Category Archives: writing

ILF Spinifex Writing Camp

My first work with the Indigenous Literacy Foundation

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Here are Gregg, me, Tina, Cindy and Ann. About to take to the skies.

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A little way down is a brief write up of my June trip to Tjuntjuntjara. I wrote it for the IBBY newsletter after I got back. Quite a lot has gone on since then, but I’ve not had the time and head space to write blog posts. But it’s time to start catching up before I forget how to blog. So I’m cheating and putting the IBBY story up here to get started. If the style seems a little unlike my usual, it’s because I had to keep it to 400 words so there was no room for shenanigans!

And before we go on, I LOVED my trip to Tjuntjuntjara, but it was scary because:

• I had never participated in a school creative camp before and the team did not have any definite plans beforehand. We were making up the program as we went along, according to the needs of the kids, which were unknown until we got there. So I couldn’t really prepare much beforehand. (Although, in hindsight, I should have had more of a go at this!)

• I am not a confident flier and I had to catch three planes each way, one leg being on a light plane. (I could phrase that better, but I’m quite liking the mental image of myself balancing with one leg on a light plane, the other… who knows where? on an albatross, perhaps.)

• I am not, as yet an experienced public speaker, despite the best of intentions…

• my back is jiggered at the moment so the trip was bound to be uncomfortable.

Here’s my 400 word write up!

In June I travelled with ILF staff Tina and Cindy, and author illustrators Gregg Dreise and Ann James to Tjuntjuntjara, an aboriginal community in WA, 550 km east of Kalgoorlie. There we spent an intense three days working with the students to produce a story and artwork to be published next year.

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Ten children participated in the writing camp; only two from Tjuntjuntjara School. The rest had driven across the desert with their teachers from other communities, over 200 km away and two were from Firbank Grammar in Melbourne. The children had spent a day getting to know each other before we got there.

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Gregg Dreise, a talented extrovert, performed songs, drew, painted, talked, led story making sessions and taught the kids to paint and throw boomerangs. His modified didgeridoo, the ‘didgeridon’t’, was a happiness generating kid-magnet. Gregg was our Batman Utility Belt. He could do anything.

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Ann James has a quiet, accessible manner of talking, as though she’s sitting around a kitchen table, even when she’s up in front of a crowd. On the first day Ann deftly demonstrated the art materials that we brought. She encouraged the kids to dive in and try everything before finding their favourite medium, and then supported them in producing a series of illustrations for their writing over the latter two days of the camp.

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(Note: here she technically IS sitting around a kitchen table. We did all of our art workshops in the kitchen, while Tilly cooked up wonderful, healthy food for students and teachers.)

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I was able to scan some of the first day’s work and whizz them up in PhotoShop with some text to show the students how their work might look on a printed page. Working with the kids one-on-one over the next two days as they revised their writing and worked up their illustrations, I felt so privileged. Some were shy to begin with but we connected very quickly by sharing ideas about their work. It was an intimate and enriching experience and fabulous to witness their stories taking physical form. I can’t wait to see the artwork again after it is professionally scanned, as I’ll be designing the book to be published by the ILF.

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Here I am being blown away by the two boys’ work. These two were fabulous at drawing characters. They were around the same age as my boys so I was on familiar territory.

Tjuntjuntjara Principal Charlie Klein pulled all the different parts of the day together for the kids, making sense of everything, and memorably making them write for their dinner and their beds at the end of each day on a giant roll of brown paper. We had to do it too on the last day. The kids told us we were cheating if we drew pictures.

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Ready, set, write!

By the way, if you want to donate to the ILF, go here. They do great work!

More pics, in no particular order

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Here I am talking about how I illustrate, and Ann is photographing my feet ;-)

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Here’s Charlie preparing the students to write for their supper.

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frozen kangaroo tails

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Tilly Klein reading one of the many books donated by the ILF on the new reading mat.

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blobs can be addictive.

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Teachers and students were all trying out the different art materials. There were many periods of quiet activity, despite the number of people busy in the kitchen.

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‘Welcome to Tjuntjuntjara’ song led by Charlie on Ukelele

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The Woman, the Chicken and the Grapes

folk tales from frankston

The woman, the chicken and the grapes

There were once a woman and her son who loved chickens.

One day the woman looked at the grapes in her fridge and decided that they were no longer appetising enough for her family to eat. So she and her son took some of the grapes out to feed to the chickens in the garden.

Because the garden was on a steep slope with a hard driveway running through it, the grapes were inclined to roll and the woman and her son laughed in delight to see the chickens run up and down the hill chasing the grapes and one another.

grapes to chickens

But after a short while, the woman noticed that one of the chickens was standing still and jerking its head in an uncomfortable manner. And although her son laughed to see the chicken dancing, the woman saw that this was because the chicken was trying to dislodge a grape that was stuck in its throat.

The boy picked up the chicken and saw that foam was accumulating in its throat as it struggled to breathe. The woman took the chicken and tried to reach a finger down its throat to retrieve the grape. But the throat was too long and too narrow. Then she saw that the bird’s comb was turning blue and that it would soon die if she could not clear its airway. So she gently but firmly blew once down the bird’s throat.

Although this inflated the chicken momentarily in quite a surprising way, it did not dislodge the grape and the boy began to cry. Then the woman in desperation, felt amongst the feathers on the front of the chicken’s neck. She found to her surprise that the grape was very easily detected and she quickly pushed the round lump upwards into the bird’s mouth and out onto the ground where she stamped it flat before another chicken could take it.

The bird began to breathe again and sat contentedly in the woman’s arms as she comforted the boy. Soon the boy stopped crying, and the chicken began scratching around the garden with the others as before.

The next day, the woman saw the remaining grapes in her fridge, which were not good enough for the family to eat, but yet not poor enough to throw onto the compost heap and she said to herself. ‘I will not make the same mistake again. This time I will cut up the grapes so that they do not stick in the chicken’s throat.’ And she pulled out a large chopping board and a very sharp knife and began to slice the grapes.

But the grapes began to roll about the board, and the woman was hard put to cut them without losing them onto the floor. So she held each grape closely and cut them individually saying to herself, ‘a job worth doing is worth doing well’. But holding one grape a little too closely, she accidentally cut off the very tip of her finger and she bled and bled.

The chickens did not mind the blood, nor the tip of the finger. Not a single chicken choked on a grape and there were three eggs in the nesting box that day, each with a yolk as round and yellow as the sun.

Strong words

Proving that I’m back.

Another doodle from the bathtub on Saturday afternoon. Here’s a note from the back of a vintage Pitt Press Shakespeare edition of Julius Caesar.

Amaz’d is not the only word that was a stronger word then than now. Words and Christmas stocking fillers have suffered from inflation over the years.

Amaz'd - A stronger word then than now

Amaz’d – A stronger word then than now

Illustrated Envelopes

Betty Birthday lores

Betty’s birthday letter

Pa Ray birthday letter

Ray’s birthday letter

Hugo bugs and chickens

Hugo’s letter, just because he loved this envelope so much. What could I do?

I’ve always loved illustrated envelopes and illustrated packages. For an earlier mention go here. But now I am lucky enough to own a book full of them, thanks to my friend Geri Barr who gave me one just because I like them…

Or was it because she has a secret agenda? Perhaps she buys them for all of her illustrator friends and is right now amassing a HUGE and VALUABLE (requires all caps) collection of illustrated envelopes addressed to her. Aha! That’s it!

I wonder if it’s too late to copy her… Geri, you devil.

If you don’t have lots of illustrator friends who are willing to be duped, you can buy a copy of the book, and I’ve just now found another one that I will have to buy! Oh my goodness!  Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer

Some interesting things I was able to confirm while I experimented with illustrating standard (yes, cheap) envelopes:

• Wet media make your standard (cheap) envelopes buckle in an alarming way (but pencils and felt tips are great and very portable)

• Home made envelopes would be really, really special and you could make them from thick watercolour paper and use whatever media your heart desires.

• Illustrated envelopes look okay when they are drawn (and coloured – optional) but look so much better, after the address goes on. Unfortunately I can’t publish them on-line with the lettering intact because that would be rude to recipients. But you can take my word for it. If you want to.

• Choice of stamp can be crucial to success. If you live with a stamp collector, you’re set. If you don’t, you have to go to the post office and ask the people behind the counter to show you their REAL stamps which are hidden in a drawer. They will look a bit annoyed. Be prepared.

• All this is just dandy until you realise that you can’t send an empty envelope. After all the time you spent laboriously illustrating an envelope for your friend, you now have to write a letter! Or send them a cheque if you have more money than time. But do this quickly, cheques will be extinct even before  REAL stamps.

Enjoy envelope decorating, and letter writing if you can find some time, because it is very satisfying, and ever so much fun to receive one.

 

Trudy and Dodds go to class

Tomorrow I’m lucky enough to have a spot in the Faber Writing Academy Picture Book Masterclass. I’ll be taking Trudy and Dodds, roughly formed as they are, to have a little work out.

To recap on Trudy and Dodds, this is a picture book project that I received a grant to develop back in mid 2012. The grant was part of a new Children’s Picture Book Illustrators’ Initiative managed by the ASA and funded by the Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts.

One of the images I included with my grant submission. A little pen and ink sketch with digital colour.

One of the images I included with my grant submission. A little pen and ink sketch with digital colour. (Trudy in a purple shirt. Dodds on the billy cart.)

I drew dogs as the characters at that time because I have been drawing dogs (with and without clothes) for as long as I can remember. Has anyone else read The Lives of the Monster Dogs? But all along I really thought, I’d rather they were doggish than dogs: doggish, because dogs are part of human history, and if we aren’t mortally afraid of them, most of us love them. But not exactly dogs, because… just because. They are human really.

Unfortunately for Trudy and Dodds, the grant came just after I had accepted the manuscript for Thunderstorm Dancing and they got caught up in a delay of nearly three years! (Thank you to Lucie Stevens at the ASA for her patience in extending my timelines several times.)

But NOW, it’s time to move forward. And I’m excited about the masterclass tomorrow, and a little nervous. Not nervous about writing, because I love writing. But nervous about sharing my writing aloud for the first time since I left school back in the ’80s. Ahem! 

So this week I…

• Had lots of ideas about the medium, style and setting.

And got lots of inspiration for the architecture and setting from looking at Puglia and the trulli there. (See my earlier post on those here.) The architecture and setting are very important to me for this story, and were a big part of the original concept that I submitted to the Australia Council way back at the start of 2012. At that time, my inspiration was Mexico. But now! I’m going to be researching and recording the setting while I visit my friend David Capon in Puglia during April. I am so looking forward to it.

Trulli in a rough scene to open Trudy and Dodds

Trulli in a rough scene to open Trudy and Dodds

 FINALLY finished the first draft of the manuscript. (Hooray!)

I was having a lot of trouble getting the last quarter to work, even though I knew what was to happen at the end. What I didn’t want was a story that leaps into action and then sort of… peters out…. blaah. Yeah well… so then… hmmm…

• Started a DUMMY book for it.

I had my usual problems with this. I have trouble drawing the loose, loose, rough things to begin with that show the shapes on the page. I need somebody to stand over me tapping their foot when I am doing this, and looking at their watch. That actually works. If I don’t have a timekeeper I get all distracted with details in the pictures. And then… well then you need to change something because THAT isn’t going to happen on THIS page anymore. And then you go… errm… why did I draw that in so much detail? Doh! 

For a glimpse at how it’s supposed to be done, go here!

• Started making rough models for Dodds

And then bounced off those to make drawings for Dodds.

1 found bits Dodds

Dodds – Take 1

5 tape and wire karate 2

Dodds Take 2 – skeleton and sinew (of sorts). Is this a karate pose?

2 take 2 tape and wire

Dodds 1 and Dodds 2

11 head close

Dodds found his smile when the paper jaw went on.

7 full trousers

Dodds with paper bag trousers added

An initial sketch of the model. Finding my way

An initial sketch of the model. Finding my way

Dodds sketch

Dodds sketch with the nose, jaw and gentle expression starting to settle into place. He’s a gentle giant. I looked at Wrestlers from the 1940s for inspiration.

Tell you later, how we get on at class.

 

Leonard Doesn’t Dance and Trudy loves Dodds.

I’m excited to have two new projects to work on over the summer. One is another picture book with Frances Watts called Leonard Doesn’t Dance. The other is the beginnings of my own picture book with the working title Trudy and Dodds.

I’ll be posting here about both of them as I go along. Leonard will be about birds… something I shouldn’t have too much trouble loving! I’ve posted a couple of very early ideas about Leonard already. And you can follow the images alone if you want on my Pinterest page here. The more wordy stuff will be on my blog. (…rambling, rambling…)

Leonard Doesn't Dance

Trudy and Dodds was a concept I had just come up with at the time I was offered Thunderstorm Dancing and to my surprise, I received a grant from the Australia Council to get the project started. But I found I could only focus on the one big (Thunder) project, and so Trudy and Dodds was put on hold. Now is the time to revisit it, and I’m really excited to be booked into a masterclass in mid February with editing maestros Jane Godwin (Penguin) and Erica Wagner (Allen & Unwin) along with book design maestro Sandra Nobes. I’ll be taking my dummy book and manuscript along to that masterclass as a part of my grant project to get some feedback and help.

So, in the meantime, on with birds and…. dog-monster-thingees. Probably.

Link

Australian Children’s Laureate Celebration – silent auction catalogue now up!

Click to see the full list of fantastic items up for grabs.