Alison Lester is a legend, no doubt about it. For those who don’t know, she is 1 of the 2 Australian Children’s Laureates for 2012 – 2013. I felt incredibly lucky to sit in on one of her sessions.
Alison has been writing for 30 years and illustrating for 35. She had started as an art teacher, but got sick and tired of being a bossy teacher, so she quit and travelled to South America. When she and her husband moved to the country, and Alison was expecting her first child, she thought about taking up illustrating children’s books. She called an editor and got an appointment. She gathered her artwork and went along, the interview did not seem to go well, at least so she thought. 1 week later, Alison was contacted by the editor and got her first job as a children’s book illustrator.
In 2005 Alison won an Antarctic Arts Fellowship to go to Antarctica. The journey down was rough, the waves rocked the boat, and Alison was forced to take sea sick tablets. She told us about eating dinner whilst holding on to the plate as the boat rocked backwards and forwards.
Alison showed the kids an amazing slide show. Hardly anyone gets to visit Antarctica, so the kids were absolutely amazed at the icebergs, mountains, animals, frozen waves and ice caves.
Alison told the kids that she had not planned to write a book about this journey. But she had kept a journal, and when she returned she mentioned to her publisher that a book about Antarctica would be a really good idea. “Sophie Scott Goes South” came into being
Alison shared a story about all the artists wanting to spend a night off the ship. She was told that it would not happen, but there was a call for volunteers to measure fuel use onshore. She joined another artist on a night shift, 8pm – midnight. A blizzard came and it was so bad that Alison and her friend had to stay on land for 3 nights, they were very happy.
The photos in the slide show were amazing. This one shows a group of them sunbathing like it was a really hot day. We found out that it was actually freezing, the kids thought this was hilarious.
Pictures of penguins and the Aurora Borealis pulled at the heart strings of the kids, ‘ooooohs’ and ‘ahhhhs’ flowed freely.
On the return journey from Antarctica, the group dropped in at Macquarie Island. “One Small Island” was the book that was inspired by this journey. Alison told us a story about her needing to find a picture of an extinct bird. Believe it or not, she got one from Russia as a Russian explorer had visited Macquarie island in the 1800’s and taken a stuffed bird back to St Petersberg.
Alison was lucky enough to return to Antarctica again on a Russian icebreaker. The slideshow was amazing! I would love to go to Antarctica one day, it would be a dream come true to go on an Antarctic Arts Fellowship like Alison. We then found out that she has actually been there 5 times. She has to be one of the luckiest people ever.
Alison continued to share stories about the development of “Sophie Scott Goes South”, what an amazing process. It looks like I have yet another book to add to my wishlist.
The slideshow continued and Alison described some of the animals including this one (see below). She told us that they like to poo in the mud and roll around in it. She gave a great imitation of the sounds they make too, ewwww.
When question time came around it seemed everyone had a one. It took a few tries to get all the kids to be quiet. I think Alison may be the first person these kids have met who has been to Antarctica, there were plenty of questions about the animals, the food, and the sun being up for so long during the day. Even two teachers had questions for Alison. One of the teachers had a question about an assignment that the kids have next term. The assignment is to pick a nonfiction topic and write a picture book about it. The kids groaned, it seemed they were
devastated that a school assignment was to be discussed, but Alison gave some marvellous advice. I hope that they realise that their school assignment is really cool, and will echo what Alison does as an author. I told the teacher that it was a great assignment, and said to the kids that they are really lucky. I offered to join their class next term, and was welcomed by the teacher to do so, woohoo! Sadly I think I am too old.
Alison taught the kids a number of different ways to illustrate, especially if they were not confident with their drawing skills. I learned a few things too as I am to illustrating as a BBQ is to a blowup castle at a school fete.
“What’s your favourite thing about writing?” was the final question. “Having an idea and then the idea changing completely,” was Alison’s reply.
To find out more about Alison, her journey to Antarctica and her books, click HERE.