Sunday, February 3, 2013

Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton: 'It Takes Two' Keynote

 Julie Andrews is one of the world's most beloved entertainers. She's Mary Poppins. She's Maria. She's the Queen of Genovia. She's also a tremendous writer whose books include MANDY and THE LAST OF THE REALLY GREAT WHANGDOODLES.

Along with her equally successful daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, she has created The Julie Andrews Collection, a series of books designed to nurture a child's sense of wonder.

Together, the mother-daughter team has written 27 books together, including THE VERY FAIRY PRINCESS series, which became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller.

They gave a warm and wonderful presentation to an entirely packed house (indeed, it's standing room only in the back). Here are some highlights.

On how Julie Andrews got started

Julie's first published work was a "happy accident" forty years ago. She was playing a game with her kids that required a forfeit if you lost. Her stepdaughter asked her to write a story.

"I began to develop a little idea I had, and I got so carried away with the story, it turned into my first middle-grade novel, called MANDY," Julie said.

Their first collaborative work

She and Emma first wrote together when Emma was just five.

As Emma explained it, her parents had just divorced and were living on opposite coasts. She and her mom wrote a book and brought it to her dad, who illustrated it and bound it. The book became a symbol of their permanent connection. Later, they revisited the story and worked it into a book called SIMEON'S GIFT, illustrated by Gennady Spirin.

On their writing process
Julie talked about the process of writing DUMPY THE DUMPTRUCK, the first picture book they wrote together. "The learning curve was very steep," she said.

Now, though, they're experienced enough that Emma teaches children's writing (including through the online Children's Book Hub).

As they collaborate, they have learned to lean into each other's strengths. And if someone feels really strongly about something, she's probably right.

"This requires mutual trust and respect," Emma said. And it's not just because they're mother and daughter. "A great deal of it we've learned through the collaborative process."

Julie and Emma work with an outline. "We feel that structure gives us greater freedom."

They also write every line together. Emma types ("very fast," Julie said). She sends the day's work to Julie for review. They used to think they had to be in the same room to work, but their schedules made that difficult. So now they use Skype or other chat software--very early in the morning, before Julie has had her hair and makeup on (but she does stop to spritz herself with perfume).

On the challenges of writing a series

Consistency is important.

"With Dumpy, I had the idea of always beginning with a fanfare of sorts, heralding what's to come very much the way an overture might," Julie said. They had to find fresh ways to do that every time.

They also had to keep characters and their abilities consistent. For example, is Dumpy magic or is it just a coincidence when his lights flicker at a crucial moment in the story? That's a question left up to the reader to decide, and they had to make sure what Dumpy did in book six was consistent with what he did in books one through five to sustain this interest.

They even keep the architecture of the house consistent across books.

"It can be harder to track that then you might imagine," Emma said. (She used spreadsheets.) And it helps having two sets of eyes on things.

Even so, they do try to leave space for surprise. "We've ... learned the value of flexibility and keeping our options open," Julie said.

Reader satisfaction
They had much to say on this, but one excellent point was Julie's--that an ending has to be satisfying and surprising at the same time.

But there's good news!
"The better you know your characters, the more they start to inform your ideas," Emma said. So it gets easier as you go.



  1. It's so refreshing to have a celebrity children's writer who understands and respects the field.

  2. Thanks for sharing this woth those of us who can't be there! Great points to ponder.

  3. Ms.Andrews me and my little girl love you books movies and youa beautiful person and must really be royal becauee you are a great queen. If my little girl xould be like any lady it would be you because you are so lady like and proper and that is a plus we qre a family that don't have much at all but when we see you it makes us want more in life thank you Ms.Andrews for all the years you gave us and still today lots of love shanelle and tessa duran