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19 October 2008 ·

modelling mountains

I finished the first draft of a new book a couple of weeks ago, and as usual, started drawing maps as I read and made notes. However, maybe partly because of all the photographs of papier maché and clay Nim’s Island mountains kids have sent me, I kept feeling that this time I had to do it in 3d. I didn’t have clay, so I pulled out the old recipe for homemade playdough, and mixed up a quadruple batch.

After a happy afternoon of squeezing, shaping, pinching and rerolling, I had my mountain peak, and I’d learned a lot that I hadn’t expected. Physically shaping it clarified the shape of the mountain and the trail – pretty much as I’d described it in the first draft, but instead of simply fixing it in my memory to ensure that it stays the same right through the book – so that my characters don’t see the sunrise from the same point as the sunset a few chapters earlier – it gave me new insights. The physical reality firmed up some plot details, but it also seemed to point out new metaphors and meanings in the story.

I was hoping it would even give me a title, but it seems there’s a limit even to playdough’s powers…

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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