Janet Trimble’s clock ticked loudly from the corner of her boxlike bedroom. Janet herself shuffled around nervously, stopping every few seconds to readjust her fluffy socks that kept snagging on the uneven floorboards. Her usually immaculate hair was falling out of the confines of its clip and the silver-grey tendrils were now hanging dishevelled at her back.
“Only a few more minutes,” she muttered, her voice muffled by the hand that she was chewing on.
The clock ticked louder and louder until finally, the hand struck three. A loud bong! erupted from it, repeating itself twice more before becoming quiet. Janet breathed out a huge sigh of relief and slumped to her bed, his words still ringing in her ears. She examined her bleeding hand thoughtfully then reached toward her nightstand to retrieve her handkerchief. She had just about stopped the bleeding when there was a high-pitched pop, and she was gone. The handkerchief hung in mid-air for a second before settling itself amongst her cushions, and then all was still.
One of my favourite things about working on this book has been getting to chat to the wonderful Dr Jemina Stuart-Smith about all things handfish.
I was lucky enough to be able to ‘catch-up’ (in the virtual sense) with her this week and have a chat about what she likes to do in her spare time and how she became interested in marine biology.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I love running – so spend lots of time doing that, and I started a recreational running organisation a few years ago – so a lot of my free time is spent on that. I also spend a lot of time making sure my dog has a great life, and love camping and travelling whenever possible.
How did you first become interested in marine science?
I’ve always been interested in working with/studying animals – I think my family watched a lot of Attenborough documentaries growing up and spent a lot of time camping/being outside. I did a degree in Zoology at the University of Tasmania, and from there I went on to do a Bachelor of Science and PhD in Zoology (also at UTAS). I did lots of volunteer work along the way – as much and with as many different species/projects as I could – working with frogs, freshwater fish, Tasmanian devils, wallabies, lizards, seals, urchins, marine fish… Some of it cool (6 weeks in Micronesia diving/snorkelling), some of it a little weird (helping collect milk samples from fur seals). I ended up working with the marine science group as a research assistant while finishing my degree and had started diving a few years before, which both sort of paved my way into the marine realm.
What drew you to the handfish? And what is your favourite thing about working on a project like handfish conservation?
They’re interesting because they’re unique and because we don’t know a lot about them. I think now it’s more a sense of responsibility in working with such a critically endangered species that drives me.
What are your hopes for the red handfish?
That’s a tough one – ultimately I hope it’s not too late, for Red handfish in particular. There are a ton of conservation strategies at work now via UTAS and CSIRO, and I hope we’re on the right track to conserving the species and that are doing enough. And I hope people care about a weird little fish, only found in Tassie, that has no commercial/economic value.
Do you have any advice for other young people who are interested in marine conservation?
Yes – get involved – volunteer in as many things as possible – even if you’re not sure what you want to do (fieldwork, data entry – anything). UTAS has some great volunteer opportunities – tons of variety in different projects and species to work on – it’ll help you build skills and network with like-minded people (and help you figure out the things you like and don’t like doing!).
What has been the most memorable moment from your career thus far?
Getting to do lots of fieldwork overseas as part of work or volunteering for projects has been the most fun and memorable. I spent a lot of time travelling and diving for a UTAS-based volunteer organisation (Reef Life Survey) a few years ago which was a great experience, and I got to dive in some amazing spots. I was also lucky enough to get a trip to Antarctica a couple of years ago to help out on a project there. But that said – launching the Handfish Conservation Project and seeing the first lot of Red handfish eggs hatch in captivity was amazing to be a part of.
First and foremost, I want to start this blog by saying that this is entirely new territory for me. This is not only my experience with working on an environmental picture book, but also working on my first (proper) children’s book EVER – and so these are things I have found helpful, but if you’re thinking of writing a book of your own then I encourage you to find out what works for you.
Pick a topic you care about
This probably goes without saying, but if you’re not passionate about environmentalism, then why do you want to write about it? I’m not saying you have to be a zero-waste vegan to ‘be allowed’ to write about nature, but I think you need to have a genuine interest in learning about our planet, the creatures who reside here and how we as humans may be affecting things.
Knowing that your subject matter is something you genuinely care about also makes it easier to keep pushing through when things get tough.
Decide on a niche
If you want to write broadly on environmentalism, then please be my guest, but personally I have found it a little less overwhelming to focus on one subject.
Knowing that my research is ‘limited’ to the red handfish makes it easier for me to craft a story around the one that already exists. A big question that I had to ask myself when embarking on this journey was what kind of story I wanted to write; whether it was going to be a collection of facts and true to life stories about the handfish, or more of a classic children’s story with a red handfish as the central character. I actually decided on something kind of in the middle, but more on that later.
Talk to people who know more than you
As soon as I started researching the red handfish, I realised how little I knew, and could easily understand, about this awesome animal. One of the first things I did, without having any real idea of what I was doing, was reach out to the Handfish Conservation Project and ask if they had someone I could chat to.
I was incredibly fortunate that Dr Jemina Stuart-Smith had time she could spare for me, and we were able to get together and chat all things handfish. Our joint excitement in the project was apparent from our first meeting and it was really just a matter of figuring out what the story should be about and how we could assist each other in helping the handfish.
Jemina has been integral in the creation of this book, and continues to lend a hand whenever she can. I know for sure that I couldn’t have even begun to put this together without her incredible knowledge and enthusiasm.
Have a plan, but also let things evolve (because they will)
One thing I’ve learned, not only from this, but also in life, is that it’s important to have a plan, but it’s just as important to go with the flow. Things will never turn out quite as you expected them to.
Our current situation (COVID-19) has put a lot of pressure on my work and meant that some things that I was excited for haven’t been able to happen. It’s easy to get bogged down in this and start stomping your feet and backing away, but I’ve just tried to count my blessings, make a cuppa and carry on.
Whatever the project is meant to be, is what it will be.
I want to thank you all for continuing to support me on this journey. I hope to have a chat with you down in the comments.
To write and illustrate a children’s book is a goal that I’ve had for a long time. When I was a kid I’d get a bunch of A4 paper, fold it half and staple it into a booklet that I would fill with stories and drawings. I always knew this was something that I wanted to do, I just didn’t know how to go about doing it.
Late last year, I attended the Hobart Writers Festival, where I attended a talk on the subject of environmental picture books. As an animal lover, this subject piqued my interest and I spent the entire talk on the edge of my seat, absolutely mesmerised by what they were saying.
This, this is what I needed to do.
It was then that the ideas for my upcoming children’s book started to grow. I already had an interest in the Tasmanian Red Handfish, having been introduced to it earlier in the year by my mum, who absolutely adores them, and my research didn’t show much in the way of children’s literature on the subject, and so I thought – why not?
Going from the ‘I’m going to write and illustrate a book phase’ to the ‘oh lord now I have to write and illustrate a book’ phase is strange. The former is full of untamed excitement; you want to tell anyone who will listen about your ‘brilliant’ idea. The latter is much more humbling and involves several hours of staring at blank paper, wondering why on earth you ever thought your idea was brilliant and thinking perhaps you should just stop this nonsense right now.
It’s very easy to get stuck in the latter phase, or at least that’s how it’s been for me these last couple of months, and the temptation to just give up has been strong. I haven’t though, not yet, and that’s part of why I’m sharing this with you. I need to do this, I think the world needs to see this, and so I need your help to get me over the line.
Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be sharing a lot of handfish content, some insights into the creative process, a few fun interviews and even some sneak peaks into the book itself! I’d be so thankful for your support, a like, comment or share goes a really long way.
I hope you’re all staying safe in this crazy world at the moment and I hope my fun little project can help spread some joy.
I’m so excited to
finally be able to let you all in on a little secret.
I’m working on a children’s book!
Even as I’m part
way through writing and illustrating it, saying it out loud still doesn’t seem
A bit of background
Last year I attended the Hobart Writers Festival where I was incredibly inspired by a panel with Christina Booth and Coral Tulloch (amongst others) on environmental children’s books.
I’ve always been
passionate about environmental issues and trying to save endangered species and
hearing these amazing creators talk about how their work had helped to bring
awareness and funds to issues that were perhaps not very well known about (such
as Phasmid by Rohan Cleeve and Coral
Tulloch) made me desperate to be involved.
There are a lot of endangered animals that I personally think could benefit from having a book written about them, but the one that has stolen my heart this time around is the red handfish.
“Red Handfish are currently known from only two small 50m long patches of reef in south-eastern Tasmania, and are thought to have a total population of approximately 100 adults.”
Handfish Conservation Project
I was first introduced to the red handfish by my mum, who fell in love with these amazing creatures after visiting the Handfish Conservation Project’s public display at Seahorse World in the North of Tasmania. The Project is currently working on increasing the numbers of red handfish using captive breeding, these particular handfish were hatched in 2018.
They are currently working on another breeding program in the south of the state, and this is where my story begins. Without giving too much away this early on in the process, the book will follow along with the research project, giving readers a little insight into the process and hopefully helping to raise public awareness for these incredible animals.
One of the most surreal parts of this project is that I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work alongside, and collaborate with, Dr Jemina Stuart-Smith from IMAS. Having someone who is so knowledgeable and so passionate about these creatures is integral in creating a work that is both enjoyable and enagaging but also scientifically accurate.
I’ll be sharing more updates as I get further into the process. At this stage the book is likely to be released around September/October 2020, but I’ll make sure you all know as soon as I do. I’m also very lucky to be currently doing a project management course at university at the moment that is going to allow me to delve into the marketing side of writing a book – truly so lucky to have things like this align, thank you Universe.
In the meantime, if
you need me I’ll be somewhere hunched over my tablet drawing lots of tiny fish
and creating a world that will make you fall in love with the red handfish,
just as I have done.
As most of you will remember, in November 2019 I completed National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. After finishing off my fifty thousand words I put the story to bed and didn’t revisit it until January when my sister and I went our writing retreat.
After spending some time making changes, adding in a few thousand words and making pages and pages of notes, I decided that it would be a good idea to get another opinion on my work. I like my story, and by no means do I think you should ever write something with only other people in mind, but if your aim is to get your book into a store then it must be considered.
I decided to engage the services of Avery McDougall, a fellow NaNo writer and a wonderful spirit. I was able to pass on my unfinished work to her, warts and all, to get some bare bones feedback about whether or not this story was one that deserved my attention, or if I should move on to greener pastures.
I must admit I was a little nervous about handing over my baby to someone new, especially someone with expertise in the industry like Avery, but the experience was nothing short of wonderful and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. Avery went through my work with the eye of someone who genuinely wanted to enjoy the story, something that for myself was very important. I hear a lot of horror stories from fellow writers whose reviews come back negative simply because the reviewer didn’t like the story, not because it wasn’t any good – two very different things.
Avery gave me feedback on pretty much every chapter, as well as an overview on what the story was lacking and some suggestions on how to make it shine. Reading through her comments, I had a smile on my face the entire time. Where she thought there was an issue she gave constructive feedback and she was quick to add in a comment about a section she liked to offset those that she didn’t. Her review felt honest and insightful, I felt like not only had she read my book but she’d also really understood it. She reminded me of certain parts of my characters that I’d forgotten about and gave me the motivation to revisit them. If you’re looking at getting any creative writing looked over, I’d highly recommend her!
Sharing your work with the world is a daunting experience, but I think it’s one worth doing if you get the chance. Not only can it provide valuable feedback on how to improve your work, but with the right person you should also come out of the experience feeling like you really can do this.
It’s a busy time in my life at the moment, with my last semester of university having just begun, and so I think it will be a while before I get to sit down and have a cup of tea with Geoffrey and Ellen, but when I do I know they’ll have lots to say to me and I to them.
Are you good at
getting your work out there? If so, what has been your experience? If not, why
not give it a go. I’m always happy to take a look at anything as a second pair
of eyes, so feel free to hit me up.
I’ve had a busy couple of weeks, I didn’t post a blog last week and I very nearly convinced myself that I shouldn’t post one this week either. Mentally, I’m pretty exhausted right now, and that sparks a thought that I don’t have the energy for anything creative. In actual fact though, taking some time to write or draw or simply create something does actually fill up the reserves a little bit. So, in the spirit of using little of my precious brain power, here is 10 things about me that you never asked to know.
I have 9 tattoos – a snowflake, a duck, a lotus flower, a paw print from each of my family dogs, a hand signal of llamas, the word ‘breathe’, and 2 separate lines from songs.
When I was 6 years old I got my right index finger stuck in the car door. Around the same time I had a habit of following my dad around with my hands in his back jeans pockets. A few weeks after the finger incident, the nail had turned black and I lost it in my dad’s pocket, never to be seen again.
As a child I was obsessed with the idea of blue food. I was always begging my mum for blue jelly and blue cordial, normally to no avail as mum always said blue was just too weird a colour for food to be! For my 10th birthday party I decided on a blue theme and I was allowed to have blue everything, even jelly. Honestly, I don’t think it was that great, just sweet – probably because there really isn’t any truly blue food for it to be based on. Sigh.
I absolutely detest peas, even now as a 24 year old woman I will pick them out without an ounce of embarrassment. For my 13th birthday my mum and dad said I didn’t have to eat them anymore.
I used to think I was actually a dog in disguise and that my childhood dog was my sister. I had a puppy calendar on my wall that I would show my friends when they came over, and I’d point out which dog was me in my natural form.
I hate the feeling of foam. Even writing that gave me shivers, ew.
The first coherent piece of writing I remember doing was called “The Forest Friends” and was about three native Australian animals who went out on an adventure and then nearly got killed by a bushfire…
As a child I was deathly afraid of fire. Also snakes, robbers and motorbikes. The worst dream I ever had was that I was being chased by a man on a motorbike who had snakes stuck to him and I couldn’t go inside because my house was on fire… so weird.
Going along with the above, I had terrible nightmares as a child, the first of which I remember coming from watching The Wizard of Oz with my kindergarten boyfriend. I couldn’t sleep for years and my mum eventually devised a system where I got a little froggy stamp on my calendar if I managed to stay in my bed all night. I still have the stamp as a reminder of what I can overcome.
If I could design my perfect day it would start early with a cup of tea and a good book, a beautiful fresh breakfast – avo on toast and maybe a croissant? – then I’d paint all day surrounded by woodland creatures before settling down in front of a roaring fire while it rains cats and dogs. Do I just want to be Beatrix Potter? Yes, yes I do.
So there you have it, 10 random things about me that even I hadn’t cared to think about for a while. I hope you enjoyed reading and now feel you know me a little better.
Back before I
started working for myself, I had a pretty good self-care routine. When I came
home from work I could switch off my brain, get into some comfy clothes and
relax. I could move my body if I wanted to or spend a few hours in the kitchen,
simply because I had the time.
Now that I run a
business, and still work full time, my brain is a teeny tiny bit crazier, and it takes a lot more effort to switch
off, even when I really need to.
I’ve compiled a
list of 5 things that actually help me take my brain from work-mode to home-mode.
Do something you love, without expectation The chances are if you run a creative business, that you’re doing something you have a passion for. The problem with this is that I’ve often found once something becomes a ‘job’, I don’t want to do it anymore. I’ve found it really beneficial to take the time to sit and create something that’s just for me. Whether it’s a piece of prose that will never see the light, or just some light-hearted doodling. Remind yourself why you loved to do these things in the first place and it can only improve your work.
Designate an office space for yourself My work is super mobile; as long as I have my tablet I can write, draw and design my heart out. I could very easily complete all of my freelance work from the comfort of my bed, but I don’t. I’m lucky enough to have a room dedicated as my office, but even if you have a spare chair at your dining table, designate that as your place of work, and try not to stray. Chair is for work, everywhere else in your home is for relaxing and fun.
Take time to cook and eat dinner I’ll admit I’m not the best at sticking to this one, it’s not uncommon for me to end up taking a plate of dinner back into my office and wolfing it down while I work. This isn’t the worst thing, sometimes you just really have work that needs to be done and there’s not enough hours in the day, but it’s not something I want to make a habit of. For the most part, sitting down at the table with your loved ones and a delicious home cooked meal is worth a hundred times more than a semi focused half hour of work.
Have a knock off time Just like you would for an office job, set yourself ‘work hours’ and try to stick to them. Again, sometimes things don’t quite work out and you might have to do some overtime, but take that into account too. If you do overtime, give yourself a well-deserved break later in the week. With my work schedule I finish my office job at 4, come home and work until 6, take a couple hours for movement, socialising and food and then if I really want to I might come back for another hour between 8 and 9. You’ll know what works for you and your life, make work a priority if you need to, but don’t make it the only one.
Take a break This one sort of relates to the above point, but it’s a little more specific. One of the crucial things for me in maintaining a successful work life balance is feeling like I finish my work day on a good point. Something my mum always told me is ‘if you’re starting to make mistakes and getting frustrated, it’s time to stop.’ It can be so tempting to just keep pushing on a piece of work, even though it’s just going around in circles and then all of a sudden it’s midnight and you’re only going to get five hours sleep. The chances are your outcomes is going to be of a much higher quality if you step back and finish off the day knowing you tried your best. It will still be there tomorrow.
Sometimes the world can feel really small. You bump into your friend’s
auntie’s cousin’s wife in the middle of an international airport halfway across
the world, or you find out a colleague is actually married to your kindergarten
But sometimes it doesn’t feel small, sometimes it feels massive. Huge
and blue and unending, full of impossible things.
For me, it seems to flip back and forth without warning. I can feel
settled, content in what I’ve created, and then a moment later feelings of
inadequacy wash over me and I’m left alone; wet and feeling sorry for myself.
I went to a really small primary school. I was pretty academic and loved
school and so it was easy to shine through. For secondary I moved to a school
with ten times as many students and suddenly it was a lot harder to feel
That’s sort of how it feels to be a creative person. There are times
when I feel confident in my work and people seem to notice it and enjoy it and
then there are times where it feels like it’s been swallowed up by the universe
and now it’s impossible to even find, let alone care about.
When you’re feeling like this it can be really challenging to move
forward, but in my limited experience, doing so is crucial to creating
something beautiful. There’s a pretty good chance the outcome will be different
than what you’re wishing for, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be
beautiful. Honestly, nothing I’ve ever set out to create has turned out exactly
how it looked in my mind, but some of my best work has come from ‘failed’
Although it sometimes makes me anxious to remember how big the world
really is, I like to remind myself that everything around me is made of the
same parts. We all began the same and we’ll all end up the same, regardless of
how we do in between. Taking that pressure off means that we can create without
limits, and instead of hindering us, the ‘bigness’ can actually become our
muse. Food for thought, anyway.
This past weekend, my sister and I packed up our bags and headed down to a tiny riverside town, about an hour away.
Both of us live
busy lives and as we get older it’s becoming increasingly harder to dedicate
full days to writing, or even just catching up, such is life when you’re a responsible adult I am quickly learning.
one side, we decided that given enough notice we could both manage to spend a
weekend together and to devote a few days to writing, inspiration and the
pursuit of creativity.
Now, I’m not going
to tell you that we spent a full two days writing without rest, because that
would be a lie. What we did do though was kick-start a whole bunch of work that
both of us had been putting off for far too long.
I began editing my novel (!!!) and with some notes from my sister, who is the only one to have seen it in its entirety, I was able to really get stuck into the editing process and rediscover my work. Being in such a tranquil setting was immensely conducive to writing. The cottage we rented was set quite far back into the bush and the only sounds other than our respective keyboards was the trilling of native bird-life and the solemn hum of fat bumblebees in the rhododendron over the fence.
One of my favourite
things about writing my novel has been talking to people about it, and my favourite
person to talk about it with is my sister. So while I didn’t perhaps get as
much writing done as I had intended, I certainly got a lot of thoughts out of
my head. She read me the latest chapter of her work in progress and it was so
fun to see how different our styles are, yet how much we love each other’s
work. It’s a sentiment that definitely reflects us as people too.
All in all, I could recommend nothing more than taking some time out of your regular life to ease a bit closer to nature and hopefully a bit closer to your chosen craft. We’re hoping to try and fit a retreat in every six months or so, so stay tuned for our next adventure.
Here are my top 5 moments from our 2020 Summer Writing Retreat:
Talking about our novels on the various drives we did over the weekend and getting excited over each other’s work
Spending time in a hot tub in the middle of the bush, watching all the beautiful birdlife (this was ever so slightly dampened by the fact that we discovered a huntsman in the filter…)
Finding out the cottage we were renting is owned by one of my favourite Tasmanian picture book author/illustrators
Cups of tea and biscuits out on the veranda in the early morning, working on our writing
Our day trip to Bruny Island, reminiscing on our childhood and becoming even more inspired