Category Archives: my process

What’s in a Name?

media2   If it’s a book title, a lot!

For a year or so, I’ve been struggling with finding the right title for my almost completed manuscript, a companion title for Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy. For continuity reasons I wanted the word ‘light’ somewhere in the title. We aren’t meant to judge a book by it’s cover, but research indicates that many of us do.

This story has been on the back-burner since 2011 when I visited the Anzac cemetery in the UK village of Harefield to research another idea (more about that journey in future posts). Ideas bubbled away as I completed other projects and then last year, at last, I was able to give this story dedicated time (thank you Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries). While the manuscript was a work-in-progress I initially referred to it as Quarantine Rose; a shocker of a title which I knew would never be the one. I couldn’t change my central character’s name because Rose is an overlap character with Light Horse Boy. For a while the title shifted to Rose on No Man’s Land, linking the story to a popular WWI song. However Rose works in a hospital not on the battlefield.

As the manuscript took shape I knew I needed a better title. At the annual SCBWI Rottnest retreat, fellow author Norman Jorgensen came up with the evocative Light from a Broken Lantern, however as the story progressed, there was more hope than brokenness. Sorry Norm!

Sometimes the right title appears at the same time as the first story idea. Other titles involve weeks of compiling lists and thesaurus trawling. Lighthouse Girl for a long while was Postcards from Breaksea, or simply Postcards. Then about two years into the four year writing process, the current tile settled. For Light Horse Boy, the final title was always the one.

With my going-to-print deadline quickly approaching, this month I sent out a cry for help. Thank you friends and family, writer group peers, bookgroupies and others who answered my call. You offered so many great suggestions. Even the risqué, wine-inspired suggestions from the Snowy Mountains were useful (looking at you Karen, Sophie and Owen), as they sparked other ideas using the words light, shadow and darkness.

Meanwhile Fremantle Press have been market-testing one of the options on our short-list of title choices and I am pleased to finally announce that the title has been decided. The book will be called In the Lamplight. Tentative release date is April 2018. I hope readers will enjoy this new addition to the ‘light’ series. Thanks again to all the wonderful title-hunters for your kind suggestions…

International Shark Week – Reef Adventures

Happy International Shark Week!

I’m fortunate to be celebrating the occasion on a Pacific island, taking a week’s break before August; a month of Festival/Library/School visits and Bookshop events (more details next post).

Snorkelling here everyday reminds me how observing the busy minutiae of life on a coral reef inspired my novel The Shark Caller. So much is happening on even the smallest reef. Tiny fish, bright coloured, striped, spotted and plain, dart under rocks, hide in anemone or between coral scaffolding, while larger fish chase them or snuffle through sand or chew coral. Meanwhile the slower sea slugs and starfish make interesting patterns in the sand.

snorkelling trimmed

The island we are visiting is a sanctuary for turtles and sea snakes. Swimming with the former is a bucket-list delight. I’m trying to get used to the latter. Overcoming fear of strange creatures is something Izzy needed to do in Shark Caller to complete her quest. Like Izzy, I often find that adventure involves duality, it’s one of the themes that interested me during the long writing process of this book. The Shark Caller plot explores twin bonds and aspects of our shadow sides. It’s about light/darkness as well seeing degrees of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ within characters (and ourselves). And as I snorkel, I still wonder why creatures like octopus and sea snakes spook me whilst I seek out other (also strange) creatures like turtles.

The lagoon here seems too shallow for sharks (certainly no mako…), however yesterday I did see another creature from the story. From the vantage point of the jetty at low tide, I watched three different octopus, none as scary as Pyrena thank goodness although one was largish… I find octopus exquisitely creepy as they writhe across the sea floor uncurling their arms then suddenly jetting away when they’re disturbed. They’re intelligent and noble in their own weird way, but I prefer to have space between us.

Swimming above gaps under rocky overhangs reminds me of another aspect of the story, imagined passages to ocean vents and otherworldly creatures. I don’t think this lagoon hides underwater tunnels, but I guess you never know!

When I began writing this blog I found a long ago shark post which I forgot to publish. I drafted it soon after the release of The Shark Caller, as the first reviews began to arrive – always an exciting moment when they’re positive. I smiled when I read the opening line of the very first review by Joy Lawn in Books +Publishing:

The Shark Caller breaks new ground in junior YA fiction.

And was honoured to receive the following praise from living legend Hazel Edwards OAM (author of the famed Hippo on Roof books) in Goodreads:

This is the best book for the 10-12 ish age group that I have read this year. Highly commended for adults too. And it’s a pleasure to savour the language. 

Author Heather Waugh‘s comment was rather octopus-like:it lured me in and held me. It’s been a while since I’ve read magic realism, and I sank back into it like a comfy couch.’

But my favourite review came from primary student Lila, who says:

Dad, Mum and I have just finished your book Shark Caller and we all loved it. Mum and Dad loved it so much they had to read it after I went to bed, and Dad couldn’t put it down so he accidentally stayed up ’til 1:30am reading it! My favourite part was reaching Sephone after escaping Pyrena and onwards. For me the most tense part was in the Cavern with Pyrena and escaping her. I also loved the words especially solwara, puripuri and tumbuna.

Happy Shark Week everyone, may you also find clear waters in which to celebrate with some friendly marine creatures.

 

From Book to Play – Black Swan Theatre’s adaptation of ‘Lighthouse Girl’ and ‘Light Horse Boy’

I started this blog post a month ago – it’s been busy – and although late, I wanted to share my response to the wonderful Black Swan Theatre adaptation before my next post about Nanna’s Button Tin

On Saturday night (29/4/17) I sat in the darkness of the Albany Entertainment Centre and watched Hellie Turner’s wonderful adaptation of my books Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy. I laughed and cried and experienced a lovely shiver each time I heard my own words woven into those of Hellie’s.

black swan publicity

Hellie Turner is an award-winning WA playwright. It was an honour to entrust my stories to her creativity. Hellie says that writing a first draft was ‘a gruelling joy’. Gruelling in that she needed to be immersed into ‘the carnage of war’ and a joy because she was ‘reminded of the remarkable resilience of the human spirit.’  Hellie’s words resonated for me, as writing the books was also like that.

The Perth opening was as exciting as the Albany Premiere, albeit a little more formal, with Her Excellency The Governor and other dignitaries attending. Our seats were closer to the stage and offered an intimate viewpoint as events on stage unfolded.

This is the first time that I’ve watched the same play three times and so it was interesting to experience different audience reactions. Each night there was almost visceral connection between those on stage and those watching. And that connection varied. People laughed and cried at slightly different places. The shared breathing in and out held small differences which was fascinating. As an author you don’t get to witness that intimate connection with a reader.

I loved so many things about the stage adaptation of Lighthouse Girl/Boy; the actors each gave excellent performances, capturing small character nuances helped by effective and lovely costuming (Fay’s large overcoat was perfect) and Lawrie Cullen-Tait’s set was masterful. Her clever design enabled the audience to imagine the one space as a lighthouse-keeper’s cottage, an island outcrop and a pyramid (as well as other things). The design was influenced by Albany’s rocky landscape, the diamond leadlight shapes of the Breaksea Lighthouse while suggestive railings paid ‘homage to the countless dead’. Joe Lui’s evocative lighting added to the mood throughout the play and Brett Smith’s sound/music design was beautiful, particularly the final haunting rendition of The Girl I Left Behind.

Congratulations to Stuart Halusz for directing the talents of these creatives, and others not mentioned specifically, to make this production so special. Stuart was inspired by memorials in small towns across Australia and in particular an artefact found in a small museum in Beechworth near my home-town Albury.

Thank you to BST Publicist Irene Jarzabek for making both Opening Nights so special, my agent Clive Newman and to all at Black Swan Theatre and Fremantle Press who helped bring Lighthouse Girl to the stage. Finally, my heartfelt thanks to Garry Snowden, General Manager of the Albany Entertainment Centre, whose enthusiasm and ongoing belief (over many years) has brought this project to fruition.

Nanna’s Button Tin – first peek

This afternoon something special arrived in the mail. After publication delays beyond my control, I’m so excited to at last hold my new picture book, Nanna’s Button Tin. Heather Potter’s illustrations are beautiful and every time I read the story I find lovely details in her artwork. The release date with Walker Books is June 1st but here is a first sneak peek…

The story was inspired by memories of playing with my mum’s and grandmothers’ button tins. I loved tipping their tins upside down, sorting shapes and colours and looking for my favourite buttons. Some buttons held special memories; a favourite party dress or a bear-shaped button from a cardigan. The book is dedicated to every Nanna with a button tin.

First Review:

I couldn’t have hoped for a better first review than the one published in the current issue of Books+Publishing by esteemed publisher, academic, author (and more) Margaret Hamilton AM. She writes: …The heart-warming story is sensitively told in simple and expressive language. The reader is invited to join this loving family to experience the special relationship between a small girl and her nanna and to relive treasured family memories, all through the special buttons in nanna’s jar…  Stories about family togetherness are very important in the life of a child. They reinforce family experiences and loving relationships, and when they are as warmly portrayed as those in this book, they become keepsakes.

Thank you Heather, Editor Mary Verney and the rest of the team at Walker Books.

 

 

Breaksea Island -photos & aerial maps

Yesterday I was fortunate to return to Breaksea Island, long ago home of ‘lighthouse girl’ Fay Catherine Howe. The weather was perfect. After circling the island, Rainer our pilot landed on the helicopter pad just below the lighthouse.

meg breaksea 124.JPG

We circled the ruins of the original lighthouse then walked down the hill to visit the old cottages. Each time I visit I have a strong sense of Fay in the furthest keeper’s cottage, particularly in one of the front rooms.

Just before this visit there’d been robust discussion, accompanied by some impressive forensic laptop studies of several old photos at the Albany History Collection. We were looking at a photograph of a young woman outside this furthest cottage. I’d always hoped it was Fay, but had been told it was an earlier keeper’s wife, however… it now seems it may actually be Fay. More on that in a later post. The young woman is standing by the cottage steps (below), with two donkeys, dogs and goats.

A highlight of the trip was hiking down the old zigzag donkey track to the jetty. I hadn’t been to the jetty since the original research trip over ten years ago, long before there was the helicopter option. There have been a few changes; with a safety cage around the swinging boat access ladder, but otherwise it all looked similar.

 It was great to see Elephant Rock again as that appears in the story.

meg-breaksea-087

Our allocated island time whizzed past and soon it was time to climb back into the chopper for the short trip back to the mainland. I’m already looking forward to next time.

 

 

 

 

Ring in the new…

Happy New Year !

After five years working on PhD research; my two novels (The Shark Caller, The Dog with Seven Names) and the accompanying exegesis, “Crafting Animals Characters in Fiction for Young Readers”, it’s a wonderful (and somewhat fizzy) feeling to be able to at last be free to give attention to other projects which have been circling in a holding pattern. The first being Light from a Broken Lantern (working title).

Between final drafts of the exegesis I’ve been researching this manuscript; the third (and final?) book in the Lighthouse/Horse Boy series. The story steps back to explore the early WW1 years from the perspective of English nurse, Rose before she meets Jim (Light Horse Boy). This early stage of shaping an historical story is exciting in that research reveals all sorts of potential leads, some of which will be followed and woven into the plotline while others slip quietly back into history. I’ve been keeping a scrapbook journal of progress and notes, so that I can revisit some of the quieter snippets in later drafts.buttons-proofs

In early June, another long-term project, Nanna’s Button Tin will be released by Walker Books Australia (and Candlewick for the U.S. market). Heather Potter’s beautiful illustrations hold lovely details which add multiple layers to the story. I can’t wait to share more details in a following post.

2017 also brings exciting events linking to Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy, as well as festival and school bookings. Here are some details for those:

  • Feb: Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy will be included in an exhibition of Australian and New Zealand Children’s picture books called Anzac Stories Behind the Pages – held in Brisbane libraries.
  • March: I’ll be filling in for Warren Flynn while he takes leave from his position as English tutor at the Albany UWA campus. I’m looking forward to working with first year students on texts including Shaun Tan’s The Arrival and Art Spiegelman’s Maus.
  • Also in March: Between the Lines Writer’s Festival is on again in Busselton. I’ll be talking about The Shark Caller as well as sharing ideas for creating animal characters.
    • April 21 and 22 : Time to frock up for Black Swan Theatre’s premiere of Lighthouse Girl in Albany. Playwright, Hellie Turner’s terrific adaptation also links to Light Horse Boy.black-swan
  • April – May:  Black Swan Theatre’s season of Lighthouse Girl continues in Perth.
  • June : Nanna’s Button Tin will be released by Walker Books Australia (and Candlewick).
  • August: For the first time in many years, Children’s Bookweek will be spent in Albany and the Great Southern, coinciding with the Albany exhibition of Anzac Stories Behind the Pages. As well as Albany and Denmark sessions, I’ll be travelling to smaller communities and schools across the Great Southern.
  • Repeat bookings are always lovely and in 2017 I’ll be revisiting some favourite schools and places including; St Marks, The Literature Centre, Woodthorpe and Margaret River Library. More about dates and details in following posts.

Until then, thank you for your interest in my books and this blog. I enjoy receiving feedback, so please feel free to send me a message. In 2017, I hope to post more regularly, let’s see how I go …