Cranes make shapes out of sky … how a book is built

Tall and strong, tall and strong

Cranes make shapes out of sky

Strong, strong, straight and long

Cranes make shapes out of sky

Blocks and boxes and lines are made

Hatched in the street and strong

I want to stand like a crane, I want to be strong in the sky

Looking up at cranes became an essential part of my re-entry into a Melbourne changed from my childhood.  I moved into a highrise apartment as I enrolled as a full time mature age student of writing and editing, after a lifetime already spent as a specialist children’s librarian.

 Level with my 16th floor window, just four car lanes across the street, the cab of a tower crane stood on its one leg at the corner of a skeleton building in construction. I couldn’t help being fascinated, and questions came to me.

  • How did the crane get to be so tall?
  • What a good picture book it would make – had anyone else written it?
  • Would children read and love it, if it was a picture book?

I noticed that children, like me, looked up from the street, or across from their balcony or window, to see the hook lowering at the end of a cable like a giant fishing line to a waiting truck. They were just as entranced as I was, on the magical Sunday when traffic was stopped so that a new section could be lifted and fitted into the tower so it could grow with the building’s progess. That this operation was alliteratively called ‘climbing the crane’ seemed like perfect poetry.

In an editing class at RMIT, I had the good luck to meet Caitlin Ziegler, a graphic designer and fabulous collage artist who draws, cuts, pastes and can fold a paper crane. Caitlin was born in Tasmania, jumping the ditch early to live and work in Melbourne. We both enrolled in the subject Writing for Children, and the daily crane watching became an idea to write about as a picture book text.

From first scribbles to published book, I estimate that I wrote at least ten times the eventual  251 words.  All of the writing was trying to answer the question: Why is this fascinating to me, and who else is fascinated by it and why.

I was fortunate that my writing and editing course was being offered from RMIT University. This institution started its life as the Working Men’s College so has a strong engineering and technology focus. Plenty of crane books in the library!

Crane books in the RMIT Library

And reading a technical manual to bone up on the proper names for parts of a crane, I found more poetic inspiration in one line:

Notebook of inspiration for crane manuscript

The load lead line goes over the sheave

And then runs under the boom

(RMIT might ask me to return the library diploma they conferred on me years ago, as I failed to note which book I found it in so can’t acknowledge the author.)

I wanted the finished manuscript to have the essence of cranes and the pleasing rhythm that these two lines conveyed.  Not all of the writing about cranes in these tech manuals was up to this standard so I asked questions wherever I could.  A newspaper article about working conditions for crane operators led to an invitation for the author to meet me in a bar – suffering for my art ! Everyone in the industry I encountered was encouraging and, like most people with specialist knowledge, eager to share it.

Another crane-obsessed artist I met during my early writing alerted me to the vast crane community on Instagram – through finding and following, I connected with an operator who agreed to be the technical adviser on the book.  His daughter contributed to the final design on the hatched page, and endpapers.

The book was on its way.