I went back to Sydney last week. It’s been a while. I’m not sure that the sense of exile is quite over, but the sun was out in Sin City and Darling Harbour was filled with writers, illustrators, teachers, librarians, and school groups in uniform - all mad about kids’ books.
The Children’s Book Council conference began with the sound of didgeridoo and flute (the first notes rendered me utterly homesick) and over the next few days we heard from people like Emily Rodda (Deltora), Helen Oxenbury (Alice in Wonderland illustrator), Terry Denton (illustrator of Andy Griffiths’ books and much more), Libby Gleeson (guru), Michelle Paver (Wolf Brother), and Steven Herrick (poet).
Particularly thoughtful was Danish fantasy writer Lene Kaaberbol (The Shamer Chronicles). Even though I don’t write, or really read, fantasy, and haven’t read her work, I related to her accounts of the issues she had to confront in writing about good and evil, male and female characters, and also about the ways in which fantasy (or historical fiction) can hold up a mirror to the modern world.
The session on poetry with Wendy Michaels, Steven Herrick, Libby Hathorn and Jonathan Shaw was a treat – just to be sitting about discussing poetry (on board the old Manly ferry) was wonderfully luxurious.
And in the Expo section people just kept giving out books, Clifford the Big Red Dog wandered around hugging children, the were constant launches, and illustrators sat in a studio space showing how they weave their magic. I watched Bruce Whatley whip up a very familiar-looking wombat.
Speaking of luxury, I treated myself to a copy of the commemorative edition of Treasure Island, gorgeously illustrated by Robert Ingpen, and even lined up to get it signed – something I never do (I’m usually too shy).
And I spent an awful lot of time explaining that even though I had come from New Zealand I was actually Australian. Someone even asked me if I was Lynley Dodd. Hilarious. She’s about four feet taller than me and about six billion times more famous. But my poor dead dog Lil was the spitting image of Hairy McLairy.