Writers On Writing / Davina Bell on how picture books are a ‘sublime kind of magic’

This week award-winning picture book author Davina Bell told us where she finds inspiration, why she loves picture books and more.

During your writing process, where do you go to find inspiration for a new picture book?

Often I’ll have a vague idea of a theme or message (Love! Making mistakes! Aeroplanes!), which is usually something I wish I’d been told as a child or something that I think a kid might find delight in – or perhaps a response to a tiny emotional moment in a child’s life that I’ve witnessed out in the world. Sometimes I do research to inform the details – for example, All the Ways To Be Smart was based on Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. But mostly it’s a process of waiting for a line or a title to pop into my head, which often happens when I’m out walking, and creating momentum from there. 

What are some things you wish you knew when you were first starting out as an author?

I wish I’d known that I didn’t have to try to sound like an author. I wasted so much time trying to scrub my writing clean of myself. It took me literally years to realise that the whole point of writing is to communicate my unique perspective – that I couldn’t write like anybody else, but that nobody else could write quite like me. 

What do you love about picture books, both as a writer and reader?

There is just so much to a picture book – it’s such a perfect distillation of art, philosophy, values, colour, emotion, design. In 32 pages, it takes the reader on a journey that can change their point of view or change the way they physically observe the world. It can evoke feelings and impart knowledge. It’s an object you can own and cherish. That last part still blows my mind – that I can have the art of Beatrice Alemagna or Anna Walker or Lee Jihyeon or Andrew Joyner in my house to keep for always. After all these years, this unique chemistry of words and images still feels to me like a sublime kind of magic.

Davina Bell headshot for Writing NSW

Davina Bell is a children’s book editor and a writer for young people of many ages. Her award-winning picture books include Under the Love UmbrellaThe Underwater Fancy-dress ParadeOh Albert! and Hattie Helps Out. A former senior editor at Penguin Books, she now works on the children’s list at Affirm Press in Melbourne. A lover of words and ideas in many forms, Davina regularly travels the country, speaking to children and adults about books and writing. The magic of picture books continues to enchant her.

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