In a post a month or so ago I said that there was possibly another novel on the cards in August. Well the contract has been signed (by me anyway), so here's the scoop.
Martin's cousin Christine is a commissioning editor at Penguin. At the family Christmas party last year, Christine said, 'You should write a Chomp for us.' (yes, isn't it amazing, she speaks in hyperlinks). Anyway, being a suggestible sort and always one to succumb to peer group pressure, one smoky weekend a few weeks later, I did so. It took me three writing days. Once I got the voice and the idea, the writing flowed and because of my experience with editing and having already written three novels, I found that even the story structure was quite easy. I struggle with short stories, I think because I am so narrative driven and that can kill a short story to death, I end up forcing a fairly delicate singular idea onto the narrative freeway, like making an insect behave like a Mack truck, rather than letting it pool and swool about on its own currents of air. But a short novel seems to be something that I understand. It needs narrative drive and subplots and characterisation, but a light touch. The narrative needs to be simple, and any subplots compatible and able to direct the main narrative (so commenting thematically on the main storyline but also helping the action of the main storyline along). FI've actually had a go at a Bite as well (4000 words), and in that I didn't worry about subplots at all. It was all story. Characterisation was part of the plot exposition, there's no descriptions, well, only briefly. Only things that are crucial to the story are allowed to stay.
The Chomp is about 12000 words and it's mostly a story about girls and friendship. Josie moves house and has to say goodbye to her best friend Fee. In her new street there are new kids, but they miss Becca, who used to live in Josie's new house. The story is about letting go of the past, coming to terms with change and finding your place in a new situation. For Josie, there's a map, a literal map made by Becca that lays out Becca's memories and experience of the house. By experiencing the map, Josie becomes a part of these memories.
The way I came up with the idea for the story was actually by googling phrases like "the summer I was twelve" and came up with a brief anecdote about a family of kids who found treasure buried in the garden of a new house (not knowing if it had been left behind on purpose or if it was simply forgotten).
I've read some of the other Chomps, Bites and Nibbles, and I'll be in good company. The quality is high. Jane Godwin wrote a particularly moving one called The Day I Turned Ten about a boy whose little brother goes missing (temporarily) on his tenth birthday. Colin Thiele wrote one. Some of my favourite authors have written them: Ursula Dubosarsky, poet Bruce Dawe, Justin D'Ath, Thurley Fowler, David Metzenthen, Christobel Mattingly, Garth Nix...the list goes on. So I will be in good company anyway, sitting on the bookshelves. And Frederique will be thrilled about the little penguin logo on the book's spine - she just loves that penguin.
Incidently, Christine and I went for that Penguin job at the same time and it came down to the wire. I am glad things worked out the way they did - in the interview the publisher, Laura Harris asked me how I balanced being a writer and an editor. People do manage it - Jane Godwin, for example, or Margaret Wild. But I doubt I could be an editor full time and be a writer, or not the sort of writer I'd like to be. For me, I need to do the sort of editing I do - thinking about story and characters and that sort of thing (which is very helpful for a writer to do), without being 100% emotionally and professionally invested in the work, or I simply wouldn't have anything left for my own writing.