Thursday, March 30, 2006

Question Two
Okay I've finally answered the 'inspiration question in Random House's quesionnaire.
1.Who or what was the biggest inspiration for you to become a writer?
That’s such a huge question and it’s taken me a few days to answer. I felt it should be a chance enounter with a celebrated stranger or a book that I read that compelled me to write. But I think for me writing is just a continuation of playing. I played a lot of imaginative games as a kid, with my best friend Zoe, with my cousins, my sister and with the other kids who lived in the bushy suburb where I grew up. Every conversation Zoe and I had started with ‘Let’s say’ or ‘Let’s pretend.’ Zoe and I are still best friends. She comes around and she and Martin (my husband) and I sit around our table outside and talk about people we know and why they do the things they do. I’m very interested in other people’s motivations and actions – so this is perhaps why I tend to focus on my characters and creating a whole sense of their psychology in my writing. And I play with my kids now, my three year old is very imaginative too and it's one of the best things about being a parent - watching her playlife and dreamlife evolve.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I've been tossing around some titles for Undine 3. Thematically, I like Butterfly - there's a scene in Breathe where Undine makes herself out of butterflies and then her spooky three year old brother Jasper produces a butterfly from his hands. And of course butterflies are the poster insect for chaos theory. But I wonder if it sounds a bit...well, airy fairy. You know, like I've been hanging around a certain almost three year old girl too long. Then there's Trick. It's a cool word, and kind of goes with the magic, and the character of Phoenix, who's an illusionist. But I think the title will be Rise. It goes nicely with Undine and Breathe and it sounds very uplifting for a final in a trilogy. I think it came from a Sylvia Plath poem, I've had a refrain - I can't quite recall it but a snatch of something - rolling around in my head. 'I think I might rise...' Maybe Lady Lazarus. I'll look it up and get back to you. Or to me at any rate.
I am still struggling a bit with the narrative flow, I'm finding myself easily distracted. We've been talking about me going away with the baby to get some work done...we'll see. I ahve found a $3.95 yoga class, a bit alarmingly cheap but still, it might buy me the zen I need to get my brain working.
I have a widget (mac users will know about widgets) on my dashboard (you PC users don't know what you're missing out on - I'm actually updating my blog with a widget RIGHT NOW) of Einstein quotes. I just read this one - it struck me as rather sad. 
"It's strange to be known so universally and yet so lonely."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

An Author Questionnaire
Random House asked me to fill out a new questionnaire. I'm obedient, so I have done so. Here it is.

1. When did you start writing?
When I was a kid, for school. My grade four teacher Mrs Street called creative writing splurge – because she wanted us to just splurge words over the page. But I didn’t always love it. In Grade One we had to write a sentence or two of ‘News’ every day – it had to be true. I mean, how much actually happens to a six year old? I went home, I played, I had sausages and potatoes for tea. Hard to spin it out for 200 odd days of school in a year. One day I hid my News book so I wouldn’t have to do it and I think it actually worked for a few days. Well that’s my memory of it anyway, however faulty. But I remember the teacher’s assistant finding it under the art table so I obviously didn’t hide it well enough.

2. Who or what was the biggest inspiration for you to become a writer?
:| It was obviously a deeply profound moment because I can't actually answer this question. Will have to think of a good story involving a chance encounter with a kindly yet impossibly famous stranger who just happened to be in the park on a wintry afternoon.

3. What are you reading at the moment?
Right now I’m reading Incurable by John Marsden. Good grief, how many ways can one girl almost die before she’s old enough to vote. I think death by cow is going overboard. Somewhat. I have a few books lined up – Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (which I’m saving for a cosy day). To my three year old, The Elephant and the Bad Baby – my own copy from childhood.

4. Who are your three favourite authors and why?
I’ve got a gazillion – so I better add the disclaimer that this list is subject to change at whim.
Rumer Godden. Because she writes beautiful books for children, teenagers and adults and because she has a lovely name. And because I get lost in her books.
Simon Armitage. Because his poems are as absorbing and character filled and as compulsively readable as a good novel.
Bob Graham. Because I read his books aloud to my little girl every day, and every day they sound more and more like poetry to me – I think his books must be night-flowering, in secret on the bookshelves when my daugher is sleeping the books grow and change. I am a bit in awe of him actually.

5. What is the best thing about being an author?
Reading kids books counts as research. I get to live with stories and characters in my head for much much longer when I write a book than when I read one and I get (some) say in what happens to them.

6. Are any of your characters taken from real life?
Oh yes. All my characters are really ME! Ha ha. But they are. Kind of. Writing’s really just a kind of acceptable disassociative disorder.

7. Where do you do your writing?
On the couch, on my laptop. Outside under the grape vine.

8. When you’re not writing what do you do?
Muck around on the Net – I am part of an online mother’s group that’s just become a big noisy shrieking gaggle of friends. Walk. Visit. I am a stay at home mum too, to Frederique, almost 3, and Una Pearl, 6 months. – I scribble when they’re asleep or distracted by snails and Daddy. They are terribly naughty, but that’s okay, so am I so we have a marvellous time.

9. What are you working on at the moment?
The third and final book in the Undine trilogy. And I’ve started a blog which may become something…another book maybe. Actually I have a few irons in a few fires.

10. If you weren’t an author what would you be?
An archaeologist – I actually started to be one, but got distracted along the way.

11. Do you have a favourite quote or motto?
“Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid” Goethe

12. What advice would you give to young writers?
Write. Write and write. Write for fun, write for yourself, write what you know, write what you love. Write the book you want to read. Find a voice, make it strong, make it distinctive, make it real.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

We did some rainstomping today. Wellies and all. Fred and Una Pearl like the rain.

Where did Eglantine come from? Was she always there, walking down that corridor in a cool house in summer? Did she find me or did I find her? Does she come from within, from all my collective experiences - things I've read, seen, been, done? Or is she from without, from a kind of collective, intertextual consciousness (now that's deep)? For me writing a book is the same as reading one - I'm desperate to find out what happens next.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

I think Eglantine is a little girl. The house is quiet. The baby is sleeping. Eglantine's mother is outside somewhere, pegging clothes on the line or weeding the vegetable garden. They have a big sprawling backyard, a hills hoist, some chooks. It's afternoon, hot outside but inside the house is dark and cool. Eglantine has a home haircut, but it's sweet, short with blonde tufts sticking out. She's creeping through the slumbering house, up the hallway - bare feet on floorboards. Tomorrow is Eglantine's birthday. In the kitchen on the bench is a cake, with hard pink sugary icing. Eglantine is peeking through the kitchen door, she's standing stretched up on tiptoes. She wants a taste, just a bite of pink, crystally sugar...

It's autumn but as always Melbourne is having a last gasp of dry heat. I love this time of year in this city. It reminds me of being 21 (ten years ago, yikes) when I first moved here with 4 friends from Tasmania. We moved into a big double storey terraced house in North Fitzroy, with a Kiwi living in the shed out the back. I was reading Monkey Grip by Helen Garner and all the landmarks were ours - Edinburgh Gardens, Fitzroy pool with it's painted sign: aqua profunda. She even moved into a house on the same street we were living on.  

The late afternoon light in Melbourne in Autumn is golden. It makes my heart sing. It also makes me a tiny bit sad, but I don't know why.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious." Einstein

Occasionally I have a mini-crisis about being a writer. Why do I write? What do I particularly have to contribute? Of all the books in all the libraries and bookshelves in all the world why should someone read mine? (Hmmm, perhaps the only thing more self-indulgent than being a writer is angsting about being a writer.)

But I found the above quote from Einstein. It fits me well. I am just so intensely curious about my characters. I don't know where they come from. As I write I feel like a sculptor, chipping away the stone to find the true form concealed inside. I don't feel like an inventress, rather an enormous, well-meaning gossip. 

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

What is she thinking about?
Cake. Who has it? Who doesn't have it? Eglantine, apparently, has it. I, however, do not.

Some thoughts on cake from the novel I am currently working on (a sequel to Undine and Breathe). It's a new character, Phoenix. He has cake.

He had looked through the window one cool December morning when he’d first arrived in this town. Her open face had conjured a memory of another face: some shining jolly girl from his childhood, a babysitter perhaps, or a friend of his sister’s. But it was her siren-song counter display that had drawn him in. She was a maker of cakes, and looking at her wares, he had found he had a sudden, gnawing hunger, a greed for cake. Not any old cake. Not counterfeit cake, not simple facsimilies of better, prior cake. Not the kind of cake you can buy in any cafĂ©, in any town, or make from any cookbook. He was hungry for these cakes; dense and magical, they seemed to exist in this time, in this place, for him.

Phoenix, by the way, is not who he seems.

My daughter Frederique wants cake. She is turning three in April and her demands for cake are many and varied. She wants a pink cake, a princess cake, a flower cake, a horsey cake. Cake is not my specialty. But it seems it's part of the contract, so Frederique will have her cake. With three candles. And she will blow them out, with some help. Her blows are still like long F sounds, F for Frederique, like she is stuttering on the first consonant of her own name. Her father is teaching her to blow in vowels, a round o, a wide e.

Who is Eglantine? I dream of Eglantine, I dream of cake.