Friday, March 15, 2013

Days 26 - 28 in the Burrow

At the beginning of an adventure no amount of planning can truly prepare you for what lies ahead. Leaving behind a supportive family to live alone in a strange city for four weeks took a great deal of courage for me, and of course the Doubt Fairy sat on my shoulder in the weeks leading up to my May Gibbs Fellowship. But armed with a quote from Martin Freeman (when referring to his character, Bilbo Baggins in 'The Hobbit'), I realised that not only did the quote relate to my own main character but also to myself and the journey I am on.
"True heroics is not the absence of fear, but having that fear and doing something anyway." Martin Freeman
The temptations of Adelaide's Mad Feb/March
When my time in Adelaide was almost up, it was tempting in the last three days to spend hours in North Terrace hopping from The Museum to the Art Gallery to the State Library. But the 37-39 C heat and my characters kept me locked away in the Burrow, chipping away at the manuscript. On the desk in front of me I had printed out in very large letters,
 'Just follow your gut feeling and write the bl....dy thing.' 

As many of you know writing the first draft of a novel is both pleasure and pain. There have been many times when I've wanted to go back and begin editing (which I love). But there's no point editing if you have not finished. And that is where I'm at - very nearly finished.

The Burrow
Now once more at home I still have the flush of enthusiasm spurring me towards the final chapters. And I have a great deal to be grateful for. Normally February is not a month when I achieve a lot. It's too humid, it's hot, it's clawing, it's busy with the start of school and uni and did I mention it's HUMID?

But, having spent most of that month in the dry air of South Australia (where every day is a good hair day) in the lovely air-conditioned Burrow, I have had the most amazing kick-start to the year. I'm far ahead of where I expected to be and the momentum to keep going has been put firmly in place. I've also learnt a lot about myself. For one, I'm pretty tough and if I say I can achieve something then I will, no matter how long it takes me.

Sad to hand back the keys
So this is not the end. I will always be a May Gibbs Fellow and I will honour the Fellowship and the May Gibbs Children's Literature Trust by working hard to achieve my goals in the future. I am truly grateful to the trust, its volunteers and foundation members for this opportunity.

I'd like to heartfully thank the trust's National Program Coordinator, Sally Chance, for all her hard work and gracious assistance during my stay, together with the volunteers (you're all gorgeous); and also Mary and Ian Wilson, whose open-hearted generosity and foresight as founding members of the May Gibbs Children's Literature Trust and the establishment of the Creative Time Residential Fellowship has enabled children's writers and illustrators like me the time, space and quiet to work, think and create.

Thank you all sincerely.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Days 24 & 25 in the Burrow - Adelaide Writers' Week

Well actually it's really just Day 25, the Sunday of the 3rd March. On the Saturday I was too tired to venture out and spent the day with my laptop sitting up in bed, resting. All in preparation of course for the BIG EVENT and a bright sunshine, early start on Sunday morning - The Booklovers' Breakfast organised by The Independent Arts Foundation in the beautiful grounds of Government House, South Australia, followed by a day full of Adelaide Writers' Week sessions in the parkland behind.

A perfect blue sky day in the grounds of Govt House, SA.
His Excellency Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce, Governor of South Australia, attended together with his wife, Mrs Liz Scarce and other dignitaries. You can read the Governor's speech, and below is a short sample: 
"We're particularly glad to hear that the event was sold out weeks ago, and that there are several international visitors here this morning - both writers and publishers - along with some local home-grown writers. We extend to you our best wishes for a thoroughly stimulating and enjoyable visit to Adelaide."

I was a guest of the May Gibbs Children's Literature Trust and dear, Mary Wilson, a founding member of the trust committee, had organised a table for the May Gibbs members. It was wonderful to sit with people I now consider friends.

Mary Wilson, Margaret and Andy Wilkinson - my May Gibbs buddies.
The pretty garden party frock I wore (made for me by my daughter).
Notice how my 'inner child' has popped out and shown herself in my morning shadow.
Hmm, she seems to be only about seven.
As tempting as it was to stay on in the beautiful, lush-lawned garden, Mary and I headed out the back gate and straight into the setting of Adelaide Writers' Week. It couldn't have been more perfect.

The best thing is, all the sessions are FREE.

and in the shade!

Dear friend, Janeen Brian, reading her latest picture book, I'm a Dirty Dinosaur
(Penguin Books Australia) to the crowd of children and parents.
Janeen Brian actually has two new books out simultaneously. She also engaged everyone with her picture book for older readers, Meet Ned Kelly, Random House Australia.

While in Adelaide I was very fortunate to meet with Janeen, author of over 65 books, on three occasions. She was sweet enough to lend me some books on the craft of writing. And here is a quote from one of these called 'Juicy Writing' by Brigid Lowry:
"The spirit of play will slide into your work and make miracles."
The Art of the Picture Book with author/illustrators, Tohby Riddle and Nick Bland,
chaired by Dyan Blacklock.
The first thing you'll notice at the Adelaide Writers' Week is that there are two Auslan signers for the deaf at every panel and one for the children's tent. This really impressed me.

Here are some little snippets from Tohby and Nick's conversation with Dyan (from my very messy notebook.)

Considers himself a commercial artist and is self-taught and colour blind.
 "The best texts take half an hour to write....  The Runaway Hug took just an hour."
"Don't be married to the idea of doing the text and the illustrations. You can't always." 
"Pictures mustn't be hard to read. Decide whether to draw the action just before, just after, etc."
"Not too wordy is best." 
"Morality comes through, good vs bad. Happy endings aren't always 100% necessary." 
"Pictures and words shouldn't do or say the same thing."
"Ideas aren't precious, just a fleeting thing. Grab the good one and write it in a notebook."
"A decent submission is only competing against a few other decent submissions."
"I would never have got an 'in' if I hadn't submitted text and illustrations together."
"One page can spoil the whole book, so re-do it even if it took you five days to do the first time."
"Find work you like and work out how they did it."
"The simplest books are the hardest to do. There's nowhere to hide."
"Don't think you'll only get one idea to a problem. There's always more. Keep your thinking playful and flexible and wonder a lot."
"Write down your curious and interesting thoughts. I send messages to myself."

Hmm, Tohby says, keep your thinking playful... Remember the quote from Janeen's book, 'Juicy Writing' by Brigid Lowry?

"The spirit of play will slide into your work and make miracles."

Now that's a good thought to leave you with. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Days 19 - 23 Glimpses of Victor Harbor

The Anchorage, Victor Harbor, SA

The Causeway leading to Granite Island from Victor Harbor

Beautiful Granite Island

Home to a penguin colony

The penguins' version of Hobbiton

Looking back at the town of Victor Harbor from the top of Granite Island

Penguin bronze

The Grosvenor Hotel
On my way out to dinner one night I found an old man in a wheel chair rolling along on the road. He was really struggling and had one arm bandaged. 'Do you need a push?' I asked. 'Oh, yes.' 'Where you off to?' 'The pub.' 'How'd you hurt your arm?' 'I fell out of my chair.' 'How'd you get here?' 'By taxi.' Hmmmm.
The staff at the Grosvenor Hotel knew him well, when I finally pushed him in there, laughing to myself. Apparently he absconded regularly from his nursing home. The people you meet.
Gorgeous flowers on the street

The horse drawn tram that crosses the causeway to Granite Island

In memory of the whales who perished when it was a whaling port

The town's first public toilet, 1867

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Days 19 - 23 in Victor Harbor

A cool change arrived overnight and very early the next morning I was picked up by the May Gibbs Children's Literature Trust National Program Coordinator, Sally Chance. It was raining and pretty cool as we drove the hour plus down to the Fleurieu Peninsula and the historic town of Victor Harbor.

Arriving just in time for the start of the school day at Victor Harbor Primary School, we were warmly welcomed by the lovely teacher librarian, Margaret Wilkinson. The brand new library was all set up and waiting for me. I was in heaven!

Victor Harbor Primary School is the only state school in Australia affiliated with the May Gibbs Children's Literature Trust. Their support is very much appreciated.

Over the course of five days I presented talks and workshops to every class in the school. With the seniors I focussed on finding a character's vulnerabilities and then developing a plot around these. I showed how I brainstorm/mind map ideas - the crazier the better, and how as a mean and nasty author it's my job to make my character's life as difficult as possible.

With the juniors we looked at how a picture book develops from a one page storyboard and thumbnail sketches through to larger rough sketches, page layouts and a dummy book to test out visual and written narrative 'readability'. We did a final read through and then compared it to the story arc of an already published book.

I'm proud to say that not one class wanted to leave when the time was up. One teacher announced, 'It's lunchtime!' and a little boy answered, 'But I'm not hungry now.'

It's not enough to just read to students, or entertain and make them laugh, or even show and tell your art work. To truly engage them, kids want to be able to create. So little time is available in schools to opening the creative mind (of all from P/R to 7) and allowing it freedom to play. I tried to impress upon the kids this week that all ideas during brainstorming are valid, even the silliest ones - they might just turn out to be the best. 

In a world where creative people are needed more and more in a broader range of occupations, the creative minds of our children need to be nurtured.

At the Victor Harbor Primary School author dinner with TL, Margaret Wilkinson.
If you ever have the chance to visit Victor Harbor Primary School, you must go! The students and staff are warm and caring. Straight away I was welcomed at a lunch table and included in the chat. People greeted me by name and asked how I was going. Students lingered and chatted long after their teacher had lined up the rest of the class to leave. The teachers listened and took notes during my talks, asking questions and (together with the kids) being 100% engaged. They are all a fabulous example to their students. Principal Brenton Robins believes a school is like an extended family and the contented lives of those at Victor Harbor Primary School are testimony to his philosophy.

The library at Victor Harbor Primary School
The wonderful Margaret Wilkinson has created a library which is an oasis of peaceful interaction with books and online reading. There is even a book garden and a shaded outdoor area with garden seats and tables. At lunchtime children eagerly wait to come in. I truly pity the schools that don't have a teacher librarian like Margaret. Indeed some now have no TL at all.

I'd like to warmly thank Margaret Wilkinson for her meticulous care of my every need. It felt like a family member was watching out for me and her kindness put me at ease immediately. I truly appreciate it.

Thank you also to all the teachers at Victor Harbor Primary School, the Principal, Brenton Robins and the Deputy Principal, Sue Dixon, and also Linda in the canteen for all the yummy lunches.

Day 18 in the Burrow

Government House, South Australia (I'm having breakfast there on Sunday as part of Writers' Week)
I have a thing about visiting old houses. The sensory detail you can pick up from walking in the footsteps of people from history is inspiring. I know it will inform my writing in the future as I breathe in the airs and graces of a bygone era and imagine myself suffering the hot summers of Australia dressed in layers of petticoats and cuffs.

On my girl's last day with me in Adelaide we visited Ayers House, which is opposite the Adelaide Botanical Gardens on North Terrace. Now in the hands of the National Trust the interior of Ayers House is of national significance. From the outside you don't expect a house that is actually three storeys high, all habitable. Designed by colonial architect, Sir George Strickland Kingston, the two imposing bay windows hide the grand ballroom (now unfortunately a restaurant) and the official dining room, where Sir Henry Ayers held state dinners while he was (seven times) Premier of South Australia.
Ayers House
It was 37 degrees Celcius on the day we visited, but the underground floor with its low ceilings was beautifully cool and fresh. And this is where Sir Henry had furnished and decorated a suite of rooms for his family to use during the very hot summer. Clever man.

Adelaide Railway Station

Few people may know of Mary Lee. But she was a staunch fighter for the rights of women in South Australia. In fact it is here that Australian women first gained the right to vote and also (and this is quite amazing) stand for parliament in the same amendment in 1894.
Mary Lee (details below)

Then through the searing heat we dashed into the Migration Museum. As the child and grandchild of Croatian immigrants to New Zealand (over 100 years ago) I am always fascinated by the stories behind their sacrifices. And it truly is a sacrifice to leave everything and everyone you know behind. I've only had to leave my family behind for a month while here in Adelaide. But just imagine knowing you'd never see them again. It would be beyond me.

The Migration Museum Memorial
The Migration Museum (formerly Adelaide's Destitute Asylum)
The Rings in Osmond Terrace, Norwood. Each one tells an anecdote by a family from Norwood's past.