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8 February 2012 ·

The spark of inspiration: when stories find you

Sometimes being a full time writer feels like a job, like other jobs. It’s not just the admin type work of filling in forms and answering questionnaires – even days of proof reading definitely feel like work. There are days of editing when no matter how much I love the story, I’d really rather go to the beach. Or out for coffee. (And sometimes, on the first read of editing comments, I think I’d sooner clean the floor with a toothbrush. Luckily I generally see my way through the problem before I try.)

But every once in a while, the gift arrives. A story presents itself, and I fall in love. The one I’m infatuated with now has been gestating in some ways since I started writing in 1996. I pulled out the fat manuscript I wrote then and felt extremely grateful it wasn’t published.  I’ve got no interest in reviving the story – but it struck me that I’d still like to use some of the aspects of the world I’d created. I wasn’t sure how, but a year or so ago, the questions arrived in the middle of a tai chi class: the questions that would lead me to the story I wanted to tell.

Maybe because I’m a synaesthete, and see words in colours, the questions arrived in an iridescent blue bubble. I’ve never had that happen before, but it was so beautiful it moved me to tears. The next day I saw a damselfly nearly the same colour as the bubble, which naturally I took as an omen. Several months later I saw another one, on an island I wanted to use in my location. Strange coincidences often happen when I’m deeply involved in a story; I don’t ask why.

The story had to wait last year as I finished writing the Rainbow Street series, but finally, I’ve started. I’m a slow writer, and although I always advise people to write straight through a first draft before starting editing, I rewrote the beginning day after day, feeling myself into the tone. And now that I think I have it (the tone, that is – I’m sure the beginning will be written many times more) the story is exerting its magic on me, and on time. Clocks leap forward; the half hour meditation cd I use, to make sure I stand up and stretch, ends two minutes after I start…

We write for all sorts of reasons, and when I get lovely letters from kids, I think that’s why I do it. But the first reader I write for is always me.

Just remembered I talked about this in an interview last year! Amazingly enough, the story about the story hasn’t really changed.


  1. Wendy Orr Very true!
    February 9, 2012 at 8:03 pm · Reply
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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