A not so brief overview of a brief


Isobelle Carmody and Samhita Arni in Bangalore. Turns out they are kindred spirits and huge fans of Ursula Le Guin. Isobelle collaborated with illustrator Prabha Mallya and Samhita with author Alyssa Brugman.

For those who aren’t familiar with how publishing works, commissioned authors are often sent a ‘brief’ – a set of instructions or outline of what the publisher is hoping to receive from the artist or writer. Usually, the brief for authors contributing to anthologies includes word length, themes and a schedule. But for Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean we asked our contributors for a whole lot more.

We had a lot of faith in our contributors. They were selected on the strength of their existing body of work and the respect we had for their integrity, as both thinkers and writers.

They all delivered more than we expected. Some of the collaborations were way more innovative and complex than we could have anticipated. I like to think that this was in part because of the themes of the anthology. Trust, co-operation and licence to innovate make for a potent starting point to any story.

Working Title: Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean (yes, weird, extravagant, see note below*)

Word length: for prose contributions – 2,500 words – for illustrated stories/graphics – 10 pages

Deadline: 1 December, 2013

Anthology editors: Commissioning editors – Kirsty Murray, Payal Dhar, Anita Roy (Young Zubaan). Allen & Unwin editors – Susannah Chambers and Sarah Brenan.

As this is a collaborative project and the idea behind it was to open up conversations between two distinctively different countries, it was always intended that some authors and illustrators would work together. But when we began discussing the whole project, we realised that it would be wonderful if ‘writers & writers’ as well as ‘artists & writers’ could connect in some small way. We’re hoping that everyone will be happy to at least say ‘hi’ to their Indian/Australian counterpart, maybe exchange an email or two, or skype if you feel comfortable talking about your idea. We have matched all contributors in the hope you might enjoy meeting an Indian/Australian author. It would be lovely if this resulted in a tiny bit of cross-pollination.

The pairing may simply involve conversation, rather than conventional collaboration or sharing of work, perhaps bouncing around a theme or idea or mentioning your starting point. It would be interesting if the two very different pieces wound up containing an element of cross-referencing but it’s not a necessary outcome. There’s no obligation to spend time on this but in the spirit of the project it would be lovely if you could just wave at each other.

In regard to the stories, we’re very open to whatever you come up with but please remember the feminist theme: The central idea is of re-imagining the world from a feminist perspective. We suspect (hope!) some people will interpret “feminist” as thinking their stories around the futures of girls/women, others will see it as a world free of patriarchy and yet others will paint new or alternative social orders based on some other kind of kyriarchy — I don’t think that’s a bad thing, it’ll give us a variety.

Since this is a YA collection, the stories should in some way “speak” to teens. We’re hoping the readership will be roughly 13-17 years of age.

We are open to author-illustrator pairings working out their process together but offer the following suggestions on how to proceed, if you’re feeling unclear:

Once a theme or idea is established it would be great if the writer could send ‘word images’ to illustrators. plus a synopsis to the illustrator. Illustrators can then storyboard the illustrations. Illustrators have free reign to decide how to arrange the illustrations – and also feel free to opt for straight illustration, though we’d really love it if the stories were in graphic narrative format.

We encourage writers to make contact with the visual artists as soon as possible and discuss their themes and ideas with the illustrators. We hope illustrators will offer feedback on the story and also contribute to its development. If you decide a different process suits you better, absolutely fine.

*The Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World Union) had a 1930s labour song about how the bosses and priests tell you that you won’t get to eat pie until you’re in the sky (dead) – which is where the phrase ‘pie in the sky’ came from – something impossible, something you can’t  have in this lifetime. But I liked the idea of swallowing the world, taking big hungry mouthfuls of this life, of eating the half of the sky we’re holding up. It’s about the desire to have and do impossible things, especially things that girls aren’t meant to do. And also of the idea of being connected to the planet. If you eat the sky and drink the ocean you are part of it and everything’s connected. It also seemed to echoe something about strange future worlds and alternative realities. Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean is currently only a working title and may change when we receive the work.


The happy-ever-after end to this not so brief-brief is that no one behaved as we expected – they all rose above our expectation and the working title became the inspiration for new visions, new worlds and an extraordinary new book.


Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Every adult was once a child and the child inside them never disappears.”

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