Browsing Tag

children’s books

THE GOOD STUFF

6 December 2015

Working in publishing is full of ups and downs, and it can be easy to dwell on the ‘downs’, allowing them to taint, or even eclipse, the ‘ups’. So in the spirit of celebrating all the good stuff, I thought I’d put together a newsy post about the ups of the last couple of months.

First up, the big news. I recently signed a contract for my next picture book, Seree’s Story, with Walker Books (publisher of Megumi and the Bear). Getting the call from your editor to give you the thumbs up is The Best. Let’s just say there was much dancing around the house and celebratory mid-afternoon champagne.

As a self-confessed elephant nerd, this book is very close to my heart. The manuscript has emerged from the culmination of many experiences, beginning with a trip to the circus at age seven. I started writing the book at 3.30 one morning when, seemingly out of nowhere, the opening line popped into my head. By 5.30 I had a first draft. Then came an artsACT-funded trip to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, which saw a complete rewrite, and now a book contract. I’ll save the full story behind the book for another time since it won’t be out for two years, but the story itself is about a captured baby elephant, forced to work in the circus, who is eventually rescued and brought to a sanctuary.

Picture books take a long time to come together (painfully long for the author who can do nothing but wait). One thing most readers aren’t aware of is that the publisher, not the author, chooses the illustrator. At this stage an illustrator for Seree’s Story has not yet been finalised, but Walker has such an incredible stable of talented illustrators to draw upon that I am awaiting the decision with great anticipation.

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Another call came at the end of last month from CAPO (Capital Arts Patrons Organisation) with exciting news of a different kind. The organisation has awarded me a travel grant to research a new full-length work. It’s a fledgling thing at the moment and a grant like this means everything in allowing me to develop it. I don’t want to say much more about it at this stage, except that I’m grateful to CAPO for believing in its potential.

On to more tangible things, and the publication of a couple of new short stories in Westerly and Contrappasso literary journals. Westerly is one of Australia’s oldest and most respected literary journals, and is always chock full of good stories and poetry. So I’m stoked to see my story, ‘Rescuing Chang’, in its pages. It’s set in Chiang Mai and features tuktuks, elephants, ladyboys and a magnetic attraction. It was pretty much the most fun I’ve had writing a story in recent times. ‘Hose’, on the other hand, which appears in Contrappasso is a much darker tale. It features alongside a Nobel Prize winner, no less. In fact, the line-up in this issue is crazy, with writing from China, Malaysia, Iraq, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Russia, Ireland, England, Argentina, the US, New Zealand and, of course, Australia.

I must also give a shout-out to Duncan Felton and the Grapple Annual which has just picked up a MUBA. This award is close to my heart as Two Steps Forward was shortlisted for its inaugural award, but Grapple Publishing has gone one better and actually won the thing. It’s great news for publishing in Canberra, and I’m so pleased to have a short story included in what is now a multi-award-winning publication. Look out for the next annual which is due out before the end of the year.

Still on short fiction, the ACT Writers’ Centre invited me to run a six-week short story critique group which turned out to be even more enjoyable than expected, largely because I had such a lovely group of emerging writers to work with. I’m told feedback was entirely positive (a rarity, apparently — so how nice is that?) and I’ve been asked to run another next year. So if you’re a writer with some stories in your back pocket keep an eye out.

As always I’ve been working on all of the above around editing books for various publishers. November has been editing madness with two novels, two picture books, one non-fiction book, and five novellas all at various stages. There’s lots to be excited about but I’ll mention just two. The first is a stunning picture book by Coral Vass called Sorry Day (out with National Library of Australia Publishing 2017). This is a heartfelt and beautifully-written story about the Stolen Generation that moves so cleverly between past and present. I can’t wait for kids to get their hands on this book, and I’m sure it’s going to become a staple of schools around the country. The second is really five, that is five novellas by Nick Earls (out with Inkerman & Blunt 2016). There’s a lightness to these stories that is so enjoyable, but then they sneak up on you to reveal deep truths about families that are struggling in different ways. Working with Nick on these novellas has been such a pleasure, and I really hope they do well; they certainly deserve to. So look out for the Wisdom Tree series, launching early next year.

As we head into December I’m looking forward to getting back to my own writing (I have barely put down a word during this madly busy November). I still have another three books to finish editing before Christmas but then come January I’m jetting overseas on a writing adventure! And my littlest is off to preschool in February, which means two-point-five days to write and edit and read! I know I’m imagining that I can pack in way more than I actually can (the literary version of eyes being bigger than the stomach) but nevertheless it’ll be the first time in 13 years that I won’t have to fit in everything around full-time mothering. And that, my friends, is thrilling.

Bits and pieces

15 April 2015

Irma Gold signing books at Avid ReaderI haven’t blogged for some time but there’s been lots happening so I thought I’d post a quick newsy update about literary travels, events, a new editorial role, and the publication of a couple of new short stories.

Megumi and the Bear is still getting out and about, with two events in Brisbane earlier this year, including my first chance to visit Avid Reader Bookshop which has the best vibe and the loveliest staff. My reading was in the gorgeous outdoor area with perfectly balmy weather. The kids ate bear cupcakes and drank babycinos from the café, and then sat on a rug for the reading. I just loved watching their little mouths slowly falling open as they listened so intently. It was all just too cute.

Then came a reading at Harry Hartogs, a new independent bookshop in Woden. Canberra has recently seen the closure of two bookshops, Electric Shadows and Smith’s Alternative, leaving us with just two independents. It’s a sad sign of the times because Canberrans are serious literature lovers. I do hope our community can support more than just two independents. I’d love to see a bookshop pop up in New Acton, my favourite place in Canberra because it’s full of so much artistic goodness. One can only hope.

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Launching the Lakeside Literary Lounge with Nigel FeatherstoneBut in good news for local literature I launched the new Lakeside Literary Lounge series at Tuggeranong Arts Centre this month. I’ve lived in this part of town for 17 years now and it’s been a rarity to have a literary event in my own backyard, so to speak. What a novelty it was to jump in my car and drive just five minutes to launch this new Meet the Author series. First up was one of our local literary lights, the wonderful Nigel Featherstone, talking about his cracking third novella, The Beach Volcano. The newly refurbished space was cosy, quirky and intimate. There’s a bar (very important!) and the space encouraged intelligent and thoughtful conversation between the audience and author. It was all bloody marvellous and I can’t wait for the next in the series. There’ll be one event for each season, so if you’re in Canberra do make sure you catch the winter outing on 4 June. I hear Kaaron Warren will be plunging us into places dark and brutal.

IMG_1789 copySpeaking of brutal, last month an artsACT grant took me to Elephant Nature Park (ENP), an elephant sanctuary in Thailand for rescued elephants, to do research for my next picture book. The trip wasn’t brutal, in fact it was hands down one of the most incredible experiences of my life. But before the elephants arrive at the sanctuary they have experienced a lifetime of brutality. If you want to know more, this article provides a very good summary of why we should never ride an elephant, buy an elephant painting or watch an elephant show. I’m now hard at work on my manuscript and so excited about the potential of getting into schools and talking to kids. I took a gazillion photos of those beautiful elephants (you can see a few over at my Facebook page). This is one of me with the six-year-old elephant Faa Mai and Lek, founder of ENP and one of the most remarkable people I’ve had the good fortunate to meet.

no storyFrom works in progress to the publication of finished works, a new short story of mine, called ‘Bus 864F’, is out in the April issue of Mascara Literary Review (have a read here). And I’ve got another new story in Review of Australian Fiction (RAF), called ‘No Story’ (you can read that one here). It’s worth mentioning a bit more about RAF because they’ve developed a brilliant model. They publish two stories every two weeks from wonderful writers like Christos Tsiolkas, Paddy O’Reilly, Frank Moorhouse, Marion Halligan, Alex Miller, James Bradley and the aforementioned Nigel Featherstone, among many others, so I’m honoured to be in their company. One of things I love about RAF is that they have no word limit. Most journals favour stories that sit around the 3000-word mark, but being commissioned to write a story of any length was freeing, and I’m really pleased with what emerged. The other thing I love is that RAF pairs an established writer with an emerging writer. And the former gets to pick the latter. So it was a real pleasure to be able to select Matthia Dempsey as my RAF partner in crime. I’ve known Matthia since I emigrated to Australia at age nine. Back then we climbed blossom trees together and dreamed of being Anne of Green Gables. We had no idea that we’d both end up as writers and editors. And as you’ll see from her story, ‘Saudade’, Matthia is an extremely fine writer. You can read both our stories for less than the price of a cup of coffee here, or, better yet, since ours is the first in a new volume it’s the perfect time to subscribe.

And finally, to editing. Although I tend to focus on my writing on this site, I’ve just taken on a new role as Editor at Inkerman & Blunt. It’s a new publisher, led by powerhouse Donna Ward, that is producing very handsome and intelligent books. I’m working on lots of exciting projects, so stay tuned.

tea-and-sugar-christmasAnd I also want to mention Tea and Sugar Christmasby Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen, published by the National Library of Australia, which has just been shortlisted for the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA). This picture book was such a pleasure to edit, and I’m particularly delighted at the recognition it’s receiving because it is the story of a young Indigenous girl, two categories that make sales and marketing teams nervous. ‘Girls’ because, as we are always told, boys don’t want to read female protagonists. And ‘Indigenous’ because, as you may have noticed, picture books have predominantly Anglo-Saxon characters. We need more publishers willing to take the ‘risk’ of publishing culturally diverse characters, so kudos to the National Library for doing just that. And I’m thrilled that it has paid off, with Tea and Sugar Christmas selling strongly and now receiving an ABIA nod. Fingers crossed it comes out the winner!

Well that’s it from me for now! Keep in touch over at Facebook and Twitter.

ADELAIDE WRITERS’ WEEK, PART 1

7 March 2014

I have always considered Adelaide Writers’ Week to be the Mecca of Australian literary festivals, and last week I made the pilgrimage for the first time. It didn’t disappoint.

Set in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens under marquees and shade sails, the outdoor setting lends the event a relaxed, convivial feel. Combined with perfect summer weather (I’m told previous years have seen temps in the forties but this year we were blessed with 32 degrees tops) and a stellar line-up of writers, I was in seventh heaven all week-long.

The sessions I found most invigorating were the panels (as opposed to those where an individual author was interviewed about their recent release). By their very nature the panels allowed for a broader discussion of writing, publishing and converging thematic concerns.

I particularly enjoyed Hannah Kent and Elizabeth Gilbert in conversation with Kalinda Ashton. This proved to be an interesting discussion about turning history into fiction. Gilbert talked about the four years of research for The Signature of All Things, saying, ‘You know 20 times more than you reveal.’ She kept boxes and boxes of index cards but said she then needed ‘to have the confidence to forget’. And I loved this analogy: ‘Because I’d prepared so much it was like riding a bike downhill.’

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Kent spoke about knowing when to stop researching and get on with the business of writing: ‘When I realised I didn’t need to refer to my notes I was at the point of saturation…That’s when I knew I had granted myself the license to write fiction.’ Kent’s Burial Rites is a book that warrants the clichéd but entirely true ‘unputdownable’ endorsement, and Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things is now on my ever expanding To Read List.

Kalinda Ashton, Fiona McFarlane & Louise Doughty

I am always fascinated by other writers’ processes and Louise Doughty (who was generally marvellous) spoke most candidly about hers. Doughty explained that she doesn’t write sequentially. Every morning she gets up and writes whatever scene comes to her. ‘It gets to the point that I have a mass of mess,’ she said. ‘It looks not so much like a novel that’s being written, but a novel that’s being regurgitated. At that point I panic…and go and have a little cry.’ However, Doughty explained that she quickly gets over herself and begins spreading everything she’s written across the floor. She plots out what happens sequentially and then puts scenes in order. Once the paper trail is complete, she cuts and pastes on her computer accordingly. Doughty recounted how she arrived at Adelaide airport with her latest novel in her handbag. She had already ordered the sheaf of papers but not made the corresponding changes on her computer. Consequently she was clinging onto her handbag!

I also liked the idea of Fiona McFarlane’s document with its clever title, ‘The Moves’ (interviewer Kalinda Ashton — incidentally, an author whose work I also love — said she might have to appropriate this title, and I may too!). ‘The Moves’ was written entirely in red pen (‘to frighten myself,’ McFarlane said) and outlined every plot point. McFarlane used this document to work through ‘many, many drafts to get it [her novel, The Night Guest] right’.

Incidentally, the session with Doughty and McFarlane was a cracker, delving into issues of trust, both within their novels and the reading process itself. Doughty expounded on the idea that we all experience a novel differently, according to our experiences in life and where we are at that particular moment in time. ‘Novels are mirrors in which we see ourselves reflected,’ she said.  Doughty illustrated this point by talking about a male friend’s reaction to Apple Tree Yard. He said that for him the book reinforced that ‘it’s possible to love two people at the same time’. As the only person to take this ‘message’ away from her book, Doughty thought, ‘Should I take him out for a drink and find out what’s going on in his life?’ We take from a novel what suits our narrative about our own lives.

Asphyxia with Martha from The Grimstones

Let’s end this post with a bit of fun (I can’t cram everything in here, so Part 2 and 3 will be along shortly). Hanging out in the tinsel-covered kids’ tent was a blast. Sadly, my children were back in Canberra but I joined the merry chaos regardless. Mem Fox is an absolute pro and immediately got the audience laughing. I thoroughly enjoyed watching her in action (kissing the illustrator’s name on every book she read).

Seeing Andy Griffiths talk I wished Master Seven could have been there. He would have been starry-eyed. And it was really something to see the tent overflowing with boys all there to talk books. Many boys are reluctant readers, but Griffiths makes all the right moves to get them hooked. There was lots of laughter and lots of ‘gross’ stories. My favourite moment: when Griffiths revealed that Jill from theTreehouse books is his wife in real life. A noise along the lines of ‘ewwwww’ rolled through the tent. Apparently this was categorised as ‘gross’ humour!

I also got to meet one of my childrens’ favourite authors, Asphyxia. They have exchanged letters and emails, and Master Seven long ago converted our cubby house into a Grimstones-inspired apothecary. He is still in there most days mixing up new potions, a very real example of the way books can fire the imagination.

Writers’ Week, Part 2 will delve into darker territory, namely the commercial side of the industry and how it is shaping publishing lists.

Taking stories into schools

30 August 2013
Narrabundah

At Narabundah Early Learning Centre

I’ve just wrapped up three days packed with school visits for Megumi and the Bear. It has been exhausting but exhilarating. There’s nothing quite like reading to a roomful of kids so involved in the story their mouths are hanging open. Or hearing that your visit has left them so inspired they all started writing their own books. Or at the end of a session when the teacher says, ‘So who wants to be an author?’ and you’re met with a sea of hands.

Some highlights included a Kindy student asking me if I ‘sounded out my stories’. How gorgeous is that! And the Year 1 student who said, ‘I love your book. Can I have your phone number?’ Later she prompted, ‘Do you know your phone number? Because I really need to get it.’

But perhaps the most amusing moment occurred when a Year 3 student asked me when my first story was published. When I replied ‘1998’ the kids—all 100 of them—let out a collective ‘wooooah’. That was, like, back in the olden days! Later their teacher told me they had been planning to ask me what year I was born until she explained that would be rude. Lucky she headed them off. They may well have needed resuscitation.

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Then there are the moments that confirm how important it is for authors to go into schools. At Wanniassa Hills Primary a Year 2 student told me about the chapter book she is writing, adding sheepishly, ‘I don’t know where it’s going until I write it.’ I told her I’m exactly the same and that a famous author (Roger McDonald) once said to me that if you write knowing the ending it often doesn’t work (in his words, ‘it’s a dead hand’). The look on her face at receiving that validation just made my day.

At Palmerston Primary a Year 4 student told me about the series she has been writing and asked me how to find a publisher. She was articulate and determined. It was a great moment to be able to offer her both encouragement and advice. I may very well have just met a future author.

Megumi coverAnother pleasure is being asked questions that really make me think, or listening to the children’s thoughtful observations. For example, on the front cover Megumi and the Bear lie in the snow holding hands, making an ‘M’ shape. M for Megumi. I’d never noticed that before. But a seven-year-old at Narrabundah Early Childhood School did.

At Turner Primary I launched their Artists’ and Writers’ Festival with three sessions. The eight-day festival is playing host to an impressive line-up of artists, including bestselling writer Anthony Hill and cartoonist David Pope. Not surprisingly, the school was bursting with budding writers. When I told them about how I started writing books at home when I was six, they got very excited and told me about all the books they were writing. What a joy that was. I would love to see more primary schools developing similar programs that allow kids to engage with books and reading in such a dynamic way. The best learning happens when everyone’s having so much fun it doesn’t feel like ‘learning’ at all.

I could keep raving about what a wonderful time I’ve had these past few days but I’m going to finish with this. A Kindy student who came up to me at the end of my session and said, ‘I LOVE your story’ and threw her arms around me. It doesn’t get better than that.

The Megumi and the Bear drawing competition is now underway. Download the sheet here for your child’s chance to win one of eight prizes, including teddy bears, books, a tea party for four, a baking pack, and book vouchers. Craig Phillips will be judging the competition with me. Entries close Friday 6 September.

Megumi and the Bear Sydney launch

24 July 2013

On a foggy Saturday morning with Canberra due to reach just eight degrees we packed our kids into the car and headed for Sydney and its positively balmy 21 degrees. Some three hours later we rolled into the CBD. My bloke managed to drive up a bus-only road but then scored a street-side park just around the corner from Kinokuniya. A miracle frankly, or, if I was superstitious, a sign that it was going to be a good day. I’m not, but it certainly was.

AAIMG_0357As Allyx from Kinokuniya said when introducing us, it’s not often that you get both the author and illustrator in the same room. Especially given that Craig (once a Sydney-sider) now lives in New Zealand, and I’m down the highway in Canberra.

Craig kicked things off by talking about the back story. If you haven’t heard about Megumi and the Bear’s long and strange road to publication you can read about it in The Canberra Times here. I followed up with a reading of the book (a lovely hush descended over the room).

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Irma Gold_Megumi and the Bear launchAnd then Craig gave a show and tell that revealed the evolution of the artwork. Craig explained that the original bear (pictured below) was based on his friend, Zimzam, who had a mohawk. When Walker accepted the book for publication they asked Craig to make the bear more realistic. Needless to say Zimzam wasn’t pleased, but Craig was glad Walker made the call. I love our final (terribly sweet) bear but I still feel attached to his endearing teddy-like predecessor who inspired my story.

Then it was time for a tandem book signing. It’s always fun meeting readers and my favourite moment was writing a dedication to a baby born that very morning. I even got to see a snap of the gorgeous little man.

While the parents queued and we signed, the kids got busy with craft, making bear masks and decorating bear biscuits and cupcakes. Most of the kids used the technique my six-year-old self would have employed – cramming on as much icing and as many silver balls as possible. I’m sure my two-year-old son consumed more sugar in that one hour than in his lifetime thus far.

And that’s a wrap! My two older kids declared it ‘the best launch ever’, though truth be told they said that about the Megumi Canberra launch and will probably say it about whatever book launch we go to next. Afterall, what’s not to love about books and food and fun?

Special thanks must go to my bloke who did a damn good job of snapping these pics while wrangling our sugar-high, sleep-deprived toddler. And to all the sponsors who donated items for the launch to help make it such a special occasion: National Library of Australia, The Teddy Bear Shop (Canberra), Walker Books, Kinokuniya Bookstore, and The Art of Teddy Bears.

For lots more photos of all the Sydney launch shenanigans head to my Facebook page.