP; I was going to stick with it and finish it. No matter how long it took.

I started out by reading through what I had written thus far (about 3000 words), poring over the pages and pages of character notes and ideas, trying to get back into the heads of Shay and Riley. There was some surprisingly good stuff here, much of which I had forgotten about. But I knew I had a lot more “thinking” to do, and that I needed to go slowly, think deeply about my characters and take the time to get to know them properly. It was going to be a long process. But I was excited. That was Monday.

On Tuesday I woke thinking about a junior fiction idea I had years ago. A comic adventure idea that was very character driven and filled with much silliness. Ideas were zipping around my head, and I had to get out my notebook to take them down before I forgot them. And before I knew it I was scribbling scenes and working out plot ideas.

So after only one day into my resolve, I have started something new. But I am positively buzzing, the voices of my characters chattering away endlessly in my subconscious. Is this just classic avoidance behaviour? Am I just putting off delving back into my YA because I know that it is going to be hard? Who knows? But right now I am going to combine two of my favourite sayings and go with the flow and do what makes my heart sing.

Start something. Stick with it. Finish it. Great advice – if only I would follow it. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A stern talking to self


Okay – enough is enough, Susan. No more excuses.

Portraits of Celina has been out for three months. It has been read, reviewed and reprinted. You have received wonderful notes and emails and FB messages, and you have done what you can to promote it: school visits, library visits, festivals, panel sessions, conferences, interviews and articles. You have blogged and facebooked and tweeted.

There will be more opportunities – and they will be wonderful and appreciated – but it is time to let go. To stop being that helicopter parent hovering over and worrying about your latest little book baby and how it is doing in the big bad world. Slash the apron strings, Susan. Let Bayley and Celina tell their stories to whoever wishes to listen to them. They are no longer your characters. They belong to your readers, and you must move on. You have a new novel to write and it is not going to write itself. It requires time, effort – and in the (paraphrased) words of Ernest Hemingway “you need to sit at your typewriter and bleed”.


Remember Shay? And Riley? Remember that image you have of them: torn, crying, bereft, but loving each other to bits? Remember Shay touching Riley’s face and telling him she will fix it, fix him? That she would never leave his side no matter what he’s done? Remember your blog post about Dad and those tangly webs? Remember that?

You have another story to tell. And I think it could be a good one, one worth telling. And, yes, it is going to be hard. Really hard. It is going to take a long time. You are going to doubt yourself and at times you will feel as if you are writing nothing but rubbish – and maybe it will be, just that, rubbish, but maybe it won’t. But, Susan, you have to give it your best shot. Come on, put a lid on those doubts, silence those excuses and, please, please, just get on with it. 

Like now.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Bookish adventures

Hello.

I have had a HUGE June with many bookish adventures.
From Reading Matters conference in Melbourne to
Voices on the Coast in the Sunshine Coast to
SCBWI WA events In Perth and "retreat" on Rottnest Island to
three days and nine schools' tour with Westbooks!

Wow! It was hectic. It was fun. It was inspiring. And although I am slightly exhausted, I am also pretty satisfied that I got through it all without too many dramas.

Here are some happy snaps from the WA leg of the trip.

Illustrators showing off! Clever bunnies.
Quokkas!
Some of the gang on Rottnest
The two Sues - with Sue from Westbooks
The Greatest Liar exhibition at the Lit Centre Fremantle - with Frane Lessac
Brian Falkner - writer in residence at the Lit Centre
That's what I call an auditorium! Loved talking about Celina to keen readers.