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19 September 2012 ·

Tangles – getting inside a child protagonist’s head

Errol Broome is, I think, one of Australia’s best writers for children. I’ve just reread Tangles, which is sadly out of print, and have been impressed all over again.

The blurb begins “After Ginger is killed, Sophie vows never to have another cat. But she can’t resist the black kitten at the hospital fair; she’s determined to buy him, whatever she has to do.”

That ‘whatever’ is what adds a tangle of guilt to the grief.

But it’s the writing I’ve been thinking about all morning, and the depth of understanding. Errol Broome cuts through to the core of emotion, the despair and joy; I kept thinking, “She really ‘gets’ children of this age.”

Now, reading the back cover, I see that the editor has said the same thing, albeit more eloquently:
“A delicate story of friendship, honesty and change, by a writer who understands the intense dramas of childhood.”

Because that’s our job, as children’s writers. The stories are important, whether they’re funny, sad or dramatic. But to make a difference in the lives of readers, we need to tell those stories from the inside. We need to drop our adult or parental personae, and speak from the authentic voice of childhood.

There’s no easy recipe for finding it, but every time I read a writer who does it right, it’s a powerful reminder of the importance to go on searching. 

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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