Emily Rodda signs books at the Schools ProgrammeThursday at the Festival – another day, another full auditorium, and another bookbag – this one comes with a clear message that bookbags are ONLY for the kids (pfft – whatEVERRR).

The lovely and supertalented Paula Morris is our MC for the day, and we are straight into a session with Aussie legend Emily Rodda who, with more than 50 published teens’ and kids’ books, has a wealth of knowledge and experience to offer young writers.  The most well-known of these is probably the Deltora series, and Emily is also nearly finished the third in her new Doors series.

The session is called Fiction and Fantasy, but Emily is quick to point out that she isn’t the one who named it – after all, isn’t all fiction fantasy in the true sense of the word? What Emily writes, she tells the kids, is what’s called high fantasy – building a whole new world from scratch, and adding magic to it as well.

The current set of books – the Doors series – is, she says, all about choices.  She’s fascinated by them – we make choices all the time, in everything we do (theme of the week, perhaps? David Veart also talked about choices yesterday, and so did Eoin Colfer); some are big, some are small, and sometimes we don’t even know we are making them.  Doors, however, are easy – you see a door, or a series of doors, and you choose which one to go through, or to NOT go through, and then whatever you find on the other side is what you deal with.  Often (mostly) you don’t know what will even BE on the other side, even if you think you do.  Books, too, are like doors – into places and worlds and experiences, and that’s what makes libraries (woo! libraries!) such amazing places: “To me a library is just a big room full of thousands of doors …”, and you can open and explore as many as you want.

The fiction/fantasy debate aside, what she really wants to talk about today is how to make sure your fictional world, whatever it is, is based on reality.  The old advice always given to aspiring writers to ‘write what you know’ holds true, but you should never let that stop you from writing fiction or fantasy: even if you’ve never been chased by a dragon, met a ghost, picked up a sword or fought a monster, you can still write convincingly about those things if you start with the things you really DO know – what does sand, wind, dirt, anger, fear, boredom, hunger feel like – YOU KNOW ALL THIS ALREADY, and therefore so do your characters.  Then and only then add the ‘What if …’ bits.  She adds,

Get to know your your own characters and your own world so they are real to you.  Then they will be real to everyone else too … No fantasy, no idea is so great that it doesn’t need this … If you can’t make [your characters] real, no-one will care.

Sounds like pretty good advice to me. What do you reckon, writers out there?