Tag Archives: Kathy George

The Next Big Thing – I answer 10 questions

The Next Big Thing is a blog chain where writers answer ten questions about their writing, then tag other writers to do the same. I was tagged by Kathy George, prize-winning short story writer, and author of the wonderfully atmospheric Gothic novel Sargasso. You can read her post here. My answers follow.

Ocean channel between rocks 1. What is the title of your current book?

Still Water

2. Where did the idea come from?

I’m a clinical psychologist by background, and my specialist field is adolescent mental health. Over my clinical career I’ve worked with many brave, funny, ingenious, dignified, dauntless people aged 13-18, battling severe and complex mental health problems in often horrific life circumstances. My protagonist, Storm, is inspired in a general way by the privilege of working with these amazing young people.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

It’s young adult fiction. The genre is realism, which I know is unfashionable (not a vampire lover or zombie apocalypse in sight), but I believe young people are still interested in reading about the kinds of problems and situations they encounter day to day. Love, friendship, families, sex, bullying, teachers, trying to work out where you’re headed and what you really want out of life – little details like that.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Showing my age, the only people I can think of to play Storm are Ally Sheedy from The Breakfast Club or Lizzy Caplan from Mean Girls. Maybe Ellen Page from Juno. Except Storm’s Australian. I’m sure there are wonderful young Australian actors out there, who’ll be ready to play Storm brilliantly when the time comes.

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

Sixteen year-old Storm wants to become a world-class documentary maker – but life has bigger ideas.

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

I’m working on finding an agent (do you know one?)

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft?

The first draft took a month to actually write – it was, quite by accident, a NaNoWriMo effort – but I’d been working on the story for a year by then because I’m writing two versions of the same events: one from Storm’s perspective (Still Water) and one from the perspective of an adult character called Susan (The Child Pose). It’s taken another three months of feedback and polishing to turn Still Water into a finished manuscript. The Child Pose is slowly getting there.

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

I read quite a bit of YA fiction but I haven’t come across a book that’s similar to Still Water in plot. I guess it’s a coming-of-age novel. It has some similarities with Kate Constable’s Crow Country – a city girl unwillingly transplanted to a small town forms a close relationship with a boy, meets some wildlife, and comes to appreciate what lies below the surface of the place.

But no time travel. Sorry.

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

I’m fascinated by questions of how people interact with places – with the natural environment, and with other people in that environment. I’m from a country town that still doesn’t possess a traffic light (let alone traffic). I think small towns in fiction are manageable microcosms, providing insights into big questions about environmental, family and community responsibilities.

I started out focusing on the adult character, Susan. But in the course of writing The Child Pose, Storm really got under my skin. From the start I found her funnier, more complex, and yet easier to relate to, than any of the adult characters. Maybe I just like teenagers better than adults. As soon as I started writing Storm’s diary, in first person, the story flowed out. It reminded me of interviewing: all I was doing was writing down Storm’s words. I still feel a sense of responsibility to do justice to her story, as if she were a real person.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

The town of Stillwater, where the novel is set, is a mix of places from up and down the Queensland and New South Wales coasts, with an occasional touch of Tasmania, South Australia, and Papua New Guinea thrown in. So you might recognise a beloved spot from real life, slipped into the fiction.

And Storm’s bloke Nathan is – in the words of my test readers – “a spunk and a sweetie”. If he were real, and I were several decades younger, I’d almost want to sail away with him myself.

I would now like to introduce you to two lovely Brisbane writers, who will be posting their answers to the 10 questions in a week’s time.

Kate Zahnleiter holds a Masters degree in creative writing. In 2011 she was the recipient of the QUT Postgraduate Writing Prize, and her short fiction has been published in One Book, Many Brisbanes; Rex and Review of Australian Fiction. She is currently working on her first novel, Fitting in with Normal People, which was recently accepted into the QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program.

Kim Douglas has completed a Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing at QUT, and plans to articulate to Masters. She is working on her first novel, The Black Dog in Greek, and has just started blogging as a strategy to manage writer’s block.

If you have a blog and are working on a book (or have recently completed/published one), you may like to participate in The Next Big Thing yourself. Contact me, Kate or Kim!

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Colouring In

Describe that sky!

My writing buddy Kathy has blogged an interesting post about using colours in your writing. She expressed a concern that she tends to use colour-words too much (I don’t think she does). But it got me thinking about my own love of colour, and the relationship between colours and words. My first novel is called Blue : that says something right there 🙂

Maybe I’m a lazy reader – maybe my imagination doesn’t create scenes from the written word as actively as someone else’s might – but I need the writer to supply colour-words to help bring a scene visually alive. Kathy quotes from J.M. Coetzee: Through a window he glimpses the Shaw’s backyard: an apple tree dropping wormridden fruit, rampant weeds, an area fenced in with galvanized-iron sheets, wooden pallets, old tyres, where chickens scratch around… I can see it, but do you know, more vividly I can smell it. I wonder what difference colour-words might have made to my imagined sensory experience of this scene: an apple tree dropping brown worm-ridden fruit, rampant bitter-green weeds, an area fenced with galvanized-iron sheets rusting at the edges, wooden pallets, old tyres, where dirty white hens scratch around…

I’m currently reading The Siren’s Sting, by Miranda Darling, in which the author works hard to show us what her protagonist is seeing: The strange light of storm weather had turned the lagoon an opaque shade of jade green and fingers of red now shot out from an invisible setting sun…The palazzo just opposite was painted a deep rust red, with green shutters and green and white striped poles marking its water door... She was shown to her room, a small golden chamber with red velvet curtains overlooking a busy canal… While I also appreciate the author’s diligence in filling in the other senses – she tells us about the sound of heavy rain in the street, the feel of damp evening air on her protagonist’s face, and evokes the aromas of meals in various Mediterranean restaurants – it’s the colours that bring the story to life for me.

I’m often frustrated in the search for the perfect word for a colour. How, without becoming tedious, do you describe the exact colour of wet sand-flats at low tide just after the sunset pinks and oranges have faded but before it’s dark? The colour of the eastern horizon at that moment? The exact shade of deepening blue half-way up the sky, where the evening star is beginning to shine? We probably all envision/remember those colours slightly differently. If I want the reader to see a moment as my protagonist sees it, do I go hunting for obscure terms that are meant to describe a precise hue but probably don’t for every reader (bisque, aquamarine, brown madder)? Do I go all Taubmans and try to evoke that colour in the reader’s mind by describing something else in the world (Bell Pepper, Hot Frog, Lime Leaf, Honeydew, for shades of green)? Or do I try to mix words like you mix paints (blue-green water, apricot-brown sand, seaweed that’s greenish gold shading into orange with flecks of lemon yellow)?

How do you handle colour as a writer (and experience it as a reader)? I’d be keen to hear other people’s thoughts.

And just so this post contains some exercises:

1. Find a passage you’ve written, that contains visual description. Have you used any colour words? What happens if you take them all out? Put more in? Work at making the colour words more precisely descriptive? Stick to the simplest colour words possible (red, blue, green)?

2. Write a para or two describing a scene but without using actual colours – instead try to evoke lights and shades, as if the scene were a black-and-white photograph

3. Write a short scene between two characters, without using any colour words. Then see where you can add visual detail, including colour. Does this pull the scene in any different direction?

4. Play with synaesthesia – using words from one sensory modality to describe something in another. Particularly try this with colour words – a green breeze, the white hammering of rain


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Filed under Fiction Techniques, Writing Exercises