Home Again

We arrived home yesterday after spending Christmas with the girls' grandparents, bearing a mountain of gifts (mostly for them). So far we've found two nasty surprises in the form of a giant spider and an equally giant cockroach, which was lurking in the folds of the bathmat. It doesn't take long for nature to colonise a house, even when it's only empty for a couple of days!

At least neither of those surprises was as creepy as the mummified rat which my dad discovered, oddly suspended in the bushes, in their garden. It was extremely odd. It seemed to have fallen from the sky -- or a tree? It had definitely been dead for a very long time. It's a Christmas mystery!


Planning or Winging It?

Justine Larbalestier is discussing writing methods on her blog — namely, outlining v winging it. She is a winger (or Seat-Of-The-Pants-er), while her friend is an outliner.

I am very much a member of Camp Outline. I've done it both ways. The Singer of All Songs was winged (wung?). I began with one scene in my head: a girl on top of a high tower, gazing out over a snowy, desolate landscape, who sees the body of an injured stranger being carried toward the buildings where she lives. I didn't know who the girl was, where she lived, why she was in such isolation, or what had happened to the stranger. I kept writing in order to find all of that out. The result was that much of Singer (and thus much of the Chanters of Tremaris trilogy) welled up directly from my unconscious, which meant that Calwyn, in particular, contains a lot of me. Surprisingly, this has turned out to be a Good Thing.

On the other hand, both my Girlfriend Fiction books were planned in some detail before a word was written. This was partly because they were written to fairly strict requirements, and partly because a whole truckload of people had to approve them before they handed over any money. Both books were very quick and easy to write, because if I got stuck, I could refer to my outline and see exactly what I had to write next, which removed a huge amount of pressure to think up stuff.

But I think that Justine is right when she says that both approaches are variations on the same process — the same decisions have to be made, but they're made at different stages, and in different ways. Personally, I love the security of having an outline before I start to write. I like to know that there won't be any nasty ambushes (like a whopping great hole in the plot) halfway through. But at the same time, I don't like my outline to be too detailed. Because if I know everything before I start, there's no reason for me to keep writing. There's nothing left for me to discover. Because I write for the same reason I read: to find out what happens next.


10,000 Hours

I read an article at the weekend that claims it takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice to become really, really good at something. It could be anything - music, elite sports, computer programming. Bill Gates spent more than 10,000 hours playing around with computers before he became the genius of Microsoft. Mozart spent 10,000 hours playing the piano before he became, well, Mozart. That's about three hours a day for ten years.

Gulp. I wonder how many hours I've spent writing?


A Tale of Two Authors

Christos Tsiolkas is a famous Melbourne writer, who has just published his latest novel, The Slap, to wide and deserved acclaim. He lives in the same suburb as I do; we use the same library, we shop at the same market.

As it happens, Christos and I knew each other years ago, before we were writers — published writers, anyway. We had friends in common, and again we lived in the same suburb (a different suburb in those days). We went to the same parties. I even had a cameo in Christos' book Jump Cuts. Well, to be strictly accurate, my house and a CD I'd lent him made a cameo appearance; I wasn't home.

Christos and I could hardly be more different. I tend to be anti-social, shy, solitary, melancholy. At the parties we went to, I was the one standing in the corner brooding, while everyone else had fun. Christos lives large. He loves people; he is passionate, engaged, generous, and wonderful company. At those parties, he would have been dancing wildly, or engaged in passionate debate with a huge crowd of people.

The books we write could hardly be more different, either. One of us writes very dark, adult books that seethe with rage and darkness, that expose the brutality and violence of the human spirit. The other writes books for kids that emphasise hope, compassion and co-operation, books about magic and friendship and love.

But guess what? It's Christos who writes the dark, disturbing books, and I'm the one responsible for the magic stories with the hopeful endings. I draw no conclusions from all this, except to say that the world is a funny (and quite small) place, and people are stranger than you can imagine.


Christmas Crazies

I guess the fact that Christmas is coming is not exactly "news." Decorations appeared in the supermarket round about September, and now we're in the thick of pre-Christmas activity - family picnics, barbecues with friends, end-of-year celebrations for school and kinder and Irish dancing class, organising cards and presents and trees and food. It's all a bit frantic, and sometimes it doesn't feel like much fun.

But this year, my elder daughter is old enough to take a real interest in giving for the first time, and seeing the care and thought she's putting into presents for her sister and her grandparents, as well as for me and her dad, has made me appreciate the beauty of Christmas all over again.

Whatever you believe about Baby Jesus, surely that is the true magic at the heart of this crazy festival - that even just for a few moments, we think about what might make other people happy.

This is my favourite moment from On The Banks of Plum Creek, when Ma asks Mary and Laura to wish for horses, and only horses, for Christmas:

Ma told them something about Santa Claus. He was everywhere, and he was all the time.
Whenever anyone was unselfish, that was Santa Claus.
Christmas Eve was the time when everyone was unselfish. On that one night, Santa Claus was everywhere, because everybody, all together, stopped being selfish and wanted other people to be happy. And in the morning you saw what that had done.
"If everybody wanted everybody else to be happy, all the time, then would it be Christmas all the time?" Laura asked, and Ma said, "Yes, Laura."

Merry Christmas.


Seasons in Melbourne

While I was researching the book I'm currently writing, I found this excellent seasonal calendar for the Melbourne area. (This picture is a bit small, but the link shows it more clearly.)

When you think about it, it doesn't make much sense to apply European seasons to the Australian climate. In Europe, winter is a harsh time, but for native plants in Victora, winter is a time of growth and greenery (if it rains the way it's supposed to!) In contrast, summer is the dangerous season, dry and fiery - not the lush, fertile season of the northern imagination.

I'm trying to train myself to recognise our seasons by looking out the window, rather than following the artifical rotation of the months. The only sad part about this calendar is that there's no autumn. I've always been rather attached to the melancholy of autumn and its cooling days. I'll have to learn to love "early winter" instead!


Winter Of Grace

Hey, wait, I do have some news! My new book, Winter Of Grace, will be published by Allen & Unwin in January. It's volume 10 in the Girlfriend Fiction series.

This is what the cover looks like:
And this is what it says on the back:

Bridie and Stella have been friends forever and agree on everything: war is bad, the environment is important and Stella is always the centre of attention. So when the girls rescue a handsome boy at a peace rally, they never imagine that it might spell trouble between them. The first shock is that Jay seems to be attracted to Bridie, not Stella. The second is that Jay is a committed Christian.

As Bridie draws closer to Jay, a whole new realm of ideas opens up to her. She starts to question who she is and her place in the world. But what happens if her new world has no place for Stella?

A warm-hearted story about friends, family, and keeping the faith.