We arrived home yesterday after spending Christmas with the girls' grandparents, bearing a mountain of gifts (mostly for them). So far we've found two nasty surprises in the form of a giant spider and an equally giant cockroach, which was lurking in the folds of the bathmat. It doesn't take long for nature to colonise a house, even when it's only empty for a couple of days!
At least neither of those surprises was as creepy as the mummified rat which my dad discovered, oddly suspended in the bushes, in their garden. It was extremely odd. It seemed to have fallen from the sky -- or a tree? It had definitely been dead for a very long time. It's a Christmas mystery!
Justine Larbalestier is discussing writing methods on her blog — namely, outlining v winging it. She is a winger (or Seat-Of-The-Pants-er), while her friend is an outliner.
I am very much a member of Camp Outline. I've done it both ways. The Singer of All Songs was winged (wung?). I began with one scene in my head: a girl on top of a high tower, gazing out over a snowy, desolate landscape, who sees the body of an injured stranger being carried toward the buildings where she lives. I didn't know who the girl was, where she lived, why she was in such isolation, or what had happened to the stranger. I kept writing in order to find all of that out. The result was that much of Singer (and thus much of the Chanters of Tremaris trilogy) welled up directly from my unconscious, which meant that Calwyn, in particular, contains a lot of me. Surprisingly, this has turned out to be a Good Thing.
On the other hand, both my Girlfriend Fiction books were planned in some detail before a word was written. This was partly because they were written to fairly strict requirements, and partly because a whole truckload of people had to approve them before they handed over any money. Both books were very quick and easy to write, because if I got stuck, I could refer to my outline and see exactly what I had to write next, which removed a huge amount of pressure to think up stuff.
But I think that Justine is right when she says that both approaches are variations on the same process — the same decisions have to be made, but they're made at different stages, and in different ways. Personally, I love the security of having an outline before I start to write. I like to know that there won't be any nasty ambushes (like a whopping great hole in the plot) halfway through. But at the same time, I don't like my outline to be too detailed. Because if I know everything before I start, there's no reason for me to keep writing. There's nothing left for me to discover. Because I write for the same reason I read: to find out what happens next.
I read an article at the weekend that claims it takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice to become really, really good at something. It could be anything - music, elite sports, computer programming. Bill Gates spent more than 10,000 hours playing around with computers before he became the genius of Microsoft. Mozart spent 10,000 hours playing the piano before he became, well, Mozart. That's about three hours a day for ten years.
Gulp. I wonder how many hours I've spent writing?
Christos Tsiolkas is a famous Melbourne writer, who has just published his latest novel, The Slap, to wide and deserved acclaim. He lives in the same suburb as I do; we use the same library, we shop at the same market.
As it happens, Christos and I knew each other years ago, before we were writers — published writers, anyway. We had friends in common, and again we lived in the same suburb (a different suburb in those days). We went to the same parties. I even had a cameo in Christos' book Jump Cuts. Well, to be strictly accurate, my house and a CD I'd lent him made a cameo appearance; I wasn't home.
Christos and I could hardly be more different. I tend to be anti-social, shy, solitary, melancholy. At the parties we went to, I was the one standing in the corner brooding, while everyone else had fun. Christos lives large. He loves people; he is passionate, engaged, generous, and wonderful company. At those parties, he would have been dancing wildly, or engaged in passionate debate with a huge crowd of people.
The books we write could hardly be more different, either. One of us writes very dark, adult books that seethe with rage and darkness, that expose the brutality and violence of the human spirit. The other writes books for kids that emphasise hope, compassion and co-operation, books about magic and friendship and love.
But guess what? It's Christos who writes the dark, disturbing books, and I'm the one responsible for the magic stories with the hopeful endings. I draw no conclusions from all this, except to say that the world is a funny (and quite small) place, and people are stranger than you can imagine.
I guess the fact that Christmas is coming is not exactly "news." Decorations appeared in the supermarket round about September, and now we're in the thick of pre-Christmas activity - family picnics, barbecues with friends, end-of-year celebrations for school and kinder and Irish dancing class, organising cards and presents and trees and food. It's all a bit frantic, and sometimes it doesn't feel like much fun.
But this year, my elder daughter is old enough to take a real interest in giving for the first time, and seeing the care and thought she's putting into presents for her sister and her grandparents, as well as for me and her dad, has made me appreciate the beauty of Christmas all over again.
Whatever you believe about Baby Jesus, surely that is the true magic at the heart of this crazy festival - that even just for a few moments, we think about what might make other people happy.
This is my favourite moment from On The Banks of Plum Creek, when Ma asks Mary and Laura to wish for horses, and only horses, for Christmas:
Ma told them something about Santa Claus. He was everywhere, and he was all the time.
Whenever anyone was unselfish, that was Santa Claus.
Christmas Eve was the time when everyone was unselfish. On that one night, Santa Claus was everywhere, because everybody, all together, stopped being selfish and wanted other people to be happy. And in the morning you saw what that had done."If everybody wanted everybody else to be happy, all the time, then would it be Christmas all the time?" Laura asked, and Ma said, "Yes, Laura."
While I was researching the book I'm currently writing, I found this excellent seasonal calendar for the Melbourne area. (This picture is a bit small, but the link shows it more clearly.)
When you think about it, it doesn't make much sense to apply European seasons to the Australian climate. In Europe, winter is a harsh time, but for native plants in Victora, winter is a time of growth and greenery (if it rains the way it's supposed to!) In contrast, summer is the dangerous season, dry and fiery - not the lush, fertile season of the northern imagination.
I'm trying to train myself to recognise our seasons by looking out the window, rather than following the artifical rotation of the months. The only sad part about this calendar is that there's no autumn. I've always been rather attached to the melancholy of autumn and its cooling days. I'll have to learn to love "early winter" instead!
Hey, wait, I do have some news! My new book, Winter Of Grace, will be published by Allen & Unwin in January. It's volume 10 in the Girlfriend Fiction series.
This is what the cover looks like:
And this is what it says on the back:
Bridie and Stella have been friends forever and agree on everything: war is bad, the environment is important and Stella is always the centre of attention. So when the girls rescue a handsome boy at a peace rally, they never imagine that it might spell trouble between them. The first shock is that Jay seems to be attracted to Bridie, not Stella. The second is that Jay is a committed Christian.
As Bridie draws closer to Jay, a whole new realm of ideas opens up to her. She starts to question who she is and her place in the world. But what happens if her new world has no place for Stella?
A warm-hearted story about friends, family, and keeping the faith.
Images from my recent writing workshop at Sacre Coeur College in Melbourne.
Here is the cover of the forthcoming Japanese version of The Waterless Sea.
Some very nice reviews for Always Mackenzie.
Here is a sneak peek at the cover of the Japanese version of The Singer of All Songs! Looks cool, doesn't it! The Waterless Sea is scheduled for publication in September, and The Tenth Power in November.
Always Mackenzie (Girlfriend Fiction 4) is out now in bookshops and department stores all over Australia and New Zealand. It's a story about friendship, and the unexpected places it can lead.
The Taste of Lightning has been listed as a Notable Book (Older Readers) for 2008 by the Children's Book Council of Australia.
Great news! The Chanters of Tremaris trilogy is soon to be released in Japan! The Singer of All Songs will be published in May 2008, The Waterless Sea in June and The Tenth Power in July.
Always Mackenzie, the fourth title in the Allen & Unwin / Girlfriend Fiction series, will be published in May 2008.
The Taste of Lightning will be available in the UK, distributed through Frances Lincoln Publishers, in April 2008.
Aurealis Awards 2007 Judges' Report
The Taste of Lightning by Kate Constable was enormously readable and wonderfully entertaining with lots of engaging action and characters to cheer for and boo against. It was thoroughly enjoyable with excellent usage of speculative fiction elements. The differences in the backgrounds, personalities and motivations of Tansy, Perrin and Skir are used to good effect in the story of their journey. The tension and dilemmas created by these differences are what makes this such an enjoyable read.
The Taste of Lightning is a finalist for the 'Best Young Adult Novel' Aurealis award!
Email of the month
November 2007 Two new books by Kate will be published in Australia by Allen and Unwin next year -- more details soon.
June 2007 Chanters of Tremaris trilogy to be released in Japan in autumn 08.
March 2007 Audiobook and paperback of The Tenth Power released in the US.
February 2007 The Taste of Lightning published in Australia.
February 2006 The Singer of All Songs published in Slovenia as Devet Mo?i Tremarisa.
February 2006 The Singer of All Songs to be published in Germany.
November 2006 Chanters of Tremaris trilogy now all available in Denmark.
The long-awaited third volume in the Chanters of Tremaris trilogy is finally here! The Tenth Power is now available in all good Australian bookshops, and was be officially launched by best-selling fantasy author Michael Pryor at Mentone Girls' Grammar on March 16th 2005. Look out for The Singer of all Songs and The Waterless Sea in brand new (and very gorgeous) covers, too.
The Singer of all Songs has been published in Danish under the title Hymnernes Hersker. A Japanese translation of the Chanters of Tremaris series is also underway, and a Slovenian version will also be published some time this year.
In the United States, The Singer of all Songs has been included on several "Best Of" lists for 2004. These include Booklist's Editors Choice and Book Links' Lasting Connections, and also the American Library Association's "Amelia Bloomer" honour list, an annual list of titles that provide "excellent quality reading with strong female role models. "The Singer of All Songs has also been named as a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age.
The Waterless Sea has now been published in the US by Arthur A. Levine/ Scholastic, with an audio version coming soon. The audio-book will be read by Kimberly Farr and released by Random House.