While skeptics have written off the viability of novels in this social media, viral video era, Jane Godwin does not share their pessimism. The Publisher for Young Readers at Penguin Books Australia, and successful author in her own right, will instead make the case for dogeared pages and cracked paperback spines at "Disseminating the Magic: Children’s Writing in the Digital Age,” one of many anticipated talks at this year’s Bookworm International Literary Festival. Below Godwin tells us more about what the future may hold for authors, the state of the Young Adult (YA) genre, and how one of her most popular books has helped children overcome some of their biggest fears.
You will be taking part in the "Disseminating the Magic: Children’s Writing in the Digital Age" talk at the Bookworm. Why did you want to take part?
I was asked to partake in the talk with my colleague Graeme Base, who is a fellow Australian picture-book creator. I was also his publisher at Penguin Books for many years. The digital world of children’s books is interesting to me because a few years ago the predictions were that digital publishing would take over and the sales of physical books would drop, but this hasn’t happened. There are certainly some beautifully made apps and other digital material for children in the market, but it hasn’t created the revolution that was anticipated. I think there are several reasons for this, so it will be interesting to discuss the role of physical books and digital material and the value of both for children today.
Your book 2006 book Falling From Grace was an acclaimed YA novel. Do you have concerns about the state of the YA genre as of late, what with the popularity of critically derided bestsellers like Twilight and sentimental hits like The Fault In Our Stars? Can books like Falling From Grace have much more to offer young readers? Or do you, on some level, like any book that compels youngsters to read, even if it’s more than a bit low brow?
In Australia, Falling from Grace wouldn’t be classified as YA, as the readership for that book is more 13 and 14 year olds than older teens. It would be classified as teen. I am not concerned about the state of YA. I do think it’s an interesting phenomenon that many readers of YA are actually adults, not teen readers. I think it’s a good thing that there’s a broad range of material available, for all types of readers. The ones you mention above are pretty stock standard, but many YA writers are taking risks with structure and content, and they are exploring, in a range of ways, the very intense time that is adolescence.
In 2013 you published Starting School. What inspired you to write this book, and what feedback you received about it from parents and children? I imagine it helped many kids overcome their anxiety about leaving home and attending kindergarten for the first time. Starting school is really the first major step in a child’s life. It’s the beginning of the child existing in a community that is separate from his or her family. It’s the beginning of an independent life for the child. When my own daughter, Lizzie, was in her first year of school, I made a book with her and her friends. I interviewed the children about their experiences of school, and they also illustrated the story. I still have that book today. When it came to doing my own book about starting school, I went back to that first book and used it as the basis for the one I wrote. It was important to me to explore both the positive things about school, and also the aspects that children may be worried about or feel daunted by. I have received lots of lovely feedback from parents who say that the book really helped their child prepare for school. And kids themselves seem to identify with the characters in the book.
What are you working on next, and what aspects of it show your evolution as a writer?
I’m working on a new picture book with my friend and illustrator Anna Walker [editor’s note: Walker illustrated many of Godwin’s books, including Starting School] And I’m also working on a novel for 12 – 13 year olds. It sees three girls, from very different walks of life, thrown together in unusual circumstances. It’s called No Such Thing as Guessing. I hope the aspects of it that show my evolution as a writer are the way I’ve knitted together the mystery and crime elements of the story, to form a satisfying and suspenseful tale.
Jane Godwin will be one of four authors appearing at Disseminating the Magic: Children’s Writing in the Digital Age on March 12 at 2pm. Tickets are RMB 60. For more information, click here.