Last year I sat front row when Mem Fox presented at Black Cat Books, Brisbane. It is my favourite bookstore in Brisbane because of its large collection of Australian children’s literature, events, coffee shop and gorgeous deck, garden and rotunda out back. Black Cat Books + Mem Fox = I was there.
Sitting beside two of my writing buddies, Caylie and Sam, we soaked in all the magic that is Mem Fox. Everyone loves listening to Mem Fox. Besides she exemplifies magic, think The Magic Hat and of course, Possum Magic. You can even hear Mem read aloud on her website.
What a character. She oozes wit, intelligence, passion for quality children’s writing and reading, warmth and she takes her audience on an emotional rollercoaster as she reads her books. She held the entire room captive for a few hours, a room full of adults and she even reduced my friend Caylie to tears from a reading of Koala Lou. Read Caylie’s account of meeting The Divine Ms Mem. Mem shared the behind the scenes stories of writing her books. It’s no wonder she is children’s writing royalty in Australia and worldwide.
Even my grade 3 class last year still loved hearing me read Where is the Green Sheep? and gush over meeting Mem Fox. They knew who she was straight away and were equally impressed by my signed copy. They’ve heard Mem Fox for years and still joined in on, “But where is the green sheep?”
One true gem Mem shared was how her books are now primarily aimed at the early year's picture book market and when I thought about this it made sense. Her classic picture books like Possum Magic and Koala Lou fit in the older picture book segment, while her newer works like Where is the Green Sheep? and her latest Baby Bedtime are aimed at the 0-4 age group.
So around the same time as this event in November 2013, I lay on my bed one afternoon and a wash of words drifted into my head, brought on the afternoon summer breeze. Maybe it was a sprinkling of the Mem Fox magic still hanging around. Luckily I had a notebook nearby and I wrote down a jumble of words all to do with the wind. (Excellent writer tip: Always carry a notebook with you so you don't forget those magic words that appear in your head.)
These words became the basis for my first early year’s picture book. All my efforts until now had mainly sat in the older picture book market.
Mem spoke of how the words for Baby Bedtime poured forth from her when sitting beside her grandson Theo’s crib in the neo-natal hospital ward. He was born 8 weeks premature and in loving this beautiful little boy the first verse for Baby Bedtime came to her. Not long after this, Mem had crafted the entire poem. Four years on the book has been published by Penguin and the illustrations are wonderfully captured by Emma Quay with a mother and baby elephant.
So with a little more of the Mem Fox magic still in the air I took these notebook scribbles, toyed with the words and turned it into the first draft. After showing it to my writing group and getting some more critiques, I have continued to play with the words of the text.
Mem revealed that the text for Where is the Green Sheep? took her 7 months to write. She painstakingly laboured over the right words, all one syllable mind you, except for two in the whole text. Most of these books sound simple and many think are easy to write. It is the opposite. With so few words, each one counts and must be exact.
At moments, on my holiday in the last two weeks, I wrote down which words would fit best in my manuscript and asked my mum, my travel buddy for input too. So many sw, tw, wh words swirled in my head.
I tried different words, combination of words, I changed the order and I read my work aloud until I was happy with my final version. After toiling over my many manuscript drafts and query letter, I have sent it off to a publisher. Hopefully with some virtual Mem Fox magic! Fingers crossed.
At Christmas I caught up with one of my best friends from high school who was visiting from Adelaide. She asked how my writing was going. I mentioned I’d seen Mem Fox recently. She excitedly told me that she knows the area where Mem Fox lives in Adelaide. Next time I visit my friend in Adelaide, she suggested we take a stroll on the beach near Mem's house. Maybe a little more Mem Fox magic will come my way.
Don't worry, I won’t be knocking on your door Mem. But, you may see me at another event you’re at. (Just a huge fan!)
Mem, I hope you continue to delight everyone with your writing magic for many years to come. Never stop!
Mem Fox website http://memfox.com/
Caylie Jefferies website http://www.cayliejeffery.com.au/
Sam Sochaka website http://samsochacka.com/