Davina Bell on writing children's books and guiding family conversations
In this collaboration with Hachette Australia, author Davina Bell, chats about motherhood, anxiety and guiding conversations between young children and their carers.
When did you realise you wanted to become a writer?
Nobody who knew me when I was a child is surprised I am a writer! I was writing long (tedious) stories as soon as I could form the letters. I was also that kid who read books with a torch under the bedclothes all night.
When I was about 12, I decided that being an author wasn't a serious career and set my sights on many different future jobs (marine biologist specialising in dolphin communication! human rights lawyer! pediatric oncologist!) that were all equally inappropriate for the person I am. I was born to be a writer, and now I've given up fighting it.
Where is your go-to for inspiration?
Nature and the beach, always. I'm from Western Australia, so I'm never happier than when I'm banging away on my laptop at a picnic table by the ocean with the sea breeze wafting in. And, in complete contrast (and very unoriginally), New York City. It could be the infectious waft of self-confidence going around, but every time I have visited, I have written at least part of a book.
You've written many great children's books. What's different about this one?
Thank you! The greatest thing about this book is the work of the illustrator, Hilary Jean Tapper. She has created a visual delight. She is so talented at capturing the emotions of young children through the nuances of pose and body language.
I think this book will be really relatable to kids aged three to six, and it's because Hilary so fully captures what it is to be a child. The boundless joy, the moments of overwhelm, the sense of wonder, the micro fears and tiny triumphs. She brings it all to life with such sweetness and clarity. I couldn't be a bigger fan!
Tell us a little about what the book is about.
What To Do When You're Not Sure What To Do is a kind of guide for children who are heading out into the world and encountering places, emotions and situations that might be unfamiliar.
Each page has just one line of simple text accompanying an illustration, and together, they provide a 'how to' moment. Things we take for granted can be a big deal when you're small, like taking that first step onto an escalator, using gentle hands around a new baby, or riding out the discomfort of being nervous about going into the ocean.
With this book, I hope to tell kids, 'You're not alone in finding these things are tough! I'm with you, and you will get through.'
Who did you write this book for?
I'm sure this sounds a little strange, but I'm always writing for the combination of myself as a child, the children I encounter as an author, and the person I am right now. But there was an additional layer with this one. I wrote it when I was on maternity leave, soaking up the utter delight and wonder of a new baby and also surfing the anxieties I held (and still hold) for my little son in the world. I worry about how he will navigate all its complexities and challenges, and I hope he feels safe and held by its inherent goodness. So, on reflection, I wrote it for him, too.
How do you hope the book makes people feel?
With all of my books, I aim to provide a combination of comfort, wonder and joy. And with this one, I was really swinging for maximum comfort.
I hope it feels like a gentle hand extended from the universe to ease the way for children as they travel through the maze of their experiences.
My deepest wish is that the book can open up a conversation between a child and their caregiver about new or tricky situations in their own lives and families and different ways they could approach them, always with empathy, compassion and resilience at the core.
Davina Bell on writing children's books and guiding family conversations is a collaboration with Hachette Australia.
Purchase a copy of What To Do When You're Not Sure What To Do via Hachette.