Cranes under Construction

Moving to Southbank Towers, an apartment building close to the heart of Melbourne, brought many new views. But the one that interested and inspired me the most was the one out of my bedroom window.

A view of a building under construction with tower crane attached
Prima Pearl under construction

In the summer of 2012, the Prima Pearl was being constructed across the street. I joked with friends that I had come from 16 acres to the 16th floor. Like most jokes, this glossed over the truth, but my transition from rural to urban dweller seemed extreme enough at times.

At this time I also became a fulltime Professional Writing and Editing student at RMIT with an ambition to test myself as a writer : after many years as a reader and critic of children’s books by other people. To this end, I enrolled in the Writing for Children elective offered by PWE – the Picture Book component of this subject was taught by Sue de Gennaro.

Walking and tramming to the Carlton campus, I began to notice other cranes at work.

Cranes are silhouetted against a cloudy sky in suburban Carlton
Cranes in Carlton against a cloudy dusk

Thanks to RMIT’s technical library – it started its life in the nineteenth century as the Working Men’s College – I browsed excellent textbooks about the engineering of cranes. Most of these, like my neighbour, went right over my head but one had an excellent phrase that stayed with me:

The load lead line goes over the sheave

And then runs under the boom.

This convinced me that there was poetry, and a picture book, in my fascination.

Sue challenged all of her students to think about and present a picture book text visually, as well as in manuscript form. Thank goodness I had an artist resident with me at the time to help me with this assemblage.

A map, blueprint, toy truck and child's artwork
Early visuals

My first draft of A Construction of Cranes stripped the action back to basics and that led to a long lovely procrastinating time wondering how to represent the more technical aspects in a form friendly to the preschool audience who, like me, looked upwards whenever a load was in flight.

The manuscript developed with the help of many people. I’d like to particularly thank an early reader who asked, Where’s the heart? and my fellow student, writer and book designer par excellence Caitlin Ziegler.

I hope that the finished picture book will be as multi-faceted and magnificent as the Pearl that beams into my windows today.


The one that started it all (maybe)

photo (4)

This book is number 1

because it’s the book that showed me, as a five-year-old and beyond, how a picture book really works.

The simple device of showing little Cottontail and grownup Cottontail in the same powder blue dress help to move the reader through space and time. The defiance shown in the illustration above adds volumes to her retort in the text. There were so many details to pore over  – the gilded room heaped with Easter eggs and the intricacies of the housekeeping while Cottontail was away, all in the muted apricots, lemons and browns that made their own confection. No sugary aftertaste though, despite the wise old rabbit giving her magical shoes so that she can give an egg to the boy who most deserved it. I remember skipping or hopping over that bit so that I could get back with her to the dear little house and count her children as well.

It’s in a much-loved state – the corners are rubbed and the Western Australian silverfish have eaten off the spine. But the pages are still bright, and she is still refusing to eat that carrot.

The current climate of re-packaging has not passed her by. Here’s a recent reprint.

Cover of The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes
The Country Bunny upsized

My idol, Dorothy Butler, calls it ‘An old book…of singular if inexplicable appeal to the young’ and recommends it for five-year-olds. Babies Need Books gets it right again.