Verity Sparks is about to have a very big adventure. She’s on the Children’s Book Council shortlist. The awards will be announced in Adelaide on August 17th, and she’s going to be there.
She? I have to admit that by now I think of Verity as a real person. I don’t feel as if I made her up. Perhaps she’s my alter ego – though she’s a lot braver and more sensible than I was at 13.
I’ve just finished the sequel. It’s called ‘The Trouble with Verity Sparks’, and I sent it off to my editor at Walker Books on Friday. I always have very mixed feelings when I finish a book. In this case, I’m relieved that I got it done on time. What with one thing and another, I only had about five months to write it in, so the house is full of cobwebs and dust; my garden is full of weeds and feeling neglected; and my friends have just about given up on inviting me out for a coffee. On the other hand, I’m also feeling a bit sad. I miss Verity. And reading about and researching Verity’s world – which in this novel is Melbourne in the late 1870’s – was fascinating and full of surprises. I got the initial idea for ‘The Truth About Verity Sparks’ when walking around in Melbourne looking at all the Victorian (as in reign of Queen Victoria, not State of Victoria – confusing!) buildings and imagining what it might have felt like to be a young girl, running about the streets on errands, with these massive columns and stone walls looming over you. As it turned out, I ended up setting ‘The Truth About Verity Sparks’ in London, and now that she’s in Melbourne, she’s no longer an apprentice milliner running here and there delivering hats. She and Papa Savinov live in a rented mansion on the Esplanade in St Kilda… But I can’t say too much. Soon I won’t be missing Verity, I’ll be working hard with the editor polishing bits, changing bits, tightening it up and fixing all those little clunky sentences and tiny (I hope they’re tiny!) mistakes that have crept in to the manuscript.
And in the meantime, I’m reading some of the books that are on the CBC shortlist. I just finished Kate Constable’s ‘Crow Country’. It’s a time-shift novel with a mystery at its heart. I’m not going to give an spoilers, but the way Kate Constable weaves past and present and myth together is moving, clever and very absorbing. Now I’m part way through Jackie French’s ‘Nanbery: Black Brother White’. Jackie French is amazing. I don’t know how she writes so many good books. History is obviously her passion, and she brings to life how mystifying the first English settlers must have seemed to the original inhabitants of our country. She is especially good with smells, and I loved the description of the English sailors as as ‘poor strange creatures, small and hunched over, with pale pinched faces’.
I’ve still got Emily Rodda’s ‘The Silver Door’ and John Flanagan’s ‘Brotherband; The Outcasts’ to go. Verity is in good company. I really do feel as if I’ve won already, by being shortlisted. But it’s sobering to work in a bookshop, as I do, and see that there are just so many good books being published all the time. So many books are published, and even really good ones can sink without making much a splash, so I know how lucky I am that Verity has been noticed, read and enjoyed.
And speaking of enjoyment, I was the lunch guest of the Ballarat High School Junior Book Club on Friday. It was without a doubt the nicest school visit I have ever done. The students prepared for my visit by setting the scene with posters, a special chair, a lamp with a fancy fringed shade and a bunch of violets (my favourite – who knew?) on a small table piled with copies of my book.
I was so impressed with my hosts. Not only were they lovely young people, they were smart, funny, interested, articulate – and they made this writer feel very pampered and appreciated. Many thanks to the Book Clubbers and the librarians for the special efforts that made my visit so enjoyable.