Tuesday, April 27, 2010

After your first novel - then what?

I have been working on my current novel for three or four years now (I've lost count) and it has been a grueling process. Recently I have been thinking a lot about something Antoni Jach, teacher and mentor of countless writers all over Melbourne, once said: 'You get your first novel for free.' At the time I didn't completely understand what he meant by this but now I think I do.
When I think back to when I wrote my first novel Chenxi and the Foreigner, in my mid-twenties, it's like I am different person (other that I am obviously much older and alas not always wiser). I'm not saying that my first novel was any easier to write - I still had to slog out numerous drafts over several years - it's more that I wrote with a kind of weightlessness that seems harder to conjure up the more I am published.
I am definitely a more professional writer now; more aware of what I am doing and why I am doing it, who my audience is and even the kind of book I am writing. I edit my work better, I plan better, structure better, probably even write better, but by gaining all this control over my writing, I lose a certain enviable out-of-controlness that comes from blindly finding your way through your first novel.
As an art student, I loved the unpredictability of printmaking. Unlike drawing (unless you draw blindfolded or with your left hand) with printmaking you could never be one hundred per cent sure of what the outcome would be. I guess that's the closest analogy I can think of to describe the difference between writing my first novel to writing the one I am working on now.
I remember once listening to Sonya Hartnett talk on a panel with a hip young first-time novelist and at the time thinking how weary and cynical she sounded. The hip young novelist had so much fire and excitement and enthusiasm and was comparing writing his novel to riding a bucking bronco. Sonya rolled her eyes and said something like, 'That's because you're still a virgin. Just wait til you try to write the next one.'
Even though I would hate to ever feel weary or cynical about my work, at times it definitely does feel tamer. I carry more weight and I know well the hard road ahead of me. I'm also more likely to dismiss my work as crap whereas in the beginning I was overjoyed just to string a few words together and to watch something be created from nothing.
These days I can still have moments like that. Little breakthroughs like cracks in a wall where the light gets in (thank you Leonard Cohen for that beautiful analogy). This weekend I had a good weekend, an uninterrupted long weekend perfect for writing. My partner and I both work from home and take turns looking after our youngest son so the other can work. I wrote in the mornings then walked along the Merri Creek with my son in the afternoons. With him, I can often rediscover that sense of childish awe about the world, that slow daydreaming time so essential to creativity. Then in the evenings I would read through the day's work. I didn't hate all of it. I was amazed to discover that some of it I even liked.
I don't want to jinx myself or count my chickens before they hatch or let the cat out of the bag or any of that other proverbial nonsense, but I'll just say that my novel has changed considerably over the last three/four years. From starting out as an angsty teen novel about identity and acceptance (yawn), I think now it is beginning to simplify and crystallize into something younger, lighter and more full of awe. While I began with something complex and complicated and convoluted, now I have decided just to tell the story of a bunch of kids who find an angel in the creek.
Picasso strove his whole life to recreate the simplicity and lightness of his childhood drawings and, like him, it may take me a lifetime to do the same. But perhaps the more time I spend walking along the creek with my young son, the easier it will be for me to get there.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Billie in the Younger Sun Bookstore

THIS is very exciting! When you walk into the fabulous Younger Sun Bookstore in Yarraville this is the first thing you see. I was asked by the wonderful Kate O'D to come in and sign some Billie books this week and had no idea what a treat awaited me! Thanks Kate and everyone at the Younger Sun for all your support!
Any other bookstores stocking Billies who'd like me to come in and sign copies, just let me know. I have a car and I am prepared to drive any (reasonable) distance for any Billie fans out there!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sneak Peek - Books 5 & 6

Here are the gorgeous covers for the next two Billie books, due for release later this year.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Billie B Brown Launch

Here are a couple of photos from Saturday's Billie B Brown launch. Andy did a wonderful job launching the series and Borders were great hosts. Some of the kids dressed up - the theme was the letter 'B' so of course I am dressed as Billie. (I'm not normally known for galavanting about in pigtails and a tutu!) It was lots of fun and it was wonderful to see so many friends, relatives and Hardie Grant people at the launch, many of them with kids in tow. Obviously, we missed Aki, the illustrator, but as she lives in New Zealand it was a little far for her to come just for the weekend!
There are two more Billie books on the way and I'll be posting a sneak peek soon.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bonnikins - Short & Scary

This is a story I recently had published in Short & Scary - a new collection of short stories by Black Dog Books. It is an old story of mine, but still one of my favourites.


By Sally Rippin

Come for a wander with me, sproggin. I have a special place to show you. It’s not far, but we have to walk through the woods. Your mammy told you never to walk through the woods, did she? Well, sprog, I wouldn’t worry about your mammy. She’s not around now, is she? There’s just me. Now, come along.

It’s dark in the woods, is it deary? Well, don’t you worry, your peepers will soon become accustomed. Look now, the clouds have rolled back and there shines the moon, all fullsome, upon our path. Just keep walking. It’s not far now.

What’s that sound, you say? Well, that be the wolves, my child. Wolves are always a-howling when the moon comes out. Don’t let it fear you. Those wolves may be hungry but they’re far, far away. And anyways, you be safe with me.

Keep up now, child. Don’t want to be losing yerself among the leafy-tallings now, do you? The woods is no place for a child on its own. What’s that? You want to go home? There now, child, that’s not the voice of the sprog I know. Come along. We be nearly there. There’s no going back now.

There. You see it? There. Between the leafy-tallings. Dainty innit? That be my snuggery. And a cosy one at that. But that’s not what I wanted to show you. No, child, what I want you to see waits inside. Come along now, don’t tarry. Ah, yes, there tis. See how it the light beckons? All friendly-like? Ah, it’s good to be home.

Not that I don’t like yer ma and pa. No, child, it’s not that. They be fine people, for sure. But I got my own sprog to care for, too. You didn’t know that? Well, of course, my child. Why do you think I work so hard for yer ma and pa? You think I clean their house for fun, my sprog? No, child. I have my own sprog to feed. Yes, child.

Here we are. Come along my inchling. I hear my babe a-callin. He be hungry fer sure. Don’t be fearsome, child. Why, your face be turnin’ white as a bone! I thought you had more courage in you than that. What’s that? You don’t like that sound he’s makin? He’s but a babe! Sure he be noisy, but he’s howlin’ with hunger. You be howlin’ too if you had a hunger like that.

In you go, my fingerling. Shhh! Yes, dear just like that. You don’t want me to lock the door? But we must lock the door, dear. Keep the hungry beasties out. No dear, yer ma won’t be calling you. She’s having a nice tea now with yer pa. In a fancy dining place, innt she? She knows yer safe with me. I says to yer ma, now don’t rush back, dear, yer fine sprog be safe with me! No, child, your ma and pa won’t miss you for quite a bit longer.

Come along now, child. Don’t pull yer hand like that. Of course it’s going to hurt your wrist if you keep pulling away like that. Just be still, would you child? There’s no sense in making a fuss. There! All yer kicking and screaming’s upset my babe. Oh dear, child. You know it’s not good to upset him. He gets awful cranky-like when he’s upset. Come here, child! Don’t tug. Come see my little darlin’.

Now that’s not a very nice thing to say about my baby, is it? Sure he be big, but he be no monster. He’s my belov’d, aren’t you, Bonnikins? Bonnikins is hungry, aren’t you darling? He’s just drooling because he’s hungry, poor miserable thing. Look child, he’s happy to see you, isn’t he? There, there Bonnikins, that’s better. Don’t cry. Bonnikins has been waiting for his ma to come home with his dinner, hasn’t he?

Mind those bones, child!