Monday, June 18, 2012

The light that is Ms Archer

So Saturday afternoon, I went down to Fed Square, partner and child in tow, to open the third reading of The Mystery of a Hansom Cab as a part of The Light In Winter program directed by the fabulous Robyn Archer. Can I firstly say how much I am in love with Fed Square at the moment? It is jam-packed with so many beautiful, inspiring, fascinating, energising things going on that you could spend every day down there over the next two weeks and never see the same thing. Whether you are into Fred Williams or body art, book readings or hip-hop, there is something there for everyone.* How lucky are we in Melbourne to have snaffled Ms Archer from those Adelaidians?

I was very excited to meet Robyn and within the first few minutes of entering the room blurted out a story to her about the first time we had met when I was only a child. In the early 80s, my mother worked on a children's newspaper called Kids' Times. I was around twelve or thirteen, and already liked to think of myself as a budding author/illustrator. As they were often short on readily available children, my sisters and I featured quite heavily in the newspaper, occasionally even dressed up as boys to even up the gender imbalance. (My sister had very short hair at the time, and I guess if you squinted your eyes...)

Anyway, one of the perks of being the editor's daughter, other than having a cartoon column all to myself (I think they were a little short on contributors), meant I sometimes got to go along with my mother to interview children's authors for the newspaper. Remember, this was long before children's authors were in every school and at every festival, so this was a big deal for me. At that time, Robyn Archer and New Yorker cartoonist Victoria Roberts, had collaborated on a children's book called 'Mrs Bottle Burps'. I loved Victoria's quirky illustrations, so happily went along to be the interviewer.

While I was thrilled to meet Victoria and have her do a little drawing in my book, it was Robyn who left the most profound impression on me. I'm embarrassed to say that I don't even really remember what we spoke about, only that she was so impressive, but equally so warm and generous in encouraging my aspirations to be a writer that I will be bold enough to say that along with my year seven English teacher who would read my stories out aloud in class and my year twelve Art teacher who took me to art exhibitions on weekends, Robyn's words, whatever they were, helped fan that little creative fire inside me.

Of course, Robyn didn't remember me, just as I am sure I won't remember all the wonderful children I meet on book tours and school visits, or who send me letters and emails, asking advice or confessing their writerly ambitions to me, but I guess I can only hope that I may have said something encouraging or helpful or sensible enough that perhaps ten, twenty, thirty years down the track a writer might look back and feel that I too could have influenced them enough to keep that fire inside them burning, the way that Robyn Archer did for me.

*If you go down there tonight, you will catch Alice Pung and guests at BMW edge on How We Read The World

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