Wednesday, October 05, 2011


As you may or may not have noticed, I haven't been blogging much recently. You can probably guess why. This is The Baby Formerly Known As Sproglet:

Her poppa is holding her in this one.

We call her Squidge. And also Adele, which is her name. It turns out that babies - especially babies who arrive five whole weeks before you expect them to - well, they don't leave much time to write. Or blog. Or shower. And it turns out that you have a choice between writing, blogging and showering on a regular basis, showering wins. (I know! Who'd have thought?)

So this is just to say there's a gap, and I know there's a gap, and I'm working on fixing things. And that's ok.

Here in the world of the internet, us writing folk like to project an image of perpetual productiveness. There are the word counts on twitter, the freshly written teasers (and the not-so-freshly written teasers). We like to make it seem as much as possible like we're Getting Things Done. And you know, some of us are Getting Things Done. And that is excellent. And some of us are Getting A Little Bit Done. This is excellent too. Writing in big chunks and writing in little chunks still adds up to the same thing in the end.

And some of us - well, some of us aren't, at the moment. Life intervenes, and sometimes big things take over for a while. But the stuff that we live out when we're not writing is just as important, if not more important. Because all this other stuff is what fuels our writing in the first place.

So sometimes there are gaps. But the gaps are as valuable, and we are better writers for them. It's just a matter of knowing when it's time to go back to writing again after. And working out how to make writing fit into life when all the foundations have shifted, working out new ways to make writing happen. I'm typing this with one arm and holding a sleeping baby in the other. I know that it's possible.

We can't always live in huge productive bursts. Sometimes we live one sentence, one word, one breath at a time. And this is a very good thing.

Friday, April 08, 2011


Sproglet keeps wriggling as I write this. Sproglet often wriggles when I write. Actually, Sproglet often wriggles most of the time. Especially after I eat chocolate. Early mornings and late at night are Sproglet's favourite times of day. I lie in bed and inside me my tiny human dances, dances, dances.

I don't know the sex. That was deliberate. I love the mysteriousness. I love looking at my midwife's notes and seeing Estimated Date of Delivery: 14 July. It's like when you're on a long haul flight, and you keep looking back at the screen with the map of the world and the little plane gradually moving across oceans and continents. And you keep reading the estimated time of arrival and even though you're exhausted, the time stamps itself into you, and you can't look at it without feeling a tiny thrill because at that time you'll be landing in another world, and you don't know quite what it will be like.

Only that it will be amazing.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday: Like Mandarin!

Today's Road Trip Wednesday is extra special! Extra extra special. You can win Kirsten Hubbard's beautiful, newly released debut novel Like Mandarin if you participate over here.

Wow. I don't think I've ever made that many hyperlinks in one sentence before.

More about Like Mandarin, for the curious:

It's hard finding beauty in the badlands of Washokey, Wyoming, but 14-year-old Grace Carpenter knows it's not her mother's pageant obsessions, or the cowboy dances adored by her small-town classmates. True beauty is wild-girl Mandarin Ramey: 17, shameless and utterly carefree. Grace would give anything to be like Mandarin. When they're united for a project, they form an unlikely, explosive friendship, packed with nights spent skinny-dipping in the canal, liberating the town's animal-head trophies, and searching for someplace magic. Grace plays along when Mandarin suggests they run away together. Blame it on the crazy-making wildwinds plaguing their Badlands town. Because all too soon, Grace discovers Mandarin's unique beauty hides a girl who's troubled, broken, and even dangerous. And no matter how hard Grace fights to keep the magic, no friendship can withstand betrayal.

Because Like Mandarin is about yearning to be like somebody else, today we're writing about who we would have given anything to be like growing up.

this girl in my drama class in high school. I'm going to call her Gabriella, although that wasn't her name. But like Gabriella, her name was kind of theatrical.

Gabriella was totally my Mandarin.

Gabriella wasn't one of those skinny stick figure girls. She was round and curvy. She had a kind of beauty that was all her own. She had an epic laugh. And when she stepped onstage, even if it was in a crummy low budget school production and the lights weren't working properly, even if she was surrounded by stage fright stricken school kids saying every line in a monotone, she glowed. If you were in the audience, it was impossible to take your eyes off her. Her comic timing was perfect. No one made an audience laugh like Gabriella. Sometimes it seemed like she could imitate every voice in the world and turn it into her own.

Needless to say, even in close proximity, she completely ignored me. Not that I ever really tried to get her attention in the first place. I never saw myself as worthy. In high school, there are a few talents that will give you status. Gabriella's was one of them. Gabriella never really tried to be 'cool'. She never needed to. She spent her weekends partying hard and had new stories about drunken crazy antics almost every Monday. At lunchtimes she joined an elite crowd who disappeared off to a certain clump of trees and came back reeking of smoke. With anyone else, this would have been gross. With Gabriella, it somehow added to her mystique. Sometimes after a long weekend of drama rehearsals I used to find myself wishing I was a smoker, just so I could have some of that mysteriousness of my own.

I was the complete opposite of Gabriella. I was so shy it hurt. I didn't like cigarette smoke, and I wasn't brave enough for partying, but I would have given anything to have her talent, and even more than that, her confidence. Even just for a day. I would have loved to float through high school on a cloud of charisma, rather than scuttling between classes trying to avoid people's eyes.

Looking back on all this, I want to go find my high school self and give her a hug, and tell her everything will be ok in the end.

Who did you most want to be like?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday (or Thursday): What’s in a name?

How do you pick the titles of your novels?

I pick the titles of my novels with a great deal of saintly, zen-like calm. And absolute sureness. Because, you know. It’s only this one tiny little phrase that’s meant to make people pick up your book from a crowded shelf in their favourite bookshop and tell them what sort of novel it is, whether it’s a dark one or a funny one or a dreamy one or one that hasn’t brushed its hair this morning, and also hint vaguely but intriguingly about what it might be about. And also maybe sound ever so slightly sexy at the same time. It’s not hard to come up with a couple of words that do all that, is it? Oh no. There’s never any stress about this at all. Never any combing the internet, desperately hoping that no one else has named their darling the same combination of words as yours. Especially if they’re published, and maybe a little bit successful. And there’s never any gnashing of teeth, or pulling out of hair, or filling pages and pages with crossed out scribbleful maybe titles, which could be absolutely perfect if it wasn’t for the fact that they didn’t work at all. There’s never any envy for those painters who get to name their masterpieces ‘Untitled IV’ and then smile enigmatically when you ask them why.

No, no. Never. Why on earth would anyone stress about any of that?

So. My current works in progress:

There’s Beneath, which I’m going to call urban fantasy for now, because it makes life more straightforward if you give things categories. Beneath might be the final title, or it might not. It was meant to be the final title, because it was the title I came up with when I first thought of the story. Sometimes stories just turn up in my head with titles. But you see, there’s another book coming out next year with a similar-ish title, and even a vaguely similar theme. One that I didn’t find out about until I was at least halfway through Beneath.

I did not gnash my teeth at all when I found this out. Honestly.

But for now, anyway, Beneath is still Beneath. I have this long running love affair with one word titles. There’s something strangely poetic about all the space they leave around them. Beneath is a world which exists alongside this one. It’s also sometimes called Hell, or Hades, or Wonderland, or Oz, or Faerie. And many other things too. It’s also the weird unconscious territory you walk in nightmares, where things that aren’t even meant to exist can turn solid and hurt you at any moment. But my main character knows it as Beneath. So, for now, that’s the name of my story. Maybe forever, or maybe just until one of my scribbleful maybe titles turns out to be better.

My other work in progress is a contemporary novel called King Lia*. And god knows why, but it was actually blissfully easy to name. I don’t know what came first – the title, or the idea of the main character and her life having parallels to Shakespeare’s play King Lear. Or maybe both at the same time. It’s not meant to be one of those stories that retells a Shakespeare play in a straightforward way. There are plenty of those out there, and quite a few of them are very and extremely good. Basically with King Lia I let the two stories get tangled, the one I thought up about a girl called Lia living with her famous writer father in a house full of dust and books, and the one Shakespeare copied from somewhere* about a king who loses his kingdom and goes insane. And the title reflects the tangledness. And also the idea that Lia has claimed a fragile kingdom for herself.

I think the best way to come up with titles is to let them happen by accident. And I’m not always very good at letting things happen by accident, but I’m getting better. If you come up with an idea and let it tell you all about itself gradually – I’m coming dangerously close to one of those annoying unfolding flower analogies, but I’m not going there, I promise – if you don’t push it too hard, and just keep following it, sometimes it will tell you its name. These days that seems to happen more often for me. Or maybe my brain has finally picked up on the fact that teeth gnashing and hair pulling aren’t particularly healthy, and is trying to make me do less of that kind of thing by being obliging and giving me titles right from the start. Well. Slightly less.

How do you come up with your titles? Come join in at YA Highway!

*Contemporary fiction. Yes, really. How I ended up writing contemporary fiction is actually a whole other blog post. Most of the time my brain is strictly fantasy.

**Whenever you start worrying about whether your writing is original enough, remember: Shakespeare copied almost all of his plays from various places. If you can tell a story well, it doesn’t have to matter.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Literal Poetry Surprise, featuring Robert Burns!

Scene: I am sitting in my favourite cafe with a mango smoothie* and my notebook, watching the Ponsonby traffic and raging relentless battle against plot bunnies.

At a table across the other side of the cafe, I see a strange old man with jagged wrinkles and crumpled clothes. He has a notebook too. He glances at me so fast I almost convince myself he didn't. He picks up his notebook and starts shuffling across the cafe. I tell myself he's not coming over to me, but this doesn't work.

Old man: *shoves notebook in my face*

The notebook is full of scrawl worse than mine. I make out the word 'mice'.

Old man: *reads from notebook* Somethingmumblesomethingbestlaidplansofmiceandmenmumblemumblesomething!

A tiny drop of spittle flies out of his mouth and lands on the table in front of me.

Old man: *pauses for my response*

Me: *tries to remember where the mice and men line comes from* *fails* 

Me: It's... very nice.

Old man: Robert Burns! It's Robert Burns! *starts shuffling away*

Me: It's a great poem.

Old man: *looks pleased* *sits down at his table and hunches over notebook*

Me: *hunches over own notebook* *plans beginning and ending of plot bunny infested novel*


I've just looked up the poem. I didn't realise how very and extremely Scottish it is. Possibly the old man actually read me the original poem, painstakingly scrawled out by hand, only to have me not understand about 95% of it. I still don't understand 95% of it. It makes most sense when you read it out loud. If you'd like some translation, there's some here.

To a Mouse

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie,
O, what panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

I'm truly sorry Man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave 'S a sma' request:
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' wast,
An' weary Winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

That wee-bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald.
To thole the Winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!

But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

- Robert Burns

I keep wondering what drew the old man to this poem, whether there was some carefully laid plan in his own life that fell apart and led to him spouting other people's poetry at strangers in cafes, or whether he empathised with the foreboding fear of all unknown things to come. Or whether he just liked the sound it made.

*Usually, this would be an enormous latte. But I'm hardly drinking any coffee at the moment. This gets italics because usually - well, usually I am a coffee fiend. But there are reasons.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Poetry Surprise, featuring Sylvia Plath!

Remember the whole poetry surprise idea? Did you think I'd forgotten? I haven't at all! In fact, I'm going to blast you with awesome poetry right now.

If you guess why I've chosen this poem, then I might just have to give you a cookie. Well. A metaphorical cookie. But metaphorical ones are definitely the best sort.


I'm a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf's big with its yeasty rising.
Money's new-minted in this fat purse.
I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I've eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there's no getting off.

- Sylvia Plath

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday: Groundhog Day!

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray has to live the same day over and over. What books would you pick to read over and over for the rest of your life?

What’s funny is that I don’t really need it to be Groundhog Day to keep reading the same books. My brain seems to be hardwired to love reading the same thing a few times in a row. And also a few more times. And maybe just a few more. In fact, my sister and I have some books we call ‘chocolate fiction’. This means that they’re full of cosy sweet goodness and must be returned to over and over again for full effect. Because who eats chocolate just once?

To start with, anything by Sarah Dessen. Especially Just Listen and The Truth About Forever.

At my place, Sarah Dessen always inspires this one particular conversation. A groundhog conversation!

Scene: Josh walks in. I am curled up in a ball with a book. There is a cat purring unbelievably loudly somewhere near my feet.

Josh: Haven’t you read that book four thousand and sixty two times now?

Me: No. At least five thousand and twenty three.

Josh: Don’t you have it completely memorised by now?

Me: Yeah. *continues reading*

Josh: *is perplexed*

You know how you have that jumper, the one that joins you on all the most miserable days of winter, the woollen one with the really long sleeves that you can pull down over your hands? I can’t explain why exactly, but Sarah Dessen is that jumper for me. Her books join me on all my worst days.

Australian YA of all kinds. But especially Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta (see previous post), Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell, and pretty much anything by Jaclyn Moriarty.

It’s all the way across the Tasman, sure, but for me, Australian YA is just that much closer to home. It’s often easily as sophisticated as YA from the US, and something about the voices connects with me like nothing else. I love the quirkiness of Jaclyn Moriarty’s books, the raw but tender love story in Everything Beautiful, and I want Francesca’s friends to be my friends, dammit. There’s a lot of Australian YA out there that I’ll happily read again and again and again. And again.

Beloved fantasticalness

There’s a lot of this, but for now I’m going to narrow it down to Kristin Cashore and Margaret Mahy. Otherwise I’m at risk of writing a novel length post. Last year I discovered Kristin Cashore, and I’ve already lost count of the number of times I’ve reread Graceling and Fire. Interesting magic! Strong, complex female characters! Complicated relationships! Katsa and Po! What more can I say?

And then there’s Margaret Mahy, who I’ve been in love with since I was a kid. I first read The Changeover when I was twelve, and it changed my life. I don’t think there’s any book I’ve reread more. I love Laura and her complicated but loving family, the mysterious witches, the creepy but somehow beautiful love story. I can honestly say that my writing would not be the same without this book.

My favourite Get Off Your Ass and Write Something Dammit book

Anne Lamott is kind and extremely funny, and whenever I’m convinced I can’t write, I go read a few chapters of Bird by Bird, and that usually fixes everything. It has a place in one of my bookcases, but it’s virtually never in it. It’s usually on my bedside table, because even though one of my bookcases is right next to the bed, no bookcase can be close enough given how often I read it.

What books would you read over and over? Come join in at YA Highway!