29 September, 2013

Wagga Wagga Residency - reading and workshop, too

I'll be leaving on Tuesday for Wagga Wagga, where I'll be the October (i.e. 1–15 October) writer-in-residence at Booranga Writers' Centre. Booranga Writers’ Centre, in case you don't know, "links up writers across the Riverina and provides professional development, networks and resources for readers and writers in Wagga, the Riverina Region, and Albury." My visit is supported by the NSW Government (through Arts NSW), Wagga City Council, and Charles Sturt University.
As well as working on a novel, I'll be giving a reading and a workshop, and the Centre's media release says, "All are welcome to [Margo's] public appearances in Wagga, which are free of charge." The events are:
  • Reading and discussion at the Wagga Wagga City Library, Thursday 10 October, 5–7pm.
  • Writing Workshop at Booranga Writers’ Centre, McKeown Drive (CSU Wagga, opposite the winery), Saturday 12 October, 2–4pm.
Need more information? Phone the Centre's staff on 
Monday (9.00am–3.30pm), Tuesday (9.00am–11.30am), or Thursday (9.00am–2.30pm) on (02) 6933 2688, or email them at booranga@csu.edu.au

18 September, 2013

Fredericksburg Academy 9th Grade of 2013, ahoy!

It’s great to see you in my blog’s comments, encountering “Singing My Sister Down” and trying to nut out various things about it.

I won’t answer any questions that are already answered here or here, because it’s not very hard to search this blog for “Fredericksburg”, and I don’t think I should feed you when you’re perfectly good at holding a spoon yourselves. :D And I’m a bit pressed for time, so I’m afraid I can’t get over to your blogs and say hi there. However, I’ll answer the questions that are new.

rodonnell asks: What inspired you to write a story about this? A documentary about a tarpit in Africa. Watching all the things that happened around the real-life tarpit (people warming their feet, losing their cars etc. in the tar), I thought it wouldn’t be too long before people worked out a way to lose people they didn’t want around, using this handy geographical feature right here. Also, what do you think about this method of execution: is it better or worse than methods used today? Well, I’m not sure this method isn’t being used today, somewhere, with the right equipment. Certainly not everyone’s being dispatched speedily by lethal injection. Human beings aren’t always very nice to each other, you know. Quite a lot of murderers like to see their victims suffer for a long while before they die.

Photo by Fred Hoogervorst, snrched from here.
LAFA17 asked, Did you plan it all out beforehand thinking of a story to make? or making it up as you go? maybe even had an experience that made you think of this? I didn’t plan it out. I had a idea-note saying “A family is forced to watch one of its members die by sinking in a tarpit, after some misdemeanour.” I knew the victim would die in the end, and how she would die (I don’t think I knew she was a she until maybe moments before I started writing), but I didn’t know what for, or anything much else when I began. It mostly grew in the telling. And no, this story doesn’t come directly from my own experience—it's all either stolen or made up.

Christina: Where exactly is the setting? Where do you think it is? That’s where it is. What is the time period of the setting? No time and any time. It can’t be dismissed as history and it can’t be claimed as the present. What is narrating character's personality like? Now, that, I would hope, would be fairly clear from the story. Take another look for some clues.

Meagan: For starters, when did the story take place and where? A lot of times I questioned the place and time the event was taking place. See my answers to Christina. Next, what did Ikky do to deserve the punishment? I couldn’t find a clear understanding to why everything was happening. It’s all there in the story, Meagan. The clues are small, but they’re there. Finally, how old was the narrator? I could tell that he was young, but not so young that he didn’t understand what was happening to his sister. Yep, that’s about how old. He’s a bit older than Dash, a lot older than Felly, quite a bit younger than Ik. Young enough still to be picked up by his mother and carried, but nearly too big/old for that.

Zeke, too, wants to know How old is the narrator who tells the story in first person? We never get much background information on him. You got quite a bit of information; I didn’t tell you outright all about him, but I showed you, by the way he acted and thought, what kind of a person he was, and how much experience he had of the world. And of course what do you believe Ik did to be executed in the tar pit? What do I believe she did? I know what she did, and I told you, too. Look a bit closer. 

Black Juice, Italian edition
Ravyn wants to know the inspiration for the characters’ names. Ravyn, I wanted names that didn’t necessarily identify people as belonging to a particular culture, but that also expressed something of the nature of their owners and their place the story. So, Ikky is the centre of her brother (the nameless narrator)’s actual “icky” feelings about what’s going on; Dash is too busy dashing about in his own mind and world to appreciate what’s going on in front of him; Felly, I don’t know, it’s a diminutive form of “fellow”, maybe? Mai, I can’t remember, but perhaps I was thinking of the name May, which is an auntly, or great-auntly name? Also, her doubtfulness about what she thought about Ikky and Ikky’s crime makes the name May/Mai seem appropriate; she may turn up or she may not. She may come round to properly mourning Ikky, or she may stay on the bank and abandon her in her last moments. 

Ravyn’s second question is: If asked to describe "Singing my Sister Down" in one sentence, what would that sentence be? Nooo, if I could encompass the story in a sentence, I wouldn’t have written out the whole story. :D 

And then Ravyn asks, When reading "Singing my Sister Down" I noticed that the story was written in 1st person, why did you personally choose to do that, then have it in 3rd person, from a narrators perspective? Because I wanted to experience Ikky’s going down as closely as possible to the way that unworldly, puzzled child, her brother, experienced it. I didn’t want to seem to be sitting outside him, judging him in any way; I just wanted to follow him through the spectating, and the change that happened to him as a result of watching his sister die in this way. 

Anonymous asks, Why is Mai not there at the start with the rest of the family? I thought Mumma and Ikky explained that pretty fully in the story. What prompted you to write this story? See my answer to rodonnell. Do you think you could watch one of your close friends or family members do what Ikky did or would you try to save them and pay the punishment? I don’t think, in this society, that the watching family can step in and save the sinking person. Part of the point is that everyone accepts that this has to be done. Part of the power of the story is that readers expect someone to come along and fix things by preventing what feels like an unjust punishment—and then nobody does. It would be a much more ordinary story, I think, if I’d found some way to rescue her. But at no point did I want to.

jwhitman asked: What exactly happened with Ikky and the husband? See my answers to Meagan and Zeke. 

mstorage asked: If you were to be executed, would you rather be executed by tar pit or the electric chair? Why would you choose that type of execution? Definitely electric chair—faster. Even a slow electric chair death would be faster than Ik’s. What gave you the idea that a tar pit could be used as a tool of execution? Did you learn about it somewhere? See my answer to rodonnell.

And as for Anna, Stephen and bafa17, thank you for dropping by and leaving your kind comments!

If any of you still have questions, ask them in the comments to this post, so everyone (including future Fredericksburg 9th-graders) can find them easily.

Keep reading, keep thinking!
Best wishes,

Sea Hearts wins a WA Premier's Book Award!

I was excited to fly to Perth on Monday to attend the Western Australian Premier's Book Awards at the State Reception Centre in King's Park.

Even more exciting was actually winning the Young Adult Fiction Award for the selkies. What a year they're having!

The awards website presents the judges' comments on each book, and says of Sea Hearts, "The orchestrated plot surges to a dramatic, shocking climax, before a dawn-like denouement which is just as powerful in its tranquillity and hope. Lanagan presents a fantasy that enthrals, in a language that sings and delights." Pretty irresistible, no?

And another book there that I want to get my hands on is Roger Averill's Exile: The Lives and Hopes of Werner Pelz. And of course Questions of Travel, I've still got to read that. It took out both the fiction and the overall Premier's Prize—go, Michelle de Kretser! If my year's been dizzying, hers must have been absolutely mind-blowing.