Lian Tanner

My Blog

Byron Bay and Sydney

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One of my favourite things to do is stand up in front of an audience and tell stories. It satisfies my occasional hankering for acting, and also the bit of me that likes showing off.

So last week I got to do a LOT of it.

Byron Bay Writers Festival has to be one of the best festivals in Australia. The setting is so beautiful, and the whole thing feels very relaxed – though I suspect quite a few people are pedalling very hard behind the scenes.

The schools festival comes first, with three days of authors touring around in pairs, talking to large numbers of kids. Each time, several kids came up to me afterwards and asked, ‘Was the story about the dynamite true?’ And yes, it was.

I was paired with Matt Stanton, author of the Funny Kid series. And he really is funny, both in his books, and in his presentations. Plus he’s nice, which is always a bonus when you’re spending a few days with someone.

On the Friday, I was on a panel with Matt and Oliver Phommavanh (another funny writer), talking about whether children’s stories should always have a happy ending.


On Saturday, I went whale watching! It was excellent timing, because we were right in the middle of humpback whale migration season. We saw a baby whale who hadn’t quite worked out how to use its tail yet, and was being guided along by its very patient mother, and a whole bunch of adult whales who swam right up to the boat and dived underneath us and stuck their heads out of the water to have a look at us, and generally spent about forty-five minutes watching us as closely as we were watching them.

It was amazingly wonderful. Even the bloke who owned the boat and had been doing trips like this for eight years was jumping up and down with excitement.

After Byron Bay, I went to Sydney for a couple of days to visit bookshops and talk in schools. That was fun, too. It’s always a delight visiting booksellers, most of whom are so passionate about what they do.

I’ll be in Sydney again for Book Week. In the meantime, I’m writing talks, writing workshops and sowing tomatoes. And the Book That Wants To Be Written Next is gradually becoming clearer in my mind.

The trouble with possibilities

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This post was supposed to go up a few weeks ago – in fact I thought it had gone up. But when I went to look for it, it had disappeared. I’ve just realised that instead of clicking on ‘new post’, I clicked on ‘new page’. So I’m going to repost it, because it’s still relevant. Here it is:

For a while now, I’ve thought I knew what I was going to write when I finished the Rogues trilogy. I’ve even talked about it as the Book That Wants to Be Written Next. But as that time gets closer, I get less certain.

The thought of finishing the Rogues delights me, partly because it’s always nice finishing something, and partly because I’ve been working on it for three years now, and coming to the end of it opens up so many possibilities. Plus I’m bursting with ideas – here are the early notebooks for some of them. They’re all interesting, they’ve all got potential, they’re all begging to be written.

Which creates an unexpected problem. How do I decide which one it’s going to be?

I’ve been worrying about it for the last couple of weeks, turning it over and over in my mind. But yesterday I remembered something really important: I can’t make this sort of decision by rational thinking.

I’ve been in this situation before, though probably not with such an embarrassment of choices. And whenever I try to push one of those choices to the front, because that’s the one I think I want to write, I end up in a mess.

It’s a bit like a small theatre company trying to put on a play that the director loves and everyone else hates. The director (my thinking self) is wildly keen, and pushes ahead believing that everything is going to be all right. But the actors and designers and everyone else (my creative self, my subconscious self – in other words, all the really important bits) are sulking and going slow, and after a while the whole thing creaks to a halt. Or crashes dramatically. Or goes up in flames after a bit of late-night sabotage.

So I’m trying really hard to stop thinking, and to remain in a state of openness, with some mild curiosity around the edges. And to trust that the book that really wants to be written will climb to the top of the pile and announce itself in unmistakable tones. Plus a few trumpets to catch my attention.

It’s surprisingly hard not to think too much.

Added today: I was talking about this to a friend who works with computers, and his experience was exactly the same. ‘I’ve learnt to trust my stomach,’ he said. ‘If someone offers me a project, I always let it sit for a couple of days until the answer comes to me. It’s much more reliable than my brain.’

So I thought this was a creative problem, but it’s not. It’s a ‘how to make good decisions’ problem. Staying with uncertainty and doubts for a while, being willing to tolerate not knowing, instead of rushing after certainty.

(And two weeks after I wrote the original post, I still don’t know what I’m going to write next, though the pile has narrowed itself down a bit.)


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I have a tendency to rush my endings. I’ve known about it for a while, but it’s hard to get past it because once the book gets to a certain point, the momentum picks up and everything’s driving forward and I LIKE it going fast because it’s nice and dramatic and I don’t want anything to slow it down.


I sent the latest draft of Book 3 (Haunted Warriors) to Peter Matheson this week. He’s my first reader, and reads all my books before they go to the publisher – has done right from the beginning, starting with Museum of Thieves. I have great trust in him – he’s a dramaturg by trade, which gives him a keen eye for the shape of the story, amongst other things.

And when we spoke on the phone, he said I’d rushed the ending.


So this week I’m going to look at it again. Because as Peter pointed out, there are some things/characters near the end that really shouldn’t be rushed because they are so important, and it wouldn’t hurt to spend a bit more time on them.

But the good news is, the book is almost finished. By which I mean not finished, exactly, because there’s still the whole editing process to go through with my publisher, and that always takes a while. But almost finished enough to send to my agent, who will send it to the publisher. And that’s always a major milestone.

Particularly considering that it’s not due until October 1.

I’m a bit astonished at being so far ahead of schedule. I think it must be because I took more care over my initial plotting. I usually get to the point with my plots where they seem good enough and I’m impatient to start writing. Which invariably means that the first draft is full of enormous holes, and things that don’t make sense, and scenes that end up getting cut entirely.

But with this book I actually kept going with the plot until I’d fixed most of the holes. So although my first draft was still a mess, it wasn’t nearly as much of a mess as usual.

Hmm, must remember this for the next book. Whatever it might be.

Secret projects

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I always like to have a secret project or two on the go. Something with no contract, no expectations. Something I can muck around with when the book gets overwhelming, or when I’ve got a bit of spare time.

Friday before last, I finished a draft of Rogues Book 3, Haunted Warriors, and wanted to take a bit of time away from it so it could cook. So for the last week, I’ve been working on Secret Project #3.

(Actually, I suppose it’s Secret Project #2 now. Secret Project #1 was the picture book, Ella and the Ocean, and that’s not a secret anymore, so everything has moved up one place.)

I hadn’t looked at this particular project for quite a while, so it was nice to discover that I was further along with it than I’d thought. In fact, I had a whole finished draft. But my first drafts are always pretty sketchy, so I spent last week opening things up a bit and making the people more real.

Now of course I want to keep going with it, because it’s nearly done. But I’ll go back to Haunted Warriors, because I do want to see how it reads, after a week away from it. And how Duckling and Pummel are getting along. And the chicken …

Incidentally, Rogues Book 2, Secret Guardians, has just gone to the printer!


Starting with Lord Rump

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I’m going to the Byron Bay Writers Festival at the beginning of August. There’s a primary school program before the festival proper, so I’m spending a bit of time this morning (and this week) working on my presentation.

One of the things I had a lot of fun with when I talked about The Hidden Series was getting audiences to make up a group story in the middle of my talk.

So I’ve been trying to work out how I can do that with The Rogues, too. And I think I’ve solved it.

The trick is to begin with one of my inspirations and see where else it might go. So with The Hidden Series, I started off telling kids the same story my father told me, about his cousin Norman who ran away from home at the age of sixteen and stowed away on a ship going to the Antarctic.

With this new trilogy, I’m going to start with Lord Rump. He was inspired by a conman I met in Spain many many years ago – a charming, well-dressed elderly gentleman who very successfully fooled me out of some money.

At the moment, the talk is also encompassing the Paris catacombs, the time I was arrested for busking, and the miniature spiders that live among the rocks on kunanyi/Mount Wellington.

Now I just have to get the timing right.

Busy busy busy

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Last week started off very gently, with me working my way towards the end of Haunted Warriors (The Rogues book 3). I love being in the middle of writing a book – there’s something very peaceful about it. Especially since I’m still working in my new office, i.e. in bed. 🙂

In the gaps, I was working on a twenty-five minute talk for the Byron Bay Writers Festival at the end of July.

But halfway through the week, things started piling in. Firstly, I was asked (and agreed) to write an introduction for an anthology of short stories that I had helped judge. Secondly, the designer of my new website sent me the links so I could start writing material for it (including a previously unpublished short story, ‘The Last Brizzlehound’.

Thirdly, I received the typeset pages for Secret Guardians (The Rogues book 2) with a note that it has to go to the printer a month early because they’ve got a bottleneck of hardbacks coming up and they won’t be able to meet their delivery dates unless they get it early. So could I please proofread it really quickly.

As my favourite character in Secret Guardians would say, ‘Eek!’

I thought the proofreading would be fairly straightforward, as there usually isn’t too much to do by that stage. But when I came to the last few chapters, I realised there were problems. Things slowed down a bit too much. And I wasn’t happy with the motivations of one of the characters, Sooli, because it made her seem a bit nasty, which she isn’t.

So I’ve spent the last few days cutting out the slow bits, making corrections, and trying to get Sooli right. I think I’ve got it now. I will reread my changes tomorrow, then get it all off to Kate, my editor.

Then I’ll get back to Haunted Warriors. And the anthology introduction, which is one of those things I tear my hair over. And then the talk for Byron Bay. And then the website. As long as nothing else comes up in the meantime.

Really, I like it much better when things are quiet.

Maps, Shine Mountain and fairy tales

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I love a book with maps. As soon as I see a map in the front of a book, I get a little fizz of excitement, as if I’m preparing for a great and dangerous journey. Here’s the map from Julie Hunt’s new novel, Shine Mountain.

Julie and I have been friends for years, dating from the writers’ group we used to be part of before either of us started writing for children. Back then, I was writing plays for puppetry, and she was writing the most beautiful poetry, which I still stumble across every now and again when I’m sorting out random boxes of papers and photos.

For the last few years, Julie and I have been helping each other with our launches. We send the other person an advance copy of the book in question, then catch up for a cup of tea and throw ideas around, and laugh ourselves silly and throw more ideas until something sticks. In this way, we both manage to have launches that are more interesting than usual.

That’s how I came to read an advance copy of Shine Mountain a few weeks ago, before I went to New Zealand.

Gorgeous cover, yes? And the book is gorgeous, too. A lush, imaginative adventure about a girl who finds a magical musical instrument, a boy from a travelling medicine show, and their perilous journey to a mysterious land.

So that one is up for a reread, now that it’s officially launched.

Meanwhile, a friend has been clearing out her late husband’s bookshelves. I put my hand up for several books, then forgot about them. Yesterday she arrived with a large paper bag and these inside.

There were other books too, but these are the ones I’m excited about.

Which brings me to this T-shirt.

I want one.

How to have a good holiday

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I’ve always been fairly bad at holidays–the ones where I go away, that is. I’m good at the ones where I stay at home and read lots of books and do lots of gardening. But going away has always been a problem, mainly because I get bored. Even in a really spectacular place, there’s a limit to how much sightseeing a person can do. (And New Zealand is spectacular.)

But I think I’ve discovered the trick, for me at least.

1. Take some writing with me. Not the book I’m working on currently, because that wouldn’t be a holiday, but something new. Something that’s been niggling at me for a while, and that I can play with when I need a bit of grounding. Because that’s what writing does – it grounds me. As a friend said, you’re at home in the world when you’re writing, no matter where you are.

2. Run a couple of workshops while I’m away. This gives the trip a bit of focus, and also gives me the chance to meet the local children and teachers, and see how they do things. I ran two lots of workshops in New Zealand. In Christchurch, I worked with a group of Year 7s on building their own fantasy worlds. That was fun. And in Queenstown, I worked with three different classes of Year 5s, doing the Imagination Olympics.

The Imagination Olympics is now one of my favourite workshops. It has teams, frantic competition for points, maps, a whistle (because I’m the umpire), brainstorming, and gold medals for the winning team. It is HUGE fun, and the three different classes really enjoyed it.

And then I came home to find that my niece, who was house-and-Harry sitting while I was away, had crocheted me a pair of mittens, and woven a basket from the coloured rope that washes up on the beach. Beautiful, yes?

So I’m feeling very relaxed, which is just as well because now I need to get stuck back into the third book in the Rogues trilogy. Tomorrow I’ll read through what I’ve written so far and start getting my head back into the world of Duckling and Pummel.

What am I reading (apart from my own writing)?

Squire, the third book in Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small quartet. This series is so gorgeous, as the main character, Kel, continues in her determination to be a knight, despite the many people who want to stop her.



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Every now and again I get these Enthusiasms. (Note to self: check definition of ‘enthusiast’ and ‘enthusiasm’ in the dictionary, especially the bit where it says ‘self-deluded’ and ‘irrational’.)

The pattern goes something like this – I’ve just finished a particular stage in writing a book, e.g. I’ve handed in the copy edit. And with a few days fancy free before I need to start something else, I’m suddenly struck with the desire to write something completely different. Like – um – a novel for adults retelling the Bluebeard story.

I get really excited about it, and get out a notebook and start jotting down ideas. I have a wonderful first few lines, which spur me on even more, because this book is going to be amazing.

(Note to self: I don’t actually have time to write this book. No, not even if I write it in the gaps. Which don’t actually exist. And I’ve tried writing two novels at the same time, and it just doesn’t work. *sigh* I’m not listening, am I.)

For about three days, this idea rages inside me, and I do write in the gaps, carrying my notebook with me everywhere I go and working on the story while I wait for appointments.

Then, just as suddenly as it came, the Enthusiasm disappears, and real life creeps back in. And I see that no, I don’t have the time. And although it’s a good idea, I don’t want to write it.

You’d think I’d know better by now than to be caught up – and really, I do. I’ve noticed the symptoms and stopped myself in the very early stages several times over the last couple of years. But this time it snuck up on me – probably because I’m going to New Zealand this week and am a bit distracted.

So now I have several pages of Bluebeard that will sit in the back of my cupboard for the next few years, slowly turning to dust. And yes, the first few lines are terrific. But I don’t want to write the book.

What am I reading?

I’ve started several books that I’d probably like at any other time, but are not enough to hold my attention right now. So I’ve fallen back on an old favourite, The Ladies of Mandrigyn by Barbara Hambly. Here’s the blurb:

‘When the women of the City of Mandrigyn tried to hire the mercenary army of Captain Sun Wolf, to help them rescue their men from the mines of evil, he refused. Little did he realize how insistent the ladies could be, and how far they would go to persuade him to train them against the evil of the wizard Altiokis…’

Great characters, a strong storyline, and an appalling villain looming over everything – just what a distracted person needs.

The importance of titles

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For the last couple of days I’ve been preparing workshops and thinking about the importance of titles. A good title doesn’t just help sell a book/workshop. It helps the author write it.

Museum of Thieves is still one of my favourite titles, because of the way it brings together the unlikely combination of ‘museum’ and ‘thief’. And it was such a strong title that it helped me keep focus through the four years it took me to write it.

I like the three book titles for The Rogues, too. Accidental Heroes, Secret Guardians and Haunted Warriors. I go back to them over and over again when I’m writing, to remind me what the original idea was, and to catch the atmosphere that I want.

A couple of my secret projects have excellent titles – only I can’t tell you what they are, because then they wouldn’t be secret. One of them I got from the radio – I was listening to a talk program in the car and someone was talking about a book they’d written, and I thought, What a great title – what a pity it’s already taken! But then I realised I’d misheard, and their book was called something else, which meant I could write the one with the great title.

The Book That Wants to Be Written Next doesn’t have a title yet, but I’d really like to find one. Soon. One thing I do know, it’s not going to be called The Girl Who (insert word here). The world seems to be awash with The Girl Who books at the moment. I think they started with Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which was a great title. But now everyone has taken it up, and I’m sick of it.

The two workshops I’m taking to New Zealand are called, Whispers in the Dark: build your own fantasy world and The Imagination Olympics. I particularly like the second one.

What am I reading?

I’ve just finished three books that I loved in three completely different ways.

For kids, Page by Tamora Pierce. This is the second book in her Protector of the Small quartet, the story of a young girl who wants to become a knight. I’ve only recently started reading Tamora Pierce – missed out on her somehow. But these books are gorgeous.

For adults, Tin Man by Sarah Winman. It’s one of those books that makes me want to downgrade all my other five star ratings so that this one can stand on its own. Utterly beautiful writing, and a moving and deeply true look at love and grief.

Also for adults, Radiance by Grace Draven. An utterly delightful romance about an arranged marriage between a minor human princess and a minor prince of the Kai, a species that used to hunt humans for food. They’re both quite open about finding the other incredibly ugly, but they’re also sensible people who know the marriage is politically necessary. And they like each other. And when there are misunderstandings, they TALK to each other instead of going off in a huff. So it’s a slow burning and unlikely romance between two really nice mature people. I’ve just bought the second book.