After almost three years the play has arrived!
Taken outside the Arts Centre last Monday with Felix Ching Ching Ho, myself and Matt Edgerton
The email that began this incredible journey –
I’m the Artistic Director of Barking Gecko Theatre Company, based in Perth, and I’m writing to enquire about the possibility of adapting A Ghost in my Suitcase for the stage. Our company has a strong history of adapting books for stage productions, including Sean Tan and John Marsden’s The Rabbits (Co-pro with Opera Australia), which won 4 Helpmann Awards in 2015, and Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy (Co-pro with Sydney Theatre Company) which has toured nationally in 2013 and 2015. This is a short clip of the company’s recent work.
I’ve been looking high and low for a great story for the 8 – 12 age group and just came across A Ghost in my Suitcase and I feel it’s going to make a terrific play. It’s a genuinely gripping and moving story with so many layers. I love the family history, the honest depiction of loss, the exciting exploration of cultural customs through the supernatural, the awesome female lead character and the sheer edge-of-the-seat fantasy. I think young people will love it. And a strong female protagonist with Chinese ancestry is really wonderful to put on stage, considering how many stories for young people have anglo boys at the centre of them.
Helen, our CEO handles the logistics of commissioning/royalties etc. but I’d love to have an initial chat with you to see what you think. Please let me know if you’re interested in discussing this further.
I also just read The Wishbird today, which is a beautiful novel as well.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Matt Edgerton Artistic Director
Barking Gecko Theatre Company
In my 19 year writing career this would rate as the one of the highlights. The first being an email from Julie Watts who was publisher at Penguin Books Australia telling me that my first novel The Garden of Empress Cassia had been accepted for publication.
To have one’s novel made into a play or a movie is an author’s dream.
The Process – the creative development sessions
In June 2016 I spent four incredible days with the Barking Gecko team – Co-Artistic Directors, Matt Edgerton and Felix Ching Ching Ho, Playwright, Vanessa Bates and set and costume designer, Zoe Bates.
Top left to right – Vanessa Bates (playwright), Matt Edgerton (co-artistic director),
Bottom left to right – Zoe Atkinson (set and costume design), me and Felix Ching Ching Ho (co-artistic director)
We had a mirrored room in the Arts Centre and over four solid eight-hour days we analysed every part of the novel, breaking down each main character, their actions and underlying motives, where the conflict lay, (because in theatre there needs to be conflict in every scene), the major ghost fighting scenes, the main character, Celeste’s epiphanies, her arc and her protagonist, Ting Ting’s arc. I brought in some texts to share on Daoism as this philosophy underpins a lot of my work. One of the best is Ursula K Le Guin’s interpretation called Lao Tzu : Tao Te Ching : A Book About the Way and the Power of the Way.
Sometimes I had to pinch myself to think that we were discussing a story that I had imagined and in such depth.
Each day we began with me reading from the Tao Te Ching while everyone lay on the floor. Then I showed them some taiqi exercises.
Unpacking the novel
Matt stuck up A2 sheets with headings and we all went around the room filling in these sheets with things from the book. It was such a clever way to unpack the novel.
Felix trying the new trick of absorbing the novel through her head.
Here are some sample sheets.
I discovered some surprising insights through this process. For example I never realised that all the ghosts that I had created were male. It certainly was not intentional. Another discovery was how boxes play such a big part in the story. And also rain and water and mud.
I came out of the four days realising that much of writing fiction is intuitive. Our subconscious is making small but important connections that the writer is not aware of.
For me that was the most important thing I learned. Trust your intuition. You may not realise why you’re including a certain element but in the bigger context it can be meaningful and thereby add depth to your story.
It was in these sessions too, that I found how much Ting Ting, one of the antagonists needed a story of her own. She had so many problems to work through, she was perfect as a heroine.
And so I wrote the sequel, Ting Ting the Ghosthunter which was published last month.
Notes made in the creative development sessions
I have included these because some authors maybe interested to know how plays are developed.
WHAT IMAGES STAND OUT IN YOUR MIND?
In all plays this is how they break down the story
What drives the character through the story?
A Ghost in My Suitcase – Celeste’s (protagonist) super objective is self actualisation, to find happiness, completeness
Ting Ting’s (antagonist) super objective is to find family, a place to belong
Por Por’s (guardian) super objective is to be responsible for the power she was given, to find a worthy person to take over
The thing the character is fighting for
A Ghost in My Suitcase – Celeste’s play objective – To find her own rooted sense of self and with a future she can believe in. Uncovering her essential self, her nature.
What are the obstacles that stand in Celeste’s way?
Celeste has to journey alone, lack of knowledge of being a ghost hunter, being a stranger in Shanghai, against a powerful ghost, culture shock
Ting Ting’s play objective is to find family and love, to get things back to the way they were
What are the obstacles that stand in her way?
Fear that Por Por doesn’t love her
Arrival of Celeste, rivalry
Thinks she is being replaced
Por Por’s play objective is preparing Celeste to let go of her mother
What the character is fighting for in each scene
Our next get together was a trip to China two years ago exactly. How do I know this? Because it came up today in my Facebook timeline. Matt, Felix and I travelled for ten days to Shanghai and surrounding water towns.
I was lucky to be invited along as cultural consultant.
Planning the day
This is the house where we stayed in Suzhou. We chose it because it was very similar to Bao Mansion in the novel.
And this was my bed, a traditional Chinese bed. I felt like a princess.
So now, finally the day has come.
The World Premiere of the play will be performed tonight for the Melbourne International Arts Festival at the Arts Centre. I could not be prouder.
This is a technical rehearsal. Matt and Felix are making notes. Amanda Ma who plays Por Por is in action.
Voice and body warm up.
Inside the Arts Centre. How lovely to discover a huge poster.
Taken on the outside of the Arts Centre. Three tourists were walking by and noticed the poster. One of them read out aloud, ‘A Ghost in My Suitcase’. And I said, ‘That’s the play of my book. I wrote that. Would you mind taking a photo?’
The advertisement is even travelling all over the city on the Melbourne trams. How iconic. Friends keep sending me photos which I love them for.
This is what I embroidered to wear tonight. Tigers are my favourite animals.
If you read this blog post before October 21 which is the closing night, you can still purchase tickets for the play Here
I can’t wait to see my book come to life through these amazing creatives and actors.
From left to right, Ching Ching Ho, Amanda Ma (Por Por), Alice Keohavong (Celeste), Matt Edgerton, Imanual Dado (ensemble), Yilin Kong (Ting Ting), Frieda Lee (ensemble).
I know a lot of people are going so see you there!
Thank you to everyone who entered A Ghost in My Suitcase colouring competition. There were 35 entries and they were all fantastic!
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE PRIZE WINNERS!
Aditi 10 years old from NSW
I loved the fine detail Aditi put into her drawing. The colours are lovely and vibrant. The whole painting gives the viewer a happy feeling inside.
Congratulations Aditi, you have won a signed fine art print and a personally signed copy of A Ghost in My Suitcase
It was very hard to pick just ONE runner up. As I couldn’t decide I chose 5.
Congratulations Thom, Valentina, Milia, Yasmin and Alicia.
You have all won a personally signed copy of A Ghost in My Suitcase.
Thom 8 years old Vic
Valentina 8 years old WA
Milia 9 years old WA
Yasmin 12 years old Vic
Alicia 10 years old Vic
Happy drawing everyone!
To celebrate the World Premiere of the play at the Playhouse Theatre Melbourne and a new cover for A Ghost in My Suitcase, I am holding a colouring competition for 7 – 12 year olds.
A signed fine art print plus a personally signed copy of A Ghost in My Suitcase.
A personally signed copy of A Ghost in My Suitcase plus 4 tickets to see the show in Melbourne.
CONDITIONS OF ENTRY
For 7 – 12 year olds.
THE WINNING ENTRY will be judged on its inventiveness and imagination.
Don’t copy my colours, make up your own colour scheme. Decorate the trees with your own patterns.
To download the A4 black and white sheet click on the link below.
WHAT TO DO NEXT
When you have finished, take a photo of your coloured drawing, please make this as clear as possible. Then email your photo to me : email@example.com
Don’t forget to include your Name, Age and Address.
Midnight AEST Sunday August 19
GOOD LUCK AND HAPPY COLOURING!
Travelling is an essential part of being a writer and illustrator.
There is travelling for research which I do often. For example while researching the bombing of Darwin during World War Two for the Our Australian Girl Pearlie series, I spent a week there feeling it, smelling it, getting an idea of the lay of the land and its people.
Then there is travelling to a new place to gather ideas. I may not have a project in mind but by being away the sparks certainly fly. Everything is new, the brain is open to ideas because there is none of the usual daily routine that tends to numb the mind.
The other thing I love about travelling is that I get a lot of work done. No washing, cooking, walking the dog etc. No housework!
On my recent trip to Hawaii I nutted out the main character for a picture book that I’m working on which would have taken me much longer if I had been at home.
Apart from the excitement of experiencing in person the erupting Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island, it was great to see the landscape on other islands as well. Each one has its own personality. The Hawaiians attribute the eruption to Pele, Goddess of Fire and Volcanoes. They honour Pele and even those whose homes have been destroyed by the lava flow, accept it as Pele’s will. I love that about the Hawaiian culture which is so closely tied with honouring Nature.
As my new middle grade novel, Ting Ting the Ghosthunter has just gone to press, (the publication day is September 2), I was able to only think about illustrating. And I couldn’t imagine a more idyllic place than Hawaii to paint. Picture this: sketching in a comfy cane armchair on the verandah of a plantation style cottage with cats and wild chickens to keep you company, no flies, mosquitoes, snakes or spiders, just a few clucking geckoes and the music of the waves in the background.
Waimea plantation cottages was the perfect place to relax and just paint and think.
Sketchbook painting of rats in the ginger
Painting in my sketchbook from life.
More rats in the ginger using a different style.
The cats that came to visit.
I couldn’t resist giving them a bit of milk even though they were well-fed.
My comfy illustrating armchair on the verandah.
Painting on the Big Island at a table on the balcony overlooking a beautiful bay with palm trees swaying gently.
This is the endangered Nene Goose whose numbers have been devastated by the introduction of rats and then mongoose to control the rats in the sugar plantations. The only problem was rats and mongoose are active at different times of the day.
Drinking a Margarita in the bar and sketching the people walking by.
I don’t know about you, but when the mind is at rest as it is while travelling, breakthroughs can occur. And so it was for me while walking the beach in Waimea. I realised I need to think about character, the character of a single line, the character of inanimate objects like buildings and cars. Of course trees already have their own personality which is something I learned when I studied Chinese painting. It reminds me to take care with every mark I make when I paint.
One of the highlights of our trip was seeing Kilauea and its eruptions. We stayed in the tiny township of Volcano which is only 3 miles from the summit of Kilauea. There were 30 earthquakes an hour when we were there which increased to 40 after we left. Most of them we couldn’t feel. It was when they were of 5.3 magnitude that we felt a “little” nervous.
Our cottage in Volcano. Funnily enough the skies were clear on the volcano side of the island. The winds had blown all the smoke across to the west side.
It was surreal eating on the verandah of Kaleo’s Bar and Grill and listening to live jazz as we watched the plumes of steam from the lava as it made its way to the sea only 2 miles away.
Then as dusk came, the sky grew redder and redder, the lava reflecting off the clouds.
That was one of the highlights of our trip. I won’t be surprised if, in the future, a volcano will appear in one of my novels.
I will finish this post with my favourite photo.
A loan surfer waiting for a wave while a purple dragon cloud floats in the sky.
And a picture of Hero on our first walk together since I’ve been home.
It has always been on my wish-list to attend the Bologna Children’s Book Fair while at the same time continue learning Italian, so in March this year that’s what I did.
I booked via Airbnb, a one bedroom apartment in S. Petronio Vecchio, a lovely quiet colonnaded street 15 minutes from Piazza Maggiore the main square in the centre of Bologna. It was a light-filled top-floor apartment with views over the red tiled rooftops of the old town.
There were many things to like about my little home away from home. For one it was out of the tourist centre. It had great natural and overhead lighting which was especially good for illustrating. There were books in almost every room, and balconies, lots of them.
Also, it was very close to a mini mart which sold lovely fresh fruit and vegetables. The fruit and vegetables in Bologna tasted like they used to when I was a kid! I like cooking when I’m away so having a grocery store close by is important. Italian spinach is my new favourite vegetable and as we have a veggie garden, I found the same brand of Italian seeds sold in Bologna online from an Australian supplier. I’m looking forward to having lots of delicious home grown spinach this winter.
Bologna is a city of culture. It has the oldest university in Europe founded in 1088. Many of the museums were once university buildings.
Being a university town, students are everywhere. It was graduation time. Graduating students wear fresh laurel wreaths on their heads and walk around the old town with family and friends. It is such a lovely tradition.
The region is also famous for its food like Parmigiana Reggiano cheese, Parma prosciutto, Modena balsamic vinegar and Barilla pasta.
THE LANGUAGE SCHOOL
For anyone wanting to study Italian, I cannot recommend Madrelingua highly enough. The teachers were wonderful, and fun, which is an important part of language learning especially when it comes to Italian grammar. What’s more the school is conveniently located in the middle of the old town close to Azzoguidi tower on the left in the photo below.
Four hours of class each day for two weeks improved my language skills ten fold. I even felt confident enough to go into shops and try out what I’d learnt. I did test out some words for real though when I had my wallet stolen on the bus. Words like thief, credit card, drivers license and wallet came in handy at the police station.
Bologna Children’s Book Fair had its 55th year. It just goes to show how important children’s books are all around the world.
According to the International Publishers Association there were –
1,278 exhibitors, 24,038 sqm of exhibition area, 26,000 visitors and more than 100 countries represented.
China was 2018 guest of honour.
The fair takes place over four days but by Thursday morning, quite a number of stands have already packed up. The fair finishes around 2.30 on that day.
My first day was spent getting my bearings.
There are 5 halls and each one is huge. In the end it’s about being selective. Apart from the various appointments I had lined up, I made sure I saw the Illustrators’ Exhibition and visited my publisher Penguin Random House Australia. I also visited the SCBWI stand who do a great job internationally supporting children’s authors and illustrators.
Hello! from Australia stand run by Ann James and Ann Haddon of Books Illustrated was my home base.
This year, the Hello! From Australia stand combined with 13 independent Australian publishers: Affirm Press, Allen & Unwin, Berbay Publishing, EC Press, EK Books, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, Little Pink Dog Books, Magabala Books, Melbournestyle Books, MidnightSun Publishing, Quirky Kid, Scribble and Windy Hollow Books.
For the week of the fair, I shared an apartment with the lovely ladies in the photo above. We stayed right in the heart, in Via Clavature, a charming laneway off Piazza Maggiore.
I was one of the Australian illustrators who took part on the Creators’ Table.
I thought I’d be nervous painting in front of people, but it was fun. Someone remarked how mesmerising it is to watch someone paint. I think that’s exactly the right word.
The other illustrators on this year’s Creators’ Table were:
Lee Burgemeestre, Mike Dumbleton, Gus Gordon, Bronwyn Houston, Ann James, Jedda Robaard, Anne Ryan, Owen Swan, Kori Song
One thing about being on the Creators’ Table is the pleasure of meeting people from all over the world. Many I discovered were Italian primary school teachers who come every year. How lucky are they? Others were illustrators or people in education. The publishers and agents are too busy with appointments and don’t have time to walk around.
THE ILLUSTRATORS WALL
As you come through the front entrance of the fair there are walls filled with illustrators’ business cards, postcards and posters. It’s a place to put up a little piece of yourself. You never know what might come out of it.
THE ILLUSTRATORS’ EXHIBITION
One thing not to miss is the Illustrators’ Exhibition.
Here are some of my favourite illustrations.
The fair is about 30 minutes by bus from the old centre. There are special buses for fair goers in the morning which can be caught from the bus stop outside Zara in Via Indipendenza, the main street of Bologna. At the end of the day these buses are also available. Otherwise Bus Number 28 will take you there but be careful of pickpockets especially if the bus is crowded. They come into the Bologna specifically to pick the pockets of tourists and fair goers. The bus driver warned us in Italian and in English about pickpockets as we boarded the bus. I should have paid more attention to the warning. So watch your bags on buses and in the fair too.
Is it worth going? Definitely. If I was solely a children’s author, I’m not sure what I would have gained professionally though. After all it’s a fair for publishers and agents to make book deals. For illustrators it is indeed inspiring. The picture book is alive and well.
I’m already thinking of going again next year especially now that I’ve found a great language school.
Maybe I’ll see you there!
Here’s a delightful video which will give you a taste of the 2018 fair.
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This is a diagram showing the process each of my major novels go through – from spark, to birth, to crisis/self-doubt, to calm, to completion. What will never change is that dreadful moment of crisis and self-doubt. My mind goes through mental torture at that stage. But then I push through that and get to work again.
Who knows? Maybe that crisis is a necessary part in the whole creation process.
What a fun weekend us illustrators had at Anne Spudvilas’ place on the Murray. The River House was the perfect setting to share ideas, relax and illustrate. Anne gave us a workshop where we made a concertina book on watercolour paper.
Here’s the finished book laid out to dry in the sun.
So I’ll now show you the process.
Here are some of the leaves we used. They are from trees in the garden.
We folded watercolour paper into a book and inserted leaves between the pages.
Then we put the books between tiles and clamped them while we bound them tightly with twine.
Then into the boiling copper it goes.
After 24 hours it was ready for the unveiling.
I’ve removed most of the leaves in this photo and am about to take off that green leaf top left. The patterns and colours left behind are amazing. This was such an exciting moment. My face shows it all.
Anne runs the River House as an Airbnb. I stayed in the Airbnb room and it’s great. Very private and even has its own entrance and balcony where you can sit and watch the bird life and the lazy Murray River go by.
Anne on our walk to show us where the Darling and the Murray meet.
Farah Kausar and myself at Minaret College. I received so many hugs from the children after my talk it was lovely.
Visiting schools during Children’s Book Week which falls in August is an essential part of being an author and illustrator. I love meeting my young readers and spending the time in the school libraries.
I would like to use this post to thank the teachers, librarians and the students who made me feel so welcome.
The school community is always so generous.
Thank you to:
Balwyn North Primary School (Victoria)
Kingscote Area School (Kangaroo Island SA)
Parndana Campus (Kangaroo Island SA)
Penneshaw Campus (Kangaroo Island SA)
Linden Park Primary School (SA)
Campbelltown Library (SA)
East Marden Primary School (SA)
East Torrens Primary School (SA)
St Aloysius College (SA)
Mount Carmel College (Tasmania)
Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar (Vic)
Korowa Girls’ School (Vic)
Minaret College (Vic)
De La Salle College (Vic)
Serpell Primary School (Vic)
Luther College (Vic)
St Columbus College (Vic)
In appreciation I gave each library an “I love my library” poster.
Last Sunday I attended the Historical Novel Society of Australia Conference at Swinburne. I was on a panel with fellow authors, Felicity Pulman, Wendy Orr, Pamela Rushby and Alan Tucker. We discussed the very important question of why we write for children rather than adults.
My answer to that is – why would I write for any other group of readers? It is in primary school that we discover our love of reading and books. For me it was The Magic Faraway Tree and the Secret Seven. I owe so much to Enid Blyton.
It was fun catching up with fellow authors. From left to right, Wendy Orr, Pamela Freeman, Janeen Brian, Sheryl Gwyther, Lorraine Marwood and Claire Saxby.
To finish, here is a happy pic of Billy and Maru who live on Kangaroo Island with my childhood friend, Wendy.
This giveaway is to celebrate school and public libraries throughout Australia.
Librarians and libraries need all the support we can give them so I made this poster for them.
If you are a library and would like a poster to hang on the wall please email me and I will send you one, two or four if you like.
I will have to charge for cost of printing, packaging and postage though.
The Posters are A3 in size and cost $2.60 each plus postage and packaging.
It has been a tumultuous few months with the death of my lovely mum who was 92 years old.
She lived a long and healthy life, and an exciting one too. You can read her adventures in my YA novel Little Paradise .
Mum’s secret to longevity she said was to laugh a lot and have a good sense of humour.
My mother also had an amazing mind in that she was extremely open minded and kept up with technology. She had the latest Mac, was on Facebook and Instagram and even posted Gifs from her hospital bed.
She surrounded herself with young people which I believe also kept her young at heart.
I love this photo of my parents taken in Melbourne in the early 1940’s with their whole lives ahead of them.
I have learned a lot from her and I hope I can carry on her wisdom through my books and my art.