I flew back from Bali on Tuesday, my head full of new ideas, my suitcase full of new books and my imagination fired. The Ubud Writers’ Festival was serious fun. Every day I met new and intriguing writers – there is such a huge world of books that I want to explore. I would love to spend a whole year doing nothing but reading – there’s a lot to catch up on.
Authors from India, England, Turkey, Egypt, China, Singapore and the Philippines, to name a but a few of the countries, attended the Ubud Festival. I spoke on a couple of panels including one called ‘Through the Looking Glass”, along with two other children’s writers; Singaporean author, Jin Pyn, and E.B. Maranan, a prolific Flilipino author who writes for readers of all ages. Jin Pyn’s first book ‘The Elephant and the Tree‘ has a strong environmental theme. E.B. Maranan has written several books in a ”contemporary folk lore” style, merging modern ideas about the world with ancient myth. I’ve only just begun to discover the rich world of Asian myth and folklore.
Earlier this year I attended the Children’s Literature Association of India’s first conference and met another well-known Filipino children’s writer, Christine Bellen. I loved her bilingual retellings of the stories of Lola Basyang. Lola Basyang was a Filipino grandmother who told traditional legends to children. Her stories were originally written down by a famous Filipino writer called Severino Reyes. In Christine’s re-tellings, the text is in both English and Tagalog, one of the langagues of the Philippines, so everyone can access these great legends about cowardly princes and man-eating giants.
These are classic myths that transcend cultural boundaries and yet you can’t buy them in Australia. It’s only since travelling through Asia over the past two years that I’ve started to realise how many good stories we are missing out on because of the way the world book market works. One of the most fiery speakers at the Ubud festival was another Filipino writer and folklorist, Rosario Cruz Lucero. You can’t buy her books in Australia either but I did manage to get a hold of several of her titles at the festival bookshop. Hopefully, events like the Ubud festival will help change the way our stories travel through the world. There’s a great festival coming up in Sri Lanka in January, in the old walled fort town of Galle. They have an incredible line-up of world authors and the setting for the is pretty spectacular. If I could only write fast enough to get all the books I’m working on finsished before Christmas, I’d love to check it out.
Which sort of spooked me because this book was published in Sydney by Angus and Robertson in 1939. It’s an anthology of poetry for younger readers. Perhaps this book and I crossed paths in an earlier time but I doubt it. Maybe the old lady who ran my favourite bookshop back in the 1960s was familiar with this book. I wish I could remember her name. If anyone reading this blog know who that old lady was, I’d love to the hear from them. I think I have become a firm believer in serendipity.
In the same week that I discovered an Australian book that bore the same name as my blog, I started re-reading Eleanor Farjeon’s ‘The Little Bookroom”. I must have read it as a kid because the stories had a resonance that echoed somewhere deep inside me. In the introduction to the collection Farjeon wrote about a room in her childhood home that her family had dubbed ‘the little bookroom’. “That dusty bookroom, whose windows were never opened, through whose panes the summer sun struck a dingy shaft where gold specks danced and shimmered, opened magic casements for me through which I looked out on other worlds and times than those I lived in: worlds filled with poetry and prose and fact and fantasy.”
‘The Little Bookroom’ was first published in 1955 so perhaps I did read it as a child, though it has slipped from my consciousness, as have many of the thousands of books I read in my growing up. Maybe the books we read in our childhood plant seeds inside us that only flower after many decades. It spooked me to see the forgotten past of lost books linking up to my present enchantment with the notion of books as ‘magic casements’. But then there is something very satisying to know that the past, the present and the future are all so inextricably bound together. Nothing is truly lost, everything is connected. Spooky.
On Friday I visited Vermont Secondary College as an Ambassador for the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge. It made me realise how much I’ve been at the desk because I loved talking to the Year Seven kids about what they were reading. I came home and ordered in a bunch of titles from the library. One of the best things about going out to schools is finding out what the kids are reading and what they really like. And I really do like plugging the Reading Challenge so it’s never a hard gig. I like talking about books in general much more than my own work.