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Thursday 1 April 2021

Guest Post: Martine Murray on Trusting Your Creative Self: Writing The Wanting Monster

When I started writing for children, I had not had my own child. I still brought children’s picture books, as I had been to art school and was attracted to the artfulness of them. Once I had a child, something began to shift in the way I looked at picture books. I saw beyond the ones I considered beautiful or poetic, to the ones that I could tell a child would love. 

Each Peach Pear Plum was a book I’d never had chosen, as the illustrations did not draw my eye, but our copy was soon so well thumbed and torn, it felt like a favoured relic. 

At the same time and also due to having a child, I became less interested in the city and started to envisage a life in which we were surrounded by garden rather than pavements. So we moved to the country. 

My art school friend Anna, moved to the same town and we began an adventure in schooling our kids in the fine art of connecting to the natural world. In the midst of black berrying, wild fruit picking, mountain climbing and bush walking, we began to ask ourselves how could we create something for the kids that would combine art and ritual and celebrate community. 

After considerable plotting, this became a much-loved annual Christmas shadow-puppet show in the large garden that surrounded our rickety house. We based the shows on stories I’d written, that had not found a home. Publishers told me that the stories did not fit the right format and that they were too quirky for the current market. Our community of friends and children however felt otherwise and in bringing them to life theatrically, Anna and I also became quite attached to the stories.

So Anna made some very beautiful illustrations and I resent it to publishers. Only one even replied and they felt a monster would be too frightening. However The Wanting Monster did not frighten any of the children in our performances, as it is a rambunctious, loveable character, who lives in most of us and simply demands attention.
Since it seemed that the publishing industry was very closed and very carefully oriented towards the market, I felt it was worthwhile to establish something that went in exact contravention of this; a press that was small, adaptable, local and driven by values rather than profit and therefore able to adapt to different formats and to publish books whose cultural value is more important than their market one.

Anna and I are two of the most unlikely business people, so the whole venture was either courageous or madly naive, and possibly both. So far, it has turned out to be a hair-raising sort of comedy, as well as a surprising and jubilant adventure worthy of its own story, but suffice to say, we have stumbled forward with a successful crowd funding campaign, and a first load of books currently sailing towards us. Against all odds, The Wanting Monster has proudly made its way into print.
In writing The Wanting Monster, I was aware that it has become more and more challenging to not succumb to our own wanting in a world where everything is organised to lure us towards the false enchantment of consuming. Given social media’s reach and algorithmic curation-never has the capacity to instil in us the desires for nice things, for status objects, for wrong information that will sustain our delusions, entitlements, life styles - been so sophisticated, far reaching and invidious. 

I wrote The Wanting Monster to bring to life this monstrous pattern by way of fable, so that children can relate to something that is otherwise very psychologically imperceptible, by simply feeling within them the monster that our wanting can become. I also wanted to suggest that when it begins to cause destruction, we must band together to expel it from our village. I love the way fairy tales speak to us sideways, in that we feel or recognise in them archetypal patterns of behaviour or psychic formation, without having to consciously understand the symbolic load in the story. 
I wanted The Wanting Monster to speak in this way- gently, symbolically, humorously. How do we banish or manage our own wanting especially when balanced against the needs of others and of the environment. Perhaps underneath our wanting is some sort of spiritual impoverishment, best restored through our connection with each other and with the natural world. For both Anna and I, our fears for the environment have been a driving force in creating this book together, which is why the story shows what a village becomes when its streams, forests and skies are destroyed, but also what can happen when it is regenerated by the villagers working together. 
We hope that this leads children to look at the stars and to feel that this and all that surrounds us in the natural world and all that binds us together, is sacred or worth protecting, loving and knowing. Anna and I, in our efforts to show this to our children have at once been led by them to experiences (in nature schooling, community shadow puppet theatre shows and now our small press) and to the concomitant belief that some ventures are worth taking, even without finances or spare time, in the face of convention and against all odds. Which takes me back to where I started, with trusting in what feels poetic and beautiful….

Martine Murray is an acclaimed Australian author and illustrator whose work has been translated into more than 20 different languages. She has a long involvement in the arts, including dance, theatre, circus and filmmaking. Her first novel The Slightly True story of Cedar B Hartley was on the White Ravens international list of outstanding children’s books, and was shortlisted for the Victorian, NSW, Qld Premiers Awards and the CBC Award. Her last two books Marsh and Me and Henrietta and the Perfect night won the 2019 CBC honour books. 

Watch the book trailer for The Wanting Monster or visit Martine and Anna at Parachute Press