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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Making the most of writing time: slow down, reflect and make notes: Or - how to write when you don't have your computer!

One of the disadvantages of being a full time writer (apart from the details of never knowing whether or not you’ll have an income this year) is that it’s easy to slip into the trap of simply jumping into the story each day, whatever draft it’s in, and letting it meander where it will without taking the time to reflect on it in between. I used to mull over the story on the drive to work, and actually make notes on my thoughts in my work diary during long staff meetings. (I know, bad work ethic, but I worked in a separate clinic and I did pay attention to the rare items that were relevant to me. So that’s not what we’re discussing here!) On my precious writing days I knew exactly what I wanted to do and could barely stop for lunch, let alone procrastination.
But last week I had to fly to Canada unexpectedly for family reasons. By the end of 28 hours travelling my brain isn’t good for much, but it’s a shame not to work in those early hours when you can think. I can fiddle around with a typescript nearly anywhere, cafĂ© or waiting room, but I’d just tidied up the first 10,000 words enough to send to my editor, so there was no point in editing them any further right now. And I’m more of a princess about first drafts; I need peace, physical and mental, to enter into the story’s own world, discover what happens next and find the words to describe it.
So I returned to my staff meeting days. I held the story in my head, the bit that I’ve done and the parts that come next, and wrote several pages of notes on them. Several things were suddenly obvious: missed opportunities, missed symbols, strained logic. I wrote out both sides of an argument about one question until the solution was clear; made notes of facts to check when I had the chance.
Now, although the priority of these few weeks is family time, when I have a spare hour to write I can focus on exactly what I want to accomplish. The notes have given me achievable tasks rather than having to fight through the murk to find the story’s next step. I’m definitely going to be scheduling some regular note-taking time when I’m home again (ie in a more organized way than the mulling over ideas on the daily dog walk, where I so often get sidetracked by sights, sounds and friends!)

But now, I’m just about to leave for my sister’s home and Thanksgiving dinner - and yes, that's something to be thankful for!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Setting Your Characters Free - From Book to Film and back again


Bindi Irwin as Nim, from Return to Nim's Island movie poster
I know that tying in a film to a book sequel sounds like the writer’s equivalent of a first world problem, but in fact we always need to be aware of how much we are, or want to be, swayed by other people’s comments and interpretations, from editors to illustrators, cover artists and even readers. I didn’t actually plan Nim as an eco-warrior, but the way that she and Jack live means that she’s interpreted as one. It seems so logical to me now that I have to remind myself it simply evolved naturally, as it probably would have if she were real.














My only physical description of Nim in any of the books is ‘her hair is wild and her eyes are bright.’ But of course I have my own vision of her:  a wiry, dark haired, almost elfin girl, and I kept that through the first two books, even though I enjoyed imagining how Kerry Millard might illustrate something.


Kerry Millard's interpretation of Nim






Wendy Orr, Abigail Breslin, Kerry Millard
Then the films came, and there were real people, in flesh and blood, both the people I met off camera, and the way they were portrayed on screen and covers. By the time I started Rescue on Nim’s Island, I’d had 5 years of seeing Abigail Breslin being so completely Nim that it was difficult to return to my own vision.  
Abigail Breslin as Nim



It was only when I’d seen Bindi Irwin on location, portraying Nim differently but equally convincingly, that I could free myself up and remember my mantra that characters are however you interpret them: if they could both be Nim, my own vision could be too.


Bindi Irwin, Wendy Orr

It took me a while to find my way with Rescue on Nim’s Island  and that’s what I think is relevant to all of us. I had to really go back to basics instead of planning plots that I thought were terribly filmic, to which the film producer kept saying, ‘But that doesn’t really sound like you, or Nim.’ 
Geoff's Kelly interpretation of Nim


I had to slow down, dream around it, and gradually discover the story in the usual organic way that I work. I reread the first books and got into the rhythm. Nim is a year older in each book, and I felt that she was growing naturally. She’s still herself. She’s more quick-tempered than either Abbie or Bindi are in real life, though slightly less pugnacious than the Nim of the second film. She’s the girl that was obviously born of some part of me, when I started writing her in 1998. Or maybe further back, when I wrote the prototype when I was 9. So if there’s a moral, I think it’s simply, let your characters grow and develop, but always be true to who they are at core.

*This is an edited excerpt of a talk I gave at the SCBWI meeting at Flinders on 6 September, 2014.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The comfort of bedtime stories

The saddest story I've ever heard about the importance of reading to your children came from someone who told me that the happiest times of her childhood were when her mother was in hospital, because she would be sent to stay with neighbours - and the neighbours read her bedtime stories. She has remained grateful to those neighbours for introducing her to books being read at home, the power of a shared story, the comfort of being read to, the establishment of a bedtime routine - or maybe all of the above. She went on to become a teacher, specialising in reading.

So if you don't have children to read to, remember that you can still share it with other children (even if they have parents who read to them!) You never know how that book, or that warm feeling of being read to, may go on to influence a child's life.

And if you'd like me to read to your child, or children you know, let me know by commenting on this post, tweeting or emailing me directly through my website. Today is the last day to enter, but tomorrow, for National Reading Hour, (6 pm Tuesday 19 August) I'll be reading to a child or group of children. It'll be over Skype or even phone if you don't happen to live nearly next door, but that's still a great way to share the love of books around the world.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

National Reading Hour - Would you like me to read you a story?

Australia’s National Reading Hour is fast approaching: 6 pm on Tuesday August 19: a time when we celebrate the act of reading with children. Reading is one of the most important things in my life. Stories take us into new worlds and teach us something more about ourselves, all at the same time. 

But reading to a child is an even greater gift than this. Sharing the story enhances the enjoyment; undoubtedly it deepens the child’s understanding of a more difficult text – and most importantly, it’s an expression of caring. Most of us lucky enough to have grown up with bedtime stories remember them as a time of warmth, safety and love; most of us who read bedtime stories to our children will remember them in the same way. What better way to lay down the association between pleasure and learning; to give your child a resource for difficult times?



As an author who grew up with those feelings for bedtime stories, and attempted to pass them on in the same way to my children, it’s very special to me to hear of my own books being part of this interaction.

So if you would like to celebrate the National Reading Hour by having me read a pre-bedtime story to your child or children, over Skype or phone if you don’t live next door, just comment on this blog, email or tweet. Tell me why you’d like it, or what reading means to you, because that’s fun for me to hear, though I’ll choose the winner by random drawing, because it would be just too hard to choose the best reason for sharing a story!

Here’s what some author friends and I said about reading a couple of years ago:



Saturday, July 19, 2014

Have you ever ridden on a sea lion?

Miriam at Create Hope Inspire blog interviewed me about Rescue on Nim's Island this week.

 Her two young sons also had some great questions! Here are a couple:

Have you ever ridden on a sea lion?
What does a sea lion's fur feel like?
Wendy sent this gorgeous photo in answer to these rather funny questions!



Flip- 
Was the cake actually poisoned? What with?
It was actually poisoned. They used juice from rhubarb leaves, because that makes you very sick but probably wouldn't kill you.

Why was there a passage where Tiffany's foot got stuck?
Why was the hole joined to the bat's cave?
All the passages, tunnels and caves were formed in the mountain by water dripping or running through the limestone rock, and gradually dissolving it, so that bigger passages, tunnels and caves were formed. Of course this took many thousands of years! Also, any small earthquakes or rumbling through the mountain when the volcano erupted made new faults and cracks, so the water dripped down those and continued to erode the new holes in the tunnel or passage.

For the complete interview and Miriam's review, go to: Create Hope Inspire




Thursday, June 19, 2014

I've been a bad, slow, blogger lately (even more than usual!) but my excuse, apart from having a wonderful four weeks of travel, inspiration and, yes, even a holiday – is that I was copyediting, rereading, proofing and driving my editors crazy with last minute fiddling around with commas and words in Rescue on Nim's Island, right up to the time I left.

A month later, when I got home, my advance copies were waiting for me. Some have already been mailed to the winners of the Name the Character competition. But most of the books are on their way to bookstores now, for release at the end of the month, and so I'll be doing some running around to share them.

So here's a list of some of the events I'm doing in the next few weeks. (Though just if you were wondering, the NSW Writers' Centre Festival and CYA conference weren't organised around my book's release - just a very happy coincidence for me.)

                        Panel on Page to Stage and Screen
                        Panel on Writing, Pitching and Publishing a Series
  
July 1, 2014:  RESCUE ON NIM'S ISLAND  published (Australia)
  
July 3, 2014:  Carindale Library AuthorEvent, Carindale, QLD, Australia,
                    2:00 pm
  
July 4, 2014 Black Cat Books, Paddington, QLD, Australia
                 Launch of Rescue on Nim's Island                 11:00
  
July 8, 2014: East Melbourne Library Author Event, with the Little Bookroom              2:00pm
Address: 122 George Street, East Melbourne, VIC, 3002
Library Contact: Fiona Campbell, Events Manager, P: (03) 9658 9658
  
July 9-11, 2014: Mornington Peninsula Library Author Events 
July 9: Mornington Library, 2:30 
July 10, Rosebud Library, 2:30
July 11, Hastings Library, 11:00
  
July 26, 2014, Petersen's Books, Hastings,  launch of Rescue on  Nim's Island -launched by Sue Flockhart, commissioning editor, Allen & Unwin.
          2:00 pm           
Come dressed as one of the new visitors to Nim's Island!
           Colouring competition
           RSVP to info@teachersresource.com.au by 23 July