Jackie French Workshop; the most lovely day

by Shaye Wardrop

Early one Saturday morning (Saturday 13 January), the Canberra SCBWI committee packed their cars with supplies and headed through fields and forest to the picturesque Araluen Valley and a stunning little cottage nestled in the bush.



Jackie French AM, author of over 140 books, winner of over 60 awards, ecologist and wombat whisperer, generously welcomed over 40 enthusiastic SCBWI members to her cottage workshop.

A jam-packed day of learning, laughing, sharing and chatting, we soaked up Jackie’s words, dined on a spread of homemade goodies and mingled with friends, new and old.

Jackie's delightful guest cottage.

Jackie's delightful guest cottage.

But I know what you’re interested in.

The words, right?

What did Jackie say?

Jackie took us on a journey of literary delight. She covered everything, from what makes writing bad to what makes writing good, picture books to adult literature, the business of writing, her writing processes and the amazing historical background of some of her recent (and future) novels.

I know, I know. But what did she say?

Here are some of the amazing, informative and awe-inspiring things Jackie covered…



What we write for children matters

Jackie emphasised that the job of a child is to figure out how the world works, and our job as authors and illustrators is to create stories that help them do the figuring out.

She warned that the worst thing we can do is to underestimate a child. Kids are smart. They know when they are being fed morals, and they are capable of understanding more complex ideas than we sometimes realise.

You need to grab the reader’s attention

Our work needs to be inviting and engaging four our audience, and our very first audience, our first reader, is the editor/publisher.

Jackie advised we write as though we have about 45 seconds (about a paragraph) to impress, so make sure you get across the who, when, and where in that first paragraph (noting picture books are different as illustrations do some of this work) and don’t save your good ideas for chapter two!

Narrative Imperative

Narrative imperative means knowing what is going to happen next (it’s what makes books, TV shows and movies bad), and Jackie advised we do everything in our power to delete it from our work.

She noted that everyone’s default setting is to stereotype and fall back on clichés, but if we want our stories to be the best they can be, we need to make our stories unexpected, which means deleting the narrative imperative (think Game of Thrones!).

Our community sharing lunch.

Our community sharing lunch.

Picture book magic

Jackie generously shared her secrets to creating picture book magic. The number one thing she said is critical to creating a good picture book is ensuring that every page is unexpected. Every page must be an adventure.

Huge, HUGE, HUGE thanks to Jackie French for hosting us at her beautiful cottage. Thank you for welcoming us into your home, thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom.

It was an AMAZING day, and one that won’t be soon forgotten!

If you’d like to find out more about Jackie French and her amazing books, head to http://www.jackiefrench.com/.

Thank you, Jackie! (L to R) Cate Whittle, Shaye Wardrop, Nicole Godwin, Emma Allen, Jackie French (!!!) and Grace Bryant.

Thank you, Jackie! (L to R) Cate Whittle, Shaye Wardrop, Nicole Godwin, Emma Allen, Jackie French (!!!) and Grace Bryant.