Tuesday, 9 September 2014

spring whimsy


Listening to: the girl in the flat next door singing scales
Working on: short stories for boys
Sipping: raspberry, strawberry and loganberry infusions
Enjoying: my heart-shaped diamante hair clip
Pondering: Nora in Ibsen's, A Doll's House. Remember how she ate macaroons? 
Looking forward to: seeing my friend's new handmade art journal
Wondering about: you! is it spring there too? xx


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Sunday, 7 September 2014

chattin' in the church hall


Things went a bit Vicar of Dibley this weekend, dear reader, when I was invited to speak at the annual SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) regional meeting.

 It was held in Flinders, the sweetest little seaside town, in a church hall. We had real china and chocolate cakes and vanilla cream sponge with passionfruit icing and the weather was...heaven sent. It was such a fun gathering with a terrific sense of cameraderie among all who attended.

 Other guest speakers included author Wendy Orr, and illustrator Serena Geddes. Wendy had us fascinated as she spoke about the challenges of settling back into writing her third Nim's Island book. As most of you would know, Wendy's fabulous character Nim and her idyllic island life, have been lassoed (for want of a better word) by the film world. How does a writer get reacquainted with her protagonist when she is now a film star? Nim has been played beautifully by Abigail Breslin and Bindi Irwin but she is of course, first and foremost, Wendy's creation. Likewise, the books have been sold worldwide and Nim has been interpreted by numerous illustrators. It was so reassuring to hear Wendy speak candidly about her struggles and a comfort to know that like many of us she works 'slowly and organically'. And we were cheered to hear that in the end Wendy is staying true to her original vision as she writes the next instalment in Nim's awesome adventures. 

Next up was Serena Geddes. Serena had us laughing and sighing as she spoke of her adventures so far in the world of kid's book illustration. Serena spoke with enormous charm as she recounted her days as an illustrator with Walt Disney productions and her struggles to convince certain family members of the legitimacy of Art as a Career; there were lots of knowing nods, I can tell you. Serena's latest project has been the hugely successful Lulu Bell books written by Belinda Murrell.These books are a total delight and Serena and Belinda are clearly a powerhouse of creativity.


I was last to speak, dear reader, and I spoke about Creating Quirky Characters. This was a version of a talk I gave earlier this year at the Asian Festival of Children's Content in Singapore.
Huge thanks to SCBWI Victoria for hosting this event. In particular, I would like to thank to Caz Goodwin who is an incredibly supportive and inspiring friend and the lovely Chris Bell who also helped pull it all together. 

Here are some Flinders pics, dear reader, as Himself and I made a weekend of it. So sorry I didn't catch any cakes though, they were all demolished before I could whip out my camera... 

Until tomorrow, stay creative, stay beachy and bless you for dropping by. xx





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tottie and dot: exclusive Ted talk

Baxter Street is getting all hip and groovy, dear reader, and good heavens look! We are hosting a Blog Blast. Please welcome Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling as they chat about their deliriously pretty picture book, Tottie and Dot. For the full Blog Blast schedule go to the poster at the bottom of this post. 


Welcome, Tottie and Dot, and congratulations on your very first book — you must be so excited!


Tottie: It’s just beyond. Beyond. You can’t even imagine what it’s like to have your own amazing book about your own amazing life.
Dot: It’s beyond amazing! And really overwhelming—we’re getting recognised in the street, you know. It’s kind of freaky. And amazing.





And I hear some more congratulations are in order, too … your first Ted talk! It must have been humbling to be asked into the Ted family. What were you asked to speak about?


Dot: Competition. Competitiveness. That good old Keeping Up With the Joneses syndrome. They say it’s a central theme to our book, but frankly, I don’t know what the fuss was all about. There I was, minding my own business, painting my house pistachio …
Tottie: Yeah, directly after I painted mine mauve …
Dot: See? Here we go again. Now this is something we’re never going to agree on. But that’s okay. We can agree to disagree.
Tottie: That’s right. And this is what our Ted talk ended up focusing on—how being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ …
Dot: Or ‘first’ or ‘second’ …
Tottie: … is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
Dot: That’s right. It’s all about friendship in the end.




Speaking of friendship, your creators, Tania and Tina, are good friends. What was it like working with them? Do you think friends working closely together have any ‘issues’?


Dot: Well, we’re not ones to gossip, but I hear there was a little ‘thing’ over Tottie’s dress colour.
Tottie: Yes, that’s true. Tina made mine bright blue but Tania wanted aqua.

So, was there a blow up?


Tottie: No. Actually, I don’t believe so.
Dot: I think Tina liked the aqua, too. In fact, they seemed to very much like whatever the other liked.

That’s got to be a great working relationship.
Dot:
I think a lot of it is about respect—respecting your partner and their ideas and concepts and talents. I know when Tottie and I end up resolving our moment of chaos at the end of the book, it was so much easier to reach a compromise because we genuinely like each other and respect each other’s taste levels.
Tottie: Simply ADORED your flamingos, Dot.
Dot: Oh, and your butterfly strings—too gorj!

I know Tania wrote the words to your book, and Tina did the illos, but how much say did you get in the production of the story?


Tottie: Darling! We don’t do the hard yards—we just sit back and enjoy the stardom!
Dot: The book is based on a real event so T + T just told it like it is. They were there, they saw the whole thing. The only issue with production was getting the story factually correct …
Tottie: [cough cough]
Dot: … but we worked it out in the end. Because friendship means more than being right.
Tottie: Right.

Did you all get together to work on the book?


Dot: It was all done by email and Google doc. We’re all in different states so getting together in person was tough.
Tottie: Google docs is sort of like being in the one place, though. We all interacted on a spreadsheet, making illustration notes and comments, and carrying on conversations we could all access at the same time.
Dot: It was really cool, actually.

And what about images? Were they storyboarded or done in draft?


Tottie: Tina created the entire book digitally, so there were no drafts.
Dot: She just emailed near finals to Tania, to Tottie and me, and to publisher Anouska.

Were there ever any issues with images?


Dot: Hardly ever. Tania and Tina have worked together before so they have this really cool thing going on—what’s it called again?
Tottie: Symbo …
Dot: Symbiosis, that’s it! It’s where two people sort of just ‘get’ each other.
Tottie: Harmonise. A bit like you and me.
Dot: They just ‘get it’ and hardly ever need to clarify or change up anything.
Tottie: This suited us just fine because posing and re-posing for Tina could get awfully trying.

How did you pose for Tina if you were in different states?
Tottie:
Skype.

What’s next for Tottie and Dot?
Dot:
Well, we have our book launch in Canberra today …
Tottie: So exciting!
Dot: Then we’re flying home to start work on a brand new housing development. It’s going to be called the BFF Style and Recreation Village.

Will there be a book in that?
Tottie and Dot:
You’ll have to wait and see!
 


Tottie and Dot live side by side. They drink marshmallow tea in the morning. Side-by-side. They water blooms in the afternoon garden. Side-by-side. They make speckled eggs for tea. Side-by-side. All is calm and peaceful until, one day, things change between Tottie and Dot. Who can create the prettiest house? And at what cost? A fresh, fun and strikingly-illustrated book that will delight both adults and children. After their bestselling An Aussie Year, this is the second title from this dynamic new picture book duo.

 Blog Blast Schedule

Tottie and Dot 
Sep 2014, EK Books;http://ekbooks.com.au/; , $24.99, hard cover, 9781921966491
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Monday, 1 September 2014

Tan Callahan, Sister in Crime

Hello dear reader, For those of you who are not on Facebook (!), I wanted to share this exciting news. On Saturday night in the Velvet Room at Thornbury Theatre (that fabulous, crumbling old tart of a joint on High Street) Sisters in Crime Australia held their 14th Davitt Awards. It was such a fun night made all the more thrilling for me as Truly Tan; Spooked! won Best Children's Novel (the very first time a children's book has won a Davitt Award). The following is my acceptance speech (delivered very shakily and with a big lump in my throat, I might add). This has been a career highlight for me and for the time being my award sits on the mantlepiece in our bedroom where I can keep an eye on it...



This is such an honour and I’m incredibly grateful. But this is not only a thrill for me personally it’s also a win for my peers in the children’s book industry. Writing for children is commonly regarded as a lesser art and routinely marginalised. And yet our love of reading often begins when we are young and people become the most passionate, the most animated, when asked to recall their favourite books from childhood. To be included in prestigious awards such as the Davitts helps to raise the profile of children’s literature and to validate the contribution, commitment and talent of Australian children’s authors. Thank you to the Sisters in Crime for this recognition, and to the judges for their hard work and dedication. Huge thanks to Team Tan at HarperCollins Australia who put so much energy and passion into these books — Lisa Berryman is every author’s dream publisher. Thank you to Claire Robertson whose sassy illustrations invigorate the stories and make Tan Callahan such an iconic figure. Thanks also to my lovely agent Clare Forster from Curtis Brown, chief juggler and diplomat. Thank you to my incredible partner David who keeps everything at home (including me) afloat. And most of all thank you to Enid Blyton who ignited my imagination all those years ago and made me believe that maybe one day I too could write exciting stories; that I too could invent a world as seductive, as deliciously thrilling, as the world of the Famous Five. Thank you!



And from Tan: ‘Sisters in Crime is the best name for a club and I am truly excited to be an Official Member. I have said many times that I have the mind of Great Detective and now I have a trophy to prove it...’
With the lovely Karen Foxlee who's book, The Midnight Dress, won the YA category. I wish I had more pics to share, dear reader, but everything seemed to happen so quickly.


The complete results are (thank you, Angela Savage, I purloined this from your blog!):
Best Adult Novel: Honey Brown, Dark Horse (Penguin Books Australia)
Best Young Adult Novel: Karen Foxlee, The Midnight Dress (UQP)Highly commended in this category were:
Ellie Marney, Every Breath (Allen & Unwin)
Felicity Pulman, A Ring Through Time (Harper Collins)
Best Children’s Novel: Jen Storer, Truly Tan: Spooked! (Harper Collins)
Best True Crime Book: Anna Krien, Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport (Black Inc)
Best Debut Book (Any category): Hannah Kent, Burial Rites (Picador Books)
Readers Choice: Hannah Kent, Burial Rites (Picador Books)
Congratulations to all the winning authors and huge thanks to Sisters In Crime Australia — such an inspiring, passionate group of women.
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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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