Introducing Korky Paul at the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival, Saturday 25th March.
The day dawned bright and fair. ‘Suited and booted’ wearing my favourite Dorothy-inspired book-ish shoes, I set off to the beautiful city of Oxford for the first day of the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival. I had been asked to introduce none other than Korky Paul, illustrator of the fabulous Winnie the Witch books. On arriving, it was with great delight I spent an hour or so chatting with Korky and helping a real life Winnie the Witch get ready to entertain the audience!
With Winnie the Witch at Oxford Literary Festival
About 80 or so children and parents arrived, all hugely thrilled to meet Korky – and of course Winnie, who willingly posed for photos with them. After introducing Korky, I sat back and watched in wonder as he brought to life Winnie, Wilbur and all their wonderful adventures.
With prizes and stories along the way, everyone went away utterly delighted. Korky shared brilliant illustrations tips and was so encouraging of all the children and even read aloud one of the stories.
It really was a special morning. There are few things more inspiring than watching an illustrator at work, perfectly capturing the expression, movement and magic of a character everybody knows and loves!
“Seeing the World Through Children’s Books” with Elizabeth Laird, Gill Lewis and Anna Bassi, and Nikki Gamble
This was a great opportunity to hear from two renowned authors and the editor of the fantastic news magazine for children, The Week. Chaired by Nikki Gamble from Just Imagine, the discussion focused on why it is so important to write about the real world for children. Each member of the panel gave a brief talk about their work, starting with Anna Bassi, editor of The Week, a magazine for children which aims to make the news accessible for younger readers.
Anna talked about balancing new stories “with fun stuff so that children could see that the world is not all bad; it’s huge and interesting”. Having subscribed to The Week both at home and in the school library, I’ve always found it to be an excellent source of news for children and also full of interesting facts, competitions and great stories from around the world. It is also, most importantly, as Anna described “a safe place to read about serious stories”. I think the whole audience could appreciate the challenge of making news accessible for children in the current climate.
Gill Lewis, author of award winning wonderful books such as Sky Hawk and Scarlet Ibis, then shared her inspiration for her new book A Story Like the Wind (out next month), an incredible tale about refugees which Gill described as a “story about the power of stories”. She also spoke about Gorilla Dawn which focuses on the destruction of gorillas and their habitats through the mining of minerals for mobile phone technology.
Gill shared some wonderful insights into her writing, such as taking big events down to one narrative to make the story accessible for young readers. She talked about finding the character within the story to enable you to create a narrative and enable children to relate to the story. Gill described her writing as not writing for children, but writing as a child, “exploring what it’s like to feel utterly powerless in an adult world.”
Elizabeth Laird, whose work was characterised as “intrepid” by the panel chair Nikki Gamble and has been translated into 25 different languages, was the final author to share her thoughts. Her books include the amazing, award winning The Garbage King and The Fastest Boy in the World. Elizabeth talked about her latest novel Welcome to Nowhere, a story about Syrian refugees. Elizabeth shared an experience of seeing hundreds of refugees arriving at a train station in Munich, making her think of other historical events where multitudes of people have been forced out of their homes.
This motivated her trip to the Middle East and led her to writing Welcome to Nowhere. Elizabeth made an impassioned plea to the audience to help those “people just like us with perfectly good lives who are now refugees”. Elizabeth’s presentation included images of the refugee camp she visited, home to some 80,000 people. She also spoke about the children living in absolute poverty on whom some of her other novels are based, and moved many in audience to tears with some of her stories – including me. Elizabeth encouraged all members of the audience to get involved in raising funds for The Mandala Trust, a charity supporting two schools opened especially for refugee children. Find out more on her website www.elizabethlaird.co.uk.
The overall thread was the importance of ensuring a message of hope whilst still being true to the story or narrative. Younger readers should not be patronised but neither should they be made to feel complete despair. Nikki Gamble asked if there was a line the panel members wouldn’t go beyond with their readers. In response, Elizabeth spoke of having a duty to encourage readers, always showing hope. Gill has had readers who have thanked her for writing stories even about the most difficult of issues, because it helped them get through their own experiences. And Anna shared that even with the darkest of news stories; there are always opportunities to remember what good people there are in the world, focusing on everyday heroes.
It was a fascinating hour, looking at the power of both fiction and non-fiction to enable children to see the world more clearly. I think the conversation also showed the ability writers have to help children feel empathy and make informed decisions about the world around them. This demonstrates why reading is so important, especially in a world which is so visible to children, but also so full of things that are difficult to understand.
Find out more about the Oxford Literary Festival at www.oxfordliteraryfestival.org which runs until 2nd April.
And look out for an interview with Gill Lewis coming up as part of our Spring Feature!