Sunday, November 29, 2009

Snowy's Christmas Blog Tour

I was fortunate to be a Storyteller at the 2009 Sydney Children's Festival. The audience were too young for my own books so I took along a selection of my favourite picture books. Including Snowy's Christmas which got more encores than all the other titles put together. I must have read it ten times. I know I was eventually reciting pieces off by heart.

So I am very thrilled today to welcome Snowy's friend and author, Sally Murphy.

How important do you think it is for children to have Australian Christmas stories?
Very. I don’t think we need to Australianise THE Christmas story – that is the story of Jesus’ birth – but many of the Christmas traditions we follow are very much influenced by the northern hemisphere winter and have little or no relation to Jesus birth and even less relation to Australia. We don’t have snow, or reindeer, or log fires, or sleigh rides, or any of those wintry things at Christmas time. So whilst we swelter in 40 degree heat our kids are being fed stories which don’t match up. Whilst it is of course interesting for them to see how things are done in they parts of the world, it is also important for them to be able to glimpse their own lives, their own surroundings and their own experiences in the books they read.

Did you feel there weren’t enough such stories available?
When I wrote the first draft of Snowy there were no Australian Christmas books that I knew of. Of course, since then, there has been a change and now there are quite a few on the market – stories which explore what it’s like in Australia in Christmas time. I think it’s wonderful that there isn’t just one – but a good range of such stories, because it gives buyers choices, and allows kids to see different aspects of the Australian experience.

In your opinion, what elements give a Christmas story its special appeal?
I think a story which captures the joy of Christmas. It’s a day of celebration, and a special story can capture that feeling of excitement and of rightness. In Snowy’s Christmas I wanted to tell a feel-good story with a sprinkling of magic.

Is Snowy the first of the Six White Boomers? Is that where the inspiration came from?
No, actually, though of course there is a commonality with that song, in the form of the white kangaroos. Snowy was actually modelled more on the story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, where the very thing that made him different was the thing that made him useful to Santa. The idea for the story came when I read yet another version of the Rudolph story and started to ponder whether there was a way to write an Australian version
Was there any part of the story that was edited out that you wished could have been kept?
The first draft of this story was about 1800 words, and although over the years I edited it down a lot, when I submitted it to Random House it was still too long (still over 1000 words). Some of those words just had to go, and that meant we had to trim some of the detail. However, much of that detail is still there – because the illustrations capture lots of things that the words just weren’t needed. I did actually name all the white roos in earlier versions, and I suppose it would be nice for readers to know those names now – but even then, David has done a superb job of making each roo different.

Do you have a personal favourite Christmas story to share (as in book) – or one that your own children particularly liked?
Jesus’ Christmas Party, by Nicholas Allen. This is the funniest rendition of the Christmas story I’ve ever heard – told from the perspective of the grumpy innkeeper who keeps getting woken up by visitors. I love it – and I think my kids did, too, although they may have grown tired of me reading it over and over. It still makes me smile.

What advice would you give other authors tempted to write a Christmas themed story?
Only do it if you have a unique idea. There is a limited market for seasonal stories – publishers will only do a small number of them, and they only have small window of time to sell well each year. Your idea has to be different enough from what’s already out there – and strong enough to sell well. Of course this is true of non-seasonal books, too, but the seasonal market is even harder to break into, I think. Having said that, if you’ve got a great idea, then that story should be told. Write it, perfect it, and then try to place it with a publisher. It worked for me!

Monday, November 23, 2009

I've been to New Zealand (sort of)

I have been expecting to receive a 'Worst Blogger in the Universe' award any day now. But *phew* it seems I have avoided the dishonour and managed to take up the blog pen again just in time. So now for my excuse... I have been busy both writing and being a writer. The latter has been the most time-consuming of all with lots of school visits, workshops and speaking engagements. I'll be blogging about those over the following few days.

I have also been working hard *cough, splutter* to finish the last draft of Fire Lizard (Samurai Kids 5). I am not a good finisher of projects. This is how I first knew I was destined to be a writer - I actually finished (most of) the manuscripts I started. But now the idea for Samurai kids 6 is hammering at my brain and I am in a hurry to get to it. I've seen the first paragraph and that's huge green light for me. My foot is hovering over the accelerator. It's taking all my self control to finish Fire Lizard before I ram my foot down and go. And then there's Lion Heart. I really want to write that too.

In my defence I haven't technically not been blogging. I have been globetrotting - visiting Wellington Library's Kid's Blog (in New Zealand) for the past three weeks. You can find my blogs about Writing History here: