Towards the end of 2016 I got married, toured Tasmania on honeymoon and got a puppy! As you would expect, my life has changed, my holidays were blissful, and I feel very lucky. And not just for those great events; I feel lucky because last June I survived a massive car crash.
My car fishtailed in loose gravel on a country road; it rolled twice, then backflipped, and landed upright on its wheels like a gymnast. My belongings were strewn all over the road while the airbag and seatbelt kept me in the car with only a bruise and shock to show for it. As you would expect, an experience like this changes the way one looks at things. I’m much more conscious of how precious time is, and am now always trying to balance getting on with as many things as possible, while also enjoying the present moment … quite the oxymoron. I highly recommend having a non-injurious near-death experience; it makes you feel incredibly grateful to be alive.
I’m grateful for many other things in 2016. This past year I finished a new book, a comic called Brobot. It’s the first in a series; I’m working on the revised draft at the moment. It felt great to make it, like I’d hit a groove, like I was in the flow, like I’d found my voice … and all manner of other lovely clichés. I also had the privilege to be mentored by one of my Australian illustration heroes, Bruce Whatley. I’m really happy with how the book turned out, and I’m itching to make the second one even better. Last year the book sparked interest from some big animation companies which prompted me to a) poop my pants and b) put a lot of thought into expanding the world of Sally Tinker. Even if nothing comes of the leads from the animation studios, it’s been worth it, because now I know who Sally’s friends are, who the rest of her family members are, where she lives, what her workshop looks like, and what other insane science-fiction adventures she’s going to get up to next. If I can get these stories working, the next few years are going to be a heap of fun.
Despite some really crazy busy times (I’m looking at you, term 3), I had some really lovely periods of down time where I got to reflect, plan, create and enjoy beautiful surroundings. Last February my then-girlfriend and I stayed in a quiet chalet in forest next to a Margaret River winery; it was a welcome break from making my book, and we came back from that trip engaged!
A work trip to North Melbourne in April allowed for some much-needed uninterrupted research time, a chance to see the Matilda musical and the opportunity to read two of my stories (The Last Viking and My Dead Bunny) for the Story Box Library website.
I visited Balingup in July for their children’s literature festival and got to hang out in a cabin with some wonderful author buddies.
Our annual SCBWI retreat on Rottnest Island was a highlight, as always, though this one was a little more stressful than usual as it was the first I was responsible for as the local Regional Advisor. Still, it’s always awesome to hang out with so many incredible, inspiring and supportive friends in my industry. And I got to meet another of my Australian illustration heroes, Craig Smith, one of our special guests at the Retreat.
Having My Dead Bunny shortlisted for Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards was surreal. I didn’t expect it to be considered for the longlist let alone the shortlist. It’s a picture book but it’s not for most young kids; it’s definitely not a bedtime story. But it’s very different, so I guess that struck a chord. I’m glad that the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
Another highlight was my week visiting schools in the Kimberley region. The landscape up there is just something else, and the kids are so chilled. While city kids can be tough to connect with and seem to expect to be entertained, these Kimberley kids were quite happy for you to just be; the less I tried, the better we connected. Authenticity was key. It was great to have that circuit-breaker in my busiest time of year, where I could just sit and chat with students rather than having to do my usual comedian-for-kids routine. While I was up north I also got to hang out in Broome for a few days, which was fantastic!
I was invited to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia for the inaugural COMEL children’s literature festival. It was a brilliant experience and I got to meet some amazing people, but it was too short a trip. I’ll have to go back to soak up more of the history and food of KL.
Getting to interview Richard Roxburgh was a great experience. I was very nervous, but I learned that even super famous people are still just people. He was very easy to talk with and a super nice bloke. And his book is brilliant.
In November I visited libraries in Western Sydney for the Sydney Festival of Moving Stories, and got to hang out with great authors and meet lots of very funny students. Thanks to the Festival for taking a chance on this unknown guy from the other side of the country.
And finally, I got married to my best friend, and got a beautiful labrador puppy called Frankie … which brings us up to speed.
For those of you who like KPIs, here‘s my vital statistics of 2016:
- 104-ish days of talks and workshops at schools, libraries and festivals (down from 118 last year, thank goodness)
- 202 individual sessions
- combined audience of 11,000 people
- 5 festival/conference appearances (down from 12 last year, thank heavens)
- Quietest term: 1st (same as last year)
- Quietest month: December (2015 = March, 2014 = April)
- Busiest term: 3rd (same as 2015 and 2014)
- Busiest months: August/Sept/Oct (2015 = Aug/Sep/Oct; 2014 = Aug)
- 2 work trips over east (down from 4 in 2015, 6 in 2014)
- 1 overseas work trip
- 1 week = longest trip away (down from 2.5 weeks in 2015)
- 1 new book released (Brobot)
- 2 book launches
- 4 editions of the James Foley-o newsletter (down from 9 in 2015, thank the entire pantheon)
- 1 near-death experience
- 1 wedding
- 1 girlfriend-turned-wife
- 1 honeymoon
- 1 puppy
In my reviews of 2015 and 2014 I basically said the same thing – don’t work so hard, don’t get burned out, exercise more, etc – the usual stuff. Reflecting on my 2016 experiences, particularly my very-nearly-but-not-dying, I want to focus on two things in 2017 – one, to make the most of my time (and that doesn’t mean filling it just with work, but using it in ways that are more fulfilling), and two, to be more present (being mindful of the present moment, meditating more, finding peace even in the busy times). So I guess it’s the same pledge 😉 but I’m coming at it from a more urgent and mature viewpoint. Well, as mature as possible when my next book is called Dungzilla.
All the best for your 2017!