Topic: Bookrapt Seminar 2016: Penguins, Poems & Pandemonium
On Saturday 6 August 2016, the Bay of Plenty Children's Literature Association Incorporated, otherwise known as 'Bookrapt', held their annual seminar at Tauranga Girls’ College. Report by Debbie McCauley.
I spoke about my journey into writing children's books and creating my publishing business, Mauao Publishing, with a powerpoint presentation entitiled 'Publish or be Damned!' The books that I talked about were 'The McCauley Family of Katikati, New Zealand: 1876 to 2012', 'Taratoa and the Code of Conduct: A Story from the Battle of Gate Pa' and 'Motiti Blue and the Oil Spill: A story from the Rena Disaster'.
Debbie McCauley. Photo: Karolyn Timarkos.
New Zealand children's writer Sally Sutton decided that she wanted to be a writer at just six years old and had her first poem published in Jabberwocky magazine when she was just eight. The first books she has published were readers; ‘My Brother’ (2003) and ‘My Sister’ (2005). This was followed by ‘A is for All Black’ (2006) and ‘Crazy Kiwi Tops and Tails’ (2006). One of Sally’s aims is to ‘strengthen the bond between children and the adults lap they are sitting in’.
Sally Sutton. Photo: Debbie McCauley.
Sally’s most well-known book is the extremely successful ‘Roadworks’ (2008) which has been published in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Korea, and the USA and has sold over 300,000 copies. A Maori edition ‘Mahiara’ (2010) was also published. Others in the series now include ‘Demolition (2012) and ‘Construction’ (2014). Sally showed us the proofs for her new book ‘Ambulance, Ambulance’.
Sally has received much lovely feedback, especially about Roadworks. The American market can have its share of difficulties when it comes to illustration. In ‘Roadworks’ this included the side of the road people drive, in ‘Demolition’ a metal playground had to be changed to a plastic one, a child had to have shoes on in a playground and a dog removed from the playground. In ‘Construction’ a background had to change because you couldn’t raise a roof in the rain.
Vocabulary can also pose challenges as Sally found out. There are small vocabulary differences with overseas cultures which can raise big problems including accents. Translation is also difficult because of rhyme.
Sally Sutton. Photo: Debbie McCauley.
Sally’s ideas often come from things she has seen such as the case in ‘My Brother’ and the building of the Birkenhead Library which inspired ‘Construction’. Real facts and research can also suggest stories to her. Sally also likes to fill a need for something that hasn’t been done before with her work. She says that ideas hardly ever arrive fully developed – instead they are like seeds that need watering and then asked a million questions.
Rewriting is the secret to a good book says Sally. Her writing tips include: Are the ideas original or the way you tell it original?; Does it have a problem?; What is the plot (in one sentence)?; What is the theme (in three words)?; Is it less than 600 words (single plot)?; Does it sound nice (enough sound words)?; Is it appropriate for young children?; Will it fit over 32 pages which is standard or a format of 12 double pages of text?; Avoid the main character being a cat or dog as so many really good books are out there already; Are you moralising (don’t preach or tell what to do)?; Are you thinking visually (is each page a story for an illustrator to tell)?; What’s driving the story?; Is every word there for a reason?; Can you say the words better?; Are you using varying structures?; What is a catchy/appealing title?; Are you talking down to children?; Is the dialogue natural and modern?; Have you rested your script (leave it in a drawer for at least 6 weeks)? and Have you given the text to someone else to read?’. Sally says that just when you think you’ve nailed the story you need to start again from square one.
Poet, doctor and author Glenn Colquhoun (pronunciation ka-hoon) has wanted to write since he was a small child. He grew up in a 7th Day Adventist family in South Auckland. In his late twenties Glenn though ‘what the heck, just write, shut up and stop thinking about it’. Writing is something that he can’t stop doing, it’s his way of making sense of the world and making something out of nothing. Through writing Glenn can keep alive the spontaneity of childhood.
Glenn Colquhoun. Photo: Debbie McCauley.
Glenn has worked as a doctor for over twenty years and enjoys connecting to people and feels an important part of being a doctor is being able to listen and talk. His awareness of biculturalism stems from his childhood in South Auckland, but also his work as a doctor in iwi run practices where most patients are Maori. He finds the ‘cultural coastline’ where we interact stimulating as well as the way both cultures express poetry differently. One half is written European poetry, the other is oral Maori poetry. We exist in two different worlds and our poetry hasn’t cross pollinated after 200 years of contact. Maori speak poetry in formal and informal ways, their literary techniques including use of breath and stamping of feet. ‘It’s a whole body experience’ said Glenn.
Glenn translates his poetry into Te Reo Maori before getting a Te Reo speaker to double check them. He then makes his words into a song, the sound of the poem having as much meaning as the words. As he learnt more about the Maori culture, Glenn asked himself ‘where are my oral histories’? He believes that the introduction of writing ‘messed up’ our oral histories and oral poetry, the written poem being part of the evolutionary process. Rhyme, rhythm and sound come from our oral language.
Glenn wondered what he could stand on the marae and sing from his own European history? He explored sea shanty’s, hymns, clapping/stamping songs, nursery rhymes and farmers/workers ballads. Glenn tried to write about his histories, expressing them as song in a return to our various oral histories. When reciting an oral poem he says ‘it doesn’t matter what you sound like, what’s more important is that you believe in what you are singing’. He thinks of his songs as a modern Pakeha karakia.
Glenn Colquhoun. Photo: Debbie McCauley.
He wrote a poem called ‘prayer’ as a bedtime prayer to answer his daughter’s worries. This was read aloud to the group as well as ‘The Kingfishers have retired to the Apple Tree,’ a karakia in Maori and English.
Glenn tries to find things within his Pakeha culture that can match things in the Maori world. His ancestor is Henry Cliffe Colquhoun (1851-1891) who died at the age of 40 in 1891. Henry was born illegitimately, taken by the doctor and given to his sister who was married to a man named Colquhoun. Henry Cliffe was an interesting character who came to New Zealand and made up many stories about his past – all since disproved. Glenn has written a sea shanty about Henry Cliffe called ‘The Ballard of Henry Cliffe’. ‘The more bullshit in a rhyme the better’ says Glenn.
Another work that Glenn read aloud was for Henry Cliff’s grandmother, Mary Freer. Her daughter Annie (Henry Cliff’s birth mother) died a few years after Henry Cliff was born. Mary was the ward of a wealthy man who was a friend of John Constable. Constable painted Mary in 1809. Glenn has written the very moving ‘A Song for Mary’ which he sang in both Maori and English. It is part of his journey to go back and meet his ancestor, and a song which he can sing on the marae.
His work with adolescents has led Glenn to write ‘Letter to Michael’ for a young man who has been battling illness all his life. There are many poems he has written as letters to the teens. Glenn says, ‘Poetry is good when you don’t know what to say’.