Thursday, September 19, 2013

The 2013 Crystal Kite Winner Profiles: Australia West's Meg McKinlay and Kyle Hughes-Odgers (for "Ten Tiny Things")

The 2013 Crystal Kite Winner for the Australia/New Zealand Region is Meg McKinlay (author) and Kyle Hughes-Odgers (illustrator) for their picture book "Ten Tiny Things," published by Fremantle Press.

Crystal Kite Winners Meg McKinlay and Kyle Hughes-Odgers at the book launch for "Ten Tiny Things"

I contacted Meg to find out more...

Lee: Tell us about your book!

Meg: Ten Tiny Things is a picture book about a simple idea -- about slowing down and being mindful, about really being in a place rather than simply whizzing through it on the way to somewhere else.  It's the story of Tessa and Zachary, whose car breaks down one morning, meaning they must walk to school rather than being driven as usual. And so they set off grumbling about the hot hilly horribleness of it all, but along the way begin to notice small, interesting things they had never seen before from the car, which, despite its 'cool, calm convenience', transforms everything into a big foggy blur.

The idea for this book came from a game I used to play with my daughter. But before that, it came from my own childhood. I grew up without a car and had to walk or ride my bike to get to most places I wanted to go. There were times when I found this annoying but it also brought benefits. It forced me to move slowly through the world. I became a wanderer. We lived near the bush and I was always off roaming and exploring. And even when I was in the city, I found myself observing, heading down secret laneways, climbing up staircases to see what was at the top. Sometimes this got me into trouble. But it was always interesting. Whenever I travel, I always think the best way to know a place is to walk and walk and walk it as much as possible.

So when I grew older and started driving, I kept walking. And I wanted my daughter to do the same. I wanted her to see the inherent value in it. Yes, walking is good exercise. And if you choose walking over jumping in the car, it's good for the environment. It can also make economic sense, given the cost of petrol. But it wasn't about those things for me. It was about slowing down, about taking time. It was about being in the world rather than just moving through it on the way to somewhere.

So we would take walks around the neighbourhood and without really thinking about it, I would point things out, as I'm sure all parents do. Oh, look at that shiny thing. Come and stamp in this puddle. Look, someone wrote their name on the footpath. Is that a bird's nest up there? And somewhere along the way it turned into a game. Being lovers of clever word-play we of course gave this game a most cunning and catchy title. The name we came up with was, "Things We Would Never Have Seen If We Had Been Driving". The first person to reach ten interesting things was the winner. Though we would often become so caught up in the things we were noticing that we would lose count or forget to declare a winner anyway.

We had been playing this game for several years before my writer's brain finally switched on and realised there might be a book in there somewhere. It was around the time I had been on the receiving end of some odd remarks from other mothers over letting my daughter walk home from school (whether with me or alone) because it was 'so far' and it was 'so hot', and perhaps that's why I decided to embed the broader idea in a 'walking to school' narrative.

Lee:  Okay, I need to go out walking with my daughter now.  Maybe to the library, to get your book!  How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you've gained by being a member?

Meg: I've been an SCBWI member (we say 'a SCBWI member' because we tend to pronounce it SQUIBBY over here, as wrong as that may be!) since 2006, and ARA for SCBWI Australia West since last year, something I still find curious since I'm not generally much of a joiner. However, I’ve found SCBWI to be such an incredibly welcoming organisation, supportive of gregarious networkers and solitary hermits alike, and also professionally useful in so many ways that go beyond the simple gleaning of facts and contact details. The wealth of knowledge among members, so generously shared, is one of SCBWI’s real strengths, and our community here in Australia West really feels like my writing 'home'. I've gained so much professionally and socially and really can't imagine my writing life without SCBWI.

Lee:  Do you have any advice to share with other children's book writers and illustrators?

Meg: I'm a bit skeptical of advice, often feeling as if anything I have to offer is relevant only to me personally, to my particular circumstances and quirks. But in the spirit of talking to myself, I would probably say something like: Write the stories that won't leave you alone -- the ones that keep you up at night -- even if you don't understand why. Honour your own strangeness and write out of that. Don't let well-meaning advice-givers flatten your unique voice to fit a mold. Don't write what you think people want to read; make them want to read what you write. Ignore all rules (including these).

I also got in touch with Kyle,

Lee:  Can you tell us about getting the manuscript and your process of illustrating Ten Tiny Things?

Kyle:  When I first received the manuscript, Meg's story really resonated with me and I was interested in doing the illustrations for a story with such a simple and strong idea. In terms of process, I wanted to hand paint the entire book as I don't really like the look of digital illustration so much. I treated the project very much like I was preparing an exhibition.

Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you've gained by being a member?

Kyle:  For 12 months. It's been a great resource for me to see what's happening with different projects locally and internationally.

Lee:  Do you have any advice to share with other children's book writers and illustrators?

Kyle:  Well I'm still learning myself as Ten Tiny Things was the first children's book I have illustrated so maybe in 10 books time I will pass on some advice.

Thanks, Kyle!

Australia West's Regional Advisor, Frane Lessac, was kind enough to share more about their region and give us the inside scoop on Meg and Kyle's win!

On their region:

Western Australia and the Northern Territory is a huge region geographically. It covers nearly half of the Australian land mass. In an attempt to overcome this challenge for our remote members, we hold an annual 4-day retreat on Rottnest Island. The Retreat is a great way for members to catch up informally and to participate in structured professional development with guest publishers. The West Australian chapter was started in 2002 by Frané Lessac, who has recently returned to the role of Regional Advisor after several years as Illustrator Coordinator. Frané is assisted by ARA Meg McKinlay and Illustrator Coordinator James Foley. Our chapter continues to grow and we now have over 110 members. In 2012 we were proud to become the independent region of SCBWI Australia West, incorporating the Northern Territory of Australia. Given these vast distances, our monthly mailout is an important way for members to keep in touch.

I was lucky enough to launch TEN TINY THINGS in Australia and so extra proud to hear they won the Crystal Kite Award. Meg McKinlay and Kyle Hughes-Odgers book is brilliant and members across Australia and New Zealand think so too.

More on Meg:

Meg or Megastar as I affectionately call her, is one of the most humble authors I know AND the best ARA in the entire world. When Meg first posted on the Ten Tiny Things blog asking, “for some of the tiny things in your neighborhood and to please send photos”, I was so excited about this concept of observing that I immediately ran outside with my camera and within minutes enthusiastically emailed Meg my ten tiny things. I think I was the first contributor. Since then, people from around the world haveposted their tiny things. Please see blog here: TEN TINY THINGS is about being mindful or 'awake' to the moment and the world around you. To appreciate the small things. Often, we miss the little things because we are just too busy and unfocused. The world can just whiz you by in a blur. With TEN TINY THINGS children will become explorers, developing an endless curiosity about the world.

On Kyle, the illustrator:

Although Kyle may be a newcomer in the world of picture books, he has sure made his mark. Kyle is known around the world as a street artist affectionately called Creepy. He has upcoming shows in Sydney, Berlin and New York. On his website he advertises: paint any surface any time. 24-hour service. He has a unique style; some call it unconventional narrative-driven character-based folk art. I call it ultra cool. When I spoke to Kyle, he said when he was approached to illustrate TEN TINY THINGS, how much it appealed to him, because he’s a walker, an observer. His dad was a walker too and gave Kyle the insightful gift to observe and appreciate the environment since Kyle was a tiny tot. Kyle used acrylic paint on stained wood, creating striking stylized patterns and giving it a retro feel yet space agey. What an delightful change after creating humongous murals on buildings to create a book.

To find out more about Meg and her books, visit her website here, and the Ten Tiny Things blog here.

Kyle's online home is here.

And you can find out more about SCBWI Australia West at their SCBWI page here.

Thanks to Meg, Kyle and Frane, and cheers to Meg and Kyle for winning the 2013 Crystal Kite Award for "Ten Tiny Things!"

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