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, Patience Brewster, contacted me (all the way from the USA) and said, How about you help me spread the word, Jen? Well, Patience didn't exactly phrase it that way, she is much more dignified than that. But she did ask me to pen a few lines about what art means to me, in the hope that others will catch the spark. You can imagine how thrilled I was to have this opportunity. 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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Thursday, 1 January 2015

a new year in vintage denim

Vintage denim. That's the colour we painted my new studio, dear reader, and I am SERIOUSLY in love. Mind you, we only did one wall and there are actually four walls in my room... The others are a sort of pale buttermilk. And the trim is the old grungy white that was already there. I haven't hung any art yet or worse still blu-tacked any nonsense around and about. I respect these pristine walls, dear reader, R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Better still, I now have a digital desk and an anologue desk. I write at the digital desk because, well, that's where Miss Mary Mac resides. And I do 'art' and write in longhand at the analogue desk. It does wonders for the brain to have these areas separated. I stole the idea, dear reader, from Austin Kleon. He wrote Steal Like An Artist. I love this little book. I even tweeted about it when I got it that's how excited I was and as you might know I'm a hopeless tweeter, hopeless. But sometimes one is moved to chirp. Consider getting yourself a copy, dear reader, and if you have young adult kids who are interested in working in the arts get a copy for them, too. Here is the cover: (For locals, I got my copy at Readings, Carlton).
Some other pics of the work in progress and Vintage Denim up close and personal.

Plus this girl who keeps appearing in my drawings. I'm reasonably sure she's an angel of some kind, dear reader, so naturally I am mesmorised...

See the little mouse in this one, dear reader? I have been drawing mice everywhere lately, even on some VIP paperwork that belonged to Himself.(He was not impressed). I think I know why I am drawing mice and I will blog about that soon. I will also blog about the juicy, CHEAP, Official Learners acrylics that I have been joyfully splashing about since we last spoke.(I found them in BUNNINGS WAREHOUSE, can you believe it?! (For overseas readers, Bunnings is an Australian Tim the Tool Man type grunt-grunt joint where one goes to buy nails and sandpaper and angle grinders and hammers and shovels and grouting. Not, generally speaking, art supplies).

I wish you a truly, madly, deeply GORGEOUS 2015, dear reader. May your angels watch over you and your loved ones and your troubles be few.
It's next year! YAY! 
Until we speak again, my friend, I remain yours in perpetual  puddles, muddles and befuddles. xx
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Saturday, 27 December 2014

blue girl, black flowers

We're halfway there, dear reader. Midway through the Nutty Week. How are you faring? I can't tell you how many rum balls I have scoffed. Honestly, I felt tipsy by 10am this morning and my guests had not even arrived!
Here's what I've been doing:

*I made an art journal. Well, to be honest, I covered one I've been working in, on and off, all year. It's only a little journal. Not sure what format it is. Perhaps kind of A5? No matter, it's a good size for my tentative meanderings.
blue girl, black flowers: she's done with oil pastels, coloured pencils, pitt pens, ink, white acrylic paint. You might notice she is signed and dated. I feel AWFULLY pretentious doing this, but my dear, sweet art teacher, Katie Roberts, insists we all do it and you know what? One year down the track I am loving having my 'work' dated. It's very satisfying to see one's journey and it also works as a powerful memory prompt.

*I have been BINGEING on art journal flick-throughs and art demonstations on YouTube. Honestly, if Jane Davenport looks at her stats she will think there is someone very creepy watching her from Melbourne... Have you seen her demos, dear reader? Here's a link to one I particularly love (the music makes my heart sing, too). I'm planning to do one of her beginner courses in the New Year and I'm just about jumping out of my skin in anticipation.

BTW: The cover of my little art journal, front and back, is mostly made of chopped up old advertising postcards I've been hoarding. I also used an old address book for the base, just to add strength. I will bind the spine with gaffer tape as soon as I get to the hardware store tomorrow. I learned about gaffer tape and it's many wonderful uses from Asphyxia. She visited our art class one rainy Sunday afternoon earlier this year and did a journal flip-through for us. TO DIE FOR. I was spellbound. Have you seen her gorgeous work? If not, have a peep here:

*Wrapping more gifts! Yes, Himself is impudent enough to have a birthday on December 28! The cheek of him...

*Speaking of Himself (in glowing terms, of course), he has spent today  prepping the walls in my NEW STUDIO! So, how can I not love him and lavish him with exquisite birthday gifts? Now, when I say 'new studio', I mean of course 'spare bedroom conversion'. But do I care? I am beside myself with joy at the prospect of moving off the back verandah lean-to and into a Real Room. And just think, I will no longer have to put a plastic bag over Miss Mary Mac (my computer) when it rains.

*To add to my joy, as from yesterday I finally, FINALLY, have a name for my new 'fantasy' novel! Sadly, my publisher is in New York on holidays so I have resisted harassing her and demanding she sign off on the new name. (What if she hates it, dear reader? Argh!) I love it SO much and cannot wait to share it with you. I have never had so much trouble naming a book. I've been having sleepless nights over it, honestly.

*Here are some pictorials, dear reader. None of this gorgeous mishmash/collage art on the cover of my journal is mine. But I can name one of the artists. See the adorable dreamy girl with the dove on her head on the back cover? That's from Tomoko Ichikawa. Tomoko's art is featured on this year's gift packs from Perfect Potion. Have you been to Perfect Potion, dear reader? I had to go all the way to Sydney to discover this store, then a week later I found it back here at home in Melbourne, tucked away in a side 'alley' in Melbourne Central. I did half my Christmas shopping there this year. I am addicted to their Chakra Balancing Mist. I use it with all the passion of a Victorian gentlewoman sniffing smelling salts. I love it so much. So much.

Note: Kitty on the side tab!

Hang in there, dear reader. This is a tricky time of year and those of us who are somewhat...highly strung must do what we can to nurture ourselves and stay afloat.

Onwards, dear ones. xx

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Friday, 19 December 2014

away in a baxter street manger

I am supposed to be working, dear reader, but I am totally away with the tweeties (or the angels). For this entire week I have written, oh, about twelve words, and all of them have been in Christmas cards. As part of my procrastination here are some shots from around the Baxter Street manger. (What is a manger, anyway? Is it a shed, a stable or a cheap, pet-friendly hotel? Like many archaic words acquired during childhood I have never actually looked into the real meaning. You know, you stand there in the Sunday School choir and mouth these carols, but you have no idea what they mean. Ditto, the cattle are lowing. Seriously?) 
To the books. Himself and I are entering the 21st century and, wait for it, we are getting one of those hideous big tellies for Christmas. Well, Himself, is getting the telly. I am getting an antique Chinese cabinet on which to rest Satan's toy. Come Christmas day I will happily sit and 'watch' the cabinet, dear reader, it's ever so divine AND it has drawers! I am so excited. I LOVE placing things in new drawers. LOVE. 
So, meantime, as part of my procrastination busy-work, the bookcase in the Good Room had to be moved to make way for the future. Hard yakka, dear reader. Hard, dusty yakka. And yet it was a lovely opportunity to look at some of my old books, to flick through soft, yellowing pages and do some serious...stroking. Books hold so many memories for me. Not just their narratives but where I was when I read them, how I was feeling when I discovered a certain author, the impact the book had on my days while I was reading it—living it. The impact it had on my later life. Ecetera...
I wish I could run red velvet curtains in front of the new, unspeakably gauche TV but such fancy stagecraft is beyond my capabilities. At any rate, the bookcase is not going far. Just across the other side of the room, in fact. So, even while we are viewing the Flat Screen and marvelling at this Christmas Miracle and being Joyful and Triumphant, we will still be surrounded by BOOKS. We will still be somehow...grounded. All I can say is, thank heavens for that. 
Bless you for reading my ramblings, dear reader. Bless you. 
Now, back to the writing. I'm sure there are more cards to fill in. xx

PS Just as an aside, dear reader. When I was, oh, about eight, I thought that the cattle are lowing meant that the cattle were down on their knees. Kind of like us when we were in church. Failing that I thought perhaps it meant the cattle were 'lo and beholding'. In other words, they were looking at one another and saying, 'Lo and behold, it's the baby Jesus'. I still believed in talking animals and Narnia and all that jazz, and this Baby Jesus story was a fine story indeed and there were bound to be talking animals somewhere in Bethlehem... Surely?

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Thursday, 11 December 2014

other ways to meet our characters

This little girl, Martha, has been in my mind for well over five years, dear reader. Probably more. She is a secondary (but powerful) character in a novel that I recently completed. I have been 'writing her' over and over. And since going along to art classes I have been drawing her over and over. Of course, I have agonised about going public with my drawings but then I thought, Courage, Jen. Courage. It's a simple line but it's kind of what Eowyn says to Merry as they ride into battle in Lord of the Rings and it's a handy line to remember when one is wobbling. Very...helpful. 

During my Thursday night art classes, I have been learning about colour and mixed media and light and all sorts of things. I have also been learning about drawing children's heads as opposed to our big, wonky, adult noggins. I have discovered that one can add expression with shading, too, and that a broken line is a good line.

I will tell you more about the book Martha features in soon. It will be published by HarperCollins next year (2015) but as yet we haven't settled on a title (ahem). For now, I can say that fiddling about with art and learning about art is definitely helping me write. It is stimulating my imagination, too. I have found art to be incredibly rewarding and now that I'm committed to the process I often wonder why I waited so long to pick up a coloured pencil. 

Creativity. It all comes from the same source and that source flows through all of us. The more I am willing to be vulnerable, the more at ease I am with being an amateur, the faster I learn and the more joyful I find the process. That has been my experience anyway. 

Be kind to yourself, dear reader, in all your creative pursuits and before you know it you will be so in love with what you're doing you won't even need to be courageous. xx

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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

but is it scary?

SCARY!! How far is too far when writing for kids? I can only speak from my own experience, dear reader, so I hope this post doesn't read like an infomercial. But the question is always with me. Always bobbing through my mind like a creepy halloween balloon. In my Ten Tips for Writing Junior Fiction, I wrote: Tip 6, 'Kids love to be scared. But not too scared!'

Anyone familiar with my work knows there is always a dash of 'scary' in my books. Especially in the Truly Tan series (even my editor was 'genuinely afraid' when reading Truly Tan: Freaked! for the first time). The Accidental Princess also has its moments. Actually, it has several. And yes, Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children, is particularly spooky — it is after all gothic fiction.

Only read in daylight hours...

But this question of how far is too far always...haunts me. Kids love to be scared — but not terrified, and I certainly don't want to be the one who has upset them. By the same token, they won't tolerate being patronised and will pick a fraud a mile away. If you want to 'write scary' for children you must give it plenty of thought, you must be committed to striking the balance.  

Over the past few years, as my work has gained popularity, I've had more opportunities to speak to my readers directly — at signings and school visits and whatnot. They also write to me. I've spoken with countless parents, too. It's always an eye-opener. For instance, one boy who was mad for Truly Tan became too frightened to continue when he discovered there was a cat skeleton in the story. He insisted his mother shut the book. He just couldn't go on (he told me this himself). However, his mum, obviously a wise soul, took the book aside and read ahead. Then she explained to him that the cat skeleton scene was actually very FUNNY. He was reassured and off they went again. Of course, as he told me matter-of-factly, he was only six then. He has since gone on to read all four books ON HIS OWN. In this spirit many children have proudly told me that Truly Tan is the first scary book they have read ALONE. Apparently this is a rite of passage.

Scarier than a ghost.

One mother wrote to tell me her daughter loved Tensy Farlow but could only read it in daylight hours. Another reader said she hid it under her bed and came back to it three months later. For a time, my local bookshop had a little warning sticker on the Tensy shelf.

But what really intrigues me, are the unintentional Bogey Men. They're not always what I would expect. In Truly Tan, it seems that more kids are scared of the dead fox than they are of Wandering Wanda (the ghost). One little girl could not go on with The Accidental Princess because she was 'scared' of the sisters fighting (I was sure she was going to point the finger at the Witch Queen or the nasty weasel-riding imps). What you and I might simply call 'drama' she found too 'scary' to deal with ('scary' defines a lot of emotions when you're seven). When her mother reassured her that the sisters eventually make up and that under it all they love each other, this little girl (an only child) relented and with her mother's encouragement went on to relish the story. The illustrations also helped. (Note to self, carefully selected illustrations are a godsend in junior novels and if done well add to the joy of reading and do not make the book look 'babyish'). Because of The Accidental Princess, this mother and daughter had the opportunity to discuss sibling rivalry and forgiveness. It was a rewarding experience for them both and their anecdote gave me another priceless insight into my readers' minds. 
In The Accidental Princess, the friction between the sisters is 'scarier' for some readers than the imps...

There are no right or wrong answers here and of course every child is different and brings their own unique experience and level of maturity to a story. As a writer however what seems to work for me is to balance the scary bits with loads of humour and, in the true spirit of Enid Blyton, mountains of food. As I said, it's all a matter of balance, and sugar-frosted angel cake helps keep the scales level (ahem).

Perhaps you might like to share your stories with me, dear reader? I'd love to know what defines 'scary' in your household. I'd love to hear from you.

In the meantime, 'once upon a midnight dreary'; I will keep striving to be scary. But not too scary! 

Jen. xx 
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Sunday, 9 November 2014

I can't stop!

I haven't blogged properly or consistently for quite some time, dear reader, and for that I apologise. But I want to tell you that over the past twelve months I have become distracted, consumed and now these days obsessed by art. So, when I am not writing, I am drawing, painting, cutting and pasting. Is it because I am in my 50s and can no longer suppress these urges? Possibly. Life has definitely become more URGENT these days and the time for frittering and second-guessing is gone. Perhaps to outsiders I seem rather boring. But I just don't want to run about socialising and yammering and seeking entertainment outside myself — entertainment that someone else has constructed for me. I don't want to watch or pontificate or consume. I want to CREATE. In other words, I just want to stay home and make stuff.

 Oddly enough (or maybe not) I have felt quite embarrassed by this. At times ashamed. I mean, who am I to think I can Do Art? Where are my qualifications? Where is my speech about how I was always the kid who could draw? I don't have a speech like that or a history like that. A recent (and surprisingly quite wonderful) school reunion made me think about these issues more deeply. I realised that for me school was always about survival. Social survival. It was never about self-expression or developing talents. It was about trying to get through the days, weeks, years while always feeling decidedly...shredded. In those days all my energy was spent simply trying to Appear Normal. But now I have grown up. Now I can make choices and assert myself. Now I can surround myself with the right people, those who are happy to love me and support me and inspire me. It's such a wonderful place to be. I get so excited about the startling privilege of being here on the planet surrounded by so much CHOICE! We mustn't waste life. Not a second of it. And if we are aching to create, then we must. The urge to create is in and of itself a gift.

I have this ongoing fantasy that helps keep me motivated. In it I am dead and I'm going through an Exit Interview. God says, 'So what did you get up, Jen?' And I say, 'Well, I bitched and moaned. I looked around a bit, too. I saw the greed, the violence, the injustice, and quite frankly, I was paralysed with despair'.
And God looks at me for a long moment. Then He says, 'But what did you think of the ice-cream?'

I will share more with you about my artistic journey as it unfolds but in the meantime I came across this video. If, like me, you struggle with self-doubt, if you long for more self-expression and are busting to take some artistic 'risks', watch this video. It is so reassuring, so inspiring. Especially for those of us who are, for want of a better term, Late Bloomers. 

Yours in perpetual watercolour. Jen xx

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Monday, 27 October 2014

take two...

I made a little 'vlog', dear reader. I know that some of you have children who enjoy reading my Truly Tan books so this for them. Please excuse the nail polish... xx


Also, here's the YouTube link if you are having trouble seeing this in Blogger.
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