Saturday, 30 June 2012

Reaching into the heart: Realistic Fiction: A panel discussion

SCBWI Roving Report: Nathan Luff 
at the NSW Writers' Centre
With Sarah Foster (MD, Walker Books), Meg McKinlay (author), Prue Mason (author), Sally Murphy (author), and Sue Whiting (author & Publisher, Walker).

Why write realistic fiction? Why read it? Here are some thoughts from the panellists:

Sue: Good realistic fiction humanises life and is character rich. There is an honesty & truth to it.'
Prue: 'I love adventures and situations that challenge characters physically and emotionally. We try to avoid having messages but kids like to learn. There is an appeal there.'
Meg: 'I see myself more as an observer than a storyteller. I'm a collector of fragments. As an author I don't write spec fiction because I'm lazy – I don't want to have to build the world.'
Sally: Takes on difficult subjects but she never planned to make people cry. The books she connected with as a kid were realistic fiction and she aspired to write about real people. "People cry when reading realistic fiction because it taps into their own mourning and grief." "You have to put yourself into the situation to make it plausible, regardless of if it is realistic fiction or not."
Sarah: As a publisher Sarah has become more open to other genres and has come to appreciate good writing surpasses any pigeonholing of genre. 'The manuscripts we reject are the ones where the author doesn't appear to have put their heart into it – they've just become an expert on a subject but you don't feel it. Humour has a huge part to play for realistic fiction – eg in Pearl Verses the World, one minute you are laughing and the next you are crying.'

Some interesting figures/facts:

In the Young Adults section of the CBCA awards 5 of 6 in the shortlist this and last year were realistic fiction. In the Younger Children section: 2 out of 6 in the shortlist this year were realistic and last year it was 5 out of 6.

BUT in the bestseller lists, there are very few realistic fiction titles. Is realistic fiction rewarded but not popular? Sarah mentioned that the labels we put on books are very adult – kids don't necessarily care about these labels – they just want good stories.
Meg wisely said: "I don't see why realistic fiction reaches into the heart any more than other genre."

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