Books and Publishing Q&A

What are you hoping to achieve during your time as laureate?

I want to be an ambassador for the fears and hopes and dreams and dreads that young people have as they contemplate and navigate today's world, and also as they think about the possibilities of their future adult worlds. Much of my time will be spent championing stories as a medium for young people to engage creatively with those possibilities. Stories reveal themselves in our imaginations, our intellects and our emotions - all places where we work on our own destinies. I also plan to do some work on the placement of apostrophes.

Can you briefly explain the theme ‘stories create our future’ and outline how this will relate to your term as laureate?

I think our individual and collective futures are largely the result of our capacity to imagine the best possibilities in our lives and to look bravely at the worst possibilties and to use all our creativity and empathy and hope and inspiration and grit and honesty and intelligence and curiosity and cheekiness and insight to make a difference. These qualities, as it happens, are often used by characters in stories as they wrestle with the problems authors throw in their paths. This is great for readers, because we get to see how our qualities work in a wide range of circumstances, through the experiences of many different individuals. It's probably a bit more exact to say that Stories Contribute To Our Future In A Huge Number Of Ways, but Stories Create Our Future is punchier and, now I look more closely sat the wording of this question, briefer.

What do you think the Australian book industry is doing well when it comes to children’s publishing?

All the basics. Publishing good books, sometimes, with good covers, sometimes, marketing them well, sometimes, retailing them well between forty-five and sixty-seven and a half percent of the time, and looking after authors extremely well, sometimes. And they're doing all this while rebuilding their business models from the ground up, which isn't easy, so good on them. And in a world where a lot of money can be made by encouraging authors to repeat themselves, the best children's publishers still encourage authors to take risks and do things differently, which is brilliant.

And what could the industry do better?

Those of us lucky enough to find our book-writing feet in a long-ago era when publishers' financial targets and bookshops' stock rotation and reviewers' sentences moved more slowly know for absolute certain that it takes more than one book to achieve long-term success. How to give newly-published authors that breathing and growing space? There's an answer out there somewhere.

 You’ve said that young people need stories ‘more than ever’ in order to equip them to deal with the world’s challenges. What makes you say that?

At a time when adult public discourse is becoming more and more a narrow binary us-or-them, with-us-or-against-us, anger and bigotry-driven process, young people must be scratching their heads as they look around for examples of clever, adaptive, sophisticated, humane, optimistic thinking. Stories are where they're more likely to find those things at the moment. Characters in stories don't make it through 300 pages if all they're capable of is sneering, lecturing, insulting, self-aggrandising and lying to themselves. The average ten-year-old protagonist in a children's story has more emotional intelligence and intellectual honesty and cognitive adventurousness than quite a few of the adults we've currently chosen to lead us.

You’ve also said that you want to champion children’s stories to adults. Can you expand on why this is important to you, and how progress might be made in this area?

A lot of adults, be they policy-makers obsessed with ideology and political survival, or busy parents struggling with exhaustion, rarely have the experience these days of spending time in somebody else's shoes. Which is the sublime civilising experience stories have offered us since stories were first invented. Fortunately most adults have children in their lives one way or another, and children love sharing stories. Part of my job over the next couple of years is to remind adults that they'll get as much out of this as the kids will.


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