People sometimes ask if I mind people borrowing my books from the library rather than buying them. The answer is not at all.
First of all, I do get paid when my books are in libraries. Australian authors get paid Lending Rights when their books are in Australian libraries. The amount is capped, but for me it’s not insignificant compared to other amounts I earn from writing. I didn’t know about Lending Rights when I received my first payment, so it was a pleasant surprise.
But even aside from this, I still think libraries are ace. They provide free books (and audio books, and newspapers and digital material etc) to everyone. This is brilliant for us all and sharing stuff is good for the environment.
I’ve always borrowed books from libraries and I currently have a library card for four different public library services in Melbourne (a state-wide library card would make a lot of sense!) When I hear about a book I want to read, my first thought is to check if it’s in the library.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that when my first book, Loving Richard Feynman, was published I was even more excited to see it on a library shelf than I was to see it in the bookshop.
That excitement has not faded, and is sometimes a bit embarrassing. I’m not really proud of this next bit but anyway – I got a bit over-excited when I saw Stay Well Soon at the Hawthorn Library last week. I was playing with my son in the children’s section and checked out Middle Fiction, and there it was. So I put Stay Well Soon on a prominent display shelf while no-one was looking.
A couple of days later I checked the catalogue to see if Stay Well Soon had been borrowed and it had! And it was also on-loan from quite a few other libraries too. Libraries that I hadn’t even been in, rearranging the shelves. So now I realise there is something more exciting than seeing my book in the library – seeing my book has been checked out from the library. Hopefully that means some people are enjoying it, but if they’re not, at least it was free.
In Stay Well Soon Stevie’s dream horse is called Atta Girl. This was the name of my dream horse when I was a kid. However, my dream horse Atta Girl was brown with a black mane and tail, whereas Stevie’s dream horse Atta Girl is grey with a silver mane and tail. So two completely different dream horses and no-one can say that Stay Well Soon is autobiographical.
I wrote this story about Atta Girl in my diary in Grade 4.
I went out to ride Atta girl. I was riding her bare back. I was going to ride to the house we are building.
I took her out to the road and started to trot. All of a sudden a mad car came up behind us breaking the speed limit and tooted like mad. A gun fired. Atta girl took off down a country road. She flung me off. There I lay with great pain in my leg. I was sure it was broken.
Atta girl didn’t leave me but stayed there until I managed to get back on she seemed to know to take me back home. Good old Atta girl.
There is a lot more action in this short story than in the books I write now. In my current work the characters sit around reading and drawing a lot. There are no guns and if someone set off to visit the house they were building, they would probably arrive safely, have a boring conversation with the builder, agonize about the meaning of life internally and go home again.
I’m also intrigued by the questions that this piece raises. Was there anyone driving the ‘mad car’ or had a car come to life and developed anti-social mental health issues? Why was the car (or possibly the person driving the car) shooting at a girl and her horse? (It’s not like it was Phar Lap.) How did she get back on Atta Girl with a broken leg? Did Atta Girl stoop down like a camel?
My next book is going to be called The Mad Car, Atta Girl and Me and will answer all these questions.
I’m not a very visual person so I don’t include much physical description of my characters in my books. To be honest, I’m not completely sure what they look like. But I know them when I see them.
Maybe it’s because I don’t have a clear picture of the characters in my head that I’m able to spot them out and about in real life quite often. I’m flexible about what they might look like. In the past I’ve seen a few girls who remind me of Catherine from Loving Richard Feynman. They don’t all look the same physically, it’s just a vibe.
The other day my cousin sent me a photo of a girl busking at a market. The girl was playing the violin and recorder (not at the same time, I think) and she had a sign saying ‘I am saving to buy a horse!’
She seemed exactly how I imagined Stevie in Stay Well Soon, except Stevie would probably just play the recorder not the violin. Even her drawing of a horse on the sign was perfect.
The shyly smiling, pony-tailed, jeans and boots wearing busker looks nothing like the girl with blonde flat-hair and a floral top peeking out from behind a curtain with one sad eye on the cover of Stay Well Soon. But they both look like Stevie to me.
I got a packet of 36 Watercolour Derwents for Christmas when I as 10. I was convinced these would turn me into a great artist. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out.
I really loved those pencils, but I almost couldn’t enjoy drawing with them because I was so worried about using them up.
I used them only for very special drawings and school projects. They stayed in perfect colour-number order, in the tin, until I left home.
Then I decided I was being silly trying to keep them pristine. I seized the day and put them in a pencil case, determined to use them more often. (I’m not quite sure what I needed them for – there’s not much bubble-writing on university assignments when you’re studying Science/Law.)
But anyway, I lost them all, one by one as I moved from share house to share house.
When it came to doing the illustrations for Stay Well Soon I didn’t have my 20 year old Derwents. I had to buy new pencils. I bought a different brand to save money. It will be my own fault if the book fails.
I set Stay Well Soon in a fictional hospital in Melbourne. Stevie spends a lot of time at the hospital visiting her brother, and she isn’t very happy about being there.
In the first drafts, the hospital was a pretty depressing place to be, with long grey corridors and lame toys in the boring ‘Kidz Space’. It was based on my memories of visiting my sister in hospital when I was a kid.
Then I visited the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne for an appointment with my baby son. It completely changed my view of what a hospital could be like. It is amazing. There is a meerkat enclosure and a two-floor aquarium with a shark, and massive screens to play games on. It is not aesthetically depressing or lame at all. Our trip to the hospital was unexpectedly enjoyable.
So I rewrote the description of the hospital. It’s still a fictional hospital, but it’s a more impressive, modern and fun hospital. Of course, Stevie still doesn’t want to be there, but since she has to be, it’s nice that there is some interesting stuff to interact with.
Before I started writing Stay Well Soon I re-read my primary school diaries to help me establish Stevie’s tone.
Looking back on my diaries I’m struck by how much of it is unreliable. I used to write things because I liked the way they sounded, rather than because they were true.
This is a couple of diary entries from late September in 1991 when I was in Grade 4.
Today we saw the writers train. I liked Libby Hathorn But not the other writer. We went to the foot ball. It wasn’t as bad as uselal. I got a Milky Way. We were walking around with Don. He kept Chit chating with his friend. Felt like telling him to Shut up and lets get going only didn’t (note 1). Finely we went back to the car. Tomorro is Fathers Day. We are going to Echca to see Paddy and Loo(note 2).
(Note 1) I probably didn’t really want to tell Don to shut up. I was trying to sound tough like Penny Pollard, who was my inspiration for diary writing. Dropped a lot of pronouns to sound like her.
(Note 3) I had clearly heard an adult call someone a ‘holy terror’ and I liked the way it sounded. It’s possible that Paddy was a very well behaved six year old and I was just dead-set on using the phrase. Anyway, it sounds weird coming from a ten year old. Particularly one who can’t spell.
When I was in primary school I wanted to be an artist because I thought I was really good at drawing. I don’t know where I got this idea because my parents didn’t usually lie.
This is a drawing I did in Grade 3.
This not only proves that you can love a thing without being able to spell it, but also shows that I am actually really bad at drawing. I can’t remember when I worked this out, but I wasn’t too bothered because by then I was focused on competing at the Olympics (I didn’t know what sport I’d excel at, but I was confident I would make it).
My main character in Stay Well Soon, Stevie, is also convinced that she’s really good at drawing. Some of Stevie’s drawings are included as illustrations in the book. I did the drawings myself, therefore suggesting that Stevie isn’t as good at drawing as she thinks she is.
Some people might think that I deliberately drew badly to realistically create the drawings of an eleven year old. However, that is not true. They are my best drawings. I tried hard.
Here are some horses I drew for Stay Well Soon. I think I have really improved.
My publisher referred to the drawings as ‘the artwork’ as though they were proper illustrations for a proper book. I think she was being kind, but it’s still like a dream come true. I’m an artist.