‘So what are you doing today Mum?’ Miss Nine asked as we walked to school the morning after the 2015 Children’s Book Festival.
‘I’m going to spend the whole day writing.’
‘That sounds boring.’
‘No way. It’s my favourite way to spend the day. If I could, I’d spend every day writing.’
‘Well, you’d better read a lot, too, if you’re going to be a writer.’
I have Gabrielle Wang to thank for this gem, offered as advice to young writers in her ‘Meet the Author’ session at the Children’s Book Festival.
Gabrielle Wang’s author talk, and meeting her at the book signing afterwards, were my personal highlights of this year’s festival. Miss Nine and I are both fans of her standalone novels, as well as her Meet Poppy and Meet Pearlie books in the Our Australian Girl series, and it was fascinating to hear her life story and learn about how she has drawn on her experiences in her writing. Her tale of breaking into a haunted mansion with her best friend Wendy fired my daughter’s imagination. As well as encouraging aspiring writers to read, Gabrielle advised them to work on their stories ‘a little bit every day’ and, if things are not working, ‘to leave it alone for a week or two and then come back to it.’ Good advice for all writers, young and old alike.
Advice that resonates and inspires is just one of many reasons to love the Children’s Book Festival.
Another is the wonderful array of activities on offer to fire the imagination. This year for us it was a workshop with graphic artist Nicki Greenberg, deftly facilitated by Bernard Caleo. Nicki showed us how to read faces and create expressions with simple lines. She encouraged us to let our imaginations run wild in creating kooky characters. Children and adults alike responded warmly to her prompts — the delight in the room was palpable — the little ones lining up to show her their work.
Upstairs in the library’s Cowen Gallery, my eight-year-old nephew was inspired by The Suburban Field Guide To Miscellaneous Oddities to create his own miscellaneous oddity for a giant story book, and write a museum-style entry to go with it. Meanwhile, Miss Nine and a friend had found their way to the Publishing House in Queen’s Hall, where they made their own books.
We spent time on the State Library lawns in front of an outdoor stage, being treated to a terrific range of talent — Peter Combe and Becky Hoops put in appearances while we were there — with Josh Earl doing a hilarious job as host. His songs were a highlight for Miss Nine.
For the grand finale, we attended a session with the rock gods of the Australian children’s book scene, Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton. Despite having spent the previous five hours signing books, Andy and Terry managed to light up the room, alternately badgering each other and the audience, mixing it up with funny drawings and their trademark bum jokes. Andy introduced the session by saying he had run out of ideas for the soon-to-be-written The 78-Storey Treehouse, and gave the audience thirty minutes to come up with 13 new levels. Terry drew the ideas on the spot, using a ‘visualiser’ to project the images. Among the winning suggestions were rooms filled with spare body parts, a giant spiderweb, and a kid-eating forest*.
Most of all I love the Children’s Book Festival for its celebration of writing, drawing, reading and listening — elements that enrich my life and that will, I hope, enrich the life of my daughter for years to come.