The Next Big Thing Meme

Thanks to Simmone Howell for tagging me! And okay, I'm a day late with the post, but I'm here now, aren't I? And it is Christmas...

1) What is the working title of your next book?

New Guinea Moon.
Doesn't it look gorgeous??

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

New Guinea Moon is set in Papua New Guinea during the summer of 1974-75, the summer before PNG got Independence from Australia. I spent most of my childhood in Papua New Guinea in the 1970s and I've always wanted to write about that time and place, but I was never quite sure how to approach it. It's partly based on my own memories, partly based on a lot of reading and research, but the actual story is all made up.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

It's a young adult book - part coming-of-age story, part family drama, part romance, set in a unique moment in history. Something for everyone...

4) What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh, help. When I'm writing, I can never see the faces of my characters very clearly. I guess I can see Julie as looking a bit like Brenna Harding, who was great in the TV adaptation of Puberty Blues this year. (It's not impossible that I'm being influenced by the whole 70s thing though...)
Ryan can be played by Blake Davis (though he is slightly too good-looking to be Ryan, really). He needs to be sulky.
And maybe Aaron McGrath as Simon? He was so good in Redfern Now as the school boy who refused to stand for the national anthem -- a perfect combination of self-containment and pride, but inner vulnerability - he would be a fantastic Simon. He's too young though - but by the time they make the movie, he'll be the right age!
Hey, this was a good exercise, actually, I'm glad I did this!

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When sixteen year old Julie travels to the Highlands of PNG to be reunited with her estranged father, she might expect culture shock, she might hope for first love, but the secrets she uncovers make for a truly unforgettable summer. (Okay, I nicked that off the actual back cover blurb, written by a far better blurb writer than I will ever be.)

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

New Guinea Moon will be published by Allen and Unwin in March 2013.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I spent about three years working on this book, and it changed shape and form many, many times. There are eighteen partial first drafts on my laptop, and three or four versions of the final manuscript.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Hm, not sure... Towards the end, I had in the back of my mind the beautiful, painfully sensitive books of Rumer Godden, books like The Peacock Spring or Kingfishers Catch Fire or The Greengage Summer, where growing up and culture shock go hand in hand. Not that New Guinea Moon resembles those books, really, but that was what I was aiming for!

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think Australia's involvement with PNG is a really under-explored part of our history. But almost everyone I discussed this book with would say, oh, my uncle lived in New Guinea, or I was born there, or my sister spent some time in PNG. There are so many Australians with a link to the country, yet it doesn't seem to be talked about very often. Maybe there is some element of shame about our colonial past, it's as if we don't know how to talk about that history. I'm really fascinated by that silence; it's like a secret history that you only know about if you were actually there. But I'm glad that just recently a few (adult) books about that period of PNG history have been published -- like Drusilla Modjeska's The Mountain and Jon Doust's To The Highlands. So perhaps the time is ripe.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

What, that's not enough?? It also has aeroplanes, and earthquakes, and heartbreak, and hope.

I'm not tagging anyone else because I don't know who else to tag. Sorry.


Wickets and Words

Long before I became a football tragic, I was a cricket-lover.

With a handful of fellow incompetents at my girls' school, we'd take bat and stumps up to the top corner of the hockey field and vaguely hit the ball around - a far cry from the almost professional gamesmanship exercised by Nicola Marlow and her team-mates in The Cricket Term. (I finally succumbed to temptation and treated myself to a second-hand copy of this beloved text of my adolescence - it wasn't even very expensive!) It may or may not be a coincidence that my cricket-playing gang at school was also a gang of Doctor Who fans, and these were the years when the Fifth Doctor wielded the willow. 'More of a tennis player than a cricketer,' he sniffed derisively of one meglomaniacal villain. Ah, how we loved him!
My friends and I may have been more attracted to the idea of cricket than in the game itself, but we did follow real-life cricket as well, rocking up to the MCG every summer for tests and one-day matches (still pretty new back then). My favourite player was Jeff Thompson, because if you squinted really hard, he had the same flowing blond hair as Peter Davison. I was young, okay? But I also liked the dash of David Gower, the dour streak that was Chris Tavare, and the spunky "Foxy" Fowler. As you can see, I didn't restrict my love to the Australian team -- there was nothing mindlessly patriotic about my love of cricket. Perhaps that was part of the appeal -- it was perfectly possible to follow the games of individual players with deep appreciation. Cricket crowds applaud a well-struck four, a magnificent catch, or a fizzing delivery, no matter whose side the player is on. At least, they used to...

Cricket is a natural choice for those who love words. It almost seems to have been invented for the purpose of being written, and read about. Perhaps no other sport has provided the excuse for so much loving and well-crafted analysis, and even poetry. Test match commentary has an eccentric leisureliness. With up to five days of play to fill in somehow, they can afford to reminisce, to relive past glories and past disasters, to speculate, to divert to meandering discussions of chocolate cake and seagulls. There's nothing like drifting in and out of sleep to the murmur of Ashes commentary from the other side of the world. And reading about cricket is even better than listening to it. Peter Roebuck's cricket columns in The Age were one of the reliable joys of summer. I miss him. And Gideon Haigh is not just a superb cricket writer; he is a superb writer, full stop.*

Even cricket players in fiction seem conscious of their own literary heritage. In The Cricket Term, Nicola confesses to a longing to be recognised by her 'singularly distinctive late cut' like Peter Wimsey - whose disguise is betrayed, in Dorothy L. Sayers' Murder Must Advertise, by his unmistakable batting style. And possibly when I was mucking around on the hockey field, I was thinking of Nicola and her team's unlikely victory over the Sixth in the Kingscote Cricket Cup. I once wrote a sort-of cricket story of my own, called 'A Gap In The Field,' though it was about watching cricket, rather than playing it.
These days, the measured glories of Test Match cricket seem set to be blown away by the senseless farting of Twenty20, a game that bears virtually no resemblance to the sport that spawned it. These days, we are offered a handful of tests, all crammed into the first few weeks of summer so the calendar can be cleared for the 'spectacles' to follow, when people are on holidays and can crowd into the grounds to guzzle beer and blow horns and watch fireworks go off and motorbike tricks and cheerleaders and lord knows what other pointless 'entertainment.'

Well, that's not my idea of what cricket is all about. Give me a sport where you can bring along a novel and a radio, where the reading and the listening and the watching all fuse into a meditative, dream-like whole. That's what I call summer.

* Dear Santa, if you're reading, a copy of Haigh's latest, On Warne, would tuck nicely into the old stocking. Just saying...


Twenty Years Ago Today

Paul Keating's Redfern speech.

How far, and how tragically little, we have travelled since then.


Tiny Garden

 This is Alice's window box. She tends to it conscientiously (much more attentively than I tend to our actual garden), using a teaspoon for digging and a tin kettle for watering. Gardening advice is obtained from her grandparents, because what I know about gardening would fit comfortably on the back of a matchbox. (Water -- not too much? Sun? Prune sometimes?)
At the moment, the box contains oregano, carrots, mini marigolds and a fern. Her bonsai ficus is not, strictly speaking, part of the box, but it does spend some time on the window sill.
 The tree attracts varied bird life.
 The oregano has gone beserk since being brought back from the Show as a tiny free seedling in an eggcup. We need to find some more oregano recipes. The carrots have been savagely thinned, and are being saved for Christmas dinner. I've never heard of anyone growing carrots in a window box. They are certainly very luxuriant; whether or not the roots are equally flourishing remains to be seen.
Wildlife hiding beneath the fern.

The window box is doing so well that I'm seriously considering handing the whole garden over to Alice's care. Come to think of it, she is already in charge of mowing the grass, sweeping the paths, and occasional watering, so she's halfway there...


Another Medal for Crow Country

On Friday, my good mate Penni and I flew up to Sydney for the NSW Premier's Literary and History Awards. We were looking forward to a fancy dinner and a night away in a nice hotel, but we also couldn't help feeling quite sick with nerves. The Awards organisers had made the decision not to notify winners in advance - which meant that most of the short-listed authors and historians were there on the night, but it also made for a lot of tension in the room!

Well, as you can see from the picture above, it was a good outcome for Crow Country, which won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children's Literature, and also for Penni's Only Ever Always, which won the Ethel Turner Prize for Young Adults. Being able to celebrate with one of my best friends made the night incredibly special; needless to say, we both found it quite hard to sleep that night, and the next morning we were wandering around still in a daze (and occasionally pinching each other).

This is what the judges said about Crow Country:
It seems that war friends form lifetime bonds, except when class and/or race enter the equation.  Such is the basis for this compelling story set in a small Australian country town.  Manslaughter, cultural secrets and unrequited love give rise to the tensions and ill-feelings that linger into the second generation. When Sadie unwillingly moves with her mother to the little town of Boort, the thirteen-year-old finds herself in conversation with a crow who embroils her in a mystery from her family’s past. When she time-slips into the body of her namesake of two generations ago she is caught up in a class-race conflict. Constable has cleverly let Sadie participate in her past history without changing it, which allows her to be the keeper of an enormous and troubling secret in her own time. Constable’s characters are beautifully rounded and real, from the family in the past to old Auntie Lily, an Aboriginal elder.

This is a multi-layered story, beautifully told, with themes interwoven through three generations; the prejudices and mores of the 1970s persist into the twenty-first century with black-white friendships frowned upon in both parents and children. The Indigenous connection to the land is a major theme, with a sacred circle of stones being exposed when drought causes the dam water to recede and the old town to be revealed. As in life, sport becomes the common bond as truths win out and secrets are fought for and kept. At the start of each chapter a small black crow sits on the black number while the cover illustration signals the stark ravages of drought with a large crow demanding attention as it does throughout the book.