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STORIES, PICTURES AND REALITY: TWO CHILDREN TELL by Virginia Lowe
Submitted by: akgmag.com interviews
Virginia is the author of Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two children tell based on a parent-observer record of her son and daughter's responses to books, from birth to age eight. She is also the proprietor of Create a Kids' Book, helping authors to write for children through manuscript assessments (critiques), workshops and e-courses (createakidsbook.com.au). She has been a university lecturer, a children's and school librarian, and a judge for the Australian Children's Book of the Year Award. She has a PhD in children' s literature.
Thank you Virginia for taking the time to answer some questions for us! To start, please tell us about the latest project you've worked on.
I have written only one book, but it has been almost a life’s work (37 years, anyway), so I don’t expect to do another (a second edition would be satisfying though).
I kept a record of all the books my son and daughter encountered, and their responses, from birth to adolescence – regularly for thirteen years, and sporadically for some years thereafter. I used it as the basis of my PhD thesis Is This a Real Story: Young children’s understanding of the reality status of stories and pictures (Monash, 1997) and then for my book Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two children tell (Routledge 2007)
The diary record is in 6000 handwritten pages, 26 volumes.
There have been four previous parent-observer studies of young children and books, but as it happens, all studied girl children, and most started at age two. Also no other covers two children in equal detail, nor the interactions between the siblings. So the book itself is unique.
It is of interest to everyone who cares about how a love of books begins, and also to those interested in the child’s cognitive development. It is useful for those who wish to convince others to read to infants and young children, such as librarians and preschool teachers. Also parents and grandparents enjoy it, because it reminds them of their own children’s activities and sayings.
Do you also do speaking engagements, or seminars?
I’m happy to talk about the book, and often do, to parent groups or libraries and the Victorian Writers’ Centre. I would enjoy doing even more. However I am also the proprietor of a little business Create a Kids’ Book, helping authors write for children, so I talk about the book during the workshops and e-courses I run, and the monthly e-bulletin I put out.
How has your education, profession or background helped you in your writing career? Or conversely, how has your writing success helped you in your profession?
Both. As a children’s librarian, doing the children’s library course, I met and became enchanted by Dorothy Neil White’s Books Before Five, and decided I would keep a similar record of my own children when I had them. This I did.
It was on the basis of this parent-observer study that I was employed as a university lecturer in children’s literature and English. It was some years before I started university myself.
However, after I’d received my BA (Hons) and MA, I decided to write a PhD thesis, and used the journal record as the research basis of this, which then lead to the actual book.
And all of this led to me being appointed a Judge for the Australian Book of the Year Awards, and Convenor for the Crichton Award for first-time illustrators. Which made me confident that I could valuably assess people’s stories for children, so starting the business.
What kind of other works (books, scripts, poems etc.) have you had published?
Many academic articles, based on the same material, but taken from different perspectives. Because there are so few records of young children and books, I always have something to say about the current children’s literature issues.. I also write more popular ones for parenting magazines and women’s magazines, and review children’s books for different publications. I publish a monthly bulletin about some aspect of children’s literature, with writing tips and some reviews as well. It’s free (if you’d like to join just send me an email).
I have also had several poems published.
Is there any aspect to your profession that gets you in touch with your readers directly?
Well, occasionally people who use the services of Create a Kids’ Book have also read my book. When I speak at academic conferences and give papers at university, I usually find people who have read and value it – not always children’s literature people either, but people interested in young children’s cognitive development generally, or specifics such as maths.
What will your next project be?
As almost everyone else, I have a half written novel for children. I’d love to get back to that, but seem to be too busy nurturing the creativity of others. One day...
What type of work is the most rewarding or satisfying for you?
When I help someone make a fairly average story into a really worthwhile text – usually just making a small suggestion and watching them run with it. And especially if it eventually gets published as well. It’s a very rewarding thing to do (which is probably why I haven’t got back to my novel). It’s much more satisfying than lecturing at university, because the students only care about the result they got for this essay – they don’t care very much about how to write a better essay. In contrast, the people who come to me through the business really want to get published, so they have to listen to my advice!
What can you recommend for writers who are just getting started and are trying to make a name for themselves?
Persistence is the key, I think. And trying to find just a little time everyday to work on your writing, whatever other duties you have. Even ten minutes a day keeps the story in the front of your brain, and you don’t have to go back to square one. The other things are to read widely in your genre, for pleasure, and to become familiar with the publishers and the sort of work they produce. When you’ve finished writing, a professional assessment or critique really helps. All authors are too close to their work to be able to see it clearly – you need it read for structure and style, and for copy editing as well – grammar, punctuation and spelling. It is such a competitive market out there, it is so difficult to be accepted by a publisher, you must polish your manuscript to its highest.
How did you get started as a writer?
In a way I’m not really a writer. I’m a reader – always a compulsive reader. And one interested in the topic of children’s literature, and child development as well. So it’s my subject that has made me a writer, not the writing in the first place. But I suppose all committed readers see themselves as something of a writer, too.
Which is your favourite book/work published? Is there a favourite?
I love David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life - an adult novel. Of the works for children, I suppose Tove Jansson’s Moomintorll books – they have something for everyone, at all levels, and are quite delightful. My favourite current author/illustrator for children is the Australian Shaun Tan. His The Arrival (on migration – how it feels to understand nothing of the strange customs and language you encounter – he makes the reader feel this with him. It’s a very long wordless picture book). The Rabbits is about colonisation, and The RedTtree about depression. This is to give their topics very crudely, but all of his are stunning works of art.
Finally, a most important question: what was the last song you sang out loud when you were by yourself?
‘Tit willow’ from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. The tunes are lovely, the words are witty and the concept most amusing – I really enjoy all of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. I have since I was a child.
Thank you Virginia! We wish you great success with your upcoming projects and hope to see a sequel to Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two children tell!
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