I’ve just been to the Somerset Literature Festival. Three days of workshopping, networking and sitting in on author talks has left me inspired and exhausted. The Somerset Festival is a children’s literature festival held every March on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.
I thought in the spirit of sharing I would sum up the festival with some words of wisdom from the authors themselves. I hope you can take some inspiration from these also.
“When writing a narrative about something little kids don’t know, you need a way to share these ‘insights’. Use an animal or a teacher the main character refers to. Eg. “Mrs Martin would say…” – Nette Hilton.
“Don’t make your story too big. It makes it hard to keep the emotions personal.
In the beginning of your story take away your character’s country, friends, mum, dad and family. Then watch them struggle to get them all back.” – Melina Marchetta.
“To find good voices for your novels – eavesdrop. The best place to listen in on people’s conversations is IKEA on a Saturday morning – loads of good characters there.” – Anthony Eaton. (Tony didn’t say which IKEA he frequents, but watch out for him.)
“So much of history is cliché. Find the unique stories from the past and live the details, ie. Sounds, smells, tastes and sights.” – Jackie French.
“Many YA books now have dysfunctional characters and families. The final page really matters. Just what is your reader left with? - A feeling of empowerment or despair?” – Brian Caswell.
“Authors should show honest relationships and situations. Tell what it’s really like, brutal and all.” – James Moloney.
“Your character is not a single moment. They have a history, a back story. The emotions that made you who you are from the past are only just below the surface. So find out what’s below the surface for your character.” - James Roy.
“The core of comedy is about connection. If the jokes exclude people then the comedy doesn’t work. It must be inclusive. Comedy is about sharing, sometimes just between two people.” – Bruno Bouchet.
“Write the simple things well. Mention the small details in your story and readers will believe you. It validates the story.” – Markus Zusak.
“In order to research the ‘teenage voice’, travel on public transport around 3pm every day.” – James Moloney.
“Your villain has to be stronger, meaner and scarier than you think to hook your readers.” Belinda Murrell.
“Silence the gatekeeper to your imagination. When brainstorming, put every idea down, no matter how absurd.” – Brian Caswell.
“Alliteration is fundamental to the English language. We relate to alliteration in our reading, be it in picture books or news headlines.” – Bruno Bouchet.
“Ask your character: ‘What do you want?’ Then don’t give it to them until much later.” – James Roy.
“The best moments are the unexpected and the reactions to them.” – Markus Zusak.
“It’s about people – not the events. Get the characters right and everything else follows.” – Brian Caswell.
“The books you read feed into your own writing. Reading is the most important way to learn the craft.” – James Moloney.
I’ve been listening to audio books in the car lately. And surprisingly I am picking up more of the small details Markus Zusak mentioned. Today’s book was Sophie Laguna’s ‘Bird and Sugar Boy.’ Her characterisation is authentic and rich. The voice of Bird resonates for me and as a mother part of me wants to hug him. Sophie certainly has her characters ‘right’.
I’m working on mine and hopefully ‘everything else will follow.’