Children's book author Hazel Edwards talks about the use of new media in writing for children.
How is new technology changing the shape of stories for children and what does this mean for children’s writers?
I think one of the most relevant aspects for children’s writers is that there is actually a longer life for stories. A generation is actually about six years, so in terms of the significant changes and speed of new media such as apps and so on, it’s very important for writers (including illustrators) to be very aware of controlling their rights.
A good story can have a new life in a new format. I think that book titles are increasingly important because sometimes a title is the only thing seen before the reader selects a book, covers are important too and the length is no longer so important because with many ebook formats it’s not possible to tell the length. So from a literacy angle things like ebooks are just coming into their own for those who feel they don’t want other people to know how small the book is that they’re reading. The length isn’t an issue now.
You have clearly embraced new media with so many of your books now available as ebooks and apps and it’s a topic you’ve written and talked about extensively.
I think I’m an intellectual risk taker but I actually find new technology hard. I’m format-challenged. It really is a challenge for me and that’s part of the reason why I have various collaborations – with artists and digital natives – because I can envisage something but I can’t always draw it; I can grasp the concept but I’m not always sure of the best way to apply it. That’s why I say I’m a reluctant up-taker of new media and that’s why I did the authorpreneur book last year as part of an apprenticeship for me too. I don’t see print and electronic forms as exclusive, I see them as inclusive.
I don’t see new media as a threat, I see it as an opportunity. It’s hard to make a living as an author so then to have to spend a long time learning how to do things is a challenge – that’s one of the difficulties. But that’s why I have quite a considerable number of younger collaborators. But I have made a conscious decision to learn, particularly in the last three years. I try to learn one new digital skill a day – even if it’s really tiny.
Has new media begun to influence the way you write? Do you ever make choices in your writing based on the idea that your work will most likely end up in digital form?
No more than you would initially think about it – you need to make it work for whatever audience you have in mind. You must consider who your potential reader is – or in this case your viewer – but in essence a good story is still needed so it doesn’t really matter what the form is – it’s still got to be a good story. It’s still got to have strong characters. I often start from characters. I think universal themes and subjects are much, much more important than form. There are some stories I’ve found that have not converted well to ebook form, that have dated. So books with universal themes and subjects are the books that will survive. You’ll notice the books I’ve chosen of my own to convert to ebooks and apps are chosen carefully. The app for Feymouse is probably the best example of one that has a universal theme of coping successfully with being different and it has not dated.
About Hazel Edwards
Hazel Edwards OAM writes quirky, thought-provoking fiction and fact for adults and children, across varied media. Known for ‘There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake’ and ‘Authorpreneurship’, Hazel’s 200 books have been translated into 10 languages.
Hazel will be speaking at The Salon Goes Regional and running a workshop on Writing a Non-Boring Family History in Yarram in June and running a Winter School: Authorpreneurship - The Business of Creativity at Writers Victoria in July 2017.