Kids often ask this when I go into schools.
It may be because I tell them that ideas are everywhere, that I’m gathering bits and pieces all the time, that just this morning I quietly filed away a funny thing their teacher said, or a cool-looking tree just outside their classroom, or the way their glasses make them look like a superhero in disguise.
It may be because I tell them I’m always collecting character names, that when they tell me theirs it sometimes starts things firing in my brain: Humphrey for a villain? Or a duck? A villainous duck! Charis for a small girl on an important mission across a magical land. Noah and Abby and Ella and Ruby just for the solid, satisfying ring of them.
Eyes light up. Will you put me in a book? they ask. You could write about our class!
And the answer is always no, because I can never plan to write about things or people in that way.
But the answer is also always yes, because things sneak into my work when I’m not looking, and the kids and the classes and the schools I’ve been to over the years are there when I think about it, when I look back on the work after it’s finished.
With Book Week done and dusted for another year, I’m taking a moment to reflect.
Every year, writers and illustrators swap anecdotes from sessions and I’m no exception. I generally post these snippets on my Facebook page, tagged as “The Book Week Follies”. Generally, they’re in the vein of “Kids Say the Darndest Things” – things like the reason we didn’t have a car growing up was that it was only horses and carriages back then, that I’m the most expiring author ever, that maybe I should try and be more like Wendy Binks or Andy Griffiths, or that I look nothing AT ALL like my Year 1 photo and what on earth has happened to my face?
These exchanges are amusing and fun, and there was no shortage of them this year.
But sometimes other moments stand out …
So yesterday was World Read Aloud Day. What a great idea! I love reading aloud. When I write, I often test a sentence I’m not sure about by reading it back to myself over and over, listening for the way the rhythm falls. It’s something poets do all the time but it really helps for prose as well.
But I also just love reading aloud. Now that my daughter is older, I don’t really get to read to her, though I am prone to sudden attacks of poetry. Someone will say something that reminds me of a poem and the next thing my unsuspecting family knows I’m standing in the kitchen with a book in my hand, holding forth. They love it! (I swear)
In celebration of World Read Aloud Day, I got to do something really fun. I signed up on a register over at Kate Messner’s blog and volunteered to Skype visit with some schools. Even though it was *World* Read Aloud Day, most of my requests came from the US. With the time difference I could only fit a small handful in because while they were waking up to their school day, I was getting ready to head for pyjamas. For me, it was World Read Aloud Night, because I started Skyping at 10.30pm and finished after midnight.
Last year I was lucky enough to do some work with TravelSmart, who used my picture book Ten Tiny Things as part of their TravelSmart to School program.
At the end of the year, schools who have been involved in the program send student representatives along to an awards day where everyone shares the ways in which they’ve put the TravelSmart message into practice in their school community. I was invited to attend this event and deliver a workshop for the kids which teachers and other accompanying adults could then take back into schools and adapt/extend for a larger group.
During the morning, the kids did a few preliminary activities using images from the Ten Tiny Things blog. They were asked to write a caption or a description of what they saw happening in the pictures. Check out some of the things they came up with below:
As many of you know, I have been working for some years to dispel the many myths that circulate about penguins. My picture book The Truth About Penguins was an important step in this process.
Since its publication, I have gone into schools, libraries, festivals – wherever they will have me – presenting the facts to children young and old. Some of my audience, I find, are more easily persuaded than others. Some are downright stubborn.
Earlier this week, to kick off the National Year of Reading, I went down to Kwinana Library. There I attempted, mostly in vain, to preach my penguin-y gospel.
The last couple of months have been a busy time for me. As other writers will attest to, Book Week seems to have turned into Book Month somewhere along the line and I’ve only just finished a steady stream of school and library visits. I could give you a bunch of stats here but I’d rather sit down and get some writing done, so instead I’ll just say that I drove a lot, talked a lot, listened a lot, and laughed a lot. It was energising and exhausting, all at once. And bookings are coming in for 2012, which is lovely, but also a little alarming.
I am always amazed by the creative and insightful ideas kids come up with. There was a great wealth of these this year, but I have to say that my favourite comment from a student was: “Meg, you are the most expiring author I have ever met!” Coming at the end of a long day, this was at once motivating and accidentally apt.
It’s Kerang, really, but if you live here, you don’t need all those pesky vowels. And I do live here, at least for now. I’m here for a few weeks, on a kind of writing retreat, for some much-needed head-space and novel-writing time, as well as visiting a few schools and some other random bits and pieces.
Yesterday, I spent some time at Kerang Primary, just down the road from where I’m staying. It’s one of those gorgeous old country schools, not unlike the school I went to when I was growing up in Eaglehawk, near Bendigo (I’ll be visiting Eaglehawk North in a few days, which I’m very happy about), so in a weird way, it feels like home. I talked about reading and writing and about some of my books (my favourite boys, Nathan, Ronnie and Weasel featured heavily in the discussions). I also talked about where stories come from and some ways in which you can turn your writer eyes on to see the ideas that are lurking all around you.
Book Week is over for another year, which is probably just as well, as I may need the next eleven months to recover! I had another jam-packed week of storytelling, talks and workshops, this year at libraries and schools in the Cities of Stirling, South Perth, Joondalup and Swan. It was fun using this year’s theme of Book Safari to talk about tracking ideas: how do you recognise them as they flash past in the jungle? what do their footprints look like? what happens if you think you’re tracking a deer and when you finally get a good look at it, it turns out to be an elephant? These are the questions that keep me up at night!
If you’re wondering why I’m looking so tanned and relaxed it’s because I’ve been in Broome! Okay, it was only for three days and there wasn’t much time for lying around in the sun, but it was a fantastic trip nonetheless. I spent time with Years 8 and 9 from Broome Senior High School, then an afternoon with some keen readers and writers from Cable Beach Primary School. We talked about how stories get started – about images that fall into your head and priests on oceanic balloon flights and chihuahuas that get blown away in storms and about ways in which you can take all your wild and crazy ideas and turn them into stories.
I am now officially booked out for Book Week. If you’d like to have me visit your school or library, I’m happy to discuss alternative dates. Just contact me here.