Saturday, 13 June 2009

My mind is boggling! - Meg Harper

I am having a hectic time! Well – what’s new? If I will insist on the portfolio life-style rather than knuckling down to a ‘proper job’ what do I expect? But right now, I feel a bit of a fraud contributing to this blog because the actual author bit is taking a very back seat – partly because I’m playing that lovely waiting game (you know, where the editor takes many moons longer to read and decide about your story than you took to write it – my best was a 500 word story that took 2 hours to write and 5 months for the editor to decide to publish it!) and partly because I’m doing all the para-writing stuff – working in schools, heritage education, youth theatre, adult ed and jolly old grant applications.

Anyway…today has been a youth theatre day and the bit that I think is of relevance to other children’s authors is the enormity of kids’ ideas. In my youth theatre, we devise our plays, sometimes from existing stories, sometimes from scratch. There are many challenges but it’s certainly a dynamic way to work and very empowering for the young people to see their ideas transformed into theatre.

Now let’s look at one example. My mind is boggling over it. Fair enough, our starting point was one of the pictures of Chris Van Allsburg’s ‘The Mysteries of Harris Burdick’. (If you don’t know this brilliant work, see my footnote* and track it down!) The picture shows a house apparently launching into space. Right. Fine. But how did we get from there to a point where we have a play in which the children of the house have a nanny from the new All-Male Nanny Agency who happens to be an alien and whose evil plan is to abduct the children, take them to his planet, mutate them into aliens like himself and use them to breed so that his dying race will survive?????? And why is the crazy scientist (who rescues the children) who is developing pills to help you breathe where there is no oxygen, obsessed with a craving for meatballs!!!! And why is my imagination so tame and lame that I would never think of any of all this in a month of Sundays and even if I did, I would think it was too mad to include in a story or ever get past an editor? But the fact is, the children have no problem with the madness, they love it – and there are authors out there who are canny enough to know this and to convince editors that writing about killer mushrooms who eat your Gran or cows in action is the stuff of best-sellers for kids.

I need to overcome my craziness allergy. I’m entirely happy to help kids create what they will on the stage – so why do I get all sensible when I turn to the page? (Hmm…my book 'Fur' about Grace who started getting furry when she hit puberty on account of her mother being a Selkie was a bit mad – maybe there’s hope for me yet!!!)

* The concept of ‘The Mysteries of Harris Burdick’ is that an unknown illustrator took samples of illustrations from 14 stories to a publisher, each with a mysterious caption. The publisher was very interested and asked to see the remaining pictures and the stories – but the illustrator never returned….14 pictures, magnificently drawn, from 14 mysterious stories…it is a wonderfully rich resource. Google it!

PS. The photo is me and friends on the top of Ingleborough, the third of the three peaks of Yorkshire, which we climbed recently as a sponsored walk for Samaritan's Purse 'Turn on the Tap' campaign. Just 24.5 miles with rather a lot of ascent. We had a great time but Karen (left) who is a bowel surgeon did at what point say 'What made me think this would be more fun than looking up other people's bottoms all day?'!!! If you'd like to sponsor us retrospectively go to Thank you!

1 comment:

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

meg, I recommended you a moment ago to someone looking for an author who does workshops developing ideas into dramatic pieces. She was looking for someone to do this with talented and gifted year 9's. I sadi you were perfect for he job!!! Hope she contacts you. (this might come up twice as it wasn't posting and have done it again!)