Sunshine, rain and rainforest backdropped the inaugural Sunshine Writer’s Retreat in Montville. With air thinner than the finest mist, many a kindred spirit met. Our Masterclass presenters generously shared their writing adventures, including faux pas.
Picture Book Author & Illustrator, Peter Carnavas gave us permission to daydream through our writing room window. A window as a portal to outside — to anywhere. And as you daydream, look, see, observe… the detail. Next, what can’t you see… behind that leaf, under that sill, in the mailbox? Daydreaming relaxes the mind, calms and frees us to imagine, create and write. Peter read the poem, ‘Monday’ by Billy Collins, which again showed the value of daydreaming through a window. From that, he focussed on his three favourite lines — minimal use of adjectives, yet ‘beautiful verbs’.
- a bird grasping a thin branch, (not holding onto)
- the headlight of a taxi rounding a corner, (not around)
- those two boys in wool caps angling across the street. (not walking)
For poets, as for authors and illustrators, daydreaming is as essential as our pencil, paper, tea/coffee, laptop, dog/cat, time, space etc.,
As a musician, Peter uses music to place himself in the right frame for writing. While his books are full of hope, he likes to explore how something can be sad and beautiful at the same time. To illustrate this, he played the song ‘Bear’, while showing the lyrics, from Melbourne contemporary folk musician Paddy Mann of Grand Salvo, from their Death album. Then he played 10-second sound bites for us to listen, visualise, write. He said no matter how silly – write, otherwise ‘you’ll never write down the perfect sentence in one go’. When Peter worked on The Elephant’ he’d play a chord progression over and over before he wrote — to create mood.
Chunks of Time
To write, Peter preferred chunks of writing time, which was one of the hardest things writers found difficult to find. His tip was to schedule it, otherwise the book would remain unwritten.
Picture Book Process
He shared his process of creating a picture book. He usually starts with a story and the character follows. He thinks of an idea, writes the story (max 500), transfers it to a storyboard (similar to a comic strip with 32 page layout), then works on the roughs on the storyboard using word and illustration narratives. He showed us his folder for each book including the final paintings. In-between all the stages was the reviewing and editing process, then sending it to beta readers and editor for review. It takes about two years to publication. However, with The Elephant he had been playing with illustrations and story for five years.
Secret to Write Picture Books
When Peter learned to write picture books he buried himself in good quality books. He used to read reviews from the Magpies Magazine and CBCA Reading Time. Then he’d find the books in the library and breakdown what the authors did to make their books work.
Write stories that resonate with you, things you’re passionate about, anything you’re interested in i.e., birds, trucks, sports, anything different.Trace Balla won the Picture Book of the Year with Rockhopping. Her passion has been sketching nature and the outdoors which she channels into her kids’ book.
To gain ideas for stories, look, listen, observe. Peter’s book ideas came from the news, a conversation with a friend in Tokyo, books (Burke and Wills, Affluenza by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss), a news article, a picture. The Boy on the Page came from ‘not having an idea’. ‘I wanted the character to land on the page.’
Draw the Penguin
Yes, Peter encouraged us to draw the penguin. There were many different versions — easily identified as penguins, “because we are all different’‘ (Leigh Hobbs, 2016/2017 Australian Children’s Laureate). Putting on our illustrator hats allowed us to consider the penguin’s story from the author’s narrative. ( Raelene Purtill’s post also talks about the infamous penguin drawing session during our Retreat.)
Write Your Story
When Peter writes, he thinks about the story he wants to write — not about the kids. While he says it may seem selfish, he was a kid also. He specified that children’s picture books were ‘no lesser form’. And as an adult author, writing for kids showed respect for the picture book art form as ‘important and powerful as any other story telling medium’.
Many teachers will attest, a child’s first and earliest reading experiences will help form their perception of the world. Such is the underestimated power of the picture book. Children will always remember being read that special book way into their adulthood – not vice versa.
Perched 400m (1312 feet) above sea level, annual rainfall 1709mm (67.3 inches) and population appx 886 (Census 2011).
Peter Carnavas books are available from publisher New Frontier Publishing and any good bookstores.
Facebook: Peter Carnavas Author/Illustrator
Blog Relay – Other Sunshine Writer’s Retreat Posts
- I stepped into a Monet painting last weekend by Raelene Purtill
- Greenleaf Press Newsletter 35: 2017 Sunshine Writers Retreat Round-Up! by Aleesah Darlison of Greenleaf Press
- Sunshine Writers Retreat 2017 by Inda Binda
- Montville, Queensland, Australia by Lucy Day Werts Hobor
- A Wondrous Learning Journey by Karen Hendriks