Five nice things

Five nice things that happened this week:

One. Feeling alive and salty

We went into Byron one evening, after a sweltering day hanging at home in the Alstonville plateau. It was ten degrees cooler by the coast. We ate Japanese at our favourite Byron eat place, Japonaise Kitchen. The beach was choppy and blowy, and it was already 6pm. But my daughter and I ran and danced and sung into the ocean. We belly flopped into the waves. I drank the salt water. We felt alive. Then we drank a coconut.

Two. Crying and feeling

I was meant to be working, and the girls and Greg were planning to see Moana at the cinema. I felt exceedingly jealous, but then hung up my keyboard, so I could come along too. I think I started crying in the first five minutes, when Moana sung, and didn’t stop until the credits stopped rolling. I can’t cry about my own problems, but somehow, Disney gets me by the tear ducts. Then Elka got a Cyndi Lauper inspired undercut, and my day was complete.

Three. Drawing and painting

The girls were busy pottering. Greg was working, I think. I have a loose commitment to myself to join the 52 Week Illustration Challenge. I say loose, because if I miss a week or two or three, I won’t be hard on myself. But if I have time, I will use it to paint or draw, instead of aimlessly looking on my phone. I drew a picture of a flying snail called Cleo, and a jealous flamingo.

Four. Playing on rocks

I was given a voucher to get a family photoshoot done by Kate Nutt, which is very lucky, because she is very good. We met at Shelly’s Beach, and the girls played with bubbles and hula hoops. When the shoot had finished, I followed the girls along the black rocks, while Greg bought fish and chips. They skipped from rock to rock, and deliberately sunk themselves, fully clothed, into pools. Picked up starfish which looked like star rainbows, instead of starfish. I didn’t think about anything much as I followed them, except that maybe spending as much time in nature with your kids is about the best piece of parenting advice I could ever offer.

Five. A string of nice moments

Elka went on the big waterslide with her cousins, so I took Rosie down the road to the Serpentine in Ballina, which is my favourite waterside place, because you can sit under a giant weeping fig, and run into the water when you feel like it. We were surrounded by families at first. By lunch time, most people had gone. Rosie put sand and water into the bucket, tipped it out and did it again on repeat for a couple of hours. Under the weeping fig, I decided that if all I can do as a parent is give my children a string of nice moments and pleasant feelings, then that’s okay.

How was your week? Tell me your five nice moments?

 

Hello, 2017

Hello! It’s been a little while since I have written here. I can’t tell you why, exactly. Maybe it’s that life has been busy. Maybe I have been conserving writing energy for other projects. Maybe I want to conserve words until I have something burning to tell you. There is a flood of words out there, on our screens, surrounding us and closing in on us. We can turn away, and turn them off. But I feel like, unless words mean something, and actually provide something – a smile, a warm feeling, worthwhile thought – I’ll let them ebb to the edges of my brain.

Home life is good. We have made our little sunshine house cosy, and full of exactly what we need. Nothing more. We have spent nearly every second night with friends or family, filling social cups and hearts with festive warmth.

I hope you too are having a happy, relaxing time.

As 2016 gently folds away, and a new year emerges, I’ve been thinking about what this year has brought me.

Time.

Having just moved to Europe, my paid work slowed in February. I momentarily panicked. But ends got met, somehow, and I realised how wonderful time could be. Time to hang out in English-style gardens, and read novels to my kids by the canal. Time to squander in ice-cream stores, or on long bike trips to flea markets. Time for my children to tell themselves stories, in their rooms or in the garden, without the structure of school hours. Time to get dressed in the mornings – hours, and hours, some mornings, until the day was almost gone.

Money is earned, but time is a gift. The Italians have the right idea. They get to work early, then close up shop by 12.30. They spend four hours eating, drinking and sleeping in the best part of the day, then do a little work in the afternoon and into the evening. The day swivels on time spent together, and soaking up life, rather than being industrious and busy.

What else has 2016 brought?

Flow

Between occasional frantic jaunts, looking for work, cultivating new work or developing would-be businesses, I spent empty hours writing, or drawing. I let myself write anything; in any form, and any length. I started several novels, for various age groups. I tried finishing one. I played with picture book manuscripts, and scribbled ideas.

For about a month, when my eldest was transitioning to sleeping alone, I sat beside her room, with a laptop. ‘Can you lie down with me?’ she’d ask at first. But we had a deal. I had to write her another story about two characters, Florence and Fox. When she woke up, we’d read the story.

‘Are you there?’ she’d called out. ‘I’m here,’ I replied, and tap-tap-tapped a new story for her.

The ritual was a discipline, in kind. Like this blog has been for me, over the years, my daughter’s requirements for new stories helped me write without inhibition. I felt like it opened up my writer’s voice. Words came easily, as I sunk into the characters’ world.

When I had a slice of time, I could have spent it scrolling through Facebook. But instead, I started a new chapter or a new story. May the flow be with me.

And what else?

Grey hairs.

Two, to be precise. And they aren’t sporadic, accidentally born bleached. They are persistent grey hairs. Because this was the year I got older and wiser. It was the longest time I’ve spent away from my parents, so maybe it was the catalyst I needed to finally become an adult.

In 2016, I dumped a box of trophies that have sat under my bed for years, because I no longer need stuff, and I no longer need plastic validation. I write, or do anything creative, because I love doing it. I work on something because I want it to be good, not be awarded. I’ll probably never grow out of that pleasurable rush that comes with receiving an award, or a compliment. But unlike my fourteen year old self, I’m not starting the new year with a wish to win an end of year academic prize.

I also stopped needing others so badly. Years of FOMO seeped away, and here I am at home, on a Friday night (while others are sharing pizza and end of year fuzzies). Happily.

A hang-over from boarding school, I’ve felt the need to be everywhere and with everyone. I have a lot of friends, and nurture each friendship. But this year, I spent time nurturing friendships that nurture me back. With grey hair comes deeper and richer friendship, or so it seems.

And so…

Look through Facebook, and you feel as if 2016 has been the year our idols died, and populism took over the world. But we humans are good at seeking patterns, and finding connections, and making stories. Each famous person who passed away added another notch in the supposedly weird year that was 2016. And yes, some very difficult stuff has gone on.

But I am not wishing this year away. Instead, I am keeping it wrapped up safe in an album of photos, on my mantle.

2016 has been a year of growth for me. It’s been a year of excitement. Depth. Exploration. Experience. Productivity. Time. Pleasure.

And what will 2017 bring? Let’s turn the page, and find out, shall we?

Fifteen Great Resources For Aspiring Children’s Authors

great resources for aspiring children's writers

I have dedicated much of the last seven years to my third child, my passion for all things children’s book. It’s a wonderful world out there, should you venture between the pages of a children’s book, or into the warm embrace of the children’s book community. You’d be hard pressed to find a more supportive and encouraging community than the children’s book world.

I thought I would share a few great resources I have come across, which both incite a love of children’s books, and help you pursue your own career as a children’s author or illustrator in a fun and practical way.

1. All The Wonders podcast

In the words of All the Wonders podcast host: ‘I love this soooo much.’ I have listened to at least one interview a day, since discovering this wonderful podcast. This is easy listening if ever there was. Librarian Matthew Winner interviews authors, illustrators, literary agents and others who make books happen. I love how he brings the focus back to the children the books are intended for. What do kids like? Why? The conversations are so warm and passionate. The book creators explore what it means to make a story, how they made it, who they collaborated with, and where ideas come from. Almost every podcast inspires a new idea for me. But also, listeners learn how the publishing industry works, and exactly what it means to make a book.

Listen here.

2. Children’s Book Society of Writers & Illustrators SCWBI

Undoubtedly, if you have investigated a career as a children’s book creator, you have been directed to SCBWI. The society has chapters all over the world. When moving to Europe, I connected with the Netherlands branch, and immediately found a network of friends. SCBWI has led to job opportunities, and I did a personal showcase with SCBWI at the Bologna Book Fair.

A SCBWI meeting epitomises the warmth and support of the children’s book industry. Members are continuously reaching out to one another, critiquing each other’s work, and helping each other forge a career.

Agents and publishers are well connected with SCBWI and attend SCBWI conferences and events. Our branch hosts regular Agent Days, so writers and illustrators have the opportunity to sit in with a reputable agent, and have their work critiqued. This is a great way for agents and publishers to access your work, as well as helping you develop your story craft.

3. The Australian Writers’ Centre AWC

The Australian Writers’ Centre offers a range of online and face-to-face courses. I haven’t done the children’s book course yet myself, but have friends who have, and highly recommend it. I know at least two authors who have done this course, and have gone on to be published. The course is relatively short, and you can do it at your own pace in the comfort of your own home.

I listen also to the Australian Writers’ Centre podcast: So You Want To Be A Writer, which is ninety minutes every week of tips and advice about publishing, as well as great interviews with successful authors.

4. Your local writers centre and community writers groups

Many communities, such as the Northern Rivers community, have their own writers centre, or writers group. When I moved to the Northern Rivers, I connected with the Bangalow Writers Group, and the monthly meetings gave me an incentive to create work. The Northern Rivers Writers’ Centre not only organises an annual festival, but runs courses throughout the year, and sends out a great monthly publication with tips, advice and interviews.

5. Buzz Words

Produced fortnightly by Di Bates, the Buzz Words newsletter contains industry news, opportunities, awards, grants, tips, advice, and interviews.

6. Pass It On

Pass It On is another great resource for children’s writers. Jackie Hosking puts together weekly information about the children’s book industry, including news, awards, grants and other opportunities.

7. Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly is an American publication, which sends daily and weekly notifications about industry news, such as deals brokered, and new book releases. Get a feel for what’s happening in the US market.

8. Your local bookshop

For aspiring authors, your bookseller is your best friend. The bookseller will not only help promote your book when it is published. They can also tell you all about what’s selling, and why, what their customers like, and what kids like. They’ll tell you all about the different publishers, and who publishers what. Spending time in your local bookstore will spark imagination and ideas. Even in the Netherlands, where I don’t speak the local language, I love hanging out in the bookshop, as the illustrations alone give me a continual stream of sparks.

Many booksellers host events, such as author talks and workshops. The Little Bookroom, Melbourne, The Children’s Bookshop, Sydney and Where The Wild Things Are in Brisbane do this wonderfully for children. Hearing an author talk can be the most inspiring thing, as you learn about their process, and about the realities of creating a book. Many are also very entertaining! (Think Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton.)

Booksellers often have an online branch and send out frequent newsletters, so this is also another great way to find out about new releases, trends and events.

9. Your local library

Like your bookseller, your librarian is an expert in all things bookish. Librarians have daily contact with readers. If you are as lucky as I am to have a great children’s section in your library, with librarians passionate about children’s books, spend as much time as you can, absorbing the atmosphere, checking out new books, talking to the librarians, and attending library events. I do much of my work in libraries, and sometimes overhear author talks while I work. Can’t get much more inspired than that! Talk to your librarian about new releases, and about what books or series are popular with children. Maybe they can help you understand what makes a great story.

10. Story Box Library

I try and avoid having my kids online, or using screens. But I took out a subscription to Story Box Library, mainly so I can access wonderful Australian children’s stories any time, any place. Books are read by warm and entertaining people, often celebrities, and are animated. Story Box Library keep subscribers informed about the latest news and events in the Australian children’s book world.

11. Ask Tania

I first met Tania McCartney at the CBCA Conference, and we then connected on Facebook. Tania has a great blog, and frequently shares tips and advice for authors/illustrators. Check out her Ask Tania series. Tania answers anything about publishing, like how to get started, how to become a professional author and submitting manuscripts.

12. Girl and Duck

Jen Storer is a reputable Australian children’s author, who also shares weekly tips and advice about publishing. Subscribe to Jen’s Girl and Duck newsletter to be notified about new videos.

13. Robert McKee: Story

I know it’s a bit left field to include a screen writing guidebook in this list, but Robert McKee is the guru of story, and this can be applied to every genre and format. Learn from the best about character, plot development, and story structure.

14. Social media

I’m pretty sure that without social media, I wouldn’t have a career as a children’s author. It was through blogging and Facebook that I made my initial connection with a publisher, and since then, many more connections have grown.

I have connected with readers, publishers, marketers, book reviewers, and in particular, with other authors and illustrators. I haven’t met many of the children book creators in person yet, but we follow each others’ successes, and challenges.

SCBWI and the CBCA have children’s book groups on Facebook. Other relevant Facebook groups include Sub It Club, Great Story Book and KidLit411.

Many authors and illustrators are very active on Twitter. You can follow the #KidLit feed, or #PBPitch. Following the hashtag of children’s book events, like the Bologna Book Fair is a great way to connect with other book creators.

Illustrators are rife on Instagram! I think this is the main reason I use Instagram. I love trawling through the beautiful illustrations, and watching children’s books in the making.

15. Children

Spending time with children is the best resource for your children’s book writing and illustrating, because children are your audience! Absorbing their chatter triggers ideas. It also gives you access to a child’s voice, and the kind of things they like. Reading aloud to children helps develop your writers’ voice, and allows you to gauge how children interact with the ideas and vocabulary. I run workshops in preschools and primary schools, which gives me a little revenue, but also keeps me connected with children I’m not necessarily related to. And sometimes, the kids have ideas I really want to steal for my own books! I never do so without asking…

What are your tips and resources for children’s authors? Feel free to share your children’s book related post below! 

Creative Spaces

creativespaces

I’m not sure if it was the labour itself, or perhaps the new event of being forced to sit, with little to do for long periods of time, but when I became a mother, I had a new, insatiable creative itch. Stories, ideas, thoughts, concepts, images swam through my mind. I longed to take a net, and capture them.

But between wrapping a baby, carrying a baby, feeding a baby, walking a baby around the town, and rocking a baby to sleep, it seemed I had little to no opportunity to cast a creative net. It was frustrating, because the pool seemed so deep, yet so alive with life. All I needed was five minutes – an hour, to reach in, and catch what I needed.

Around that time, my great and amazing friend Fritha was starting her journey as a life coach, and was looking for someone to test her new skills with. My arm, tired from carrying child, shot into the air, as if coffee hung from a cloud above.

One hour chat with Fritha changed everything. The first thing was identifying what I really wanted. Was it to amble around the lake, admiring the fish? No. It was to lower the net, and start making something happen.

What was stopping me? So much, I asserted. A baby. And all her many needs. I have absolutely no time.

She encouraged me to look at my week, not as a whole, but in fractions.

‘So, when are you having these creative thoughts?’ she asked.

‘Walking the pram.’

‘How often is that, would you say?’

‘Most days. Twenty minutes to town and back.’

‘OK. So that’s seven days. Forty minutes. So at minimum, you are spending two-hundred and eighty minutes being creative a week?’

It sounded like a lot. But it was true. I started to get excited. Where else were these creative pockets?

Hanging clothes. Washing up. Rocking baby to sleep in the dark. The creative minutes piled up before me.

‘And what time does Baby go to sleep at night?’

‘Around seven.’

‘Then?’

Then… well, exactly. Then. Then my creative life really began. All those thoughts accumulated through the day, baskets of creative fish writhing and alive, were waiting. And all I had to do was open my computer, and let them free.

It was a wonderful feeling.

I discovered blogging around that time. I blogged most nights. Not because I felt I had to. Simply because I had to. The need was irrepressible. My husband kindly washed dishes while I wrote short stories and posts. The accumulative effect of being creative was like a snowball, ever growing the more I rolled.

In recent years, I haven’t had a structured nine-to-five job. My work day has been broken over many hours and days, a week fragmented into slices of parenting and shards of work. I worked when I could, and parented around work. But thanks to my early conversations with Fritha, creativity was never far from hand.

I’d sit down to work, and before launching into a project, would quickly tap out a blog post that had been burning within. Between dishes and folding the washing, I squeezed out a status update. Or maybe jotted down the outline of a picture book. Creative ideas were everywhere, as long as I was looking.

As busy as we were, technically, my week was bursting to the seams with creative space.

The richest space of all, ironically, came from what was otherwise the hardest hour of my day.

As a constant do-er, I found lying down with my kids to help them sleep initially lovely and wonderful, but later challenging, the longer it took. Some nights, lying beside my eldest, waiting an hour and a half for the wiggles to cease seemed like a small torture, as lovely as she is. I longed to get on with my night.

But then I let my mind sink into a creative space. The richest, deepest most wonderful creative lake there was in my week. Stories formed, almost in tact. Blog posts too. Entrepreneurial ideas I felt convinced would change the world. My subconscious was in overdrive and having the time of its life.

And as soon as the child’s arms finally became heavy, I lifted them off, and turned my thoughts into words on a page.

My life as a parent is never static. Nor is my husband and my work schedules. Things are forever changing, particularly this year, as we travel Europe with two small children, and no official address, taking life as it comes.

My creative spaces are sometimes elusive, and harder to find. Lately, they’ve appeared in the swimming pool, in the forest, running through the gardens and at seven in the morning, when I am the only one in the house awake.

The important thing about catching fish though is to do it. If I harness that creativity when its there, it grows.

Where are your creative spaces in the week? 

Bamboo Mother

bamboo mother

You know you are winning as a parent when your three-year-old cries for over an hour each night, and finally falls asleep at 9.30 – 10pm, a perfectly reasonable time for a small child.

After books are finished, and lights are out, I am calm. I lie peacefully beside her, remaining quiet in the face of escalating requests: milk, food, pyjamas, no pyjamas, blanket, song, no song etc… The later it gets, the stronger the emotion and the more ridiculous the requests, and while I take myself away to pretty places in my mind, or try and sing a soothing song, {which is probably more soothing for me than her} my emotions too are rising.

If the episode really does take an hour or more, I often snap. I stand, strut out of the room, frustrated. Or her little, strong legs start hurtling down on top of me, and it’s impossible for me to lie calmly.

‘That’s it!’ I cry, exasperated. ‘I’ve had enough! I have to get Dad.’

Of course, the emotions escalate further…and if I don’t return to a quiet, calm place beside her, there’s no end to it.

Most nights, once sleep is finally achieved, I leave the room feeling battered and weary. The wonderful day just gone is forgotten, as my adrenalin and cortisol levels have left me feeling rubbish, and in need of Netflix and chocolate. I abandon all my evening’s creative aspirations, vent to Husband, and collapse.

Mostly, I am mad at myself, for at some point cracking. For losing my calm, and my cool. For getting exasperated.

But, there was one night, recently, where an hour had passed, and I finally stood with her in my arms. My legs were strong {thanks to jump squats}, and my arms too {thanks to the twelve push ups I do once a week}. She leaned into me, all 24 kilos of her, crying heavily. And I breathed her in deeply. Exhaled.

‘It’s okay,’ I said into her sodden hair. ‘You can cry. Just cry. It’s okay.’

She cried with relief, then, for about a minute, and fell asleep.

I held her, calm and strong, and an image came to be then, which felt like an aspiration for motherhood.

Bamboo.

Strong, yet flexible. You can build houses with bamboo, yet it can bend in the wind. It’s persistent, consistent, and all consuming.

Standing with my jump squat strong legs, and push up strong arms, with an enormous child in my arms reminded me that calm, strong and flexible, like bamboo is what I need to be.

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