Monday, 27 March 2017

Creature Cottage

Welcome to Sally's book-a-day-for-2017 blog. If unfamiliar with the blog, scroll down.

Creature Cottage (Post 86)
Creature Cottage (1999) is one of three books about a boy named Baker who has a dog named (naturally) Dozen. Baker is determined, logical and optimistic, and he always wins through in the end. In Creature Cottage, he has a school project to do on wildlife, but he ends up staying in a cottage which offers nothing in the way of lions, hyenas or even kangaroos but all too much in the way of millipedes and spiders. Baker's struggles to co-exist with the multilegged creatures while searching desperately for wildlife make up the comedy in the story. As you might guess, he finally realises the wildlife he needs has been under his nose (sharing the shower, traipsing across the ceiling, clinging to his clothes) since Day 1.

Creature Cottage is the result of my 1999 stay in a writers' cottage while working as a writer in residence in NSW. Between official engagements with school children, I spent my time at the writers' centre of a large university. This was the days before laptops were common, so I used the computer in the centre. It had dial-up internet. As other people used the computer during the day, I became nocturnal. Over the three weeks I was there (minus two days spent elsewhere where I had to buy summer clothes because it was a heatwave), I averaged 10,000 words a day of the sf project I'd nominated as my writer-in-residence major work. I would start work when the centre closed, and work through the night until about 6 a.m. when I'd drop into bed and sleep. As I'm fairly nocturnal anyway, this regime quite suited me. Unfortunately it was so cold I had to wear a cardigan and a shawl and have the heater on. (That's why the heatwave in the second venue was such a shock.) 

When my hands started to swell, I assumed it was the cold. I had no idea this marathon keyboard stint, coming at the end of almost thirty years of typing, was the straw that broke the poor old camel and damaged my tendons (apparently) beyond repair. After I got home my hands continued to hurt, and within a few weeks I could barely write 500 words a day and couldn't keep a reliable grip on a teacup.

Eighteen years later, in 2017, my hands still hurt, but I've recovered enough grip and strength to be able to work pretty well. I'm now working at about 40% of the capacity my hands once had and I don't think it will ever get better than that.

Creature Cottage, though, is not to do with my hands. It's to do with the writers' cottage. On my first day there I was disconcerted to find it infested with millipedes. I had nothing against them, but there they were, in the shower, on my towel, in the bed, and crawling on the walls. I started picking them up and putting them outside, but there were so many of them I finally got desensitised. By the end of my tenure I was having at them with a straw broom every day, sweeping them off walls, down from the shower curtain and shaking them out of my towel. I'd sweep them vigorously out the door, and they'd roll up in protest, bowl along like little black balls, pick themselves up and trundle off into the garden. Mind you, they'd all be back in the morning. It was quite fun in its way, and at least I got a book out of it!

Now and then I think of that cottage and wonder if the millipedes are still in residence.

About the Blog 
Sally is Sally Odgers; author, manuscript assessor, editor, anthologist and reader. She runs and Prints Charming Books. (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. The books are not in any special order, but will be assigned approximate dates, and pictures, where they exist. If you enjoyed a post, or want to ask about any of my books or my manuscript assessment service, post a comment and I'll get back to you.

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