“A book has got smell” – Ray Bradbury

Sometimes when I’m walking past one of my book cases, or a table that is laden with books, I’ll just do a little rearranging.  I’ll move them about, or build asymmetrical stacks, or open one and bury my face in it like it’s a fat baby, and sometimes even be happily surprised by something I had forgotten I owned.  I can’t walk past the shelves in the hall without touching a spine. 
Sometimes I’ll open a book to a random page and just read that page. A book I remember having beautiful words in exactly the right place will draw me to just dip in.  And I might write a note in a margin and leave the book face down, covers splayed, spine cracking, and advice about good book care will pinch me until I realize I have a secret relationship with this book and it understands.
Sometimes I’ll think about the house moves I’ve done – how I had to pick and choose what to slow boat back to Australia – and I’ll grieve the books left behind.  All those Shirley Hughes MacGyvered together with lacky bands and yellowing tape; the Toni Morrison, John le Carre, V.S. Naipaul, all left behind because they can be replaced, can’t they?  Well they can be replaced, but not those copies, which still have crumbs in them because I like to eat crackers in bed while I read.
I have a Tohby Riddle picture book I read aloud to myself when I’m feeling sad.
Where does this relationship with books come from?
My sister recently suggested I take up meditation to cope with some physical pain.  I told her I couldn’t quiet my mind.  Then I picked up The Transit of Venus (Shirley Hazzard) for the umpteenth time, and fell quiet.  Or distracted.  Or involved.  Or removed.  All those things books do.
Best not to analyze it. 
I love books.

“Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.” – D.H Lawrence.

I have been honoured to be in the presence of some hot speak during the Perth International Writer’s Festival 2013.
“Being Bold” with  Julia Lawrinsonand Vikki Wakefield, chaired by Bonnie Davies.  What was interesting was that each of us took to the topic as if it were anathema.  Each of us having been labeled “bold” in the past (with varying consequences) we argued that the “bold” tag can almost be a hobble in our market.  Where we write for our audience (or in my case with no audience in mind) we find ourselves nose to nose with the gatekeepers of young adult literature time and time again.  With adults deciding what is appropriate and what is not, what opportunities for authentic, contentious discussion are being lost?  Is this fair?  We didn’t answer that question as well we shouldn’t.  Our job is not to anticipate the response to our writing lest that inhibit the honesty from which we draw our motivation.  To be on a panel with Julia Lawrinson whom I have read and respected for so many years was wonderful, even though now I have a permanent mental picture of her with her legs out the sunroof of a Yaris.  And Vikki Wakefield and I discovered quite early on that we are actually twins separated at birth. ‘Nuff said.  (Check in with Vikki if you need validation of this).

“At The Edge of Darkness” with Caroline Overington and Emma Chapman, chaired by Jane Cornes.  Having read the latest from these extraordinary women (Sisters of Mercy and How To Be A Good Wife, respectively) I was very excited to meet them.  Both of these women have credentials and prizes the listing of which throw me into an alcohol/codeine induced depression.  Just as well I was wearing my “Artist” lanyard, otherwise someone would have shoe-horned me out of my seat on the panel gently explaining “The audience doesn’t sit there, dear.”

What a ride!  With the faultless, and gentle, direction of our chair (Jane Cornes) we covered realism in literature, the process by which our experience with the real morphs into fiction, our favourite characters in our own books, where we draw from to create our worlds, the editorial process, and the future of publishing (p-book, e-book, online). 

It was so good to be given the opportunity to have these public conversations with such extraordinarily talented writers, to interact with other readers, and to sit in the signing chair earlier occupied by Andy Griffiths (I kept it warm for you Andy…).

“The Next Big Thing”

My lovely editor, friend and favourite West Australian writer, Amanda Curtin, has tagged me to participate in this book meme – “The Next Big Thing”.  It is an embarrassingly inappropriate title in my case.  I prefer to name this blog “The Next Hopefully As Moderately Successful WIP Crawling Toward Deadline”.  To read about a genuine Next Big Thing please refer to Amanda Curtin’s blog here.
1.What is the working title of your current work in progress/next book?
Open Slather
2.Where did the idea come from?
When I was living in the United States there was a trial involving a teen couple who had become pregnant and decided to hide the pregnancy.  They delivered the infant in a motel room and then killed her, disposing of her in a dump bin.  The story has never left me.  I began to think about what circumstances could possibly convince two affluent, well-educated young people that they had no other choice but this.  What are the psychological mechanisms which enable two young people to convince themselves that a human life is just a thing?  How do young people become so isolated from, and fearful of, the intervention of parents?  What are grown-ups doing within their relationships with young adults to sabotage the one connection that should be the safe place to fall?  I approach this with no judgment. 
3.What genre does your book fall into?
Young adult/Cross Over.
4.What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I do write very visually!  (Little movie in my head…)  I can see Abigail Breslin as Rose.  Logan Lerman would be a great Michael.  I would cast Ryan Gosling in there somewhere.  Just for funsies.  Give me an excuse to lick the screen….
5.What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Does doing something monstrous make you a monster?
6.Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Fremantle Press has given me a deadline based on the first 10,000 words they read.  However said read words are no longer the first 10,000.  They may not like it so it may be “The Next Big Rejected Thing”.    Stay toooooned….
7.How long did it take you to write the first draft?
Bit of a premature question as unfinished.  I started making notes in 1997.  I started writing real words late 2011.  In between I had a husband and child to raise.  The husband has since moved on to more bruise-accepting pastures and so I write and write and write…
8.What other books would you compare this to within your genre?
Who knows?  And who the fuck cares?  Comparisons are so self-defeating.  I’ve got one little book out there compared to years and years of dozens and dozens of beautiful, thought provoking YA. 
9.Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Refer question 2.
10.What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
This is a non-judgmental stare at perpetrators of infanticidal manslaughter.  Interested?

Then The Boys Light Up…

“The best way to get kids to read a book is to say: ‘This book is not appropriate for your age, and it has all sorts of horrible things in it like sex and death and some really big and complicated ideas, and you’re better off not touching it until you’re all grown up. I’m going to put it on this shelf and leave the room for a while. Don’t open it.’ “

– Philip Pullman

Last week I had my first public speaking engagement as a published writer.  I had the enormous privilege of speaking to a Year 9 Creative Writing class at Christ Church Grammar School in Claremont, Western Australia.  I almost made myself sick with anxiety in the preparation for it.  I almost made myself sick with anxiety on the morning of the class.  Here’s something people won’t say out loud: “I feel like a fraud and don’t think I’m good enough.”  Being appallingly honest and abysmally unfamiliar with Writer’s Blog etiquette, I will say it out loud though: “I feel like a fraud and don’t think I’m good enough”.  Turns out being fraught works in a girl’s favour!
Quaking, sweat in my ears, glass of water white-knuckled, trying to conjure my happy place, I stepped up after my introduction and began.  And it fell into place.  How?- well, I prepared as if I were stepping up to argue for my own stay of execution; but it was the young men in the class who turned my fraught into fascination into delight.  They were genuinely interested, in that subdued, polite way young men are with a guest speaker.  I spoke about my own journey as a writer and the importance to me of character over plot.  I read aloud from Creepy & Maud to illustrate the two distinct character voices (nothing grabs an audience’s attention like alcohol, pubic hair grooming and the odd “fuck”).  But it was the activity I had them do which really kick started things.  I don’t know exactly what their teacher (Mr. Tom Spurling) does on a regular basis in that class, but these boys can write!
Based on the observational drollness of Creepy I asked these young men to write a description of someone – someone in the room, or someone from memory.  I then asked for volunteers to read what they had written aloud.  The silence at this point was terrifying.  The class teacher, Mr Tom Spurling, came to my rescue and jollied someone up to go first.  After that the hands went up and boys wanted to read.  I was staggered by the result.
Every single boy who read aloud had something quirky, honest and entertaining to say.  Many of them described others in the room which made for some moments of piss-myself comedy.  “He thought he had a six pack, but then he’d always had double vision” will stay with me forever.  Likewise, one young man chose a more serious topic and wrote about asking a girl out and being rejected.  His description of the girl, himself, and the heart breaking understatement of the pain involved, led to applause from me, and the class.  There were descriptions of fictional characters and descriptions of people well known.  The language used, the pithiness, the effort, were absolutely delightful to me.  I actually lost myself in my audience.
So thank you, Christ Church Grammar School Year 9 Creative Writing class.  Thank you Ms Teresa Scott and Mr Tom Spurling, for inviting me to enjoy a moment with some very talented young men who, even though they may not realize it, have extraordinary skills with language. 
How lovely.

Creepy & Maud Set Sail

Well, it’s done, sans author having to break into Singin’ in the Rain.
Creepy & Maud was officially launched by Norman Jorgensen on September 27th 2012 at Kulcha Arts in Fremantle.  It was a great night, beautifully MC-ed by Cate Sutherland from Fremantle Press and amazingly…attended by people other than my immediate family!
Kulcha has to be one of my favourite venues for absolutely anything (I momentarily considered combining my launch with their free Salsa class but thought my mother might break a hip and subsequently make the evening all about her…).  The staff are friendly and organized and well informed about obscenity laws (“Author: Am I in breach of any laws if one of the songs on my playlist for the signing session has the word “Fuck” in it?  Sound Technician: Fuck no!”).  I also love the colour of their walls.  It’s a happy space.
It was an occasion to genuinely thank everyone responsible for getting Creepy & Maud onto the shelves: Cate Sutherland, Amanda Curtin, Claire Miller, Tracey Gibbs and peripherally (though no less importantly) Joscelyn Leatt-Hayter and Chenelle Davies.  Clive Klicker from Dymocks Fremantle set up against one of Kulcha’s bright red walls and sold on the night (as soon as I moved away and stopped stroking the display…) and the signing table, to my surprise, was festooned with liliums, irises, and roses from my friend Tom Jacobson who used the inconvenience of intercontinental travel as an excuse not to attend.  Also unexpectedly in attendance was a group from Perth YA Fans Unite.  This is a fairly young organization doing great things for this genre so we need to get behind them.
Norman Jorgensen was inimitable, demonstrating his usual caustic wit with his suspicion that Maud might, just might, be loosely based on Zelda Fitzgerald.  (Makes me wish I had have set Maud alight at some stage during the narrative).  He also let me in on a little piece of successful, award-winning writer’s lore: “Don’t sign your books the way you sign your cheques”.  Oh dear.  Why didn’t I think of that?  The first few books I signed have completely different signatures because that’s where I practiced, and perfected, my author signature.  Sorry about that people.
It was the end of a crazy couple of weeks.  There were photo shoots, interviews on 6EBA 95.3FM, Radio Fremantle (Dita Jevons and I almost fell off our chairs laughing), Goolarri Radio, and RTR FM 92.1 as well as an interview with Helen Crompton from The West Australian.   I’ve had so much time off from my day job I’m sure they are beginning to question my commitment to the construction industry… (And the next few months are looking to be just as busy).
So Creepy & Maud is on the shelves now, on Amazon, downloadable, the whole kit and caboodle.  Don’t waste valuable purchasing time reading this! – (I’ve heard it’s a good read…)