Monday, December 3, 2012

Reflections on a fortunate year.


Last Friday night, at the NSW Premier's Literary Awards dinner, sitting in the grand reading room of the NSW Library, I was overcome with an incredible sense of gratitude. Less than twenty years ago, when I was first starting out, the thought of being in a room with some of Australia's finest writers and being flown up to attend this dinner because one of my very own books had been shortlisted, would have been inconceivable. I still remember standing in front of my bookshelf thinking 'Imagine! Imagine having my very own book up there. My words in a book on somebody's bookshelf!' That was my greatest ambition. To have book published. Everything from there on has been gravy.

Listening to Clive James' moving address recorded from his home in London as he is now too unwell to travel, it struck home how much I should savour every moment and take nothing for granted. Especially when there were times, not that long ago, I came so close to tossing it all in. This has been an incredible year. I have travelled overseas to attend conferences and book festivals and had a residency at the Melbourne Zoo. I have won awards and been shortlisted for others and sat at tables with writers I have admired my whole lifetime. My books have been taken up by publishers in other countries and I have received messages from readers the world over. By Christmas, according to my publishers, I will have sold a million Billie B Brown books. I still can't quite believe it. From where I stand right now, I couldn't imagine a more fortunate life.

I remember hearing on a radio program once, years ago, that the secret to happiness was gratitude. That in everyone's life there will be ups and downs but if you can bring to mind the things you are truly grateful for, this will buoy you through the hardest times. I have so much to be grateful for; my friends and family of course will always be my brightest light, but I am also incredibly grateful that I am able to do something that I love on a daily basis - and make a living from it. For this I have to thank not only my publishers, who have been brilliant, but all those people out there who have supported me in different ways: the booksellers, the teachers, the librarians, the parents and anyone who has put my books into the hands of a child. I also feel so grateful for the incredibly generous and supportive community of Australian children's authors and illustrators that I am so lucky to be a part of.

This has been an amazing year, and I have so many more exciting things to look forward to in 2013, including four books in the Our Australian Girl series for Penguin, a picture book with Windy Hollow, and a brand new Billie series for slightly older readers. I will keep you posted. Until then, I hope that you get a ton of books for Christmas and that you have all the peace you need to read them over the break.

19 comments:

  1. Dear Sally,

    That's a beautiful post. You're so right, too, writers have so much to be grateful for - especially those who live in the Land of Oz. Sorry I didn't get to meet you on Friday - win or lose, it was a memorable night.

    Bill.

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    1. Yes, wasn't it a lovely evening? I am sorry I missed you too! Next time. :-)

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  2. A meerkat in your lap AND a million books! What an exciting year! X

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    1. I know! Can't get much better than that, hey?

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  3. Congratulations on having such a wonderful year and for having the good sense to express gratitude for it. In such a beautiful, positive post, of course I have snagged myself on the negative thing - why did you contemplate throwing it all in? And what made you keep going? This question interests me enormously and I hope you have the time to answer it. Billie B Brown books are on my kids' Christmas wish list!

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    1. Hi Jill - the main thing, sadly, was money. I am the main breadwinner in my family of five and I had reached a point where I felt like I was working so hard and yet still not able to make ends meet. A few years back one of the publishing houses that had produced many of my picture books was bought out and they put almost half my picture books out of print within a couple of months - even though some were less than a year old. Years of work down the drain - I felt so disheartened. And I was just exhausted from the effort of scrabbling around for money all the time and never being able to plan ahead as I never knew what I would earn each year. It was at that point I seriously thought of retraining - or teaching full time, and giving up writing and illustrating altogether, or at least until my kids were older and weren't dependent on me. Then, at 39, I met with a new publisher over coffee and told her that I was about to turn 40 and had decided that I really needed to start to earn some money from my writing. She said 'About time!'. It seems like the simplest thing yet this was a huge shift for me. I realised I had been carrying around a romantic notion for years of what it meant to be an artist: that making money from your art meant that you'd 'sold out' - or lost your integrity. It occurred to me that, really, it didn't have to be that way. I was still me. I wasn't about to produce something that I didn't fully believe in. So, she offered me a series of books for younger readers - and the rest, as they say, is history. As corny as it sounds, the Billie B Brown series has literally changed my life.

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    2. What a great reply - thank you so much. This back story makes me all the more thrilled for you. It's so useful to hear this - it validates a lot of my own experience (although I have had very little published)- there is a real 'cost' to being an artist, or trying to be. It's so much easier for me to just work and earn money. We love Billie even more now, and she saved me from those horrible Rainbow Fairy books - it was so easy to lure my kids away from them with Billie B. Brown and they have never asked for Rainbow Fairies again!

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    3. Thanks Jill. Now, I'm intrigued - what books have you published? Tried to find out on your blog but no luck.
      I'm glad your girls are enjoying the Billie books. Having only sons, those Rainbow Fairy books are yet to cross our threshold, but I haven't heard great things about them.

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    4. Hi Sally, thanks for your interest. Many years I go I co-wrote two teenage romance novels. One of them was included in an anthology which was sold in five countries, but the publisher never told us, let alone paid us any money for it. We found out by accident. We were going to pursue it, but were told it was not worth it. My co-writer has gone on to publish three great novels, including one your sons might like 'Augustine's Lunch'. You can check out her website here: laurabloom.com.au Since the romance novel days (which taught me a lot, and I really enjoyed it) I have written two novels for young people. I had a great agent and was the recipient of a number of fellowships, but no book deal! I gave up, but I am planning to get on the horse again.

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    5. That's a terrible story about your first publishing experience! I looked up Laura's books but still couldn't find out your real name. I'm assuming your last name is not 'In A Box'? :-)
      If you are still interested in writing for young people you might want to get in touch with my publisher at Hardie Grant Egmont as they are starting a Romance list with a lot of new writers. (A couple of my ex-students have submitted work, I think.) Email me if you want some more details: sallyrippin@optusnet.com.au. Always good to get back up on that horse.

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    6. Hi Sally, we wrote under a pseudonym - it was a looong time ago. I don't know that I have anymore teen romance stories in me, but a huge thank you for thinking of me and the suggestion. It's very generous of you to be so helpful.

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  4. That is such a beautiful post, Sally -- and I agree with every word of it. We have so much to be thankful for and I remind myself of that every single day.

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    1. Thanks Kate - yes, I do feel very lucky even to be able to have all the choices I do. I remember having an argument with an arrogant French artist who said he believed people were born artists. I told him that I believed it wasn't a birthright but a privilege. If I had been born into a poor village in Africa, married off at fourteen with four children by twenty, even if I'd had artistic yearnings, it would be highly unlikely I'd be able to attend to them. He disagreed.

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  5. Maybe you should add ignorant to arrogant!

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  6. Beautiful post Sally. Congratulations for your writing, for your illustrations, for your beautiful family and for being such great inspiration to us all. You are such an amazing person, full of creativity, originality, drive, strength and warmth. It is no surprise that the people appreciate you as a writer, artist, friend, mentor, mother... as Sally!
    I am so honored that I can be a little part of your Billie success :D

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    1. Oh Aki, you are such a darling. The Billie books are as much you as they are me! Billie wouldn't be as charming and beloved as she is without your wonderful drawings. xxx

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  7. Inspiring - as always, Sally.

    Congratulations and every magic-filled wish for a wonderful 2013 for you.

    xClare

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    1. Thanks Clare. Looks like 2013 is going to be good for both of us. :-) xx

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