35 minutes | Nov 4, 2015

PODCAST – Emma Mactaggart

Dyan Burgess Emma Mactaggart is based in Toowoomba (in South East Queensland), and the Child Writes program is her brainchild. The program began in 2005, as Emma combined her love of children’s literacy with her desire to promote community respect for children by giving them a voice. Believing everyone has the right to see their words in print has become a slight obsession for Emma. This has inspired her latest publishing project – the ‘how to’ guide for inspiring writers. Child Writes: Creating a Children’s Picture book is Child’s Play, was published in May 2012 and it won a GOLD Best Non-Fiction Adult eBook at the 2012 IPPY Awards.  Emma was a finalist in the 2014 Condamine Alliance Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Cultural Heritage and a Finalist in the 2012 QRRRWN Strong Leadership Awards. Her latest children’s picture book, Imagine, illustrated by Ester De Boer has just won a GOLD Best Children’s Illustrated eBook at the 2015 IPPY Awards in New York, USA and one of the illustrations, ‘Lyrebird’ was selected for exhibition in the Book Illustrated Gallery, for the Asian Festival for Children’s Content in Singapore. For those who don’t want to listen to the podcast have a read below. DYAN:    What is it that we do to bring our books and ideas to the rest of the community? From that, it leads into to the next questions, which is describing your creative process. So what do you do to do what you do? Everyone has different methods, for example, some people like to get up early in the morning, or go for a walk or have a notepad with me. Personally, I always take notes, otherwise called sketch noting. You had mentioned various ideas of what inspires you and gets you started on your profiles on Writers’ Web and Child Writes. I thought sometimes when you then think about it again, you go actually my thoughts have evolved since that profile I did 12 months ago, and now I see that this is what inspires me because I’ve had events happen, which as you mentioned, events happen that builds who you are and that changes the initial journey. EMMA:  I think you’re absolutely right about evolving. This is what I love this is about a personal interview; I really wish we were sitting at a table having a coffee. DYAN:    Hang on there, I have a cup. EMMA:  There we go, a virtual cuppa, that will do. Whenever you write a profile, I find that the process is really safe. It’s because you can’t see your audience. You can’t see people who are reading it. I was thinking about that process of self-analysis and not being judgmental. I have been reading for example, over the last 12 months, Shaun Tan books. It is nearly the darkest kind of children’s books. I’ve written a children’s book for Adults, which is inspired by The Green Sheep (by Mem Fox), but it’s The Lost Ewe. It’s about motherhood and about losing yourself in this conundrum, which is children and losing your identity. But then when you start trying to reclaim your identity, it’s all this really fictitious stuff, the stupid stuff that doesn’t really matter. Am I fat? Can I fit into my wedding dress? Those banal conversations that you have with girlfriends and it’s deeper than that, what you are trying to find is deeper than that. It is 168 words like, The Green Sheep. Having written that, and I’m still producing safe stuff, a bit like the safe profile, I had a dream the other night, which is the first one I’ve ever come up with a book from a dream, and it’s about a little boy. It’s going to be a story about childhood depression, which is really hard to tackle. But I had a visual of how to do it, even though I don’t know how to do it, but I know that I will do it, if that makes sense. So I think what I’m really enjoying now is that that safe profile is absolutely my background, and it’s my history and it’s got me to this point, and I’m so proud of everything that I’ve done, even though I look at them on some days and say, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s so embarrassing’. Every step that you take, you just become a little bit more confident. My friends now refer to me as a writer. ‘Oh, you’re such a writer! It’s like ‘Oh my God, I am,’ and it is so exciting and it’s more exciting that the labelling is coming from externally. While you’re also reading it and you say ‘Oh, that’s something quite extraordinary’. I just think of it as I put one foot in front of the other and in front of the other and other and it evolved. DYAN:    I mentioned to you I think the thought bubbles that I’ve written in my mind map, it did segue way into each section. You’ve talked about how you said you’ve fallen in to being a writer, that you kept on doing it and doing it and it happened. And then people would wonder when did you go from ‘Emma–here’ to ‘Emma–over there’. It’s just step-by-step. EMMA:  Absolutely. I think I’ve got to remember that that’s how school happened. Year one, then year two and year three. You don’t play an instrument without having lesson 1, lesson 2, lesson 3. I really factor that into this process of writing. It kills me when I hear people that have an idea for a story, they don’t know how to proceed, they can find the information, but that it’s not just the next step and next step. Once you take one step, then you’re a bit closer to somewhere, even though you don’t know where that somewhere is. I guess that’s part of it. So really, without knowing how to track that idea, it really is the journey; it’s not the destination. That still oversimplifies it because if everything is about the journey, that’s only part of it. DYAN:    Yeah. Or as you say, it becomes the inspirations for story lines. One of your quotes from Child Writes, which I loved was the ‘Difference between an author and a writer, is that the author did it’. EMMA:  Yeah. That’s the crazy thing. If you speak to people, even though the consuming public, from my perspective as a teacher and educator, to make sure that people can write and illustrate their own books. For the life of me, it is the best time to ever have this as an aspirational goal. You’re led by the nose with information from the Internet; the technology is that up to date. It is no longer a big prospect to get it out there. It’s really exciting. People want to do it. Everyone will tell you. People don’t say I’d love to make a movie or I’d love to write a song or I’d love to run a marathon. People do. Regardless of what people’s backgrounds are inevitably at some point, they’ve had a fantastic idea that should be a story, because that’s what we are. That makes us people. DYAN:    Yeah. I think, as you say, storytelling is innate and that some of that skill, as you say, it’s almost as if it’s been lost, and when you rediscover that because you have these platforms and saying, ‘Hey, you can share your story, not just with your family, but with anybody in the world. I think sometimes that can be intimidating for people. EMMA:  Absolutely. Yes, ‘to the world’ is too big. I’ve just had the biggest epiphany while you were just saying that. You just made something click into place for me. You know this preoccupation that we have with falling literacy rates, ‘We are not a literate country ad we are in the lowest range of the OECD countries’. Nothing seems to change. At the same time, the family is falling apart, the conventional community that used to raise children is falling apart, maybe it’s not the literacy rates that are the problem, maybe it’s the storytelling. Storytelling was how we learnt the rules and the fundamentals of society. That’s probably why ‘we’ have disappeared and ‘me’ has replaced it. DYAN:    Yeah, there you go. EMMA:  There we go. So another advantage of writing, I was writing something this morning and it was boring me. So I’m going to need to read it out aloud, the story telling aloud is a good indicator. DYAN:    Yes. As you say, I just love watching kids when people do read a story. They’re just fascinated. As you say, what has happened with our storytelling? EMMA:  It is innate; it is part of the way we are programmed as humans to respond to that verbal storytelling, reading stories aloud. And if that is how we respond then we need to deliver more of it. Because if you’re a child in a village, before the pen and paper were even invented, there must have been stories every night. There must have been. DYAN:    Oh yes, definitely. As you say, it was just part of the culture. It wasn’t just stories from your immediate family, it was from people outside your family as well. As you said, how often do children get exposed to that? How often does that happen? It’s an exciting world. The world has changed. EMMA:  Yes. That shared discourse, you just nailed again, you are good at this. The shared discourse only happens with a popular author. So the story is only shared, not because it was a cultural norm, but because the author comes in first. So the author first, then the story, if that make sense. We’re not hearing, as you said, from the next door neighbour’s father, whose experience is inspirational we’re not getting those experiences actually shared to us as children. The stories are dictated by the commercial construct, I guess, as opposed to what is important, to what we really need and what information we need today. DYAN:    I guess more in that split, when you and I commented and I think it probably also talks about favourite aspects of where all I work, and wouldn’t be surprised if you were similar, as you say etching out these stories with the children about what their
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