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Harry Highpants at the Magic Beach

Alison Lester’s Magic Beach is one of my favourite books that I read to my children. So poetic. Yesterday children from seven schools met at St Finbarr’s Primary School to hear multi-award winning author and illustrator Alison Lester and children’s author Tony Wilson talk about their books. They told the students what set them off on their writing journey.
Festival Director Candida Baker says organising events where children interact with authors is one of her favourite aspects of the Festival. “You could see on the childrens’ faces how much they were inspired by Alison’s and Tony’s stories about how they came to writing and how they have built a career from it,” Baker says. “From the spontaneous applause, it was obvious just how much some of the books such as Tony’s Harry Highpants and Alison’s Magic Beach mean to the kids.”
Alison Lester mesmerised the kids with examples of her very early work including a story she wrote and illustrated as a child. “One of the hardest things about writing and illustrating is keeping on with it,” Lester says. “You have to stick with it and do it every day and then you will get better.”
Lester outlined how she used stories from her own life as inspiration for her books. “The Quicksand Pony is based on the true story of our horse Taffy and how she got stuck in quicksand on the beach.”
The students were also given tips on how to achieve depth in illustrations. “Never use the colour straight out of the tube,” Lester advises. “You will have a much richer picture if you mix your own colours.”
Wilson, the author of eight books, explained that everyone has good ideas but that authors act on these ideas: “I love Dr Seuss and thought it would be fun to write a rhyming story about a hero flower. That’s how I developed the idea for The Thirsty Flowers.”

As Wilson read from The Thirsty Flowers, he encouraged the children to act out the walking class as illustrated in the book. “It was hilarious watching 400 children limping, staggering, hopping and popping out of the ground,” says Baker. “The children were then enthralled by Tony’s explanation of a book’s journey from inception to being put onto the shelves.”
Wilson believes one of the nice things about writing books is that a little bit of him will keep living on. “I like the fact that my kids will always know about what used to entertain and amuse their Dad,” says Wilson.
St Finbarr’s Assistant Principal Caroline Morton was thrilled to able to host event in the school’s new hall. “The children and teachers all loved meeting Alison and Tony,” says Ms Morton. “My favourite part of the afternoon was when Tony had 400 children being dancing flowers.”
Baker says the children’s program has been hugely popular this year: “Alison and Tony entertained over 500 students at Murwillumbah this morning and will talk to 650 in Lismore tomorrow and another 500 in Ballina later in the week.”
The children’s program will continue on site on Sunday, August 7 when popular television personalities Amberley Lobo and Kayne Tremills from ABC3 will host the new Youth Day. Baker says the program is designed specifically to capture the imagination of children aged between six and sixteen. “Amberley and Kayne are very much looking forward to MC’ing the Youth Tent for the day,” says Baker.
Amberley and Kayne will introduce a variety of international and Australian writers including America YA writer Maria V Snyder; Australian writers and illustrators Alison Lester and Martine Murray; actor, presenter and writer Tristan Bancks of Nitboy and Mac Slater fame; picture book writer Tony Wilson; the Gold Inky, Teenage Choice Award winning writer James Roy and Wendy Harmer with her delightful Pearlie series of books. Keep an eye out for the wonderful Story Dogs as well!

Marian Edmunds

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