All posts by Tim

Waiting for the muse

Another question I get asked fairly regularly is whether I suffer from writer’s block. As with many questions, there’s no simple answer.

I’ve never suffered from a shortage of creative ideas. Indeed, the ideas sometimes come so thick and fast that if I don’t jot them down quickly they get lost amid the swirl of competing thoughts – paid work, parenting, voluntary work, fitness, finances and so on.

On the other hand, the ideas aren’t always worth keeping. For every gem that comes along, there are probably a dozen that could be filed straight in the bin.

The closest I’ve come to writer’s block is when I am immersed in a story and waiting for a missing piece in the plot puzzle to fall into place. This can be very frustrating. Usually I’ll write around the gaping hole, knowing I’ll need to return and fill it in later – even though its eventual arrival could necessitate substantial rewriting of everything I’ve already done.

The other kind of writer’s blockage is even more insidious (and not restricted to writers). It’s something many of you may know as procrastination – when it suddenly becomes more attractive to hang out the washing, empty the dishwasher, update your iPod, weed the garden or do just about anything other than write.

A while back I read a quote by the uber-successful author Jodi Picoult that explained her thoughts on writer’s block. She said writing is “grunt work” and waiting for the muse is just making excuses. She starts writing at 5.30 am (YUK!) and makes sure she gets something written every day. As she says, you can edit bad writing but you can’t edit a blank page.

As for waiting, I spotted this sign in Kyoto, Japan where something has been lost in translation. Very polite. Very funny.

Wait for a while please
Wait for a while please

Ideas and inspiration

One of the questions I was asked during a school visit yesterday was “where do I get my inspiration from?” The answer is anywhere and everywhere.

Inspiration can come from something I’m reading; a song lyric; snatches of overheard conversation on a train; a facial expression; scenery. Sometimes I’ll witness human interaction from afar – perhaps I’m stuck in traffic watching people on the footpath or at a restaurant waiting to eat – and I’ll find myself making up the dialogue or back stories to go with what I observe.

Once I’ve seen a situation or person or place that sends adrenaline surging into my imagination, the next step might be to tweak things a little. Asking myself “what might happen if…” can be where an idea takes flight and becomes a story.

If you read the teachers’ notes for Game as Ned, you’ll see how the plot took shape. In a nutshell, I wanted to write about a boy who didn’t speak. Having decided that, I asked two questions. Why doesn’t he speak? And, if he doesn’t speak, how might he stand up for himself? The answers gave me the basic structure for my story.

I recently attended a country football match where the longer I watched, the more the sights and sounds started to meld into a story: the smoke from a log burning in front of the coach’s box, the horn-honking spectators watching in their misty-windowed cars, the tweeting referees’ whistles on the adjacent netball courts, the retro haircuts and the all-permeating cold were cumulatively evocative. Then there was the veteran player prowling the boundary line like an old bull, stamping at the muddy ground and clearly itching to get a run.

By the time my mates and I had finished observing him, we’d written his entire back story. We decided he was a former club champion who’d been playing 30 years with the one team and was now too old and slow and frustrated with his fading vigour. I reckon he’d been married and divorced from the local hairdresser and only stuck around because he couldn’t split from the team. He was devastated when the coach went to put him on – and the quarter time siren sounded that precise moment. He started the second quarter on the bench again, regularly looking up at the coach, practically begging for a sniff of the Sherrin.

Eventually the coach gave the signal and ‘Bull’ roared on to the ground. The coach bellowed only one instruction: “Just don’t do anything stupid!”

Watching. Listening. Questioning. That’s where stories begin.

Inkys

Game as Ned made the 2008 Inkys Longlist today, which is brilliant news!

The shortlist will be determined by a panel of six judges. Voting, by readers aged 12-18, kicks off on September 12. Aussie authors vie for the Golden Inky while those from other shores compete for Silver.

Many thanks to all those who nominated GAN for the longlist – and to Insideadog for running the awards.

Tim

Why YA?

The Young Adult (YA) category of novel didn’t exist when I was a kid. Sure, there were plenty of books that would have been categorised YA if they’d been published today but mostly it was just kids’ fiction or fiction for everyone else. Depending on your reading level in the upper primary school years, you’d be switched over to ‘adult’ fiction and never look back. Not any more. YA means there’s another (optional) rung in the ladder before you climb to the adult end of your library.

From a bookshop point of view, I guess separating out books for tweens and teens is about consumer convenience. If you’re shopping for yourself or a friend in the YA zone, you’re much more likely to find what you’re looking for – and quickly. From an author’s point of view, YA can be a two-edged sword – mainly because you’re less likely to be stumbled across by an adult reader!

I aimed to write a YA or “crossover“* novel because I felt comfortable with YA voices and felt my story was about young adults. I’m rapt it has struck a chord with young adult readers but I’m also chuffed to have had great feedback from readers as old as 97. To my mind, a good story is a good story and it doesn’t matter what section of the bookshop you find it in. Good stories resist age groups because they entertain everyone.

I also write YA fiction because I enjoy reading it (and most other fiction). And, despite my calendar age, I still see myself as a youngish adult.

In future posts I’ll write about some of the YA fiction that I’ve really enjoyed.

*NB: For the uninitiated, “crossover” novels are those that are seen to have market appeal to grown-ups as well as young adults. Examples include the Harry Potter series; the Tales of the Otori series by Aussie author Lian Hearn; The Book Thief and The Messenger by another Aussie author, Markus Zusak. These titles all come highly recommended by me!