The writer of popular Australian children’s books including Koala Lou, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, Where is the Green Sheep? (which recently overtook Possum Magic as Australia’s top-selling picture book) and Goodnight, Sleep Tight is a staunch advocate for literature and learning.
“I started writing Possum Magic as an assignment at university in 1978,” the 70-year-old says.
“In my early 30s, I was doing a Bachelor of Arts as a mature-age student, while also teaching drama full time at Sturt campus (now part of Flinders University), and we were asked to write a children’s book.
“I had a young daughter and realised there was very little in the way of Australian literature for children to engage with, so this became a real focus for me.”
The gem of a book – illustrated by “an ex-student of a colleague” Julie Vivas – was rejected nine times over the next five years, until the former Omnibus Books published Possum Magic in 1983.
“After the book sold more than five million copies, most of those publishers are now out of the business or probably spewing,” jokes Fox, who this month prepares to launch yet another children’s book, called Ducks Away. It is illustrated by Judy Horacek, with whom she created Where is the Green Sheep?, and published by Scholastic.
The accomplished Flinders alumna and former associate professor of literature – who features in the university’s 50th anniversary special publication The Investigator Transformed – will return to her alma mater on Saturday, October 15, to read from her new and older books at two sittings at SpringFest.
The free public event is a rare opportunity for the public to see all the Bedford Park campus – and even to go behind the scenes into research laboratories and classrooms.
Fox acknowledges how her studies activated her drama background and writing experience to produce so many successful books.
“I’m not overstating the case in any way to say that without Flinders University I would not be who I am,” she said to mark the university’s 50th anniversary this year.
“There is absolutely no possibility that my talents, which I didn’t know I had, would have developed had it not for that course in children’s literature.
“And I will, to my dying day, be grateful. I love the place.”
Her success, of course, lies in a combination of talent and persistence, as well as an ear trained in drama school, which searches out the sequence of words that will have the highest impact and value when read aloud.
“When you’re writing children’s picture books you’re using very little text, so every single word has to be in the right place,” she says, adding her early drama school training in England gave her valuable insights into the “best language in the world”.
“As soon as I began to write for children, I realised the challenge and the difficulty.”
Hear more from Mem Fox, and enjoy many other highlights of Flinders University – including the 50th anniversary showcase of other well-known alumni such as Flinders Drama Centre success story Circus Oz – at SpringFest 2016 on October 15. Fox’s storytelling will be conducted in two afternoon sessions at the multi-media lounge on the ground level of the new Student Hub. Admission; car parking from 11am to 5pm at the Bedford Park campus is free.
An extensive collection of profiles on Flinders University leaders, students, graduates, researchers, academics and supporters can be viewed online at the website here.
The souvenir picture book, The Investigator Transformed, can be purchased via the Flinders 50th Anniversary website.
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