19 Aug 2015 13:28 IST

Local literature key to cultural longevity

Oz author Leonie Norrington sheds light on the big issues plaguing publishing today

“I always buy from bookstores,” Australian children’s author Leonie Norrington says. “Consumers tend to think if it (buying discounted books online) is cheap, it is alright. We don’t understand it’s eroding our culture,” she says.

The author of The Barrumbi Kids and The Devil You Know is also well-known for her role as a presenter on ABC television’s Gardening Australia. On bookstores shutting down across the world as consumers increasingly buy from e-commerce marketplaces, she says, “The only way to deal with this is to lobby Governments to do something about it. What they are selling and what they are allowing to be sold is our culture. We are allowing other people to dictate our culture to us and the culture that our children grow up in. I don’t think it is okay.”

She says that the publishing community in Australia has fought incredibly hard to stop this. “It’s an ongoing battle all the time,” Norrington says.

The writer was in the Capital on Tuesday to conduct a masterclass at Jumpstart 2015, a series of workshops, discussions and activities about children’s literature, from oral story-telling to writing for children and illustrating.

With a childhood steeped in both the Aboriginal and western cultures, she maintains that local content is very important for children’s literature. “We shouldn’t gloss over books from the rest of the world. Children need affirmation in their lives, that they are perfect, that they are centre of their universe.”

In Australia, many books come from the US. “This leads to children feeling that they are not right because all characters from these books are from somewhere else. That is why literature coming from one’s own country is important, it reaffirms our own values,” Norrington says.

Reading The Anger of Aubergines by Indian author Bulbul Sharma has changed her life, she says. Indian writers are also redefining the use of the English language in their literature. “Also, India is a huge market for children’s literature. I read somewhere that Indians read more than any other nationality on earth. It’s not a market which is going to disappear any time soon.”

Her tip for budding writers: keep writing. “Also, write your own stories, because your children shouldn’t grow up wanting whiter skin or an American accent,” she says.

The workshop also had sessions with writer and illustrator Nicki Greenberg, a storytelling masterclass by Ameen Haque and a screenwriting masterclass with Motti Aviram.

Recommended for you