Below is the third and final part of Meredith's wonderfully engaging interview with us. Here she describes the challenges she faces as a children's writer, offers tips for the youngest aspiring writers, emphasizes the impact of early reading, and much more. You can find part one here and part two here.
What are the challenges and opportunities you face as a writer for children?
Meredith Costain: When I was a child ‘entertainment’ was limited to a chunky B&W TV set with 4 channels, building billy carts or rolling around the paddocks inside a rusty tin water tank, or reading. But today, books have to compete with so many other forms of entertainment: hand-held screens, computer and video games, podcasts, streamed music and social media. So their content and appeal needs to be really compelling to stand out in such a noisy marketplace.
I do a lot of writing workshops and author talks in schools and libraries, which allows me to talk to children in different parts of the country about what their current interests are, and what they love to read and write and dream about or wish for. What I’ve discovered is that although ‘external’ things like technology and landscape change from year to year or place to place, feelings and emotions and hopes and dreams — all the things that drive stories — remain exactly the same. And that has been a wonderful opportunity for me.
What practical steps would you suggest to children who recognize in themselves the desire to write books?
- First and foremost, you need to read. Every day! Try reading a variety of formats and genres: fiction and non-fiction, mysteries, thrillers, humour, fantasy, poetry, graphic novels. It’s a great way to absorb the different ways word can fit together.
- Have a go at writing in different styles and genres as well. Find a quiet, private place where you can do some ‘secret scribbling’ — not for school assignments but just for yourself.
- Find a writing buddy to share your writing and plot ideas with. They can be a great help if you get stuck, coming up with an angle you may not have thought of yourself.
- Become a good self-editor. Read your writing out loud. Does it sing? Do you need to vary your sentence beginnings? Have you used the same word three times in the same paragraph?
- Turn off your smartphone and unplug your headphones. You need to create space in your mind to allow your imagination to flourish and ideas and characters to creep in.
Finally, what to you is the value of early childhood reading?
MC: Books can help to spark a child’s curiosity and imagination, develop empathy for others and improve their vocabulary skills. (For years, I mispronounced words like ‘misled’ and names like ‘Imogen’ that I’d encountered in books because they never came up in day-to-day conversation!) And there are all kinds of studies that show how reading can help to improve academic success.
But for me, their main value is that they allow children to disappear into their own little world and live there for a time, just like Jo and her sisters ‘travelling to’ and experiencing four different continents as they sewed Aunt March’s bed sheets in Little Women.
Books can also be a great comfort in the way they help readers to realise they’re not alone. There are other people out there going through exactly the same situations and experiencing the same dramas as them, whether it be starting a new school or falling out with a friend. That is their magic.
Take a look at all the books in the Ella Diaries series: Double Dare You, Ballet Backflip, I Heart Pets, Dreams Come True, and Pony School Showdown.
You can find Meredith Costain online at www.meredithcostain.com.
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