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17 January 2009 ·

Childhood, Imagination and Writing

Virginia Lowe, of Create a Kids’ Book, recently asked for thoughts on how real imagination is in childhood, which brought up some interesting musing.

I had proof for believing in fairies when six, as I sometimes found tiny, fairy letters covered in microscopic script (which only my father could read); I also had dreams of Fairyland, which I felt were much too real to be normal dreams. My sister once dreamed of Fairyland the same night I did, but in big sister fashion,I decided that hers was just a dream, or that she wasn’t describing it properly, because it wasn’t the same as mine.

I kept the ability to totally believe in my imaginary games for many years – I must have been nine when I cut a window in a tent – this was about the time I was writing the story that years later, evolved into Nim’s Island. I can still feel the horror of coming out of the game, finding myself in the basement, not a forest – and seeing the hole I’d cut in a new blanket.

I was interested in a quote from Pamela Travers (author of Mary Poppins) on accessing the child that one was when writing, which is certainly what I do. It’s only recently struck me that not everyone writes that way.

However I’m guessing that what most of us do, when we’re really into a story, is to get into a split reality, of being very clear about the true reality around us, and knowing that we’re deliberately creating this story, and yet reaching a level of almost believing the life of the story as an independent entity which we’re exploring (at that point I occasionally dream my characters’ dreams, which is creepy but useful.)


  1. Dina I think that's fascinating that you dream your character's dreams.

    I don't think I've ever done that before.

    It reminds me of something I often wonder about actors. Do they ever dream that they're the characters they play?

    Does Gillian Anderson ever dream she's Scully?

    As for playing and imagination. I was so good at losing myself in the game as a child. My son asks me to play with him and as an adult I can't do it anymore. I regret that. I'm bored when we play. I wish I still had that intensive amount of imagination.

    I still do fortunately in my dreams, but not my waking life.
    January 18, 2009 at 8:36 am · Reply
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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio