Friday, 29 August 2014

the birthday present

Do you remember, dear reader, when I said I was on the hunt for a birthday present? It was for my son's girlfriend's 21st so it had to be ESPECIALLY SPECIAL. May I present to you the present? Here it is in all its magnificent glory. Mind you, the birthday girl is fabulously bookish (be still my beating heart) so I knew an advance copy of this exquisite picture book (signed and dedicated) along with an original etching would say it all. Hasel and Rose is written and illustrated by Caroline Magerl — (she drew the Baxter Street banner girl, dear reader). A 'love project' in every sense of the word Hasel and Rose was twelve years in the making. I feel honoured to have travelled a small part of the journey with Caroline; to have glimpsed her early sketches and peeked into her art journals over the years and to have finally attended the launch a few weeks ago. Picture books such as Hasel and Rose are for everyone. They are evocative and poignant and layered with meaning. They are works of art in every sense. How I love, love, love collecting them. And how I love sharing Hasel and Rose with my family and with you, dear reader. xx

A job well done. The team from Penguin/Puffin Australia. Caroline Magerl, author/illustrator, is second from the right. Launch pic taken at The Little Bookroom, Nicholson Street, Carlton, Victoria.

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Monday, 25 August 2014

Ted talks tweenies

Ten Tips for Writing Escapist 'Transitional Fiction' for Girls. Or, How I went about writing the Crystal Bay Girls...

This image inspired me while writing Romy Bright, book two in the Crystal Bay Girls.

1. Absorb yourself in your reader's world. Read Dolly and Girlfriend. Even read magazines aimed at younger readers such as Total Girl. This readership is in transition; too old for toys and too young for boys. They vacillate between childhood preoccupations and the concerns of young adults. Such girls are aspirational too. Read Elle. Read Yen. Walk the wobbly road with your readers gathering inspiration and insight along the way.

2. Study the masters. Read Cathy Cassidy and Jacqueline Wilson. Consider and analyse their language, their plot lines, their characters. For my money, Wilson is incredibly talented but her books are a little more hardcore than what I'm aiming for in Crystal Bay and tend to nudge YA more frequently. On the other hand, Cathy Cassidy's books (especially the Chocolate Box series) are pitch-perfect, sincere and almost melodic in the gentle way they roll along.

3. Never preach, never talk down, your only agenda should be to entertain, inspire and encourage.

4. Watch and listen to girls on the street. Constantly. 

5. If you can, organise a focus group. This will give you priceless insights. Bake cupcakes. Ask the girls to bring along their favourite books. Construct a questionnaire to give each girl at the end of the gathering — something that asks them about their dreams, their plans for the future, their current concerns etc. Provide a stamped self-addressed envelop and a REWARD for completing the survey such as free books, a line of dedication in your forthcoming release (if you're a published author), a character bearing their name.

6. Aim for about 40,000 words.

7. Aim for cultural diversity, be inclusive but, again, avoid being preachy or aggressively PC.  

8. Decide on your boundaries at the outset. Which topics are taboo? For example, do you want to discuss sex, contraception, issues of sexual orientation? If so, perhaps rethink the age or the genre you're writing for.

9. Resist the urge to use too much 'teen speak' it will sound insincere and will date your book quickly. A sprinkling is sufficient. Keep the voice breezy but never forced. If it sounds unnatural to you it will sound unnatural to your reader. 

10. Avoid references to current music, bands, films. This is the surest way to date your book. One Direction will probably be out of favour by the time I finish this blog post... Ditto technology. It is evolving so rapidly, what's in today will be gone tomorrow. Tread carefully. For example, Myspace. What's that? I limit myself to texting, googling and gasbagging on the good old landline.

I hope these hints are helpful, dear reader. Let me know if you'd like me to expand on anything. 

Until tomorrow, I remain yours in perpetual transition... 
Jen xx

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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

happy research

I am currently scribbling ideas and shuffling plot lines for the third Crystal Bay book. This is Mary-Lou's story. Doing research for these books is a joy. The girls each have specific interests and in order to write with authenticity I have to absorb myself in their worlds, in their interests. With Quincy it was fashion, design and medicine. With Romy it was music, art and flowers. With Lou it's film-making and photography. Lou is a fan of Australian photographer, Olive Cotton. I think I might be too. The Sleeper, 1939, is a study of Cotton's friend, Olga Sharp. The shot was taken during a bush picnic. Cotton began her journey into photography at the age of eleven with a Kodak Box Brownie. I do enjoy knowing such things, don't you? xx

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Saturday, 16 August 2014

weekend notebook

Those of you who follow my (rather feeble) boards on Pinterest would know I'm nuts about tweed. Not the perfume. Lord no, remember that? No, I'm talking about fabric. Tweed fabric. I love it. So naturally I adore this skirt from Kinky Gerlinki! I wore it today, dear reader, when I went along to the Melbourne Art Fair at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton. I do admire all the edgy Melbournians in their funky BLACK rig outs but sadly I can't do it. Well, not with their commitment. I love vintage and I love colour too much. Especially in winter. My mind works very quickly in a crowd, dear reader, and I counted no less than THREE other women in tweed skirts. In a sea of hundreds I guess you could call it a quiet revolution. But a revolution no less...
Speaking of revolutions, I was gobsmacked by these bone sculptures from Linde Ivimey. Entitled, Off With Her Head, I delighted in the theatricality of it all and the irony. Made from animal bones they were so lifelike, dear reader, I can't tell you. They sent my imagination soaring. Especially the rabbit. I wish you could have seen her up close, I tried to capture some of the detail for you. I do hope you get the gist. 
Short and sweet, dear reader, I must away.
As always, Jen xx

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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

keep playing

Dear Reader, those of you who are my friends on Facebook will know that I recently signed up to write four more Truly Tan books. There are currently four in existence so even though I failed Form Four maths (yes, more FOURS, what is that?) I calculate that eventually there will be eight books in the series. That is, when the series is finished... Four years from now. In 2018. Yes, 2018. Now, I don't mean to complain but can I share with you the scary side of writing? And it is scary. Creative, playful, carefree Jen looks at these wonderful, generous, exciting contracts and, well, she quakes with fear. I adore writing, really I do. To be lost in a story brings me a kind of exhilaration I cannot describe (ha!). There are often nights when I can't wait to get to sleep simply so I can wake up the next morning and wriggle back inside my story. But as the years tick by and I achieve a certain level of 'success' I find that writing does not feel so much like creative expression anymore. There is too much riding on it. Will the readers enjoy? Will the critics and reviewers be kind? Will the publishers be pleased? And on it goes. For the past year I have  been attending art classes. I have always loved drawing but never had the courage to pursue it. But now, one year on, I do not have the courage to live without art. My art. My inept, scratchy, tentative art. It gives me so much joy. It is so liberating to create without any expectations. To PLAY. It feeds my writing, too, and I will talk about that in another post. 

Today we lost Robin Williams and I feel gutted. But I have art to turn to and I am so grateful. I have abandoned my writing. I have put Sigur Ros on really loud and I am splashing about with watercolour and ink washes. There is no sense to be made of this beautiful man's passing and I am not foolish enough to strive for anything so elusive as 'understanding'. I am simply honouring the creative impulse. Something we all share. Something that speaks more powerfully, more viscerally, than the intellect ever could. It is almost enough. xx
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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

festival notes

I will be popping up at the Melbourne Writers Festival this year, dear reader. I am on a panel with Ellie Marney (who is ace). We will be chatting with Bec Kavanagh. I was on my very first writers panel with Bec several years ago and it was great fun — Bec is an accomplished moderator and this can make all the difference to panel discussions. This time Ellie and I will be discussing 'change'. Ellie writes YA (young adult) crime fiction, while I will be focusing on the first book of the Crystal Bay girls, Quincy Jordan. Although our books are from different genres and aimed at different age groups (Quincy Jordan is transitional fiction as opposed to Ellie's fully-fledged YA) our themes are similar. I think this will be a lively, informative session. For those who can't make it, I will report back and let you know how it goes. In the meantime here are some thoughts on Quincy that I sent to Bec prior to the panel discussion. Ellie and I both wrote brief notes about our books. It's important that the moderators not only be familiar with the books and the authors but also have some extra insights to help them formulate questions and get the ball rolling... No one wants their panel to be a fizzer! This is the writing life, dear reader, behind the scenes. By the way, if you are a teacher, a librarian or a bookseller you might also find these notes helpful. 

Some thoughts on themes in Quincy Jordan, book one, the Crystal Bay Girls, Penguin Australia.
(For Bec and Ellie)

I suppose one of the central ideas behind Quincy’s story is that one change can lead to a deluge of others. And it can happen fast. It’s that domino effect. I read somewhere that statistically marriage break-ups and divorces tend to peak for families with teenagers (as opposed to little kids), with divorce rates hitting an all time high when kids reach Year 12. These are awful stats and what timing! Just when kids need stability the most, just when they are themselves going through huge emotional and physical changes, their family life is often thrown into chaos, too.

This is the scenario that plays out for Quincy. Q is in Year Eight when her cozy world falls apart. She has to deal with multiple changes — her parents’ break-up, her mother’s fragile mental health, moving house, town and school. She is confronted with massive changes in lifestyle and family dynamics; from being a pampered only child she is forced to fit in with a large, raucous family (she even has to share her bedroom); she goes from an elite school for girls to a ramshackle co-ed ‘hippie’ school.  Moreover she has to deal with all this while trying to come to terms with her father’s betrayal. He does not only betray his wife he betrays his daughter. And his daughter is crushed. For the majority of this story Quincy is in effect grieving. There are also family secrets that reveal themselves. As I said, one change often triggers a rush of others, people under pressure tend to let down their guard and old patterns of behaviour get swept aside. During divorce and family break-ups people (ie adults) stop pretending and that can be confronting.

Ultimately though I wanted to show that change can be good. It can even be great. But it’s painful especially when, like Quincy, you aren’t seeking it. Change is so often foisted on us. Invariably our first reaction is to resist. Q uses this tactic with dogged determination. She also tries denial (which is kind of the same thing). Anger is given a good run, too. But of course none of these tactics work. As a teenager (and later as an adult) I always found enforced change to be the most difficult to come to terms with. Q’s story evolved from there.

Sometimes we need to change but we’re the last to know, the last to figure it out. This is the case for Quincy. Quincy is forced to change and in so doing she finally starts to discover who she really is.

Changing Places: Thursday August 28, 10am, Deakin Edge, Federation Square.

As part of the Melbourne Writers Festival I will also be running a session based on my Truly Tan series. This session, Magnetic Words, will be held at Art Play.  Please click the link if you would like more details.

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Saturday, 26 July 2014

to town

I had to shop for a 21st present today, dear reader. The gift is for my son's girlfriend who I am completely besotted with so you can imagine the handwringing that went on prior to leaving the house. What to get one so lovely?  I had a vague plan but on the train, clickety-clack, clickety-clack, I had a flash of inspiration. I knew exactly what I could get her and next week I will show you! I can't make it public right now, you understand. In case there's...a leak. Suffice to say I did not have to get the gift in town so spent the entire morning shopping for my Selfish Self. Here's what I bought and here's what I wore. Winter in Melbourne is slowly coming to a close and there was even a chance to go coat-free today. A brief interlude, of course. Himself also insisted on taking a 'shelfie' of me beside my new book, Romy Bright. The shelfie is what all hipster authors are taking nowadays so I thought, why not? (I guess it's not quite a shelfie if someone else takes it though. Or perhaps I am overthinking?)
I apologise for the photos. Yes, they're phone photos and I feel very sheepish indeed. So much for my grand declaration when I re-opened Baxter Street. No more dodgy photos. What can I say? I am well-meaning, dear reader, truly I am. But I am also...disorganised. Gertie is on the charger which is Not Helpful when inspiration strikes.
I hope you are having a beautiful, peaceful weekend wherever you may be. Stay sparkly. Jen xx

To see what other 40/50+ women are wearing please check out Patti's lovely blog:

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Thursday, 24 July 2014

school days

I feel a bit like your mum, dear reader, writing a post like this but if it helps then I'm happy to oblige.

I have recently done a series of back-to-back school visits and it got me thinking about newly-minted authors, especially those who write books for children. You see, as part of the deal you will be required to visit schools from time to time. Some authors relish this and seek it out. Others find it exhausting. For some of us it's a bit of both. If you are an introvert, like myself, you might find this side of things quite gruelling. Remember, being an introvert has nothing to do with self-esteem and shyness. It simply means that you regenerate or get your energy, from being alone.  You need space. Lots of it. Crowds and public speaking and just the thought of being 'on' for extended periods can deplete you VERY quickly. So here are some tips that might help you when you are out and about doing school visits:

• Have a big breakfast. It might be HOURS before you get the opportunity to eat again — especially if you are doing book signings after your workshops. The teachers and librarians are always exceptionally kind but half a cup of tea might be all you manage to gulp down before 1pm. If your first session is at 9.30 and you've been on the road for at least an hour prior, well, it's a long time between refuelling. 

• Take your own water. Again, water will usually be at hand but sometimes, well, it's not...

• Take your own supply of whiteboard markers. I can't tell you how often there has been a last minute scrabble for a decent whiteboard marker. This wastes everyone's time. It's so much easier to have your own.

• Think carefully about how much 'stuff' you need to cart with you. Do you really need to lug copies of your books? Check ahead, ensure the school has your books handy. By the same token, if you have an advance copy of your new book TAKE IT WITH YOU (ahem).

• Display banners are great but again if you're on your own with no one to help you, do you need to drag that giant contraption around? I have a desktop banner. It's A3 and collapsible, with all my latest book covers displayed. It's light-weight and fits happily in my school visits bag. I simply whip the banner out and pop it on the signing table when I first arrive. Kids love the banner, too, and it sparks off conversations while they're waiting in the signing queue.

• Check the school map beforehand. Hoorah for Google Earth and the Internet! You might find that the junior school is up the road and around the corner and across the ditch and nowhere near the official School Address you have in your diary. This is nearly always the case with large independent schools. Prepare to walk! And if you haven't orientated yourself beforehand prepare to get bamboozled. In all cases allow time.

• Have your workshops written out in note form so you can refresh, remember, inspire yourself between gigs. Have some back-up activities noodled out, too.

• Memorise a list of funny anecdotes.  For example, kids love to hear what other kids have said and done while you've been on the road. When I recently asked a class what the word 'doodad' meant, one clever and quite analytical girl put up her hand and said, 'It's a dad who does a lot'. Kids love little stories like this.

• Have an official School Visit Bag that you top up each evening and never use for anything else. Having this 'special purpose' bag will streamline the entire palaver and help ease the stress. I have a permanent supply of fresh tissues, Panadol, Rescue Remedy (ahem), pens, whiteboard markers, bookmarks, lip gloss, business cards, an umbrella, all the essentials in my school visit bag.

A practical Ted Talk today, dear reader, but one I hope is of some assistance. If you have any questions remember I'm always here (unless, of course, I'm on the road...).

Toodle-oo for now. Jen. xx

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Friday, 18 July 2014

keep it snappy

Behold, my new camera! 'Oh Jen,' I hear you cry, 'how did you manage to photograph your own camera?' Baffling, is it not?

After much deliberation and a rather tense period of skirting around one another, I have decided to name my new companion, Gertrude. Gertie, for short. Gertie has quite a forceful personality and even though she is not an SLR she has a Very High opinion of herself... and a rather low opinion of yours truly. In fact, her attitude has at times left me quite breathless. She speaks, dear reader! She really does. She has this screen at the back and she sends me... text messages. She says things like, 'Somebody blinked!' 'You are forcing the flash!' 'Turn me off and start again!' God, I have been a nervous wreck. One day, I was almost reduced to tears while trying to put her lens cap back on. I tried and I tried. Beads of sweat gathered on my brow. I began muttering incoherently. For at least twenty minutes I fought with that infuriating lens cap. Meanwhile, what did Gertie do? She just sat there. Silent and petulant, a febrile gleam in her on/off button. In retrospect I am amazed she didn't screech at me. I'm amazed she didn't say, 'Turn me off, you fecking ninny!' 

Yes. I eventually discovered it for myself. With trembling fingers I discovered that one has to Turn Gertie Off before replacing her lens cap. 

Until tomorrow, dear reader, I remain Yours in Perpetual Bamboozlement. xx

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Tuesday, 15 July 2014

don't be scared...

There is a scary doll in Truly Tan:Freaked, dear reader. Are you scared of dolls? Do you suspect they tiptoe down the hall at night while everyone is sleeping — or smirk when your back is turned? Here is the scary doll that Claire Robertson drew for the new story. It freaks me out and this is only the rough. The old photo was part of my inspiration board for the book. I photographed the other doll in a vintage outlet in Geelong (then scurried away before its icy eyes put a spell on me). I love sending Claire bits and pieces like this and waiting to see where she will go with it all... 

Truly Tan:Freaked is due for release in November this year (HarperCollins Publishers). It is the fourth Truly Tan book. I will crow more about it as the publication date draws nearer...
Until tomorrow. Jxx
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