Too Short Stories

Last year I participated in a project with MPAN - the Missing Persons Advocacy Network. I was paired up with the family of a missing person and given the challenge of writing a short story. The missing person was Boronia teenager Bung Siriboon, and I spent some time getting to know her stepdad Fred.

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It was an extremely challenging experience for me - how do you write about something like that? How do you tell someone's story, when there are so many questions left unanswered? How do cast new light on a story that has already attracted much media attention, while remaining respectful to Bung and her family?

But in reading all the media coverage, I noticed one thing - none of these stories were about Bung. They were about her absence. About her family's grief. About the unanswered questions.

I've tried in my story to fill in that hole. To tell the story of Bung-the-teenager. To honour her as a real person, not an absence or a mystery.

Many, many thanks to Fred Pattison for his time, honesty and compassion.

Bung's story in the anthology is beautifully enhanced by artist Kate Banazi and typographer Andrew Trewern.

Bung's is only one story. There are nine in the anthology, and so many more outside it. You can buy the book here, and 100% of proceeds go to MPAN.

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Picture book!

I realise it's only February, but GET OUT YOUR TINSEL because I am working on a Christmas picture book. It's illustrated by the wonderful Amanda Francey, and it'll be out later this year with Allen & Unwin. It's been so delightful working on this project - picture books are such fun. It's called That Christmas Feeling. Here's a sneak peek at one of Amanda's beautiful illustrations!

Prime Minister's Literary Awards

Green Valentine is on the PMLA shortlist!!!

I just can't even with all the love that my little romantic comedy is getting. It's SO exciting, not only because it's my book and I'm proud of it, but also because it's awesome seeing funny, romantic books about girls finally getting some awards love.

And how amazing is this shortlist!?

See all the shortlists here.

YA(LIT)FEST

Come and see me, Ellie Marney, Danielle Binks, Shivaun Plozza and Floss the Fangirl at Nunawading Library on Saturday 8 Oct. There'll be writers, workshops, giveaways, fanfic and donuts! And it's free!

 

 

Top Five Reasons Why I'm Excited To Be On The Inky Awards Shortlist

  1. Do you see that list? Some of my FAVOURITE books are on that list. Illuminae! Cloudwish! I'll Give You The Sun! And ALL THE OTHERS! So amazing to be in such incredible company.
  2. Did I mention that a million years ago, I was one of the people who STARTED the Inky Awards? It is a strange but truly extraordinary honour to be shortlisted for an award that you kind of invented. It's been so exciting to watch the Inkys grow in stature and popularity every year.
  3. REAL TEENAGE JUDGES PICKED THESE BOOKS. The Inkys is the best because they recognise the books that real Australians teens read and love.
  4. This means that the judges read my little book about gardening and activism and love and community, and thought it was worthy of recognition, and that just makes me want to burst with pride and feels.
  5. Books like Green Valentine don't often get on awards lists, for lots of different reasons, and I don't want to say that my books DESERVE to be on awards lists because that would be very conceited. But funny books don't win many awards. And romantic books don't win many awards. Because there is this broader cultural idea that humour and romance aren't "literary" or "important", and I really don't believe that to be true.

VOTE NOW!

LoveOzYA Anthology

I'm so excited and pleased and proud to share that I'll be a contributor to the upcoming LoveOzYA anthology, edited by Danielle Binks and out with HarperCollins in 2017. What a big honour to be featured alongside such great writer peeps!

How to survive the apocalypse

Saturday 2 July, State Library of Victoria

Learn how to build and destroy characters and worlds in a day of workshops with favourite YA authors Jay Kristoff and Lili Wilkinson!

Choose a workshop to attend and stay on for a Q&A session with both authors. Then get set for Australia's first interactive screening of The maze runner.

Click here for more information and to book!

Girls Write Up

As a Stella Schools Ambassador, one of my favourite things to do is talk to teenagers about writing girls and reading girls and what it means to be a feminist writer.  

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Which is why I am REALLY EXCITED to be a part of Girls Write Up, a day of talks, panels and workshops for all teens who have ever felt limited by their gender and want to understand how language can not only constrain but also be used to liberate and empower.

Girls Write Up is happening in Melbourne and Sydney in June. I'll be part of the Melbourne program. See the whole program and book here. 

 

The Chickening, Part 1

Our chickens are now four months old, and they seem pretty happy.  

We have: 

Hermione, a hybrid brown

Esme, a Barnevelder

Ziggy, a Silkie

I bought them as day-old chicks, because they're cute, and I figured they'd be tamer and get along with each other. It works out a little cheaper as well, although it's a long wait for eggs! 

One day old! 

One day old! 

The chicks lived in a brooder for the first five weeks. The brooder was nothing fancier than a plastic tub with sand in the bottom, and a desk lamp with a red bulb to keep them warm. Some items from the recycling bin were repurposed into a feeder and waterer.

Setup costs: 

Brooder box, sand and globe: $22

Chicks: $32

The pet food store round the corner sells chick crumble for $1.50/kg, so keeping them fed was cheap and easy. 

Some people keep their chicks indoors for eight to ten weeks, but the weather was warm and they loved being outside. At two weeks we started putting them outside during the day, and at five weeks they moved out there permanently.

After lots of online research, I settled on a chicken tractor. Our garden is pretty small, and there wasn't a good spot for a permanent fixed coop. I designed the tractor of my dreams and my ace Dad built it as my Christmas present. There are perches up in the roof, a ladder, and a nesting box.

The coop is 1x2.4m, and made from mostly repurposed materials

The coop is 1x2.4m, and made from mostly repurposed materials

The plan was to have a tractor with a fox-proof wire floor, that I'd move around the lawn every few days. This would keep our lawn fertilized and aerated. I'd also let the chooks free range for a few hours every day. 

Did you know that chickens poo? A lot? The poo got all mixed in with the lawn and the scraps I was giving the chooks and it got all slimy and gross. It didn't smell good, and it didn't mix well with our toddler who loves playing on the lawn, or the dog who liked eating the chicken poo and rolling in it.

The girls.  

The girls.  

I wasn't convinced by the fox-proof floor, either. Although I was pretty sure a fox wouldn't come while we (and our dog) were home, what about when we went away?

And speaking of the dog. She was OBSESSED with the chickens. I couldn't let them free range because she would definitely try and catch them. 

The plan wasn't working.  

Luckily, I'd designed the tractor to fit on our raised veggie beds. I thought that I could pop the chooks up there when a crop was finished and they could tidy up. 

Lazy permaculture! 

Lazy permaculture! 

So new plan: the coop lives permanently on the raised beds. There are four beds and the coop will move every 6-8 weeks. When the chooks are in there I throw in compost, mulch, food scraps, wood ash and lawn clippings, which gets scratched up and mixed with soil and manure to make a fabulous loamy cocktail ready for planting. 

The new arrangement is totally fox and rodent proof. The chicken poo only goes where I want it. Hurrah!

Will you just look at Ziggy's glamorous earlobes? 

Will you just look at Ziggy's glamorous earlobes? 

A couple of other things:

The hardcore poultry types on the internet say you shouldn't feed your chooks scraps (or not many scraps) because it impacts maximum egg production. I'm cheerfully ignoring this because Banjo makes a lot of scraps and it feels good to produce less food waste.  

Speaking of hardcore poultry types, there are two main poultry keeping forums in Australia and they are at war with each other. It's pretty entertaining.

And my dreams of tame, cuddly chickens? Our obsessed dog is making it hard to hold them, so they are a bit standoffish. Oh well. 

Mags is still obsessed. 

Mags is still obsessed. 

Inky Awards Longlist

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Getting recognised in awards is always exciting, but the Inkys is ESPECIALLY exciting because

1) it is a teen choice award, representing the actual books that young people read and love;

2) it is a cracker of a longlist and I'm very honoured to be included on it, and

3) I FREAKING HELPED ESTABLISH THE INKYS AND HOW OFTEN DO YOU GET LONGLISTED FOR AN AWARD THAT YOU HELPED SET UP!?!?

Learn more about the Inkys here.

The Writer's Blog Tour

My Very Clever Friend Snazzy has dobbed me in for this. She writes amazing televisions, and the other day she got to be an extra in a TV show she created and wrote, wearing a medieval gown and holding an owl, so that's really all you need to know about how excellent she is.  

What am I working on? 

Three main things: working on two novels, working on my PhD, gestating a tiny human.

I’m in the edit stages of a novel at the moment that will either be called Bewildering or Lobstergirl and Shopping Trolley Guy or something else entirely. It's a YA agricultural environmental superhero rom-com. Sort of. It's about two very different teenagers who live in a really, really ugly suburb called Valentine. They bond over comic books and activism, and begin a secret guerrilla gardening project to beautify their town and wake the citizens up to the possibility of positive environmental change. Also hopefully it will be funny and there will be kissing. Out with Allen & Unwin in 2015.

The second novel is something very, very different for me, and it won't be out until 2016 at the earliest, so I don't want to talk about it too much. But it is dark, and a bit thrillery, and has involved a lot of utterly fascinating research. At the moment it's called The Subtle Body, but I've never published a book that kept its working title, so who knows what it'll end up as.

The PhD is on the ways in which YA is making teen readers more politically engaged. It's super-fun, and should be finished mid-2015.

The tiny human is due for release in mid-October.

 

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

The good thing about YA is that it can be pretty much whichever genre you choose. I've written historical fiction, magic realism, non-fiction, crime and romance. I like to write about smart, interesting, flawed girls who want things. One of my least favourite literary trends is the Dead Girl - girls dying so boys can have feelings, dead mothers, dead protagonists, and of course all the dead girls on YA book covers. So I'd like to think that my books feature girls who are decidedly alive.

 

Why do I write what I do?

Because I love it. Lots of people ask writers whether we write for an audience or for ourselves, and I think for the vast majority of us, the answer is 'both'. I write the kinds of books I like to read, but I also hope that others will read and enjoy them too. Funny, romantic books tend to get overlooked - not by readers, but by the media and by awards judges (as do books with female protagonists). Romance is seen as something trashy - a Proper Literary Book has to have Death and Tragedy. I honestly don't understand this - surely love is the most basic element of being a human being - don't we all want to love, and to be loved? I also think it takes an enormous amount of skill to explore complicated themes and subjects with a humorous touch, but generally once a book is funny, it's again considered to be somehow lowbrow.

So I suppose I write what I do because I want to make people laugh, and have squishy romantic feelings, and think about the world in new and different ways. Is that too much to ask?

 

How does my writing process work?

Generally, I come up with an idea for a new book, or sometimes a few ideas. I then sit down with my editor at Allen & Unwin and we have a chat, firm up the idea, and then I go away and write a proposal. This proposal is then taken to some sort of secret important board of superheroes and world leaders, and then a contract is drawn up. Then I go away and write the first draft.

I write using Scrivener, a piece of software designed for writers, as opposed to Microsoft Word, which is designed for talking paperclips. I sketch out a rough outline, and then create a list of chapters, with a sentence or two on what will happen in each chapter. I figure out how long I want the book to be (usually between 60-80,000 words), and space my chapters out accordingly, so the climax comes in the right place. I use a lot of techniques from the screenwriting world for this structuring process, to make sure that the story flows smoothly, without any boring bits.

I don't write chronologically. Once I have my chapter plan, I write whichever bit I'm feeling the most excited about on a particular day. The story comes together in a piecemeal way, and I don't get stuck or bored. It means though, that this early draft is utterly incomprehensible, as it is peppered with PUT FUNNY STORY HERE and FIGURE OUT HOW SHE ESCAPES and MORE FEELINGS IN THIS BIT. So once I have the bones, I go back over and polish it all up, fixing all the bits that I know are crap, and hoping I'm wrong about all the bits that I suspect are crap.

I then send to a few people. My editor, my mum, a screenwriter friend (usually the aforementioned Very Clever Sarah Dollard). After a few weeks, I get back my editorial letter. This letter usually goes something like this:

Dear Lili. We love this book. You are a genius. We would just like you to change one small thing - the words. Love, Your Editors.

Then begins the editorial process, which I actually quite enjoy, because it's all about making the book better. And now I shall pass the torch of bloggy writing fire to three other excellent writers:

Myke Bartlett is a journalist and YA author. His debut novel, Fire in the Sea, won the 2011 Text Prize and was published to great acclaim in 2012.

Carole Wilkinson is the author of like a zillion books but is best known for her multi-award-winning Dragonkeeper series, and for being my mum.

 AJ Betts is the author of Zac & Mia, which won the 2012 Text Prize and also just last week the Ethel Turner Prize at the NSW Premier's Literary Awards. Hurrah!

Structure Workshop at 100 Story Building

I'll be teaching this workshop on story structure on Saturday 24 May, and if you want to write a novel, or you have a work-in-progress and need a bit of a nudge on structure, then you should definitely consider coming along. 100 Story Building is a centre for young writers based in Melbourne’s inner-west, that also runs writing programs for adults. It's totally awesome and you should check it out.