Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Story Arts Festival Ipswich

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend Story Arts Festival Ipswich. The adults program ran over three days and consisted of talks, panel sessions and workshops by leading children's authors and illustrators. It was a great opportunity to learn from the pros and meet with other aspiring authors and illustrators.

Sam Sochacka has written wonderfully detailed posts on all the sessions here, so this is just a brief run down of the highlights for me.

Alison Lester gave a fascinating talk on the development of her latest book about Antarctica, Sophie Scott Goes South and then ran a workshop on making art fun for kids, focusing on stenciling and wax resist. Most of us were relieved to find that Alison's words were true: No-one can make a bad stencil. Here's my rooster:

I attended sessions on topics that I didn't know too much about - like illustration. I'm certainly no illustrator but loved listening to Gus Gordon and Leila Rudge speak about their illustrative process. Gus spoke about the importance of kids' art - being that it's loose and imaginative (and I had quite the pang of guilt over the number of drawings from my kids that have ended up in the bin). He spoke about the many preliminary trial drawings and his technique of incorporating collage in to his work. Collage is his favourite medium but he cautioned against letting it dominate and distract from the story. There was the philosophical questions of: Is it more important doing technically proficient drawing, or conveying a story? And he quoted Herve Tullet: A book for a child is a book for a child. Not a book to show how good you are at drawing. 
Gus is a big fan of end papers, as being a way to bring another layer of narrative to the story and immersing the child in the story from the moment he/she opens the book. Incidentally, I was the first oboe player that Gus had met and we had a fun chat about the psyche of oboists.
Leila's workshop was fun - we pored over her visual diaries (wow!) and by the end of the workshop I was quite chuffed to discover I could indeed draw dogs - several of them in fact, all with different characteristics.

Meg McKinlay gave an insightful talk on her writing journey and process. A large part of her session focused on drawing inspiration from real life events but she made it clear that these are only the seeds of the story - life events usually don't have the shape that you need for a narrative. Narratives from our own life need to be transformed as often real life character's motivations are not interesting enough for a fictitious story.
Other words of wisdom from Meg included: An idea is not a story - a story comes as the voice of the character is revealed, and you can't really know who a character is until you know their motivation.

Mark Carthew and Mike Spoor gave a lively presentation on their author-illustrator relationship. Mark had us all engaged from the start with the call and response: There was a little turtle, and again at the end when he read The Gobbling Tree. They spoke about their influences - Mike's being Lakes District in England where he grew up. A lot of these landscapes, textures and shapes make their way into his work. And Mark, with his back ground in primary school teaching and music, spoke about rhyme, rhythm and music and how literacy devices also evident in his text. Mike shared a lovely insight he had about his role as an illustrator: The illustrator in a craftsman, in service to the text.

Leonie Norrington's session was thought-provoking. Growing up south of Katherine, she has a real affinity with Indigenous Australian's from this area and the aim of her work is to be relevant to these communities - in context so it makes sense to them. She spoke about the work she does with engaging Indigenous students in reading and writing, helping them to lose their fear through a series of games. Leonie has obviously found her calling and has first hand experience of the challenges of reading and writing given she did a remedial course in English at the age of thirty.

Sue Whiting, children's author and publisher at Walker Books and Helen Chamberlain, editor at Windy Hollow Books spoke about the perfect pitch - the do's and don'ts. They had everyone's attention over breakfast as we all hoped to hear the magic piece of information that might get our work over the line. The three P's were driven home: patience, perseverance and polish.  And what exactly are they looking for? They'll know it when they see it...!

If I had to pick one highlight, it would be listening to professional story teller Tanya Batt. Tanya travels the world telling stories and her story telling is something you really have to see to fully appreciate. It's akin to having a religious experience I believe! She was utterly captivating and I'm so thankful I had the chance to see her perform.

The next Story Arts Festival will be in 2015 and I can't wait!

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