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‘Your Secret Garden’ – In Conversation with Jane Godwin

"The creative process is intuitive and mysterious and so it differs from story to story."

It’s often said that, despite their size, writing children’s books is no small feat. Celebrated author Jane Godwin knows this all too well. The author of more than 20 books for young people, Jane will take children on a tour of the Convent’s gardens, working with them to write and publish their very own book as part of our ‘Your Secret Garden’ program, held with Kids’ Own Publishing. We had a chat to Jane about her world of fiction, and how to encourage children to create their own stories.

What’s your creative process for writing children’s stories?

I wish I could outline it in a simple way, but alas I can’t. The creative process is intuitive and mysterious and so it differs from story to story. Sometimes a picture book will appear almost whole in my mind, and other times I’ll have a germ of an idea and then it takes months and months to sort out what I’m trying to explore and the best way to explore it. With novels, it’s basically blood, sweat and tears, again and again. But as a summary I suppose you could say its part intuition and passion and part craft and analysis.

How do you create characters? Are you guided by how you imagine the characters to look? Their dialogue? Their place in the world?

I often start with someone who I’ve met or seen, someone I don’t know well but who for some reason is interesting to me. Then I create a fictitious backstory for them, and a character is built that way. It’s a slow process, a kind of building process of imagining a fully-fledged and realised person (or animal, or whatever form the character takes). I think about how they look but in a novel,  I often won’t end up describing many of their physical features. Dialogue is very important, as authentic dialogue can reveal so much about a character, and false dialogue stops the reader believing in that same character. I do think about every aspect of their lives – their personal history if you like, but again, most of this information doesn’t end up in the story, it just allows me to fully imagine a character.

Which of your children’s stories did you enjoy writing the most and why?

Each one has been rewarding in some ways and challenging in some ways too. Of my recent books, I enjoyed writing the picture book ‘Bear Make Den’, as it was a fun collaboration with Michael Wagner and Andy Joyner, and we experimented with language in a different way, which I really enjoyed. And I always love working with my friend and collaborator Anna Walker.

What are you most looking forward to about exploring the Abbotsford Convent gardens with children as a platform for them to create their own stories?

I’m looking forward to meeting the children and having the opportunity to explore the beautiful gardens of the convent. It’s a place steeped in history and has so many rich and meaningful stories of its own. The whole site has such a unique feel to it. I think it’s a great place to create stories.

What role do the senses play in encouraging creativity in children?

Senses are hugely important in the writing process, and in any creative process. The first sense we often go to is sight (What does it look like?). But observing through other senses (What does it sound like? What’s it like to touch? How does it make you feel?) allows for sharp and original description and imagery, and therefore unique and memorable writing.

What can children expect in your story writing sessions at the Convent?

The children can expect to wander through the gardens together with me, exploring, stopping and chatting and then reflecting on this space in their own sensory writing. We will focus on the seasons, and the way a garden might change throughout the year. We’ll experiment with different forms of writing, blank verse, rhyming sentences, and just writing down the thoughts we have about a place in nature. This writing will then become our own book of garden-inspired poetry or story. It will be casual, and friendly, and easy, and lots of fun!

What are your top tips for parents and teachers who want to encourage children to write?

My tips would be:

  • Read to your child
  • Encourage your child to read
  • Model reading by being seen reading yourself
  • Play language games
  • Give your child a special notebook or journal and pen or pencil
  • Allow your child time and space to reflect and think.

And of course, making and publishing your own books!

What’s your next project?

I have many projects on the go. I’m just finishing a novel for 12 – 14-year olds, which seems to have taken me forever. I also have several picture books in various stages of production, including a new one with Anna Walker and a photographic picture book.

This program is presented by Kids’ Own Publishing in partnership with the Abbotsford Convent Foundation.