I am writing this blog on my last morning of a three week stay at Varuna – The Writers’ House in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. What a gift Varuna is! It’s a wonderful place to work; it’s both restful and intense and you feel you are being helped on every level. Writing is such a difficult business – there’s the excitement of endless possibilities at the beginning of a book, and the relief and satisfaction at the end, but the time in between – the two or three years that it takes to make a story – is rough going, so a place like Varuna is much appreciated.
It’s so important to get out and about, I find, both as a Tasmanian and as a children’s book writer, and although Varuna is a retreat, it’s a rich experience socially. Days are silent (except for the screech of cockatoos) but evenings are full of conversation in which you get to visit other genres and other worlds – Zhiling Gao’s memoir about growing up in Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution; Kerri Melehan, the sleep scientist’s PhD on sleep and sex; Graham Nunn’s 70 love poems to Eleanor Dark; and much more – biography, romance, fiction, creative non-fiction. It’s a diverse mix. I’ve been the only children’s author here in the last three weeks and certainly the only person working on a comic book.
My writing desk and props and the view from my window at Varuna.
It’s strange the way the details of your environment creep into the story. In the outline of my book there was no mountain retreat, no mist and fog, no 999 steps into a ravine and no elderly women sitting in cane chairs taking the air as they look over a breathtaking escarpment, but they are all in there now.
The days are long – 12 working hours – but I’ve had time off: a coffee with local illustrator, Beth Norling, who did the pictures for my Little Else books; and a trip to Sydney for a SCBWI meeting presided over by the ebullient (I’ve been looking for an opportunity to use that word) Susanne Gervay, who surely must have a parallel career as a standup comic. I went to the meeting to hear Margaret Hamilton speak of her journey through picture books from librarian to bookseller, publisher and writer, and a few days later visited Pinerolo Children’s Book Cottage at Blackheath. A summary of Margaret’s talk can be viewed at: http://scbwiaustralianz.com/national-blog.
So, all in all, a rich midwinter. Many thanks to Varuna and the Eleanor Dark Flagship Fellowship for the opportunity to spend time creating, exploring and expanding.