Feminist Writers Festival – Q&A with Ailsa Wild

We’re thrilled to be supporting the inaugural Feminist Writers Festival, taking place in Melbourne from 26-28 August this year. We’ll be featuring interviews with several artists and Committee members over the coming months in the lead up to the event.

Our Editor/Founder, Zoya Patel, will be speaking on a panel during the Networking Day on Friday 26 August – to find out more, and see all of the amazing events programmed as part of the festival, head to their website.

Our next Q&A is with Ailsa Wild, performer and author of the Squishy Taylor series for children.

How did you find your path to writing for children (amongst other writing passions)? 

The time in my life when I was the most avid reader was from when I was about seven to thirteen and since then I’ve always loved children’s and young adult fiction. I was training children in circus and creating shows with them and I wanted to capture that physical energy in a novel.

Your Squishy Taylor series are very popular, and have a clear feminist message – what drew you to writing about Squishy, and why are books like these important? 

Well, that could be an entire thesis! There were lots of elements that came together as I created Squishy. From the beginning I didn’t want her to spend any time thinking about her looks – because girls already have their attention directed toward that enough! Squishy is too busy in the wildness of her adventures to look in the mirror. I wanted to write a female character who had a circus performer’s physicality, strong, brave and up for trying things again and again. But I didn’t want the story to be set in the circus.

When I wrote the first few stories I was living with a young blended family (as another adult in a sharehouse) and I wanted Squishy to live in a household with a similar energy: muddled, chaotic, loving. I’ve read plenty of teen fiction where the step-family is the narrative’s central tension. I wanted Squishy to live in a blended family but for this to be quite normal, a background to the real action: the mysteries Squishy solves.

Another part of the feminist message is the housework and childcare her dad performs, without this being considered particularly noteworthy by any of the characters. My father was a stay-at-home dad in the early eighties, when it was seen as different, but to me, as a child, it felt completely normal. I would have loved a book which reflected this back to me (and so would my dad!)

Your work has a clear visual connection – what makes you want to write work that sits with visuals in this way, and do you write with a particular vision in mind for how it will look when combined with illustrations? 

The illustrations came as such a delight and surprise to me. I knew the books would be illustrated, because that’s the nature of the readership, but I didn’t know Ben or his work before Hardie Grant sent me some of his samples. When illustrations arrive for each book I’m always absurdly happy and have been known to cry.

You’re also a performer – how do you balance the different creative energies of your diverse career? 

I’m not the kind of writer who wants to sit alone in a room for my entire life (are any of us really?) and I love collaborating and the direct feedback you get when performing. I also love the physicality – having work that requires me to move my body. It’s good for me to both train physically and to write, but I do find it hard when performing to do anything else. I have tended to do things in blocks of time, a fortnight of writing hard, a month touring a show. Since the publication of Squishy I have also been pregnant, so haven’t been performing for a while.

At FWF, you’re speaking on a panel about writing for kids through a feminist lens – what are you most looking forward to about that discussion? 

I’ve been reading Simone Howels book Girl Defective and loving it, so I’m really looking forward sharing a panel with her. Also I think our culture’s disrespect of art for children is a feminist issue. Like childcare and teaching, when women do the work it somehow isn’t seen as valuable. I’m looking forward to being part of an event which does respect my work as valid and important.

Anything else to add? 

When the email arrived asking me to be a part of the Feminist Writers Festival my new baby was less than a week old. I was so delighted to be asked and to be able to respond with a yes, knowing I would be supported by my partner and family. I wrote the email while my baby slept next to me. I’m grateful to the women before me who made that whole moment possible.

Image: Devika Bilimoria

Find out more about the Feminist Writers’Festival and register to attend here.

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