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New book covers

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In my experience, writing novels is a solitary business. It’s just me and my cat Harry, sitting up in bed in our pyjamas.

I know that everyone does it differently – I have writing friends who work with their editor right from the start, talking through the story before a word goes on the page.

I’m much more secretive. If I talk about a book too soon, I’m afraid I’ll lose the energy needed to write it. Or the story-thief (who comes in the night) will steal it. So no one gets to see or hear a thing until I’ve got it as good as I can make it. I hug it, and hiss at anyone who comes too close.

It’s really different from writing for theatre, which is all about collaboration. The only collaboration for me in novel writing is when it comes to editing – and book covers.

I love seeing new book covers. So this was a good week, with news of a paperback edition of Accidental Heroes coming out in June with a new looking cover.

And more news, that the Spanish publishers Anaya have made an offer for Accidental Heroes. Its first translation! And I’m extra pleased about it because Anaya just recently published The Keepers trilogy in Spanish, and they did the most exquisite covers.

I’m hoping they’ll use the same artist, Xavier Bonet, for Accidental Heroes.

What am I reading?

I’ve just finished rereading Diana Wynne Jones’ Dalemark quartet, which begins with Cart and Cwidder.

Each of the books in the quartet is based around different people, but the whole story comes together as a tale of children caught up in a fight against tyranny, with a particularly evil mage behind some of it, and some huge and fascinating magic. I don’t think there’s another author who I love as much as DWJ.

I’ve also read a really good YA novel. Planesrunner by Ian McDonald is based around the multiple universes theory. ‘There is not just one you, there are many yous. We’re part of a multiplicity of universes in parallel dimensions – and Everett Singh’s dad has found a way in. But he’s been kidnapped, and now it is as though Everett’s dad never existed. Yet there is one clue for his son to follow, a mysterious app: the Infundibulum.’

The writing is gorgeous, the story is gripping, and to my delight it’s the first book in a series.

Bird rescue

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I found a lost cockatiel last week. I was just setting off for a walk when I noticed a whole lot of magpies and noisy miners dive bombing something at the corner of my street. (Both magpies and noisy miners hang around in families, and when they find something or someone they don’t like in their territory, they are merciless.)

So I went to see what they were attacking, and saw a grey and white cockatiel, clinging to a brick wall with its wings splayed out, trying to hide from these ferocious birds.

I shooed off the magpies and miners, and picked up the cockatiel – it was pretty tame, didn’t try to escape, though it bit me a few times. It was obviously used to humans.

But then I had no idea what to do with it – I didn’t want to take it home, because I thought Harry would be far too interested in it. And besides I didn’t have a cage or anything else to put it in while I tried to find where it had come from.

So I took it to some friends around the corner who keep birds.

It was still pretty early in the morning, and Tim opened the door a crack and peered out, bleary eyed, in his dressing gown. But when he saw the cockatiel, he and Danielle leaped into action.

They had a rescue cage in the garage, from where they take care of wild parrots who have got drunk on fermented apples and need protection until they sober up again. So they cleaned it out, filled up the feed bowl and the water bowl, and we put the cockatiel in it.

It settled down immediately, and started eating – I think it was pretty hungry. Then it went to sleep. Tim and Danielle said it was pretty young – probably just a few months old.

And then we started talking about how violent the world is outside the illusion of safety that we have created for ourselves. It’s easy enough to see it if you start looking. Cormorants diving for fish. Seagulls watching a family of ducklings in the hope that one will stray far enough from its mother to catch and eat. An inchman ant fighting a battle to the death with an intruder.

And the funny thing is, that we humans almost always sympathise with the victim. Our hearts are with the gazelle, rather than the lion. With the cockatiel rather than the noisy miners. And yet we as a species are the greatest predators of all.

Maybe we have a sort of species memory of the time when we were the prey.

Anyway, the cockatiel is safe and happy, and we are trying to find out where it came from. No luck so far, and if no one turns up to claim it, Tim and Danielle will happily keep it.

New Zealand

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I’m going to New Zealand in May. It’s a holiday, not a book tour, but I’m hoping to visit a couple of schools while I’m over there.

So in between writing Haunted Warriors, I’ve been thinking about the workshops I could offer. I’ve come up with a couple of titles – ‘Whispers in the Dark: how to build your own fantasy world’ and ‘The Imagination Olympics’. They both sound like fun. Now I just have to write them. 🙂

I’ve never been to New Zealand before, which is a bit ridiculous, given how close it is to Tasmania. Everyone who’s been there says it’s spectacularly beautiful, particularly the South Island, which is where I’m going.

I’m going to spend a few days in Christchurch and Akaroa. Then down to Queenstown and Te Anau to have a look at the fiords.

But no bungy jumping. Definitely no bungy jumping.

Meanwhile, one of my nieces is coming to house sit and look after Harry.

There was a sad (but happy ending) story on the news yesterday about an old man in northern Tasmania who died, and no one knew he’d gone. And his two old dogs guarded his body for two weeks. When the police came, they wouldn’t let them near the man at first.

Anyway, the happy bit was that a really good home has been found for the dogs, which doesn’t always happen with old animals, because they need a lot of care.

Which got me thinking about Harry. He’d guard my body too, but only because he’s very possessive about his food. By the time the police arrived there’d be very little left.

I must warn my niece.

Who’s telling the story?

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Someone asked me a question on Goodreads this week – why didn’t I give Sharkey a voice in Fetcher’s Song/Battlesong (The Hidden Series book 3)?

Sharkey

It’s ages since I read it, so I had to go back and check. But this was my answer:

‘There just wasn’t room to give Sharkey a voice in the third book. I needed to have Petrel’s and Fin’s voices, because they’d been in the story since the beginning. I needed to have Dolph’s because she was somewhere else doing different (important) things. And I needed to have Gwin’s because she was the main character in the third book. If I’d added Sharkey’s voice as well, it would have got too confusing. A pity, but when you’re writing a book you have to make these choices. Some people will agree with them, some won’t.’

Anyway, that question got me thinking about who tells the story. Because if you as reader can see into someone’s head, you’re much more likely to be sympathetic towards them. (Unless of course that someone is a psychopath, like the Harshman, in which case what’s going on inside them will probably make you want to stick your head under a pillow.)

When my editors read the second book in the Rogues trilogy, they were concerned about a character who was basically good, but was doing bad things to Duckling and Pummel. ‘Kids won’t understand why she’s doing these things,’ they said. ‘They won’t like her. We think you should give her a voice.’

My editors are generally sensible people, and they know what they’re talking about, so when I rewrote the book, I added in some new sections from this character’s point of view. And it made a huge difference – she immediately became more likeable.

At the moment, I’m working on the third book, and I’m coming up against the same problem with the same character. I wasn’t going to give her a voice until later in the book, but she’s behaving badly again, so I spent Friday rewriting a scene in her voice, so that we could see why she’s doing what she’s doing. (Hint: she’s scared out of her wits.) And once again, it makes all the difference.

I just have to be careful that I don’t end up with too many voices. Because I don’t want to drop any, especially the chicken. What’s going on inside her head just makes me laugh.

The trouble with chickens

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The trouble with chickens is, they never do what they’re supposed to. If there’s a bit of garden you don’t want them to go near, they’ll head straight for it. If there’s a bit of garden you do want them to dig, they won’t be the least bit interested.

Turns out it’s the same for imaginary chickens.

If you’ve read Accidental Heroes, you might remember Otte’s pet chicken, Dora. She only plays a very small part in the first book, but becomes way more important in the second. And in the third book she’s—

No, I’d better not tell you. It would give away too much. And besides, I’m not even sure myself after what happened on Friday.

I’ve started on the second draft of Book 3, and I thought I knew how she was going to behave. But right at the beginning of the book, she did the complete opposite of what I was expecting. And now I don’t know how to get her out of the trouble she’s got herself into.

Of course I could rewrite that section and make her do what I wanted. But that’s never a good idea – these unexpected gifts from the imagination often turn out really well in the end. And saying no to them feels a bit like those people in fairy tales who refuse to help the poor old woman, or the injured bear, or the trapped bird.

In fairy tales, it’s never a good idea to refuse to help someone. And in writing, it’s never a good idea to reject unexpected gifts.

So for now, this stubborn and disobedient chicken is going her own way, and I’m going to watch and see what happens. I just hope she makes it to the end of the book alive …

 

 

A mighty fine week

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You know how there are some weeks when everything seems to go right? Well, this has been one of those weeks. The early morning writing regime has worked brilliantly, and I did five days of solid work without distractions.

Why did it make such a difference? I think it’s something to do with how easily our minds fill up with rubbish.

Up until this week, I’ve been doing a whole lot of other stuff before I get down to writing – checking my email, checking the news, taking the neighbour’s dog for a walk, having a shower, having breakfast …

So by the time I start writing, my head is full of tangles. Which makes it really hard to focus.

But if I don’t do any of those things, the only things inside my head are night dreams and early morning wonderings, which help the writing rather than hindering it.

So it’s early morning writings again this week, and my aim is to get this draft finished by the end of March. Here’s my new office – i.e., my bed.

But a new writing regime wasn’t the only nice thing that happened. On Thursday morning, I got a message from author Jo Sandhu: ‘You need to check the Aurealis Awards shortlist.’

I checked it. And there was Accidental Heroes, shortlisted for the Best Australian Children’s Novel! *puffs out chest with delight*

The only one I have read – apart from my own – is The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, which is a gorgeous book. So I’m setting out to read the others. Assessing the competition. Ha!

Early mornings

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I love early mornings – always have. That time of day when there’s hardly anyone else around, when the birds are waking up and the air is clear and clean. Especially after rain.

For me, it’s the best time of day for doing just about anything, especially going for walks on the beach or in the bush. Which makes things complicated, because there’s only a certain amount of early morning, and only a certain number of things I can fit into it.

Right now, I’m trying to make writing one of those things.

It’s all about self-discipline. Last Friday, I started trying to write the beginning of Haunted Warriors (The Rogues #3), and because beginnings are always hard, I was endlessly distracted. It was far too easy to turn to email and the internet and everything else, and I didn’t get much further than the first line.

So now I’m trying something new. Early morning writing. In bed.

Here’s my new routine, at least for the next couple of weeks: get up, turn off the internet, feed Harry (top priority for at least one person in this household), have a quick walk around the garden, make a cup of tea, grab the laptop and take it and the cup of tea back to bed. Write.

It’s always been one of my favourite times for writing. Years ago, I used to wake up, sit up, grab a writing pad and pen from beside my bed and write whatever came into my head for ten minutes. It was good discipline, and it taught me a lot about writing.

This is different, because I’m trying to write a novel rather than just writing practice. But I think it will help, all the same. Maybe it’s just changing routine. Maybe it’s the quietness. Maybe it’s Harry’s company. 🙂

I’ll see how I go this week, and report back next Sunday.

Horrible old sayings

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You know how there’s sometimes a good deal of common sense and wisdom in the old sayings that have been passed down through the generations?

Yes, well sometimes there isn’t. This last week I’ve stumbled across three old sayings that fill me with horror.

The first is probably the worst. ‘A wife, a dog and a walnut tree; the more you beat them the better they be.’

It’s hard to know how to react to such an obviously appalling statement, except with open-mouthed wonder that there were once enough people who believed it to turn it into a common saying.

I don’t even know if it’s true about the walnut tree. Probably not. Ugh.

Here’s the second saying: ‘You have to be cruel to be kind.’

Now there’s actually a teensy weensy bit of truth in this. There are some things that are better done quickly, to get them over with, rather than dragging out the agony. E.g. ripping off a band-aid, breaking up a relationship. I guess you could ALMOST call that having to be cruel to be kind.

But whenever I see this saying, I remember Mr Goss, who lived next door to my family when I was a kid. When I was about seven he got a new pup, and he was determined to make it obey him. When it didn’t (because it was only a pup, and he was a rotten dog trainer) he whipped it. And when I protested, he said, ‘You have to be cruel to be kind.’ And kept whipping it.

I have loathed that saying ever since. Want to be kind? Then be KIND!

The third saying is a bit more subtle in its revoltingness. ‘A coward dies a thousand deaths, a brave man only one.’

I suspect this is a remnant of the British Empire, where being a coward was the worst possible fate, and Honour and Courage were all that really counted. Except Honour and Courage were defined in a really strange way.

Because the people who die a thousand deaths (i.e. imagine their deaths over and over again before they actually happen) aren’t cowards. They are simply people with very good imaginations. And anyone who never ever thinks about their death before it happens probably has no imagination at all. Nothing to do with courage. Nothing to do with cowardice.

Ugh again.

So – glad I got that off my chest. Anyone got another saying that they hate?

Win a book for Christmas!

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Would you like to win a signed copy of my latest middle-grade fantasy adventure, The Rogues Book 1, Accidental Heroes? Or a signed copy of Icebreaker? I’m running a competition for Christmasand you can enter it three times!

Here’s how to enter:

1. Follow me on Instagram, like the competition post, tag two people in the comments (make sure it’s two people who might like to win a book) and tell me which of the two books you’d choose if you won.

2. Like my Facebook page, like and share the competition post, and tell me which book you’d like to win. (You’d better tell me that you’ve shared the post, too.)

3.  Subscribe to this blog – the link is on the left-hand side of the page somewhere. You’ll need to watch out for an email that confirms the subscription – it might turn up in your spam folder. Leave a comment on this blog post telling me which book you’d like to win.

I’ll be drawing the competition on Saturday, December 2.  It’s open to anyone anywhere in the world – though I can’t guarantee that the book will get to you by Christmas.

Good luck!

Love Your Bookshop Day

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Last Saturday was Love Your Bookshop day, and I was invited to Dymock’s bookshop in Hobart, along with Katherine Scholes and Adrian Beck, to talk to people and answer questions.

I was a bit worried that no one would have any questions for me, so I took along a competition, and whenever I saw a kid who looked as if they fitted somewhere between the ages of eight and sixteen, I grabbed them. This was the scenario: their best friend was trapped in a house with three entrances. One of the entrances was guarded by a vicious dog, one was guarded by two members of a criminal gang armed with knives, and the other one had three padlocks which were checked by one of the criminals every twenty minutes.

And the question? How would they rescue their friend, using trickery, not violence? (They only had to get through one of the gates, and could choose which one.) The prize was an advance copy of Accidental Heroes, the first book in the Rogues Trilogy, to be delivered to them some time in September.

At the end of two hours I had a stack of entries.

So when I got home, I settled on the sofa with a vanilla slice and made a short list.

Most of the kids tried to get through the gate guarded by the dog, and the favourite method was to tempt it away with a bit of steak or something similar. But there were some clever variations on that. Here’s the shortlist. I haven’t chosen the winner out of these three yet.

1. Give a large piece of meat to the criminals on door 2. Then make a trail of meat to the dog at door 1. Then the dog would go after the meat and scare the criminals off. (Hannah)

2. I would let the dog see me so that it starts barking and brings the guards of the second entrance over. While the guards are distracted with the dog I will sneak through the second entrance. I would leave clothing near the dog so that the guards think that the dog has finished me off, and then they won’t come looking for me. (Adelle)

3. I would call the pound, say that the dog is homeless, and then they would come and get the dog and while they were taking it away, I would run in and save my friend. (Layla)

Which one do you think should win?