Write who you are: Candy Gourlay Guest Blog Post

I first met Candy Gourlay the way I meet all my new writers friends. I wrote her an email that started with the phrase: "You don't know me, and I may or may not be a stalker, but ...." It was good enough for Marty Chan when I challenged him to a comedy/mystery smack down, and it was good enough for Candy. 

I was going to London to do some research on Dead Bee in the Sarcophagus and then from there on to the SCBWI Symposium in Bologna and I decided I wanted to meet some SCBWIers in London. I emailed Candy with the above opener and she was all over organizing a pub night and well on her way to becoming my new best writer friend. 

In her guest blog post she talks about how I showed up at the wrong place (and then in Bologna showed up at the right place through telepathy) due to my geographical deficit disorder and then found her and her fellow SCBWIers amidst a throng of radical free range knitters - yes, you read that right - knitters! 

Oh, and Candy is quite humble in this blog post. Her y/a novel Tall Story won the SCBWI Europe 2011 Crystal Kite award. Her novel has been nominated for so many awards I can't keep track of them. In fact, I think they had to invent a few more awards just for her.   

Without further ado (as they say in London), here's Candy's guest blog post:

Candy Gourlay
Hello everyone, I'm standing in today for my favorite Canadian author of books with dead frogs on porches, Jan Markley!

Jan was my virtual friend on various social networks for a few years before we finally met in London ... well ... the truth is we almost didn't .

We agreed to meet up at the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank and Jan went to the Royal ALBERT Hall just a few hundred miles away. Easy to mix the two royal halls up I suppose. Living here in London, every other thing is royal.

This is me on a good day in London
Anyway, I'm the author of Tall Story which is hopefully beginning to appear in Canadian bookstores, even if it's still in expensive hardback. It's about  a boy named Bernardo who's eight feet tall (you heard it right, EIGHT feet tall) - he's not a giant, he's got gigantism.

... and oh, look, here's a link to Amazon.ca!

When I started out writing my book, I was interested in the idea of what it's like to be different ... but when I began to research giants, I remembered how giants are key to the mythology of my native Philippines.

The Philippines sits on the Ring of Fire - a crack on the Earth's crust. The countries that sit on the Ring of Fire - Chile, Hawaii, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines - experience a lot of volcanic activity, earthquakes, tsunamis. It's like sitting on the unstable lid of a bubbling pot of water I suppose.

The Philippines may be made up of 7,107 islands, but all along the Ring of Fire is a line of mountains like this,  some full blown volcanoes, thrown up by forces underneath.
A lot of our mythology in the Philippines attempts to explain all the mysterious effects of our geography - there are many stories about how mountains are just giants and earthquakes are just the giants shrugging.

A spread from The Secret Histories of Giants (published by Templar) - can you see the giants in the mountains?

Many years ago at the beginning of my quest to get my novels published, I was creating British characters in British settings.

I honestly thought that no publisher would be interested in any stories set in my native Philippines. But then an agent told me a British novel by a Filipino author would be a tough sell. Later, I read in a book on how to plot - the old adage "Write what you know" is true, but to invest your characters with their own distinctive reality, what is more important is to "Write who you are".

So Tall Story has Philippine mythology and migration and culture clash. Story of my life!
Then there was something on my shoulder. Something big and round and rough. And damp. It was so damp. It grew heavier and heavier and heavier. Crushingly heavy. Bending me down, down, down. A boulder. A mountain. What was it?
It was the Earth.
The Earth? Had i gone crazy?
I stood there like Atlas, oceans and rivers sending trickles of water down my arm, forests like sandpaper against my skin, mountains poking into the nape of my neck.
Too heavy, too heavy. I couldn't ... It slipped down my shoulder and I could have cried out as the mountain peaks jabbed hard against my skin. My muscles ached as I tried not to buckle under the weight, my hands scrabbling to hold on to it, the dirt grinding under my fingernails.
Mustn't drop it. Mustn't drop the Earth.
Excerpt from Tall Story

The great thing about Philippine mythology is a lot of it is handed down by word of mouth. Which means there is no correct version of one story. It gave me permission to put my own spin on popular legends.

I use legends - well, the making of them - in my school visits. Children are amazing - they can come up with legends at the drop of a hat! We must have made 20 within 15 minutes at a session I did at the Hay Literary Festival.

So here's a video I made on How to Make a Legend in Your Own Time. Watch out for The Legend of the Bellybutton, which was one of the stories we came up with after a hilarious brainstorming session at the Hay Festival.

If you're a teacher or a librarian and you fancy creating legends with your own posse of children, check out my Legend in Your Own Time download on my website!

Thank you!

Other downloads you might enjoy:

Candy Gourlay was a young journalist for the opposition during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines. After the revolution that toppled Marcos, she moved to London where she attended to dictators of the nappy-clad variety before trying her hand at children’s fiction. Her debut novel Tall Story has been shortlisted for eleven children’s book prizes including the Waterstone’s, the Branford Boase and the Blue Peter prize. It won the Crystal Kite Children’s Book Prize for Europe. www.candygourlay.com


Angela Ackerman said…
There are just so many great stories in other culture's myths and fables. I love reading about them and finding inspiration :)

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse
kathryn evans said…
Your posts always make me smile - Legend of the Belly Button! :o)
Jan Markley said…
I just started reading Candy's book and I love it so far!

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