There is alchemy in the business of writing. Authors are often asked where their ideas come from. Divine inspiration, shells on a beach, talk-back radio … Sometimes I can pinpoint a moment, more often a story grows from linked moments of wonder or interest. As ideas come together and bubble, a manuscript grows, and sometimes, with luck, this mash turns into a book. Some moments that sparked The Shark Caller involved diving on reefs in PNG’s New Britain area as well as snorkeling in Marovo Lagoon (Solomon Islands) and WA’s Greens Pool.
Greens Pool was especially significant as it became (in my mind) the fictitious ‘Abalone Cove’.
In the opening scene of The Shark Caller a teenage boy dies in mysterious circumstances at Abalone Cove. A blue-ringed octopus is involved. I once saw a blue-ring in Greens Pool; just a surprised flash before it turned sandy brown and crept away. Greens Pool is a magical place to swim. When I lived in Denmark my regular loop involved a long lap, from a rock that sometimes hid a wobbegong to the far end where a Gloomy Octopus lived under a large rock. Her garden of shells gave away the entrance. These shark and octopus encounters swirled around in my imagination, along with the evocative rocks that guard Greens Pool. I added PNG diving experiences, environmental worries and my own sense of communities being linked by oceans. This all gave me a strong sense of setting to draw on during the long writing process.
Greens Pool, WA
If you’d like to read more about The Shark Caller, here is a post from last World Octopus Day.
The first time I visited this site, the hospital building was fenced off and in disrepair. Travelling back in 2015, the most I’d hoped for was to be able to take photographs through the wire fencing. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at dusk to find lights blazing in a newly renovated building. I went inside, ordered a coffee and walked along the verandahs, imagining the scene in World War Two when dozens of burnt patients were evacuated from Broome after the strafing of Dutch flying boats. It’s just one of the passages in my novel which was enriched by being able to walk through the old hospital rather than view it through holes in a fence. Thanks DOME, I love your policy of keeping our heritage alive by restoring historic buildings.
Cafe’ manager, Hannah shared interesting renovation details and even mentioned a ‘presence’ felt by some visitors (perhaps there’s another story there). Thanks to the Town of Port Hedland, Librarian, Gill Westera and Port Hedland SHS for inviting me to Port Hedland to share The Dog with Seven Names. I look forward to visiting again in 2020 when I’ll also travel to other book settings such as Marble Bar. In the meantime, you may like to follow these links to see photos from previous research trips to Broome and Port Hedland.
Other 2018 highlights include ASA mentoring the super talented Amelia Mellor, speaking at the National ALEA/AATE Conference, Write Around the Murray and the CBCA NSW Kids Bookweek event. I love being part of the friendly and inclusive children’s literature community. Special thanks to the SCBWI West team for all that you do to support creative spirits.
2019 looks like being another exciting year. More about that in a few weeks. In the meantime I’ll be enjoying a quiet family Christmas at home, with plenty of beach-time, reading and the odd glass of bubbles. I’m also happily writing something new. Stay safe and thank you for helping to make 2018 a good year.
During this year’s Write Around the Murray festival in Albury, I attended a fabulous music/words performance project called Stereo Stories. I was so inspired by the concept and shared memories, that on the plane home next day, I wrote a song-memory of my own. You can find it here on the Stereo Stories site. And here is the fabulous Skyhooks record cover that inspired my story. The Skyhooks website says this debut album sold 300,000 copies. Does it bring back memories for anyone else?
Brian Simmonds and I are both spring- cleaning, and we’ve found fifteen more images for the November sale. Anyone who has already contacted me to express interest should have received an email with these images by now. Please advise if you haven’t.
Free pick-up delivery is possible for Albany and Perth.
The school year is winding up. Library, school and conference visits are mostly completed, and even in Albany the days are warming. It’s now the season for intensive writing time at my desk.
First up, I’ve returned to a long ago YA novel called Shadows Walking. I began this story in 2002 (I know). Shadows Walking is set in wartime Papua New Guinea and current time California/Australia. I’ve had to mega-edit the latter! The book was optioned for publication long ago but that lapsed and by then I was busy with Lighthouse Girland then the others in the ‘Light’ series as well as PhD research and linked novels …
Re-reading the old manuscript has been interesting, wondering whether it’s worth putting in the months of effort needed to tighten and reshape the story. I’ve decided yes, and so far I’ve removed some characters, lowered the age of my central character as well as done some serious slash and burn editing. The good news is that I can see that I’ve improved in my craft over the past fifteen years.
Since 2002, when I walked the Kokoda Track to research this story, another Kokoda linked title has been published. Photographs in the Mud (2005) shares similar themes to Shadows Walking and in some ways is a crystallisation of the longer novel, but only in some ways. Returning to the novel is timely; this year I’ve been honoured by people approaching me at conferences and schools to say how much they enjoy Photographs in the Mud. It was my first picture book (not one for young children) and I’m grateful that in these days of books going out of print so quickly, Fremantle Press have kept this one. Hurrah for them. Another fun part of returning to Shadows Walking is revisiting photos from the trek. Here is a collage. I look so much younger.
I’m hoping to complete my through-edit soon. Then I have a list of other projects I’d like to start, none of which involve war!
As Bookweek Month draws to a close, children’s authors and illustrators across Australia will be slowing down before heading back into their creative caves. I’ve had a wonderful Bookmonth travelling from Albany to Broome, from Perth to Sydney, from Canberra to the NSW Central Coast. Massive thanks to the dedicated teachers, librarians and Children’s Book Council of Australia volunteers who organised my visits. You are legends! I’ve met thousands of young readers and seeing that the joy of reading is alive and well enriches my work and inspires me.
Students from Roebuck Primary
When you live in chilly Albany, being invited to celebrate Bookweek with Broome students, teachers and librarians in July is like winning a children’s author lottery. During a week of presentations, I spoke with hundreds of students from Years 3 to 10. Broome library staff made a great welcome display and young readers from St Mary’s College, Broome Primary and Roebuck Primary came into the library to ‘Find Story Treasure’ and celebrate the Bookweek theme.