Davina Bell is a former senior editor in the young readers division of Penguin Books, and a popular author of books for children. Her picture books include The Underwater Fancy-dress Parade, Hattie Helps Out and Oh, Albert!. Davina wrote the Alice books in the bestselling Our Australian Girl series of historical middle fiction. She’s currently working on a new project for junior readers and a young-adult novel.
You’ve said the book that made you fall in love with reading was The Tiger Who Came to Tea. Why does it stand out for you?
The Tiger Who Came to Tea is in some ways so mannered and proper, and in other ways so wild. This is a world where the milkman and the grocer call by at specific times on certain days, and yet nobody is overly fussed when a tiger shows up. It finishes with a trip out to dinner in a nightdress to a cafe. The whole things is so bold and crazy, and yet so comforting, all at the same time. And the illustrations! Such warm, cheeky magic.
How does your experience as an editor influence your writing?
Half blessing, half curse. In some ways it’s a positive influence because I know what I’m aiming for on a technical level: all those things like a compelling voice, plot momentum, character agency, growth and change, a satisfying arc, moments of light and shade. And in other ways, it’s a real hindrance because I know how hard it is to write well – even for the most successful authors – and how much serendipity is involved in what gets published and does well in the market place. Plus it’s difficult not to edit myself before I’ve even put anything down on the page; my inner critic is a real editorial snark.
What’s one key tip you have for writers working on their first children’s book?
If you can, avoid the mistake of writing what you think kids will like, rather than what you’re interested in or passionate about. Work that comes from a place of commercial hunger rather than whole-hearted authenticity is easy to spot, as is a thinly disguised rip-off of the current trend.
Join Davina in her interactive and informative workshop Writing for Children: An Insider’s Guide on Saturday 22 October, 10am-4pm at the NSW Writers’ Centre.