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28 May 2005 ·

The title search concludes: Across the Dark Sea

After months of searching and much angst, I’ve finally come up with a title for the National Museum book about Trung, the little Vietnamese boy who arrives in Australia with his father on a fishing boat. Like many things in life that we spend a lot of effort on, in the end it arrived effortlessly, when I wasn’t expecting it!

I’d been working on the picture book One Night – because although I’d got very excited when I was reading it aloud and working with Kerry Millard, and thought I’d solved all the problems, when I got home, printed it out and read it aloud again, there were still lots of bumpy bits. I decided to stick one of these tricky lines in my head while I meditated.

However when I went back to work I remembered that I still hadn’t sent my list of barely acceptable titles to Trung’s editor, so I started to type them out again – and suddenly a new title slid into my mind: Across the Dark Sea. I deleted everything else, sent it to the editor – who emailed a few minutes later to say she loved it, and so did everyone else at the museum who’d been involved in the project (who’d all also tried to come up with a title!) Now I’ll just have to remember to tell all my friends and family that I’ve sent this story to in the hope that someone – anyone! – would think of the perfect title!

Sometimes it’s not easy to remember my own rule about writing – that one of the most important things is simply to have faith that eventually, if you keep on doing the best you can, the story – or the title – will work itself out. In this case, doing the best I could meant picking key words out of the story, then key themes, free associating with both of those; then doing a short synopsis of the plot and seeing if there were any catch phrases from that, and finally doing a logline, like a synopsis of the boy’s emotional journey throughout the story. This helped me understand why I hadn’t liked some of the titles I’d come up with before, but for a long time it seemed that all the titles that expressed the logline were too dark, too sentimental, or too boring!

And then, when you’ve done that work, sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing: sit and meditate and let your subconscious do the work. After all, the subconscious is where all good writing comes from, no matter how much conscious work we have to put in to make it into a book.

The copy edit of the book arrived two days later, so the title was truly just in time. The editor is now about to select an illustrator, and I believe that Across the Dark Sea will be published in late 2006 or early 2007, as part of the Australian National Museum’s series Making Tracks.

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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio