Hello fellow Children’s Writers and friends,
The Sydney Writers’ Festival and the CYA (Children’s and Young Adults) Festival in Brisbane have both been posting a lot on Facebook lately and this is no surprise as we are into Festival Season, which goes for about twice as long as the natural ones, starting around June and continuing well into November, all around Australia and if you can afford it, the world! Festivals are such a valuable learning tool and an enjoyable activity for you and your book-loving family. So this month I have decided to post something I wrote two years ago when I first wanted to start a blog, but lacked both the confidence and the knowledge, which ultimately go hand in hand really. So without further ado, one of Journeygirl’s favourite Festival experiences.
Journeygirl’s road took a delightful turn this month. The Sydney Writers’ Festival in their wisdom and generosity (or maybe it was hers, it wouldn’t surprise me) organised for my ultimate Aussie picture book hero and children’s writing royalty, Mem Fox to speak in my local area for the princely sum of $20p/h. That’s right $20! I say it wouldn’t surprise me if it had been Mem’s generosity, because she was certainly extremely generous on the night, both with her expertise and her time. She spoke for more than double the allocated time and still stayed behind to sign her books.
Given her willingness to share, I found that I was bold enough to tell her that I wished to join her as a published Picture Book author and even to ask her if she had any specific advice for me. Imagine the audacity! However, as I’ve discussed before I am finding the writing community on this road of ours are not only willing to help, but almost willing you on to the glorious publication finish line. (This is apparently actually not a finish line at all, but simply the start of another scenic route.) Anyway to my delight, she graciously put down her pen, turned to face me properly and said “Read good literature…. with a good rhythm… and memorise it!” Why? So that you internalise it, so that it becomes natural to you. So natural that often when you have an idea, you will have an accompanying rhythm making it easier to write a good story (this is paramount) with a natural flow.
There were a myriad of things Mem Fox had to say, many of which you can find on her website memfox.com I learned more in this two hour session than I have in the past two years. Sure I had heard some of this information before, but it was the way in which it was delivered, which in turn was a lesson itself. There was pure joy, shared excitement and a palpable love of Picture Book Writing. What did she have to say? She spoke candidly of the times when ideas refused to materialise, of silly mistakes she has made when submitting too early in her excitement at finishing a particularly good draft, the difficult decision of leaving her other love- teaching behind, where her ideas came from and oh so much more!
Aside from knowing that she sometimes suffers from the same debilitating doubts as the rest of us, one of the most wonderful aspects of the experience was hearing Mem reading her own books; where she intended the inflections to go, how she used text features to relate to and engage with the audience and her unequivocal love of reading, writing and teaching.
The final point Mem Fox made, or at least the final one I’m going to discuss in this post is the need to edit, rewrite and edit again and again and again. No surprises there! Except that I had never realised quite what that meant. Mem used Where is the Green Sheep? to explain how difficult, yet necessary it is take time to perfect your work to the best of your ability. She spoke of her struggle to write perfect rhyme to find the perfect words. A struggle which took her over one and a half years! One and a half years to write and rewrite this much loved best seller before it even saw an editor. Did you know, for example, that every word bar two have only one syllable? And that this was intentional! It was, of course very difficult to do! Difficult because as well as that it was written in couplets of related things e.g. red/blue, bed/bath followed by a question and double page spread with a pair and a spare. It also had to have 5 or 6 syllables consecutively with a change in that order every fifth page until the end of the book where the pattern changes slightly, all this while still telling an enjoyable, humorous story.
I have to say, aside from being a little starstruck and hopefully not gushy, I really did learn so much and I hope I have managed to relay some of it clearly here this fortnight. Thank you to the Sydney Writers’ Festival for providing the opportunity for everyday, ordinary writers and fans to meet and learn from Mem and so many other great authors. Remember to check them out as bookings start around about now.
As always, savour the quest
Farewell fellow travellers,
P.S. Why don’t you check Journeygirl out on Facebook? Go to her alter ego Artelle Lenthall’s page and click on the Journeygirl link.