Was I nervous? Oh yes! Not one for turning up to such events on my own, come to think of it, coming to such events, I really had no idea what to expect. Arriving a little early I met Lisa, herself a new member,(although she had attended their very first meeting). I then met the organiser and liason for SCBWI Aust/NZ, Frances Plumpton. I will come back to Frances, as while she encouraged me to read up on Pamela Allen‘s work (the guest speaker) before attending the meeting, which I did, it also pays to read up on the organisers.
The 15 of us, a mixture of published and unpublished writers and illustrators took our seats, and after welcoming us all, Frances introduced Pamela Allen. Award winning writer and illustrator of children’s books, New Zealand born Pamela has penned over 30 books since 1980 with the first being “Mr Archimedes Bath.” She was originally only interested in illustrating, but was approached by a publisher to write a story, while spending some time living in Australia. Along with some of the basic principals I have been taught, Pamela spoke of starting out with the tools you have, either as a writer, or illustrator, and are most comfortable with, and go from there. She used illustration, sound and voice first, the rest followed. She explained that with pictures she drew, a story formed. Adding sounds and a voice gave it character and movement. “Always ask a question, the child looks for the answer”, such as “Who Sank the Boat”. A picture book does not come alive until it is read aloud. Pamela read to us a few of her books, including “Fancy That”. Her “Mr McGee” books are rhymed, mainly for younger children. When asked if she ever had writers block and stuck for ideas, she replied, sometimes, but her stories could arise from a small child showing her a mosquito bite ,(Mr McGee and the Biting Flea), to reading news clippings out of the paper. Her words of wisdom – always know who you are writing for, know the age, be there in that moment…. (sound advice I thought). Pamela also brought with her, for us to see, and pass around many of her drawings, which was a real treat to view, first hand. Like many there I felt honoured to have been in renowned company.
After the meeting a couple of us managed to chat to Frances and I was surprised to learn after a long career as a children’s librarian in public libraries in Auckland, she has, for the last 5 years been a Literacy Agent for Richards Literacy Agency, working with many well-known clients. Is a founding member of Storylines, Children’s Literature Charitable Trust of NZ, was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship in 1989 and has a Betty Gilderate Award for Services to Children’s literature. She also attended a couple of SCBWI Conferences in Bologna and Sydney, Australia last year and was heading off back to Bologna again, this year, to promote New Zealand Books.