24 July, 2007

Writers and illustrators share their work …

The Gauteng region of the SCBWI had a meeting on 12 July at Brescia House School. The hostess and school librarian, Sharon Rogers, gave some background information about the school. All the participants were most impressed with the library and the school’s facilities. It was a really convenient venue for travellers from the north as well as the south.

The meeting was chaired by Jenny Hatton and attended by sixteen interested writers, illustrators and other children’s book people. Jenny invited a number of authors to talk about their books, namely Rob Marsh, LeAnne Hardy and Agueda Nunes.

Rob Marsh is an ex-teacher who came from England to South Africa via Zambia in 1979. He confesses to being addicted to writing. Even though he didn’t get anything published for the first ten years, he continued to write each day. Initially he wrote in long hand, then on a manual typewriter and next on an electric typewriter. Today he relies on his laptop.

Rob has always written fiction but has found this harder to get published. Therefore, he wrote non-fiction to get recognised. To date he has had 22 books published. His first book Karate S.A. is a detailed study of the origins, history and development of karate in South Africa. After completing this book, he was commissioned to write a number of other books.

Rob has a special interest in matters crime-related, and is the author of both Famous South African Crimes (Struik) and With Criminal Intent: the changing face of crime in South Africa (Ampersand Press).

While non-fiction pays his salary, Rob’s first love is writing fiction. The audience could have listened to him for hours as he shared experiences. One manuscript was accepted by an overseas publisher, edited and set and then never published! Tales of Mystery and Suspense was followed by Ghost stories in 1994. This Struik publication is a collection of fictional stories about ghosts, ghouls and phantoms. The serpent under was published by Jacana in 2003. This is the story of a couple who work together to commit a crime. Inevitably things suddenly start to go disastrously wrong. Rob has also written a series of seven books for children in the 7-0 age group, namely The Incredible Adventures of Zak and Zoey.

Rob’s hard work over the years has paid off. Some of his books have done very well on the market. In addition others have received recognition. Nature in the balance: ecology for Southern African children (Struik) was nominated by Bookchat as one of Southern Africa’s Children’s Books of the year in 1991. His children’s novel Trapped (Juta), set in a South African gold mine, was designated a prescribed reader for grade 5 by the Bophuthatswana Department of Education in 1990.

Rob also writes radio programmes. Although these don’t pay well, he writes them for the experience and because he enjoys writing them. Rob was open about contracts and royalties for his books. He pointed out that the more experienced you become, the more able you are to negotiate these.

Some tips from Rob include:

  • Write each day. You have to prove that you have written a book. You can’t just say that you want to be a writer.
  • Initially you may have to accept a range of writing projects. Later you can choose what you want and do not want to write.
  • Be thorough in your research.
  • Negotiate the contract with the publisher.
  • Check your contract with the publisher. Delete clauses with which you disagree.
  • Tell the publisher if you think that you need more time than what is allocated. Explain that you can do the work but it may not be up to standard if you’re not given enough time.
  • Calculate how many words you write a month. This will help you to indicate how long you need to complete a project.
  • Meet every deadline.
  • Remember that you have a reputation to maintain. Check the manuscript and the cover before the book is published.
  • Ask the publisher to have your manuscript reviewed by an expert if the content needs to be checked.
  • Write non-fiction to get published. This may lead you into having your fiction titles published.
  • Try to work with an illustrator whose work you admire.
  • A book isn’t a book until it is published. Contracts mean nothing.
  • Ask for an upfront payment. Payment of this shows the publisher’s commitment.
  • Draw on your own experiences when you’re writing. These help to make descriptions authentic.
  • Phone publishers up and make appointments to see them. Show them the work you have done. Promote yourself.

LeAnne Hardy grew up in Indiana in the United States but has lived in six countries on four continents. LeAnne spoke about living in so many different places has influenced her writing. She drew on her experience of living in Mozambique when she wrote her novel The Wooden Ox. Living in a war zone was an unforgettable experience. She illustrated this by reading from the story and spoke about the fear she experienced and about anticipating disaster.

Each of LeAnne’s books tries to capture the unique feel of the country in which it is set. Another novel Between two worlds is set in the United States and is about a girl who grew up in Brazil having trouble coping with cultural change. LeAnne bases characters on people she meets and on her own children. However, she hastened to point out that each character develops its own life as the book progresses.

LeAnne mentioned the importance of her Critique Group who helped her to understand that she didn’t have to include every detail of her experiences. In fact, they suggested that she cut out a lot of material in order to focus on plot.

Currently, LeAnne is living in Kempton Park and writing for children affected by HIV/AIDS. She showed the audience a beautiful little book called Beads and Braids which is about coping with loss. LeAnne speaks to school groups about being a writer and conducts writers’ workshops.

Some tips from LeAnne include:

  • Join a good critique group.
  • Adapt real experiences and include them in fictional writing.
  • Remember that fiction is not a memoir of your own life.
  • Put boys and girls into stories to cater for both genders.
  • Use strong girl models.

Agueda Nunes spoke about growing up as the child of Portuguese immigrants to South Africa. Interestingly, both her own and Rob’s parents were greengrocers.

Agueda wrote her first book Gombi in Fairyland for her daughter, drawing on a lifelong dream that she and her brother shared as children. Firstly, she approached a number of South African publishers before going overseas. Agueda was not prepared to give up her dream of publishing a children’s book. In addition to writing the story, she carried out market research, put the book onto a storyboard, found her own illustrator, composed and recorded lyrics for the book.

Agueda spoke about Passion, Perseverance and Self-actualisation. She mentioned how necessary it was to receive encouragement and support from a friend. Based on this, she made a promise to pen Gombi in Fairyland. Agueda has already planned the next books in the Gombi series - all dealing with various aspects of Emotional Intelligence in children, e.g. bullying, sibling rivalry, the value of believing in yourself etc. The messages conveyed in her books carry a universal theme and are introduced through the non-threatening and lovable character, Gombi.

Some tips from Agueda include:

  • Ask friends to read your story to their children and listen to their feedback.
  • Children need emotional well-being and stories that address this assist them in coping with everyday life pressures.
  • Try overseas publishers.
  • Believe in yourself and NEVER give up on your dream.

Agueda with Sharon Rogers, librarian at Brescia House School

1 comment:

Damaria Senne said...

Hi Jenny, thanks for the report. I missed the event, but your report has enough for me to feel I didn't completely lose out.