Saturday, May 30, 2015

While the cat's away, the mice will play

It's been a crazy, busy, fun week. I'm a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators and the Gold Coast rep of the Queensland team. Last Sunday, with our Assistant Regional Advisor, Sheryl Gwyther, burrowed away within the leafy Adelaide suburb of Norwood for four weeks during her May Gibbs Children's Literature Trust CTR Fellowship, twenty-five SCBWI members gathered in the lush Gold Coast hinterland (my place) for an afternoon of sweet tea, home-made cakes, and enthusiastic conversation.

Our special guest and SCBWI Regional Advisor, Susanne Gervay AM, regaled us with her up-to-the-minute industry news and insider tips – priceless!

SCBWI members' books
Susanne was in Gold Coast city for the children's theatre show, I Am Jack – based on her book of the same name – at the Arts Centre Gold Coast.

Following sold-out shows all week, a devoted number of SCBWI members and teacher-librarians attended Susanne's inspiring pre-show talk on Thursday evening.

Families fill the theatre

Whoops, illustrator Lucia Masciullo and I are caught in the act of munching on popcorn during the I Am Jack theatre show.
photo: Dimity Powell

The set

Susanne Gervay is swarmed by mini fans after the show.

And now Lucia and I think we can fly...

Photo: Susanne Gervay

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Choosing Character Names

Are you having trouble naming your characters?

At the moment I'm in the process of changing the names of the main characters in my work in progress. What started out as a sequel to my first two novels, has evolved into a time-slip adventure mystery of epic proportions. And while my earlier novels were comedies, this one is filled with danger and drama.

But where do you look for character names? How do you find a name which speaks to you – a name which brings your character to life?

photo: Jeff Licence

I had a lot of fun with the name of the main character in my first novel, Pond Magic. Lily Padd was the obvious choice for a girl who was turning into a frog; it opened up opportunities for humorous gags and a solid reasoning behind the teasing she received from the story's villain, bad boy Rick Bastek.

But Rick's name was more difficult. He needed a surname with harsh edges and a mean sound. In the end, the telephone directory helped me find the perfect fit. Meanwhile, the story's French exchange student asked for a touch of royalty, and while Monaco is not a part of France, Rainier le Dauphin was hatched as a name that sounded noble enough to be authentic. And I liked the play on the meaning of le Dauphin.

In my novel, Snap Magic, two new characters were introduced: the mean girl, Ellen Middleton; and Lily's love interest, Storm Chaseur. Ellen was based on a covert bully I went to school with, whose name was not Ellen, but my old school friends guessed it was her all the same. It felt good when the character Ellen received her comeuppance at the end of the story. (Don't mess with a writer.)

Storm's name came from a real person, a friend's adult son. And I was thrilled when he came along to the book launch of Snap Magic and I signed his book for him. Was he a storm chaser? No, but hey!

Names, like stories, can pop up anywhere. The newspaper is a terrific resource and I recently found a wonderful name generator that gives you similar-sounding names to one you may like but are unsure of. It's called Name Hunter on the baby name site Name Berry. Behind the Name is also a fun site, while some of the super villain names generated on Fantasy Name Generator would be ideal for a grunge band – Necrotic Ninja was my favourite. The Fantasy Name Generator site is worth checking out fully however, as it also includes 'real' names with surnames in a multitude of languages. That's gold!

While you're having fun generating names, pop the possible contenders into a notebook or note page on your phone. When I find a particularly funny name I then do a search on Facebook to see if there are any actual people out there with that name. Yes, I found a Lily Padd – in fact more than one.

Now I'll leave you with this cute video, which is actually an advert for a New Zealand hardware store. See if you can make out the names of each kid in the class. Their parents obviously do too much DIY.

How do you choose your characters' names?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Standing Up to Write

When I visited the house of German writer and artist, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (the oft-called 'last universal genius') in Weimar many years ago, I was taken by his original writing desk. To stand before the great writer's creative space thrilled me. I was quite literally standing in the spot he wrote his great works; you see, he wrote while standing up. His desk was tall, five feet high and on a slant like a podium.

Goethe's writing desk in his garden house

Since then I've discovered other genii who also wrote whilst on their feet. Sir Isaac Newton wrote his entire 'Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy' standing up. Ernest Hemingway also wrote standing at a chest height desk on which he'd placed his typewriter. He once said, 

"Writing and travel broaden your ass, if not your mind,
 and I like to write standing up."

German philospher Friedrich Nietsche, and American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims also wrote standing up.

Even Aristotle is credited with walking about while talking and thinking.

So, with so many great thinkers to vouch for the benefits of standing up to write, a while ago I purchased a standing desk for myself. (You can see in the photo I'm writing at it now.)

My standing desk
It's actually a 'bar' table that I found in an ordinary furniture shop and was designed for dining at with 'bar' stools. Luckily for me this was the trend at the time. The shop assistant couldn't fathom why I didn't want any stools as well.

I also have a wooden wedge I place at my feet and stand on to stretch my calf muscles while I work. It's on a 45 degree angle as recommended by my physiotherapist. He also recommends standing on one foot and on tip toes for short periods of time to improve balance and strength. I can do all that at my standing desk. 

A friend of mine recently bought a Varidesk which can be raised to varying standing heights and just sits atop your ordinary desk. This is a great space saver and worth checking out.

Of course, I do still write at my sit-down desk, which is a slanted art desk, and also in my favourite reading chair, mixing it up and changing rooms according to the time of day, weather and my mood.

Where's your favourite place to write?