Why “How to Bee” is creating such a buzz – PLUS great writing tips

How to Bee, the new book for readers aged 8-12 by Bren MacDibble has been creating quite a buzz in bookstores, libraries and homes … and that’s no surprise.

Dealing with a contemporary concern, the extinction of bees, the main character, Peony has such a unique voice and fierce, determined personality that she quickly draws you into her story.

I’ll be telling you more about How to Bee and my thoughts on it later, but first, Bren MacDibble has some great writing tips based on how she created this wonderful book.

BREN’S TOP WRITING TIPS

1.  The setting for How to Bee was a future world that evolved over time via facts picked up from reading articles and attending cons and listening to people speak on food security. So my tip is pay attention to interesting things, and things that are important. Nothing is more important to us right now than climate change and food security, so why not set a book in a world that shows the effects of our current direction? Kids are not deaf and blind, they worry about things like this too. A book showing possible effects of bee loss can help them think about those fears in a non-threatening way.

2. How to Bee has a very direct plot line. It’s for 8 to 12 year olds and it is tightly focussed on what the main character wants, and she drives the plot like she’s got hold of a bulldozer and can’t reach the brake. The plot pretty much just goes forwards, with a couple of pauses to catch the reader up on how things got this way. So there’s a straight path through the story, keeping the reader following, even though it’s set in a complex world they’ve never seen before.

3. How to Bee is in first person so the voice of a 9 year old girl who’s never been to school a day in her life and only lived in an orchard, can never let up. She’s the narrator. It’s in her head. It’s in her dialogue, and it’s different to the dialogue of the people around her, except the other kids on the orchard. I can’t tell her story in my voice, I’m too old and have a different vocabulary. Her vocabulary is simple and full of slang, and shaped by the children around her. Find your protagonist’s real and honest voice and use it.

4.  Likewise, her point of view can never let up. Peony is determined and strong, but she is naive. There are things about her mother, or people she doesn’t know that she can’t hope to understand, and when she guesses, she’s often wrong, and that’s okay, because it’s honest. Don’t put adult thoughts in your protagonist’s head. Be honest.

5.  Thinking about everyone in a new world, and what they might value, can add surprising details that add colour to world-building. Like that all the orchard children are named after fruit and flowers because they are what’s precious in this new world. Likewise, for the very rich, life had not changed at all. They were able to insulate themselves and afford the rising food prices, whereas middle and low income people mortgaged their homes and quickly join the ranks of homeless poor. Of course neither of these things can be said from the point of view of a child narrator, but they are shown to a point and left to the observant reader to figure out. When Peony meets Esmeralda, one of the first things she says is, “What kind of name is that?” You or I might think Peony, Pomegranate, and Mangojoy are strange names but in this world, the name Peony thinks is strange is the old name of Esmeralda. There should be a logical flow-on to the whole world if values change.

WHY I LOVED “HOW TO BEE”

Peony lives with her sister and grandfather on a fruit farm outside the city. Real bees are extinct, and the quickest, bravest kids climb the fruit trees and pollinate the flowers by hand.

Sometimes bees get too big to be up in the branches, sometimes they fall and break their bones. This week both happened and Foreman said, ‘Tomorrow we’ll find two new bees.’

Peony’s greatest wish is to be one of them … but nothing is ever certain in her world.

In How to Bee, author Bren MacDibble has taken us so deeply into this world of the future, that as readers we feel we are truly part of it.

We desperately want things to work out for Peony, but when her mother takes her off to the city, we know there’s going to be trouble ahead.

In spite of her fierce dislike of living in the ‘urbs’, Peony forms a friendship with rich city girl Esmeralda that transforms both their lives.

Peony’s voice is so strong and unique that you can hear her in your head and picture her as if she were standing in front of you..

“I wrap my body around it like I am the tree and the tree is me, and hang on.”

There’s plenty of action in How to Bee, but it also has vulnerable sensitive moments that allow the reader to reflect on Peony and her situation and empathise with her story.

How to Bee is sad and poignant and joyous and life affirming all at once.

Peony deals with some difficult realities in How to Bee, but many children have hardship in their lives. Some will relate, others will gain greater understanding by sharing Peony’s journey. All will admire her resilience.

How to Bee is a story of love and hope. It’s about the things you can’t choose in your life, and the choices you can make.

It’s impossible not to fall in love with Peony. With her grit and determination, her hard edges, her courage and her capacity to love.

How to Bee is a great read for anyone who likes strong, unique characters, an original plot and a story world that’s so real and fascinating that you want to stay in it.

How to Bee is published by Allen & Unwin.

Michelle Morgan’s Tips on Writing Historical YA

morgan-michelle-head-shotToday, I’m pleased to welcome Michelle Morgan. Michelle is sharing her writing tips on how she wrote her second historical YA novel, Flying through Clouds, released in April.

Michelle’s first novel Racing the Moon, was published by Allen & Unwin in 2014, and released in the UK and US in 2015. Four of her plays have been performed in Short Play festivals in Sydney, Newcastle and Armidale. She has also co-written several songs with her husband, Luke. You can find out more about Michelle and her writing on her website.

ABOUT FLYING THROUGH THE CLOUDS

It’s not easy being a teenage boy growing up in the tough neighbourhood of Glebe in the 1930s. It’s even harder when your dream is to become an aviator, your parents are dead against it, and your girlfriend’s father is the School Principal. But Joe has even bigger challenges he must face and obstacles to overcome if he wants to achieve his dream. He has a plan and won’t let anyone stand in his way.

ftc-front-cover

MICHELLE’S WRITING TIPS

5 tips for writing an historical YA novel – How Michelle wrote Flying through Clouds

  1. Inspiration is the starting point –  I was inspired to write Flying through Clouds by two historical events – the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in March 1932, and the landing and take-off of Southern Cross by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith on Seven Mile Beach in January 1933. Before writing a word, I immersed myself in research. I read books about aviators, the Depression and Australia in the 1930s, and watched videos, listened to podcasts, visited museums and searched for old photographs and newspaper articles.
  2. Develop a multi-dimensional main character and a support cast of interesting secondary characters – I often use dialogue to reveal character. My enthusiasm for dialogue springs from my love of theatre and playwriting. In Flying through CloudsI explore Joe’s journey through adolescence and his relationships with his family and friends. To do this, I had to develop secondary characters and themes that would resonate with readers today.
  3. Build tension and create conflict – I put obstacles in Joe’s way and explore his reactions. But Joe also has agency and his plan to become an aviator isn’t as easy as he first thought. He has to make choices, sometimes bad choices, which inevitably lead to conflict with other characters. And there’s no story without conflict. When writing for young adults, it’s important to have a strong narrative.
  4. Develop a distinctive voice –  I chose to write Flying through Clouds in the first person from Joe’s point of view. I wanted readers to be able to experience the world of the 1930s through Joe’s eyes, to be accomplices in all his well-intentioned but poor choices. But the first person also has its limitations because the narrator can’t possibly know everything that’s going on around them or inside the heads of other characters. It was challenging to develop the voice, behaviour and personality of a teenage boy growing up in the 1930s. I read widely but also observed significant males in my life, and dug deep to find the rebellious teenager within. Apart from developing Joe’s voice, I had to develop personalities and behaviours for all my characters.
  5. Thorough editing is critical – In the two years it took to edit Flying through Clouds, I evaluated and interrogated every scene. What impact it has? How credible is it? Will it drive the story forward and develop the characters? Each turning point in the novel had to come at just the right time and create tension, as well as propel the story towards the climax. Critical feedback from professional editors is crucial to developing a manuscript towards publication, and I was fortunate to work with two talented editors. A structural edit led to a much tighter plot and a reduced word count. The copy edit a year later picked up problems with grammar, style, voice, punctuation and minor inconsistencies in the text. The copy edit also inspired me to further develop the voice and characterisations.

Michelle hopes that Flying through Clouds engages readers with its compelling blend of humour, drama and historical detail.

Flying through Clouds is available now at bookshops, educational and library suppliers, and can be ordered on my website: www.michellejmorgan.com.au

 

AUTHOR: Michelle Morgan
TITLE: Flying through Clouds
ISBN: 978-0-9953865-0-1
CATEGORY: Young Adult
AGES: 12+
RRP: $18.99 Pbk
PUBLISHED: 2 April 2017

Teachers notes for Flying through Clouds are available here

 

The Final Stop

I’m very happy to be back home with my family and friends, but I have to confess that I miss Paris already. 
The original plan was to head straight back to Australia, but seeing as I was flying Qatar Airways, it seemed too good an opportunity not to stay a night in Doha, and have a look around.

Doha offered an opportunity to enjoy a completely different cultural experience in a Muslim country with some similarities in lifestyle to what my characters would have experienced at the Grand Mosque of Paris.  

In contrast to the bustle and noise of Paris, Doha was a calm and disciplined place … and very hot. 

Instead of the blue skies of a European spring, there was heat haze and afternoon siestas. Not for me though. I only had a day in Doha so I had to make the most of it. I intended to visit the traditional Arab market at Souq Waquif, but it was closed between 12.00 noon and 4.00pm which made sense because it was the hottest part of the day. 

So instead, I spent the afternoon in the Museum of Islamic Art, a truly beautiful and fascinating place. 

The sculptures, paintings and artifacts dated back many hundreds of years. It was amazing to see how intricate and perfect they were in spite of the primitive tools the artisans would have had at their disposal.

It made me realise how lucky I am to be a writer … how simple it is to just pick up a pen and write … whenever and wherever you are. 

The people of Qatar were warm and friendly, and wandering, through the market at Souq Waquif (after 4.00pm) made me feel like I was going back in time. 

It was a symbolic end to this writing journey, a slight detour that took me into an unfamiliar world that was definitely worth visiting, and the experience will add colour and depth to my story.

Thank you for sharing this amazing adventure with me, and for your encouragement and support along the way.

I am so lucky to have been given this opportunity and I know that my book, Beyond Belief will be all the better for it.

Happy writing 🙂

Dee

A Different Perspective

Sometimes, instead of looking at things in the cold light of day, it can be good to look at them in the darkness of night. 

My characters in my book will be travelling up the Seine in the thick of night, in freezing cold waters with soldiers looking for them.

My characters will be in waters like these

I know being on a cruise boat isn’t quite the same thing, but I decided to take a cruise to experience the sights sounds and smells of the river at night.

I sat up front in the open so I could breathe in the atmosphere.

The humming of the boat’s motor, the smell of the water, the swish of waves against the hull, the shouts of voices from the river bank.

A place takes on a whole different personna at night.

Seasons and time of day really make a difference to pace and mood of a story so I’d certainly recommend standing (or sitting) in your story world at different times to experience how the setting changes.

Hope you enjoy my Paris at night pics. 

Happy writing 🙂

Dee

This project is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria 

A Writer Must Always Be Open to Possibilities

People are inherently good and kind, and if you are interested and open to knowledge and the experiences they are willing to share, you can learn so much about them, about humanity and about the world.

So many times on this trip, people have reached out to help me with my research for Beyond Belief. The people of Paris wherever we have been have been truly welcoming and wonderful.

Today, we were walking through the Marais district when a very kind Jewish man stopped us, and asked if I was Jewish.

I explained that my Jewish grandparents fled Austria in WW2 with my father (who was a teenager) and came to Australia where I was born. But as I told him, I was not raised as a Jew although I have cousins who were.

He had been in Paris for five years and was very happy to talk to me about his world.

I explained that I had been having trouble finding my way into a synagogue, but I was very interested to see inside one, and learn about it. Although I had been in a newer, much grander synagogue with my lovely guide Laetitia, it was only a very short visit and I wasn’t able to take photos or ask questions.

“Come, I will show you my synagogue,” he said proudly. 

He led us into ‘the 17’, a building up several flights of narrow stairs and the oldest synagogue in Paris.

Located at number 17 Rue de Rossiers (Rosebushes Street), the synagogue dates back to the 17th century when Jews were not allowed, if they could ever afford it, to build a monumental place of worship. 

Even during the black period of WW2 this synagogue remained open, and those of the congregation who survived the death camps, sought comfort there upon their return. 

It was such an honour to be invited inside this historic place … and to witness this man’s love for his people, his God and for humanity.

Another wonderful experience that I know will add richness to my story.

I’m going to miss Paris and its people and all the wonderful culture and experiences it has to offer.

But I will definitely be back … and I already have ideas for a new story … set in Paris 🙂

Happy writing 🙂

Dee

This project is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria 

 

Full Circle

As my research trip to Paris enters its last week *sob*, I’ve been reflecting on what an amazing experience this has been.

I also have to pinch myself. I wanted to be a writer since I was seven years-old, and here I am in Paris researching for a book I’m writing. The kind of book I always wanted to write about truth and history and humanity.

I have met so many wonderful people here, heard stories that are ‘beyond belief’ and enjoyed blue Parisian skies almost every day. 

I’ve been into a mosque, a synagogue and a church. I’ve been humbled by the kindness of people and their willingness to help me with my story.

My new Parisian friend, Laetitia

I emailed the sewer tour people at des égouts de Paris to let them know I would be in Paris doing research for a book. And they have been truly amazing. They organised an English speaking guide, Laetitia who was so kind and so interested in my story.

After my tour of the sewers, she gave me a day of her time to help with my research, acting as a personal interpreter and guide. She speaks French, English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Arabic and her assistance was invaluable. I could never have uncovered the information and stories that I did without her.

I will be leaving Paris having made a true friend.

Being in Paris, researching a book I’m passionate about has been a dream come true. I’ve been so lucky with the people who have supported me in this … my long-suffering husband, research assistant, translator and all round wonderful guy, Michael.

And it was serendipitous to catch up with my Year 10 English teacher, Jenny Cosh, who just happened to be in Paris at the same time.

She was the one who believed in me and encouraged my writing career from when I was in high school, when becoming a writer was being actively discouraged at home because  ‘writing wasn’t a real job’.

Here I am living the writer’s dream … and I have been able to share it with the English teacher who encouraged me to have that dream. How lucky am I? How great are English teachers? For me, catching up with Jenny felt like things had come full circle.

It’s funny how important people in your life can turn up in the most unexpected places.

Has this ever happened to you on your writing journey?

Another big research day today, but more about that later.

Happy writing 🙂

Dee

This project is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria 

Paris Secrets

I’m sad about what has happened in this beautiful city over recent days.

Paris is such an amazing place and there are so many picture postcard views and sights, wonderful people and opportunities to experience the diverse culture.

But it’s still a city like any other. There are well told tales and events in history, but you can walk past places and not even realise there are stories buried deep beneath the stonework, events that are now just a remnant in the ground.

Exploring history takes you to many distant and dark places, but it also reveals great tales of courage and hope.

Vélodrome d’Hiver

On 16 and 17 July 1942, 4,115 children, 2,916 women and 1,129 men were arrested and kept at Vélodrome d’Hiver in inhumane conditions by the Vichy government police, on the orders of the Nazi occupiers. They were later deported to Auschwitz where they were murdered.

Apartment building on the old site of the Vélodrome d’Hiver

Vélodrome d’Hiver, july 1942
source photo : Yad Vashem Photo Archive
crédit photo : D.R

The Grand Mosque of Paris

Behind these walls, in the sanctuary of this tranquil place, many Jewish lives were saved. The Jews who came or were brought here were given food and shelter. They were provided with fake documents marked ‘Muslim’ so they would not be harmed by the Vichy government police.

This was a spontaneous act of humanity by the Muslims who lived at the mosque, and the Muslims of France. People who acted simply because they cared about other human beings regardless of race or religion.

… if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.” – Quran 5:32

The Vel D’Hiv Roundup

Behind this door, the lists were produced of Jews – men, women and children to be arrested and deported.

The Resistance

This peaceful marketplace was once the scene of torture for members of the Resistance.

Three doctors at this hospital risked their lives to provide members of the Resistance with medical supplies and treatment.

The Synagogue

Behind these doors is a beautiful temple of worship for people of the Jewish faith.

According the smiling lady who kindly allowed us to see inside, people slept at this synagogue during WW11 to protect it from harm.

Paris is a city throbbing with people and life. A city with so much history, beauty and sadness.

It’s a city rich with layers and inspiration for writers and other artists.

It’s a city well worth exploring beyond The Louvre, The Eiffel Tower and other popular places.

Being here is certainly enriching my understanding and adding layers of meaning to my story.

Happy writing and researching 🙂

Dee

This project is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria