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Saturday, November 02, 2013

"I’m incredibly grateful for the kids and families who are enjoying my work," Lisa Dalrymple

Interview with award winning author of children's books Lisa Dalrymple

Lisa Dalrymple
Q. You have done three books for children, the third, Bubbly Troubly Polar Bear, having been released just this past weekend. You obviously love writing books for children…
Lisa Dalrymple: I do! There’s a certain kind of imagination that can be engaged in writing for kids that I love. Sometimes it’s silly–nobody bats an eyelash when a polar bear toboggans down the stairs on an ironing board–and sometimes it’s deeper, like when a lizard starts questioning what it says about his identity if his colour starts changing. Always though, when I’m writing for kids, I feel a strong connection with my child audience and my inner child’s voice. If I don’t, that’s my number one barometer that a particular piece isn’t working.
Q. Skink on the Brink won The Writers’ Union of Canada’s Writing for Children Award, so you’re obviously very good at doing what you’re doing. What is the most difficult thing about writing for kids?
I think writing for kids has all the same challenges as writing for adult audiences. There are always concerns about character development, plot credibility, respect for the reader and voice. I guess, in writing for kids, there is also the issue of word count. However, I know that many writers, when writing for adults, struggle with the word count of their novels as well.
For children’s picture books, in particular, which is what I’ve been publishing to this point, I know many editors say they won’t accept a book that’s over 1000 words and it’s only getting tighter. I know, if I write a book and the "final” word count comes in at over 500 words, that’s a sign to me to go back and assess whether there’s anything superfluous in the text. With a picture book, every word has to carry its own weight–and the weight of several others.
Writing picture books is, in essence, a crash course in how to eliminate adjectives, how to choose the most evocative verbs and nouns and how to do all that without resorting to an overly advanced or elevated vocabulary. It’s humbling, really.
Q. Is getting published easy in the children’s category?
All I can say is that my path to publication certainly wasn’t easy. I began submitting in 2009 and, by the time I received my first acceptance letter in 2011, I had logged 226 rejections or non-responses to my submissions. (These numbers even include rejections of Skink on the Brink, the very piece that won The Writers’ Union of Canada’s Writing for Children award and that was recently honoured with a starred entry in Best Books for Kids and Teens 2013.) I feel that, whatever kind of writing you do, landing a traditional book publishing contract is very much a game of perseverance, research and luck.
We also have fewer publishers in Canada who publish children’s books. There are only a handful of Canadian publishers who won’t publish books for the adult market, but there are many publishers who won’t consider books for kids, and even fewer who will publish picture books (typically defined as being for the 4-8 year old market.) Picture Books are a huge investment of time to create and of money to produce. Then, with so many talented writers in the Canadian children’s book industry, the competition for those elusive publishing spots every year is pretty steep.
Lisa reading to children
Q. I saw you read at WOTS in Toronto. It’s obvious you’re a great performer, too, in addition to being a writer. Does that come naturally or is it an acquired trait?
Thanks, Mayank. That’s always great to hear. I’m not entirely sure how to go about answering your question though. I certainly feel that developing an engaging and interactive presentation has been another sharp learning curve for me. I’m grateful to the friends and mentors who have guided me along, helped me develop my presentation style and create a full and flexible repertoire for school visits.
The performance aspect does seem to be one of the key differences I can identify between publishing for adults and publishing for kids. When reading or presenting to young kids, it’s even more crucial to be receptive to those initial cues about the attention spans of the members of the audience. It’s also important to be able to pick up on the wide variety of temperaments and learning styles of the listeners. It’s not often, in my years of presenting to adults, that I had no choice but to address the fact that Steven had a hole in his shoe or that my audience is feeling a bit lethargic because it is 2 pm and many of my listeners might otherwise be napping if they were at home.
Q. You’re a mother. Does that help the process of writing for children? Will you write young adult fiction as your kids grow up? Have you attempted adult fiction? Do you intend to?
I’ve always written where I find my voice at the time. I’m sure having children and being immersed in the world of books for young people probably channelled my voice in a certain direction but, even so, learning the craft of picture book writing was–and continues to be–extremely challenging.
When my oldest son was about 3, I started writing children’s books (in isolation) and I continued like that for about six years. When I’d developed as far as I felt I could on my own, I joined writers’ organizations and critique groups. Looking back, I can see how much I still had to learn and how much my craft developed as I learned from more experienced writers and became able to see others’ writing–and my own–with a critical eye. After having spent 9 years to get to a place where my writing for kids is being pretty well received, I can’t imagine switching gears right now. I’m incredibly grateful for the kids and families who are enjoying my work and for the publishers who are interested in publishing it. I feel like I’m where I’m meant to be at this point.
However, as to whether or not I can see myself writing for different markets in the future, I guess it depends where that inner voice takes me.

Images from Lisa Dalrymple's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/DalrympleLisa

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