Written by M J Tjia
This year my third Heloise Chancey novel, The Death of Me, will be released in October. With each book, I’ve found I am getting to know and care about the characters more and more—both Heloise and Amah Li Leen, but also the characters who surround them in each novel. I enjoy the space a series gives me as a writer to explore their lives. I always intended for these books to be part of a series, and I have purposely drip-fed Heloise’s backstory to the reader, through both her memories and through Amah’s recollections. Mostly, I developed her backstory from what I have read of actual 19th century courtesans, and their experiences. In The Death of Me, Amah finds herself back in Liverpool, and we learn a lot more of Heloise’s childhood. In future books we will find out more about how she came to be a sex-worker and how she fought her way to her relatively elevated position.
I have found that one of the many attractions of writing neo-Victorian crime fiction lies in its capacity to explore the often missing dimensions of 19th century historical works—namely working-class women and the culturally diverse. When I was researching the Victorian female detective, I came across both fictional and documented literature regarding women of the time working as professional detectives. I think perhaps their main role was to spy; disguised as maids, nannies, seamstresses and so forth. In the case of my Heloise Chancey crime novels, I try to ‘re-imagine’ or ‘re-tell’ the lives of Eurasian women in London in the 1860s. As a successful courtesan, Heloise has attained a level of wealth and independence other working-class women could only dream of, but I have tried to be thoughtful as to how Heloise can also represent social and sexual restrictions placed upon young women, then and now.
Of course, when writing historical fiction, writers need to be careful that their work is not too prescient. However, I would argue that, in some cases – such as Heloise’s tendency towards feminist thoughts and the portrayal of Asian Londoners – what might appear to be prescient might actually hold some accuracy. This is where research becomes a crucial part of writing historical fiction. By writing these excluded characters back into the story of Victorian London, I hope not just to give them voices and acknowledge the existence and experience of people like them, but also I want to shift negative representations that have grown out of mainstream narratives, such as the ‘sinister Oriental’. Fiction plays a large part in creating these negative perceptions and representations, and it can play an equally large part in shifting and remaking them.
Written By: Charlie Hester
On Saturday the 28th of September, Melbourne-based trans poet, author and philosopher, Quinn Eades brought his ‘Writing the Body’ workshop to the Queensland Writers Centre. While Quinn’s vast theoretical knowledge was evident throughout the workshop, what was most impressive was his ability to speak personably about these theories and with clarity, to break them apart, reconstruct them, and bring them to life. Quinn encouraged us to perform what he coins, Écriture Matière, which translates to ‘material writing’. This idea is an extension of Hélène Cixous’s Écriture Féminine, a feminist theory from the 1970s that called for women to bring their own bodies into literature, especially through experimental forms of writing. With Écriture Matière, Quinn instead calls for ‘all bodies to write themselves’.
Throughout the day, I had the chance to engage in a number of writing activities, including writing to photographs and music. The group explored the power of sound and visuals to open possibilities for new perspectives, ideas and moods in our writing, but also as a means of simply bringing playfulness into our writing practice.
Quinn talked about the variety of ways we can write trauma with the concept of ‘writing the body’ never far from mind. With Quinn, we considered a diversity of perspectives to write from, ranging from the individual who experiences trauma, to a community that experience trauma, to the witness who observes trauma. I learned that trauma is never necessarily ‘finished’ or able to be fit into a cohesive narrative, and Quinn stressed how our writing can reflect this, and that there are many ways and modes in which to tell these stories. For example, I was introduced to the concept of ‘fragmentation’; a loose writing style that uses poetic language and form to represent the fragmented, incomplete and often disjointed nature of trauma. This, alongside many other writing techniques, was discussed as a way to write past the limits of language.
Of course, using these theories and techniques with our own ideas and stories also takes skill. So, Quinn suggested a number of his personal favourite productivity techniques (or ‘writing hacks’). He mentioned the Pomodoro technique and attending writers’ groups where you can meet and share ideas with people outside of your usual circles (a la QWC’s Writing Friday!), and the notion of being a ‘life writer’ and bringing your lived experiences to your next writing session. My personal favourite ‘hack’ was the idea of overcoming writer’s block by leaving sentences unfinished – a way to naturally kick your brain back into gear – I’ve already started putting this one to good use (possibly even in the composition of this blog post!) and it has worked wonders so far.
Overall the workshop was a highly valuable experience. It was a great opportunity for me to engage in the open and inclusive dialogue with Quinn, to greatly further my knowledge of literary theories, and simply have a great day in the company of other passionate writers looking to broaden their minds and develop their craft in new and exciting ways.
GenreCon: There are heaps of conventions, many of which offer literary programming, so why choose GenreCon? What do you hope to achieve by attending?
Lee: Hi, and thanks for inviting me! It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of literary conventions, and for a number of reasons. Firstly, they’re a fantastic way for writers to refresh their creative well, allowing us to step away from our desks to travel to a new location where we can immerse ourselves in workshops and panels intended to inform and inspire our work. There’s nothing quite like it for improving productivity. And there’s no doubt that GenreCon’s programming is top-notch, offering world-class presentations, panels, and readings from award-winning writers, sessions intended to help you develop skills, explore current trends, and get the skinny on new markets and opportunities. If you need proof, just scan the programme: there’s horror’s superstar Kaaron Warren presenting her famous Found Things workshop—an absolute must-do—as is Aiki Flinthart’s Fight Like a Girl session, perfect for action thriller writers who want their work to be well-paced and believable. I’m hoping to get to the breakfast session hosted by State Librarian and CEO Vicki MacDonald along with Dr Anita Hess, who’ll be discussing languages and the importance of language and story in the International Year of Indigenous Languages. I attended a presentation by Dr Heiss last year when we were both speaking at New Zealand’s National Writers’ Forum, and I found her incredibly approachable and informative, particularly with regards to cultural sensitivity, so this session has to be excellent way to start the day. But in spite of all the wonderful sessions on offer, the main reason I’m looking forward to GenreCon is for the networking that occurs in and around the margins of the convention. I can’t wait to reconnect with incredible colleagues I’ve met before, people like Alan Baxter, Angela Slatter, Rob Porteous, Carleton Chinner, and Kaaron Warren. However, the antipodean dark fiction community is small and close knit, so there are many more Australian genre writers who I’ve have the privilege of editing, or I’ve appeared in an anthology with, or perhaps we’ve worked together on a committee or judging panel, and there still some others who I know only through reading their work. Imagine my excitement at being able to finally meet these wonderful writers, GenreCon providing the perfect opportunity to connect with them on a personal level and find out what they’re working on now. For newer writers, who haven’t attended a conference before, GenreCon will help you discover like-minded folk who are as weird as you are. People to help you celebrate and commiserate your writing efforts. It offers a safe space to discuss challenges, and work on solutions. A place to find your tribe.
GenreCon: Where can attendees find you?
Lee: Look for me at the Sunday panels, specifically the Report Back from the World panel featuring Sam Hawke, Kaaron Warren, Sarah Williams, Carleton Chinner, where we’ll be giving people some insights on international genre conventions and how to make the most of them. I’ll also be joining Alan Baxter, Aiki Flinthart, Rivqa Rafael, Angela Slatter, Kim Wilkins on Overcoming the Monster where we’ll discuss our favourite fictional monsters and how to beat them. Otherwise, stop me in the corridor and say hello. I’d love to meet you!
By: Andrea Baldwin
Conxiety: feeling nervous about attending a convention, conference, or any large gathering where there’ll be noise and bustle, and high levels of intellectual, emotional and social stimulation. If you struggle with conxiety, you’d probably be surprised how many others do too. It’s totally a thing. But it doesn’t have to be, especially at GenreCon. You probably already know these seven tips for transforming conxiety into concomfort, but please accept this as our permission to use them as much as you need.
- Getting there. Make it as easy as possible on yourself, whether that means asking for a lift, catching public transport, taking an Uber or driving. Allow plenty of time so you’re not stressed. If necessary, do a practice run ahead of time. It gets miraculously easier when you’ve done it once.
- Getting around. We’ll do our best with signage, and GenreCon will be littered with volunteers eager to help you get where you’re going. Don’t be shy, rock up and ask – that’s what we’re there for.
- Quiet space. GenreCon has a dedicated Quiet Space for when you need some time to sit, think, relax, rest and process. Also feel free to make use of the lovely green spaces around the State Library and along the riverbank.
- Other people. Sometimes they’re the stressor, but often they’re the support. Enlist a genre-curious friend to sign up for your events and come with you. Or connect with acquaintances ahead of time and arrange to meet up at the Con. Sometimes it’s nice just knowing a familiar face will be at the same event, even if you don’t hook up with them.
- Familiar things. There is nothing weird about lucky socks, your favourite water bottle/ notebook/ desk troll or whatever touchstone makes you feel at home. Actually weird is perfectly fine. It’s GenreCon — a celebration of creativity and imagination, especially yours. If you feel at your best in a Star Trek officer’s uniform, go for it.
- Grounding rituals. It’s amazing how comforting a simple ritual can be, whether it’s taking a sip of water or a slow breath, tensing and relaxing muscles in sequence, colouring in or counting backwards from threes. You know what calming strategies work for you. Have a secret weapon in mind, just in case things start to feel overwhelming.
- GenreCon is fun! Come along expecting to enjoy it and you will. Sure, there’ll be moments between venues with lots of people around, and some events (like the Night Market) will bustle with energy. Pick and choose what you want to see, hear and experience. Take care of yourself and remember the volunteers and organizers are keen to help with whatever you need. We’re all friends here and we want everyone to feel included and inspired.
Have a concomfortable GenreCon!
I learned to tell creepy stories on a farm in South Africa. There was nothing better to the five-year-old Carleton than joining the barefoot village children on the earthen floor of a mud hut. Old Xhosa women would spin us marvellous tales of river serpents, brave warriors, and white-painted, clay-clad women who returned from the dead. My favourite was always the Tokoloshe, a mischievous, small, hairy man who would sneak into naughty children’s bedrooms to bite off their toes.
I’ve always got a kick out of making others squirm in delicious terror and delight in finding others who share my twisted enjoyment of the macabre. Friends haven’t always been so understanding of my tastes. Back in the days of land-line home phones, I told a group of friends a ghost story in the middle of a violent thunderstorm. It was the perfect setting with the wind moaning and sobbing around the lonely beach house we had shacked up in. On the spur of the moment I spun up a tale of a telephone repair man who had been killed by lightning while working on the phone lines. How his body had burned away leaving his soul nowhere to go but the phone lines. “and sometimes,” I ended. “You will still hear the phone ring in the middle of a thunderstorm.” Five pale faces stared at me in the dim firelight saying nothing until the silence was broken by the sound of the telephone ringing in the hallway.
We are all a product of our environment and upbringing; horror writers even more so. I spent my teens in the eighties, which was a whirlwind decade as anyone who has watched Stranger Things can tell you. It was the time of slasher movies and nasty urban legends that sometimes turned up as incoherent warning messages on the office fax machine. Times have moved on since those then. Lately I’ve become fascinated by creepypastas, the internet version of the urban legend. I love the way this underground web phenomenon has spawned a whole new generation of monsters like Slender Man, Momo, and Ted the Caver. Like all good contemporary folklore, creepypastas are all the more terrifying for the kernel of truth they contain. They are the dark twin of the internet meme, the creepier tales that end with an undertone of horror instead of filling your inbox with rainbows and kittens.
Perhaps your taste isn’t for the gruesome, but more for deeply unsettling psychological horror; or maybe you prefer to create disturbing monsters such as outrageous kaiju beasts and eldritch Lovecraftian horrors. Whatever your taste, Genrecon is bringing together some of Australia’ finest horror writers. Come, join me in the shadows. The conversation is bound to get interesting.
Crime fiction is riding a wave of popularity. But how do you go about it writing it? To help you figure it out here’s five tips from debut novelist, Sarah Thornton, author of Lapse, the first in a series of crime thrillers featuring blockbuster heroine, Clementine Jones.
1. Start with the hero
It doesn’t matter how clever you are with clues or plot twists, if your lead character is boring or unrealistic or somehow off-putting, you’re going to struggle. I had a very clear sense of Clementine Jones before I began writing—she virtually insisted that I not only bring her alive on the page but push on to the end to complete her story. Your protagonist will be someone you feel strongly about and feel comfortable ‘living with’ over the weeks and months you spend writing them into existence.
Handy exercise: think of the type of person you like reading about, whether fictional or real life (politics, sport, business, the arts etc) and build your protagonist around that type.
2. Know and live your setting
Most good crime novels create a sense of place that resonates, ratcheting up the suspense as the reader is drawn “inside” the story. This should come easily if you’re setting the drama in a place you know well but if not then I recommend a mobile writers retreat. Don’t Google ‘writers retreat’, Google ‘campervan hire’—actually go to your chosen setting for a few days and absorb the landscape, the flora, the fauna, the rhythm and beat of the place, writing slabs of sensory description for use later on.
3. Give the hero an ally
For me, it made things easier to consciously create allies—people who inhabit your MC’s world and who open up possibilities for plot or action elements but also for dialogue in which key character or story features can be developed. This may be obvious for those writing police procedurals where detective and cop work together to solve the mystery, but for private eye or amateur sleuth novels, I think it bears mentioning.
4. Avoid stereotypes
Crime is hugely popular but this makes it all the harder to make your story stand out from the rest and whilst genre writing has certain stable attributes, you still need to create a unique space for your story. It may be the choice of hero, like Emma Viskic’s deaf detective Caleb Zelic or, in my case, Clementine Jones, a female football coach (anything other than the alcoholic detective). Or perhaps it’s something unusual or distinctive about the setting, the villain or the circumstances of the crime—vive la difference!
5. Start with a dead body
Readers need to understand that the stakes are high (someone died / has been kidnapped etc) just as much as they require a satisfying ending (the bad guys lose). I didn’t do this initially and it created no end of stress. I think I successfully dealt with it in the end (you be the judge) but in book two of the Clementine Jones series I will be making life a bit easier for myself and delivering to the reader that staple of crime novels: the much-in-demand, bog-standard page one corpse.
Happy writing and let me know how you go!
By Quinn Eades
I am a queer trans poet, writer, researcher, editor, and performer (not always in that order), and am currently on a 3 year research fellowship at La Trobe University, Melbourne, where I am developing a creative digital lab called Making the Margins in collaboration with Dr Son Vivienne, Associate Professor in English Anna Poletti, and writer, performer, and educator Leah Avene.
My writing, research, and editorial practice is focussed on how we might write ‘bodies of difference’ in order to create social change by increasing the numbers and types of stories engaging with embodied experience in the public sphere. My first book, all the beginnings: a queer autobiography of the body was also my PhD project and was published in 2015, and my poetry collection, Rallying, was awarded the Mary Gilmore Award for best first book of poetry in 2017.
I’ve run the ‘Writing The Body’ workshop in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, London, Utrecht, and Amsterdam, and am thrilled to be presenting this material for the Queensland Writers Centre on September 28th this year.
My teaching practice is founded on principles of accessibility, inclusion, and is always student/participant led – our first task of the day will be to find out what attendees would like to explore during our time together, and every workshop is different as a result. Some of the topics we explore are the ethics of life writing, trauma and the body, feminist theories and philosophies of the body, and writing productivity techniques (specifically Shut Up and Write–a form of timed writing practice).
Most importantly, this workshop is structured so that participants have the time and support to write. We will experiment with writing to music, writing with specific prompts, and writing from/with images provided by award winning photographer Jamie James.
All kinds of writers have attended this workshop, from those who write for themselves to well-published authors who work in a range of genres. In order to support this range of abilities, and to allow participants to work with material that can be challenging, private, and produce a range of emotions, no one is asked to share or read their writing aloud. This frees us up and lets us explore the stories of our own bodies without worrying about who might read the writing we produce.
With Charlie Hester
On the weekend I had the pleasure of attending Karen Foxlee’s ‘Writing Young Adult’ workshop. It was a great opportunity to meet with and learn from not only such an experienced and accomplished writer but also such a great teacher and super lovely person. Karen began by giving an overview of the genre, its history and definitions, and with statistics stating that as high as 55% of YA novels are now also being read by adults, she gave us a real appreciation and sense of the significance of the burgeoning genre – and with that, we got right into writing!
As all the writers in the workshop were spread across a wide diversity of genres and writing backgrounds, we were really provided with a chance to bounce off one another’s strengths and passions. Karen’s presentation made plenty of allowance for a wide variety of styles and approaches to writing, and the whole atmosphere of the workshop was comfortable, conversational and supportive.
Throughout the workshop I got the chance to explore many aspects of the YA genre, like building layers of character to create complexity and ‘verisimilitude’, the merits and pitfalls of writing in first or third person, methods of approaching story structure, and completing short writing exercises from prompts Karen supplied.
One of the things Karen talked about during the workshop that really resonated with me was the concept of ‘loving your story to life’. It’s an idea that I think stands true for all forms of writing (and especially in the YA genre, where having engaging and vivid characters is critical) – transferring your author’s passion for these characters, places, and their stories onto the page is what will ultimately bring them to life for your readers. Karen was vocal in encouraging us not to shy away from big issues we care about, to believe in what YA means to us, and that we as individuals, with our own emotional ‘well’ of experiences, can be the most powerful resource for creating a distinctive voice for our characters and our work.
One of the main through-lines of the workshop was the importance of ‘voice’ in YA fiction; a unique tone, an angle or perspective, an emotional mood – something that makes your writing stand out from the crowd.
Karen read out a bunch of samples that showed how quickly and effectively a ‘voice’ can be established. John Green’s “if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane” in Looking for Alaska, MT Anderson’s “we went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck” in Feed for example. She then gave us some really valuable ideas and approaches for finding our own voice; free writing and stream of consciousness writing, experimenting with perspective until finding one that fits, embracing our own ‘inner teenager’, and many more.
All in all, Karen managed to condense so much valuable information into the short space of six hours – I really felt like I made huge leaps and bounds with my writing and ideas. At the end of the day, I was left with plenty to think about, great ideas to embed into my writing and writing practice, and most importantly, with inspiration and confidence to continue my efforts in creative writing and the YA genre.
We’re so excited to present the amazingly quirky and valuable GenreCon conference this November. Your enthusiasm and passion for GenreCon can be seen with our near sell out Early Bird tickets. This super-discounted price will end this weekend, so be quick and grab one of the last few remaining early bird tickets.
For members yet to secure their conference place remember that you can still buy tickets after this weekend, starting at $359. Part of the new GenreCon process is a commitment to listening to you. In doing this, we understand that a few members are desperate to attend, but would only be able to do so if they could pay for their tickets over a few payments. We’ve thought about this and come up with a payment plan for the $399 and $359 member tickets to be paid off in smaller installments. If this sounds like you, please call Sophie on 3842 9922 for details.
So what about those four genre events to change your world?
As you may have heard, GenreCon 2019 will be bigger and better than ever this year and that’s due to our members. Your feedback pinpointed activities that allowed genre writers to engage and grow their audiences. We listened to that and created four genre events to change your world, and here they are:
- The Longest Book Launch: Completely free and open to the public.
The Longest Book Launch is the perfect meeting place to see and hear about the newest titles in Australian genre fiction. Best of all, it’s designed for authors and readers alike. Happening on Friday 22 November from 11:00am – 5:00pm, you can go stall-hopping during registrations or just pop-in from the street.
2. The GenreCon Night Market: Another free and public event.
The GenreCon Night Market will have bookstalls selling works new and old, with a fantastic line-up of indie authors and their books. Grab some books, collect some autographs, then sit down for a bite to eat from a range of food trucks on site. Following on from The Longest Book Launch on Friday, the Night Market runs from 5:00pm – 9:00pm.
3. Midnight Movie: After the Night Market, kick up your feet and lay back with a cult-classic genre film. Expect a night of laughter, popcorn, and drinks right by the Brisbane River. Screening starts at 10:00pm. Movie to be announced soon!
4. The Shreader: Included in a standard GenreCon ticket.
The Shreader is not for the faint of heart. Listen as ten ‘lucky’ writers have their work professionally read to a panel of industry experts. Will they like it enough to offer their reader feedback, or will it go straight through the shredder? The Shreader takes place from 12:30pm – 1:30pm on 24 November. Registrations open in October.
But we don’t want things to stop there. GenreCon 2019 is set to change the world for its author presenters too. Queensland Writers Centre is proud to support sustainable careers for authors, which means this year our presenters are paid for their time rather than volunteering. That’s over 50 artists and industry experts compensated for their invaluable time, expertise, and advice.
So show your support and come to GenreCon!
By: Carleton Chinner
Humans have been telling each other stories about made-up magical beings doing impossible things since we first sat around campfires and stared out into the dark. The lure of the unknown has always pulled at some of us. If asking “what if?” takes you on a journey to a distant galaxy or gets you dreaming about dwarves in forests, then the speculative fiction community is your tribe. GenreCon is a great place to meet and interact with people who share your love of the weird and fantastical.
“How will I know who they are?” you cry. “What will we talk about?” If you’re like a lot of writers, the idea of mingling with a room full of strangers might leave you with damp palms and a desire to go hide in a quiet room somewhere. But fear not – help is at hand. Here are six handy tips for hanging out with your tribe.
1. Dress for the Occasion
Speculative fiction writers are often easy to spot. Look for the Whovian t-shirt or the trekkie earrings. One fantasy writer I know is easy to spot by the trademark dagger she uses to pin up her hair. What will you wear
2. Plan your Introduction
Don’t forget to introduce yourself. Make eye contact when you speak and make sure you catch the other person’s name. Prepare your response to the question “What do you write?”
3. Be Sincere
Listen more than you talk. Ask questions about the other author’s work and be interested in their answers. What kind of writing do they do? What have they published? Celebrate their recent successes. Always be respectful; you never know who you are talking to. GenreCon attracts a wide range of authors from those just starting out to seasoned professionals.
4. Don’t be a Lone Wolf
If you arrive alone, look around and see if there’s anyone you recognise. They may introduce you to other people. If not, find someone who is standing alone and start a conversation with them.
5. Don’t Forget your Business Cards or Phone
There’s nothing worse than not having your contact details handy when a chance conversation suddenly turns into something important.
6. Don’t be ‘That Guy’
You know the one, pushy, only wants to talk about themselves and moves on to the next networking conquest as soon as contact details have been exchanged. Keep it real. Some people you meet over the weekend might become lifelong friends.
Try this small exercise. Set yourself the goal of meeting two new people. After the excitement of the GenreCon weekend is over, keep in touch with the people you’ve met. If you’re genuine, the connections you make here can become a support system where you share ideas, increase your visibility, and encourage each other to greater success.
And don’t stop your networking there. Find a writers group that shares your interests: Vision Writers in Brisbane; the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild; or the Aussie Speculative Fiction group on Facebook are all excellent communities. Most importantly, book your ticket now! Numbers are limited and you don’t want to miss out.
Everyone has a favourite picture book, right? A book that got into their bones when they were really young, and stayed there. Or maybe it’s a new book you’ve fallen in love with, when reading to your little ones. Falling in love with, or rediscovering an old picture book flame touches a part of your soul little else can.
Reading picture books is an utter joy. For many of us, reading them wakens our own stories – stories we need to share with the world. Rediscovering picture books through our children, is often linked with rediscovering our own need to tell stories.
But is writing for children as simple as it seems? In short – no. There is a lot to know. A university degree – Masters, even, worth of knowledge. Dr Seuss reportedly took nine months to write Cat In The Hat … and as far as I’m aware, that was solid, cooped up writing time, and not the fragments of fleeting writing time I somehow manage. Mem Fox, who wrote Possum Magic, wears it takes years to write a good picture book.
So, what is there to know?
I can help you here with a few simple tips. The rest, you get to know through years of practise, and focussed attention; reading books repeatedly, and immersing ourself in the kidlit community.
Children are all different ages
‘Children’ is a pretty broad term. It includes babies, toddlers, preschoolers, infants school kids, primary kids, high school kids (at a stretch). Firstly, work out who you are writing for. Which age group. Typically, picture books are for 0-5 or 4-7 years, for more sophisticated themes and images. Early readers tend to be pitched at 4-8 years, and junior fiction is for kids around 6-10 years. Middle grade is generally considered 8-12 years. And young adult is anything targeting kids over 12. But these are all pretty loose guidelines, as kids of course vary in reading and comprehension, as well as interests.
One reason age group is relevant, is that the age of your main character tends to be roughly the age of your target reader, or a little older if anything. Kids love reading up, as in, reading about slightly older children. Also, you need to consider the suitability of language. A picture book, for instance, is designed to be read aloud. So the language needs to be suitable to read aloud.
A picture book happens in the space between words and pictures.
Unlike other forms of fiction, the most defining thing about picture books is that they are a union between words and pictures. Picture books tend to be no more than 500 words. I have a book which is about 50!
A lot of detail, particularly descriptive detail, is removed from the text, and left to the images. You don’t need to say how a character feels, for instance, because it’s obvious in the character’s expression. Sometimes, colours, or use of space are used to express emotion. I challenge you to borrow out a picture book from the library, and try and read the story without words. It’s an interesting exercise.
As the picture book writer, be really strict with yourself. Can this be depicted in the illustrations? If so, leave it out of the text. Trust that the illustrator you are paired with has enough skills to be able to interpret what you mean, and llustrate it.
Your publisher will generally choose the illustrator
Speaking of being paired with an illustrator, most people don’t realise that it is the publisher, rather than the author, who chooses the illustrator in most cases. In fact, I have very little to do with the illustrator during the book development process. The editor acts as a mediator. One reason, is that the editor doesn’t want the author to impede the illustrator’s process and vice versa. Each person has a unique set of skills and knowledge, so we need to trust that the other person will do the job well. In my experience, this collaboration is utter joy, as the magic really does occur in the space between pictures and text.
The majority of picture books published are not in rhyme
What’s your favourite picture book? The majority of people’s favourite picture book is in rhyme. Many of the bestselling picture books, in the English speaking market at least, rhyme. Yet, most published are not in rhyme.
There are a few reasons for this. One, is that it is really, really hard for most of us to rhyme well. A good rhyme rolls of the tongue, like a good song. Generally, new writers tend to modify the story to fit the rhyme. But it needs to be the other way around. The story needs to take precedence. Look at stories like the Gruffalo, by Julia Donaldson. That is a GREAT story. It also happens to be a great rhyme too – but story is king. So is rhythm.
The other reason most publishers don’t always publish in rhyme, is that it costs a lot to make a picture book, and publishers need to be certain they’ll make their money back by selling the book. Many Australian publishers at least depend on foreign and translation right sales to get back their return on investment.
A rhyme is a riskier investment for a publisher than a story in prose. Ultimately, you need to remember that publishers are businesses.
There’s heaps more to know about writing for children. Endless information, but it’s all interesting, I promise! Come hang out with me at QWC Sunday 11 August, and we can chat more about this wonderful process. In the meantime, go read. Lots! The more children’s books you read, the more you will learn. And if nothing else, you’ll touch a part of your soul little else can.
Zanni Louise is an Australian children’s author, who has published twelve books for children, including picture books, early readers and junior fiction. She is based in Northern NSW. Find out more about Zanni’s books, workshops and mentoring services at zannilouise.com .
When I was a child growing up in South Africa, all I wanted to do was make movies.
I saw everything as if it were a story – perhaps because so many of the events were confronting for a seven or eleven year old: the night of the huge veld fire that came too close to the house and devoured the bamboo tree in a tower of smoke and yellow flames; the day a drunk man chased my friend and I up the river and almost caught us; the day the same friend and I found a dead baby on the banks of the river. These were hard things for a young child to confront, but in my head, I replayed the events as if they were films, trying to find a narrative that would allow me to incorporate such stark happenings and create meaning in my own story.
As a family, we were not rich and the only tools I had at my disposal were notebooks and pens and pencils. When I was eleven I did spend hundreds of hours making animated ‘flick-books’, but those stories had to be simple and were over in a few seconds. And then I realized I could write longer stories – some of them true, some of them fiction. I started writing these stories when I was seven, and I haven’t stopped since. I believe our lives are full of story-potential. We can focus on themes that emerge as we look back; we can tap into our desires and dreams and losses and hopes, and then, with the right tools and encouragement, anyone can begin, I believe, to turn lived experience into a story others may want to read.
Memoir is not autobiography or biography – yet its aim is to achieve a deep ‘truth-telling.’ There are pitfalls and hazards on the truth-telling journey, some of which I will share in the upcoming workshop ‘Writing your Life’. Some of the things that come up when writing true stories cannot possibly be anticipated – I always thought that truth-telling revealed the deep themes of our lives, but the act of writing also erases, writes over the reality lived. Also, our lives involve other people’s lives, and those others may not always be happy with your take on a particular event – your version of the truth.
My hands-on workshop will enable you to see how key life events represent key themes and sub themes that can form the backbone of your memoir. On this writing journey, we’ll look at how the crafting of life events into story becomes art.