Somerset Storyfest Report 2019 – Part Two
Session 10.15 to 11 am – Marquee 1
Bren MacDibble was raised on farms all over New Zealand, so is an expert about being a kid on the land. Bren lived in Melbourne for many years, but now lives and works on a bus travelling around Australia. How To Bee, her first novel
for younger readers, won the 2018 CBCA Book of the Year Awards, The NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, and the NSW Premiers Literary Awards, and was shortlisted for several others. Her second children’s book, The Dog Runner has just been released.
This is for an older group of children. Bren is another Facebook friend and I was looking forward to hearing her speak.
Bren began saying she wrote ‘How To Bee’ released 2017 about a time in the future when there are no bees to pollinate the flowers, thirty years after the famine, children hand pollinate the flowers.
‘The Dog Runner’, is another famine novel set closer to our time, the story revolves around Ella and her brother. She got the idea for this from ‘dog mushing’ with a scooter behind a dog led, under fifteen degrees. Dogs love running.
Why does she write books about scary worlds? Kids these days hear and see what’s happening around us, it is scary. Things like Queensland being the skin cancer capital, just one example. Children are taking on environmental issues – act as if you’re in a crisis. Kids previously were not told anything, now kids see too much.
She writes about love, security, strength and purpose for young readers to take comfort in. Talk about environmental issues. If you look for excuses fear will hold you back, we need to act. Fear will stop you from being creative. Solutions need creativity. The dog runner – the first ones to change will survive. Encourage creative thinking and exercise creativity.
Use imagination muscle as it makes you smarter.
Growing up, she was limited in the reading available to her. She had to grab a chance to read a chapter of a book before her brother got it. She remembers vividly ‘Dune’ that she had to read as fast as she could. It’s a big book and the ‘Dune’ wars showed no mercy. Her younger brother would snatch the book before she’d finished reading her chapter. The book itself gave her ideas. Skin suits are an amazing idea. Someone’s (the author’s) idea coming up with an imagined solution to an imagined problem.
Suggest solutions – Bees not diseases, aboriginal grains, can save Australia and possibly the world. Kangaroos for meat. Loss of Biodiversity, most urgent aspect of sustainability, fungi, bacteria depleted. Biodiversity – complex functions.
Reading – feels like magic on the inside – shows how other people feel.
People will be interested in your solutions.
A great idea is Electric self-drive cars. It’s cool and safer. Cityscape could completely change our air quality will improve and there will be less crashes.
Environmental alternatives – Solar, Wind, Water, Lithium Battery. More radical change.
Then it was question time. Bren ran about the room with her microphone to collect the queries.
Q. Has she always been a passionate writer? Bren – Yes, always good at telling stories. Writing something she enjoyed. Our history became stories.
Q. How long does it take you to write a book? Bren – Depends on how hard it is.
Q. What age were you when you published your first book? Bren – ‘How To Bee’ published two years ago. She had been writing for the school market and it took twenty years to learn to write it well.
Q. How long did it take you to write ‘How To Bee’? Bren – about a year to write.
Q. How many books have you written? Bren – I wrote for educational services and ‘How To Be’ has won three major awards. ‘The Dog Runner’ is about to be released.
Q. What made you start writing? Bren – I have always been writing, I write to learn.
Q. What is your favourite genre? Bren – Science Fiction.
Q. What inspired you to write a book? Bren – Both food shortage and food security, the catalyst being Science Fiction conference and farmers competing with overseas imports. I asked – Are we self-sufficient as a country? Can we support ourselves?
Q. When did you become an author? Bren – twenty years ago.
Q. What is your greatest accomplishment in writing? Bren – Getting ‘How To Bee’ out. Nine years empowered accomplishment.
Q. What are your favourite books? Bren – Neil Stevenson – Snowcrash had all the elements I love like a computer virus, robot dogs, girl, skateboards and downloads.
Q. What inspired you to write about dogs? Bren – always wanted to have kids travelling across Australia with dogs.
Q. What goals are you trying to achieve? Bren – To make a living off writing, books to do well, and maybe to have a book turned into a movie.
Q. How do you come up with ideas for your books? Bren – I shove everything in I’m passionate about.
Q. What does your family think of you writing? Bren – husband happy, mum loves it, son not impressed.
Q. How old were you when you started writing? Bren – very young, mum wouldn’t teach me to read but I was very determined to learn.
Q. What’s the process of publishing? Bren – Open door contests – Allen & Unwin Friday pitch. Once I had a contract it took a year, overseas needed an Agent, it’s a long and tedious process – but let all that go.
Q. Who’s your favourite author here? Bren – Cath Crowley is great.
Q. What are you doing to change the world apart from writing books? Bren – Using environmental platform, talking about it, getting over fear. I live on a bus so that means I have less impact on the environment.
Q. What type of novel will you write next? Bren – Science fiction, post-apocalypse, post-famine.
The children in the front row had notebooks and pens at the ready for a wonderful presentation. I’m sorry to say they took few notes. The book – How To Bee – Bren wrote about passionately with her environmental issues abounding, it is award-winning. Her speech was delivered more like a lecture and I saw the kid’s eyes cloud over with disinterest. They did engage during the question time and I’m certain Bren with more experience of public speaking would have the kids enjoying the session. I wrote copious notes and feel her message was powerful but being that she read from her page of notes and didn’t have eye contact with the students, she lost her audience. Afterwards, I asked Bren if she had been to Somerset before and been to other sessions. She explained that she’d been living on a bus and had not been before. I totally understand as public speaking is not my forte, but her words were true and powerful. Had she had the opportunity to go to other sessions and see the other authors receive wrapt attention, she might have picked up some useful tips.
(Personally, suggesting children protest when they don’t understand the full ramifications, can be a dangerous thing. Such as close coal power stations, people lose jobs, the Australian economy suffers, with no real tangible effect on the environment. Will the country slipping into bankruptcy help when coal is a valuable and available resource? Let children think about all the consequences before taking a day off school to march in the streets.)