Kaye Baillie, author of The Friendly Games, chats to Reading Time reviewer, Maura Pierlot
MP: Hello Kaye! Would you classify The Friendly Games as non-fiction or creative non-fiction (and why)?
KB: I would classify The Friendly Games as non-fiction because I was careful to use only factual information throughout. John’s thoughts, expressions and actions are all correct according to his audio interview and written interviews. The descriptions of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and the street scenes were taken from newspaper articles, videos, archival footage, and photos. The illustrator, Fiona Burrows did meticulous research to recreate the setting, people’s clothing, vehicles, shop fronts and the Children’s Home as it was in 1956.
MP: How do you strike the balance between providing facts and the maintaining the energy of a good narrative?
KB: I wanted to provide a factual account of this historical event for young readers while hoping to inspire them with John’s story. I began the story with his time at the children’s home so young readers could relate to John when he was the age of the target audience. Understanding how he came to write his letter was also important and I believe that his early years helped to shape this thoughtful young man who believed in peace, kindness, and diversity. To give me a sense of place I visited John’s old address at 16 Bourke Street where the facade of his bedroom window is the same as it was in 1956. I gazed up and tried to imagine young John looking onto the street below. I used John’s personal anecdotes such as bath time at the children’s home or chocolate cakes at birthdays or how he was unable to sleep as he tried to figure out how to save the Games. Every spread includes interesting information which I hope young readers will enjoy alongside the narrative showing John’s actions and reactions to the unfolding situation. I move the story towards the climax of the Closing Ceremony where readers will wonder if John’s letter was successful.
MP: Where do you typically find ideas and inspiration for your work?
KB: Ideas that inspire me are based on a real person or event. I might hear something on the television, or stumble across a news article or something on the internet such as John’s letter which I found by accident while researching the introduction of television to Australia in 1956. My other book which released in May this year, Boo Loves Books with New Frontier Publishing was inspired by a news article about a boy who hated reading until he went to an animal shelter and read to the cats. My 2018 picture book, Message In A Sock with MidnightSun was inspired by a soldier’s letter found on Museums Victoria’s website. I guess I get a gut feeling when deciding which stories to write. Sometimes I begin with gusto but if my interest wanes within a day or a week, I don’t pursue it.
MP: What is good storytelling?
KB: Creating an experience that is felt by the reader while encouraging them to turn the page. Creating worlds that can be entered, explored, discussed, imagined, remembered. Introducing characters who take readers to a new or exciting place that they will want to reflect on again and again.
MP: How do you challenge yourself to grow as a writer?
KB: Being open to suggestions from critiques or editor notes is definitely a way to grow. Fresh eyes on a manuscript usually results in new ideas encouraging me to experiment. I have two picture books coming out next year. They are nothing alike. One is a cumulative humorous romp set in the outback. A critique in late 2018 suggested I look at the style of The Napping House or Goodnight Ark. These are similar to The House That Jack Built. I gave it a go and loved it! I would not have thought of writing the story in this way and it opened my eyes to trying different structures. That story will be out with Windy Hollow Books next year. Another example of growth I experienced was through editorial notes received from my American publisher at The Innovation Press and her editor. They suggested increasing my use of word sets and couplets on my biographical story about a female engineer. I made the changes and loved it! The story has a punchier feel and I know I will consider this type of structure again. Borrowing endless books from the library as well as buying books provides a constant supply of stories to read and learn from. Watching webinars is also something that helps me grow and I have been doing this for years. I take notes and often try to apply techniques discovered to improve my writing or researching. I recently read an article on ‘writing tools’ such as using refrains in a story or asking rhetorical questions as a way to highlight key moments. When articles like this resonate I print them out and add them to my huge collection of notes.
MP: Kate, what is your favourite place to write?
KB: I have a studio in the back yard which is just for me. It is full of books and notes and research material. I can be alone there without household distractions. I can work solidly in my studio and it’s only when I get hungry or need something else that I look up and realise that hours have passed.
MP: What are you working on at the moment?
KB: I have just completed a biographical picture book set in North America which will go out on submission soon. I am currently working on a humorous picture book using role reversal where school kids have to take on the adult role. That’s almost finished. And I’ve begun another biographical picture book about an amazing woman (a regular theme in my work), where the research is almost done and I’m looking forward to beginning the first rough draft. This story is special because I’m liaising with my subject’s daughter and I have never collaborated on a project before.
Thank you for the opportunity to talk about The Friendly Games and my work.
MP: Thank you, Kaye, and best of luck with your upcoming publications!
Read Maura’s review of The Friendly Games here