6 minutes reading time (1104 words)

Memories of my time with Kate DiCamillo by Georgie Donaghey

After reading Kate DiCamillo's latest book, Louisiana's Way Home I reminisced about the beautiful autumn morning in June 2017 I spent chatting over coffee with the two-time Newberry Medallist.

The sun was beaming through the taxi window as I made my way to meet an author whom I had admired for many years.

I attempted to steady my nerves, but there had been a little niggle gnawing away at me from the minute I hopped into the taxi. It was mid-conversation with the taxi driver when I realised; bugger! I had left behind my notes and the carefully crafted questions I had designed to entice Kate to share more of her writer secrets with me.

Our meeting was only minutes away. There was no way I could go back to retrieve my notepad and meet at our scheduled time. What was I going to do? After silently shouting expletives to myself, I remembered the copious amounts of interviews and articles I had read in preparation for our meeting. I had crammed like a nail-bitten teen studying for finals. The butterfly conga line in my stomach began to settle.

I arrived at my destination, paid the driver, and exited the taxi somewhat confident I could wing it. It's a piece of cake, right? So I thought...

Outside the Roslyn Packer Theatre, the faint sounds of children laughing filled the air. Coaches lined the road. As the theatre doors swung open, the sounds of excited children grew louder. They were waiting to attend the children's sessions of the Sydney Writer's Festival. Kate was in town for the same festival and thanks to her Walker Books publicist (Anna Abignano), I had been gifted some time with her.

Within minutes my wait was over. I noticed Kate and Talie from Walker Books duck into the café next door. I hurried in after them extended my hand to Kate and opened with the line 'Hi, I'm Georgie. I'm a big fan and an idiot.' I kid you not, this was my opening line to a New York Times best-selling and multi-award-winning author. Phew! That went well…not!

After offering a reason for my need to express idiot status, we placed our drink orders and proceeded to our table.

Seldom am I speechless, but with the untimely exit of the detailed research I had consumed, having all but disappeared from my brain, I had nothing to say. I tripped over my words and all I could manage to get out was one single word 'how'. 'How do you write the way you do? How do you make your stories sing?'

Kate was warm and forgiving of my clumsiness; her boisterous laugh made her appear bigger than her petite frame would have you believe. I felt instantly at ease. From that minute on, Kate made me feel as if I was the only one in that cafe. You know how when you are chatting with a friend and you have their complete attention. When they turn to face you and are interested in every word that floats from your mouth. That's what it was like, two old friends chatting.

'You know what it's like being a writer.' She went on to say.

'Umm yes, I am a writer but nowhere in the same league as you!' I spluttered. My OMG meter was now going through the roof.

'Oh come on. How do you write?' Kate asked.

Wow! Here was a bestselling author of over 22 million books asking me about my writing routine. I proudly talked about my two little picture books and the story surrounding the third. Kate asked me to Google the covers (to show her), and she even requested I send her copies, which of course, I promptly did.

As she sipped from the steaming cup, we chatted about our writing insecurities; Kate's from her early days and even to this day.

I jokingly talked about how I like to write in the shower with my waterproof notepad or find it relaxing to soak in a hot bath and work through my character or plot issues. Kate revealed she also finds working through plot issues in the shower beneficial and asked for information on the waterproof notepad.

Before long, Creative Kids Tales was the topic of conversation. Kate was very interested to hear about the site and all it has to offer. She expressed her regret that there was no similar site when she started out.

Kate shared her first experience with an agent; as the topic moved to whether or not it is beneficial to have one in today's competitive market. As the US market and Australian markets are so different, the Walker Books gals weighed in on the discussion and advised from their experience there was no extra advantage to authors, especially first-time authors, to employ the services of an agent. Historically, authors have found more success submitting through online channels when publishers open their doors for that one day per month.

With the doors open for discussions on the differences between our two countries, we joked about the different names we have for things such as rockmelon, zucchini, eggplant, squash, chips versus fries and biscuits versus cookies. You know how it goes. Yes, I know it's odd to be chatting about Americanisms versus Aussie terms when there was so much more we could have chatted about, but that's the thing, it wasn't an interview, it was a carefree relaxed coming together of four career girls.

As the bottle of sparkling water glistened under the mid-morning sun, we moved onto how Kate felt about two of her babies being adapted for the screen; The Tale of Despereaux and Because of Winn-Dixie.

I'd recently watched both movies during my 'cramming for Kate' study sessions, and it was interesting to hear her thoughts and the feedback she had received. Many were happy with the Winn-Dixie movie, but for those who had read The Tale of Despereaux, they felt a little cheated by the movie. If you've ever seen Despereaux, you'll be aware of the impressive line-up of stars that lend their voices to Kate's characters, e.g., Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Mathew Broderick, Kevin Kline, Christopher Lloyd and narrated by Sigourney Weaver, just to name a few. Kate was a little star-struck being able to tour with Dustin Hoffman to promote the movie.

Kate was every bit as lovely as all the things I had read about her, and after 95 minutes, our encounter was over. I have been fortunate to chat with international authors James Patterson, Dav Pilkey and Jeff Kinney, but for me, meeting Kate was like an audience with the Queen. If I could be half the storyteller that Kate DiCamillo is, I will have achieved great things.

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Sunday, 24 February 2019
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