Four Novels That You Probably Won’t Be Reading Any Time Soon
I begin a lot more novels than I’ve finished, and I thought blogging about them secretly here, in a GUEST POST, I could either lay them to rest once and for all, or get myself all excited about them again. Without any further ado, here are the novels that are languishing on my hard drive:
1. Lili (working title)
And now they were driving away from the ocean, their backs to it, into the dry flatlands where the grass was dying and dirty white sheep were flyblown and mite bitten.
I began this novel after Undine, before I knew I was going to write the sequels Breathe and Drift. After a book, the writing that you do is kind of a holiday romance, it could turn into something serious but for now, it’s just a bit of fun while you get over the last Serious Relationship. This novel has a first chapter and a vague outline, in which Lili, whose parents have disappeared at sea, moves to Melbourne with her Uncle Golly, who is unexpectedly offered a job. The mysterious employers have arranged a house in a suburb called Bloommarket, a suburb in the inner west no one seems to have heard of. They stop to ask for directions a few times – any oldies they ask are baffled, but there is always a teenager around who is able to direct them. They arrive in Bloommarket and the house is a small, sweet cottage, Lili’s ‘dream’ house. At school everyone thinks Lili is fascinating and everyone wants to be her friend, except for a moody, self-possessed teen boy who I believe I was going to call Sebastian (think David Bowie in Labyrinth, but younger and more Twilighty – remember this novel well predates Twilight!). Lili has a run in with a small young runaway who behaves very strangely, and after this Lili begins to realise that she can’t leave Bloommarket. The internal magic in the novel was probably going to be drawn from Fairy lore, in particular the notion that if you eat anything you’re stuck there forever.
I started writing this about the same time as Lili, another holiday romance, in between Undine and Breathe. I lost speed with it, because, despite the obvious artifice in the story, I wanted to make this quite autobiographical (not so much in terms of family, but in terms of the neighbourhood folk who populated my childhood, and the territory that I inhabited) and I wasn’t sure I was ready to write all that material – I figured I only had one real shot with it and when I used it I wanted it to be good. It was actually signed with A&U but I think we’ve switched it for something else.
The tree down at the Gracey’s place exploded with apricots that year, a cacophony of them, each one more disappointing than the last. Insipid, flabby, overfilled with thin, colourless juice that almost tasted of nothing.
That was the year Mrs Gracey fed her son Rough on Rats and apparently it was rough on Kevvy too, cause he died before the last apricots had withered on the tree.
Midge lives in the bush at the edge of an Australian city, and though she collects tadpoles and plays by the creek, she also rides her bike in the new subdivision where brick houses take hold on the bush – the city is closing in. Midge isn’t sure of her place in the world. She isn’t a good girl, but she isn’t a bad girl either. Her mother and sister watch the world’s richest game show in separate rooms, while her taciturn father waters the lawn until dark. She is only sure of herself when she’s playing with Kevvy and Bubs, or collecting insects in the garden.
I started off wanting to write a book about a Ramona Quimby like girl, and then it morphed into wanting to write a Nina Bawden-ish tale with long lost grandparents and cousins, and then it became something else again as I identified the need to make it more contemporary and put more kids in it. And then I abandoned it. And then I tried to rewrite it as a Chomp and to simplify the story I gave the Mum cancer. And then Penguin said it was too profound and sad to be a Chomp, which was a fair call. And then I sent it to Allen & Unwin and they said ‘we love it but it needs more layers’. Which was also very true. And then I thought, hey, I know, guerilla gardening. But by then I was more interested in the adults than in the children. So I abandoned it again. And then my sister’s best childhood friend wrote to me and said ‘there needs to be more books about mothers with cancer and how their children cope’ and I sent her Bluebird. And she loved it. So one day, for her, I will finish it, but that feels like a big responsibility.
4. The Haunted Lunchbox
Milly opened the parcel. It was a tin lunchbox with a plastic handle. The colours were brighter than any Milly had ever seen. The flowers were vividly red. A yellow bee wound its way around them.
‘It’s not very practical,’ Mum said. ‘And we just bought you a new lunchbox. Perhaps this would be a good one for storing toys or pencils in instead.’
Milly stared at the bee. ‘The bee wants me to take this one to school,’ Milly said. ‘It’s a lonely bee.’
I wrote this odd, creepy story because of my young friend Alice who was then a prep and was struggling to find a book simple enough to read herself but that satisfied her love of dark themes, and also because Alice’s mum was struggling with the daily grind of what to put in Alice’s lunchbox. I kind of half-heartedly showed it around, but never did anything with it. Eva at A&U suggested I either complicate it (it was only about 5000 words) and make it much darker, or I turn it into a picture book. It is sitting in my hard drive, and one day I hope I do come back to it, and that someone draws some wickedly moody Edward Gorey meets Japanese Anime pictures for it.
Penni Russon was born in Tasmania in 1974. Her latest novel is The Indigo Girls, part of an exciting new series published by Allen & Unwin in conjunction with Girlfriend Magazine.
Penni is the author of the Undine trilogy – Undine, Breathe and Drift. All three are published by Random House in Australia, while Undine and Breathe have been published by Greenwillow in the US.
Penni has two novels in the works with Allen & Unwin. She is also the author of Josie and the Michael Steet Kids, published by Penguin as part of their popular Aussie Chomp series.
Penni has taught Creative Writing at Melbourne University, conducts workshops at schools and is becoming a popular public speaker for young people and adults. She has been invited to participate in the Melbourne Writer’s Festival in September 2008.
Penni also maintains a sometimes daily blog, called Eglantine’s Cake.