Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Writing quote XII

The faster I write the better my output. If I'm going slow I'm in trouble. It means I'm pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.
(Raymond Chandler)

To some extent, this is why I write the way I do; unplanned, at least at the very early stages. To plan and follow the blueprint is, for me, rather unadventurous. Ergo, it's also pretty boring. I'd never heard it put the way Chandler put it here, but I think I get it. Pushing words means that you're forcing something to happen. You're being the primary agent for change, or for creativity. And of course, the urge to scratch that itch to create something is why we do what we do. But I think there has to more than that. There has to be the feeling of being taken on the ride with the characters. Because if we can't inspire ourselves to invest in our characters and their journey, what hope do our readers have?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Reflections on the CBCA shortlist.

I do this every year. I do. I forget that the Children's Book Council Book of the Year Awards shortlist is due. Then I remember at the last moment, or someone mentions it in an email or on Facebook. Then I'm onto the website, and clicking Refresh every thirty seconds for the five minutes leading up to midday. Because as much as I claim that I don't care, I do. I really do. And let me heartily congratulate every one of the writers and illustrators and publishers and editors represented on those lists.

A couple of years ago I got in some trouble from Mo Johnson, when I suggested that it's of more value to a newish writer to be on the shortlist or notable list than someone who is properly established. And as much as that sounded like sour grapes for Hunting Elephants failing to get a notable listing, I certainly didn't mean it that way. I stand by what I said - that to someone with a gazillion books and half a gazillion shortlistings, one more gong isn't going to do much to advance their career. But when you're just getting established (as I was when Captain Mack was shortlisted for the CBCA in 2000) it does put you on the map.

Which brings me to one of the great disappointments out of today's shortlist announcement, quite apart from the fact that Anonymity Jones wasn't on it. And that is that a number of very fine books weren't even on the Notables list, not least of all the wonderful Saltwater Vampires, by Kirsty Eager, and the incredible Big River, Little Fish, by Belinda Jeffrey. The latter was particularly disappointing, since I predicted that Belinda's first book, Brown Skin Blue was going to win Book of the Year in 2010. Boy, was I wrong!

Those guys, and many others, are feeling pretty glum tonight. Others are feeling rather buoyant. And that's how it goes. Some feel cheated, some feel lucky, others feel like they got precisely what they deserved or even expected. But at the end of the day, it's down to judges. Human judges who are just trying to pick the best books they can. They don't have an agenda - they just want to reward the best books. The books that they deem to be the best books.

Earlier this year I was one of the judges for the Patricia Wrightson Prize in the NSW Premier's Awards. A number of the books shortlisted today were well down our list, and the list of the Ethel Turner Prize. And several of the books we chose didn't appear in any of today's announcements. So it's hard, and your choices as a judge will always be criticised. But to those who missed out today, I'd say this: none of us are entitled. None of us have a birthright to this wonderful thing we get to do for a living, not even those on the lists. So chin up, onward and upward, all that cliché and guff. We don't write for awards; we write because we have to, because we love to, because we love to tell stories, and we love it when kids' eyes light up with the glow of the stories we tell.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A night at Penguin Plays Rough

In a one-way lane in St Peters, a stone’s throw from the Saturday night Newtown crowds, is a reclaimed warehouse. This is where they gather, stinging for some old-school fringe art goodness. At the door - a slightly creaky metal security gate - a cheerful girl takes your five dollars and offers you a raffle ticket. ‘We might have something to raffle, we might not. But there is cake.’

And there is cake. Or peppermint slice, in fact, of the most Technicolor and mouth-smash variety. And wine, beer and cider, by way of set donation. (A hint for the newcomer - take your own wine glass if you’re not a fan of plastic cups.)

In the space itself, partitioned off from the various recording and rehearsal spaces by heavy, quilted, cushioned curtains, are several couches and armchairs, a piano, a small PA system with turntable (Miles Davis, in case you’re wondering) and in the far corner, the main stage.

Is it a stage? Kind of. It’s actually a large coffee table, onto which has been lifted a red velour armchair, a pedestal lamp, and a smaller coffee table, complete with spittoon/ashtray. I’m sure that to the more nervous of the open-mic readers it looks more like a scaffold. Does that chair - I call it the Chair of Truth - rest atop some kind of trapdoor?

The room gradually fills. Many of the sixty or so finding a seat on the floor or a spot against the back wall seem to know one another. Others introduce themselves. It’s been some time since I was in a room like this, and there seems to be a lot less of the… well, wankers than there populated these things in the mid-nineties, when the leather-clad neophytes sculled chardy at book launches in Darlinghurst galleries and pretended to know Justine Ettler.

The co-founder of Penguin Plays Rough, Pip Smith, introduces the first reader, who is one of the five ‘headliners’ for the night. He reads a travel piece about Burma. It’s not bad, a little one-paced, and his revelation of his interaction with a prostitute is… well, let’s just say that it possibly says more about him than about the prostitute. If the story is true. Which it might be.

But therein lies the beauty of an event like Penguin Plays Rough. Over the next two hours or so (with two short breaks to recharge glasses) we hear outstanding poetry from accomplished professionals like Miles Merrill, we see some performance art that borrows from Thelma and Louise, we hear some short poems of uneven quality, we hear a foreword from an upcoming short story collection, a ‘prepared statement’ by a stand-up comedian, and the faux-biblical text of an ‘illuminated novel’, complete with accompanying slides. And underpinning all of this, like any good fiction, is the feeling that even the fictional bits contain a kernel of autobiography.

It ends too soon. Leave them wanting more, I guess. And I do want more. It’s been a long time since I first met a newcomer called Melina Marchetta at the Harold Park Hotel, where they ran the wonderful and greatly missed Writers in the Park. I liked the intimate feel of the fringe-lit thing. Perhaps it’s a manifestation of my great regret at never going to uni to do subjects I was interested in. But I like it, and I want more.

Next time I’m going to read. I wasn’t sure this time if I wanted to, and by the time I decided that I was brave enough, the open spots were all taken. In fact, the blackboard (or marker-pen on cardboard, in fact) was full before the second bottle of cab-sav had been popped. So the lesson in that - if you’re feeling brave, make sure you defeat your second-thought nerves before you open the security grille and pocket your raffle ticket. You might reveal something intimate about yourself to a roomful of strangers, but what’s so wrong with that?

(For Facebook Notes readers: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog at headvsdesk.blogspot.com)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Deutscher Jugendliterapreis...

...which means, German Youth Literature Prize. And I'm on it! With the help of the wonderful Stefanie Schaeffler in bending my words into their German equivalent, Town: Irgendwo in Australien, (Gerstenberg Verlag) has attracted the attention of the selection jury! Let happy dancing abound!

So, having calmed down, let's examine what this news means.

I'm so glad you asked. First, the book may win some prize money, so there's that. Second, the prize has its own stall at the Bologna Book fair, which is the premier children's/YA event in the world for publishers looking to buy/sell their products internationally. So that's pretty good, too. Third, this will hopefully boost sales in what is a pretty major kidlit/YA market. And fourth, it may well help to crack open the door to the European International Schools. I've already worked in such schools in Singapore, Japan and China, but to use such a high profile shortlisting to do some work in Europe would be amazing. Could a publicity/schools trip to Frankfurt in October be on the cards? Watch this space...