The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

So, We Wrote a Book About a Robot Dolphin…

0730 Sunday morning is a time when I am usually thinking about crawling home to sleep off whatever bestial excesses I have committed the night before. Last Sunday, however, was different. I found myself standing outside an office block with a crazy biologist while waiting for a bunch of women to let me in. Okay, so it wasn’t all that different apart from the fact that I was sober and ready to work.

The work in question was the Write A Book In A Day (WABIAD) Challenge. The idea is that some foundation I’ve never heard of challenges teams of writers and illustrators from around the country to write, illustrate, print and bind a children’s book in 12 hours flat. Those participating in the challenge spend a few weeks whoring around for sponsorship, then show up on the appointed day where they are given a set of parameters. If the project is completed successfully, the book goes in for awards consideration. Whether we write a damn word or not, all the money we’ve collected goes to the Westmead Children’s Hospital Cancer Unit. At 0800 sharp, the email came through with our parameters. I can’t remember them exactly, but the basic idea was that the book had to be for 13 year olds and had to include a dolphin, parliament, a waiter, an entertainer and crossing the country. We also had to use five random words. Our fearless leader, the Ditmar Award winning author Zena Shapter, has a much better idea of what the hell we were supposed to be doing, and has written about it here.

As for me, I was still disoriented by unexpected sobriety, and much of the early part of the morning is a blur. Suffice it to say that we brainstormed and came up with a kickass, knife-throwing circus grandmother, a junior hacker protagonist, a race across country pursued by sinister mercenaries dressed as waiters and the fact that ‘dolphin’, in certain circles, means underwater surveillance robot. I’ll leave you to guess where that little chestnut came from.

It was an amazing day. I’d never written collaboritively before, and it was a joyous surprise to discover that a room full of writers – arbitrary, precious, moody, self-involved and supercilious as we often are – were able to suppress ego, frustration, pride and all our other wonderful character traits in order to co-operatively create a cracking good story. It was a refreshing reminder of just what exactly this writing palaver is all about – the central goal is to create, and everything else takes a back seat, including one’s self.

It was also interesting to see other writers’ working rituals. Zoya, who was sitting opposite me, had the same habit of putting in headphones in order to blank out the world. I doubt she was listening to the same Wu Tang Clan album I was, but it’s the principle that counts. Kris, on the other hand, just went into a trance. I could see her on the other side of the room, hunched over and furiously storming at her keyboard like a mad scientist playing the pipe organ in a subterranean basement. Kylie, professional as always, leaned back ergonomically and tapped away, looking for all the world like someone who had nothing on her mind but her hair, whilst clearly punching out an astonishing volume of high quality, professional narrative. Leah, sitting over behind me, spent her time frowning intensely at her screen, clearly and inexplicably unhappy with everything appearing on it – a state of dissatisfaction that became even more mysterious when I read her pages. And let’s not forget Madi, lumped with the hardest chapter of the book – exposition – a ball of cheerfully nervous energy, cranking out the spine on which all our work would have to rest. Our fearless leader, Zena, took on the difficult and thankless task of opening the literary show with chapters 1 and 2, and sat quitely in her corner, tapping away at her laptop and patiently answering the stupid questions we would all fire at her from time to time.

Except me, of course. I was too busy bopping along to Rage Against the Machine and frantically deleting repeated occurrences of the word ‘fuck’ from my manuscript.

In the midst of all this, Mijmark, the crazy biologist, scribbled away at astonishigly good character portraits on photoshop, uncomplainingly chopping and changing as our various verbal vagaries morphed the characters miles and miles away from their initial, agreed physical descriptions. And then there was Sue, eminent art historian and academic, sketching and painting breathtakingly perfect scenes and objects, pointing at her extraordinary creations and complaining that she’d really ‘mucked’ them up. Not in any way I could detect, Sue.

So basically, I got to watch a crack team of creatives at work, united in a good cause and inexplicably taking a foul-mouthed, dissipated idiot like me along for the ride.

At the end of the day, we wrote over 12000 words and created an impressive portfolio of beautiful illustrations. Leah’s heroic work on the design software meant that we were able to submit electronic copies of the book bang on the 2000 deadline, while an elite unit of scissor wielders put the paper copy together. I was outside having a smoke.

We called it ‘A Dolphin For Naia’. It’s got car-chases, gungfu fighting, knife throwing, angsty teen psychological drama and, of course, a robot dolphin. What more could anyone ask for?

I feel privileged to have worked with so many distinguished and talented creatives, and to have been able to make my own small contribution to making the world a slightly better place. I also feel slightly astonished that I was able to put down 3300 words without a single sex scene, fatality or occurrence of the word ‘fuck’. Even if it was a very near run thing…

I want to sincerely thank all those who sponsored us for the day, and I hope this little insight into our particular madness is some small return for your investment, over and above the very real assistance and (hopefully) enjoyment you have been able to give to all the kids fighting cancer in one of Australia’s, and the world’s, best hospitals.

Big ups go to Australian Doctors International for donating their office space, and to Leah for asking them to. Equally big ups to all our anonymous sponsors – you know who you are.

I’m aware that many of you will be kicking yourselves at having missed out on the chance to chuck money at our masterpiece… I mean, Westmead. For you I have stirring and beautiful news: Sponsorship is open until the end of the month, so please feel free to jump on board this excellent cause by going to WABIAD and sponsoring us. Our team name is the Northern Beaches Writer’s Group. Every cent goes to the foundation and every little bit helps.

And for those of you who want to read the book – watch this space!


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4 Responses

  1. Zena Shapter says:

    Thank to you too, Chris – for your brilliant surveillance dolphin idea. It really did give the story its espionage feel! And your recap of the day is far better than mine, I love all your descriptions of us writing, that’s exactly how it was on the day!!

    • Chris says:

      I don’t think we’ve ever had such a distinguished guest on this blog…

      I linked to your account because, unlike mine, it had useful and relevant information in it 🙂

      Also, thanks for inviting me along, Zena – I had a blast!

  2. Kris says:

    And thank you Chris – it was so great having you along!! Who knows where we would have ended up without your awesome idea! (Did I really just write awesome?) This post had me laughing out loud – you are spot on!! What a great day x

    • Chris says:

      Wow, two famous people on one commment thread!

      Haha – not only did you write ‘awesome, but also a longhand ‘lol’! Dammit, now I have too…

      It really was great working with you – I hope I made that much clear in the piece 🙂

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