Welcome to the Writers' Clubhouse. Join us behind the scenes in the book industry as we talk to prominent authors and illustrators about the process of creating great books for kids. Have you ever wanted to be writer? Get inspired here!
Kirli Saunders is a proud Gunai woman with ties to the Yuin, Gundungurra, Gadigal and Biripi people. Kirli is the Manager of Poetic Learning and Aboriginal Cultural Liaison at Red Room Poetry. She was awarded ‘Worker of the Year 2017’ at the NAIDOC awards in the Illawarra/ Shoalhaven region and has been nominated for a National NAIDOC award in 2018. Kirli founded the Poetry in First Languages project. Her first children’s picture book The Incredible Freedom Machines, illustrated by Matt Ottley was selected for Bologna Book Fair and is published internationally.
We spoke to Kirli about about what inspires her as a writer, and asked what advice she would give to emerging creators.
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Q: You have written an amazing book for children, but what was your professional background before you became an author?
A: I originally trained as a Primary Teacher. I taught in the Illawarra and was a Senior Education Officer for the NSW Dept of Education before being published. I think working with students allowed me to access their worlds in meaningful ways and to create texts that are engaging and age appropriate.
Q: What is the best thing for you about being a published author?
A: Getting to share stories with students, to analyse texts and to challenge societal norms, to push boundaries – these are the joys I get from being a writer. The Incredible Freedom Machines talks a lot to pushing boundaries, and I like to explore students' own road blocks and how these can be overcome. Writing can often feel like an independent task, so sharing my work in schools through workshops is really exciting.
Q: What are some of the key ingredients that make a great book for kids?
A: I adore picture books, so I think engaging illustrations that tell an additional story and deepen the meaning of the text are paramount. I’d also say, unusual language use and the personal story told in a universal way – that welcomes the audience to understand, these are the pillars of a good book.
Q: What advice would you give someone who is just starting out as a writer or illustrator?
A: Firstly, CONGRATULATIONS and keep going! It’s hard starting out as a new creator as we doubt ourselves early on. I found continual practice and refining, creating on the daily and finding my voice or style was enhanced by seeking out support of other creatives and particularly more advanced creators.
Q: What creative projects are you working on now?
I’m refining a picture book manuscript that talks to Mother Earth and the language she speaks. I’m also working on a play with Merrigong Theatre, titled Dead Horse Gap, which focuses on First Nations Languages and Dreaming from Yuin Country. I’ve got the Poetry in First Languages Project to keep me busy as well. We’ll be branching this project into QLD and NT next year, encouraging First Nations students to create poems in language with the support of First Nations poets and Elders.
Images courtesy of Kirli Saunders' website: https://kirlisaunders.wordpress.com/