On Saturday, 14th June, Mbaasem Foundation and Golden Baobab jointly held a Master Class on writing children’s stories and young adult literature. The class, which took place on the premises of the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) was taught by award-winning writer Mamle Wolo. Among the participants were past entrants of the pan-African Golden Baobab Prizes for African children’s literature and members of Mbaasem’s Women Writers Forum.
The Master Class began with the viewing of a short, creative music video. Mamle Wolo used this video to demonstrate some of the characteristics that children’s books should have; humour, whimsy and quirky elements. She said: “children have shorter attention spans than adults so you have to grab their attention very early on in a book and keep them interested in the story. Incorporating some of these elements will help you to achieve this.”
Wolo then led the class through “the keepers and the throw-aways” session in which participants shared the best and worst books from their childhood reading. Wolo’s sessions were interspersed with comments from past Golden Baobab Prizes’ judges as well as interviews she had conducted with children who were avid readers.
Writers were advised to decide on which subject they wished to focus on and write accordingly; “Before starting any story, question your motives for writing, avoid writing stories that are preachy.” Participants were also urged to improve their language proficiency and their ability to manipulate sentence structures. Wolo stressed that writers have to read widely and make use of resources like dictionaries and thesauruses in order to develop their craft.
“Conduct a market research before you decide on what you want to write about. Read commentaries about books. Spend time with children and let them speak freely. Children like magic, scatology and I believe J.K Rowling had everything kids likes in her series, Harry Potter, that’s why those books were so successful!” Wolo told participants.
Participants were taken through how to employ style, techniques, and literary devices and the process of constructing plots. Wolo advised: “Your stories should have a pace. Think about them like a rhythm of a song. Also remember to keep the plots simple and direct so you don’t confuse the reader. Children love humour and the whimsical. Their definitions of that include the unexpected, the silly, the scatological and the grotesque.”
After the Master Class, some participants shared some valuable information they had learnt from spending their day with Mamle Wolo.
“Style is not what you write, it’s how you write. Dialogue is the sound byte, it makes the story semi-real.”
“For my writing to be as engaging as I want it to be, I need to research on the age group I seek to write on to ensure my works are successful.”
“Just because you are writing for children doesn’t mean you should patronize them, they know and feel and think more than adults give them credit for.”
“I have learned that children’s books should appeal to childlike humour and also I need not be afraid to develop my own style”