Sunday, 19 April 2015

a fireside chat

Squally. That's the weather here today in Melbourne, dear reader. It is a squally, grey, hail-pocked Autumn day. My kind of weather. I have lit the fire (first for the year). I have a chicken pie in the oven. I have pumpkin and ginger soup simmering on the stovetop. Himself is under strict instructions to keep an eye on it while I scurry off and drop you a line. 
The front verandah at Baxter Street today. Note the battered rose petals on the wet cement.

I have also written to my girlfriend in far north Queensland. We write real letters, dear reader, stamps and paper and Kikki K stickers. My friend owns a cattle farm. Can you imagine? She is so brave and hardy. She rides horses and quad bikes. She pushes enormous, FIERCE cows into trucks. When she sustains an injury, as she recently did while shucking oysters, her husband (who is a vet) stitches her wound because they are TOO FAR from town. Oh, the thought of it makes me hyperventilate. Even their internet connection is as trusty as a plastic phone in a sandpit. On the upside, there are platypus in her dam — which is a fine, fine thing. For those of you who do not live in Australia, platypus are not seen around these urban parts, EVER. My friend also looks like Gwyneth Paltrow (just so you can visualise, dear reader, ahem) and is as smart as a whip. She was my bridesmaid (in Queensland) twenty-eight years ago. The wedding was pretty despite the coral lipstick and big hair. The marriage, I am sad to say, was something of a travesty. Oh, he was a cad, dear reader. Such a cad. And while the marriage quickly went belly-up, my friendship with my bridesmaid remained strong. We have since made completely different lifestyles choices, but it's of no consequence. Love doesn't care a jot about such things, does it? 
Drawing to music, in Year of the Spark, with Lynn Whipple.
Aside from this I have been doing more art. I'm finding that the more art I do, the more characters and stories there are shuffling about in my noggin, looking for space.

The classes I'm doing in Year of the Spark are not only a joy in and of themselves, they are also sending my imagination soaring. Remember the woven wire and fibre horse I made last week, dear reader? Well, ever since I made her, a melancholy ghost boy with button eyes has been haunting my imagination. It's all a bit Neil Gaimanish I guess, (have you read Coraline?) and yet I'm happy to stick with him (ghost boy not Mr Gaiman) for a while longer. See what he's trying to tell me. Likewise the little king. He's a cranky little despot but I do find him enchanting. So we'll see.

Signing off for now, dear reader. 
Until next time
I remain
Yours in squalls and scribbles.
Jen xx

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Saturday, 11 April 2015

room for a pony

This afternoon at Baxter Street: making wire and fibre wrapped animals with Carla Sonheim. Another brilliant lesson in Year of the Spark. xx

My apologies for the rather indiscreet angle, dear reader. But as you can see, I was in a terrible tangle with the front half of the body ( I can hear you laughing). At this point I didn't know what kind of animal I was making. In fact, I doubted I was going to get through to the finishing line.

I had very little suitable fabric in the house. The fabric needs to be pliable and  oddly enough I mostly had only felt hanging around. Felt is too stiff, although I did use a bit here and there. In the end I crocheted a strand of string and wool and wrapped that around her body. I think I'll leave her with skinny legs so she can run faster... I also used some florist hessian that I'd stashed when a kind soul recently sent me flowers. The hessian feels very 'down in the stables' and almost smells like hay. It frays easily too which I liked because it added shagginess.

I left the number 'one' on the selvage for obvious reasons.

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Friday, 10 April 2015

what we found

Friday. 2100 hours.
Meanwhile back in the Year of the Spark classroom. I have called this little piece, What We Found.  It came about as part of an exercise called Chasing Rabbits. The lesson was all about messing around, giving yourself time to play with whatever takes your fancy, to move and explore and SKIP in any direction. I chose to play with ink, water colour and line. After many weeks away from the Sparkers, I LOVED doing this exercise. I am obsessed with sea images at the moment, dear reader, and, like me, these girls were having a lovely time exploring. 
I do hope you find time to have a little scribble or dabble this weekend.
Until next time 
Embrace the splotches.
Jen xx 

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Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Stepping out (with your new book)

Book launches. They can throw an author into a spin, dear reader. And in my experience children's authors are particularly prone to spinning. Here are my reflections for what they are worth. 

If you are about to launch a children's book you need to think about what you're goal is. Sure, you hope to sell books but it's more than that. What you are aiming to do is connect. Connection is so important in our industry. You need to connect with your readers and their parents. You need to connect with book sellers, teachers, librarians. There's nothing insincere about connecting. When you, as the author, get out there and 'press the flesh' it benefits everyone. And kids love it. You are also energising your book and I'll explain what I mean by that further on. 

So, what are your obligations when it comes to a launch? What do your readers expect? I believe that children's authors often confuse a launch with a birthday party. I've been to countless launches, some simple and low key, some with so many bells and whistles people forgot what they were celebrating. There are many approaches and of course they're all valid. But if you want to minimise stress, allow yourself time to actually chat (and maybe even giggle) with your readers, my advice is to KISS (keep it simple, sweetheart). You are celebrating your book, sharing it with the world and acknowledging a significant event in your career. You're not hosting a birthday party, there is no expectation that you should have face painting and treasure hunts and Santa in a helicopter. By all means follow that path if you want to but the bigger you go the more pressure you will be under and launches are notoriously stressful in and of themselves. 

The first book launch I ever hosted was for my gothic novel Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children. It was an invitation only event. The Department for Mislaid Children sent a personal letter (and code of conduct) to every guest. It was held in the early evening, in the Bishops Parlour at the Abbotsford Convent, an elegant and evocative setting - especially in the middle of winter. In terms of sales, I was fully supported by Leesa Lambert from the Little Bookroom. Leesa bought along her rather impressive Mobile Banking Apparatus and a mountain of books, and all I had to do was give a little speech, sign books and chat. The event was fully catered, my stepson worked on the 'bar' and for added entertainment Himself and I screened a short film about the background of the book. It was a brilliant evening, two and half hours of goodwill and excitement that ushered Tensy into the world with love and enthusiasm. Don't underestimate this, dear reader. There is something intangible but nonetheless very real about infusing your book with energy and love. It somehow helps to move it into the public sphere and plant it in the collective psyche. I did not have a launch for The Accidental Princess and I have always regretted it. Four years later that book is only now gaining traction and I still believe it's partly because I failed to make a fuss and give it the Magical Swish it needed. I was preoccupied when it came out and let it slip under the radar. Still, we live and learn.
The signing table. I like to add little icons from the story. Here we see Tensy's straw boater and her injured teddy bear, Mr Potpan. My outfit was in deference to Matron Pluckrose (who runs the Home for Mislaid Children).

In 2012 I launched book one of the Truly Tan series. I decided ahead of time only to launch book one and book four (which was to be the last book). I've since included book eight in my launch plan as it will DEFINITELY be the final book. As I see it, it doesn't feel right to launch every book in a series, it feels like overkill to me. But again that is only my humble opinion.

On with the details. For Truly Tan (book one) I had another launch at the Abbotsford Convent, this time in St Heliers Street Cafe and Gallery. It was in the afternoon with lots of kids invited, readers who were by now corresponding with me etc. I organised a lucky dip . It was enormous fun but took loads of time and energy to construct and set-up. Plus there was the added worry of, What if a random bunch of kids turns up and there are not enough prizes to go round? Eek! I had back-up gifts of course but still the little voice nagged. Added to this was the cost. Even though the gifts were small it was a reasonably expensive exercise. But I had set a budget and I made sure everything fell within those boundaries (more or less...). My publisher at HarperCollins also contributed a large bundle of Smiggle pens which were eagerly snapped up. Remember though, launches are not the domain of publishers. Be mindful of the costs, dear reader. A cavalier approach to a book launch can give one's piggybank a nervous breakdown, my wordy yes. 
No code of conduct was issued with the Truly Tan 1 invitations. Obviously.

Esteemed storyteller and dear friend, Niki Na Meadhra, (centre) wrote and performed her own Truly Tan song at the 2012 series launch .
At the end of last year Truly Tan:Freaked! (book four) was released. We had the launch on a Sunday afternoon at Readings Bookshop in Hawthorn. It was a public event. I advertised it on facebook and the bookshop also did their share of legwork. It was simple, fuss free and great fun. We had lollies, soft drink and three lucky door prizes (aka Tan Callahan show bags). We announced the winners after the launch but before the signing. I had a blast putting those show bags together. I bought groovy calico bags from Typo (only $2 each!) and stuffed them with goodies, all with Tan's blessing, of course: pens, notepads, halloween candy, flavoured lip gloss, fake tattoos, bubblegum, fridge magnets, Tan posters and bookmarks etc. It was definitely the easiest of my launches and I'm fairly certain my next one will follow a similar format. 
At the Truly Tan: Freaked! launch there was plenty of time to speak to each reader individually. The bookshop (Readings) took care of everything else.
The show bags. Three lucky door prizes personally overseen by Tan Callahan...
Clare Forster (Curtis Brown Literary Agent), Tan Callahan, Secret Spy, Jen Storer, author, Lisa Berryman, Publisher HarperCollins
I guess the main thing is to relax and let your launch unfold at its own pace. Give yourself the time and space to meet and connect with your readers; time to discuss the book and let the kids ask questions and tell you all they have been busting to share. Connection. That's what makes all the fuss worthwhile. In fact, that's what makes writing for children so rewarding, so joyful. xx

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Monday, 9 March 2015

the thing, you know, that thing

I'm working on a thing, dear reader. A new thing. It's big. Well, it's big for me. It's not a writing project but it is kind of. I cannot speak of it because if I do the bubble will burst. But the thing is consuming me — every waking moment and well into the night. It is also making me think long and hard about the nature of creativity and creative writing in particular (as well my place in it all). For solace I have returned to the dearest, sweetest, Brightest Button and Best Advice Giver of all, Brenda Ueland.

I had forgotten. Her book makes me cry. When she writes about Van Gogh, I cry. When she writes about William Blake, I cry. Have you read this book? It will probably make you cry. But in the nicest possible way. In an attempt to rein in my muddled thoughts and frantic compulsions, I have made a new commitment to SIMPLIFY. Himself is spinning. He has never seen the house so stripped bare and...luminous. He has hidden some of his belongings. I just know it. 'I must have serenity,' I cried, as I zoomed past him with the Hoover this morning.'I cannot abide clutter!' I declared, as I swept up the knickknacks and bundled them off to a brighter, dust-free future.  
I have worn a path to the Salvation Army bin.

Aside from that, I've had a lovely weekend. I hope you did too, dear reader, I really do.
Until tomorrow
I remain 
Yours in perpetual
Simplicity. xx

a random cupcake. for you, dear reader. xx

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Friday, 27 February 2015

girl friday

It's Friday here in Melbourne, Australia and I have been thinking about you, dear reader. Do you have plans for the weekend? Big plans? Perhaps you are going hot air ballooning or starring in your own play or riding a camel to the markets in Marrakech? I have small plans by comparison but they feel big to me because they involve quite a bit of FREE TIME. I love free time. Otherwise known as 'unstructured time' I sincerely believe THERE SHOULD BE MORE. I have been a glowing citizen this week and have finally caught up on my tax. Gosh it was arduous — and all I did was prepare it for my accountant. I didn't do any of the tricky stuff. But regardless, it was still days and days of sifting and sorting and adding and subtracting and wishing I had a Girl Friday who could simply wave her HB and make it all go away. Having got rid of the Taxation Scourge I suddenly felt light and sunshine-breezy; carefree to the point of dizziness. To celebrate I went to the nursery and...spent some money. Do you love a trip to your local nursery, dear reader? When I was younger (in my thirties) I was obsessed with gardening. My son was little, I was a sole parent and studying for an arts degree and, well, I knew I was going nowhere exotic for a long time. So being metaphorically grounded I literally put down roots. I planted and pruned and watered and mulched and every morning before the day got underway I made a cup of tea, donned my muddy Blundstone boots and clomped outside to do my Matron's Round of the garden. Just to see how everyone had fared overnight. It was a joyful, Zen-like way to start the day. My garden was popular and had countless admirers. During summer, when the day's were long, people would come by in the evenings while I was outside watering and we'd gasbag about this and that, all the while admiring the dahlias and the new woven-wire fence and the glorious crepe myrtle, a magnificent tree that always flowered early. Just as an aside, the house was a timber war service home and oddly enough its kitchen was at the front. Now that's something you don't see much nowadays but take it from one who knows, it's a prime position for stickybeaking...
Eventually, as my fortunes improved and my son and my career grew, I sold my little starter home and moved on. The girl who bought the property fell in love with the garden and I'm certain it was the MAJOR SELLING POINT (as they say in the business). Time raced by and many years later I decided to take a drive out to the suburbs to see my little house. I am sad to report that it was gone. Bulldozed to make way for two Legoland townhouses. I checked the address. I even hyperventilated such was my discombobulation — perhaps I was lost? But no such luck. And what of the garden? Razed. Replaced with concrete pavers and ONE LARGE CONCRETE POT with something spiky shooting up out of it. Even the crepe myrtle who was a dear old lady and had never done anyone any harm, was gone. As Joseph Conrad would say, 'The horror! The horror!'. I sat in my car staring at this awfulness and cried. Steel yourself, Jen, I had to tell myself. Steel yourself, for life is change and all comes to dust. This is something you must get in your head. Look at you. You've changed and so has everyone and everything around you. Embrace change. Make change your ally. Yadda yadda. And then I had an even better thought — I realised that one day the lego townhouses would be rubble. Yes, they would! (And sooner rather than later by looks of them.) And maybe, just maybe, if the next generation was savvy enough the townhouses would be replaced with a park. Or a market garden. Or an urban farm dotted with crepe myrtles just for shade and splendour. Now imagine that! Oh, I felt heartened at that thought. I really did.
Have a cracking weekend, dear reader, wherever you may be. Plant something. Paint something. Read, bake, natter to a friend. Find some time to moodle — even if it's only for an hour. Free time is so grounding. 
Until tomorrow
I remain
Yours in perpetual slow motion . xx

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Friday, 13 February 2015

sparks crackle

A quick show and tell this morning, dear reader. I am taking two art courses at the moment. One at my local community house where I have been going for about a year and another, online course, The Year of the Spark. I will write in more detail soon about the advantages of studying art in these two different ways. But for now, I'm running wild in the candy store! This is not to say I don't have moments (days) of self-doubt and anguished hand-wringing. The dread, the groaning embarrassment, I often feel when I open my sketchbook brings on the most alarming hot flushes. Why, only last night I tossed and turned and was hopelessly restless because, in those wee, dark hours, I was convinced that none of this is worth the effort. I got up at 5.30 and rattled about in the kitchen making Earl Grey and rehearsing my 'I'M USELESS AND I QUIT' speech to myself. Then I lit a candle. Then I sat down and drew a farmer rat tending his rhubarb, and then I drew a little girl crying, and then I wrote two pages of absolute drivel and then I felt better. Is your creative journey like this, dear reader? Is it up and down and round and round? How do you nail your demons? I'd love to know! In the meantime,I'm back on the polka dot horse and plodding onwards. xx

Inspired by my gorgeous mentors in The Year of the Spark this is a fun and addictive way to journal each morning. I cannot get enough!

Art class with Katie Roberts has resumed. The classes are incredibly nurturing and I hang off Katie's every word. Oh how I love learning. Anyway, this is 'Cityscape 2015.' Charcoal and pastel on paper, a group drawing by four of us working against the clock and over top of each others work. The most exhilarating, hilarious experience. We adored the end result!

Collage fun with Lynn Whipple. I mean, seriously, how much fun can you have doing stuff like this? It's endless. Yes, the baby in the photo is me (it's a photocopy, I would never chop up an original, and sorry about the missing comma, I was having too much fun to think with my left brain...). Note also, this is a studio shot but you can see my mother's arm holding me up! Studio shots in the 60s were obviously a little more homespun... 
One liners, a warm-up exercise with Carla Sonheim. One liners or continuous line drawings are enormous fun and  a great way to get you hands moving...and make you laugh.

Exploring line (graphite crayon, watercolour pencils and crayons) with Carla Sonheim; my chicken evolved from there. Perhaps she'll get her own story one day ... I keep wanting to call her Miss Flaubert for some reason.

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Saturday, 31 January 2015

inspire your heart

Today, January 31, is Inspire Your Heart With Art Day. Did you know that, dear reader? I had no idea. That is until the wonderful artist and designer of ornaments and decor, Patience Brewster, inspired me to spread the word. Patience suggested I pen a few lines about what art means to me. I was delighted at the idea. As you might know, (yes, I've been yapping about it for ages), I have been attending art classes with the amazing Katie Roberts for over a year and during this time my love affair with art has only grown more passionate. Discovering the joy of art in my fifties is like finding that last crucial piece in my life's jigsaw puzzle — the puzzle that got thrown in the air when I was, oh, about five; the puzzle that broke apart and fell willy nilly in every direction. Please note, dear reader, that nothing particularly traumatic happened at that time except that I started school and in so doing completely lost my (already fragile) sense of self. In my thirties I discovered creative writing and took to it with enormous vigour. Somewhere in the back of my mind I know I thought, This is it. This will make me feel complete
And it did — for a while.  I still adore writing (oh, don't get me started) but, well, isn't it human to always want more? One can't eat apple pie every day without fantasising about the occasional self-saucing pudding. 
Art was always there, though,(I have several half-filled and abandoned sketchbooks in the bottom of my wardrobe and many more furtive scribbles have gone into the recycle bin). Yes, art was there but very much on the periphery. Not only that, over the years I have enjoyed the friendship of many professional visual artists and for a time was happy to live vicariously. But somewhere along the line it all got too much. I could no longer simply stand outside the lolly shop. 
Art has brought connection, colour, a form of meditation that is dreamy and gentle. I adore art. I think about it constantly. I see the world differently. I lose sleep when I have new supplies waiting in the wings. Honestly, when the ideas are bubbling, every night is like the night before Christmas. I have no plans whatsoever for my art. Nothing. Zippo. I want nothing from it. All I want to do is learn and play and experiment and spread the word. 
If you have the faintest of callings, even the most gentle stirrings, please, please take heed. How do you feel about art? Has it enriched your life? Are you itching to get your hands on some coloured pencils but keep putting it off? I would love, love, love to know! For me, art is a blessing. Every single day it raises me above the mundane, gets me out of my head and excites my imagination. 
Art is for all of us. Enjoy it. Share it. Spread the word. Inspire your heart with art and, through its gifts, love your life just that little bit more. That is my wish for you, dear reader. xx
This is the little altered book I have been working on. It was just a cheap kids' book I bought at the newsagents. I painted gesso over all the pages then proceeded to cover them with my own bits and  pieces. You can see it is quite small, so not so scary in terms of filling a page.

Simple shapes that don't require great drawing skills. Collage background, mixed media— student acrylics, pitt pens, pitt pastel pencils.

All the little people. I could never write about them all but at least they catch a glimpse of life this way.

Always drawing what's on the table. Still figuring out how to make it look like it's not sliding off!

Watch out if I'm sitting behind you in a cafe. I'll be drawing you. Yes, indeedy.

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Friday, 16 January 2015

the book with no name...

It's official, dear reader, the name of my new novel is, The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack. I am so deliriously happy to have had this title approved and to be able to share with you the good and shiny news! The book will be released in August this year (HarperCollins Australia) and will include illustrations (and cover) by Lucinda Gifford. Lucinda is as clever and talented as her divine name suggests. Take a peek here

As always I am jumping out of my skin over this new book especially since it's my first 'full-length feature' since Tensy Farlow (2009). I feel certain it will appeal to fans of Tensy and I'm also delighted to have a boy as the protagonist.  The story is set in Australia but has strong links to Norway. Norway? I hear you say.  I know, isn't it weird? But there you have it. Cornelia Funke (oh how I love her) says that stories have their own face and it's up to the author to find that face. She also says that sometimes a story will try to trick you, and that is so true! Yes indeed. You really have to keep your wits about you when you're writing stories or you end up in an awful muddle. Angus Jack took me on such a wild and woolly journey and I argued with him a lot but in the end I had to relent and let the story unfold on his terms. What a mysterious process it all is. Every time I finish writing a book I think, Well, I certainly won't be able to pull that off again.

In other happy news, I bought a new cushion for the studio. Isn't it gorgeous? I can't help but stare even though I am well aware of the rules about staring...

Have a wonderful weekend, dear reader, wherever you may be. I for one will be tending my neglected little garden.

Until tomorrow, I remain yours in perpetual Summer Sunshine. xx

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Sunday, 4 January 2015

a splash of pretty

Pretty stuff from around the house, dear reader, simply because I'm a sticky beak and I love looking at other people's bits and bobs and so I assume that everyone is like me. No doubt that is quite presumptuous...

Another purchase from Kikki K. No, I am not on a retainer. But I do have a serious stationery addiction...

A flower pot on my desk.

New ON SALE sandals from Zoe Wittner. Himself thinks they are appalling but they look just like the ones my Grade Four teacher used to wear circa 1969 and I adore them.

A couple of little peeps who popped up in my *art journal. Theirs is a short story. One word, in fact.

I hope you're having a smashing day, dear reader, and revelling in the little things. Until next time, stay colourful — even if you're wearing white sandals. xx

*I use this term very loosely...
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