5 Things I Learned While Writing Two Wolves / On the Run

Excerpt from Two Wolves. Calligraphy & photography by Claire Atkins, words by me. Excerpt initially featured in ‘Slow’.

My book Two Wolves (On the Run in the US) is shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award to be announced in coming weeks. I thought I’d take this chance to reflect on the story, characters and process in a series of short blog posts. Here are five key things that writing this book taught me:


1. Be Afraid
It felt good to be out of my depth, to write something that I didn’t know if I was good enough to write. This is what drove me to keep going with Two Wolves through its five-year development period. The not-knowing created Flow for me. It was a a challenging project that kept me engaged and fully absorbed but not so overwhelming that I wanted to give up.


These three images were key to me understanding what the story was about.

2. Wake Early
My sons would wake at 6.00am and I could never get back to sleep, so rather than toss and turn for an hour I would begrudgingly get up and write. I accidentally discovered that waking early was the best way to engage my unconscious mind. In that half-sleep state the most interesting, raw and surprising ideas would occur.

I wrote the book in dozens of different locations but the feeling of the story travelled with me. Pic by Amber Melody.

3. ‘The Best Thing You Can Do is Write a Stunning Manuscript.’
This was a piece of advice from my agent Catherine Drayton. I cut and pasted it at the front of my manuscript and read it regularly. I’m not sure I wrote a ‘stunning’ manuscript but I wrote the best book that I was able to write at that time. I didn’t abandon it when it was just good enough. I kept going and going and wrote nine or ten drafts instead of my usual six or seven.


Writing outdoors made me write more honestly. Nature doesn’t seem to lie.

4. Tone is Everything
Once I knew the tone of the story it started to write itself. Some writers say that they need to hear the voice of the narrator and then the story writes itself. I discovered the musical key that my story needed to be played in by finding songs, visual images, movies and other books that resonated with me. I started to understand the posture and smell and feel of it, which made the writing come more easily.

Gotye’s album Making Mirrors  was vital to me finding Ben Silver’s loneliness and growing sense of self-awareness.

5. Make it Yours
I wasn’t abducted by my own parents and taken on the run when I was a kid, which is a shame because it would have made writing the book a whole lot easier. But I always knew that this story was about me somehow. Ben Silver’s life is very different to mine but I know exactly how he feels. It  takes a long time to find an authentic personal connection to a character but I think you owe it to the reader and yourself to make the journey.



You can read the first three chapters here 🙂



  1. July 14, 2015 / 2:43 am

    Fantastic post! The advice here is clear, simple and most certainly helpful. I'll be printing off some snippets from this blog and sticking them above my desk as I work on a new manuscript. As a big fan of the 'My Life' series, I'm itching to sink my teeth into 'Two Wolves', which arrived in the post a few weeks ago. Bravo, Tristan!

    • July 14, 2015 / 7:39 am

      Thanks Tim. A very kind comment. Good luck on WOLVES and thanks for sharing my books with your students, too. Glad there were some nuggets in this post. T

  2. July 15, 2015 / 4:32 am

    Hi Tristan, This is great (although point 2 made me feel a bit guilty, because I used to be an early morning writer, and now I'm a night writer instead – and I just KNOW the quality of time is vastly different for the reasons you outlined!) We share the same agent and it's funny but I have also benefited from CD's approach. There always seems to be such a tremendous rush to get things out there, but I have loved the discipline of waiting, and working, and listening, to make something better. Also, I really love the last point you make – it's helped shift something in my head! Thanks so much for sharing, Kirsty

  3. July 20, 2015 / 8:46 am

    Hi Kirsty

    Thanks for leaving such a thoughtful comment.

    I'm a bit hit and miss with the early mornings but I was consistent with it for a long period of writing 'Two Wolves' and it made such a difference. Re: CD, it is so good to have someone coaching you to take your time, to make it the best book it can be, not rushing it into publication, huh? And that is great that the last point was useful to you. Like everyone, I just feel my way forward into the dark and it all sounds so much pithier and makes much more sense in retrospect.



  4. Annabella
    August 27, 2021 / 4:57 pm

    Hello Tristan,
    I am a year 5 student and we have been assigned to read your book. When I am reading two wolves I cannot put it down, it is one of the best books I have ever read!

    • Tristan
      September 2, 2021 / 11:27 am

      Thanks, Anabella. So good to hear. I really appreciate you taking the time to let me know. ;)) I hope you get to read The Fall and Detention, too!

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