Wombat Books Blog

Wombat Books blog is the place to keep up to date with all the goings-on in the world of Aussie kid's books.

Sending good messages with Cecily Paterson

PatersonCecilyCan you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in the industry?

I feel like I've been doing writing-related stuff for a while. My first job out of uni was learning to be an editor with the Law Book Company. It was stringent and useful, but boring. I moved on to a far more interesting job as a communications officer for a non-profit organisation where I got to write, which was always my first love. My first book, a history of the organisation, was written in that job. My second book was the biography of my boss from that job. He had been adopted as a four year old in Palestine during the Second World War. He had no papers, no identity and never knew exactly how old he was. It was a story that wrote itself really. It wasn't until I was 37 and had just had my fourth child that I knew I was ready to write fiction. I'm currently working on my eighth novel for girls.

Describe your typical work desk.

I work daily at my desk, which is set up in the corner of our lounge room. The bigger the desk, the more room for mess — and I have a big desk. My husband makes 'tsk' noises at it, but I clean it up twice a year, which is more than enough for anyone. I can sit to write or press a button to use my standing desk. I also have a treadmill set up for walking while writing. It was exciting at the start, but I'm a little lazy these days.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I learned to read when I was three by listening to my older brother sound out his words, and like Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, reading was as natural to me as breathing. At the same age, our family went to live in Pakistan for a period. The caretaker family on our property sent their children to school, but neither parent could read. One of my mum's first tasks was to run a literacy program in a slum area, teaching women their letters and sounds. I was intrigued by the idea that a grownup was unable to read and do this most basic thing I loved so much. At the time, I tried to imagine a life without access to stories and other worlds from books, but it seemed impossible, or at least remarkably small.

How do you balance making the plot engaging with providing a strong message?

Nobody wants to be told what to think, so I don't 'preach' directly in my books. My characters, however, go through hard times, learn difficult lessons and have challenging conversations with their friends and mentors. The messages come through their discoveries. When a mentor is giving advice to one of my characters, I try to write the dialogue so it's natural to the ear, to avoid having indirect preaching take place.

What advice would you give to parents wanting their children to be more accepting of others?

Model kindness in your own words and actions. Apologise to others, be quick to listen and slow to get angry. Give other people the benefit of the doubt. If your kids are angry with people, listen and validate their experiences, but help them to find ways through the anger. It's really useful to help your kids understand the power games that often play out in groups. If they can recognise manipulation, they can either avoid it or shut it down.

What's your favourite under-appreciated novel?

That's almost too difficult to decide. Growing up I loved the twentieth century children's author Rumer Godden, whose voice was tantalisingly vivid and delicious. Why was she not acclaimed? I just adored A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth when it came out, probably for its Indian flavour, which was very similar to my experience in Pakistan.

Describe your panel for the Wombat Books conference.

It's called 'Social awareness in books'. As all my novels tend to feature some kind of issue that the character has to navigate, I'll be talking about how to be serious while still staying engaging. Extreme honesty will be mentioned, as will staying true to my characters and their points of view. Basically, it's how I try to write in story form all the useful advice that my kids won't listen to if it just comes out of my mouth the normal way.

For more great panels like Cecily's, book your tickets for the conference now! Click the image below for more information.

Conference Tiles Social Awareness


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Social awareness in fiction with Katrina Roe

Katrina RoeCan you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been in the industry?

Being in media, I've always written for work, but only got serious about creative writing once I had my first child. I started toying with kid's books in 2009 (Gasp! Ten years ago!) and published my first book, Marty's Nut-Free Party, three years later in 2012. I work 5 days a week and have 3 kids and it's a real struggle to find time to write.

Describe your typical work desk.

I think I have written all my stories at my kitchen table, usually when one of my kids has been taking a nap. It's usually a mess. As I write this, I am surrounded by a mug of half-drunk Milo, a bowl of sugar, tomato sauce, babushka dolls, a box of tissues, my four-year-old's drawings, a Lynette Noni novel, Kat Colmer's YA romance Can't Beat the Chemistry, a Hope 103.2 waterbottle, the school newsletter, a pack of playing cards, a painted ceramic mermaid, my to-do list and a bunch of flowers. By the time I finished writing the list, I'd drunk the rest of the Milo. I really need to clean up!

Accepting difference and social awareness are prominent themes in your books. What interests you most about these topics?

I've thought about this and find it hard to articulate why I come back to these themes. Somewhere along the way I just became sensitised to the idea of people being excluded or misunderstood. Growing up with a brother who had a severe disability, then having a daughter with anaphylactic food allergies probably heightened my awareness of the need to care for those with extra needs. Since reading To Kill a Mockingbird as a teenager, I've been acutely aware of the power of books to build empathy and I seem to gravitate towards books about outsiders in my own reading. So I guess that just naturally comes out in my writing. And I love seeing the way kids respond emotionally to these stories.

What research do you do when writing from personal experience? Do you try and get a broader understanding, or make it uniquely your own?

I tend to write first from my instinct and experience, then research later to make sure what I've written stands up to the research. At times I have had to tweak or amend what I've written to fit the research. For example, when I wrote Gemma gets the Jitters, I initially had Gemma taking a photo from the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Once I researched the BridgeClimb and the techniques they promote for tackling a fear of heights, I discovered that no cameras are allowed on the BridgeClimb. So I had to amend the story to reflect that reality.

Writing can be a great emotional outlet, but can conversely be a mentally draining process. What is your advice for anyone struggling with this?

For me, the writing itself is always a joy, it's the rest of the process that is mentally draining. The constant promotion, worrying about book sales and publicity and the constant rejections. Sending off your very best work to a publisher and waiting months to hear anything back is the most agonising part of the process for me. Every time you publish a book you never know if you will ever be published again! Having so little control over editorial decisions can be tough on authors as well. It hasn't happened to me, but I know many authors find it tough when the publisher's ideas for the title or cover conflict with their own creative choices.

My advice would be to keep your writing in its place in your life. Don't let it take over your life. Make sure you're enjoying other activities and hobbies, a good social life and prioritising your non-writing friendships, your health and your family. You won't be a great writer if you don't live your life to the fullest.

If you could live a day in a literary character's shoes, which one would you choose?

Anne of Green Gables! She finds so much joy in everything!

Describe your panels for the Wombat Books conference.

I'm going to be discussing resilience for writers on a brilliant panel with Penny Jaye, Kate Gordon and T.M. Clark. We'll be looking at issues of mental health, bouncing back from adversity and work/life balance. I'll also be looking at social awareness in books with Josie Montano, Cecily Paterson and Kathy Hoopmann.

For more great panels like Katrina's, book your tickets for the conference now! Click the image below for more information.

 Conference Tiles Resilience for Writers

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