We don’t bother too much with winter in Queensland, but this year it feels like we’ve overlooked it entirely. A couple of chilly mornings and that was it, which might explain why my photo gallery is looking so much more impressive than my word count. It’s been too glorious to be indoors at my desk. And who can resist pointing a camera at a bright blue winter sky or a perfect sunrise.
Certainly not me.
Unfortunately my propensity for posting winter snaps has prompted a few awkward questions, like: Are you still writing?
Well, yes, of course. (Social media counts, right?)
In truth I’m working on a project that is proving a little trickier than I had hoped. Some stories just fly off the keyboard, others need to be prodded and poked and considered from every angle. They reveal themselves slowly. Unfortunately the latter seems to be the case for this one. Hopefully the finished product will be worth the wait!
I can’t offer too much detail, but I can give you a taste of what I’ve been up to these past few months, when I haven’t been prodding my story.
Book Week always puts a spring in my step. This year I was invited to be part of the Ashgrove Literature Festival and also joined the celebrations at Faith Lutheran College, Redlands, sharing stories with an amazing bunch of kids who obviously really love reading. And what an inspirational group of librarians, teachers and staff I worked with during the week. Three cheers for you all. I don’t know how you do that every day!
Mt Warning (above): The remains of a volcanic plug in the Tweed River region of NSW. Magnificent tropical rainforest and stunning views over Cape Byron and the Border Range. A four hour return walk if you keep up the pace. The final stretch is steep and rocky. Make sure you wear appropriate footwear and watch your step!
Nothing beats writer’s block like a good walk in the bush on a glorious winter’s day!
Mt Cooroora (below): Best known as the venue for the annual Pomona King and Queen of the Mountain race. It’s a steep climb but the views over the Sunshine Coast hinterland are definitely worth the trek. Race winners get up and back in less than 30 minutes, but I’d allow one to two hours.
It’s Archibald Prize time!
A visit to the Art Gallery of NSW to see the finalists in Australia’s most prestigious portrait prize is a must, but getting the chance to frock up, admire the portraits and meet a few of the artists is a very special treat. I was lucky enough to be mingling with celebs of the art world last week: getting the low down from Prize winner Mitch Cairns on the vibrant portrait of his artist-partner, Agatha Gothe-Snape, and gleaning some insight into the work of super-talented, Kim Leutwyler, who painted football star, Michelle Heyman, to secure a place in the Archibald exhibition.
Loved your work and your stories, and thank you for making me look cooler than I actually am!
Thanks also to my ever-glam book-group buddy, Elizabeth Blackwood for keeping me company while my hubby shared sartorial notes with iconic comedian Barry Humphries. Magenta rules!
You come across the most surprising characters at the Archibald Prize Exhibition.
So, that was my winter. Now, back to some proper work!
I was born in Mackay, North Queensland and grew up in Brisbane. I loved swimming and nature. I spent a lot of time exploring my local creeks and poking around the rock pools on Moreton Bay’s many islands. I hoped one day to become a vet, but I realised somewhere along the way that I was too squeamish for that, so I studied Journalism at QUT and became a news reporter instead. I worked in Australia, Hong Kong and London, covering all sorts of stories and exploring the world, gathering ideas that would eventually turn into books.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED WITH FICTION?
My first book was inspired by a family holiday on the Noosa River in Queensland. My two sons teamed up with friends and spent the summer dodging stingrays, exploring the bush and building secret camps. I had to write about it.
I had no experience in writing fiction for children, but I had spent a decade working as a television news reporter in Australia, Hong Kong and London. I rather naively thought that this would see me through, but it turned out I had a lot to learn. My children, who were five and eight at the time, set me straight when my writing got too newsy!
By the end of the summer I had written a series of books about a gang of kids holidaying on Hazard River, coming up against rogue fishermen, smugglers and dodgy developers. The stories were full of fun and adventure, with a subtle message about threatened wildlife. My kids loved them. I just hoped that I could find a publisher who felt the same way.
In How to Get to Rio – schoolgirl Kitty McLean has to decide whether to go camping with her old friends or spend the holidays at an exclusive beach resort with her new friend. The big decision for nature-loving Phoebe in The Call of the Wild is whether to go to a party with her besties or help out at the save-the-orangutan fundraiser. The emphasis is on fun, but the stories present realistic dilemmas for girls to consider. For every choice there’s a consequence. But unlike other stories in the choose-your-own-adventure genre, no one dies in this series when they make a bad choice!
My latest book for young adults is Counterfeit Love.Lucy Yang is an ambitious young television news reporter trying to get to the bottom of a murky story. It was inspired by my years as a reporter in Hong Kong, but Lucy gets into more trouble than I ever did!
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
I get my ideas from everywhere – my own misadventures, things that happen to my children, stories I read in the paper, conversations I overhear. Everything! Places that I’ve visited also feature heavily in my stories. Noosa is the setting for my first YA novel – Tall Dark and Distant.The magical ruined temples of Angkor, in Cambodia, is the backdrop of Lust and Found, while Counterfeit Love takes place in my old stomping ground – Hong Kong.
There’s a little bit of me in all of my stories and a lot of me in some of them! Phoebe from The Call of the Wildis a wildlife lover just like I was when I was a girl. I devoured everything I could find on African wildlife and hoped one day to work on a nature reserve. My life didn’t quite turn out that way, but I did go on a safari in Africa, which was amazing. I was also inspired by a visit to Borneo to see Orangutans. They are truly incredible but sadly they face a bleak future due to the destruction of their habitat.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
I write best when I’m sitting at my desk. I don’t like distractions of any kind – which is very strange after working in a noisy, smoky newsroom. I also like to write when I’m on holidays on the Noosa River, where there is no internet!
WHAT DOES YOUR WRITING DAY LOOK LIKE?
Once I have an idea in my head I write quickly. I settle myself in front of my computer and pound away for as much of the day as I can. I forget to pick up the kids from school, I ignore requests for dinner and Molly, the dog, looks on forlornly waiting for some attention. When I need a break to recharge my ideas I dash around getting things done and take Molly for a walk. I find walking, bike riding and napping extremely useful for getting through any kind of block.
DO YOU PLAN YOUR STORIES?
I always have an idea of where a story will start and finish before I begin writing. The details of the middle section get worked out as I go along. The Choose Your Own Ever After series was an exception. Each story has eight possible endings and various other choices along the way, so there were a lot of threads to tie in. I couldn’t just wing it with those stories, the plots had to be meticulously planned.
WHY DO YOU WRITE?
I write because I enjoy it. Also, it gives me an excuse to read a lot (to improve my writing), to travel (for inspiration) and to nap during the day (because it clears my head).
HAS ANYTHING SURPRISED YOU ABOUT WRITING?
I don’t think I was prepared for how much work goes into a book after it is published. Marketing is a vital aspect of writing, and school visits are an essential part of the job if you write for children. Anyone with a flair for stand-up comedy has an advantage in front of a group of school kids!
HOW ABOUT AWARDS?
I’ve been shortlisted for the West Australian Young Readers’ Book Awards. That’s exciting! And I’m on the list of Australia’s Amazing Animal Attacks. (See section on Garfish.) That’s a list I didn’t want to be on!
I will be winging my way to your side of the country soon – visiting schools in the Perth area from May 15-19, 2017. If you would like me to spend the day at your school – talking about story ideas, characters, the Choose Your Own Ever After series, Hazard River, orang-utans and more, please contact me directly or you can book a visit through Speakers Ink or Creative Net. I run workshops and talks for students in primary and secondary schools.
The full line-up for Voices on the Coast 2016: (Some didn’t make the photo but I’ll let you work out who was there and who wasn’t!) Deborah Abela, Christine Bongers, Janeen Brian, Peter Carnavas, Gary Crew, Shelley Davidow, Gregg Dreise, Kirsty Eagar, Brain Falker, Fleur Ferris, Julie Fison, Serena Geddes, Leigh Hobbs, Dean Jacobs, Andrew King, Sarah Kinsella, Russell Fletcher, Jan Latta, Rebecca Lim, Lynette Noni, James Phelan, Darrell Pitt, Leila Rudge, Katryna Starks, Ellen van Neervan, Nova Weetman, Samantha Wheeler, Philip Wilcox, Lesley Williams, Tammy Williams and Kelly Dunham (Festival Coordinator).
The perfect reading material for young adventurers – the Hazard River series.
“Thank you for such a great day. The girls and teachers thoroughly enjoyed your sessions, it was wonderful to hear them speak so positively about the tips and drafting skills you shared.” St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School
At the beginning of the year I made a commitment to take a break from the routine as much as possible, and do more. I know it’s only February, and it may be too early to be crowing about my success on the resolutions front, but so far, so good.
No Feb Fast for me, it’s been a feast for the mind, body and senses – in Thailand and in my own beautiful state of Queensland. (If you haven’t discovered Girraween National Park – you need to. But maybe not on the hottest weekend of the year!)
I have to admit my word count is looking a little sad, but I’m back at my desk now and busily working on two projects for young adults.
Maybe next year my resolution will have to be do more work!
In other February news, The Call of the Wild (part of the Choose Your Own Ever After series) has been shortlisted for the West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award. I’m very excited to be among some brilliant writers. Congrats to everyone on the list!
Sorry I’m a bit slow off the mark. I’ve been travelling on the cold side of the world – reconnecting with friends, catching up with family, revisiting some familiar places and gathering ideas for my next project. I lived in England for 11 years, but there’s something very special about returning after a long break and visiting the old haunts with fresh eyes.
Nostalgia has a way of colouring the past, but luckily all of my favourite places were even more impressive than I remembered (although the traffic is much worse and air travel is a complete nightmare). And my friends – they haven’t changed a bit!
Travel is so rewarding, but it also has a way of altering time. My month away felt more like a year. Cramming every day with haunted hotels, crazy drivers, snow-capped peaks, grand architecture, wonder and laughter sure makes life feel fuller and longer.
So, it’s out with the routine and in with life for 2017. There’s just one item on my New Year’s resolutions list:
I hope 2017 brings you everything you’re aiming for. Have a good one.
There’s a lot to love about the South West corner of Australia – a rugged coastline, spectacular caves, beautiful wineries, some great places to eat, and, in Spring, the wildflowers are out too. It’s no wonder this part of the country has inspired so many brilliant stories. You can’t visit Cape Leeuwin lighthouse without feeling the isolation that is so hauntingly evoked in M.L Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans. And it’s hard not to watch a surfer without thinking of Tim Winton’s gritty Breath.
Just hoping some of the WA magic rubs off on my writing!
Great walks: The Coast to Coast track from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin is 135 Km of stunning natural beauty. We did short sections rather than the whole lot. The Canal Rocks area was a highlight.
Great eating: The Leeuwin Estate restaurant is amazing and for deliciously casual fare try the Margaret River Bakery.
Great accomodation: I loved the Injidup Spa Retreat for its beautiful hill-top setting and for the delicious supplies packed into the fridge every morning.
It takes me thousands and thousands of words to flesh out a character, but how clever are the artists who can capture someone without needing to use any words at all. I was blown away (again) by the finalists in the Archibald Prize for portrait painting at the Art Gallery of NSW.
So many great stories here, but here are a few of my favourites.
And Sydney makes a spectacular setting for any story.