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Sunday, 29 June 2014

Event recap: Kids and YA festival

Yesterday I attended the Kids and YA festival at the beautiful and inspiring NSW Writers’ Centre in Sydney. I’ve attended numerous courses, festivals and symposiums at the NSW Writers’ Centre and they have always been enjoyable and worthwhile, but yesterday’s festival has taken the top spot as my favourite event the centre has put on. 

The day began with an intro from the festival’s director, Aleesah Darlison, before the keynote address from engaging Boori Monty Pryor - author of such books as Shake a Leg. Pryor kicked off the festival with a perfect quote: “It’s not what you do. It’s what you leave”. And it was clear from the buzz in the room that the audience was full of aspiring authors determined to do just that.

Festival director and author, Aleesah Darlison 


Culture, Place and Identity in Children's Literature:

The first talk I attended was the topical session on diversity from three authors with very different backgrounds: Boori Monty Pryor, Wai Chim and Sarah Ayoub with Wendy Fitzgerald as the chair. Each author spoke about their background and their desire as children to read about protagonists like themselves. Pryor made the astute comment that people hate things when they don’t understand it; similar to how Pryor hated maths as a child. He said that writing is a great way to deal with anger. All authors hoped that readers would enjoy their novels, regardless of their cultural background.

Wendy Fitzgerald, Boori Monty Pryor, Sarah Ayoub and Wai Chim


From Page to Stage and Screen: 

Next up Wendy Orr, Isobelle Carmody and Felicity Pulman spoke with Meredith Jaffé about the process of translating their books to the big screen. This session was of particular interest to me due to my background in film and television, and I could relate to the tangible despair of how agonizingly slow the process of film production can be and how projects can fall through at any stage of the process.

Looks like I caught Wendy's eye!
Meredith Jaffé, Felicity Pulman, Wendy Orr and Isobelle Carmody

All panellists agreed that the process of writing a novel is very different from scriptwriting, in particular, Isobelle Carmody spoke of how structured films are and that plot points must occur within a certain amount of screen time. At this point, author Pamela Freeman - who was in the audience, spoke up and mentioned that this is how she writes novels, due to her television scriptwriting background. I realised then, that this is also how I approach writing a novel.

The inevitable question of how to ensure your book will be ripe for film adaption arose and Felicity Pulman said the key is to have a ripper story that’s visual. That’s easy enough, right? ;) They all agreed that you need to be open to making changes such as: combining characters, removing characters, changing the nationality or age of a character and emphasizing certain elements of the story over others. 

I really enjoyed this panel and look forward to seeing the film adaptations of Ghost Boy (Felicity Pulman), Greylands (Isobelle Carmody) and any further Nim’s Island films (Wendy Orr) in the, hopefully not-to-distant, future.

Publishers: What They're Looking For and How to Impress Them:

After lunch, I returned for the always-popular publishers panel with Zoe Walton (Random House Australia), Nicola Robinson (Walker Books Australia), Suzanne O’Sullivan (Lothian Children’s Books) and Rochelle Manners (Wombat Books). Each panellist let the audience know what they’re currently looking for, but they all agreed that quality is key. Other interesting insights were that manuscript assessment reports and recommendations are rarely read, nor are synopsises! I found this extremely surprising as many publisher submission guidelines ask for a synopsis and distilling your novel down to one or two pages is a panic-inducing process that takes weeks, maybe longer, to perfect. That said, they reiterated that you must follow a publisher’s guidelines, so if the dreaded synopsis needs to be included, then you must do just that. They also implored you know the publisher you’re submitting to and how your work sits amongst their current titles, as well as how it differs.

Creating Worlds and Magic and Wonder:

I was torn between the next two sessions, in one room authors were discussing how to write, pitch and publish a series: something I’m particularly interested in as I’ve written the first of a potential trilogy, but in the other room: Isobelle Carmody, Pamela Freeman and Tonya Alexandra were discussing how they create their fantasy worlds. The fantasy session eventually won out. I was extremely happy with my choice as I frantically wrote down numerous nuggets of wisdom from these powerhouse fantasy authors. Such as:

  • Create a world that you want to return to, and the only way to do that is through your writing – Isobelle Carmody
  • Don’t loose that childhood spark of imagination – Tonya Alexandra
  • If you write a deep enough world, then you will want to keep coming back to it – Isobelle Carmody
  • Reading fantasy is not a way of getting out (escaping the everyday) but of going deeper – Pamela Freeman
  • Your world is a character – Pamela Freeman
  • Your first integrity has to be to the story – Isobelle Carmody’s response as to why she takes years to write her books and not release a book a year as per the standard publishing contracts for trilogies.

And many, many more. This was a fantastic session; I could have listened to their advice all day!

Pamela Freeman showing us the map she made when writing her fantasy series

Pitching Session: Kids and Young Adult Novels:

The last panel for the day was a pitching session with author Greg Bastian, Zoe Walton (Random House) and Nicola Robinson (Walker Books Australia) judging the entries. As someone who has pitched to authors in the past, I could empathise with the gasp of excitement and fear as an audience member’s name was called. It was really interesting to see how other aspiring authors pitch their work and what piques the interest of the publisher. Key comments included:
  • Don’t pitch your book by telling the publisher about what the novel is about, but show that through the telling of the story itself
  • Let your voice shine through the pitch 

The last port of call was a glass of wine to celebrate the end of a fantastic day and successful festival. I loved the excuse to talk books all day and look forward to the next fantastic event at the NSW Writers’ Centre!



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