Oct 08 2011

Growing Young Readers at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival

One of my favourite panels so far at the 2011 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival was this afternoon’s session on writing for children and young people, called Growing Young Readers.

Talking about writing for young readers at UWRF.

One of my least favourite parts about writers festivals (although I’ll admit that this is my first one) is hearing writers read their own work. It’s often long, painful and incredibly dull, even when the work itself is not. This wasn’t a problem with the three Australian children’s authors, though, who all read an engaging excerpt of their work.

Martine Murray has written books for children as well as a crossover novel that is marketed as both YA and adult fiction. “I wrote a picture book because I was at art school and it made sense,” she said. “And then I wrote a novel because my publisher told me to. And then I thought, this is a better way of living than waitressing so I’ll write another one.”

Phillip Gwynne, an Australian currently based in Bali, read from his new book, Little Piggy’s Got No Moves. With children, he told us, “you have the least forgiving audience in the world. Kids can smell a moral a mile away.”

Moderator Benjamin Law asked, “So kids don’t want parenting in their books?”

Phillip replied, to much tittering in the audience, “Fuck no.”

And although Phillip Gwynne writes for children, he still uses swear words in his books. An angry parent complained about this, and, trying to get one of his books banned from schools, stood up and read all of the swear words from the book aloud in Parliament in Victoria. Phillip took it as a compliment. He did say, though, that you have to use swear words sparingly and effectively for it to “work.”

Meredith Costain, a prolific author for children and young adults, said this about writing for kids: “It’s hard.” All picture books are 32 pages and about 400 words, she told us. “If I only have 400 words, they all have to be very good.”

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