J.E. Fison is the author of the kids’ adventure series, Hazard River. The series was inspired by a family holiday on the Noosa River, but she also relies on her journal for a constant source of ideas for her adventure stories. Julie describes how newspaper stories inspired her latest adventures, Blood Money and Toads’ Revenge.
Two teenage brothers are fishing in a quiet creek near their home in northern New South Wales. There’s been some heavy rain and the creek is littered with broken branches that have washed down in the flood – nothing unusual about that, until the boys spot a plastic bag amongst the debris. It’s most likely just a bag of rubbish, but the boys decide to check it out. They can’t believe their eyes when they open the bag. It’s full of money, cold hard cash and loads of it – a total of one hundred thousand dollars in all. What an unbelievable find!
This isn’t a story I made up – it really happened to two boys in a town outside Lismore. The boys spent two weeks deciding what to do with the money, before eventually doing the right thing and handing it in to the police.
When I read this story in the newspaper a couple of years back, I knew it would make a great start to an adventure story. So, I cut it out and put it into my journal (which is more of a plastic folder than a journal). It emerged a year later on the banks of Hazard River, in the latest adventure, Blood Money.
Just like the boys in the real story, the kids at Hazard River find a bag of cash and just like the real boys they face a moral dilemma about what to do with the money. Add to this a few snakes, some troublesome meatballs and a nasty neighbour and everything is in place for a rough ride for the newly cashed-up kids of Hazard River.
Starting a journal was one of the first things I did when I began writing the Hazard River series. My journal now runs into several volumes – all choc-a-block full of news clippings on endangered animals, notes on adventure ideas and snippets of conversation I have stolen from my own children as well as strangers. There are also bus tickets, maps, plane tickets and an assortment of other souvenirs from my travels that might just come in handy for a story some day. So, when I come to write a new story, it’s just a matter of linking it all together. Well, it’s not actually that easy, but having a good source of story ideas certainly makes it easier.
I spent many years working as a news reporter before I wrote the Hazard River series and I still like to keep up to date with the news. I read the newspaper daily so I know what’s going on in the world. I also keep my eye out for strange, quirky and bizarre stories that I might be able to weave into my adventures. I tuck those stories into my journal until I need them.
In Toads’ Revenge the kids of Hazard River find themselves thrown into a nasty toad-infested new world when they accidently fire themselves into the future. Although it’s a bit of a change from the usual Hazard River stories, the idea came from the real world. Cane toads were introduced into northern Queensland to eat sugar cane beetles. Now they have spread as far south as Sydney and into Western Australia, threatening native animals and fragile wilderness areas along the way. Cane toads are poisonous and when snakes and lizards try to eat them, they die. (The keelback is one of the few snakes that can eat a baby cane toad and survive.) The super-resilient cane toads are also super breeders. Females lay up to 35,000 eggs at a time and the toads’ march across the continent is proving impossible to stop. A newspaper clipping on the cane toad inspired me to make them the bad guys in my latest adventure.
So, if you haven’t got a journal, start one today. Write down your story ideas and keep anything at all that you find interesting. You never know when that news story on the skateboarding dog or the ticket from last year’s grand final is going to come in handy. Inspiration comes from all sorts of places and there’s nothing worse than remembering you had a great idea but forgetting what it was!
Good luck with your journal and good luck with your writing!
I also get a lot of my inspiration from newspaper articles. My book, Elephant Trouble was based on a true story I read in the paper about a man who came home from work and found an elephant stuck in his driveway.
Journals are great for storing away all those great ideas that you think you will remember but often don’t.
Some authors like Sue Lawson have a journal for each book they write. My journals tend to be a mish mash of ideas with all sorts of weird bits and pieces including:
- song lyrics
- leaves and other things from nature
- scraps of material
- newspaper articles
- song names
- scraps of conversation I hear
- names of people and places
- description bites
- word prompts
- story titles I dream up
- random thoughts
Do you keep a journal? What do you put in it and how does it help you with your writing?
Feel free for sharing your thoughts and comments.