I recommend that everyone makes it to the Byron Bay Writers' Festival one year! It was possibly the best writers' festival I have ever been to!
Morris Gleitzman, in his session titled 'save ten lives with a paper clip', talked about his most recent series of children's books, set during the holocaust. Gleitzman wanted to explore the power of friendship, whilst providing a bridge for children to experience the real story and real voices of the Holocaust. Gleitzman said that he has found that children don't know much about the period and he believes that it is really important this part of human history is remembered. Writing Once, Then and Now was a personal journey for Gleitzman, as he has a Jewish heritage. His father would have, could have been the main character of the books, Felix, if his grandfather hadn't left Poland as a young man. To find out more about Gleitzman's Felix books click here.
Gleitzman said that his first taste of fantasy was watching the wrestling, "I watched wrestling every weekend with my grandma. It was my first taste of fantasy, of make believe in fiction".
Gleitzman told us of his amazement that children can make snap judgements about history, such as 'before television there were dinosaurs and people eating raw meat in caves'. This is another reason why Gleitzman believes that it was important for his Felix books to be set in a historic setting. Gleitzman likes to show children that history is just a string of normal days for people - yesterday is now history.
Gleitzman said that his books begin in past tense to acknowledge that the story is based on past events. The tense then moves to present in the second chapter so that the characters are more easily relatible for children readers. Gleitzman said that "people don't consider that their lives will be part of history. They just live their lives one day at a time, and this is how it is for the characters in his books".
The characters in the Felix books have obstacles that they may or may not overcome. Due to the setting the biggest obstacle is survival. Gleitzman said "children don't have money or ease of travel, but children do have imagination and stories, and this is how his characters will be able to overcome the obstacles that face them".
The Nazis also told stories, but for different reasons. The Nazis understood the power of stories. Gleitzman hopes to invite childrent o contemplate stories. Stories are the most precious way to convey human relations, but can also be used for the wrong reasons. The most common example Gleitzman gives children of this is the stories told in advertising, where the story hopes to manipluate the audience.
Gleitzman offered some advice for the budding writers out there - "keep on writing until one day you write something better, and don't forget that unsolicitered manuscripts are accepted by the big publishers, like Penguin. Gleitzman also said: "if you can translate a book into Mandarine there's a great website that you can load your novel onto and people can read the first half for free. They then have to pay to read the second half". I didn't write down what the website was, but I'm sure you should be able to find it through a google search. Gleitzman also stressed the importance of making your first page brilliant so that a publisher will keep reading the first chapter and so on.