How do you scoop up thankfulness and describe it in words?
That was the question I asked my friends on Facebook recently after Out of the Cages was named Winner in the Young Adult Category of the 2019 CALEB Prize.
Thankfulness is a difficult thing to put into words. It's gratitude and honour and indebtedness all rolled in together.
When I heard my novel had been shortlisted alongside novels by Cecily Anne Paterson (for Being Jazmine) and Rosanne Hawke (for Finding Kerra) I felt incredibly privileged. Both of these authors are writers I highly respect, and their books often tackle important issues. They have also been two people who have, at different times and in different ways, contributed to my own writing journey.
This book also owes a great deal to the courage and commitment of the publishing team at Rhiza Edge. And I cannot forget the ongoing, never ceasing, encouragement and support received by my family and friends.
There have been SO many people without whom this book would never have existed.
I'm thrilled Out of the Cages has been recognised in this way. Honoured to have received this award amid such company and on behalf of everyone who have stood behind this story all this time. But mostly I'm just thankful.
Scoops and scoops of thankful that is hard to put into words.
And the sprinkles on top?
Well, that was Out of the Cages receiving the award for YA Fiction on the same evening that Lily's Balloon, a BEAUTIFUL picture book by good friend and fellow children's book writer Katrina Roe, won the Children's Picture Book Category!
It may seem like a big leap, to go from workshopping children’s picture books to discussing solutions to modern day slavery, but they are oddly connected in my life as an author.
It’s not simply because as an author I write in both areas: I write picture books and I am passionate about the prevention of slavery so it often ends up as an issue in my writing.
Nor is it because I have a picture book contracted for publication in the next year or two that is set within the context of responding to slavery.
No, the two are frequently connected in my author life because when I’m invited to do an author visit for a high-school audience, these are the two areas I am most frequently asked to address. And, believe it or not, the flow between the two is not as disjointed as you might think.
Picture books are great fun to write, and also notoriously difficult. However, breaking down the process of writing picture books into a workshop encourages teen writers to consider a whole range of narrative tools: from story arc, to creative tension, visual literacy and poetic language, picture books are an exciting form of communication, storytelling and entertainment. (And they’re not just limited to the very young either). Picture book workshops are a fun, challenging and creatively inspiring time.
One of the most important considerations a writer makes when creating picture books is the needs and content match of audience to story. For a picture book this involves thinking about what a story is about, and how it will be communicated to maximise impact and reader engagement. When I come to talk about the writing of Out of the Cages, I find myself thinking about similar strategies. And I talk openly about these when I share about the book with young adult audiences.
I knew the novel would be about trafficking, but I also knew it needed to be about returning home. How does one put their life back together after being sold into slavery? How do we glean courage to live when we’ve faced such horrors?
The decisions about what to include, how much detail, the narrative arc etc. – it always came back to my audience. What was at the heart of Meena’s story? The trafficking was only part of it. How was I going to write her story (and the stories hers represent) in a way that would empower and not depress my future readers?
When I speak about Out of the Cages with high-schoolers it’s never just about the book. It’s about how we live in a world where these things happen. And how we can use our writing, and our stories, to make a difference. Writing is a powerful tool.
So whether I’m workshopping picture books or discussing the modern day slavery depicted in my novel, I know that writing is always about communication. And communication: writer to reader, it’s a powerful thing.
The connection between the two topics isn’t as odd as it might seem.
If you’d like me to come speak (or run a writing workshop) at your school check out the visits page of this website, or send me an email and get in touch.