Writers and their notebooks: Claire Saxby

Writers notebook series

Claire Saxby is a Victorian writer who has written almost 40 children’s books. She writes beautiful fiction and non-fiction texts as well as poetry and has won many awards for her work.

Claire’s books are no strangers to the Oz Lit Teacher mentor text reviews page. Her books ‘Big Red Kangaroo’ and ‘Meet the ANZACS’ have both been featured on the page, with many others in line to be featured soon.

Here is a short video of Claire talking about her soon to be released (August 2020) book, Kookaburra:

I asked Claire a few questions about how she uses her writer’s notebook and here is what she had to say:

How do you use your notebook?

I always carry a notebook with me. These days there are times when that’s a digital notebook ie a phone, but mostly, if I’m carrying any sort of bag, there’ll be a notebook and a pen (or more, in case one stops working!). There’s something about the direct connection between pen and paper that seems to help ideas take shape.

What types of things do you write in your notebook?

Claire Saxby Writer's notebook

All sorts of things! It’s impossible to know which idea will take root and grow into something more substantial. It’s also impossible to know about timing: will this idea feed something already underway, is it for something in the future, or is it just a momentary focus? I’ve stopped trying to work out the answers to this and if something pulls me out of my walk, my conversation, my project, it goes in my notebook. If I’m sitting in a waiting room, or in a café waiting for someone, the notebook comes out. I reread what I’ve written and sometimes add to it. I write poetry drafts, or record overhead conversation. I might describe the noises, sights, smells, textures around me. With no end point, no purpose beyond slowing down and really observing my surroundings.

Sometimes I’ll use my notebook to tease out an idea. A bit like free writing, I write without editing or grammar-checking or crossing out. It’s a bit like a conversation with myself that no one else will read. It might include things like ‘nah, that’ll never work, but wait maybe it could if it was in third person and set in a different place, but where’s the plot problem and how will mc (main character) work out what to do next’ … a sort of stream of consciousness with very little punctuation.

Do you draw in your notebook?

I do draw in my notebook but not so often, and seldom related to anything I’m writing. I might doodle, or draw simple shapes (like an avenue of poplars) over and over again, refining the shape and direction. My drawing is never intended for anyone to see, but more as a way of allowing my subconscious brain to work without the interference and nay-saying of my conscious brain.

Where do you get the ideas for your notebook?

Claire Saxby writers notebook

Ideas are everywhere, it’s a matter of practice to work out which ones to note down, which ones to let flow. I find that an idea that someone else tells me will make a great story seldom sticks with me – not because it’s a bad idea – but because it’s not speaking to me, it’s speaking to them. There are exceptions, but not that many. As mentioned before, I tend to note down anything that sounds interesting or silly or rhythmic or curious without examining why it appeals to me. If it’s meant to be something more, that will be revealed later when I come to reread my notes.

This morning, I walked around my local streets (as I often do). I try to notice details of ordinary things. Sometimes I take photos. When I got home, I wrote a blog post about teasing out detail. If I’d been away from home, I would have captured my thoughts in my notebook for later exploring.

(Claire has a few really great blog posts on looking closer at the details in your surrounding- it is worth taking a ‘close’ look at these. Here is one of them.)

What do you write in your notebooks vs directly onto your computer?

My notebooks are for half-baked ideas, and bits of poems and discoveries about my characters that only occur to me when I’m away from my computer. They are not for neat writing or perfect spelling and grammar and punctuation. These are elements that I will explore once the story/poem is captured, like further layers of paint. Trying to explore an idea needs to be free from the need to make it neat and tidy. That said, the more notes I take, the easier it is to find the right words for that idea. Sometimes that includes punctuation.

How do you take an idea from your notebook and turn it into a completed piece of writing?

Sometimes I worry at an idea in my notebook, trying to find the rhythm, or the voice of a character, or the shape of a story. Then, when there seems to be enough to maybe work into a story, then I start working on my computer. Mainly because that stage of writing involves many changes and crossing out and tangents and rearranging and that can get just too messy in a notebook. And when it’s too messy, I get caught up in trying to make sense of what I am writing, have written. Agggh! Too confusing. On the computer I can erase and rearrange and reword and rework and still see what I’m doing. If I’m not sure whether I’m taking the right tangent, I’ll keep earlier versions. If I lose my way, I can come back to the earlier idea, the one that sparked my interest.

Claire Saxby writers notebook

What does your notebook look like?

Messy, messy, messy. I fold down pages when I’ve transferred an idea to the computer, and cross out pages when I’ve superseded what’s written there. Did I mention it was very messy?

How often do you use it?

Most days. And every day if I’m away from home.

You can read more about Claire Saxby and her books over on her website: www.clairesaxby.com. Claire writes a blog on her site and it’s worth reading as she regularly updates it with interesting stories, ideas and thoughts.

You can follow Claire on Instagram: @clairesaxbyauthor and on Twitter @SaxbyClaire


To learn more about how other authors use their notebooks, take a look at my interviews with Lian Tanner and Trace Balla.

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1 thought on “Writers and their notebooks: Claire Saxby”

  1. This resonates with me on so many levels for me – especially having a messy notebook 🙂
    I will definitely be talking with my students about how Claire uses her notebooks.
    Thank you!

    Reply

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