Tag Archives: novel

The impossible feat my printers had to pull off to print my full colour illustrated novel

3 Replies

Image: Two similar book covers. On the left is Future Girl (Australian edition) and on the right is The Words in my Hands (North American edition), both by Asphyxia. They show a girl with long, black, wavy hair. She wears a gray sleeveless top and holds a magenta pencil and paint brush in her fist, with a light blue paint dripping from the brush. She has large black cross over her right ear. Her eyes are green and her lips red. The background shows drawings of buildings. The left background is green, brown and teal textured paint; the right background is teal, pink and ochre textured paint. On both covers is a review by Amie Kaufman, a New York Times bestselling author, which says, ‘Brilliantly imaginative, totally immersive…’

When I first had the idea for my book, titled Future Girl (in Australia) and The Words in My Hands (in North America), I told my publishers I wanted to make a young adult novel that included full colour art on every page, because I believe that picture books should not just be for young children. I now know why this is a genre-breaking concept – it was way more complex than I could ever have imagined.

Usually picture books are printed on glossy thick paper, which makes the art look great, but when the pages add up (384 of them, in the case of my book), it can make the book prohibitively heavy. There’s a reason coffee-table books are called that – they sit more easily on a coffee table for viewing than in your hands while you lie back in a bath or in bed. We had to find a way to print it that would result in it feeling like a novel, not a coffee table book.

Using thinner paper is an option, but if you go too thin this risks ink bleeding through from one side to the other. If I have an artwork with heavy black on one page, then light colours on the next, the light page could be contaminated. My publisher selected a thinner stock than they would for a picture book, and printed special colour proofs double-sided on the actual stock (the first time they’d ever done this!) to ensure there were no problems here. The publisher also insisted we print on ‘woodfree’ stock, which is what most ‘normal’ novels are printed on, instead of glossy/shiny stock like picture books are often printed on – to ensure it still felt like a novel. This sort of paper knocks back the colours, so the designer had to ramp up colour in our files to compensate, and again, there were several test colour proofs done to check this colour before the actual book printed.

Not only that, but areas of very heavily saturated ink on a page can take a while to dry – risking the ink transferring on to page opposite it. If ink saturation gets too heavy, special measures need to be taken by the printer – such as separating out and drying pages individually, or putting a special varnish over the top of each page. These sorts of measures take a ton of extra time and cost a lot of extra money. So, the book designer also needed to knock back some of my heavier blacks to avoid this, walking that fine line of judging how much to knock them back in order to receive the best printed product possible while remaining true to the look of the artwork.

I am amazed that my publishers didn’t just tell me where to go with my idea. Instead they took a punt, consulted with highly experienced printers, and eventually came up with what we all hoped would be the perfect combination of paper, ink and techniques.

I am super-fussy about colour, and choose the precise shades of each colour in my artworks very carefully. I spent hours tweaking the colours for every page. This is further complicated by the fact that what you see on the screen doesn’t represent what will come out of the printing press. That meant I had to hand the final colour tweaks over to my publishers as they use professionally calibrated screens, special lights, and make further changes depending on the type of paper used and what they see in the proofs. Woodfree stock sucks up far more ink than shiny paper so a concern was that all the bright colours in final book would end up dulled. You will understand why I was extremely nervous when I ripped open the package containing the very first copy of the book. I didn’t know how much all the paper, ink and technologies used would mess with my vision for the art.

As I flipped through it for the very first time, my jaw dropped open. I couldn’t believe it. It’s perfect. JUST PERFECT. The colours are rich and vibrant and just as I wanted them. The paper, the texture, the size and weight of the book combine to be a sensuous feast. There’s no bleed-through, none! It’s just small and light enough to hold comfortably while still being substantial and delicious.

I cried. Eight years in the making and at last I could hold it in my hands. It struck me that if I had never seen this book before, I would be so blown away that I would have to cancel my entire life for a month in order to absorb all that beautiful art. I truly did create the book I wanted to read, look at, have and hold.

I hope you’ll love it too. It’s available here if you’re in Australia, and here if you’re in North America

Writing a novel for FUN

Image: Pencil drawing of a young woman looking away to her left, with long hair falling over her left shoulder and cut very short on the right. She has freckles on her face and chest and right eyebrow piercings.

Meet Winter, a character in a novel I’ve been writing while I travelled.

When I was a teenager, I used to write prolifically and unselfconsciously, churning out story after story. People noticed my passion and encouraged it. I studied short story writing as a correspondance course (this was pre-internet!) and my teachers let me hand in work, such as research on the topic of schizophrenia, in the form of a novel. With the attention and help my writing was getting, I started to set the bar higher and higher for myself. And eventually I set it so high, demanded I write so well, even in my very first draft, that it became daunting instead of fun. I stopped writing.

When Allen and Unwin came to see The Grimstones, they contacted me and asked if I’d like to write a book. I got back into my writing, and I’m really glad to have embraced it again. However, I usually write professionally, for an audience, whether its on my blog, for magazines such as Grass Roots and Down to Birth, or books that will be published. The bar is still high. I just don’t let my dauntedness stop me.

But I’ve never quite regained the joyous fun I felt in writing when I was a teenager. After reading Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, I was inspired by her project to write a novel, NANOWRIMO style, just for fun. Like Rubin, I immediately downloaded the founder, Chris Baty’s book, No Plot? No Problem! and became inspired.

While Baty suggests diving in without a plot, I used the Snowflake Method Of Novel Writing to help me develop my ideas. I’ve used this before and it was recommended to me by my publisher, which tells me it results in a structure for a novel that is the kind of thing they like to sell.

I had this idea that I’d write a novel for fun while travelling. It didn’t have to be any good. Just enjoyable to write. I wanted to write like I did as a teenager – fun and open and as a way of living another life. To make it even more enjoyable, I decided to tie it in with my trip by designing scenes in the places I would be visiting, in the same order as I would travel. That way I could collect up details while I was in each location, write those scenes in my novel, and then move on to the next place.

Did it work? Yes! My novel has been a wonderful companion for me as I’ve travelled, and gave me a superb focus for picking up cultural details in the places I visited. There’s a lot of waiting, when travelling, a lot of queues and airports and trains and busses. My novel gave me something riveting to think about while in transit. I couldn’t write every day. Some days I was too busy, and some days I was too jetlagged and out of it. But I did more or less keep up with the scenes I wanted to write in each location.

It’s not finished yet. When I arrived home it was maybe two thirds of the way there. The last scenes are set in Australia so that works out well! But life is much busier here. Still, it’s been a wonderful thing, to practise writing without worrying about anyone else, without trying to make it good or choose my words carefully. Maybe one day I’ll go back and edit it and bring it up a level, then think about whether it’s publishable or not. But for now, the main thing is to finish it and enjoy the journey as I do so.

Chris Baty’s book has chapters you can read as you write. I’ve found them very encouraging. Just when I’m thinking, oh I can’t be bothered to do this, I read a little chapter that says, ‘Don’t worry about trying to meet your word limit. Just get into your novel, have a little poke around, write 500 words or so, and leave the rest for another day.’ A little poke around even when ridiculously tired.. that’s been very good.

Are you tempted to write a novel (or story, or memoir or whatever) just for fun? Any thoughts and experiences? I’d love to hear your take on this.