It's miserably wintry here, so I donned a windproof jacket and slipped out into the watery sunshine where Chris took a series of shots, most of which featured me squinting and blinking, but we achieved this one.
For those who know me best as a children's author, this is the other side of the coin, a serious look at the naturalists and natural history artists who visited (or in one or two cases were bred and raised in) Australia.
In many ways, this is a spin-off from Australian Backyard Naturalist which came out in May and which is drawing very pleasing reviews. That is most definitely a children's book, showing younger readers how to bother and enjoy the hidden life that is all around them. (You can see some of my other books on the National Library bookshop's site.
|Illustrations of an alleged bunyip skull,|
drawn from the Sydney Morning Herald
by way of Trove.
Another side is that I get into the Trove digitised historical newspapers, and I show readers, in passing, just what gems can be found there. On a personal note, I was interested to discover an engagement notice for my father to a lady whose name was mentioned once or twice with gritted teeth by my mother. This was before he met my mother, but there's some history there that I never knew: so you never know what will turn up.
For example, one of my upcoming books nails down a little-known conspiracy which was undertaken to get Australia's gold rush started. More of that later, but it's a fascinating example of PR and social manipulation in colonial Australia. (There's more about that in the post before this one.)
Anyhow, back to Curious Minds, I was searching for illustrations from the NLA collections for Australian Backyard Naturalist, and having to pass up lots of delicious stuff that I knew well, involving people I knew well. I fired off a casual email, suggesting to Susan Hall that there was probably a book there. Equally casually, she asked for a rough outline, and just as casually, I slapped it together, suggesting that she put it in her backburner file, her bottom drawer, for later consideration. I was in no rush, and thought it needed twelve months of good solid research.
Back came an email saying it was "go" and could I submit in six months? I said it needed twelve months, but I was cajoled into working twice as hard and getting 12 months' work done in six.
The outline changed a bit as I found other people who merited greater discussion and I cut one or two out because there was no real interest. They were not people with curious minds.
My business card describes me as a freelance curious mind. This levity is a cunning filter, because the po-faced, the prim and proper, the boring people I would never wish to work with, shy away at my informality, and good riddance. The term "curious mind" first came into print when I had to write a blurb for a book, and I recalled an exchange with an old friend where he commented on my productivity and asked how I did it.
"I have a curious mind," I told him.
"Yes, I can see that," he said—but the meaningful way he said it showed that he was playing with the words.
I needed no more than that, and so the blurb read something like "Peter Macinnis finds that his friends and his detractors all agree (with differing intonations) that he has a curious mind."
|This is one illustration that didn't fit, which is a shame. Only a|
Frenchman like Charles Lesueur would give the male kangaroo
such a lascivious eye. Click on this image to see a larger version.
I took three mss away with me, and worked through half of one of them, so now I need to make many, many changes to the Word file, I need to finish working through that ms, and I need to get onto two others. I have a radio talk to record next week, and I always tweak my scripts up to the very last moment, and I am giving a workshop for Australian Backyard Naturalist in Canberra on August 23 (scroll down in the link) and I have some more fieldwork coming up. I will, I hope, be a little more forthcoming with fun stuff for the younger reader.
That said, I owe this blog a piece on writing for younger readers, and why Martin Amis was a prat when he suggested that he would only write for children if he suffered brain damage.