Welcome to My Words!

READ WRITE INSPIRE. Welcome to my Words, a place devoted to making Reading and Writing for children more Inspired.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Delving Deeper into the Art of Story Telling - AFCC Sessions Part 3

My conference triage is reasonably simple:
  • if I manage to glean a new sliver of information that enables me to improve my craft or 
  • happen upon a revelation that deepens my understanding of story telling or 
  • experience affirmation of a belief or method I am already practising, then I feel I have gained something useful.
The following round-up highlights some of the sessions I attended while swanning around the Asian Festival of Children's Content this year.

Deep Point of View (DPOV): What is it and How to Write It with Kathleen Ahrens 

Kathleen encouraged us to first re investigate our Intention - why we write. Knowing that then allows us to engage with the readers' emotions and therefore establish, DPOV.

She introduced us to different POV Characters and the tenses and view points they can be portrayed in for example, first person, third person, second person etc.
  • as narrator
  • omniscient
  • multiple viewpoints 
  • single major viewpoint

Deep Point of View

A way to connect with the main character through DPOV is to make them MOAN.
Making your characters MOAN avoids POV violation (telling not showing)

Delegates then had to learn to analyse text, their own included, for MOAN qualities.

An immensely useful exercise for writers of every genre.

Painting with Lines and Language with Briony Stewart

I'm not the world's best drawer. I mean, some days even I find it difficult reading my own handwriting but Briony calmly described how I and others can improve our linguistic paintboxes with figurative language, examples of which can be found in her beautifully evocative, Kumiko and the Dragon Series.

Briony outlined how exciting language is what kids love best. Not only is it fun, it can add to the richness of the text and expand imagination and vocabulary in the same ways vivid, detail laden illustrations can enhance the emotional tone of a story.

 As writers and illustrators, Briony's take away advice was to BE OBSERVANT. Create a Visual and Verbal Word Bank
Picture Books as Theatre: Creating Drama in Illustrations with James Mayhew

James Mayhew paint-forming for the Opening Night Ceremony of the AFCC
This was an entrancing session presented in theatrical style by a man who is not just a gifted illustrator but also a story teller with an innate sense of what works visually and viscerally for readers and viewers. 

James married the art of stage building with picture book writing when seeking to create a sense of anticipation and entertainment, maintaining that authors (and illustrators) are in essence, set designers, scriptwriters and story borders all in one. In being so, they must consider and research details involving:
  • costumes
  • setting
  • lighting (mood / colouration)
  • timing (when to hold things back and when to build momentum)
  • fit (when less is more, utilising space to get the story told properly)
As a picture book creator and addict of this exceedingly exacting art form, I hung on his every word.

Afterwards, during a quiet spell in between book signings, I was fortunate enough to sit with James and chat in more detail about the various staging aspects of the much studied, Where the Wild Things Are? We poured over it's many nuances, announcing suppositions as to reasons for and why things appeared as they did in this book. Only one thing may have improved our vigorous discussion, Maurice Sendak himself.


Come back soon, for even more session round ups.  I'll be highlighting moments from the Cross Media Platform conference.

Death, Divorce & Other Difficult Topics - AFCC Sessions Part 2

Petra Nagyova Dzerengova
Slovakian author, Petra Nagyova Dzerengova apologised for the excruitiating pronunciation of her name but offered no apology for her choice of subject matter for her Asian Festival of Children's Content presentation.

As Deridre Hanna of Paradise Kids taught me, one thing in life is certain, 10 out of 10 people will die. There is no point trying to hide it. Petra reasoned there is also no reason not to share discussions about these types of issues with young children.

Despite the fact that more and more authors are tackling so called 'difficult' subject matter in children's books, yours truly included, there is still a reluctance to openly share them. Debate on their usefulness continues to circle like a pack of wary hyenas. Petra examined the salient reasons for busting through the doubts, which she supported with examples of a number of picture books that handle the subject (of death) well.

On Death...
  • We try to ignore it in most, but not all, cultures
  • If adults don't talk about it, then they cannot discuss it with their kids
  • Death is being separated from life more and more nowadays 
  • Discussing death and its implications after it happens is often too late
  • We don't need all the answers, just open honesty
Literary examples that portray the concept of death:


  • Death is irreversible
  • Beginnings and endings are normal
  • Love, in death, does not end (this made me think of my own story about loss and grief, The Fix-It Man


  • You don't have to worry about death
  • Become friends with Death when you are full of life 
Again, this was an intensely thought-provoking and emotive session which induced a fair bit of reflection. It also instilled a deep sense of relief and satisfaction that Nicky Johnston and I have gone some small right way in providing children with the very means of guidance and education that Petra described.

For the writers and illustrators out there, more session updates on the way. 😊

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Educating Through Books - AFCC Sessions Part 1

'Books have a powerful way of triggering the imagination of children and building their understanding of the world.'

CEO  Elaine Ng of the National Library Board, Singapore

This was a sentiment echoed not only in my own seminar at this year's Asian Festival for Children's Content 2017 (AFCC) but in many other sessions I attended and moderated for as well. 

The official AFCC 2017 program, which ran from 17 - 21 May 2017, is nearly 90 pages long bursting with over 120 conference sessions and book-related events for delegates and the general public. That's a lot of talking, work-shopping, pitching and exchanging. I was delighted to be in the thick of it having been invited to present and launch my latest picture book there. I can but hope to reproduce the animated vibe and sense of camaraderie I experienced wondering up and down the multi-floored, air-conditioned halls of the mighty National Library, but I'm going to try...
Leslee Udwin punching out the virtues of educating the heart with narrative
...starting with, Leslee Udwin's EDUCATING THE HEART THROUGH BOOKS

This presentation rocked me to the core. Leslee is the CEO of THINK EQUAL, a film maker and rights activist. Her discussion around the last film she ever made, India's Daughter, was both confronting and revealing. As I commuted to and from the conference in the days that followed, I was haunted by the images she shared with us to illustrate how the inadequate accessibility of children's books to children at a young age can have serious implications on their social and emotional learning and thus bring about lasting social problems.

She described how Single Stories create vulnerability, which leads to stereotyping and thus are very limiting. 

* She stressed that we need to give young people the opportunity to develop their empathetic abilities through the process of narrative, conversations and experimental learning.

* She insisted that the disease within our societies - rape, violence and abuse - is the Mindset. It is this that must be changed. Throwing offenders behind bars is not the solution merely the clean up. Devaluing life makes it easier to erase. It is up to ALL OF US to initiate change.

* She argued that change is best taught and entrusted to those who can influence the future better than we adults who are already victims of Mindset, the children. And that a child's character forming years are crucially between 3 - 5 years of age, those years when they can be reached most effectively through exposure to books.

Her THINK EQUAL philosophies included a call out to writers and illustrators, enlisting them to help create narratives that:
  • teach children how to self-regulate
  • be sympathetic human beings
  • encourage emotional intelligence
  • foster critical thinking
  • mediate empathy
This session resonated so loudly for me, I could barely hear myself think afterwards. I left with the incongruous feeling of elation mixed with deep disquietude. The answers appear so simple and straightforward according to Socrates - 'education of the head without education of the heart is no education at all' and yet I still felt overwhelmed. As a creator, I was inspired. As a resident of mother Earth, I felt humbled and ashamed, and at the same time, galvanised to do something.

Leslee's stirring delivery provoked great thought and provided a meaningful and significant start to the conference.


Stick around for more AFCC session installments soon.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Appreciating Asia - The AFCC in a lotus nut

There are over two billion children in Asia. That's approximately two billion potential little humans to reach with story, impact educationally and influence for tomorrow. Mind blowing, don't think? I do.

My home away from home - The Interlace, architecturally radical
As mind blowing as the Asian Festival of Children's Content from which I've just returned. Based in Singapore, this annual event encompassing over four distinct yet complementary conferences, 'promotes and celebrates the creation, development and appreciation of quality' children's content in a way I have never experienced before.

While the focus is understandably on Asian content and its creators, the flavour and vibe of the festival is undeniably international. I, along with a handful of other ANZ creators and industry personnel including Wai Chim, Briony Stewart, Lee Battersby, Kirsty Murray and Frances Plumpton, felt nothing but the quintessential open-armed warmth of Asian hospitality. In spite of the mind boggling number of delegates and presenters, every one had time for everyone else, or so it felt to me. An air of congeniality pervaded throughout the festival long after the aroma of our lunch time repasts faded.
My other home - the National Library Singapore
My week was packed with presenting, moderating sessions for others, launching The Fix-It Man to adoring Asian audiences, book signings and conducting pop-up readings.  I couldn't have asked for a more absurdly absorbing and satisfying week of kids' lit love.
Book Launch of The Fix-It Man in My Tree House, Central Library
The utterly delightful Far'ain Jaafar sharing our love of books
Although Singapore is a nation that favours high academic achievement and a strong moral code, there was an underlying and reoccurring desire that kept percolating to the top of each session and discussion;  that we must develop the social and emotional education of our children just as enthusiastically. This strong undercurrent to improve the quality and content of reading material for (Asian based) children was shared by teachers, librarians, education educators, kids' lit enthusiasts and publishers alike and was simultaneously heartening and frustrating to behold, for change does not come easily nor quickly. Nonetheless, without change, there can be no butterflies...nor Garudas - the legendary Indonesian mythical bird (Indonesia being the Country of Focus this year).

Pop-Up Reading of The Fix-It Man to fixated and weeping crowds
I'll detail some of the sessions I presented and moderated soon, for now here are a few pictorial tip bits to whet your appetite. You won't find any scenic shots here; previous trips to Singapore and conferencing 12 hours a day precluded any touristy intentions. Also, I seem to get sidetracked by the cuisine a lot these days, forgetting to snap digital reminders of my fellow delegates, but I hope you get the idea.
Closetful of Books' Denise Tan and Kelvin Ng were sales superstars
Opening Night Ceremony with James Mayhew paintforming with Rosemarie Somaiah
Frances Plumpton Literary Agent NZ
Festival Director, Kenneth Quek, Celebrating Our Stars in the Pod
View from the stunning 17th floor Pod atop the National Library Building
Gorgeous Singaporean illustrator, Melissa Tan aka Melt

My stash of Festival goodies and gifts. I had already scoffed all of Melissa's homemade bickies
Cake, the Books Actually bookshop cat. Don't touch his favourite titles
 I ended my sensational Singaporean sojourn with a few quick visits to some local bookshops.
Next year promises to be even bigger and better with Singapore being the festival's Country of Focus. It is also the 50th Anniversary of the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS). And while I'd love to stick around for a Singapore Sling or two to celebrate that one, I may have to hand over my paper plane for now. Thank you AFCC for a truly enriching and fulfilling week.