Before Deborah Abela joins us to teach Writing for Kids in October, she tells us about her popular Max Remy series, how working in television can teach you about being a writer, and her work with Room to Read.
The Max Remy series now consists of ten books – a busy Superspy indeed! Did you set out to write a series this long when you wrote the first one?
I had no idea about anything I was doing when I first started writing. It’s all very much a game of chance… I tried to write an engaging story about a feisty girl spy and her trusty, kind and funny spy partner, what happened beyond that was all a gamble. The publisher and I signed up two books at a time and after that, would meet again to decide if we’d like to go further. When I signed contracts for books 9 and 10, I knew that somehow seemed a good number to finish on and help wrap up ten novels worth of action, bad guys and the big question I kept getting asked, whether Linden and Max would ever kiss.
Does working with kids – in schools and libraries – help you to come up with ideas and keep your character’s voices fresh?
This is the part of the writing for kids I love more and more. I always find kids exciting and their ideas fresh and funny. I used to worry about what to say to kids when I visited schools, but then I realised no matter how old they are, they all love a good story. They also like getting involved and telling you stories, so I do this a lot. Working with kids reminds me of what they think is funny and what they care about. In my novel, Grimsdon, which is about flooded cities, flying machines and sea monsters, kids love the quieter scenes where there is loyalty at stake or betrayal or a friendship tested and reformed. It was such a nice reminder that what they want with all the action or fun, is also to relate to the characters, to their plights, dilemmas and friendships.
What is one thing that you wished someone had told you when you started out writing kids books?
I was fortunate enough to know a lot of kids’ writers before I was published through my work as a producer on a kids’ TV show called Cheez TV. They’d come on the show as guests and give me great advice and warnings about the good, the bad and the practical, including the more boring bits like tax. I was also in very good hands with Random House Australia, who has increasingly had a spirited and talented kids’ book team.
You are an ambassador for Room to Read. Can you tell us about the work you do for them?
Oh I love Room to Read!!! They are a non-profit organisation that aims to change the world by educating some of our poorest. Since they began over ten years ago, they have benefited 7.8 million kids, built 15000 libraries and 1600 schools. They train local teachers, employ local artists and writers to write local language books and empower local communities. They have also set up scholarships for girls to address inequality in gender education. If you educate a girl, you can educate an entire village. Through these two key aims of bringing literacy and gender equality in education to the world’s poorest, they are not only helping to build better communities but are creating a brighter, fairer world. It is that fundamental. My role as an ambassador is to talk about it loud and long, which I love.
Deborah Abela will be teaching Writing for Kids on Saturday 19 October.