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Kate De Goldi – great question and answer

April 5, 2015

In an interview of Kate de Goldi by Kim Hill, there is a question and answer that I enjoyed so much, I have to repeat them in full:

Kim Hill asks: “You have strong ideas about what children’s fiction should and shouldn’t do, and yours is challenging in various ways, including the fact that it speaks to all ages, and that includes the Lolly Leopold books. How much of a practical problem in terms of publishing has that been?

Kate answers: “Writing for children should exemplify all the qualities of good literature – strong story, nuanced characterisation, limber dialogue, alluring metaphoric and symbolic underpinnings, a sense of place and time, a wide and challenging lexicon, moral complexity.
The children’s and YA novel is as much an investigation of what it is to be human as an adult novel. It’s just that the perspective and preoccupations are subtly influenced by a more limited knowledge of the world. On the other hand there have always been children’s books that break free of age-banded moorings and speak to a general audience. I’ve always been interested in those kinds of children’s books, and after a while the very definition ‘children’s book’ becomes limited and slippery, and I’ve read [-p.140] them all through my adult life. Conversely, there are many great children’s books that have had only a limited audience – because they’re allegedly more complex and nuanced narratives than most children want, children’s books that are read by only very sophisticated young readers and adults. William Mayne’s body of work springs to mind. He’s one of the 20th century’s great writers for children, but is read in only a limited way by children! Perhaps it’s more accurate to say he’s one of the great writers of the children’s world. That’s quite a different thing really, isn’t it? Actually, I’ve come to think he’s a writer’s writer, as much as anything.
Anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying that I’ve always wanted to emulate that kind of writing, writing that expects a good deal from a younger reader.
I haven’t had any problem getting that work published, the Lolly books excepted, but the young adult books have had a relatively limited audience. It’s a limited audience anyway, but becomes more limited by subject matter – gate-keeping around ‘appropriateness’ is rife in the children’s/YA world – and to some extent by what you demand of the reader in terms of language, character and mode.
Sanctuary was my most successful YA book in terms of sales – and has been used quite a bit as a classroom text. Closed, Stranger had difficult subject matter and wasn’t readily usable as a class text … but you could argue, too, that it’s for a more sophisticated and dedicated teenage reader. The old saw in regard to YA books, that they’re read as much by teachers, librarians and women in their 40s – sometimes these people are one and the same – is true for my YA books.
The Lolly books have similar issues, I think. They’re demanding picture books, text heavy and with complex, busy art work. The text doesn’t take prisoners. There’s a demanding lexicon, and reasonably complex characterisation and themes. I wanted to write picture book stories that entertained me, an adult, as much as a younger reader, and that – this is the crucial bit – didn’t need to be understood in their entirety immediately. I’ve always liked books that I puzzled over a little, that I needed – and wanted – to return to. Certainly, they were the books that most nourished and fascinated me in childhood. And the mystery of language, of individual words, has always been a big part of that. Children have a layered relationship with words … they enjoy them on an aural/oral and visual level as much as for meaning, and sometimes they live happily with a word on an aural level – without knowing its meaning.
But publishing imperatives being what they are, the book trade wants and needs to be able to categorise books according to age, and my picture books Uncle Jack especially – have been challenging in that respect. Uncle Jack has attracted a certain kind of reader, and they seem to range from [-p.141] five to 50. It’s a book that rewards close and slow study, so it’s been used well in classrooms.” (pp.139-140)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine; italics in original) ‘Kate De Goldi: Interviewed by Kim Hill‘ in Words Chosen Carefully: New Zealand Writers in Discussion pp.134-153, Ed. Siobhan Harvey. Cape Catley Ltd: Auckland 2010

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