Thursday, April 9, 2009

Making Marina

The Life Cycle of ‘Marina Mack and the Magic Paper’

I came home from work one day to find my son Josua skidding around the floor on his elbows, dragging his legs behind him. Odd, I thought to myself but all three of my boys have a bit of me in them so odd wasn’t unexpected. I didn’t even ask.

Some time later while I was visiting Josua’s school, I met the most amazing young girl. I won’t name her here but my first encounter with her went like this. She scooted across the classroom floor and pulled herself up into a wheelchair with incredible dexterity and shot off out of the room and down the steep path toward the canteen at break-neck speed. At the very last moment, she gripped the left wheel of the chair and skidded around the corner, leaning into the turn like Valentino Rossi on his Yamaha, and then off again.

At the school sports carnival, held at the local football oval, this young dynamo entered every event she possible could. Negotiating a wheelchair across a scruffy country town football oval is not an easy thing but it didn’t matter to her.

I needed to write a story capturing the indomitable spirit of this young girl with Spina Bifida and to so many other children who live with similar challenges in their lives.

There is another young girl named Abigail Branson – who I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting because she lives on the other side of the globe. But Abigail has posted a video of her accomplishments on youtube. I implore you to take a look.

I made several attempts to write a story worthy of my muse but couldn’t even come close. A long time later, I was watching an episode of Play School (A long running Australian children’s television show) Don’t tell anyone but at the time I was watching it, all my children were at school. During story time, the host told a story using origami as a storytelling aid. He folded a paper captain’s hat and told of a ship captain going out to sea. He turned the hat over and it had become a sailing boat. In the tale, a storm brewed up and the boat struck a reef breaking off the prow and stern. He tore the front and back of the paper boat away then continued the story. The boat was sinking when a big gust of wind snapped the sail. He tore away the sail and opened the paper out. It had changed shape into a vest. “But it was alright,” he said. “They were all wearing their lifejackets.”

That origami story stayed in my head and one day I had a epiphany. I could combine the two stories. I started writing a picture book version of “Marina Mack and the Magic Paper” that very day. When I was finished, I had a magical picture book text that was only 1200 words too long. I tried cutting it back, paring it down to its essence but the result had lost its magic. I put it away until I had another brainstorm.

Recently I worked on the original version, planning to render it into a chapter book format. At the moment it is hovering somewhere in the middle but I have been given some wonderful advice (Thanks Sandy and Graham) and it is slowly taking shape as a bona fide chapter book with loads of potential. Even in its limbo format, the judges at the Charlotte Duncan Award saw something in it to add it to the shortlist.

So I hope through this story, I can do justice to amazing people like my young muse and Abigail.



  1. Looking forward to reading "Marina Mack" in its new version - when you're ready to share.
    This is a great post Jeff.

  2. Thanks Robyn, I'll post it to the crit group as soon as I have the chapter book version drafted.