gillpolack (gillpolack) wrote,

Women's History Month: Wendy Orr

My first guest I met through another Wendy - Wendy Dunn - when Wendy Dunn invited us both to be guests at an online writing festival for schoolchildren. Jodie Foster had just been signed to appear in the film of her book, so I was prepared to be intimidated. Wendy Orr is not intimidating, it turns out. She is, however, exceptionally interesting.

There ought to be a word for the time between finishing one manuscript and starting another. (I mean apart from ‘relief’ and ‘now I really do need to get around to all those other jobs I’ve been putting off for the last year’ – which may also be the best incentive for starting a new book.)

Of course each time is different, but this time sending off the fourth book in my upcoming Rainbow Street Animal Shelter series (for the in USA), coincided with the publication of Raven’s Mountain, my new middle grade novel in Australia. (By the way, I hate the term middle grade novel: it always makes the book sound as if it got a C grade. Must get over that.) But the timing means that I’m determined to take a couple of weeks off, not just for catching up on fan mail and accountant queries, and the perennial post-deadline task of trying to find my desk, but for reflection. And not just reflection for the purposes of interviews on the new book – because honestly, who doesn’t enjoy insightful questions that help trace our pathway through a newly completed work? This writing hiatus is a time for true reflection, on why I write, and why I write what I do, and then that sudden gift of inspiration which makes everything else fade into the background, as I get the first glimpse of what I want to write next.

Well, that’s the theory, but in the middle of my tai chi class last week, I suddenly felt the beginnings of a new book. Since finishing the last proofs for Raven, last October, I’ve been playing with the idea of returning to a world that I’d created twenty years ago, when I first started writing and was still searching for my voice. I have no desire to go back to the mammoth adult manuscript that I wrote then, but the world itself is still alive for me. Travelling to India in November, for the Bookaroo Children’s Literature Festival, somehow confirmed my desire to return to this world, although I didn’t think it had much in common with the India that I saw. And then, in that dreamy tai chi state, I heard new questions about the main character, suggesting that she is totally unlike anything I had expected, and had an image of the story idea floating in soap bubbles above my head, fragile and iridescent. The image moved me to tears. (Luckily everyone else in my tai chi group is equally vague in the beginning, familiar sequences, so no one noticed that I was crying.)

The next day I saw what I thought was a small dragonfly hovering above our pond. The wings were exactly the same iridescent blue as my story idea bubbles, and I felt I had to take it as a sign. When a twitter follower identified the insect as a damselfly, I knew that it was.

On the other hand, the fragile insect flying off into the distance could also be a sign that it’s time to let Raven go. I’ve lived with her for two and a half years, and it’s hard to remember that I created her as well as her mountain and all that happens to her. She is so real to me it feels as cruel as letting a flesh and blood eleven year old out into the world alone. But perhaps that damselfly was telling me that she’s strong enough to fly. Time to let her go free, and clear out the rooms for the new damsel to move in.

Wendy Orr was born in Canada, and grew up in France, Canada and USA. After high school she studied occupational therapy in England, married an Australian farmer, and moved to Australia. They had a son and daughter, and now live on five acres of bush near the sea.

Wendy started writing seriously in 1986, with her picture book Amanda's Dinosaur. In 1993 Leaving it to You was shortlisted for the CBCA awards, junior readers; Ark in the Park won the same award in 1995. Peeling the Onion, based on a serious car accident Wendy had in 1991, was widely published internationally, with awards including the CBCA Honour Book, older readers, in 1997, and an American Library Association Book for older readers. Her book Nim’s Island has been published in 24 countries around the world. In 2008 it became a Hollywood feature film starring Jodie Foster, Abigail Breslin and Gerard Butler.

Wendy’s latest book is Raven’s Mountain an adventure novel for mid to upper primary.

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