Jodie Wells-Slowgrove is an author and teacher-librarian. A huge fan of fantasy fiction, her long-term goal has been to write a quest fantasy novel for younger readers. The first two books in the ‘Wilderness Fairies’ series were published by Penguin in February 2014, with the next two due out in August.
Jodie will be joining us Saturday June 28, 2014 at the Kids and YA Festival, taking place here at the NSW Writers’ Centre in Callan Park, Rozelle.
1. Which children’s book made the biggest impression on you and why?
There are so many to choose from! But if I really had to narrow it down the book that really hooked me as a child and has continued to resonate with me throughout my life is L.M Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. Anne Shirley was so vibrant and lively, with such a vivid imagination. She was more than just a character in a book. She was a friend. And from the moment she cracked a slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head I knew that she was a ‘kindred spirit’.
From the perspective of an adult reader and writer my biggest inspiration has been Margaret Wild, especially Old Pig. I find it impossible to read that book without tears welling up in my eyes and I’ve read it many, many times. For a 32 page, seemingly simple book to have such a powerful impact is something I find quite magical.
2. Could you tell us a little about your writing technique? Is your routine rigid or relaxed? Where do you look for inspiration?
Well, with three children and a day job to work around it’s anything but rigid. Most of my writing is done at night or on the weekends when my husband is there for our kids.
I’m a compulsive editor and can never move forward with a story until I’ve read through at least part of what I’ve written so far, making small or large changes as I go. It’s partly procrastination but also necessary to get me back into the story as sometimes I have to go several days between writing sessions.
I don’t know if it’s my teacher-librarian side coming out but whenever I’m editing I always read my work aloud and many of the changes I make are because a sentence just doesn’t sound right.
It might sound clichéd but the people who mean the most to me are my biggest inspirations. I love creating characters that represent the things I love best about the people I know, whether they be family, friends or the kids that I teach at school.
3. What was the turning point in your career? How did you get your first big break?
It was about 17 years from my first submission to my first acceptance and while there were many stepping stones along the way my first really big break was at the NSW Writer’s Centre Kids and YA Festival.
I was almost 8 months pregnant at the time and armed with a Halloween-themed picture book I threw my name in the ring for the Pitch Your Manuscript session. Absolutely petrified I stood before a judging panel of two editors and an agent and an audience sprinkled with some of my literary heroes, many of whom had been presenters throughout the day. But as I stood there I was overcome by the tremendous feeling of goodwill and camaraderie in the room and it gave me the courage to take a risk and really put myself and my work out there.
So I sang my picture book and asked the audience to join in and when I was done both of the editors said, ‘You can send that picture book to me.’ That manuscript didn’t end up with a contract, but I did, with my amazing agent, Brian Cook, without whose encouragement, advocacy and advice I would not now be a published author.
4. Do you begin writing your stories with a lesson or moral in mind? Or does it evolve organically as your story unfolds?
For me it’s more about the adventure of the story and I really don’t think about morals or lessons. To give myself a pathway to follow I nearly always begin with a brief chapter by chapter plan from which usually springs the realization of what I want my character to learn about themself in this story or how I want them to grow as a person. Any themes that emerge in the story such as the importance of resilience, selflessness or patience tend to spring up organically from the character’s personality and their reactions to the situations I put them in rather than any specific planning from me.
5. What is the best piece of writing advice you have been given?
Become a part of the writing community. Go to as many workshops, festivals and events as you can. Meet other writers. Join a critique group and listen to their advice. Work on your craft. Write and submit more than one manuscript and never, ever give up!
Little Corellas: An excerpt from the upcoming book Daisy Takes Charge.
Little Corellas were a talkative lot, always arguing about whose story was the best. Efa called them gossipy old birds, but Daisy thought them more like little children, always vying for attention. Usually Daisy loved to sit and listen to their stories, but today she was on a mission.
Almost every branch of the angophora tree was covered in Little Corellas. There must have been hundreds of them, chattering noisily and playing games.
Daisy landed on a bare branch. One of her friends, a corella named Guinea, swung upside down from the branch above. Daisy reached up to scratch the back of his neck. He bowed his head in delight.
Flying down to perch beside her, Guinea cocked his head to the side, listening, as Daisy explained about Maggie’s dress and how she needed some small, white, downy feathers to make it that extra bit special.
‘Will you help me, Guinea?’ she asked.
With a loud squawk, Guinea called out to the others. The chatter ceased as the birds stopped to listen.
Then something magical happened . . . The Little Corellas puffed out their feathers and shook their bodies. The air filled with white tufts of down, swirling and floating on the breeze. With a giggle of delight, Daisy fluttered through the fluffy cloud of falling feathers, catching them in her hands.
I’m like a mountain fairy, spinning in the snow, thought Daisy.