LIAN TANNER

Ella and the Ocean

April 7th, 2018

Many years ago, when I was writing Museum of Thieves, I needed a name for Toadspit’s little sister – something that fitted into the city of Jewel, where parents only gave their children names that were happy and strong and beautiful.

A friend of mine had a daughter called Bonnie, which was just the right sort of name. So I used it, and the character of Bonnie became a big favourite, both with me and the readers.

But the real Bonnie had a twin sister called Ella, and it seemed unfair that I had used Bonnie’s name in a book and not her sister’s. ‘Ella’ didn’t fit into The Keepers, but I had an idea for a picture book, and it fitted perfectly into that.

Now picture books are easy, right? They’ve hardly got any words so you should be able to knock one up in a couple of hours. Right?

*hollow laugh*

The thing about picture books is, they’re a lot harder to write than they seem. They’re probably closer to a poem than anything else, because you have to make every word count. With a novel, you can be a bit less fussy. You can go off on little detours. You can waste a word or two.

But not in a picture book.

The other thing about picture books is, you have to leave room for the pictures. You don’t tell the whole story with words, because they’re only half of the book. The pictures are the other half, and they’re not just there to illustrate the words. They’re there to help tell the story.

Back then, when I set out to write Ella and the Ocean, I didn’t know any of this. So what I came up with was pretty awful. I could tell it was awful, but I didn’t know how to fix it. So in the end, I just stuck it away in the corner of my computer reserved for miserable failures, and forgot about it.

But every now and again I go back to that corner – usually when I’m feeling horribly frustrated with what I’m currently writing and need a distraction. And last year I stumbled across Ella and the Ocean again. And I thought I could see how to fix it. I worked on it over a few months (in the spaces between writing a novel), cutting out huge numbers of words and getting rid of the detours and the waste. Then I sent it to my agent, who sent it to Allen & Unwin, my publishers.

And my editor loved it!

But once again, picture books work differently from novels. Before my editor Susannah could make a formal offer of publication she needed to get an illustrator on board. So she sent me a wish list of illustrators. She warned me that they were all incredibly busy, and I properly wouldn’t get my first choice, and I’d better tell her my first, second and third preferences.

But my first choice was Jonathan Bentley, and oh, how I wanted him to do it! His work is so beautiful; funny and lyrical and richly gorgeous. Look at this, from his book Little Big.

And this, from Janet A. Holmes’ Blue Sky Yellow Kite.

So I gave my list to Susannah and held my breath. And Jonathan Bentley said yes! (That’s him above.)

The book is coming out next year, which means he must be going to start work on it fairly soon. I can’t wait to see what he does with my words.

What am I reading?

I’ve just finished Jo Sandhu’s The Exile (Tarin of the Mammoths #1), which was shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards, along with Accidental Heroes. (Neither of us won – the award went to Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor.)

Here’s the blurb for The Exile:

‘Tarin longs to be a hunter, but his twisted leg means he is feared and bullied. After a disastrous mishap, he is forced to leave his family and travel alone across wild, unknown land to save the Mammoth Clan. Battling the hostile and savage Boar Clan, a deadly illness and treacherous terrain with twins Kaija and Luuka, Tarin realises that if they are all to survive he must conquer his fears and embrace the magic that is hiding within him.’

I loved this book. Tarin is such a thoughtful, self doubting boy, and his quest seems so huge. But there’s far more to him than meets the eye, and in this beautifully built world of violence and magic, he starts to come into his own.

To my great joy, the second book is already out, and so is the third! So I am a happy reader.

I’m also reading The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein. Definitely an adult book – the story of a woman who cleans up after suicides, hoarders, etc. Fascinating and heartbreaking.

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