Writers On Writing / Wizards, dragons, bears and chooks with Lisa Shanahan

Where do captivating ideas for children’s books really come from? How do you make a picture book text work? What does it truly take to write a middle-grade novel that lingers and lasts?
Ahead of Lisa’s course at Writing NSW—Wizards, Dragons, Bears and Chooks: The Joy of Writing for Children—we had a chat with her about writing for kids.

What inspired you to begin writing children’s books?
I think I began writing for children because I had so many genuinely moving encounters with books as a kid. The kind of electric encounter that tips you upside-down and leaves you never quite the same.

You’ve written a number of award-winning junior novels and picture books. Where do your great ideas come from?
Most of my ideas tend to come from the crazy collision of memory and careful observation. In the case of my most recent picture book, Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee!, I remember two distinct moments. The first happened on a country school visit, where a little girl failed to deliver a message for her teacher, in a rather spectacular fashion and the second was when another little girl burst forth into a kindergarten classroom after a bathroom break, flinging water from her fingers, singing, ‘I have just washed my haaaands!’ like a grand diva. Both those moments had me pondering school life and how impossibly tough it can be for those chatty, exuberant, never-sit-still kids; always doing something outrageously funny and imaginative but always at the wrong moment. I wanted to write a story that celebrated their fizzy, creative brilliance.

Your course is sub-titled, The Joy of Writing for Children’ What about it brings you the most joy personally?
Just recently, a teacher-librarian shared she had been reading Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee!, to a group of kids, when a little girl piped up, ‘That’s me! That’s me!’ There’s nothing more inspiring of joy than hearing something like that and it certainly makes those frustrating days—where you’re toying with a single sentence over and over—suddenly seem immensely worthwhile.

Wizards, Dragons, Bears and Chooks: The Joy of Writing for Children with Lisa Shanahan will take place at Writing NSW over six Tuesday evenings: 23, 30 October; 6, 13, 20, 27, November, 6:30-9:30pm. Book your spot here >

Lisa Shanahan is an internationally published writer of picture books and fiction for young people. Lisa’s picture books, junior novels, and middle-grade fiction have garnered critical acclaim and numerous awards including the CBCA Book of the Year.

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