The Storymaker

Gary Crew and a motley crew of writers and illustrators working on a special archive project

In From the Beast to the Blonde:On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers(1994), Marina Warner claims that ‘storytelling… banishes melancholy by refusing silence’, and that the story makes people ‘thrive'(xi). Kafka argues that as an art form, story is ‘An axe to break the frozen sea inside us’ (adapted by Morris and Sayler in the Journal of Science Communication (Vol 7, No. 3, 2008). As a writer of stories, how might I best explain what I attempt to achieve in telling a story?

One of my first tasks is create a plot that will engross my reader so that he or she will read my story in its entirety. Secondly, I should populate that plot with characters who demonstrate positive and negative traits (much like ourselves) in order to establish empathy with my reader. This plot and these characters should hold the reader in my story’s thrall.

Gary's latest picture book, which Isobelle will launch officially later this year in Perth at the first Literature Centre Conference

Finally, though equally importantly, I hope that my reader might be emotionally and/or spiritually ‘affected’ by my story and the lives of the characters embedded in it—’changed’ you might say—which I believe establishes my goals on much the same terms as Warner’s and Kafka’s; Warner’s being to ‘banish melancholy’ and to help people ‘thrive’ (which is certainly a positive change in attitude), and Kafka’s ‘to break’ certain barriers, or even to free the reader from some ‘frozen’ or negative state of being, which is not unlike Warner’s melancholy.

I want to help my readers both discover, and free, some aspect of themselves through a reading of one of my stories. If such a state of self discovery and personal freedom can be achieved through my story telling, I am a happy artist. But I should add—I must add—that my primary motive for writing stories is to achieve that same experience of self discovery—that same freedom—for myself.

But there is more: I really don’t care if I am called old fashioned, if I am labelled a Luddite—I rejoice in the fact that my Great Great Grandfather was sent to Tasmania as a convict for being a machine breaker, which is much the same thing—I want my story to appear in book form. I want it to bear the marks of being crafted by human hands: I want the marks of ink on paper. You see, Dear Reader, I make my stories by hand: I use a fountain pen and real ink. I write in a real journal on real paper that I treasure. I ask that my stories are reproduced in the same way. Am I old fashioned? Who cares?

The storymaker was right (write?) there, scratching on clay, chipping on stone, making marks on parchment, when man was first created.

Dr Gary Crew is an internationally acclaimed author and the Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of the Sunshine Coast. I jointly won Children’s Book of the Year together with him, with The Gathering. I regarded winning it with him as an honor, because even all those years ago, Gary was something of a comet rushing across the children’s literature skies.He had first come to my attention before that, when he won Book of the Year in the same category, all by himself, for the enigmatic and oddly sinister Strange Objects. Then, meeting over and over at conferences and festivals and catching up for coffee and meals I came to know him well, and to like him as a person. But our friendship was utterly sealed when I went to stay at the then Fremantle Children’s Literature Centre (now The Literature Centre) to give a series of masterclasses, when Gary was in residence for a prolonged stay. We unmade the world and resolved it, in many late night talks during my two weeks there, and have been fast friends ever since. I am Iz to his Gaz. He is the only person I allow to call me that.Gary is ever brim full of ideas and enthusiasm for his latest project. And there is always a project. He is always working with a new illustrator whose abilities he lavishly praises. He is NEVER blasé, and I love that because I am never blasé either.

He was an obvious choice as a guest for my debate/forum on book forms, because aside from teaching and producing literature, he is passionate and he thinks deeply about things. And knowing he is a Luddite by birth, I knew he would come up with an offering that would be provocative, full of ideas and above all, exciting.

You can read about Gary’s contribution to the National Year of Reading 2012 program as an ambassador here.

12 Responses

    1. Vauny says:

      I respect the authors’ rights to publish their book how they want ( I mean if it’s a good book people will buy it no matter what form in comes in) but I couldn’t help but be reminded by Ray Bradbury’s “too many internets” rant when I read this.

      I think I read somewhere on this site (not sure if it was a post or a comment) that writing, printing and storytelling has evolved before: from tablets to papyrus to parchment to paper and if the writers of that time hadn’t evolved their styles with it they would of been left behind.

      Oh and just to stir the pot a bit: Gary, you said you write your books by hand with a fountain pen. Is this what you submit as a manuscript or do you have to submit a typed version?

    2. carolko says:

      Gary:

      Although I like the idea of it, I don’t think I couldn’t write an entire story by pen. A single paragraph and my hand is aching; weird considering I could type all day.

      I do edit with one of my every growing collection of Waterman’s. It’s an addiction more expensive than good cigars!

    3. I also hand write with a waterman fountain pen! I have a collection too, and the pen has to somehow fit the book I am writing- I even mix my own ink colour- but like Gary, I do not write the whole thing in ink- I usually get about two thirds of the way- and this can still be hundreds and hundreds of pages, but then the story usually starts going its own way characters develop a wilfulness and do not do what i want them to do, and at this point I usually switch to a computer, type the whole thing in and segue to the end in that form- and after a number of drafts, it goes to the publisher, and the editor!

      And while I. too, want my books in print form with beautiful paper and covers, I am also happy for it to be in other forms, because sometimes, that is better for a reader, for whatever reason- in the end- I’d like it out in every form in every language, including illuminated manuscript!

    4. Maureen says:

      A short and sweet post today, Gary! Thanks for a unique approach today 🙂

      Before I respond to what you say, I just want to add in that I honestly don’t see how some of your books would work as anything but physical print books. I have a book by yourself and Peter Gouldthorpe called The Lost Diamonds of Killiecrankie which uses photographs, paintings, history texts, typed letters and other paraphanalia to add historical “truth” to the story of the green topaz. I would argue that this book would be ineffective without a)colour, b) the A4 sizing, c)the double page spreads and d) the use of print on paper which adds to the feeling of the stories authenticity. At the moment, an ebook just could not achieve these things and not only would the aethetics suffer, that striving for historical realism would be lost too, seriously detracting from the story.

      While I’m here, Gary, can I just say that I’ve owned this book since I was eight years old (I am now 22) and the hardcover is starting to bend a bit from too much rereading; bits of cardboard showing, the glue and string that holds the spine together is showing more and more, the pages are aging slightly. The message that a friend wrote for me in fountain pen ink in her best calligraphy, ‘April 1998, To Maureen, Love from Danielle” is still perfectly visible and instantly reminds me that this book was a special birthday gift from a family friend who knew I was a precocious reader who loved mystery and history. Actually, this book is one of those formative books I read that shaped a lot for me. I went on to study history at university and major in it! The point is things like personalised messages in a book cover, the ability to own a specialised hard cover book, books as a marker of memory and age are things lost with the current ebook.

      Now specifically back to your post… what you are getting at in the last part of your post reminds me of stories like Ink Heart by Cornelia Funke or A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) where books as physical things that people put hours of effort into making gives which gives them greater value. Credit where credits due, yes Min makes a great point in this debate when she says that people spend ages making an ebook too (though with the shonky formatting and obvious spelling mistakes etc I often end up with on my kindle I sometimes wonder how much effort people put in- yes, even publishing houses) but it’s not something tangible. It’s in the abstract of the internet ether. My old copy of Gary’s book- I can see the glue and the binding and the pages and touch them all. That might not mean much to some or even most people, but for me, that is a special thing.

      (Actually, ASOUE is another series that would suffer in ebook format because you would lose that historical authenticity vibe from the hardcover gloss effect and the cardboard file-like spine, as well as the jagged edges of the pages. Those elements help sell to the reader that the book is a work of “truth.”)

      But back to the physical act of making a book- there is a great quote on pg 324 of The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket.

      “The burning of a book is a sad, sad sight, for even though a book is nothing but ink and paper, it feels as if the ideas contained in the book are disappearing as the pages turn to ash and the cover and binding… blacken and curl as the flames do their wicked work.”

      Well on the one hand this quote follows in the tradition of burning books and censorship, and burning books and disrespect or lack of care for authors as engaged in and with cultures, but it also indicates the power of a physical book. It’s not a tangible thing and it is very difficult to explain, but hopefully this makes sense, Gary, when I write that hardcopy books, to my mind at least, make the author’s work concrete.

      This is why, as an aspiring author myself, the dream is not to publish just as an ebook (though I have no problem with people choosing to read my stories in ebook format if they wish). The dream is to hold that physical copy in my hands and to know that all of those blood, sweat and tears were for something. Yes, to some extent its nostalgic, but like you say, it’s not just about readers, it’s also about yourself and what makes you happy and fufilled as a writer.

      Physical books fufill a need for me in how I read and understand a story. They hold more meaning for me. They don’t for others. And that’s okay.

      • I am with you about loving Print books, Maureen, but there is nothing to say we can’t have both pr many forms and I have to say having seen some of the things i have seen done with eBooks and enhanced apps and getting to know some of the people involved in these arts- because putting things up in cyberspace is no less an art enacted with tenderness and creativity and love and ethics than the putting together of a paper book, I can see the dividing line is more one of tradition and sentiment than any real difference in the value of different forms. I suspect there will be qualities in future e and enhanced books which future readers will extoll with no less passion than we who have grown up loving print books admire the smell and the feel etc of print books. Have a look at some of the links on our links page and you will be as astounded and impressed as I was by the dedication and beauty of some of the thoughts expressed by people who work in cyberspace. And finally, I have to say that being part of the creation of this site, I have seen how dedicated Min is, and how creatively and passionately she works at her art and hence how code can be no less a material for art than paper or marble.

      • Emily Craven says:

        It’s interesting Isobelle, I feel there is a creativity in everything we do (even the boring reports I write at work) and no matter what the form or activity it is in our nature to create. Well, it’s in my nature in any case.

        In some cases there is something in the story which harmonises it with the form. For example, novel I am planning to release as an ebook, is really suited to the form, the story is based in Facebook, another digital medium and logically a little bit silly to put in print form. In saying that, I do feel a little twinge when I think about not putting it out as a print edition. Perhaps I shall just create one for myself and it will soothe the little part of me that protests.

      • Maureen says:

        Just to be clear, Isobelle- I am totally behind the fact that ebook designers are creative people and work damn hard to make a quality product (well some of the time… damn those people who don’t format my ebooks properly!) I’m just saying, that for me, the way that I’ve been brought up (refer back to Judith and old habits dying hard) the nostalgia/sentimentality behind physical print books is important and so I’ll pick reading them over ebooks nine times out of ten. It’s cool if other people aren’t like that and love ebooks more for whatever reason, but for me personally, I just don’t find it as easy or as pleasurable to read an ebook.

        Also, I still think that there are certain books that really don’t lend themselves to ebooks, just as there are some that really do, as Emily points out. Books that rely on a sense of historical truth authenticity like the book I mentioned by Gary and Peter above, would really lose something in an ebook format (with the qualifier of… as ebooks stand today). Another great example is The Unauthorised Autobiography by Lemony Snicket which is hardcover with a plain paper cover which reverses on the other side to a glossy, “kiddie” cover (for the purposes of hiding the important document that you are reading which actually adds an element to the world building). The same with The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket. The letters pull out, a poster was included and the cover was hard with raised edges. No matter how I look at it, I just don’t see how you could achieve that with an ebook. And it is so important in creating that illusion of historical truth- that idea that the Baudelaire’s really existed and that, like Lemony Snicket, by reading the series you are embarking upon a dangerous escapade where villains could get you at any moment.

      • Min Dean says:

        Thanks Isobelle 🙂 that means a lot.

        And I just want to be clear too, in saying that given the choice, I will pick up a real book. eBooks only fill a certain need in my life; they’re not what I’d choose, but what I need to use if I want to read at certain times of the day – it’s that or nothing. Nobody here will probably believe now how excited I get when a book shows up at work lol; when The Sending arrived, I was shaking so much while I held it.

        One of the main things I would hate to have happen though, and why I’m trying to enter the discussion from a different perspective, is for a technology – any technology, this doesn’t just apply to eBooks! – to stumble in it’s development and potentially stagnate, because the primary creators of the product went ‘oh well, people aren’t going to read them that way anyway’. Or – I am not saying anyone here said this – far from it, but I’m sure you’re all aware this happens: ‘I don’t understand the technology, so I don’t like it’. Nobody has to understand it, or like it, but I wince at thinking the primary reason for someone not liking something is because they don’t like technology.

        Doesn’t mean anyone has to use them or not use them; I just long for people who thought they’d never try them to go ‘I see why they exist’, even if they don’t work for them (as the majority of people on here already have said, so I am still generalising!). And yeah, as I’ve said multiple times on this forum, and Isobelle said above – there is hard work, dedication, and beauty to electronic forms, too. Maybe one day those who haven’t found a use for eBooks will, maybe they won’t. But if they do, they will hopefully find them in the best format possible, due to a positive and continual development cycle 🙂

    5. Deb says:

      Bravo Gary, for admitting that you have your own preferences in how you write and publish your work. And to the others who have commented in the same vein.

      I’m a pen and paper girl when it comes to writing. After I’ve finished I type it up on the computer and file it away in some obscure place never to see the light of day again. I have a passion for stationary that rivals the most passionate shoe collectors, and love finding pens and paper that make me feel good when I use them. I would love a collection of fountain pens, someday.

      I am in awe of anyone who can build and maintain sites and pages and I know the great work that Min puts into Obernet and everything else she works on. The creativity on the internet is everywhere to see.

      I’m still with Gary though, I like me books printed on paper and bound with a pretty cover. Maybe one day I’ll change my mind, but familiarity and habit will always make me pick up a book.

      • Maureen says:

        Yes- Deb! This is it exactly. It’s not that we don’t see that web designers/graphic designers/media artists etc aren’t enagaged in creation and art. I have my own page that I’ve made on livejournal and the coding was complex and took me forever but was absolutely worthwhile and an act of creation for me.

        That’s not the point. The point is that some of us will always prefer reading a physical book. Others will always prefer the ebook. I am with Isobelle in that my dream is for the two to coexist and supplement each other, rather than one to cancel the other out.

        It’s like self service checkouts at supermarkets. It’s great when they give customers choice about how they shop. It’s not great when the store gives you no choice but to use self service even when you don’t want to. If a book I want to read is only available by ebook, that instantly restricts my choice. It works both ways. Same with if its only available as a physical book, which is why projects like Guttenburg are so wonderful!

    6. Marta says:

      And I agree too. I’ve worked as a software engineer, and while most of the time I hated the job, there can be something beautiful about writing an elegant bit of code that does the job perfectly and flawlessly. I also have a postgrad degree in pure mathematics, where the aim of the game is to produce a water-tight proof, using words and numbers and symbols, in as simple a language as possible. The elegance of a perfect proof too has its own beauty and wonder, which very few people will appreciate, I suspect :).

      There’s beauty in everything, and people should be allowed the choice to find beauty whereever they choose. For me, that’s in a paper book.

      Having said that, because I do have the IT background, and (probably more importantly) because my handwriting resembles nothing more than the random track of a snail over a leaf of cabbage, I type my stories up on the computer. Doesn’t mean I don’t dream of seeing them published in print one day, though. And Maureen’s point about signed books too is very apt. If I get the opportunity to meet a favourite author, I think I’d prefer them to autograph a book rather than a Kindle!

      And on another note, thanks for your post, Gary. I’ve loved your books since I was a teenager.