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Friday, April 18, 2014

My friend's son is in jail

My friend’s son is in jail. These aren’t words I ever thought I’d write; they’re not words my friend would have ever thought I’d write. And at first glance, they’re not words about books and writing, which is what this blog is about.
But writing comes from life, and our characters’ thoughts and deeds spring from our own reflections, no matter how deeply buried the source sometimes seems to be. We’ll never grow as writers without reflecting on the harsh times of life: even the cheeriest story has at least the threat of some misery, or there’d be no plot at all.
Writing can sometimes seem cannibalistic, gobbling up other people’s traumas for story fodder.  I can’t imagine that I would ever write a story based on this particular tragedy, but anything that I care deeply about it is likely to inform some story in some way. It’s not a simple matter of being grateful for the roads my own children have chosen or pitying my friend’s family. It’s not even my respect for the extraordinary wisdom that she has grown into. It’s just sitting and reflecting on the feelings of all those concerned; of truly imagining what it would be like to know that you will not be leaving this room for another twelve hours, or leaving this building for another six months. Of imagining the complex web of emotions for the family on the other side of the walls. And it is complex, more than I’d ever considered before.
Whether I ever use any of these complexities in a book is irrelevant. Allowing myself to contemplate the issue from all its different angles can only help me grow as a human being, which is, ironically, not only more important than any writing skill, but basic to it.
I hadn't intended this as a Good Friday reflection, though perhaps it's appropriate. So, whatever your religion or beliefs, why not take a moment out of your day to imagine someone else's suffering, and their road through it. It won't hurt - you have the choice of stopping whenever you like - and it just might lead you into new understanding and stories. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Awards from home - Diamonds are a girl's best friend

Okay, so the diamonds may be symbolic here!
It's always a thrill to be nominated for any award, but some awards have an extra sentimental kick for their particular book.  RAVEN'S MOUNTAIN (Australiantitle) or FACING THE MOUNTAIN (Canadian title) is set in the Canadian Rockies, but I wrote it after living in Australia for my whole adult life. So I was a bit nervous about Canadian reviews - and very, very happy to get such lovely ones. Unfortunately wiping out my hard drive last year means that I don't seem to have copies of them, so you'll just have to believe me. Normally I get most excited about comments on the actual writing, but this time it was a line from a prestigious journal along the lines of: 'this Edmonton native demonstrates her knowledge of the mountains.' 

Well, what do you know! I just googled to see if I could find that quote for you, and though I didn't find it, discovered that Facing the Mountain was Commended, Best Books for Kids and Teens, Canadian Children's Book Centre, 2012. 

A nice surprise. And there's no point in wishing that people would tell authors about awards their books have been listed for or even won. (Though there might be a point in checking my google alerts occasionally.). But if anyone's wondering - yes, we really do like to know. 

But here's one I do know about, the one I started writing this blog about: the Saskatchewan Willow Awards. Facing the Mountain is shortlisted for the Diamond Willow category, Gr 4-6. And why is Saskatchewan especially important to me for this book? Because the town Raven grows up in is very likely there. I created it from the Red Deer, Alberta that I lived in as a 7 to 10 year old, but today's Red Deer is much bigger than the town I had in mind for Raven. And I'd also wanted the distance to the Rockies to be further, so although I never say exactly where on the prairies it is, her fictitious town has wiggled its way across the border to Saskatchewan. 

I won't be able to attend the Gala for the award announcements, but I've sent off a signed copy for one of the prizes for the students attending, and I'll certainly be there in spirit. I'll also be looking out for all the other books on the list; there are some wonderful ones there. 

And, nicely timed, here's a review of the Raven's Mountain edition from February's School  Library Journal: 

"After moving unwillingly across the country, Raven and her sister go mountain climbing with their stepdad. Raven is so excited to be the first one to reach the peak that she does a victory dance, causing an avalanche that sends her sliding and traps her sister and stepdad. Hurt, lost, and alone, she must find a way down the mountain. Orr keeps the tension up through first-person narration that allows readers to feel pressure right along with Raven. Because most of the plot involves Raven climbing independently, this is an introspective novel focusing on her ability to overcome this hardship. She is forced into leadership as she moves from self-pity to action. It is refreshing to see a nature adventure with a female protagonist in a genre often flooded with male characters.  "–Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ

Friday, March 14, 2014

Naming Story Characters - meanings, tributes and sound play

After all the conferencing and considering the names submitted for two characters in Rescue on Nim’s Island, I’ve been reflecting on the importance of character names, and how we choose them. Because I have to say that I was absolutely blown away by the thought that went in to the entries. I don’t have time to count them, but they filled many pages when I printed them out, and came from Australia, Canada, the UK and USA, both from schools and individuals.  I had a strong sense that most of the entries came from writers, whether child or adult, published or not, they were people who understand the significance and the joy of playing with words. There were many names that really needed a story written for them, even if they didn’t make it into this one.
Some were simply too similar to other new characters in this story. ‘Leona’ for the biologist who loves sea lions would have been perfect, and so would the Lars for the geologist – except that the story already has a Leonora and Lance. In fact Lance was originally Lars, though I can’t divulge now why I decided to change it.
There were names crediting famous scientists, and names that children felt ought to be used by scientists: ‘Pamela is a perfect name usually used by marine biologists,’ or ‘Dr Francis sounds like a smart person’s name to me.’ Whether or not we can all agree on what sounds like a scientist’s name, those are legitimate point. In real life names don’t tell us anything about someone’s intelligence or morals – but fiction is full of subtle hints (or wilful misleading…).
I’m sure there’s probably a relationship between the sharp consonants like K, the number of syllables,or the length of the vowel sounds, as to whether we see the person as sharp or gentle, round or thin. As one young poet said, ‘Raymond: the ra sound reminds me of rocks, a hard, tough name. But it ends gently, soft on the inside.’
There were suggestions based on honouring people they loved, eg ‘Paula because she’s my bus driver.’ That’s legitimate too. If the name fits, why not use it? Similarly, a girl suggested the surname of Swartz as a tribute to Schwartz Bay,  where my 8 year old self saw the tiny island that she then wrote a story about… (No, this girl doesn’t know me personally, she just paid good attention to the FAQ on my website and asked a few questions). I could have easily chosen that name, but conferencing with my editors, we decided it should be something that was meaningful to more people.
One thing I sometimes do when deciding if a name fits is to check the list of most popular baby names for the year they were born, especially if they’re not a character who is meant to stand out in some way. 
And, like many of the entrants, I love playing with meanings. There were many variations on Rock as both first and surname, and various Latin references to sea lions.
Possibly the hardest thing to define is whether the names fit with the tone of the story. That may have been the subconscious factor that influenced our final choices.
So… the names are: Selina Ashburn and Peter Hunterstone. This actually means there are 4 winners, as we ended up mixing and matching.
Selina means moon goddess, but sounds sea-ish. That came from children’s writer Dimity Powell.
Ashburn is the last name of the sea lion trainer who trained the three Selkies in the two films. Thanks to Katie Brock-Medland, one of the animal wranglers who worked with her while Spud, Friday and BJ were filming. Katie’s also shared this picture of Donna with me.
Peter means rock, and Hunterstone – well, isn’t that clever! The girl who thought it up is in Year (Grade) 3 in Rosebud, Australia, and the Peter, with its meaning, came from a Grade 4 boy in Michigan! I love that the full name has been made up by kids on the opposite sides of the world.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Roses, chocolates and books - International Book Giving Day vs Valentines Day

I’ve got nothing against roses, chocolates or champagne, but for a Valentine’s Day gift that makes a difference, how about a book?
International BookGiving Day is new but spreading quickly.  The Guardian has a great article on it, too, and one of my favourite kid-reading pictures ever! 

It’s all fun, but the serious side is that children need books. Not just to teach them to read so they can do well at school and grow up to earn a good living. Children need stories to nourish them, to help them sort out who they are and what their dreams can be. They need fictitious characters to identify with, to empathise with, to cry over, to love and to hate. 
But sometimes, these stories save lives. I was a lucky child, who grew up with bedtime stories, who watched my parents read for their own pleasure; who gloated over her stack of Christmas or birthday books. I had parents who loved and cared for me; I believed that cruelty and callousness were fictions that belonged purely to the pages of David Copperfield or The Water Babies.

Not everyone’s so lucky. I have friends who’ve suffered unbelievable trauma in their childhood, and who say that books were what saved them. I’ve had letters from teens who told me that Peeling the Onion helped prevent them from committing suicide. Another girl told me that Nim’s Island had got her through a terrible time in her life – so books don’t have to be deep and earnest to help. They can be fun, because sometimes escaping into another world for a few hours can get us through the real one.

So tomorrow at 11:30, I'll be at Our Lady of Fatima Primary School in Rosebud to present the Year 3 classes with a copy of Nim at Sea, and a bookmark for each child, so they can safely lose themselves in books, and find their own way out. 

And if you want to read more from someone who credits books with saving her life, and who writes books that may save other kids' lives, visit Cheryl Rainfield's site

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

And the winner is….

Drumroll please…

'Lil Kim' has won the Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop copy of Ark in the Park. Congratulations - and don't forget to send me your address, as well as who you'd like it signed for.

Randomness was ensured in a very low tech way - all the names were placed in a hat (aka mixing bowl), drawn by my  husband with his eyes closed, my writing deciphered with eyes open!

For everyone else, if you'd still like to read it, to yourself or your children, it should be in your library or your school library. Or of course you can contact me to buy one directly.

Thanks for joining in.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Looking back at Ark in the Park

I chose Ark in the Park for the Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop (scroll down to the post below) for a few reasons. In some ways it's my favourite of my own books, because the writing of it seemed to be a gift of love. The publishing was another matter - 14 rejections, I think, and about five years: two of submissions, and three of production – something like that. It was the first book of mine to be illustrated by Kerry Millard, who became a friend during the process. And then it won the CBCA book of the year for junior readers, which was simply, mindblowingly, wonderful. So those are a few reasons for it to be a favourite, but I chose it for this giveaway also because it's about being a migrant, as so many Australians are - including me, and touches on that longing for family which never quite goes away when you leave your extended family on the other side of the world.

This is how I described its creation at the time:

My first thought for Ark was an image for a picture book, of a small crowded pet store - a warm, dark cave of a room. I'm not quite sure how that grew into a ship in full sail, filling two city blocks!
Even once the ark appeared, I thought that it was going to be a story about a child coming to terms with never being allowed a pet of her own. But when I finished the first draft and read back the description of the Noahs, I realised where the rest of the story came from. There, stylised but recognisable, were the Gunthers, who rented us their little house in the French village when I was five, but came out every weekend from their city apartment to tend the huge garden, and in the process, adopted my sister and me as grandchildren. All the same, it took me a while longer to understand that the story was more about a child’s longing for grandparents than pets.

After the book was published, I got an email from my friend Jacqueline, who still lives in that village, asking if I’d named Sophie after her youngest daughter, who was born shortly before I wrote it. I suspect I had, though I’d never thought of it till then.Stories, after all, are born from the subconscious.

By the way, the Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop doesn't end till midnight tonight, so if you'd like a chance to win a copy of this book (Australian edition), scroll down to the next post, and when you've finished, check out some of the other great prizes on offer at the 50 participating blogs. 

(If you don't win and would like to own it, apart from still being in print in Spain and France, and possibly Japan, you can buy it directly from my website or ask your local Australian bookstore about print on demand - I'm not sure about in the US and Canada. 

Spanish edition 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Australia Day Book Giveaway

To celebrate Australia Day, Booked Out Blog is hosting a Book Giveaway Blog Hop – let's see: 50 or so blogs means 50 or so books to be given away: now that's a celebration!

If you're a regular reader you'll know that I'm already hosting a Name the Character competition for Rescue on Nim's Island, but the deadline for that has been extended to Feb 28 - and the winners won't receive that book till it's published in July - so I decided to come up with something different for this one.

So… for your chance to win a signed copy of Ark in the Park, which was illustrated by the wonderful Kerry Millard, and was the CBCA Book of the Year for Younger Readers in 1995, simply comment on this blog and tell me: what do the letters CBCA stand for? The winner will be chosen by random from the correct entries.

Entries close at midnight Jan 28. (Australian time - but we can make it Western Australian to be fair.)
The winner will be announced Jan 29.

And if you want to read more of my blogs - generally about writing, or what's happening in the world of my books or the Nim movies - feel free to subscribe on the link above.

And when you're done, have a look at the links for all the other great giveaways on the link above.
Good luck!