Monday, 23 January 2017

Bunyips Don't!

Welcome to the shadowy and not-so-shadowy space behind Sally's books. That's Sally Odgers; author, manuscript assessor, editor, anthologist and reader. (Sally is me, by the way, and I am lots of other things too, but these are the relevant ones for now.)

The goal for 2017 is to write a post a day profiling the background behind one of my books; how it came to be written, what it's about, and any things of note that happened along the way. If you're an author, an aspiring author, a reader or just someone who enjoys windows into worlds, you might find this fun. This preamble will be pasted to the top of each post, so feel free to skip it in future. The books are not in any special order, but will be assigned approximate dates, and pictures, where they exist. 

Bunyips Don't! (Post 23)

Bunyips Don't! (1996) wasn't my first bunyip book; in fact, it is one of four. Way, way back in the 1990s, I was one of the authors who contributed to Lucky Magazine. We used to be given themes, and we'd write stories of around 700 words to fit the theme. The editor(s) would then pick one to put in the magazine. One issue, the theme we were given was birthday parties. I wasn't too inspired by that, as a birthday party, like a boat trip (which is a tale for another post) is something that has great potential for fun in real life, but less so for stories. I think reading about a party bears the same resemblance to watching someone play Scrabble. It's fun to do, but not much of a spectator sport. Nevertheless, I always liked a writing challenge, so I cast my mind about for something that would make a birthday party interesting. Bingo! I remembered the birthday parties my sister and friends and I used to hold for our pets when we were young. On one occasion, I asked Mum if I could have some ingredients to make a cake for my cat, and she said I could have a pound of mince and some flour. I went to the fridge and appropriated the package of mince and a jar of flour. It later devolved that I'd actually picked the two-pound pack of mince (I just knew a pound was "a lot") and the icing sugar but you can't have everything, eh? Not to worry, the cat enjoyed it, and it may have inspired my lifelong habit of messing with recipes.

I thought about writing about a cat's party, but then wondered about other animals and somehow arrived at the notion of using a bunyip. After all, I'd written about bunyips before. I wondered how a bunyip might celebrate a birthday and concluded that the grouchy elder bunyips wouldn't. Thus Bunyip's Don't! was born.

Young Bunyip is a kind of apprentice or mentee to Old Bunyip, a grumpy old brute who is teaching him the ways of the bunyip. Young Bunyip is a happy soul, who sees beauty in the sunshine, hears music from the wattlebirds and loves to watch brolgas dancing. Every time he initiates something he loves, Old Bunyip insults him (Bark Brain, Hammer Nose) and tells him Bunyips Don't. Finally, Young Bunyip sees some children enjoying a bush birthday party and tells his mentor he supposes Bunyips don't have birthday parties either... Old Bunyip, satisfied that he's taught Young Bunyip to behave, leaves to live alone in contented grouchiness... and Young Bunyip goes back to the party (where the children assure him everyone has birthdays) and so he concludes Old Bunyip was wrong about that. He decides to hold his own party the next week. He also has the gladsome thought that is Old Bunyip was wrong about birthdays, he was probably wrong about everything else, too!

It's a simple story, and I was pleased with the way it came out, so I sent it to the editor of the magazine. The editor telephoned me some time later. I was flabbergasted, as editors just DON'T. He told me he didn't want to use Bunyips Don't in Lucky. I said, okay... but I was puzzled. Normally, editors send a rejection letter or simply choose a different story. Then he said... but he'd like it for a picture book text and did I mind?

I didn't. 

Bunyips Don't! was illustrated with a mix of shadowy and sun-sparkling images, which included a host of creatures, including one little fellow I couldn't identify. When I was lucky enough to meet the illustrator, I asked him what it was. He said it was lust a little critter, so I informed him it was henceforth to be known as 'The Gamble' after him. 

Bunyips Don't! was a great crowd-pleaser at schools and libraries, and it's been read on YouTube and also performed more than once as a play (see here for a link) 

It came out in a few different editions and, like Dreadful David (see Post 4) it seemed set to go on forever. It even came out as a Classic! However, that was its last burst, apparently, because not long after someone asked me where she could get a copy. I said, as usual, "ask at any bookshop and if they don't have it they can order it..." but it soon devolved they couldn't, because it had slipped out of print. It's still hanging in there in public libraries, school libraries, and family collections and now and again a copy pops up for sale on eBay.

Bunyips Don't... but sometimes, they do! 

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