Friday, September 26, 2014

I suffer from puijilittatuq

You know that feeling when your brain is buzzing, the lights are flashing and the world is greener than ever and you can't sleep because you just have to write it all down....

And often you can't because there are too many ideas and smells and images and nowhere near enough words? So you just sit there and dream.

There's a word for that feeling and I found it today. I have spent most of the afternoon learning to spell it.


It's an Inuit word which translates to:  “He does not know which way to turn because of the many seals he has seen come to the ice surface.”

As a writer I suffer from chronic puijilittatuq. I would be so much more prolific and probably a much better writer if I could only get this problem under control. Not a hope though. I've been like this all my life.

I'd like to know how to pronounce it. Does anyone have any ideas? Even Google failed me. All it had to offer was it's not a valid Scrabble word and there are no images to match it on Flickr. I could have guessed that!


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Book Week, Hat-flipping and the Reason Why

 Book week has an osmotic way of seeping into the weeks around it, whether its preparation or pre and post book Week school visits. It’s an exhausting time. Most of my commitments are in Sydney so it’s a four hour round trip on the train each day. But I love it. The kids are the best reward ever.

I never intended to visit schools. I was comfortable and experienced speaking in front of a hall full of adults but a library full of children terrified me. How could I possibly be entertaining? They would laugh (I have since discovered this is the pinnacle of success – when you can get a roomful of kids to laugh!).

But the year my first book was released, the Primary School English Teachers Association (PETA) decided to run a course to encourage debut authors to present in schools and I was invited to attend.

The message in Val Noake’s opening speech spoke directly to me. She said  you can write in your office and go nowhere and kids will still love your work or go into schools and use your persona as an author to encourage children to read and write. How could I ever even think of foregoing that?

Over two days I learned from the experts. I remember sessions by Sue Whiting, Deb Abela and Jeni Mawter. Then I was paired with a “mentor” who helped me prepare for my first school visit. If I wasn’t already on convinced, working with Deb Abela (enthusiastic, talented and all-round lovely person) would have persuaded me.

To my surprise, I found I loved school visits. Even the “hat-flipper” couldn’t faze me. There’s usually one in a session – the pre-bored child who doesn’t want to be there and fiddles with his/her hat or shoe-laces or pen or whatever they just found in their pocket.  They became my motivation. If I could get them engaged, the presentation was a win!

Just this week, yet another instance confirmed why I love working with kids and literature. After a large Year 3 – 6 session, a group of kids crowded around to ask one more question or share their current WIP. One small boy, probably Year 3, waited until everyone else had left. Then he blurted: ”I’m going to try hard. I’m going read all your books. I’m going to try really, really hard.” I guessed that my books would be a struggle for him and we had a talk about reading in general and how much fun it might be to read alternate paragraphs with mum or dad.

After he left the librarian said: “I never thought I would ever hear him say that.” I asked if he would be able to read my books and she shook her head. “He’s not at his reading year level yet.” So my work was not done. I hadn’t put the right book in his hand. I had inspired but once the book was opened, he would probably give up.

I often show kids the first book I wrote, Ratbags, part of an Aussie Schoolbooks leveled reading set for Year 3. I figured it would be just right, especially with its wonderful quirky illustrations by Peter Viska. So I gave it to the librarian and asked her to tell my newest fan that I had donated it to his library because I was so impressed with his determination to get reading and I had specifically asked for him to be given the first chance to borrow it.

I hope he did. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

WiP Sneak Peek

Five Parts Dead
When Tim Pegler (whose 2010 novel Five Parts Dead remains a favourite of mine) tagged me to share 7 lines from page 7 or 77 of my current WiP, I was keen to see what snippet I would find. Little did I know it was really a challenge – a dare to see if I was brave enough.

I should have known it wasn’t going to be as easy as it first sounded. Especially after I read Tim’s post about how when he counted  out the lines, he had to wrestle with writerly scruples because he wasn’t happy with what he found there.

The power of the force urging an edit is strong in this one too. But then I decided that although editing never ends - same thing, fifty times over, fifty times better - it’s got to start somewhere. 


So I bit the bullet and am baring the lines, as is, bleached bones and all. I am working on two manuscripts.

Here is the YA (page 77):

The mist dissolved and the shadow grew thin ephemeral arms, legs and wings. It perched on the sea wall like a pale goblin.
Rebekah could see it was not a ghost. Ollie was right about that but it wasn’t an illusion either. It was something old and dark, dangerous and uncertain.
“I have to go."
“Will you come back?” it asked.
She knew she shouldn't.

And here is the Middle Grade (page 7)

He sat on his rock as the sun rose and watched the sugar ants counting.  Burroc liked to listen to them work. Numbers flew in all directions.  The short chubby one was counting children, three others were counting food and one was counting the counters. 
“How many?” Burroc asked.
“Shhh,” chorused the ants. 
“I lost count,” a little one wailed. 


And so to share  - I tag the following fabulous writerous types - Richard Newsome (The Billionaire series), Aleesah Darlison (Ash Rover series, Unicorn Riders series) , Alison Reynolds (A Year with Marmalade, A New Friend for Marmalade)  and Jackie Hosking (The Croc and the Platypus). I’m looking forward to peeking into their WiPs.
Ash Rover series
The Billionaire series
A New Friend for Marmalade
The Croc and The Platypus




Friday, August 15, 2014

The Croc and the Platypus Blog Tour

Every writer I’ve met (and that’s heaps) secretly wants to write a picture book (including me). I think it’s something to do with the magic of distilling a story into a small number of perfect words and then having an illustrator perform even more magic on them.

Recently at SCBWI ANZ Conference 2014 I attended an In Conversation session about the creative process for a new Walker Books Australia picture book, TheCroc and the Platypus. The session featured Jackie Hosking (author), Marjorie Crosby-Fairall (illustrator) and Sue Whiting (editor). After the session was over, I wanted to know more. So I am particularly pleased to be a stop on the Croc and Platypus blog tour and to have the chance to ask Jackie and Marjorie some questions of my own.


Jackie, we hear all the time that rhyming picture books are incredibly difficult to write although you obviously have a talent for it.


Was there a portion of text that you had to work extra hard at?
The difficult thing about writing in rhyme is refusing to compromise on the right word to suit the rhyme or the meter.

 In the first line of the second verse – there are three verses in all, I compromised, and while the whole story was accepted by Walker Books, that line wasn’t. What was interesting is that I didn’t like that line either. Here’s how the original line looked…
Platy said with a smile, to the cool Crocodile
“I have an idea to present….

No one calls a platypus, Platy, it sounds forced. One suggestion was to change the animal from a Platypus to something else. This was not acceptable to me; it had to be a platypus as it represented the soft pussy-cat character from The Owl and the Pussy-Cat.  I didn’t voice my concern at the time because I knew with some effort, I could fix it. And I did. The line now reads…
The platypus smiled, saying after a while,
“I have an idea to present…
The perfectionist in me struggled a bit with the fact the ‘smiled’ and ‘while’ are not perfect rhymes but I had to let that go because that was a very small sacrifice to make and it allowed me to keep the platypus in the story.

Was there a portion that just fell into place? Why do you think this happened?
The first verse is pretty much unchanged from the original though I did modify one line. This changed from…
And packed it all up in the boot
to
And bundled it up in the boot
‘Bundled’ is a stronger verb, more descriptive and it allowed me to get rid of the word ‘all’ and as an added bonus it complimented the word ‘trundled’ which is found at the beginning of the poem.

I’m not sure why it fell into place so easily. I think having The Owl and the Pussy-Cat as a template forced my hand into choosing particular words. I really wanted to emulate Lear’s rhyme and meter with no compromise, easier said than done! At the most basic level, for instance, the animals had to have names consisting of one and three syllables respectively. And the three syllable name had to have the stress fall on the first syllable. An echidna, for example would not fit the meter as the stress falls on the middle syllable which would not do at all.

How long did you spend working on this book from first word to submission?
I wrote the first draft in early 2011 and sent it to Walker in May of that year. In 2012 I was awarded a Maurice Saxby Mentorship where I was able to utilise the wisdom of many experienced professional. During that time I worked on The Croc and the Platypus and as a result improved it. I sent the improved version to Walker in May 2012 so in a way I have two submission dates.

What research did you need to do for this book?
Well I obviously needed to know The Owl and the Pussy-Cat inside out and I also wanted to include as many Australian icons as I could, given the brevity of the poem.

As I’ve used Uluru as the camping spot I was interested to know its meaning. This is included in the glossary at the back of the book along with a description of the other Australian icons mentioned in the story, things that non-Australians may not be familiar with.

Marjorie, Was there a portion of text that immediately visually appealed to you? 
Well, Sue Whiting from Walker Books asked me to present a rough sketch for one spread to make sure we were all “on the same page” before I launched into creating the storyboard roughs for the entire book. She suggested the text:
They barbecued fish, their favourite dish,
Then gobbled some lamingtons too.

This text was immediately appealing and ideas sprang to mind very easily. I could readily imagine two fat and happy friends lounging around by a campfire as the sun was setting. In fact, the rough didn’t change much from my very first scribbles—the only change was the addition of the fleece tent. I originally had the fleece still rolled up as they had received it from the shearers.
At the time same time I sent Walker the rough for the following spread:
And under the gloss of the bright Southern Cross
They danced beside Uluru…luru,
They danced beside Uluru.


This was another idea which popped into my head fully formed and didn’t change at all from the first rough. I remember I was cooking dinner when I had the idea of how the Croc and the Platypus would dance, I ran into my studio and jotted it down in my notebook, and ran back out before dinner burned!


Do you do the illustrations in story order?
I’m pretty systematic when I work. I chip away until I have thumbnail sketches for the layouts of all the spreads. When I move on to the next stage—storyboard roughs—I DO often get the easier spreads out of the way first. By the time the final roughs are finished, I usually have a pretty good idea of where I’m going with the illustrations so I can illustrate out of order.

With The Croc and the Platypus, the first finished artwork was the spread where the shearer meets the Croc and the Platypus. Donna Rawlins, the art director at Walker Books, had asked me fairly early on to send her one colour spread so she could see what I had in mind for the final style. I chose this spread because it had the main characters, a human figure, and very importantly it was a good sample for showing the colour palette. The story occurs throughout one day, so the lighting and colours need to change to reflect that change in time. This spread is midway thorough the day so the colours are a sort of “base point”—the earlier colours are a bit “cooler” and lighter and the later colours a bit “hotter” and darker. But, hey, maybe I’m the only one who notices that!

Was there a portion of text that you found more challenging to illustrate?
Initially, the more difficult spreads were anything to do with the Ute! I’m not exactly a “car person” so I didn’t have an intuitive response . However, once I found a Holden Ute I liked, it almost became another character with a personality so I found it much easier to draw.

What research did you need to do for this book?
There was actually a lot of research required. I had to find out about Holden Utes, Crocs and Platypus, Sheep, Outback landscape colours and vegetation and many other things. Of course I’m not trying to represent any of these things realistically, but it all goes into the stew and informs the final work.

Thanks for dropping by, Jackie and Marjorie. I wasn't surprised to hear how much work goes into a picture book. I know from experience how hard those few words are. Much harder if they have to rhyme. But I was surprised at the research involved. As author of historical fiction, research is a familiar part of my writing process. I had no appreciation of how much research, by both the author and illustrator, can go into a picture book.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Love Your Publisher - and related wonderfulness

One of the sessions I attended at the Australia-NZ 2014 SCBWI Conference gave the advice “love your publisher”. It was definitely a love-fest at this month’s inaugural Walker Books Australia (WBA) Author-Illustrator Conference. And what was not to love?

It was a time for catching up with old friends - too many to name – and meeting new people like debut author Tonya Alexander whose book Nymph (the first book in the Love Oracle series) was in my reading stack. It was on my to-buy list until I won it as a door prize at the South Coast Illawarra CBCA Annual Dinner.

It was also an introduction to the people who form the Publishing, Marketing and Sales sections of WBA. So brilliant to able to put a face to a name or Twitter handle. Each section overviewed what they did and the ways they could help their authors and illustrators. How terrific is that? I’ve always hesitated to bother anyone but they're happy to be bothered!

Paul McDonald from The Children’s Bookshop was inspiring, charming and knowledgeable (as always) and presented a session on how creators could interact with bookstores. The room buzzed afterwards as ideas and experiences were exchanged. A number of authors decided they needed to move house closer to The Children’s Bookshop.

Ruth Ellis, Children’s Book Buyer at Dymocks spoke about how Dymocks selects it children’s and YA list and the strategies and programs they use to reach their customers.

At lunch everyone played a networking “game” where two of each author/illustrator’s books were provided to be given to a fellow Walker Books creator, to encourage working together and co-promoting. That’s easy for me to do. Just at look at the awesome author and illustrator talent!
My “prize” in this game was Sally Murphy’s beautiful new verse novel Roses are Blue. I read it that night. Having cried in Pearl Verses the World and Toppling, I set myself a challenge with Roses are Blue. I failed.


The first Conference was all very wonderful - the people, the product, the creators. It was a thrill to be a small part of the wonderfulness.

Friday, July 18, 2014

My 7 Personal #SCBWI AusNZ 2014 Highlights

Catching up with distant friends (so many wonderful writers and illustrators hail from Perth) and making new ones. The 2014 Australian-New ZealandSCBWI Conference might just be the most inclusive place on earth.


The Illustrators Showcase. It was spectacular. I still have a severe case of artistic talent envy.


Professor Ernest Bond’s Session Going to the Common Core USA. I was impressed with how a list of ten conceptual points became concrete understandable points when paired with an analysis of an appropriate picture book. I even discovered one I have to have – Last Laughs Animal Epitaphs ( J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolande)  


Tania McCartney and Kathryn Otoshi’s session Getting into the Marketplace. Informative and heart-warming. Tanya is a one-woman dynamo whose unerring vision of herself as a writer/illustrator and dedication to achieving that dream was inspiring. Kathryn’s beautiful picture books and the wonderful success they have had in schools as anti-bullying resources was inspiring too. So that was the message for this session. Be inspired.


The Pitch Sessions. Where two good friends nailed it and each attracted an editor’s attention.


Performance Poetry by Stephen Whiteside. Stephen read a laugh-out-loud poem from his new book The Billy that Died with its Boots On


Book Launches. For the first year in my six years as an author I haven’t had a book to launch (family health issues) but I really enjoyed being part of someone else’s launch. I bought two books:


Crocand Platypus (Jackie Hosking and Marjorie Crosby-Fairall). This a rollicky read-along rhyme to the meter of The Owl and The Pussycat. It was a rollicky launch too! I’m going to give this signed book as a thank you gift to Balgownie Public School library when I visit later this month. Not only were they gracious when I cancelled three!! times due to family ill-health, but they re-booked me as soon as I resumed school visits. I appreciate the support.




Woodlands Whiskers: A New Pet (Gabriel Evans). This beautiful lift-the flap board book is the perfect gift for newest beautiful person in my family – Annabel Louise. I think it might just be her very first book. I’m sure when she’s a bit older she’ll love the mouse Gabriel Evans drew on the back.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Hop

One of the best things about the writing process is the writerly friends I have made along the way, so I am especially pleased to be tagged by Rebecca Newman, writer for children and editor of the wonderful Alphabet Soup blog where you can find book reviews and stories by young readers and writers.

On my one and only visit to Perth (I’m always secretly hoping someone will invite me to another festival there) we caught up for dinner, as Facebook friends always do when their paths eventually cross, and talked kid lit until very, very late.

Rebecca writes picture books and children's poetry. Her poem, Odd Socks, was recently published in The School MagazineCheck out her Writing Process Blog Hop post.
 
Rebecca Newman

So to the business of the day…

What am I working on?

My WIP is a magical realism young adult novel. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever written and I’ve been  working on it for four years. I wrote it in bits and pieces around the final three books in the Samurai Kids series and the severe illness of my youngest son and my own cancer treatment. It has not been an easy writing process.

And it has a protagonist with cancer. The playing field was different when I began to write it. Four years ago there were very few cancer novels and a year ago cancer certainly wasn’t on my personal horizon. This manuscript has truly tested me. I questioned whether there is still a place for it, given the recent spate of YA characters with cancer and I answered I think so. Magical realism makes it different. When I was diagnosed and things were grim there for a while, I questioned whether I could even write about cancer and again I answered I think so. I found that it helped me through some tough spots.
 
A main character: Source:unknown
How does my work differ from others in my genre? 

I am not sure my work has a genre. I write anything and everything – if words are involved, I want to be part of it. The majority of my work to date is middle grade historical fiction. Next year my first picture book will be released and my almost complete WIP is Young Adult. My next project is middle grade fantasy. I think I link ideas together differently, like writing historical fiction set in samurai Japan where the characters each have a disability.

Why do I write what I write?

Oh good, an easy question. I write what the characters tell me to write. If I don’t listen, and I tried it once, they plague me and prod me until I can’t sleep at night and am forced to get up at 2 am to write down their story.

How does my writing process work?

I believe writing is a habit and I write at least 500 words every day. Often they are rubbish and die a horrible death the next morning but usually the manuscript progresses. I write and edit as I go. I am always going back to start at the beginning again. I feel that keeps me in the zone as I move forward and incrementally improves what I’ve already written. I often write the last chapter after the first chapter because I am not a plotter, so I need to know the direction I am going in. It doesn’t usually change a great deal when I get there. I have to work very hard at the 67% mark because by then I know what happens all the way through to the end and I am eager to start something new and different.

I knew I was a writer when I finished my first manuscript. Before that I was forever starting grand projects and never finishing. I am also a believer in a shower as the magical solution to plot problems and the source of story ideas. Recently, I discovered Scrivener, so my writing process has become more organised. The only thing more fun than reading and writing is reading and writing technology.
      
Here are my tags. I have accidentally cheated a little – for someone who claims to love maths and find mathematical patterns in her writing, I've failed basic adding up. I have four tagees instead of three.
 
Jeffery Doherty
I met Jeffery Doherty at the Kids and YA festival at the NSW Writer’s Centre. Jeff is a talented writer and illustrator. When I created some interactive teacher resources to support my novel Polar Boy,  Jeff took one look at my artistic efforts and insisted on painted the pictures for my igloo building quiz. You can see his work here. I was privileged to be an early reader of Jeff’s 2014 debut novel “Paper Magic”, the empowering story of Marina, a girl in a wheelchair who finds strength and friends through magic origami paper. You can find Jeff and his blog here.
 
Michelle Morgan
Michelle Morgan is a former librarian, author and playwright who lives in my local area, although we only met recently at the Illawarra CBCA dinner. Michele’s first book, Racing the Moon, set in Sydney during the Depression, was published in 2014. It's on my desk to read. I've got some catching up as she recently completed the sequel. You can find Michelle’s blog here.
 
Peter Macinnis
I first met Peter Macinnis, although he didn’t meet me, when I reviewed one of his award-winning non-fiction books, The Backyard Naturalist. Peter writes science and history and often the two overlap. I have since acquired a personal collection of Peter’s books because he has a knack for making science accessible for young readers and me (who never paid any attention to science at school). I follow him around on Facebook because I find his posts interesting and often funny. There’s an inspiring amount of writerly detail on his website, so I recommend a visit there and to his blog.
 
Helen Armstrong

Helen Armstrong is another writer who lives not too far from me. I met Helen when were both presenters at the Sutherland Shire Writers Unleashed Festival. Helen is a lady of many talented hats (and a lot of energy!) – president of the Sutherland Fellowship of Australian Writers, scientist, writer of short stories ‘and the occasional outbreak of poetry’, and a lover of mythology, fantasy and satire. Helen will post on her blog hop on her Facebook page.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Long Weekend Reminiscing - Henry Lawson Festival of the Arts 2008

Tuesday morning and I'm sitting down to work after the long weekend. I have a quick check of Facebook first and discover last weekend Penelope Davie mentioned  that she had been to Henry Lawson Festival of the Arts at Grenfell and in the main street was a plaque  with my name on it. What a wonderful memory to start the week with. Thanks Penelope. I searched out the original blog post I did about how that came to be and enjoyed reminiscing so much I decided to repost it.

I've only ever reposted once before (special circumstances)  but recently I've been enjoying a series of reposts by Michael Gerard Bauer.  I missed them first time round so perhaps similarly someone else will enjoy my revisit here. You'll have to scroll down Michael's blog to find the reposts as they have inspired a spate of new new blog posts. I hope this repost works like that for me!!

Here goes:
Being a children’s author can be quite confronting. Embarrassing even. The questions some primary students ask range from jaw-dropping to ego shattering. And on other occasions they can make you feel like Master of the (Writing) Universe. I thought I’d blog about one of my MOTWU moments. I don’t want to mention the others!!!

Back in June 2008 I was guest of honour at the Henry Lawson Festival of the Arts in Grenfell. Grenfell is a tiny rural town in the central west of NSW, population 2200, the birthplace of Henry Lawson. The weekend long Festival is very prestigious. It’s the longest running arts festival in Australia and past guests of honour have included Patrick White, Di Morrissey and Thomas Keneally!

So how did I get this gig? Well, I’m not proud. I’m willing to admit I was the Guest of Honour to Be Named Later. Last Minute actually. TV actor Simon Westaway was the original choice and when he had to cancel, the rush was on to find someone arts-related who would come to no-airport Grenfell at extremely short notice. My sister, who lives on a small farm in the area, happened to mention me. Even if she wasn’t the best sister in the world this would have immediately earned her the dedication in Shaolin Tiger!‘My sister is an author,” she said. “And she visits here all the time.”

So there I was, pretending to be a famous person of literary note. Crowning the beauty queens. Cutting the ribbon. Keynote speaker at the dinner. Presenting trophies and medallions. Conducting TV interviews. Chatting with the writers from Underbelly who were accepting a scriptwriting award. Grenfell opened its heart to welcome me. I think the townspeople were sort of proud that I had a local connection. I might not have been the ilk of the previous guests yet I was an honorary ‘one of their own.”

But my really big moment was absolutely huge. It’s one of the highlights of my writing career. I was sitting on the official dais (trying to look official and literary!) watching the street parade. Around the corner came a local primary school all dressed up as my Samurai Kids. Banging gongs and waving swords and banners. They marched down the main street and when they reached the dais their teacher yelled “Stop”. “Yes Sensei,” they responded.Then they turned to face me and bowed, Japanese style.


I stood and bowed too. And I bawled my eyes out. To be honest, I bawled my eyes out again writing this. It’s still such a vivid and emotional memory.There are many times when I am asked why I don’t write proper books. Books for adults or older readers. Well one day I might write those too but in writing for kids, I am totally fulfilled. I do write proper books. The people who ask that question don’t understand the craft of writing for children. And they certainly don’t understand how wonderful young readers can make their authors feel. It’s real magic.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Word About Word Counts

I've heard it said you shouldn't count the words. Write what you want to. Let the story do the driving. Don't be distracted by the numbers. In a perfect Utopian literary world - and we all know there's no such thing - that might work for some. I always count the words. I think the key is to be aware of the word count but not to worry about it.

Sometimes that's not as easy as it sounds. While writing my first YA novel, I was aware the words were piling up much too quickly. Painfully aware because I was writing outside my comfort zone. But I kept going. I knew if I put the complete story on the page, I could edit out what didn't need to be there and still retain the structure. If I tried to adjust the pacing would be all wrong and this is a book where the chronology of change is important. I know my writing bad habits will make it easy to reduce the number of words. I write a lot of fluff and over fill that screams to be deleted the first time I redit.

Words counts are critical to me on a maintenance basis. They establish my writing habit. I write 500 words a day. Every day. I'm not a fast writer so sometimes even that's hard. When I'm talking about output I'm happy to include anything creative I write. Even this blog post. It's not about getting the story completed, its about muscle memory for good writing habits.

AR BookFinder: Samurai Kids #2: Owl Ninja
For the first draft I like to know where I'm going word count wise even though I don't let it dictate to me. I know when I begin to redraft I will inevitably cut and add large chunks so at this stage all I need to do is head in the right direction.

How do I know what a reasonable word count is? I ask the  books I love and respect, the ones I wish I had written and occasionally, one that I did! I look up the word counts of any of these books with similar genre and target readership on the AR Bookfinder site.To find the word count search by author or title and when the book is displayed, click on the tile for more details including the word count.

Samurai Kids #8: Black tengu
My book is magical realism so I've got some leeway. Fantasy novels are often twice the word count of realistic novels and at 90,000 (after 5 edits) I'm currently sitting in between. I can go either way and no doubt I will in both directions before I am happy.

I have strategies I use when I edit. Some of these raise the word count (like upping the conflict and mending plot holes) and some whittle it away (like removing adverbs,redundancy and extraneous, tightening description and deleting unnecessary dialogue). But I never focus on any particular one for the sake of word count.

Somehow in the end it ultimately all comes together. Except once. The last Samurai Kids book, Black Tengu, was too short. I suspect I was in too much of a hurry to tell Sensei's story and I left a big chunk of it inside my head. But that meant when I had to expand, the words all there ready and waiting. Fasted 4,000 words I ever wrote!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Why I Like Maths - A Visual Explanation - Enter the Mandelbrot



Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/
It’s about patterns, logic, beauty and infinity.  The best way to demonstrate this is with fractals and specifically The Mandelbrot Set discovered as recently as 1980. 

The Mandlebrot set is a pattern that’s self replicating and unique, its simple and its complex  and its beautiful. It seemingly goes on forever.

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org
It’s been called the definition of infinity and the “thumbprint of God”. I’m inclined to think the latter is true as you don’t have to look very far in the physical world to find Mandlebrot designs – carved in stone on Indian temples, under the microscope, in the fronds of the weedy sea dragon – the list is as endless as a fractal.

I’m not very good at mathematical writing but the best way to explain it that I’ve found is an article by Dave Dewey Introduction to the Mandelbrot Set - A guide for people with little math experience.


Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org
 identical to the whole. In fact, the Mandelbrot set is infinitely complex. Yet the process of generating it is based on an extremely simple equation involving complex numbers.

Fractals are a lot of fun for kids and there are a number of free on-line generators such as Easy Fractal Generator and  Fractal Poster.

Another good place to go is You Tube where in a series of 6 videos science fiction author Arthur C Clarke introduces the Mandelbrot set



Mathematics, Magic and Mystery


I love maths. Specifically I love numbers the way some people feel about art, music and literature. I love words too and most of my friends and family understand that but very few understand my fascination with mathematics.

It’s all about patterns and the concept of infinity – the thrill of a proof that falls into place or knowing a problem has taken to its infinite end. I first discovered the patterns when I learned to count and realised I could just keep going. Numbers were infinite and because there was a pattern to the way they were incremented, I could count all day if I wanted to (and when I was 4 I thought that was heaps of fun).

At school I discovered all sorts of different maths and once again there were patterns to formula, equations and proofs, infinite tendencies to infinity. The mind boggled when I first found out about imaginary and complex numbers. I was four all over again. The possibilities were endless.

At Uni I survived two years of Statistics by applying the patterns and most of the time it worked out right even if I hadn't learned the where and why. I late enrolled in a Maths degree but life got in the way of something I was doing for fun. As an adult maths constricted to become the tedious chore of juggling the budget and for a while the magic disappeared.

Mandlebrot - Mathematics Stack Exchange
Last month was, April 2014, was Maths Awareness Month (MAM), something I discovered thanks to Twitter (‪#‎MathAwarenessMonth‬). The theme for this year was Mathematics, Magic and Mystery, a tribute to mathematics writer Martin Gardner, “whose extensive writings introduced the public to hexaflexagons, polyominoes, John Conway’s Game of Life, Penrose tiles, the Mandelbrot set, and much more. “ (http://www.mathaware.org/index.html ) 2014 is the centenary of his death.


During MAM, I was too preoccupied following up on the wonderful maths relating posts that were appearing in cyberspace to blog about them but I intend to do something about that beginning with The Mandelbrot Set, which is the best way I can find to explain why I like maths.

My Blogging Problem

My problem with blogging is it’s all in my head. I blog mentally all day – it’s a form of talking to myself without words. Because I am a writer those thoughts naturally organise themselves into prose.
It has taken me an embarrassing amount of time to work out why when I am full of ideas and observations, and I love to write, I am such a failure as a blogger. Having done the blog post in my head, I can’t be bothered writing it out. It’s old news to me.

Copyright gapingvoid.com

Now that I have identified the problem, I’m going to make a better effort to empty out my head more regularly.

  • I am going to blog with renewed enthusiasm and purpose because:
  • I like to write and its good practice.
  • I love trawling the Internet for interesting things but I tend to forget them and the ideas they engender.
  • I like to share the things I find.

So I have set myself a challenge and given myself an ultimatum. If I do not blog at least once a week for the next four weeks I will delete my blog and never talk about blogging again!

Monday, March 10, 2014

An Excuse and a Repost: When a Series Ends

I looked at the date on my last blog post and its a very significant one - a week before my total thyroidectomy operation. I had an excellent surgeon but unfortunately there were complications and I hemorrhaged so had to have a second turn in theatre. Recovery took longer than I expected and it wasn't over then. My operation was to remedy swallowing difficulties because of right lobe nodules and the strong possibility the left lobe would cause the same  problems within a few years. After the pathology was done, cancer was found in the supposedly currently innocent left lobe. So I had radioactive iodine therapy and a week in isolation while I was "hot property".

I admit I enjoyed that week because I had time for lots of writing - no-one was allowed near me! I would have preferred a different reason of course but it was all good in the end as I am now cancer free, subject to a lifetime of annual testing for recurrence.

So that is my blogging excuse for the empty months and while I am not big on making excuses I think I had a good one this time.

To kick off a new year of better heath and blogging I am reposting a favourite piece I wrote for the now defunct Walker Book Walk-A-Book blog. I want this piece to have permanent home on the Internet because it lives in my heart every day. I never realised how it would feel when the Samurai Kids series ended. I knew the time had come but it still hurt to let go.

Even now, six months after the last book in the series was published, the Kids still talk to me.

When a Series Ends
I’m currently working on the last book in the Samurai Kids series. I feel a bit sad. Not because the series is ending. I know the timing for that is right. Samurai Kids opened doors for me as a writer, it won awards and brought me a flood of feedback from enthusiastic fans. The story – its journey and its telling -  feels complete.

So why am I sad? Because I know I’ll miss the Kids and I hate to think I’ll never hear their voices in my head again. They argue and fight all the time, but they are the best of friends and they like to gang up on me. They do as they please and have no respect for my role as the author.

Some adult readers have wondered at my choice of a modern tone for the 17th century Samurai Kids’ voices. I think that makes history more accessible to young readers. But to be honest it wasn’t my idea, that’s how the kids speak to me.

The stories grew out of my passion for ancient history, Japan and swordsmanship. I knew that to be a samurai, you had to born into a samurai family. And the children of a samurai family had no choices – it was their destiny to bear a sword. But everyone wanted to be an elite samurai so that part didn’t matter. Or did it? What if you wanted to be a samurai but weren’t very good at it? What if no amount of training would help because it wasn’t something you could change? What if you were born with one leg?

That’s when Niya, the one-legged narrator of the Samurai Kids series, first spoke to me. See for yourself, he said. So I went into my backyard and tucked up one leg. To my surprise I had assumed  the White Crane stance, a form common to a number of martial arts. That’s right, said Niya. I am the White Crane, really good at standing on one leg. Now give it a try and see what it’s like to be me.

I accepted Niya’s challenge. I did a flying one-legged karate kick and landed flat on my face. I had found the first lines to Niya’s story.

‘Aye-eee-yah!’
I scissor kick high as I can and land on my left foot. I haven’t got another one. My name is Niya Moto and I’m the only one-legged samurai kid in Japan. Usually I miss my foot and land on my backside. Or flat on my face in the dirt.
I’m not good at exercises, but I’m great at standing on one leg. Raising my arms over my head, I pretend I am the great White Crane. ‘Look at me,’ the crane screeches across the training ground. ‘Look at him,’ the valley echoes.

Niya laughed at me sprawled on the ground. Then he began to tell me about his friends -  Mikko, Yoshi, Nezume, Kyoko and Taji – and how they all struggled to become samurai despite their disabilities. He told me about their teacher - wise, eccentric Sensei Ki-Yaga, once a legendary warrior. A man who saw their strengths and ignored their weaknesses and taught them the power of working together. Or gently rapped them over the ears with his travelling staff if they didn’t pay enough attention.

Niya confided to me that he thought Kyoko was really pretty. And that sometimes he could hear Sensei talking inside his head. Sensei would talk inside my head too. He would whisper oddly-slanted words of wisdom to make me laugh. Put it in the book, he would say. I’m really very funny. I often didn’t get to write what I wanted to. The kids had their own ideas. I wouldn’t say that. I’m much too brave, Mikko would insist. He’s right you know, Yoshi would agree. Kyoko would get cranky with me if I didn’t let her win all the wrestling matches. I’m a better samurai than those boys. Taji would patiently make suggestions, a blind kid who showed me a different way to look at things.

And when I tried to take them on a journey to India, they refused to go. They had traveled to China, Korea and Cambodia, and now they wanted to go home. That’s when I knew it was time to write the last book. The Kids want to make sure that I get this book right. Even now they’re banding together to convince me I need an epilogue. So readers will know what happened to us. And they want to make sure I reveal Sensei’s secret the way they think is best. They admire him heaps but even more importantly, they love him a lot.

As I type, I can still hear Niya’s voice. Do you think I would ever go away? What about writing a sequel? What about a series all about me? I’m going to be a teacher, just like Sensei. There’ll be a new generation of Samurai Kids. My kids. He sighs. It won’t be the same you know. The golden age of the samurai has come to an end. But I’ve got some ideas. Really big ideas…

For an author, imagination has a way of blurring into reality. Who are you calling not real? the Kids demand to know. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

A is for Asimov and Aldiss

I was thinking about authors that begin with the letter A (as you do!) and the same day read an article about the first science fiction book (believed to be ancient Roman for those interested) and I started to think about Isaac Asimov and the first science fiction book I read. It was I, Robot.


My reading relationship with Asimov began and ended in my first year of high  school. I was a country kid and the pickings in my primary school library and the town library were very slim. But my high school had an almost brand new library with more books than I had ever seen before. I did what any mathematical mind might do when confronted with that - I started at A. When I got to Asimov,I adopted a dual approach. I read every Asimov novel or short story I could find and then moved on to other science fiction, while still working my way through A.

The relationship didn't last because someone returned Helliconia Spring by Brian Aldiss and as I was still on the A shelf I went back to read it. It was a different sort of science fiction, in fact it was science fantasy. For my entire school life it was my genre of choice. I am a much wider reader now, but it is still my comfort zone.

I can't remember anything about I, Robot or even the Foundation series, which for many years was on my list of favourite reads. I even bought my own copies but I don't have them anymore either. There are more books in my life than bookshelves so ultimately Asimov had to go. I found the books a good home - a friend had a house where almost every wall was a built-in floor to ceiling bookcase and every book was science fiction.

While I can't remember the stories, I still remember the feeling of having something new and wonderful to read. That's easy to remember, because it still happens all the time.

PS I still have the Helliconia series and am thinking I might start rereading it tonight.

PPS Other authors that begin with A that I like - Margaret Atwood and Jean Auel (except for the last book in the Earth Children series - one of the only two books I couldn't finish despite waiting ten years for it!). Confession -  I am not a Jane Austen fan (*ducks while many friends throw books at my head*)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Birthday Books

These are my birthday books.

These are the reasons I chose them:

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan -  It was CBCA Book of the Year for Older Readers but that's not why I chose it (although that would have been good enough to influence me). I read Tender Morsels last year and it really engaged my brain. Not many books make me concentrate hard when I read. Usually I find myself reading exponentially faster because I am excited to know what happens in the end. Unfortunately this sometimes interferes with my enjoyment - it's over all too soon. Tender Morsels made me think. And if I got ahead of myself I would quickly realise I had missed something. I like that. It was one of my favourite reads of 2012. I was hoping Sea Hearts would treat me similarly. I say "was" because I've read it now and I was not disappointed. I liked it even more than Tender Morsels.

Pureheart by Cassandra Golds. A Cassandra Golds book changes the colour of my day. Time spent between the pages makes the real world a little more ethereal and magical - not necessarily softer but certainly sharper and more sensefully aware. (Yes, Sensefully. I made that up because there is no word I know that fits better). I've read lots of reviews for Pureheart and I am intrigued. Even if I hadn't read all Cassandra's other titles, I would still have chosen it.

The Wishbird by Gabrielle Wang. I've only read one of Gabrielle's books, Little Paradise. The others are on my To read List. I can see from the glowing reviews I've read of The Wishbird that while I enjoyed Little Paradise, this is a lot different and I'm going to enjoy it even more. I admire the creative space inside Gabrielle's head. I know all about that because I read her blog all the time.

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth. I'm a fan of historical fiction and Kate's previous release, Bitter Greens, was another of my best reads of 2012. I love fairy tales so this is history especially for me. I am fascinated by the research she does because as a writer, that's one of my favourite parts of the process.

Lastly, the book I didn't choose. Armed with a very definite list and instructions "not to swap one for anything else" my other half added a book of his own choosing. He doesn't read MG or YA but he knows me well enough to get it really right .

Looking for Alaska by John Green. I'm almost embarrassed to admit I haven't read a single John Green book. So many books and so little money. I always wanted to.  And now I can.