Don’t Die Wondering by Jacqueline Harvey

Award winning Australian author Jacqueline Harvey tells us about her journey as a writer and how she came to write her best selling Alice-Miranda and Clementine-Rose series for children, and you can meet her in Leeds!

Jacqueline Harvey,

Jacqueline Harvey,

As a child I could often be found with my head in a book devouring stories like Heidi and Black Beauty and anything and everything written by Enid Blyton. I loved the idea of being a writer but never having met an author as a child, it seemed a pretty mysterious career choice and although it held great appeal, I wondered for a long time how you’d go about it. I was also set on being a primary school teacher from the age of nine. For the first ten years of my career, I taught in a beautiful small school in the New South Wales Southern Highlands (which is a lot like the English countryside with the addition of snakes!). For a long time I satisfied my creative urges writing stories, poems and plays for the children in my classes and contributing education pieces to the local newspapers.

It wasn’t until I went on Long Service Leave and we moved to Byron Bay (the most easterly point of Australia near the border of New South Wales and Queensland) that my husband pointed out that I spent an inordinate amount of time talking about wanting to write for children. I’d studied children’s literature at University and adored reading to my classes – silly voices and accents always included. He then asked if I was ever going to do anything about this desire to write, or was I just going to talk about it forever (best question ever!) Deep down I didn’t want to look back and regret not having given it a proper go – so my personal motto became, ‘don’t die wondering’ and I began writing in earnest. But writing is a challenging business and after no nibbles and an increasing sense of frustration being away from teaching, I took what I thought would be a six month contract at Abbotsleigh, a day and boarding school for girls in Sydney. At almost the same time I won a competition with the Children’s Book Council of New South Wales for an unpublished manuscript and a short while later was offered my first publishing contract. Somewhere along the line, that six month teaching gig turned into eleven and a half years; the first eight as the Deputy Head of the Junior School and the last three as the Director of Development. All the while I was writing on the weekends and in the school holidays.

Alice- Miranda in ParisMy journey as a writer was slow to begin with; although I had four books published in the first three years, I then experienced a period where I wondered if I’d ever have anything published again (even after winning an Honour Book prize in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year Awards in 2006). During that time Alice-Miranda sprang to life. I worked for about two years developing the first book and the idea for the series but my writing time was extremely limited. It wasn’t an easy road to publication either (the book was turned down by a number of Australian publishers) and I was feeling increasingly frustrated when Linsay Knight at Random House Australia offered me a contract which has proven to be absolutely life changing. The first book, Alice-Miranda at School was published in Australia in February 2010. Since then, I’ve signed contracts for 14 Alice-Miranda titles (11 of which are now written and available in Australia) and 13 Clementine Rose books (8 of which are now out in Australia), produced two diaries and a Busy Day Book and contributed to three short story anthologies. Both series are published internationally in varying numbers and Alice-Miranda has been optioned as a television series. I left school in November 2012 to become a full time writer and while I miss the daily interactions with the students and staff, I now believe that I have the best of both worlds (and get to channel my inner actress too at all the school presentations I do!)

Writing for children is challenging but also incredibly rewarding. Kids want an authentic reading experience just as we do as adult readers. They don’t like to be talked down to or preached at. They want to read a good story with a convincing plot and characters who they feel an affinity with, whether the characters are realistic or fantastical. A well-crafted story will make young readers feel empowered and I think that children ultimately want to cheer for the good guys and see that the baddies get what’s coming to them.

Clementine Rose and the perfect presentI never set out to write books for girls only and I don’t believe that they are just for girls. My experiences in teaching have been in both coeducational and single sex settings and when the idea of Alice-Miranda popped into my head it was really more about the concept of a very young child going off to boarding school. Simply because the series’ have two girls as main characters, doesn’t make them inappropriate for boys at all. I’ve just released Clementine Rose and the Ballet Break In in Australia this month and I think there’s so much in that story for boys to love (if only they can overcome the girly cover). My books have loads of great male characters but the marketing definitely skews the audience. In the debate over the idea of books for girls and books for boys, I’d prefer to think that there are amazing books with outstanding female protagonists and vice versa and hope that one day we come to a point where boys will reach as readily for a book with a girl on the cover, as happens the other way around.

Top Tips for Writers

For people out there considering dipping their toes into the world of writing for children I’d say if you really want to do it, don’t talk about, make a start and understand that like anything worth doing, it takes time to hone your craft. Learn from the experts. Take courses, read widely in the genre that you’re keen to write in and heed advice. Everyone approaches their work differently and there is no ‘one right way to be a writer’. Learn everything you can about the business so that you don’t go in with rose coloured glasses. Giving up your day job on the back of one or two contracts (unless they are the rare and spectacular six figure debut author, headline grabbing type) will most likely be a pathway to poverty – it can be a long road to success.

I think you need to love what you’re writing and that will come through to the audience. I adore writing Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose’s stories – there are so many great characters in the books – and I have a particular love of the bad guys!

A pacey and interesting plot is vital and that’s one of the things I certainly spend a lot of time developing. You need to find your voice as a writer – and have an understanding of what age you prefer writing for. Know the intended audience. I really can’t underestimate the importance of the readers. But above all have fun with it – kids can spot a fraud a mile off.


 

Jacqueline Harvey

Jacqueline Harvey

Jacqueline Harvey is a born storyteller. A highly experienced former teacher and Deputy Head of Junior School, she is the author of 22 novels for younger readers and a Children’s Book Council of Australia award winning picture book. Her bestselling Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose series are published internationally and have garnered various short listings and awards. There are currently 7 Alice-Miranda titles and 4 books in the Clementine Rose series available in the UK with many more to come. Jacqueline travels widely, speaking and teaching in Australia and overseas. She is a passionate advocate for literacy with a particular love of reading aloud. You can find out more at www.jacquelineharvey.com.au

PLEASE NOTE: Our Jacqueline Harvey event on 24th January  2015 at LCI has been cancelled. We hope to welcome Jacquie back in October.

 

 

Fiona Gell

Fiona is a lifelong reading enthusiast and book lover. Her career started as a bookseller and has never really veered away from the written and spoken word. It was a dream for her to be a founder member of The Leeds Big Bookend Festival. Fiona is the Festival's Coordinator, helping to bring the whole festival together.

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