Video transcript
NSW Premier's Reading Challenge 2017 - Author interview - Hazel Edwards

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HAZEL EDWARDS: I'd like to welcome you to the 2017 Premier's-- with an apostrophe s-- Reading Challenge. And what a fantastic opportunity for you to be able to experiment, as well, with different types of reading. If you haven't read non-fiction, or you haven't read fiction, try all sorts of new ways of reading.

I suggest you read in lots of different places, too. What about in the car? You read aloud while the others in your family are listening, providing you're not driving. And why not share at home, as a family serial, just one of the books that you really do like? So perhaps the younger kids in your family can hear it too.

So this year, share books is part of the Premier's Reading Challenge. Authors are often asked for advice for writers. I think you ask yourself, why do I want to write? Do I want to say I'm a writer, or do I actually want to capture some really, really special event or special emotion? Or do I want to share something via words, either on the screen or in a book or on a piece of paper. Why do I want to write?

And then write for the specific reader that you have in mind. Whenever I write a book, I'm thinking about someone for whom I'm intending sharing that story. And I've always got them in my head when I write. So think about the reader that you're writing for.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Well, welcome to Hazel Edwards. Thank you so much for being a part of the Premier's Reading Challenge. You've been described as an aqua-read-o-holic. Can you tell us what that means?

HAZEL EDWARDS: Well, that's really just a fancy name of it for reading in the bath. And I'm-- I'm fond of reading in any format. It doesn't matter whether it's digital, whether it's audio when I'm travelling. I would probably now still read about 3 books a week.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: So I'm just imagining, you even as a child, were you a massive reader?

HAZEL EDWARDS: Well, I was lucky in that I had a grandmother who read to me before I went to school and taught me to read. And so I think it was a way of going into other worlds, both fiction and non-fiction, of seeing things from other people's points of view. And that's something that stayed with me as a writer even now.

The sorts of books that I like to read-- I actually like well-plotted mysteries where it's a different setting. And so I learn something about a different place or a different time or a different culture.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Obviously, as a writer you're drawn to certain topics at certain times. So how do your book ideas find you?

HAZEL EDWARDS: I suppose there are three main ways in which I would tend to work in. Of course, the question that most authors get asked is, where do your ideas come from? Well, in response to that, I'd say that one area is what I'd call what-ifs, the fanciful. And the 'Hippopotamus on the Roof Eating Cake' would fit into that category of saying, what if?

But what if is one type of fanciful writing. And I really like that, of particularly a picture book, which is the hardest form of writing because every word must matter. And if you write a fantasy, it's got to have a logic to it. So that's one area.

The second area would be what I'd call participant observation. If you're going to write about lots of different things, you've got to continue learning. You can't draw only on your own experience. And so what I call participant observation is going and doing something risky, in some cases, physically risky, like climbing mountains in Nepal or whatever it is, but-- and observing how you react and other people react to those settings or those sorts of circumstances.

Sometimes it's taking cultural risks of going into another culture and trying to understand that. And that's how you keep writing about different things, and you keep learning yourself, which is one of the attractions, as far as I'm concerned, as a writer, that I continue to learn something new.

The third area is more from your own experiences, things that you've done when you were younger or as a family. We used to orienteer, which is running through the bushes using a map and a compass. And I was just a dreadful orienteer. And so I think that being able to write from your own experiences, but not writing about a novelist writing a novel about writing a novel-- that's not going anywhere. So they're the three main areas.

Occasionally, for non-fiction, I've collaborated with someone else who's an expert in a particular field. So Dr. Helen McGrath and I have written a number of books on difficult personalities and friends and so on, which are adult non-fiction. So that's another area, where you collaborate with someone who's sort of an expert in the field.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: So Hazel, your new book is 'Hijabi Girl,' which is a really important story and a brand new character for Australians to fall in love with. How did 'Hijabi Girl' come about?

HAZEL EDWARDS: Well, my co-writer of 'Hijabi Girl'-- and it wasn't called 'Hijabi Girl' originally; it had lots of different titles-- is Ozke Alkan. She's a librarian. And she, at that stage, was working in a Muslim school. And she wears a hijab herself.

And she came up to me and she said, look, look, I run a book character parade for book week and other times. And my girls who wear the hijab as part of their uniform are fed up with Little Red Riding Hood being the only option [laughs] as a character. And could you please write a book about the girl in the hijab?

And I said, well, why don't you write it yourself? You know the culture, and I would have to research and get it absolutely right because my knowledge of Islamic culture was reasonable general knowledge, but not the specifics that you needed and the sorts of issues that she wanted to deal with. So we went backwards and forwards for a long time.

And eventually, she wore me down. And I said, yes, I would. In between times, she'd take me to the Islamic museum. She'd taken me to the museum that had the hijab fashions in it. She'd invited my family to an iftar, which is a community feast during Ramadan, where we were treated with the utmost of courtesy. I visited her school and spoke to all the students.

And so across four years, we wrote this. And in the end, I published it myself. And so Ozge--

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: And you've also got another collaborator, too.

HAZEL EDWARDS: My third collaborator-- or our third collaborator--


HAZEL EDWARDS: --is Serena Geddes. And I'd worked-- I knew Serena before. And I really wanted her wonderful artwork, which makes these characters mainstream.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Hazel, you've written so many books. How many books have you produced or created or worked?

HAZEL EDWARDS: I think the 'Hijabi Girl' is the 201st or the 202nd. I've lost count.


HAZEL EDWARDS: I think it's 202 now. Yeah.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: And you've written for TV as well?

HAZEL EDWARDS: Yes, I've written in lots of different formats. I started writing fiction. I wrote for adults and children and young adult. Often, for me, it's determined by the type of story, as to the best format for it to be, whether it's a picture book or so on. And then what often happened was that story would take on another life in another format.

So sometimes-- my works are taken on into other formats by other people. And generally, I prefer that. I collaborate in other ways by co-writing within a book or within a script.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Hazel, your-- one of your most recent books that came out last year was 'Not Just a Piece of Cake Being an Author'-- true stories, I'm guessing, about life on the front line of writing. What's contained in this book? And could young writers enjoy stories or take something from this book?

HAZEL EDWARDS: Yes, it's a non-traditional book, this one. That's why I had such a challenge in thinking of the appropriate title for it. It's a combination of-- well, it's an insight into how a real writer works long term. So it covers things like how do your family feel, how do you fit it in, how do you get ideas for stories, why do you get interested in writing, all the sorts of real stuff, the travelling that's involved, Outback and elsewhere, as a writer. So it's really about the process of what I've called anecdultery-- anecdultery.

Anecdote is a story. And that's based on stories rather than a chronological timeline. So the ones who would find that most useful, I think, are probably adults and year 12s doing creative projects.


HAZEL EDWARDS: But there are some distinct chapters in there, including the chapter on fan mail, that they would find really interesting. And also, there's 100 incidents from the 'Hippo' history, including the thank you note from Princess Mary of Denmark, who was given a copy of the 'Hippo' book. And I nearly threw the envelope about by mistake because I thought it wasn't a real message.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: My goodness. Do you have a writing routine? Do you write every single day? Or is it a bit hard when you're on the road?

HAZEL EDWARDS: No, I'm very disciplined. It's easier for me now because I can control my own time. But in the beginning, (LOUDLY) procrastination, or putting things off, is a challenge for all writers. What I would suggest for young writers is there are a couple of hints to get you going. One is to keep some sort of idea notebook. It doesn't matter whether it's electronic or it's just a little pad in your back pocket or whatever.

Whenever you see an interesting sign or a really good idea, put it in there. You might not use it immediately, but you will pick it up later. I still do that. It's called Quirky is my file for those things. And I will go back over that and sometimes extract something from it and use it in a later story.

But the value of that is it makes you more observant. You notice things. And so it's the training to notice and to listen. I listen to people's conversations when I'm out. It's called eavesdropping, or research, if you're a writer. So you're training yourself to become conscious of the world around you and all your senses-- so the smells, as well, all that sort of thing. So you're gathering ideas-- so some form of idea-gathering notebook, whatever you want to call it.

Secondly, write regularly, even when you don't feel like it. And one of the ways of getting started is to have someone whom you write with. And so you feel you've got to produce yours before you see them next time to keep up, to be fair. And that's often how-- I mean, all-- even professional writers have trouble getting started sometimes. But if you collaborate with somebody else, you-- and they don't have to live in the same place these days. You can keep in touch with them.

I write a-- the third hint would be to consider writing stories for special occasions, or even songs. I write a story for each of my grandchildren for their birthday each year. And it's usually about something that they're interested in for that year. And I use photos for that.

But why not write something for a grandparent, or a song for somebody, lyrics, do a rap or something for someone's birthday? Have the writing as part of your general way of living.

Read. [laughs]


HAZEL EDWARDS: Inevitably, there will be some writers that you really, really like. And you absorb the way that their style is of writing. That's not copying. That's not cheating. It's just part of your learning lots of different techniques.

You don't copy a chunk of their writing and pass it off as your own. That's called plagiarism.


HAZEL EDWARDS: That's completely different.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: That's very true. Last question-- how many stories or books are you working on at the moment? Or are you doing other things?

HAZEL EDWARDS: I'm finding that at this stage of my life, because I have so many books, that they're often going into the newer formats, into animation or into apps or something like that. So I'm actually having to do learn those sorts of skills. I have a website. I've had to learn Skype and Twitter and all sorts of stuff.

At the same time, I tend to write the things that I'm most interested in now, which is often shorter material. So there's one here that's up on my website that people can do their illustrations for, too, called 'Pop Star.' And most people lose somebody in their family. And this was one I wrote for a family and others have found of interest, too.

So I write for specific reasons often. Or I write the stories into new formats. But I am moving on to doing a new mystery series for adults. next.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Oh, my goodness. Well, you heard it here first, folks. Hazel Edwards, thank you so much for your time today and sharing your incredible stories. And congratulations on all your successes. And thank you for being involved with the New South Wales Premier's Reading Challenge.

HAZEL EDWARDS: I'm very keen on the Premier's Reading Challenge. And in the other state, that I come from, they have a dog who is a reading ambassador, the reading dog.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Well, I better get on to that-- note to self. Thank you so much, Hazel.

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