I leave for my May Gibbs Creative Time Fellowship in Adelaide in just two weeks. I’ve started making lists: what to pack, what to work on, what to see and do, and it’s suddenly feeling real! I’ve also been reading blog posts by others who have stayed before (such an extraordinary alumni list) and trying to find the shape of what I’d like to achieve. Yes, I’ve got several projects to work on (more on those when I’m there!) but from all accounts it’s also a bit of a life-changing experience. Do I want to examine my practice? My routine? Explore new ways of illustrating and writing? To start with, I’ve booked in for a couple of online masterclasses through ASA and SCBWI during the month, and plan to do a lot of walking, exploring, and of course burrowing down in ‘The Burrow’ to work. I can’t wait.
I’m looking forward to documenting the month here, and over on the socials of course, with a huge amount of gratitude to the wonderful folks at the Children’s Literature Trust for the opportunity, time, and space to work and explore my practice.
In just ten days or so, Satin, my picture book with Lorena Carrington, will be released by MidnightSun Publishing. And in anticipation of that, Lorena and I thought you might be interested to read about how the book came about, and what the process of creating it was like. Today, I’m talking about my side of it, how the text came into being, in one of those amazing, inspirational moments that are such a blessing in a writer’s life…
In May 2021, my husband David and I were travelling by car from our home in northern NSW on our way to attend the Bendigo Writers’ Festival in Victoria, a two-day journey from our place. It was somewhere on the road before we reached the town of West Wyalong that I suddenly glimpsed, on the side of the road, a bird with satiny, very dark blue plumage. Though I saw it for just an instant as we flashed past, I knew at once what it was—a male satin bowerbird. But what was it doing there, all by itself? Satin bowerbirds are shy, it’s not easy to see them, and they certainly don’t make a habit of hanging around near roads! I knew they like to collect blue things to decorate their nests: so had it spotted a special blue there?
In that moment, something else flashed into my mind, a title: Satin.I could see a character: a lonely young man, or was he a bird? Or both? Words began to flow onto my small travel notebook (I wasn’t driving of course!) By the time we reached West Wyalong where we were to stay overnight, I already had the glimmer of an idea for a special picture book text, and by the time we got to Bendigo the next day, that idea had firmed up.
When I met up with my friend Lorena Carrington in Bendigo, I excitedly told her about it. Lorena’s a wonderful illustrator and she and I had already worked on two books together, retellings of French fairy tales and medieval French Arthurian stories, and that had been a wonderful collaborative experience. I was very much hoping she might be interested in the idea of Satin—and to my delight, she was, at once! We started talking about how it might work: usually for a picture book you don’t have writer and illustrator together at the start, usually the writer sends in a text and the publisher then chooses the illustrator. But we just knew this book had to be with the two of us. And I had an idea who perhaps might be interested in such an unusual book…
After getting back home, I worked on the story, first in my bigger usual notebook, and then on the computer.
I then sent it to Lorena, who created some gorgeous sample illustrations. And then I contacted the wonderful Anna Solding at MidnightSun Publishing and told her about the book. She loved the idea and immediately wanted to see what we’d done. So we sent the text and the samples—and within a week, she got in touch. The MidnightSun Publishing team loved it and wanted to publish it. So exciting! And as we worked with the wonderful people at MidnightSun, and Satin’s world came to brilliant life in Lorena’s spellbindingly beautiful illustrations, I kept thinking of that moment when I unexpectedly glimpsed a shy blue-loving satiny bird by the side of the road. Pure magic, that’s what it felt like: and pure magic to see it developing into such a very beautiful, very special book.