Waiting, worries & Davina Bell on writing for children

Katherine needs to debrief on her first ever hosting duties. She’s been ruminating a little, and thinks there are some things she’ll change when she does her next one…

Kate is waiting. Just…waiting. Which she thinks is unbearable. The Twitter world suggested Netflix, whiskey, and more importantly, starting something new.

Questions have started to trickle in from our listeners and now Kate and Katherine want to hear from you. Send us your questions via the contact page, or let us know on Twitter or Insta.

Our guest is children’s book writer, editor and publisher, Davina Bell (and let’s be honest, Kate fangirls a little).

Davina Bell is a writer for young people and a children’s book editor. Her award-winning and Notable picture books include All the Ways To Be Smart, Under the Love Umbrella, The Underwater Fancy-dress Parade, Oh Albert! and Hattie Helps Out. She is also the author of the Alice books in Penguin’s best-selling Our Australian Girl series, the Lemonade Jones series, and a young-adult novel that was shortlisted for the Text Prize and will be published in 2020. Her newest series for middle grade readers is Sophia and the Corner Park Clubhouse, out soon. Having been a Senior Editor at Penguin Books, she now works on the children’s list at Affirm Press in Melbourne.

Like Kate and Katherine*, and previous guests Toni Jordan, Graeme Simsion, Emily Brewin, Mark Brandi and Danielle Binks, Davina is a graduate of the RMIT Professional Writing & Editing course. In fact, she moved from WA to do the course. She says:

‘All the good things that I have in my life came from doing this course.’

After early success with short stories in Sleepers Almanac & The Best Australian Stories, Davina was paralysed with the thought she’d never be able to write again. But while working as an editor at Penguin, she had an opportunity to write one of the Alice books for the Our Australian Girls series.

Davina says looking back, it’s not a surprise she arrived at writing for children, having been a nanny and worked in childcare and deeply immersed in the world of children. She calls it a ‘delightful inevitability’ (the same phrase she uses to describe the perfect end of a picture book).

When asked about what cross over skills she has taken from writing to editing and vice versa, Davina says:

‘As a writer, I have really watched how people who are open and flexible and collaborative just bring so much more joy to a project than people who are really stubborn and set in their ways and not willing to share a vision.’

As an editor, she’s learned from her writer self about the extraordinary vulnerability of handing your writing over. ‘You just can’t know how much of yourself is in your writing, until you’ve done that,’ she says, ‘A living piece of your heart outside of your body.’

Davina explains how a writing career is kind of like shaking a snow dome, and admits that ‘[the] first time is so magical that I don’t think you can ever recapture that.’

She considers the elements a children’s book needs to be published today, and we talk about the various pressures outside an author (and publisher’s!) control that are impacting the industry today.

While Davina worries, sometimes all the industry talk can feel negative, she insists that ‘there is still hope!’ She cites the success of Gwyn Perkins’ picture book A Walk in the Bush.  Of making it in the industry, she says, ‘The best ones still make it out into the world, the window is just smaller to sneak through.’

And Davina gets in her greatest advice for debut writers: ‘Sitting in the chair writing: that is what is going to make your writing stronger.’

Davina thinks the best thing about being in a course or having a writers group is external deadlines (although she admits to not meeting all of her publisher deadlines!).

Kate asks about resilience after reading an interview with Davina where she lists the five words to describe herself as: Always willing to try again. 

What does Davina want to see in a picture book that comes across her desk?

Comfort, wonder and joy.

Plus she wants to make sure the book is written through a child’s perspective, not just TO a child.

Davina recommends an upcoming debut by Fiona Hardy, middle grade novel – How to Make a Movie in Twelve Days. We can’t wait to read it!

We highly recommend you check out Davina’s website or follow her on instagram to find out her latest book news!

*Actually, Kate and Katherine are NOT (yet) alumni. Oh, the joys of studying VERY part time…

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