squirrelhair_LAt a Glance

Wants: Short Fiction (1,500 words – 2,500 words) inspired by selected art by Terry Whidborne
Preferred Genre: Any
Pay Rate: $300 + share of royalties
Deadline: 14 April, 2014

Go Directly to the Writer’s Guidelines and the Unfettered Image Folio

In Detail

Tiny Owl Workshop spent 2013 challenging many of our assumptions about where a story could be published. Their Napkin Stories project saw Valentine’s themed fiction distributed to a half-dozen Brisbane cafes, printed on the serviettes that went along with customer’s morning coffee. They followed this with the Pillow Fight project at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival, with a collection of genre and literary works printed on the hand-made pillows thrown around the festival club.

They’ve now released an open call for the first of their 2014 project, the Unfettered anthology, which invites writers to submit stories based on a series of ten artworks produced by Brisbane artist Terry Whidborne. Featuring the same blend of visual aesthetic and fiction that marked their previous projects, Unfettered is one of those athologies where I’m as eager to see the finished product as I am the fiction contained within.

AWM recently caught up with Sue Wright, the brains behind Tiny Owl, and artist Terry Whidborne to discuss the project and what they’re looking for in submissions.

Unfettered is certainly an eye-catching endeavour, calling for work inspired by ten pieces by artist Terry Whidborne. What is it about Terry’s work that inspired you to use him as the basis for the project?

Sue: Thanks. Terry is an amazing illustrator and I’m a little bit smitten by his animated shorts (of the filmic variety). While I was drawn to his work it was his generous approach to encouraging others to use his Sunday sketches for stories that made me think he’d be a great person to work with; that he’d get what Tiny Owl is about.

Terry: We all start with a blank page and traditionally the story came first, then the imagery. I wanted to flip it and see what would happen. To inspire stories for writers. As Sue mentioned, Unfettered happened when she saw I was uploading sketches through my Twitter account for writers to use as prompts. A few writers used them and was a very interesting process. Sue got in contact and we kind of clicked by wanting to create something different for writers. Things just got bigger and more exciting with Unfettered.

What are some of the story traits that get Tiny Owl’s attention in a project like this?

Sue: I worked in a public library for 7 years and learnt that readers pretty much just love stories be they in books, comics, magazines, whatever. Readers will also ignore labels such as ‘literary’ or ‘genre’, just so long as the story is good. It probably sounds a little lame, but that’s what we’re looking for – stories that draw readers in and respect them enough to entertain them, inspire them, make them think, cry, laugh.

How neatly do you see the images and the stories fitting in the final anthology? Should writers be using Terry’s work as inspiration or illustration?

Sue: Writers are free to use the illustrations as inspiration or illustration. I’m honestly just looking forward to seeing how people work with the images. As for the final anthology, it’s probably not the way it’s usually done, but the book will be shaped by the stories submitted as much as Terry’s illustrations. Terry may also have some secret illustrations to add to the book, he seems to like surprises.

Terry: I agree, the illustrations are only there as a prompt. I really don’t want to restrict the writer in any way. We all see things differently and to force on someone a particular direction is not what I want. The writers have as much freedom as I did creating the illustrations. I think it opens it up to more interesting stories. Secret illustrations, I don’t know what you’re talking about, Sue:)

Who are some of your favourite authors, and what makes them so appealing to you as a reader?

Sue: I’m a truly compulsive reader, so I’ll read anything. But I love picture books most of all, the interplay of words and illustration is wonderful. Shaun Tan is a favourite and I adore the work of Viv Schwarz who really gets children and their ability to enter a story straight up. Tove Jansson is brilliant, Junot Diaz does amazing things with words, Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels is incredible, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is terrifyingly good, Inga Simpson’s Mr Wigg is an utter delight, David Almond’s prose is devine, Pratchett’s character Death is a better philosopher than Sartre, Sue Saliba’s Alaska is gorgeous … and so on and so forth. Junot Diaz gets extra marks for mentioning Doc Savage though.

Terry: Unlike Sue, I’m actually not a big reader. I was a TV kid who loved films that were fantasy based. Journey to the Center of the Earth, with James Mason, The Dark Crystal, any of the Dahl films both stop motion and live action. As you may have noticed from the illustrations, I like the strange and twisted. Recently I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s work and a small book from Tom Baker (I’m a big Doctor Who fan) The boy who kicked pigs.


Terry’s images seem to lend themselves to fantasy stories (or, at least, that’s my bias as a fantasy reader); what kind of genres are you hoping to see included in the final project?

Sue: Hopefully Terry’s illustrations will be interpreted that way, but I equally hope they’ll inspire other stories. There’s an image of a magician which could be a poster for a once lauded illusionist who fled to Australia during WWII. There’s a bee image that could easily be a tattoo, and the only clue the police have to a killer’s identity. There’s an image called Squirrel hair that could be a painting a young obsessive paints over and over again. So, we’re looking for stories from all genres, including literary (Matt Haig says literary is a genre, so maybe argue with him if you disagree).

Terry: Although the images do tend to scream fantasy, Sue is correct in saying that they can go any way you choose. For instance, the tall creature with the flower was inspired by a TED talk with Amanda Palmer. She discussed her previous life as a street statue. She would stand high on a box holding out a flower to any passer by.

The Hunters can be seen as negative and positive emotions. The Hunters being the negative overrunning your positive emotions. Read into that what you will.

What other projects does Tiny Owl have coming up this year?

Sue: The next project is The Lane of Unusual Traders. It’s a world building project where we’ll invite writers and other creatives to bring the lane (its shops and residents), and maybe a city, into existence. We’ve commissioned a young Brisbane writer, Chris White, to help write the backstory that will kick the project off. The project begins in May, though it’s already gathering interest. Of course illustrators will be involved, and we hope writers will be putting their genre issues aside once more. We’re also releasing our first picture book, Will You be My Sweetheart, illustrated by David Parkinson, this year and there may be some small comics … and some tiny doors hidden across the city. We’d also love to work with Terry again. He’s a little busy working on books and animations and collaborations, but since he never sleeps he may find time?!

Terry: Yes, I don’t sleep much. Which gives me time to create and develop ideas. I’ve just completed a story titled ‘Little Lucy’. It’s nearly ready to be submitted to publishers. It’s about a girl that moves into a large house and finds an identical house hidden in the walls. It just happens to be smaller, doll size in fact. This actually started from my own Sunday sketches. I’m also in the process of writing a Witch story based on the animations I had previously done. You can view these via my website. And finally, to finish off a graphic novel called ‘The Lock’. This is quite a large book and uses a few mediums all combined to create a unique look. I also have a couple of other projects floating around from books to film.

Unfettered has been a special project and teeing up with Tiny Owl Workshop has been fantastic. I love how they approach stories, different ways to read and display pages from a writers mind. From napkins that go global to projects like Unfettered, they take a different angle which makes it exciting. I really hope to do more with them as I’m sure whatever it is, it’s going to be fun. I’m secretly hoping they do a little animation project some time down the line.

Alright, so this is your chance to offer a few final words of advice to writers thinking about submitting: what should they know that we haven’t had a chance to talk about here?

Sue: 14 April is the close date for Unfettered, but deadlines are supreme confidence tricksters and have a way of making people think they’re further away than they are. Short stories are also hard to write, so writers should start writing now. Writers should also know that Terry has a penchant for turning horses skulls into artworks, they’re amazing but he does have a dark side and I do sometimes wonder where he got the horses heads from in the first place.

Terry: I’ve always wanted to paint human skulls.

Images courtesy of Terry Whidbourne, used with the artist’s permission.

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