Review Blog

Jun 01 2011

Interview with Karen Tayleur

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at Mary Martin's Bookshop, The Parade, Norwood, South Australia (18 May 2011)
Meeting Karen Tayleur for lunch surrounded by books was the best of both worlds for me. Karen was in Adelaide as a fellowship recipient of the May Gibb's Children's Literature Trust  an award which means a month spent in a furnished apartment at Norwood, free of the interruptions which might occur at home, a place of contemplation and quiet.
For the last few weeks, Karen has been researching and writing drafts for her next two novels. One a gothic romance, is for young adults and the other will be for younger readers and central to that idea, meant going to Moonta to peruse the cemetery for ideas and names for her Cornish story.
But Karen has written a range of stories over the past eight or nine years, many of which have become favourites in schools, some being used as class sets. From her days working at black dog books, she was involved in the series of netball stories called, All Stars, writing Bree and Mel. This series for the middle primary student was fast paced and involving, telling the story of the members of the netball team, one at a time, showing their interlocking lives and how their different backgrounds directed their choices. Published in 2005-6, the series is often stored as a group of ease of access in primary school libraries, having several different authors.
The stories of David Mortimer Baxter have also proved popular, as they take a moral precedent and look at it more closely. In Lies, for example, David is told not to tell lies, but this does not sit well when he is then asked to lie not to hurt someone's feelings. The series of 6 books tells its story neatly with a lesson to be learnt at the end, but they are not didactic or preaching, simply funny.
Her first novel for older readers, Chasing boys (2008) took a different tack, with a book about a girl changing schools,and trying vainly to fit in. Karen infused the story with gems of observations of young adults, probably enhanced by her dealings with her daughter and her friends.
After the success of this book, Karen wrote Hostage (2009), and my favourite, 6 (2010). Both of these novels, again aimed at the young adult readership, tell of teens in situations which seem very close to home. Hostage begins with a girl kidnapped by a young man she knows, who loses his cool in a chemist shop. Not quite ordinary but the day spent with the two in his car, seems very ordinary as they drive around Victoria in search of her father. The shift in power in the story and the idea of just who is hostage to whom is a never ending thought as Tully begins to take stock of her life and just who is important to her and why. 6 too is breath taking as the opening scene tells the reader that 6 people have been in a car which has only 5 seat belts and has crashed with one dead. The suspense through the book, trying to find out who has died, while Karen goes back and forth, writing from differing points of view is entrancing, right to the end. Both of these books are used in schools as class sets, and as part of Literature Circles, comparing them to other books on similar themes.
Not to be restrained as a fiction writer, Karen has also written a non fiction book, Burke and Wills, Explorers off the map (2010), for black dog books in their engrossing series, Our Stories. Talking about Burke and Wills can be quite daunting as so much has been said,and so many people have their own story about what happened. It is another Australian story where a failure has achieved iconic status. Karen handled all this well, producing a book which tells us in plain English what the trip was all about, who the characters were and what happened. Inviting double page spreads, the pages have small boxes of information, maps, document and photographs, all designed to be read easily by the primary school student.
If this is not all, Karen has also edited a book of short stories, Short and Scary (2010), also published by black dog books, with stories by well know and lesser known authors, alongside new authors, resulting in a successful group of short stories sure to be well used in classrooms.
Since resigning from black dog books to concentrate more on her writing, Karen has found some part time work at the Victorian Writer's Centre, where she mentors younger writers and does manuscript assessment.
For more information see her website and follow her blog .
Fran Knight
(Children's literature enthusiast and reviewer)

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