Something I care a lot about

I just read this article on the SMH.  It’s not often that I get excited about an article on SMH (except maybe to cuss out their tabloidal focus, or their lack of research except for surfing the blogs and the wires).

But this article about the under-representation of women in movies got my interest.  

Geena Davis (Oscar-winning actress, brainiac, mother and Olympian) started to get interested in this issue when she had kids.  She crunched some numbers and found that:

“Typically there are three male characters for every one female character. If it’s a crowd scene, that ratio goes out to four or five males for every female. And 87 per cent of narrators are male.”

She started up an Institute to encourage movie makers to redress this shocking imbalance.  

In my much smaller way, I am writing a teens’ book with a female lead for the same reason.  I started writing it with a male lead – it was instinctive to do so, even though I am not a boy myself.  It was because almost all the heroes in all the books I had read growing up were blokes.  Frodo (bloke hobbit), Harry (bloke wizard), the annoying kid in the Stormbreaker series, and the list goes on.   So when I sat down to write my own fantsay/sci-fi/philosophical fiction for kids, it was like I didn’t even have a choice – a boy appeared on the page, fully-formed.

After one year and one draft, I decided that wasn’t OK with me.  I started again, writing with a girl in the lead.  The boy is still in it – he may even get a lead role, may even be equal protagonist.  But the girl is going to totally kick some ass.

For some time, I questioned if it were OK to make a decision like that – to purposely interrupt the “creative flow” to impose my own beliefs.  But darn it, if I didn’t do it with my own little book, when would I make such a conscious choice again?  Because that’s what it is – that’s what it has to be by story-tellers and film-makers everywhere if the balance is going to change – a conscious effort, a real choice.  

It’s not been easy coming up with a voice for this character. That’s probably just me and my own issues and writerly bothers.  But maybe that’s not all.  The boy character, like I said, practically fell on to the page, and I reckon that’s largely because I had ingested so many version of him over the years that he was just hanging out in my subconscious, waiting for me to put him together.  

So maybe, at least one of the reasons people don’t write more female leads is that there are so few, fictional role models for writers.  There are a lot more books out there now with girl-power in the mix.  But they are a small minority and some of them sound and act like a boy who is a girl in name only anyway.  Ellie, the girl in “Tomorrow when the war began” series is downright boy-ish.  Does a girl-hero in a classic, adventure hero’s journey have to be boy-ish to be a hero?

I hope not.  I hope she also doesn’t have to be uber girlish.  She can just be a girl, with a combination of traditionally male and female qualities (like most of us anyway), in a bad situation that she has to change.  Girls and boys can be equally brave.  Let’s hope the same can be said for writers.

 

If this topic interests you, you might find this article interesting (it has some handy academic references in it): Gender issues in children’s literature.

Tips for juggling creativity and work: part two

This week, I bring you Tori’s tips for juggling creativity and work.

***

Creative type No. 2

Tori, food writer and communications officer

1.  What’s your creative passion or dream?

To live well and share that fun by writing about it. In my early 20’s I wasn’t very well -there were a few  years when I spent a disproportionate amount of time in bed- I kept the brain ticking by writing a terrible terrible novel. I learned that when things are a bit rocky time spent on the couch with a lap rug, cup of tea, and an internal conversation can be instantly comforting. I’m not quite sure where the cooking thing came from; I grew up in a household where food was about fuel, not fantasy. In my blog I call the husband ‘The Hungry One” and I think he’s had a huge role- the satisfaction of feeding and delighting someone you adore can’t be underestimated.  These days I love nothing more than reading other people’s writing about food, cooking and travel; so I try and add to those conversations by writing about what we do. Even if it the writing goes nowhere, hopefully when I’m old I’ll have an excellent dossier of a life well lived.

2.  How do you support yourself financially?

I spend a lot of time taking capital letters up and down in a communications job for a government agency. In my spare time, I write about food for yourrestaurants.com and am always trying to get some more freelance work going. The husband is endlessly patient with my meagre contributions to the household bottom line.

3.  Are there sacrifices involved in following your creative dream, and what makes it worthwhile?

The ego is a tough one; the suspicion that you’re not advancing as quickly as you perhaps could in the ‘real world’ job because of your creative choices. But at the end of the day, it’s about what makes you happy- and the real world doesn’t always do that.

4.  Do you hope to support yourself through your creative work / do you already?

I’d love to earn a bit more cash from it. One day I’d love nothing more than to have two smiley little kids on the carpet tottering about while I get to write.

5.  What are your top three tips for managing a creative passion?

Make sure that whoever shares your life supports your creative life too.

Don’t be afraid to talk about what you do- I wish when you meet people they wouldn’t instantly ask ‘where do you work’, but instead ask ‘what do you love to do?’

If it stops making you happy; give yourself permission to take a break until you feel the urge to play again.

6.  Where would you like to be in your life in five years time, and what are three things you are doing now to get you there?

See above; sitting on a couch somewhere with one happy little muffin on the floor and maybe another in the oven, writing and earning a little bit of money from it would be perfect.

Being able to properly poach eggs (always my downfall)

Maybe turning the writing into a book (but this one may see the light of day)…

***

Thanks Tori!  To visit Tori’s blog and hear some truly excellent foodie tales, go to http://eat-tori.blogspot.com

To see last week’s tips, from playwright and business analyst David, click here.

I have one more set of tips to bring you, from the lovely, art’n’crafty Kate over at http://love-you-big.blogspot.com. I’ll publish that in a couple of weeks – might be a bit busy next week, getting married.

Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, Part 7

I took a detour in Part 6 of this journey, talking about an alternate reality game which we are trying to make to emulate the world of Mr Middleton. But I still haven’t told you about how I finally found the illustrator of my dreams…

In Part 5, I at last realised that the answer to my prayers had been right in front of me the whole time – I had to find the artist who had drawn the print I had bought at the Paddington markets.

My mission was this: go to the Paddington markets, and try to find the same stall. This was not as easy as it sounds. Market stall holders change all the time, and the markets themselves are a riot of colour and confusion, each laneway lined with noise and objects and distractions, to the point where you could easily spend half a day, walking up and down, never finding the place you had last been just ten minutes ago, every again.

I geared up. Saturday arrived. I donned comfortable walking shoes. I limited the amount of discretionary spending money in my wallet to $20. I checked and re-checked that I had my ten-trip bus pass. On my way out the door, I slathered a dollop of sunscreen on my permanently sun-damaged nose (a product of a childhood spent in Queensland, back in the days when the local radio station would broadcast at twenty minutes intervals a little dinging sound to remind sunbathing girls to turn over for an even tan). Then, halfway down the stairs, I ran back up again, grabbed the copy of the story from my desk, and ran back down, the door slamming shut behind me and echoing down the stairwell.

My friend D met me at the North Bondi bus stop. She was dressed in summery singlet and jeans and on her feet, carefree flipflops in place of sensible shoes. I wondered if she understood the situation. But then I remembered that it was of utmost importance to the gods of destiny that I had to act carefree and open to grace. I wished I had worn flipflops too.

We chatted on the bus, D skilfully keeping me relaxed, as if this was just a regular, girly excursion to the markets. “They have that delicious thai food, yum,” D chatted. “Maybe we can buy a stick of fishballs.” I nodded. Fishballs as a reward. That was good motivation.

Finally, the bus pulled up. I made a bee-line through the sauntering, loitering crowds, past the faces of relaxed and happy Sydney-siders doing what they love best – shopping outdoors. D’s flipflops flipflopped behind me, trying to keep up.

Down one alley, past the red handbags, the smell of incompletely treated leather…past the jewelry shop where we had considered and dismissed gifts for jLo only six weeks ago…past the shop full of mirrors, past the shiatsu, past the plants, past the hand-made lamp shades….

And there they were! Neat and clean frames of professional quality, and in them, those lovely, wistful faces…elephants, and lovers, and my solemn little man, my apple-offering pixie…

OK, now Jackie, I told myself storecialis.net. Be cool.

“Hello, I bought a print here about six weeks ago…”

“I remember. Cherry blossom, wasn’t it?”

The young Australian-Vietnamese fellow remembered me! And the girl with the beautiful long dark hair who worked with him smiled encouragingly! These people were nice! They didn’t think I was crazy!

Yet, I cautioned myself. Take-it-easy…

“Yes, that’s right,” I smiled. “I was just wondering. I have written a story, it’s a fairy-tale really, and major publisher X is interested. I would like to present it as an illustrated book. Do you think you might be interested in taking a look at the story?”

The young fellow did not shake his head dismissively, or pull away. He…nodded! “Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “My brother does the illustrations, but it’s funny, we were just thinking of branching into books. People are always asking us for them. He’s over at the Surry Hills Festival today, but I can call him and let him know you dropeed by?”

I turned to D. “Or maybe, we can go to the Fesitval? I asked her.

D agreed immediately. Turned out she wanted to go the Festival all along, couldn’t think of anything better to do than trek another forty minutes across Sydney to catch the tail end of the Festival festivities. Bless her.

“I’ll tell him you’re coming,” he said, pulling out his phone.

“Thanks!” I called, trotting back down the laneway. It was already 3.30 pm, getting close to closing time, and we had a bus to catch.

To be continued.

Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, Part 5

In Part 4, I recounted my phone call with Shaun Tan, asking if he might be interested in illustrating my book, Mr Middleton’s Teleporter.  He politely told me that he couldn’t do it, which led my fiance to suggest that we advertise in order to find an illustrator in time for my deadline with the interested publisher.    

Where do you advertise for an illustrator to do something for nothing but the possibility of hard work and glory?

Where else but ArtsHub.

Accordingly, we purchased an ad on ArtsHub, calling for “illustrators with a sense of whimsy, similar to the styles of E.H Shepard, Shaun Tan and Michael Blake” to send examples of their work to “mmillustrations.”

I hoped for maybe a dozen responses, enough to choose from and hopefully one that would fit the bill.

I received thirty-five responses.

That’s a lot of responses for an unpaid job with only the whiff of potential work.  There were a lot of artists out there, looking for a foot in the door, and here was I, in a position to crack it open for long enough to give them a chance to lunge through.

There was a real range of stuff out there.  There was frou-frou, and a little bit of country (stuffed bear still lifes were remarkably popular).  There was Goth, and there was fairy.  There was manga and there was watercolour.  

There was nothing I liked.

I am a bad, fussy and ungrateful person, I told myself, scanning the submissions, looking for something that had a clue to the kind of feeling I was hoping for.  Stomp on that silly feeling, I scolded.  Choose from this banquet! Look at the colour, the audacity, the sheer volume!  Be amazed!

It was nearly midnight, three weeks almost to the day since I told the publisher I would go away and think about whether I would submit a collection of stories or an illustrated stand-alone work for consideration.  I sat at the computer and half-heartedly opened two of my other short story files.  Not bad, I thought, scanning the lines of natural realism and semi-autobiography.  I re-opened the Mr Middleton file and glumly closed the others.  They were too different in style.  A collection would never work.

But neither would the pictures!  I argued it back and forth.  Finally, exhausted, I collapsed into bed.  The room in my then-apartment in North Bondi didn’t have curtains, so I used to always sleep on my side, one arm flung up to cover my eyes from the moonlight.  I turned over and took one last, heavy-lidded glance at a framed print I had bought about six weeks ago at the Paddington markets.  I had bought it for my friend, jLo, for her 3oth birthday.  It was a milestone gift, along with a non-trashy piece of jewelry, which I and a couple of other girlfriends had pooled our money to buy for her: nice jewelry and art, meaning, you have arrived.  I had liked the picture so much that I had bought myself another in the series.  It had a black background, with a swirl of white butterflies clustering on the branches of a dark grey oaktree.  A little, solemn looking fellow stood in the sky, to the left of the tree, holding the one thing of colour against the darkness: a tiny red apple.  He held the red globe out to the tree and its swathe of butterflies as if it were an offering to the night, or the light, or both.  

Since buying the picture, I had taken to looking at it when I wrote, just for a moment now and then.  My breathing would deepen, and I would remember in my gut and the smoothing of my forehead that this was all about saying thank you.

In bed, past midnight, I closed my eyes.  I knew exactly what I needed to do.  This picture, which had been right in front of me, was the answer.  I would find the artist, and I would ask him to illustrate Mr Middleton.  I would ask him to bring Mr Middleton’s world to life, and all I had to offer in exchange would be my gratitude.  Maybe, together with his, that would be enough.

To be continued.

Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, Part 3

So, as I left my last post, I was looking for an illustrator.  I didn’t have much of a clue where to begin.  My clever buddy illustrator whom I mentioned suggested a few people, but their styles weren’t quite what I was looking for.  Which begged the question: what was I looking for?  I seemed to know what I didn’t want anyway.

My fiance led me through a series of questions, designed to get to the bottom of what I actually did want.  We sat on his rickety dining table chairs in his then-apartment in Pyrmont, me scraping the skin from around my nails and wondering how on earth I was going to find someone, and soon, to do exactly what I wanted, when I didn’t know what I wanted.  My fiance, meanwhile, took a break from his frantic film production work as it was clear that I was otherwise going to keep roaming around the kitchen and living room/study, silently pervading the entire apartment with angst.  He, the picture of calmness, asked me to take a seat.  

“I’m going to ask you a few questions,” he said.  “Hopefully we should find out what it is that you are looking for.”

“OK.”  I was ready for the magic.  

“OK.  What is it that you want?”

“That’s the whole…issue, the whole point!  I don’t know what I want!”  I started up off the chair, which proceeded to fall to the ground and risk permanent dismemberment.  

“I mean, what other illustrators’ work do you like?”  He asked, picking up the chair, still Mr Serenity, gesturing for me to sit back down.

“I guess I like…” I was embarrassed, but there was no other way to do it.  “Well,  I like the illustrations for Winnie the Pooh.  E.H. Shepard.”  I honestly wasn’t that familiar with much other work, not really.  But I tried to make it sound like I had at least some idea of the illustration world and wasn’t setting off into the land of illustrated books without a clue as to what was happening out there. “And Shaun Tan.  And maybe that guy who wrote the Sad Book.  Blake?”  

My fiance nodded, a model of non-judgment any Buddhist could be proud of.  Feeling a little encouraged, I went on.  “I want it to be olde worlde style, like, Victorian, but wistful, and pencil drawings.  And a sombre palette.”  I liked that.  ‘Sombre palette.’  I started to give my nails a second chance at survival.

He nodded more and typed in “E.H Shepard” into google.  There they were – simple  drawings giving a sense of movement, magic and a world of their own that was still familiar to me, so familiar I could practically taste the hot Milo before bedtime.

“Yes!” I exclaimed.  “That sort of thing.  Wait, here.”  I typed in “Shaun Tan.”  Up popped his gorgeous, magical world, all steam punk and whimsy.  “Isn’t it fantastic,” I breathed.  My betrothed nodded.

“All right then.  So why don’t you call Shaun Tan?” he asked.  

“What?  No way.”  My nails were not going to survive the day.  He was now talking loco.

To be continued.

Self-publishing Mr Middleton’s Teleporter

Before I start reporting to you on the process of self-publishing my book, Mr Middleton’s Teleporter, I thought I better give some background as to why I have decided to self-publish at all.

I wrote Mr Middleton’s Teleporter about eighteen months ago, not long after I moved to Sydney.  I used to get the bus route from where I lived at the time, in North Bondi, to Taylor Square, Darlinghurst, where I used to get off and walk to Surry Hills, where I still work part-time as a researcher for a government arts body.  Along the way, I would stare out the window and look at Oxford Street’s representative sample of the amazing array of what the capitalist world has to offer.  I liked, in particular, looking at the window display for a shop called Satch at one of the places where the bus would stop for a group of children to get off and go to school.  Satch always had very chic women’s clothes made from expensive fabrics which I could look at appreciatively from the bus window without having to feel squirmily inadequate at seeing the price tags up close.  Next door was a chocolate cafe, which also looked quite appealing.

Anyway, I digress.  Further along the Street, there is a really daggy, old 1970s brick building, which probably houses the last accountancy offices or other non-design type offerings on entire Street.  In one of the lower windows of the brick building was a poster with a picture of a giant satellite dish.  The text on the sign read “The largest teleport network in all Asia.”

“Teleport network?”  The first time I saw that sign, I did a double-take.  The bus kept roaring past, so I tried to crane my neck to check I had read that correctly, but it was too late, we had whizzed on past.  

The next morning I was more prepared, less dreamy.  The sign definitely said “teleport network.”  What’s more, it was an old sign, had been hanging in the window long enough to grow dusty and sun-faded so that the colour of the blue sky in the poster looked like somewhat like the tired holiday ads in the old Israeli travel agency on Balaclava Street, where I used to live in Melbourne.  

My brain instantly went on a happy little joy-ride into the possibility.  Teleporting.  How fantastic would that be?

A scribbled down my idea for the story on a few A4 Spiral Notebook pages, and a few weeks later, figured, what the heck?  I might as well try and write it up as a story.

Which I did.  After a few days, I had something I sort of liked.  I put it aside for several months, then tried to write its ending. I was happy with it, but didn’t think it was really finished.  I had other things to go on with, though, so I saved it and carried on.

A few months later, I was in Melbourne and caught up with a friend I liked a lot, but hadn’t seen in about five years.  She is a very cool girl, and the coollest thing about her is that she doesn’t know how cool she is.  In fact, in trying to find a link for her on the Internet just now, I discovered she just won an Australian Publishers Association Award for best children’s book cover design.  And she never said anything!  That’s how cool she is.   Also, she is one of the few people I know with whom I can effortlessly exchange Cartman jokes and not feel misunderstood. 

Anyway, when I got back to Sydney, I was thinking, my friend would enjoy this story.  It wasn’t finished yet, in my books, but she might have a laugh, anyway.  So I emailed it to her.

She got back to me, saying that she had stayed up all night reading it and that she loved it so much she wanted to know if I was ok with her passing it on to a friend of hers, who was one of the commissioning editors for one of the big publishing houses.  

I was like, aaah! Hang on, let me polish it up!  But by the time I got back to my friend, she had already passed it on to the editor.  

All I could do, then, was wait….calmly, meditatively, getting on with my life….

aaah! x 100!

To be continued.

Back in the middle with you

Hello!

I have been as silent as the gallows for some time now.  That is not only because I have been, as The Editor put it, “writing for reals.”  It’s because I have been in a pooh-fight with my previous hosting company, moving house, working too much and also because I didn’t know what I really wanted to do with this blog.  

The upshot of the pooh-fight and my tech-ignorance is that I have lost all the content from my blog.  Oh no!   

The good thing about that is that I can start all over again.  Create the world anew…make the blog as shiny, pearlescent, crystal-dinging as it can be….

Well, start again, anyhow.

I am going to do the following on this blog:

1.  Write stuff

2.  Follow the path of Mr Middleton as he takes flight (Who is Mr Middleton, I hear you ask?  I hope you and he will become buddies, and then we can all be buddies together, as long as you’re not all weird and defensive about having a fictional character as a buddy.)

3. Write more stuff

If I fail in my mission, please give my good jokes to J-Lo and any outstanding legal actions against me to The Editor.