Tag: Marcus Zusak

The promise of a story … is it really there?

I bet you’ve all been there … up to your ears in another edit as you finish your final rewrite. Your manuscript printed out because you thought it finished. You’ve completed the synopsis, the envelope to a publisher is ready but doubt still dribbles around your mind.

Does the story live up to its promise? Is its theme articulated in the synopsis as well it should? Is this story the best it can be?

I’ve been working on a story that’s close to my heart. It’s about a working sheepdog and a girl who doesn’t give up on him even though he’s as useful as a dried-up swimming hole on a scorcher of a day.

At last, it’s finished! Ha, famous last words!

Before sending it out to publishers, three trusted friends (children’s authors) read it for me. Lucky, they did as their collective advice pointed to something I suspected, (but which was easier not to face) something was missing from this story – its reason for being, its promise. What had seemed clear in my head hadn’t translated on the page.

Back to the drawing board! i.e. sitting on the back deck with a cup of tea, despondent and grumpy.

Of course, Dr R, the much-appreciated ear, and wage-earner of the household comments. ‘Why the long face and the frown rivalling the Grand Canyon?’ (You get the picture).
I explain.
And in his usual logical, scientific manner, Dr R. asks, ‘If you don’t know what the story’s about, why write it in the first place?’

So I rave on about a working dog I once knew many years ago, on a cattle station – a cute-looking kelpie bitza, who failed the rule … a working dog is not a pet. And how distressed and angry I felt at the time about my uncle’s unfair (in my eyes), unjustified treatment of the animal. In those days, I didn’t care too much about the reasons behind an unwritten rule like that.

Dr R adds, ‘So you do know why you wrote the story.’
And there it was – the passion behind the story, the reason I felt compelled to write it – only I hadn’t connected the dots. From then on in, I knew how to improve the narrative and make the synopsis sing.

It made me think about the stories I’ve read that resonate so purely and with such clarity in my heart, I can return to them like old friends and new lovers (no, Dr R., it’s a figure of speech!)

Why? It’s the passion that radiates from their creators. Nothing to do with love or sex, just pure passion for their subject matter.

Some of my favourite ‘passionate authors’ include Marcus Zusak, Karen Brooks, Cassandra Golds and David Almond.

I have a special part in my ‘storytelling-heart’ for British author, David Almond‘s novels, and in particular, his first award-winning novel, Skellig. “I began to discover a way to expose the extraordinariness in ordinary things … After that, it was as if Skellig had been waiting.” David Almond

David Almond

Almond grew up in Felling, a town of steep streets and old mineworks set high on the banks of the River Tyne. One of six children, he was raised in a “big Catholic family in a big Catholic community, with a great big Catholic church at the bottom of the hill.” His stories are fired by and freighted with the stuff of his home: the 1960s Newcastle of Clay (2005);The Fire-Eaters‘ folk songs and coaly sea (2003); the pit cottages and pockmarked, heathery hills of Kit’s Wilderness (1999); Michael’s town in Skellig, which is a shadowy version of Almond’s own. (For the rest of the article, The Guardian newspaper)

David Almond’s passion for that part of England where he grew up – its people, the landscape, the language – have all fed his ability to create extraordinary stories. I recommend his work without hesitation – for children and adults.

Do you have a favourite author who weaves such magic for you too? Pray tell! 🙂


Blog touring with the QWC

Without the support of the Queensland Writers Centre and their lovely staff my journey to become a better writer would be so much harder. We have a fantastic writing community here, due in part to the QWC. Long may it flourish in their new home at the State Library – looking forward to the new writers’ lounge too!

I’m very pleased and honoured to be part of the QWC’s Blog Tour 2009.

Where do your words come from?

Good question! I’ve never thought about it before; just accepted they’ll turn up in time. And so they did for my first junior fiction novel, Secrets of Eromanga. And for Charlie & the Red Hot Chilli Pepper, a funny chapter book due for release next August.

Have to admit though – sometimes it’s like pushing jelly uphill. But when the magic of flowing, unrestrained words rush out and skitter along fingertips to the page; I forget about food and sleep (and all the jobs around the house, as well). That type of writing is nourishment for the hard times when the right words don’t come – it keeps a writer’s confidence alive.

I’ve been a voracious reader since I was five. I reckon reading books is like the scaffolding of writing. By osmosis, stories guide the brain into sensing the power of words and the rhythm of the language.

Writing a first draft isn’t easy for me – could be because I stop to edit along the way; not moving on until it reads right. There’re lots of editing chances later, but no, can’t help myself. It’s like picking at a scab. Maybe I’m a perfectionist (in some things, anyway). J

But when the first draft is done, then, joy of joys – it’s rewriting and editing time with the freedom to branch off in other directions, pull characters apart, tighten up the storyline and heighten tension. All the fun stuff!

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I grew up in the mid 50s and 60s in sugar-cane country in far-north Queensland, until my dad was transferred out west into dinosaur fossil territory.

My younger sisters and I ran wild, having the most amazing adventures. We only came home to eat and sleep. (Thank you Parents for not filling our days with activities – except to make sure we went to school.) They’d have fallen over laughing at the thought of ‘after-school activities’? I reckon those years were the genesis of my imagination.

I’ve lived in Brisbane for years now and can’t see us moving anywhere else.

What’s the first sentence of your latest work?

He slips though the shadows in the School of Arts Hall. Only the squeak of leather shoes betrays the man’s presence as he leans against the back wall and folds his arms.

It’s from McAlpine & Macbeth, the junior fiction novel I’m editing in my Australian Society of Authors Mentorship this year. I’m working with author and illustrator, Sally Rippin.

What piece of writing do you wish you had written?

It’s a toss-up between Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Fabulous stories with every word just the exact word it should be. They’re part of my TOP SHELF collection.

What are you currently working towards?

Completing McAlpine & Macbeth and sending it off to publishers.

For me, 2009 was swamped by the battle against Parallel Importation of Books. I, with a small group of Aussie children’s authors, set up a blogsite and campaigned against PIs. As well as writing blogs and letters to the newspapers and politicians, it also meant organising a protest by authors here in Brisbane; taking our petition to Parliament House and fronting the media. A matter of learning at the coal face! This battle was won, but not the war – we expect the issue to come up again.

For now, I’m enjoying getting back to writing stories.

The future of the book is…

Interesting; always exciting; hopefully still with the opportunity for books to suit all tastes and choices – whether online and e-published or in traditional style.

I don’t believe we will give up real books altogether. But in the future when paper-making can no longer be environmentally and economically sustainable? Perhaps then.

I’ll still be sitting amongst my book collection smelling the pages for that evocative scent of new book.

This post is part of the Queensland Writers Centre blog tour, October to December 2009. To follow the tour, visit Queensland Writers Centre’s blog The Empty Page.

writing research in a dinosaur fossil preparation lab