Word for the Day


This is another word from Anu Garg’s wonderful offerings. (A.Word.A.Day)

It’s an old and seldom-used word meaning ‘silly head’ or less kindly ‘idiot’ or ‘stupid person’. For me it is a spoken-word equivalent of a delicious chocolate. It’s just a delight to say…a word to savour.

My aim is to find a way to include it in a story or poem, or better still to let it star.

Presentation Skills

Last Saturday, thirteen other punters and I attended a whole-day Presentation Skills Workshop. We each had to prepare a 2-3 min presentation on something work-related. Twelve of us were writers/illustrators, one a teacher and the other two also worked in related fields. I’ve done quite a few workshops but knew I could use some help to make them better.

The workshop covered things like warming up, protecting, projecting voice; what to do with your body (ie make body language work for you); connecting with your audience; constructing a ‘killer opening’; and how to manage nerves. Banishing nerves wasn’t on the agenda…that heightened sense of alertness is essential to an energy-filled performance, but there were statistics about how much the audience retains and breathing exercises to keep the beast under control.

We each performed a number of times in addition to the initial presentation. It was amazing to see the transformations in some of the attendees. It was also fascinating to watch 13 other presentation styles, 14 if you include the presenter. All different, all really interesting.

And the take home message? Well of course there were many. But the overwhelming one was about being yourself, trusting yourself, trusting your material.

There were some great warm up exercises too.

Back to kinder

I’ve just spent a lovely, noisy hour at kinder reading books. It’s the kinder where all our children attended…it’s even the same teacher. My children, one now adult, the other two teenagers will no longer sit and let me read picture books to them. No surprise there.

With all the talk about literacy I thought it was time I contributed. I love talking in schools, but that isn’t something that happens regularly enough and reading is often a minor part of a presentation/workshop. I wanted to just read. I took a pile of books from my own library and interspersed them with books from the library corner offerings.

I’d planned to be there for half an hour, but it was an hour. Kids came in and out, chose their favourites, chose new ones from my pile. They read along to Carle’s ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ and ‘The Gingerbread Man’ and went off into block corner to make a boat after I’d read my story ‘Ebi’s Boat’. They counted the butterflies in Sue Whiting’s ‘Taming Butterflies’ and were riveted by Michael Rosen’s ‘There’s a Bear in a Cave’.

It was great fun. I plan to make it a regular thing.

21 years and going strong…

Our family and three other families have been meeting annually as a group since 1986. Sometimes we see some of the others during the year, but the reunion is when we are all in the one place at the same time. Across the years we’ve outgrown hotel/motel type accommodation and moved to school camps and shearers quarters. We’ve stayed in heritage buildings and old nissan huts. A few years ago I recorded some details of our weekends, but lost the documents somewhere. Recently I’ve started again, cued by a spreadsheet prepared by one of the families. Fascinating when gathering the material what one remembers and another has absolutely no recall of. Collectively, we should be able to flesh out the facts with anecdotes.

This new document, wholly in sketchy note form now goes to each reunion for additions and corrections. I keep looking at it, itching to turn it into something else. It has the makings of a novel I reckon, but would also be wonderful just as a record (including photos) of our weekends, tracking births, deaths and marriages. Yes we’ve had them all.

I love being a children’s writer and don’t see writing for children as ‘practice’ for writing for adults. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do both.

CBCA Conference Melbourne

This past weekend, Melbourne hosted the CBCA Conference. Biennial, this gathering of writers, illustrators, publishers, editors, teachers, librarians and others involved in, or interested in the world of children’s literature moves around the states. This year was Melbourne’s turn.

This was my fourth CBCA Conference and I enjoy each one more than the last. That’s partly I think because I know more about how they work but also because I know more people.

What I enjoy most is the chance to talk to people who also work in this wonderful, frustrating, challenging industry of children’s books. Each conference there are presentations on the challenges faced by the book in a changing world. Some are upbeat, others downright gloomy. But there are other speakers who inspire by sharing their own creative experience. Shaun Tan talked about his journey, showing examples of his work including a drawing from his first day of school and another from when he was around 8 years old. His ability was apparent even then. Neil Gaiman interspersed his address with long narrative poems. I had a ‘zing’ moment when he spoke about going back to favourite childhood books and how they sometimes have lost the magic they once had. He says that a reader brings their experience to their interpretation of a story and that as our experience changes so does how we view the words and bring the story alive. I’m sure I’ve not said that as well as he did, but it made a lot of sense. Certainly I’ve been really disappointed when rereading some of my favourite childhood books. However, I loved rereading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ recently. It’s many years since I first read it, but it had lost nothing of its power, perhaps because I brought different experiences to it as an older reader.

Wendy Cooling, involved with a UK program aimed at getting books to the very young, and Jan Ormerod, writer and illustrator were both inspiring speakers. I also attended a number of panel sessions including ‘Real Girls or Dream Girls’, ‘What Version of History do we give our Children?’, ‘Toddlers or Teens: Who are Picture Books For?’ and a session moderated by a publisher discussing the relationship between editor and writer. So many conversations and ideas to absorb. Poor old brain!

It’s always fascinating to watch others as they check out displays and meet-and-greet. I’m not ever very comfortable pitching spontaneously but even if I was, for me conferences are the wrong time and place. I did have some conversations with various people about opportunities but they’re always very general. I like watching publishers, editors and publicity people working. I eavesdrop on conversations, and often the questions I’ve not been able to formulate are answered.

Its great to have the chance to sit and just chat with interstate colleagues and friends. It took me most of the conference to get around all the trade displays as each time I’d begin or continue, I’d be sidetracked by friends, colleagues, launches and more. Wonderful stuff.

I’ve come home with lots of books, many business cards and a number of opportunities to follow up. I don’t measure the success of the conference by the quality or variety of the program. It’s much less tangible than that. Poetry describes it well when it says that the power of poetry is as much in the white spaces as in the words. Conferences are wonderful, not just for the program, but for all the ‘stuff’, planned and unplanned, that fits in between.

Roll on Brisbane 2010!