Sunday, October 24, 2010

Joy Cowley

One week after releasing the following two books, Joy Cowley received the Prime Minister's Award for her contribution to children's literature. Joy Cowley has given an incredible amount not just in this country (giving proceeds for 'Writing from the Heart' and writing workshops to Storylines and volunteering much of her time over the years) she has also travelled the world giving workshops in poor countries so that children, teachers and authors can benefit from her experience and hear her stories - at her own expense.

Navigation: a memoir by Joy Cowley (Penguin)
ISBN: 978-0-14-320571-5 RRP$45.00

When Joy Cowley was asked several years ago to write an autobiography - she said no. Penguin came back and suggested she wrote her memoirs. Joy Cowley quite liked the idea of focussing on a collection of anecdotes. "I'm like a riverbed trying to identify all the stones that make it what it is."

Her life's journey is situated in place: her father's wish to not live far from the sea left an imprint on Joy, she too longed to live near it and by chance found an idyllic place in Fish Bay. She brought her four children up there, and now visits it with her grandchildren. She has written many of her stories there. "I relax in a hot tub and think, 'Wishy-washy, wishy-washy'... An albino eagle ray follows my dinghy. A pet pig develops a taste for tobacco and eats visitors' cigarettes, packets and all. In a screaming nor-wester, a willy-wall picks up two kayaks from the beach and shoots them high in the air like missiles, dropping them in the bush halfway up the hill. On a calm day, I stand in shallow water and small fish, soft as feathers, lie on my bare feet to warm themselves. Stories, stories; and not just the inspiration, either, but also the energy to create them."

In 1958, Joy began writing after her two little ones were put to bed. Her first two stories were published in the New Zealand Daily Exporter. Then stories were published in the Home Journal and School Publications. She also joined a writers group and was given feedback. She continued sending stories to The Listener and after 40 rejections was finally published in 1961.

Joy says stories were everywhere, like the fruit in her orchard. "All I had to do was pick it up and use or preserve it for a later date." It was while trying to find stories that would interest her son Edward that she became interested in writing early readers. She found that the word lists she was supposed to include in her stories contained words that children rarely used. She suggested a change at the International Reading Conference in America. She also engaged with children to find out what interested them. She wrote their stories and discovered that children who experienced failure with reading needed to have text that built up their self esteem. She made them the heroes, included humour and often put a small surprise at the end of the book.

You'll read about how Joy Cowley had her first adult novels published, how she entered a picture book competition and won with The Duck in the Gun, and later tried to rescue a turtle from death in Fiji and though wasn't able to save it, was inspired to write her first junior fiction novel called The Silent One.

If you love Joy Cowley's books - teacher, librarian, mother, or student - you will enjoy reading the many anecdotes she has chosen to share with us. My favourite: she stayed with Roald Dahl in England (coincidentally, his biography 'The Storyteller is out in the same month) while he made a film of her first book Nest in a Falling Tree'. It is a fascinating book: reading how Joy Cowley shaped our early readers in New Zealand and America; her dedication to children's literature globally; and how her connectness to children, family and land were the inspiration for many of her books.

Writing from the Heart: How to write for children by Joy Cowley published by Storylines, ISBN: 978-0-43-17515-3 RRP$ 25.00 Buy online

Joy Cowley shares her 40 years of experience writing for children in this 'how to' book. However, instead of writing it as a 'dry' instructional book, Joy has shared her long experience as writer, editor and facilitator of writing workshops, as a series of warm and witty anecodotes. On the way, learn about plot writing, writing interesting dialogue, about how to be a disciplined writer, using humour in your stories, writing for different genres (earlyreaders, novels, picture books, plays, poetry), using different editing techniques and presenting your manuscript the best that you can.
All proceeds for this book go to Storylines.

Highly recommended for beginning writers.

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