30th November 2014: Jellicoe (Again)


I’m going to blog more than once this week, and I thought I’d start with Jellicoe because my work as the script writer is now complete.

Readers have told me again and again that Jellicoe, the novel, is magic for them. Always flattering and always at the back of my head as a bench mark for the next novel and the next.  This year has been about finding the magic in the script. When I say that I’ve finished working on the Jellicoe script again, it doesn’t mean re-writes per se. I tend to think of the Jellicoe editing as  “enhancement’.  Remember, that the story itself isn’t what attracted many people to the novel.  It was also Taylor’s narrative voice and the structure. In adaptation, the narrative voice is the first to go so it’s been hard work tracking Taylor’s emotional journey without the aid of voice over. But the challenge has been satisfying. I loved writing this prickly angry tough fragile girl in the script as much as I loved writing her in the novel.

One of the more important changes I’ve introduced has revolved around the Boarders.  In the novel, all the Boarders are part of Taylor’s faction, but in the script the story takes place during the school holidays and revolves around the thirty or so Boarders who are state wards and are left behind, year after year, because they have nowhere else to go. It establishes a yearning amongst them to win at something for the first time in their lives. They are the perpetual losers in the wars and in life. None of that is said, of course.  But it is visually there on their faces when their school mate are picked up by parents. It’s interesting how a scene like that can change the psyche of the script without really having to change much elsewhere.

So this is what happens now. In the New Year, the script gets sent to the funding bodies and distributors.  It’s never been so tough to make a film in this country as now,  so I’ve been told often enough that this draft has to be close to perfect. No pressure there. And then it’s not just about the script.  Films are hard to finance without a big international name.  You can’t really blame those who fund films for asking, because then you’ll have to ask yourself when was the last time you went to see a film that didn’t have a big name or when was the last time you paid to see a film with unknown Aussie actors.  I’d love to make a great film with unknown Aussie actors because I have seen so much remarkable young talent in the auditions.  I’d also love to make a great film with an international name although young international names are hard to get because they have a team of people looking after them and it’s difficult to get a script into their hands. It’ doesn’t mean we won’t try to and it doesn’t mean we’ll go for an a-lister, because sometimes an up-and-coming actor is as important and just as talented (think Jennifer Lawrence for those of you who, like me, went to see Winter’s Bone and realized she was an up and coming actor.  Very few film goers knew who she was when she was cast as Katniss).

So I haven’t lost faith in Jellicoe being made in 2015. And  watch this space early in the year because there will be some interesting stuff online to get the momentum going.

On a much more personal note, we celebrated my daughter’s birthday yesterday. It’s been exactly a year since she came to live with me.  It’s interesting that so many people have asked me whether the subject material in my writing has been influenced by having her in my life this year.  The novel I’ve completed is a thriller set in London revolving around two bombings, thirteen years apart, and the impact it has on the family of the accused. So no influence at all, but a fair enough question.

Next year I’ll speak more about the novel, but for now I’ll share this image of the birthday girl.




Jonah Griggs’ favourite Footy team has made the Grand Finals

In honour of South Sydney making the NRL finals for the first time since 1971 (I shouted myself hoarse on Friday night at a pub in Jonah Griggs’ territory) I thought I’d share mention of them in my work.

They are a true working class underdog’s footy team. My friends, Ben and Patrick, who came along on the Jellicoe research road trip back in 2005 are so fanatical that we’re not allowed to reference the colours as merely red and green, but cardinal red and myrtle green.



On the Jellicoe Road (the novel) Taylor’s discussing one of the few times Jonah Griggs is out of Cadet uniform.

He’s wearing boxer shorts and a long-sleeved South Sydney football T-Shirt)


(On the Jellicoe Road the filmscript – Cadet laundry day

Unless you can identify his bloody underwear, we haven’t got a hope of knowing where his tent is.

Red and green, third from the left, sixth row….Know thy enemy. He’s a Rabbitoh’s supporter.


Tom Mackee to Mohsin the Ignorer  in The PIper’s Son

So what. We lost a few games, Big deal.  Souths have been losing game after game for years and their fans don’t give up on them.”

Spotlight on Simmone Howell’s Girl Defective

Girl Defective has been one of my favourites of the year. Unique voice and characters and a strong sense of place. Not to mention two amazing covers. I’m a bit obsessed with novels at the moment where the setting is one of the main characters. This year was the first time I couldn’t travel for research. I don’t regret setting my manuscript on the other side of the world because I feel that it couldn’t have been set anywhere else, but reading Girl Defective reminded me that I need to get it right.

Below, Simmone answers a few questions about her work and research. Directly below is the Australian cover, published last year. The other is the US cover, published this month.

Girl Defective

When did you first get the idea for Girl Defective, and was the music always central to it?

Sometime around 2008, in the middle of another novel which I subsequently didn’t finish, I had a scene in my mind of two girls on a rooftop in St Kilda watching and commenting on all the people passing by. Then I decided it was going to be a swift romantic thing – a record shop romance. I wanted a girls’ version of High Fidelity. Having worked in record shops you get used it as a male-dominated landscape, I wanted to turn that around. When I was a teenager music was so important to me – it still is – but back then it was like my lifeblood. I was very specific about the kind of music I wanted as Sky’s soundtrack and I also wanted it to be a bit of a musical treasure hunt. The song Wishing Well by the Millionaires, which is the book’s ‘golden object’ was introduced to me by my husband. It’s a deeply strange song. I must have listened to it a thousand times while I was writing. It supplied me with an ‘outsider’ theme that eventually took over the novel

Did much change from your original vision? Any examples?

 The character of Nancy was fun to write but in the original version she didn’t have a very happy end. She was inspired by beautiful girls that hang around rock music scenes – who I always found more fascinating than the actual bands – the Anita Pallenbergs and Bebe Buells. In the novel Sky likens Nancy to Ruby Tuesday and that line: ‘She would never say where she came from…’ was a definite starting point. But she proved to interesting for me to do away with. In a way it was like she was Scherezading me, dropping crumbs from her past so I’d keep her around. I don’t think she’s a bad friend, particularly. But not someone who Sky can rely on -unless you count the fact that she can reliably get Sky into trouble.


How did you keep track of the different story threads in Girl Defective? Did you outline?

I went through so many different versions. I tried writing with a plan but then the characters would hijack it. In the end I think I was just writing to a theme and the theme was innocence to experience. The working title for Girl Defective for the longest time was Girl in the Water. I had written a (grim) short story about a modern Ophelia, a groupie girl recounting her sad demise from the bottom of a well. In the novel, the name of Sky’s parents’ band is Little Omie. This came from an old folk ballad called Omie Wise. This was another song that hung around while I was writing. This song inspired Sky’s dreams about Mia Casey, ‘The Crying Girl’. When I write it’s like all the things I’ve ever been interested start knocking against it other and it can be hard to know which things to keep. I love that about writing though, that every story has its ghosts and layers. I think about Virginia Woolf: Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions — trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms …*

To me, the challenge of writing a novel, any novel, is to be able to shape the impressions so that they serve the story, and the story itself must come from the character. I don’t always feel that I’m successful at this, but it’s the thing I work towards.

*This is from The Common Reader, Virginia Woolf

22nd September 2014: Misc

I do love a High Tea, so am looking forwarding to being the guest of honour at this event at Better Read Than Dead in Newtown.

When: 15th November 2014 at 3pm.  Bookings essential. Below is the link.


Also, The Lumatere Chronicles have been re-jacketed in Australia. Very exciting because Froi and Quintana will be coming out in paperback. I’m loving a short haired Quintana. They will be out in late January 2015, although I think Finnikin will be making his appearance this year.

Don’t hold me to it, but I’ve recently had a bit of a re-read of the novels because apparently Lady Celie of the Flatllands thinks she knows where Jehr of Yutlind Sud is.  So perhaps another story. What I’m hoping is that one day I will have four separate but linked stories featuring Lady Celie and Banyon, all in one volume. The first one, Ferragost, appeared here: http://reviewofaustralianfiction.com/issues/volume-3-issue/

Finnikin FCA_SAMSFroi FCA_SAMS Quintana FCA_SAMS

18th of June: A work in progress

I feel a bit guilty that I haven’t blogged since the end of March, so I’ll start by saying that I’ve been trying to write a novel this past year.

It’s not YA and it’s not fantasy and it’s not set in Australia and it’s not set in America and it’s not set in a fictitious country. I’m saying all that because it means I’m writing something that doesn’t belong to my regular publishers. Scary and exciting at the same time. It’s almost like starting from scratch (not the writing, but the publishing experience).

And the one thing that I will state from this moment on is that writing an adult novel is not harder than writing a YA novel, and one day if it gets published, reading my adult novel will not be harder than reading my YA novels. I remember when The Piper’s Son came out, a journalist asked if I found it harder to write because it was about an older age group and honestly, comparing it with the rest of my work, how could I have found it harder than Jellicoe or the four hundred thousand words of the Lumatere Chronicles?

What I am finding difficult about this novel is that it’s set overseas. Although I did my research last July at the beginning of my process, I’m finding it hard not being able to go for a drive in my neighbourhood to describe the neighbourhood of my characters. What I can say at this early stage is that most times I write novels about young people, where the older generation plays such an important role in their journey. This time it’s about adults where the younger generation plays such an important role in their journey. And that I started off thinking it was a thriller of some sort, but of course, who cares about what happens. It’s the relationships and characters and their journey and their blended histories that I’ve become obsessed with. I think I’m good at that, so whether I’m writing YA or Adult or whatever someone labels my work, I stick to what I’m good at, and what I enjoy reading myself, and after a year of stops and starts, I think I finally almost have a first draft of a novel on my hands.

And I’m a bit in love with every single character.


30th March 2014: UK Finnikin and a classic Alibrandi


Walker Books in the UK will be releasing The Lumatere Chronicles starting in July this year with Finnikin of the Rock.  Being published in the UK has been a long time coming so I’m pretty excited about this trilogy being released there.  I spent time at Conwy castle in Wales and Rochester Castle in Kent, as well as Guernsey which is kind of part of the UK, researching Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn with my dear friend Barbara who lives in Ireland.  Our three day road trips would squeeze in about a year’s long gossip and TV talk and life talk, so you could imagine that there wasn’t a moment of silence. The trilogy means that much more to me because of our time together.

As you can see, the UK cover borrows from the Australian and the US paperback.  I think this image  comes out stunning in any form or colour.

(UK cover)


(Australian cover)finnikin-of-the-rock(US cover)

076365292x This week Penguin Australia released this classic edition of Looking For Alibrandi.

looking for alibrandi