Writing in the mountains

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It’s Sunday afternoon in a little house in Austria. The fire is burning. The children, their father and grandma have gone to the pool. After days of skiing, {indoor} swimming is fun for a change.

And guess what? Mummy’s at home, with her computer and hours in front of her to write. How glorious is that?

Work has eased off in recent weeks. Yes, it could be stressful, living in Europe with less money than planned.

But…the mountain air is good for creativity. And having time on my hands means time to spend with the children; time to play, and to homeschool, but also time to spend with my ideas and my computer.

Words are flowing thick and fast, I kid you not. On a typical work day, I write up to 8,000 words. These last weeks, I am channeling that energy into various creative projects.

When we visited Veere, in the Netherlands last month, my youngest and I puddled along behind the others. We walked beside the canal, where various houseboats came to rest.

‘I wish I lived on a houseboat,’ said my little Rosie. And so, a small idea began.

Here in the mountains, that idea has become a manuscript for a chapter book.

I set myself 1,000 words a day. Surprisingly, it was achievable, even when I was working and/or spending time with kids.

All day, little Rosie needs me. She’s three, and it’s understandable that she cannot leave her mummy’s side for a single second {right?}. She’s very cute and all. And fortunately, she goes to sleep easily at around 7.30pm. From that moment, my computer is on, and I am writing.

My eldest is happy playing board games at that time. And she doesn’t mind that I am not taking her to bed, because she knows in the morning there will be a new chapter to read. She tells me it’s the best story she’s ever heard {flattery will take her everywhere}, and many of her ideas have been directly incorporated into the story.

The last couple of Sundays, the others have gone off and left me for the whole afternoon. And I try not to waste a second. Last Sunday, I didn’t look at Facebook once and I was so proud of myself. Especially because I finished the manuscript I have been working so hard on.

All week, my best friend and best editor, Husband, has been reading the manuscript and giving me feedback. He is amazing at picking up incompatibilities, missing words and plot errors. So today, I am working with his suggestions, and trying to reconfigure the script.

I have written over 50 picture book manuscripts in recent years, but I have been less confident to try longer stories. I had a crack, last year, writing early readers. I think they still need some work. And who knows where this current manuscript will end up? It’s exciting, though, seeing a story form. To love the flow as it drips from the fingers onto the page. To meet the characters, and to dream about the world they inhabit.

Today, I am also working on two picture book manuscripts that have been a long time in the making. It’s funny how 500 word manuscripts take as much or even more time than it takes to write a chapter book. Today, though, I feel like I might have finally got to a place I am hoping to go with them. Hopefully, one day I can tell you more about them!

Anyway, happy times in this little Austrian cottage, with creativity and mountain air pumping through the veins. My children are benefiting too, with so much nature, and so much parental and grandma stimulation.

So yes, work is quiet. But other things, not so!

Hope your Sunday was happy too. Any creative or other projects on the go? What’s exciting you right now?

xx

Why I Write…

Why I Write This little ‘game’ started over at Always Josefa, and continues to spread across the countryside. Basically, a bunch of bloggers are talking about why they write. Kate Morell, From Katie To Kate, asked me to share my answers with you, so here goes (and if you haven’t visited Kate’s blog, you should! She’s inspiring.)

What am I working on?

Various things. The bulk of my writing is for Aspire Learning Resources, producing assessments and learning material for education and training courses. I love this work. It is varied, and interesting. It keeps my brain ticking. I could be writing about working in preschools, or providing support for people with disabilities. I probably spend about 30 hours a week writing for Aspire. I feel fairly lucky to get to write for an actual living.

When I first open up my computer for the day, though, I sneak in a bit of children’s writing. These are the stories I write in my head when not otherwise engaged.

Often these stories start in my notebook, and sometimes they stem from a droplet my daughter shares during her animated, imaginary stories.

I have a quite a few works in progress, but am trying to develop one in particular…

Then there’s My Little Sunshine House. I wrote here two to three times a week for a long time, but lately, dear blog, I only get here about once a week. But that’s okay. I know you still love me.

I don’t think I have told you about my latest creative venture, which is helping my husband Gregor write children’s music. To be honest he does the absolute bulk of it, but I chip in an idea, or line here or there. Our first song will be released in the coming month or so, so stay tuned. It’s very beautiful. (Proud Wifey.)

How does my writing differ from others in its genre?

I don’t know if it does! I struggle with the Big Blogging World sometimes. There are so so many blogs out there, each with it’s own unique voice and image. It’s hard to know if you are heard, or have anything new or interesting to contribute.

I have been working on various forms of this blog over the years, and have let it take on different directions. At this moment in time, though, I would say my blog is a fairly positive place to be. I like to share happiness and sunshine. I’m not shy of the truth, but generally there’s not too much darkness going on.

On the blog, I also talk about books we are reading to the children, either as a review, or I integrate the books into stories from my sunshine house. I would like to think I promote the idea of reading good books to children, and inspiring small imaginations.

Regarding my writing for children, my stories are usually fairly wholesome, and heartfelt, but a little bit quirky or funny. Hmmm. Time will tell what you all think about them!

Why do I write what I write?

Blogging helped me get back into writing. It became an obsession to share little stories from my life with those who knew me, or cared an iota to read them. As my blog morphed into different forms, blogging helped me connect with the children’s book world, as well as with other bloggers and writers. I guess I blog for connection, primarily.

I write children’s stories because I like to. I am in the company of a very imaginative, intelligent little girl, and stand at the edge of her wonderful, imaginary world. It feels a waste not to capture some of her insights and ideas.

I also feel that reading to children is one of the best things you can do for them. I would like to contribute to that.

How does my writing process work?

Varied. My professional writing work, developing training materials, is generally fairly structured. Over the years, I have developed stringent systems for working through the material, and collaborating the knowledge I have at my grasp. I work fast, as there is often huge amounts of material to work through. Some days, I am writing 8,000 words a day, and I have to make sure the words are of some value.

My blog posts generally emerge in the evenings, when all else is done, and there are no important series to watch on DVD. Posts will stem from a conversation I have had with a friend, or my husband, or from a salient issue in our lives. They’ll often be inspired by the books sent from publishers to review.

My writing for children is certainly my most creative writing. My mind needs to be in a very relaxed, meditative state to find the stories. The best time for this is laying in the dark, putting my girls to bed.

Although the best stories are those that come naturally and easily, there is a bit of discipline involved in this process. It feels like the stories are so readily accessible, and around all the time, but in actual fact, if I don’t dedicate time to them, they don’t form.

I try and spend at least half an hour most days either thinking or developing one of these stories.

Editing? I struggle with this stage of the process. Thankfully, my husband is very very good at it, and he sits me down, and goes through my work with a fine tooth comb, while I sit beside him making suggestions. We are a good team, in that respect.

Okay, that’s all for me. I would like to hop this along to someone else…let’s see. Lydia at Where The Wild Things Were , Tahlia from The Parenting Files and emerging children’s book author from Byron Bay, Samantha TurnbullWhy do you write?

For more tales from the sunshine house, visit me over at Facebook. You can also sign up for my monthly newsletter, where I occasionally run giveaways for subscribers, and update you with the latest sunshine news.

Linking up with Essentially Jess.

Underwater : : It could have been forever

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It was late summer in San Francisco. A family arrived at the grandparent’s house. The little boy, not quite three, went to the studio, where he often plays. Through the glass door, he saw toys floating in the pool outside. He worked out the lock, and slipped out. Kneeling down, he reached in to fish them out. He fell in. He couldn’t swim.

The boy’s mum went looking for him, calling his name. She saw him, facedown, floating in the water. He was blue. Lifeless. She yelled for help, and dove in to haul him out. His dad ran out from the kitchen, grabbed the boy from the pool, and started CPR immediately.

The boy’s grandma called 911.

Thirty seconds later, the boy began to regain colour.

His father kept pressing. He kept breathing into the boy’s mouth.

Sixty seconds later, the boy began to breathe.

His dad kept going.

Ninety seconds later, the boy threw up, and started balling.

The ambulance arrived minutes later, and the boy was rushed to ER. His body was covered in “owie” stickers attached to wires so his heart could be monitored.

The doctors ran the vital tests – memory, motor skills, reaction rates. Everything was fine. They kept him in overnight to make sure he didn’t have water in his lungs. His father stayed with him, but his mother had to go back to her parent’s house for the night to care for her baby, who was only five months. It was cruelty, not to be beside her boy.

The next day, the boy ripped off his “owies”. ‘I want to go home,’ he said to his dad.

That afternoon, he played happily with his toys, just like any other day. But his parents knew it was nothing like other days. They knew how close they had come to losing their son.

Two days later, the boy wanted to go swimming again.

This is not fiction. The boy is my nephew. This happened two years ago, and the image of their son’s lifeless body still haunts his parents every day. After the accident, he started swimming lessons three times a week. His sister, now two-and-a-half, can almost swim independently.

Everyone related to the boy has since learnt CPR. We know how lucky we were to not lose him that day – lucky that his father knew CPR, and had the confidence to administer it without delay.

Ninety seconds. That’s all. It could have been forever, but it was only ninety seconds.

I wrote this in  response to Rhianna from A Parenting Life’s secret subject: A story set underwater, where a life is saved. It seemed the perfect excuse to share this very important story. Other participating writers include:

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I am Moon-Face: Writing characters for children

Why Moon-Face?

‘Come and give Mummy a hug,’ I say to Little Sunshine Girl.

‘You are not Mummy. You are Moon-Face!’ she cries.

I have been Moon-Face for nearly a month. I miss being Mummy.

Funnily enough, my name has nothing to do with the shape of my face. It is far from round. I would go more with Crescent-Moon-Face, if you want to be accurate.

Moon-Face is the round-faced fantasy character from The Faraway Tree books by Enid Blyton.

Moon-Face

Not really me. Source.

There could be worse characters than Moon-Face.

But I wonder what it is about Moon-Face, specifically, which has so captured my child’s imagination?

He is quite a simple character. He is loveable. He is a friend to the children. He is kind, generous and loyal. I feel like being asked to be Moon-Face is symbolic of my friendship with my daughter; she wants me to play with her as a friend rather than a mummy.

Engaging with children’s book characters, and with children through characters

Playing a character is the easiest and most enjoyable way of engaging with my daughter’s imagination. I find playing games with children surprisingly difficult, but this is a game I can play all day long while doing the house chores and other activities I need to do. As long as I answer back in character.

There is something about bringing children’s books to life which is magical. Since we began reenacting The Faraway Tree, Sunshine Girl has ceased asking to watch television or use the iPad. Her little mind is stimulated and engaged. Some of the story lines come directly from the story itself. Some are completely imagined.

Our play is a stream of consciousness. We move from one character, one world, to another, like a dream.

Through character reenactment, I have the privilege of understanding what my daughter likes in a character, what she identifies in a character, what she wants a character to do, and her idea of an entertaining story line.

Where do children’s book characters originate?

Reenacting characters and stories has been fun for both of us. It’s also been creatively advantageous to me. Occasionally, a little pearl emerges as we play. I capture it, by writing it down. These little pearls become fodder for the children’s stories I am writing. Actually, that’s a bit misleading – we clearly write them together. My daughter suggests a line, or a character, a phrase or a setting, and I use it to tell a story. She responds with a modification or an elaboration. Back-and-forth, the story goes. Stretching out. Lengthening. Twirling. Refining.

We have created some magic between us, we really have.

Writing for children is about getting into a child’s world, and into their mind. I am in the perfect place to create characters for children’s stories. I live with an articulate and imaginative three-and-a-half year old, who’s mind is still so fresh and fluid. And thankfully, she tells me what’s going on in there. She tells me about the characters that interest her. Through my daughter, I get to understand how the characters need to think.

I take notes when we play, and when we read together. As much as possible, I am trying to tap into this magical time. It’s a privilege. When my children are older, I will have to get better at imagining what children actually enjoy reading to be able to write for them.

What makes a good children’s book character?

Although the fantasy worlds captured in storybooks are often far removed from reality, the best stories for children are those that speak to the heart of the child. They usually have a very human element; deal with a complex emotional problems, or a real experience the child is dealing with. The classic example of this is Max from Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Little Max is frustrated, and feeling aggressive. Sent to his room, he disappears into a fantasy world where he is in charge of wild creatures. Although the setting and characters are partly fictional, Max’s emotions are very real.

The same could be said of the Harry Potter series, aimed at older children. I think one of the reasons why this series is so appealing to so many age groups is that, fantastical as the setting is, the characters and their problems are very identifiable.

The character can be magical – a wizard, a talking animal, a Moon-Face – but to work, they need to have a heart like a child.

This post was inspired by Ashley Howland from Ghostnapped. A group of bloggers are playing a little “Secret Subject Swap” game, where each blogger gives another a secret subject on which to write. Ashley’s subject was very appropriate – ‘writing for children & creating characters for children’.

Other participating bloggers include:

The red balloon

red balloon

A man with yellow suit pants fills a red heart-shaped balloon for the little girl.

She holds her heart-shaped balloon by its string. Her daddy tells her if she lets go, it will fly away. So she holds the string tight.

Something in the play park catches her attention, and she unknowingly lets go of the string.

The red balloon floats into the maple tree and clings to its branches.

The little girl fills with emotion, then explodes. Tears melt down her cheeks.

“But I want my balloon!” she cries.

The balloon is visible but unreachable, taunting her. She cries harder, but the balloon doesn’t hear her.

It’s like the balloon hovers between its freedom and its loyalty to the girl.

At last, on a gust of wind, it chooses freedom, and leaves the golden maple and the crying girl behind.

The little girl sits on her mummy’s lap, her shoulders heaving. Her mummy whispers in her ear to imagine some of the adventures the balloon will have, and thanks the little girl for letting the balloon go free.

The little girl’s shoulders stop heaving, and her face brightens. She imagines the balloon travelling across paddocks and mountains and valleys and the snow, and at last finds its home. Her home.

She tells the man in the yellow suit pants that she let her balloon go free. He unties another from his stand, and gives it to her. She promises she will look after it for him.

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