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Weekly Hints and Tips for the Competition from our Expert Panel of Judges

This week's hints and tips for What's the Story? A Big Competition for Little Story Makers come from our second new panellist this year Jenny Murray, Acting Director of Children's Books Ireland.  This week we got to chat to Jenny about herself, and what she is looking forward to reading about in this year's entries!

JENNY MURRAY - ACTING DIRECTOR, CHILDREN'S BOOKS IRELAND

 Jenny Murray

ABOUT JENNY.....

Jenny has worked for Children's Books Ireland for over 12 years in various capacities; mostly she reads all the books that get posted to her!  When she was 7 years old she met Roald Dahl who looked over the top of his glasses and smiled at her - she liked him immediately!  Years later she thought wouldn't a world filled with people like that be fun...so she joined Children's Books Ireland and has not had a boring day at work since!

Q: WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE STORY AS A CHILD?

"As a teenager I read 'The Outsiders' by S.E Hinton repeatedly.   I'm not sure if it was because I loved the story or I was fascinated by the fact that she wrote it when she was still a teenager herself, either way it was a great book.   When I was much younger I loved 'Outside Over There' by Maurice Sendak, which is the story of a sister who goes in search of her younger brother when he is stolen away and replaced by a changeling made of ice!"

Q: DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WAY TO TELL A STORY?

"I don't have a favourite way to tell a story, but my favourite way to absorb a story is in a song .  I think the skill required to tell a story within the confines of a song is pretty special.  Most of the greatest songwriters are poets and storytellers really, they just happen to be musical."

Q: HOW IMPORTANT IS THE CREATION OF AN IMAGINATIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR CHILDREN GROWING UP, PARTICULARLY IN THE EARLY YEARS?

"I think it is THE most important thing.  Children use their imaginations to make sense of the world they are learning about so the more accessible that side of life is to a child, the easier it is to approach.  We sometimes forget that to a child everything is new, I think adults brains would explode if we had to deal with the sheer wealth of new and fascinating facts a child encounters every day.  Giving children access to their imagination, gives them the freedom to test out their responses to things in a way that is safe to them."

Q: HOW WOULD YOU ENCOURAGE IMAGINATION AND CREATIVITY IN CHILDREN?

"I think stories are so important - I think they should be everywhere.  It shouldn't just be in the classroom, it needs to be at bedtime, during the day, in the car - everywhere!  To do that it really is just encouragement and basic communication between adult and child.  Children can deal with complex things once they have all the facts, once something is explained to a child and they are aware of the consequences of things....they can usually make up their own minds, which for them is extraordinarily empowering.  Once a child learns, and is allowed to learn, their creativity and imagination flow.  

I also like that children draw all the time, and don't think anything of it...adults stop drawing at a certain age and then we lose the sense of being visually creative.  Drawing and illustrating thoughts and feelings without words is very freeing.  The very best children's books often have very little words but lots of illustration, the relationship between the two is important.  It is also important to remember that we should ALL read more picture books as grown-ups and older children...they are not just for the under 5's.  In short - open communication and a black page!"

Q: WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE TO PASS ON TO OUR YOUNG STORY-MAKERS IN PREPARATION FOR THIS YEAR'S WHAT'S THE STORY? COMPETITION AS TO WHAT MAKES A GOOD STORY?

As someone who reads books and stories on a daily basis, I would cite the age old advice of finding a good idea and then just writing it down while being aware of having a beginning, middle and an end to the story.  In my job I get to work with a huge range of authors and illustrators, one of whom - the great Eoin Colfer - always advises 'listening', when he is asked this question.  'Listening' to other peoples conversations, 'listening' to other people telling a story, 'listening' to your siblings and your friends....it's pretty good advice."

Q: AS A JUDGE FOR THIS YEARS WHAT'S THE STORY? COMPETITION, WHAT WILL YOU BE LOOKING FOR?

"Story, story, story....a good idea made into a good story, and humour....I like being made to laugh!"

Q: WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO GET INVOLVED WITH IMAGINOSITY'S WHAT'S THE STORY COMPETITION?

"When I was a child I read extensively, I didn't have a TV so my siblings and I read....all the time.  Even now I usually have two books in my bag wherever I go.  But when I was younger there were no competitions for writing stories or telling stories, I wish there had been.  Storytelling is a skill that we use daily, intentionally or not, so developing these skills and gaining confidence in them is so important.  Plus, writing and creating stories is fun - YOU can do what YOU want, it is your story after all."

Click here to read last week's expert tips for the competition, from International Best Selling Author Sheila O'Flanagan.

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