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- author Jackie French

Monday 25 May 2015

Hippopotamusing with Hazel Edwards

Hazel Edwards with her hippo friend
KBR Consultant Librarian Sarah Steed attended Hazel Edwards' 'Hippopotamusing' event at the Lu Rees Archives recently. For those who couldn't get there, here are some of the highlights.

“Writing is not a piece of cake,” the always entertaining Hazel Edwards told an eager group of readers in Canberra on 22 May. Hippopotamusing was a special event for the Lu Rees Archives, to give a sneak peek at what we can expect from Hazel’s forthcoming memoir, Not Just a Piece of Cake.

“No one’s really boring. You just have to ask the right questions.”

The title of Hazel’s talk, and of the memoir, relate to one of her best known books, There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, and Hazel brought with her the large pink hippo that has accompanied her on many occasions, and has many stories to tell. And in case you ever need to clean a hippo like this, the secret is to use Napisan!

“Food is the sex of children’s books.”

Hazel shared with the audience some of the memories which have been an important part of the writing of Not Just a Piece of Cake. She also explained a little of her approach to writing, describing herself as an ideas addict - quite appropriate for an author, really, although it might mean too many ideas sometimes.

Hippo Theatre Program from Lu Rees Archives display

Mental risk-taking is one of Hazel’s writing techniques (“you have to take them”), and she explained this using an acrostic:
R is for research (“personal experience, participant observation, and asking what if?”)
I is for imagination
S is for serendipity
K is for knowledge

Once Hazel’s risk-taking did take a physical form, and that was when she had an opportunity to go to Antarctica (“I wanted to know whether there was an adventure gene or not”). It was something she didn’t think she’d manage to do, but to her own surprise she passed the medical and found herself on a ship amidst icebergs, one of which her fellow passengers jokingly named Hazelberg after her. The result of Hazel’s frozen journey was the book Antarctic Writer on Ice: Diary of An Enduring Adventure.

“Co-writing is a bit like a marriage. Most of them have challenges.”

Another example of Hazel’s stretching the boundaries in her writing and striving to share stories that make an impact, is f2m: the boy within, a co-written story for young adults about gender transition. “f2m is the book I consider my most significant book,” she said.

Hazel also believes “We need to write about our real heroes. Our quiet heroes. The extraordinary, so called ordinary people.” It’s this which drives her non-fiction writing, like in the story of Edith Cowan: A Quiet Woman, who she described as showing great courage in overcoming challenges and making a difference.

When it comes to her favourite book, Hazel lists it as being Fey Mouse, the story of a clumsy cat and a family of clever mice.

Hippopotamusing with Hazel Edwards was certainly a satisfying entree before the main course that will be Not Just a Piece of Cake. Thank you, Hazel for whetting our appetite!

Hazel Edwards OAM is one of Australia's best known children's authors. Her classic picture book There's a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, first published in 1980, is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. Visit Hazel's website to find out more about her books, literacy work and events. You can read Hazel's answers to our 12 Curly Questions here.