Saturday, November 12, 2011

A legend in my own mind...

A NZ children's author, much awarded (here and overseas) and much published (same) had their name transformed and gender switched on air recently. Ever since I heard it it has been bugging me. After an initial giggle (sorry mate) my thoughts quickly descended to 'what do you have to do around here to get some recognition'. I understand if my name is mangled - its a tricky name - it can be a challenge even for people who've known me a long time. But I was a bit shocked that this person's name wasn't better known. At least enough to be the right sex. If you have a flair for rugby your name is soon the topic of discussion around the breakfast table. If your face is on the TV during peak viewing it is an easy side step to print media. And bad behaviour seems the most effective PR of all and, as Paul Henry can confirm, the equivalent of a winning lottery ticket. If it was just about being good at what you do then I could understand that. If it was about building your reputation then that would be something to aim for. But these don't seem to be sufficient for writers of children's literature in NZ. And many of the NZ writers for children that I know regularly do the promotional equivalent of a marathon and try all sorts of gymnastic contortions to get their names out there. When I do school visits I often ask children if they know some NZ authors and illustrators and I'm saddened at their response. No Roald Dahl is not a kiwi. They often ask me if I draw as well as write and when I say that I don't, I ask them for the names of some NZers who do. What's the world coming to if they don't know Lynley Dodd or Gavin Bishop or Pamela Allen? And what about Ruth Paul and Donovan Bixley?When they ask me if I'm friends with other authors and I smile and say of course and tell them who, they stare blankly at me. Surely the sign of a healthy society is not only clothed and fed and educated children, but also a society that recognizes the names of their writers and illustrators for children. They know the names of children's writers from other countries, whether recent or not. The music industry has managed to raise its profile, but that took a government required quota system. Do children in other countries know the names of their children's writers? Do you know who Mo Willems and Ian Falconer and Lauren Child are?

I guess this example illustrates that our efforts, no matter how strenuous, aren't working. We need some help. Any suggestions?

UPDATE - okay as my SO pointed out, books are often known by their titles or main characters, especially amongst children. Hairy McLairy, or Maori Legends, or the Wheels on the Bus would be remembered before the people behind them are. I don't think this is a complete rationale or excuse though. Is there ever a teaching focus on NZ writers in primary schools? Is it in the curriculum? I would love to know.

UPDATE 2.0 - of course the more I think about it, the more I have to acknowledge how much name recognition is about branding. I get branding. However while I pursue branding on the one hand, for me I make the whole issue so much more complicated for myself by not having a series or sticking to one style/genre/age group. I can't assume that readers who like my short stories or my picture books will necessarily graduate to my longer works. And I have contemporary and historical time slip and my picture books are all stand alones and do I need to build name recognition for each one? Okay I'm tired just thinking about it - I'm off to have a lie down and a cup of tea and then work on my next novel which is completely different to anything that has come before - sigh. 

1 comment:

Old Kitty said...

You got me thinking now. Cos I love The Gruffalo but offhand and without googling - I can't tell you who wrote it! LOL!! But I know Jacqueline Wilson and JK Rowling! LOL!

Sorry don't think this post is helping but I have a feeling the media reporting has a lot to do about name recognition. I know celeb's names only because they are written about everyday, in ever newspaper in every magazine in the news, on tv etc.etc. infinitum. And we are talking children here and in this day and age - TV/internet is king and queen and unless authors' names are mentioned here everyday, the kids just won't know. I think so anyway! And unless their books have been made into films/tv series/toys - something visual - there's even less chance of name recognition. Now off I go to google the Gruffalo!

Take care