Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Melbourne Writers Festival, Day 3:

I'm sitting in the greenroom at the MWF. Outside the rain is falling so heavily that it's difficult to make out the other side of Flinders Street. The State Emergency Service was on the news just before I walked down here, pleading for commuters to leave work early and get out before the front came through. They're forecasting 120kph+ winds to hit the city at around about 6.00pm. Plus hail. Plus possible snow down to 500 meters

There's a mass exodus happening out there at the moment.

I have a panel session at the festival at 6.30.

In a venue that seats about 500.

Should be interesting.

Other than the fact that we seem to be warming up for the end of days out there at the moment, Today's been really good, if more than just a little hectic. Started with a radio interview at 0900 this morning, and haven't stopped since. (The interview was fun, even though my inner-arts lecturer reared his ugly head, and I accidently described my book as 'postmodern', which is never a good idea on local a.m. radio...)

1100 saw me and Scott Westerfeld talking about the way we plan and use setting in our writing. This seems to be something of a hot topic at the moment, as I seem to find myself discussing it all over the place. He had cool illustrations from his next book (Called Leviathan, out October) and photos of the Alps. I had photos of my trip to Antarctica. Lots of ice, all round...

After that, it was a dash down Flinders Street, via a greasy HJ's burger (that's Burger King for our American friends) to talk at a teaching conference about good books to use in the classroom. This turned out to be something of a nerve-wracking experience, as I'd planned to talk (among other things) about how I use the works of Morris Gleitzman to teach tertiary level creative writing. Nobody bothered to tell me that Morris would be SITTING IN THE FRONT ROW! He didn't throw things, or look pissed off, though, so I think I got away with it.

Then another run up to the State Library, to meet the lovely Erin, who'll be chairing my festival session tomorrow, then back to the hotel for a brief bit of down time, and now here again. Phew.

After this panel, (which is, oddly enough, on the use of setting for VATE exam students) I'm off to dinner with a whole bunch of other Aussie YA authors, including the excellent Kirsty Murray, and my friend Julia Lawrinson (who I think is one of Australia's most under-rated writers..)

After that, assuming I don't get all Mary-Poppinsed away during the walk back to the hotel, then I'm going to bed.

And this time tomorrow, I'll be home again. Woot.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Fastest Nine Months Ever...

Toby is nine months old today. 


Effectively, he's now been outside for as long as he was inside. So to speak. And the truly frightening part is that, for me at least, the nine months inside seemed to take forever, whereas the nine months since have just vanished.

So, here then are the Ten Things I've Learned in the Last Nine Months:

1. Sleep. Treasure it. It's a valuable commodity.
2. Likewise time: I can't believe how much of it I used to waste. On selfish stuff. Like, you know, reading...
3. There are worse things in this world than Poo and Vomit.
4. There are also a lot of much nicer things in this world than Poo and Vomit.
6. The Wiggley Woo. (Let's all do, the wiggley woo...)
7. Did I mention sleep? Worth mentioning again.
8. Before baby: "We don't need to spend money on all that baby related crap. We'll be fine without it." After baby: "You know, we really need the automatic, egg-shaped, colour-changing nursery thermometer and night-light."
9. If it'll keep him occupied for ten minutes while you go and have a shower, then it's worth spending $120 on a plastic device with loud music and flashing lights.
10. Best. Thing. Ever...

Now back to the writer's festival.

Melbourne Writers Festival...

Hi everyone...

So, I'm sitting in a cafe in Federation square, making good use of the free wireless, on my second coffee of the morning, and trying desperately to convince myself that I'm actually *not* nervous about my first Melbourne Writer's Festival schools session in a couple of hours. No, I'm really not. I mean, I'm just talking about writing. How hard can that be?

The fact that my session is sold out is also not doing much to calm my nerves...

I had a lovely time yesterday, doing a seminar session in the adults part of the festival, alongside the amazing Margo Lanagan. (That's her on the right) One of the things I love about being a writer is that I get the opportunity to listen to all these other writers talk about their process, and I've never heard two people say exactly the same thing. Everyone writes in their own way, and often the tiny differences in process from one person to the next make such huge differences in the stories that people are able to tell. I love it - the whole 'lack of rules' thing - it appeals to the anarchic side of my personality, I think.
Margo was particularly fascinating to listen to. I'm two thirds of the way through 'Tender Morsels' at the moment - try as I did, I didn't manage to get it finished in time for our session together, but that was largely because I keep stopping to re-read pages, just to swim in the language and storytelling. The last time a book did this to me was Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. Margo's book is proving to be one of those that fascinates me because it's something I know I could never, ever, even when I'm at my absolute best, come close to writing.  I just don't think that way about story and narrative, and I envy her her ability to do so. I'm certain that her approach to planning and writing, which is very different from my own, is a big part of the reason she can write the way she does, but - and this is the cool part - I know that if I tried doing things her way (She approaches her novels by thinking of them as short stories which just need to be vaguely linked in some way, but then allowed to run off on whatever tangents the story desires/requires) then I'd write complete rubbish. 

Anyway, it was fun. And writing about it has distracted me from my nerves for a few minutes, which is also good...

So, today I'm talking about Into White Silence, which should be a doddle, you'd think. This afternoon I'll be meeting a couple of people I've been looking forward to putting faces to for some time now: Author Scott Westerfield, and Librarian idol Andrew Finegan; the three of us are on tomorrow morning, in a panel session which should be a lot of fun.

Anyway, my coffee is nearly gone, and through the window I can see all sorts of student-y people walking through fed square, so I'm going to head over to the festival green room and see what's happening.

Have a good day, everyone...

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Very Good Day Indeed...

*Apologies for the lack of graphics and hyperlinks in this one: I'm working on a strange computer with reticent internet, while in a horribly sleep-deprived state....*


It's been a good day today. Now I can finally talk about it, too.

Why so good?

Well, today was the announcement of the CBCA Book of the Year Award, and I'm thrilled that Into White Silence picked up an honour book award in the Older Reader's category. The winner was my mate Shaun Tan, for his very funny and thought-provoking Tales from Outer Suburbia. A few years ago, Shaun was generous enough to launch one of my other books; Fireshadow and I remember in his launch speech he joked that perhaps he and I could become one another's nemises (nemisi? Neminesses?) I guess he was more serious about this than I gave him credit for :)

But in all honesty I'm thrilled for Shaun - and really proud and honoured to have my book deemed good enough to be among the action, too. The other honour book was Jackie French's beautiful A Rose for the ANZAC Boys - one of the best YA novels I've read this year, and one which I'd really hoped to see get up there, so that's another thrill too.

The rest of the Older Reader's shortlist was also really strong and, of course, the thing with awards is that for every book lucky enough to make the shortlist, there are lots of other equally fantastic reads that have to miss out.

If this seems a little disjointed, then please forgive me. In addition to being a really good day, it's also been a *really* long one. My poor little boy has a tooth coming through at the moment, so last night involved me getting about two hours sleep, before having to get up at 4.45am to get my plane up to the awards ceremony in Queensland. I'm now sitting in the Virgin Blue lounge at Brisbane airport, waiting for my 7.30 flight home. Needless to say, I'm feeling a little zombified.

The ceremony was lovely, though. Held in the unusual surrounds of the Seal performance enclosure at Seaworld. A lot of my writing cronies were there including Matt Ottley, Frane Lesac and Mark Greenwood, Shaun (of course), Catherine Bateson, James Moloney and lots of others.

The other good news is that this morning, Into White Silence also made the shortlist for the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards, which are announced in a couple of weeks. Coming on top of the great news yesterday about the Inky's, I'm feeling pretty damn good right at the moment.

Anyway, I'm going to go and have a bite to eat, do some reading for the Melbourne Writers Festival next week, and try to stay awake long enough to get to my flight.

Congrats again to all the shortlisted authors in both the CBCA and the QLD prems. I'm in very good company...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Feeling All Inky...

So this morning, the Centre for Youth Literature, who run the awesome Inside-a-dog website, announced the longlist for their annual 'Inky' awards and guess what?

I'm on it! (Well, technically Into White Silence is on it, but still...)


This is a real buzz. Mainly because there are soooo many other awesome books on the longlist and it's just cool to see my book in such good company. Of the others, I've read Broken Glass, Exposure, The Two Pearls of Wisdom and Where the streets had a Name, and they're all excellent. I've also got a number of the others on my reading list.

So well done everyone. Let's all get Inky...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Festival Time!

Next week I'm off to the Melbourne Writer's Festival. This looks like it's going to be a fantastic week, and if you're in Melbourne, please come and see me. It'll be my first time away from Toby and Min in eight and a half months, so I'm bound to be lonely and in need of friends :)

On the bright side, though, I'm involved in some great sessions, with some *awesome* people:

This Sunday, the 23rd, I'm part of a Professional Development Masterclass on the ins and outs of writing Young Adult Fiction alongside the fantastic Margo Lanagan I'm really, really looking forward to this one, as I haven't seen Margo for years (Actually, Margo was one of the first writers I ever interviewed, on stage at the 2000 CBCA conference in Perth). Since then, she's produced some of the most challenging and beautiful writing to come out of this country, including several brilliant anthologies of short stories, and most recently the stunning Tender Morsels, which I'm reading at the moment.

Then, on Monday 24th, I'll be talking about Into White Silence. This should be a pretty enjoyable session; I'm taking a lot of my photos from my trip to Antarctica, as well as all my research materials, and will be talking about the entire writing process, and how it's changed the way I view narrative. I'll be keeping it fairly open and informal, with lots of opportunities for questions.

Tuesday morning, I'm really looking forward to meeting Scott Westerfield for the first time. I'm a big fan of his work, especially Peeps, (which is how a vampire novel should be written. No sparkly vegetarians here...) and his Uglies series, so actually meeting and being involved in a panel session with him will be fantastic. We're going to be discussing Place, in Space and looking at the role and importance of setting, especially in regard to speculative writing.

On Tuesday afternoon I'm talking about The Imaginative Landscape alongside fellow author Tony Birch, whose novel Shadowboxing I currently have parked on my desk, waiting for me to finish Tender Morsels, so that I can get on to it.

Finally, I'll be doing an in-conversation on Wednesday afternoon - sort of a general meet the author type thingy, which will involve a lot of discussion on just about every topic under the sun.

All in all, it promises to be a really interesting few days, so please do come along if you can. It'd be great to meet some new people. (Or old people, for that matter...)

Monday, August 17, 2009

We're soft, we really are...

So, on sunday afternoon, we had to go out and buy a baby gate. You know, one of those aluminum things that bolt on to the wall, make it impossible for a toddler to escape, and require four hands and three feet for an adult to open.

Anyway, while looking at the gates in question, we
 put Toby down on the floor of the baby shop, and he made a beeline for this... thing.

I'm not sure how to describe it. It's kinda like a table. With lights. And levers. And music. And attached toys that squeek and rattle. And did I mention the music? Loud, loud, music. Annoying music with whistles and sound effects throughout.

And he loved it.

And so, we bought the damn thing.

I shudder to think what's going to happen when he's 17 and wants a Porsche...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

This is my life, at the moment...

Editing. At the same time the best and worst aspect of getting a book published. This one's particularly painful, owing to the fact that it's a first draft and, therefore, horribly written. I'm cringing on a page-by-page basis as I work through this one, knowing that I've actually let people read this poorly written crap.

And, unusually for me, it's taking me ages. Today, for example, I've been working since about 9.30, and only done 10 pages. (Admittedly I've had a couple of interruptions for student meetings and coffee and other essentials) But still - given that the book is 250 pages long, and is expected back at UQP next monday, this is not good.

Plus there's the added bonus of not getting anything else written while I'm buried in this. Next week's lecture, on verse novels, for example, or the two books I'm desperately itching to get on with.

Still, the end result should be okay. As badly written as this draft is, I'm pretty happy with the way it's shaping up. It's kind of like the book version of one of those awful Extreme Makeover shows. (Though if I carry that metaphor to its logical extension, I might end up with a novella, or even just a short story)

Anyway, I just wanted to share.

Now, I'm going back to work.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cool Books and Old Friends.

Yesterday, I was really pleased to see this post here over at Steph Bowe's blog, not least because an old friend of mine, Ben Beaton, makes an appearance. (Or, more accurately, his new book: Mama's Song does...)

Ben and I met when we were both in first year uni, about 900 years ago. Then we both became high school teachers, then we sort of drifted apart for a while as life took us in different directions.

I know he's been working at getting a book out there for a long time now, though. And about five years ago I had the pleasure of doing a reader's report on another of his works, so I'm really pleased to see this one out there. Well done Black Dog Books - a good catch. I haven't read the book yet, but I'm looking forward to getting my hands on a copy in the near future.

And, on another, similar note, tomorrow night I'm really pleased to have the opportunity to launch The Dark Griffin by Katie J. Taylor. Katie is a former student of mine here at the University of Canberra, (though I can't claim any credit for her writing ability - she was published a long time before she met me...) and is (in my humble opinion) someone to watch out for. The Dark Griffin is a great read - the sort of fantasy that really draws you in. I'll be putting a more detailed review up on Goodreads in the next day or two. It's the first of a trilogy, and I can't wait for the next two. (Though, given my tardiness with the final darklands book, if I have to wait a while before they're ready then I guess it's just Karma.)

If you're in Canberra, the launch of The Dark Griffin is on tomorrow night at the Uni of Canberra bookshop from 5.30.

And now, on the subject of the Darklands books, I really should get back to my editing. It's due back to UQP next week, and I'm currently only on page 26 of 252. So I should work. Or get coffee.

And, perhaps, a muffin.

Friday, August 7, 2009

I knew this would happen...

It's always such a lovely thing when someone reads one of your books, and then takes the time to write you you and let you know that they enjoyed it. The first time it happens, it's actually kinda surreal, and even after it's happened a few times, it never gets old.
I got home this afternoon to find a card on my desk. Sent via my publishers by a nice lady who'd recently read Into White Silence. She liked it. She took the time to buy a card with a suitable image on it. She wrote a sincere and very thoughtful message on the inside, telling me as much.
Only one problem -

She thinks the novel is non-fiction.

Now, she's by no means the first to do so, and I'm the first to admit that this is entirely my fault. I knew when I wrote the book, and decided to use a character named 'Anthony Eaton' as the narrator, that some people would probably not get that I was playing around with the line between truth and fiction. I definitely wanted my readers to question both themselves and the book. I thought it was a pretty clever way to explore the construction of truth and fiction, and (if I'm being really honest) I'll admit that I kinda liked the idea that some people might fall for the deception, at least for a little while. Hell, I put a lot of effort into making the whole thing as believable as possible. The picture below is part of a sketch from my journal which I used as the basis of the Raven plans: I spent hours getting the details of that ship as accurate as possible, to try and put its existence beyond question

But, at the same time, I really didn't want to upset anyone. That's why I made sure that I put the fiction disclaimer in my acknowledgments, and it's also why the imprint page includes that little line from the publishers that says 'this book is a work of fiction.' I also figured that most people would work it out. Or at least extend me the benefit of the doubt. Because, if you've read the book, you'd know that the 'Anthony Eaton' I've invented for my own nefarious storytelling purposes isn't exactly the sort of person you'd want people to view you as.

Of course, it didn't work out that way, did it?

At least one reviewer read the book as non-fiction, and got remarkably upset upon being informed of the 'truth' of the issue. (To her great credit, she then returned the book un-reviewed, rather than publishing a negative review of it...)

But back to the subject at hand...

I'm really not sure what to do about this card. On the one hand, courtesy would seem to dictate that I reply, just to say thanks for the card, if nothing else. And as a writer it's such a big deal to me to know that somebody has taken the time out of their life to sit and express their thoughts - especially positive ones. People are always happy to tell you when they've disliked your book, but positive feedback is a rare thing and should be treasured.

On the other hand, how do you thank someone politely while at the same time telling them that they've completely misunderstood the book, and do so without making them feel stupid? (Which they're clearly not - as I say, at least part of me knew I was blurring the lines with this one.)

It's a funny thing. When you write a book, especially a work of fiction, I guess there's a kind of unwritten contract between the author and the reader, and it's all based on a sort of honesty that underpins the lie of the novel.

Or, to put it differently:

A reader knows that a novel is a lie - a fiction. They know and accept this for a number of reasons. One of these reasons is that while the book might be a lie, authors generally tell the truth about themselves; it's implied that while the story itself is invented, the motivations behind it come from the reality of the author's life/experiences/imagination, so it's much easier for a reader to 'accept' the lie of the novel as a result.

When authors deliberately break this unwritten agreement, lie about their background and experiences, and claim that their fictional background informed their fictional book, then all hell can break loose. Think Helen Demidenko.

But that's not really what I've done here. I hope. It's certainly not what I set out to do. Actual deception was never part of my agenda - hence the disclaimers in the acknowledgements etc...

Except that I have, haven't I? I'm very aware that there's a very thin semantic line between 'playing with the concepts of truth and fiction' and 'making shit up about yourself'. And I knew this when I wrote the book. And I did wonder if it would lead to problems, but I went ahead and did it anyway. And when it was done I managed to convince myself that I'd made enough of the basics unbelievable that nobody would take it seriously.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not intending this post as a self-justification, or anything like that. I don't have any regrets about the way I wrote the book, nor the way it's been read. I do think it's important to question everything you read - fiction or non-fiction, and I am happy when people read Into White Silence and comment on its believability. I think this is an interesting aspect of writing fiction, and one I'd never really given much thought to before writing this book. It makes me wonder about the thousands of books I've read in my own life, and how many things I've just accepted without question.

And I suspect that it's got some broader implications in relation to the whole adult/young adult discussion, too: When a mature adult writes in the voice of a 16-year-old, about the world of a 16-year-old, then it's important, I think, to consider the truths and fictions behind their motivations, too. We're all constantly inventing our worlds and ourselves, I suspect.

Anyway, this post feels like it's going nowhere, so I'm going to leave it at this and do some work.

And write a letter that I'm really not looking forward to.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

First Line Meme -

This one's been around for a little while, now: I first noticed it when Lili did it, and more recently Penny and have been meaning to get onto it myself ever since...

It's pretty self explanatory. First lines from your published, pending, and WIP's:


1. The Darkness:
The Darkness returned to Isolation Bay the Year I turned sixteen.

2. A New Kind of Dreaming: The boat was dead.

3. Nathan Nuttboard H.T.B: There's one thing you need to know, right from the outset

4. Fireshadow: Old spirits lived here. Ghosts as old as time.

5. The Girl in the Cave: Kate lived in a cave.

6. Nathan Nuttboard F.M: Families, on the whole, are great.

7. Nathan Nuttboard Upstaged: I know about getting dumped.

8. Nightpeople: The mother was young, no more than sixteen or seventeen, and the birth difficult.

9. Skyfall: Sunrise glittered and sparkled across the domes and spires of Port City.

10. Into White Silence: For almost two years now the small, leather-bound journal of Lieutenant William Downes has been sitting on a corner of my writing desk, defying me.

(Warning: fairly major spoiler if you're reading the Darklands Books)

11. Dayward:
On the day that Da Janil died, Dara had expected to be let off hunting duty.

(And, like Penni, I'm going to throw in a whole paragraph here, just in the hope of getting you hooked. Kind of like a crack dealer...)

12. Orion: The Hunter:
The first thing he was aware of was the cold. Intense, unbelievable cold, which stabbed hard into the dark fog of his sleep, dragging him into consciousness. This was cold beyond discomfort, beyond pain, even. It was so cold as to almost feel hot - as though a million burning needles were being pushed simultaneously into every muscle and fibre of his entire body.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Standing at the base of the mountain...

So, last week, just before I got hit by the dreaded Pig Disease, the readers and editorial reports for my next book dropped into my inbox, along with a frighteningly imminent deadline (Douglas Adams on Deadlines: "I love deadlines. I really like the 'whooshing' noise they make as they go past".)

This is always something of a good/bad moment, for me.

On the one hand, it's a sure sign that the end is in sight. Just two or three, or twenty or thirty rewrites, and then the book is done.

On the other hand, it's almost always the precursor to a bucketload of extra work.

These ones were particularly scary, though, because for the first time ever they were based on the first draft of my book. Up until now I've never showed my first draft to anyone. Not my family, not my editor, and certainly not an outside reader.

My reason for this? First drafts are, inevitably, crap. Mine especially. Word repetition, passive expression, repetition of phrases and ideas, redundant description, over-long sequences, set-piece cliches - you name it, my first drafts have it. They're awful.

But this time, we're on a deadline. So I had to bite the bullet, finish the draft, and send it off.

Even scarier - this one was for the final book in my Darklands trilogy, and so there was additional pressure. I know for a fact that some people (four, at last count) actually read and enjoyed the first two books in the series, and so this one has to live up. (Actually, that's a weird thing in itself - having to produce the final book of a series that's already out there. I know a lot of other writers do it all the time, but it was a first for me, and it scared the hell out of me. I'm not sure I'd ever do it again, to be honest. I can't believe J.K.Rowling managed to produce seven of the damn things with the whole world watching her. I take my hat off in admiration to her for that. But anyway...)

So I wrote it, sent it off to the nice people at UQP and, about a fortnight ago, I got my editorial reports which I opened with trembling (metaphorical, because the actual reports were emailed) hands, fully expecting something along the following lines:

Reader's Report on Dayward by Anthony Eaton.

Well, first off, what a letdown. I can't believe I wasted seven years waiting for this piece of....

...Luckily for me, the actual reports didn't live down to expectations. In fact, they were overwhelmingly positive, which is nice, given that I'm one of those writers who hates everything I've ever written until at least a hundred people or so manage to convince me otherwise. And even then I don't really believe them. 

Of course, I've still got a complete bucketload of work to do. (I wasn't kidding about the quality of my first drafts - I have all the above mentioned problems to address, plus several others I hadn't thought of. All by August 17th.) But at least I'm feeling positive about the book, now, which makes a huge difference.

So thanks to Kristina (editor extraordinaire) and my mystery reader, whoever you are. I've read the reports, thought about them, taken in the comments, printed out a MSS to work on, bought myself a new red editing pen, and marked off my afternoons for the next two weeks.

All I have to do now is actually start working on it.





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