Tag: Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators

To do or not to do … a.k.a. submitting a story

It feels strange to finally send off a story to publishers – especially a story that links to Australian actor, Geoffrey Rush (in an odd way).

I’ve worked on this manuscript for many years – it’s got a new name, and been changed in so many ways since I blogged about it in 2010. Part of me fears for its future, part of me rejoices in the fact it’s out there under the glare of lights. And the eyes of editors. It’s now called Sweet Adversity. (If you’re into Shakespeare, you’ll get that reference).

FEBRUARY 10 2010 Several weeks ago, I finished my mentorship novel, McAlpine & Macbeth with the Australian Society of Authors Mentorship . It was a fantastic experience – from learning more on the craft of writing from my mentor, Sally Rippin, to researching the Great Depression in Australia, to putting the final polish to a story that inched its way into my life like a stray child.

Mostly, it has been a labour of love over seven years. But there have also been times when the manuscript annoyed the hell out of me. Then it sat in the naughty chair in the corner, out of sight, out of mind. When the plotting got too difficult, I let other stories slip into its place as the ‘Work-in-Progress’. It sat there on the shelf, glaring at me for months, but then offering possibilities of plot-solving and pushing the characters further than I had before.

It tantalised me every time I saw an article about Shakespeare, or recognised a quote from one of his plays (you may have guessed from the title, it owes more than a little allegiance to The Bard). Like Macbeth, a pet galah in my story, Shakespeare’s magical mixture of spoken aloud words in his Plays captivate me.

My subversion to William Shakespeare happened when I was a student at a country school in regional Queensland in the late 1960s. One day, a troupe of travelling Shakespearean actors arrived in town on the train. We students sat on hard seats under the tin roof of the town hall – pesky and smelly and ready to dismiss it as a waste of time. But then the actors began The Merchant of Venice.

By the end of Act 1 you could’ve heard a pin drop on the splintery floor. I found out years later that one of those actors was the young Geoffrey Rush.

There is another reason I was determined to complete this story with its runaway girl, Shakespearean-quoting galah and a perfect pair of villains.

I have a close family link to that mostly unknown part of Australian history – the travelling actors who brought live drama to outback towns in the late 1880s.

Three generations ago, 18 year-old Lavinia Margaret McAlpine, and her father, Daniel travelled through northern New South Wales, part of an acting troupe. They didn’t confine themselves to Shakespeare – they also put on plays by demand. Like Ten Nights on a Bar-Room Floor. Paid for no doubt by the local chapter of the Anti-Alcohol Society.

There are other hand-me-down stories of Lavinia’s life – and a couple of them have inspired events in my story. I could tell you more, but it will have to wait for the day my story finally meets a publisher who will fall in love with it.

FEBRUARY 26 2014  Sweet Adversity work-in-progress was awarded a SCBWI International Work-of-Outstanding-Promise grant in September 2013. I’m using the money to travel to the National Library in Canberra to continue research in the best place in Australia to find out more of the Great Depression’s affect upon children.

I’ll never give up on this story. I owe it to the indomitable spirit of Lavinia Margaret McAlpine and Geoffrey Rush not to.

Treasure-house … the American Children’s Rare Books Collection

Thanks to a SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators) bulletin advising their American members to contact the librarians at the Library of Congress Children’s Rare Books Collection in Washington DC and arrange a tour, I did so too – well, I was there and I’m a member of SCBWI’s Australian branch.

Two days earlier in that city and I could’ve joined a group of American children’s authors on their tour of the collection. As that was not to be, the librarians organised for me to have my own personal look a week later.

Library of Congress_the reading room
The Reading Room of the Children's Books Collection

The librarian, Jackie shows me some of their treasures housed inside that magnificent Jefferson Building – like the smallest book … a copy of “Old King Cole.” It’s about the size of the full stop at the end of this sentence. The pages can be turned only with the aid of a needle.

Just as intriguing are the New England Primers from the late 1700s. These fascinating little textbooks were how children learned to read: small enough to fit in their hands, full of moral and historical lessons as they learned the ABC.

Library of Congress_New England Primer1
New England Primer circa 1790

The pictures are tiny block prints; they were updated every decade or so to ‘modernise’; but the most intriguing thing is the story of ‘The Burning of Mr JOHN ROGERS‘ contained within the Primer’s pages. This was a era when the Americans still hurt from their war with Britain.

Regarded as a martyr Mr Rogers was burnt at the stake in 1554 by the Catholic Queen, Mary. The Primer’s words relate how his wife and nine children watched him burn. Every time the Primers were updated, this story remained word perfect, and the pictures always have the nine little faces peering out at their burning father. Moral story indeed.

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The burning of Mr John Rogers
Library of Congress_Pinocchio
In the whale's belly - Pinocchio

I could also tell you more about a very early Pop-up version of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi and the fact that this first ever edition by a publisher who latched on to a goldmine in this book format, has no mention of Collodi’s authorship at all. I’ll just show you the pictures.

Oh, and another thing, I gave Jackie copy of my junior fiction, Secrets of Eromanga to pass on to a school library she might know – but she’s putting it in the Foreign section of the Children’s collection instead. They are sent the shortlist of the Australian CBC Awards apparently … seems as though I’ve snuck in through the back door. 🙂

Library of Congress_jackie
Jacqueline Coleburn from the Children’s Rare books collection – enthusiastic and willing to share her knowledge to an Aussie visitor.