'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 3 June 2016

Guest Post: Pamela Freeman on writing Desert Lake

Kids' Book Review is delighted to welcome well-known Australian children's author Pamela Freeman to share the inspiration for her latest picture book, Desert Lake: The Story of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, published by Walker Books.

In early 2009, there were big floods in Queensland. The water flowed down to what was then Lake Eyre (now Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre), beginning the extraordinary explosion of life which occurs there only once every ten years or so.

I’d always been fascinated by the lake – most of the time it is a salt pan: dry, dead, deserted. But one-sixth of the continent drains into it, and when there is rain in the north, the lake fills.

Fish and other river-life are swept into the lake, birds gather to nest, and insect, shrimp and other eggs hatch. Frogs wake up from a kind of hibernation (called estivation). They all live and mate and have young and then the lake dries out again and all the life either buries itself or leaves – until the next time.

I really wanted to go to Lake Eyre and see this for myself – and it occurred to me that it would make a great picture book. I pitched the idea to my editor at Walker Books, Sue Whiting, and got the go ahead.

So my son and I went on an outback safari to Lake Eyre. (I admit I would have liked to take a more leisurely holiday there, but I wasn’t confident about driving through the desert by myself.)

It was a wonderful trip. We went via Broken Hill, the Flinders Ranges and Williams Creek.

Here are some photos:

Sculpture, Living Desert Reserve,  Broken Hill

Wedge-tailed eagle’s nest

Southern Cross Windmill

I love the desert because you never know what you’re going to find there.

The southern part of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre only fills very very rarely, and was still dry when we visited.

The white of the ground is salt. This is where they do speed trials – the flat surface is perfect for going very very fast, and there’s nothing to crash into!

An old Telegraph Station from the 19th century. This was the water tank – you can see that they were determined to keep their precious water safe.

We went up in a small plane to fly over the lake.  This was my first sight of it:

This one gives a better sense of how the water spreads out across the dry salt bed.

And pelicans!

I wrote the first draft of the book in the second half of 2009.  Seven years later it is being published… Yes, seven years, because a) it took a long time to find the right illustrator, b) picture books take a long time to create (especially when your illustrator, Liz Anelli, gets a grant to actually go to the lake!) and c) Walker Books like to get everything perfect, so we did about, oh, somewhere around 15 drafts. Maybe 20.  Maybe more.  I forget.

The first version was based on the life of a pelican chick – but the more we worked on the book, the more it became clear that my original idea of the life cycle of the lake was more workable.  So poor Liz had to do another set of roughs, and then produced some of the most fabulous illustrations I have ever seen!

Have a look:

Desert Lake is my 30th book.  Sometimes, the first copy of your book arrives in the mail and when you see it, you know it is special. Desert Lake is very special. I’m very proud and honoured to have been part of its creation.

PS I have MANY more photos, and I’ve put quite a few up on my Pinterest page. I also write historical novels for adults as Pamela Hart, which is why the Pinterest page is under that name.
These images are free to use for non-commercial use, as long as I am credited (either name will do).

Pamela Freeman is an Australian author of books for children and adults. Her books include the junior novels Victor's Quest and Victor's Challenge. Pamela's most recent books include the picture book Desert Lake: The Story of Kati Thanda - Lake Eyre (part of the Nature Storybook series) and Princess Betony and the Hobgoblin, the latest book in the Princess Betony series (released in July 2016), both published by Walker Books. Visit Pamela's website for more information about her books and author events.