Literary rhythm


I told you earlier that I loved writing, that
I had written all the way through high school. And I had been praised for my writing by my
English teacher who was a very great influence in my life. But my other love was acting and I was in
every play that was going at high school and because I went to a girls’ school and I’ve
got a deep voice, I was often the main male character in the plays that I was in. And I was desperate to go to drama school,
absolutely desperate. And my father said, honestly, you know, “This
is it’s just not a career because, you know, most actresses and actors are out of work,
you know. It’s just not a career. Anyway, my Dad was talking to somebody else,
some other educator in another university in cause my father was in a teacher’s college
on the mission, and he was talking to somebody else who said, “Oh, my daughter was the same
and she wanted to, you know, be an actress. And we found this drama school in London which
has with it a teaching diploma.” “They have to do teaching. It’s compulsory. So that when they come out, even if they don’t
want to teach, they have the teaching qualification.” So my Dad said, “Okay, if you can get in there,
you can do it.” So off I went. Mid-sixties…in London…Beatles…Mary Quandt…miniskirts…the
whole deal, and I’m at drama school at this time in English history. Oh my God, it was so wonderful. It was incredibly exciting. But the drama school was very strict…very,
very strict. The slightest misbehavior and you were expelled. You couldn’t be late for a class, and there
were classes from ten until five with no breaks every single day. And the semesters, or terms as we called them,
were 13 weeks. So by the end of that time, we were exhausted. But it was the very best training for me to
become a writer for children because I learned by heart the greatest language in English. I learnt the great poets. I learnt by heart Shakespeare. I learnt many other playwrights’ words, both
modern and ancient, you know, Greek and so on. And I find now when I’m writing that my drama
training is the best possible training that I could have had to be a writer of picture
books. Because although I cannot…externalize what
I’m doing, I can’t explain why this syllable this word has to be two syllables there or
if we put it in this part of the sentence, it has to be three syllables, but the stress
must come on the middle part the middle syllable. I can’t explain any of that, but I know by
reading aloud my work, when it’s working and when it’s not. And I think that there are a lot of people
who think they can write for children who don’t have that sense of literary rhythm. And without it, you’re not going to capture
children’s hearts. You can have the most fantastic characters. You can have the most wonderful plot. You can have trouble that would, you know,
wring tears from a stone, but if you haven’t got rhythm, you haven’t got the kids. They’re not with you. And I’ve got rhythm basically…because I
went to drama school.

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