An enthusiasm for storytelling

2008-04-16 00:00

Niki Daly was in the city recently to present a paper entitled How to Travel Lightly with Sixty Years of Baggage at the ISASA (Independent Schools’ Associatio. Daly says this paper explored how the early influences of his life impacted upon his present work. Fortunately for local children, Daly made time to launch his latest children’s book, The Squeaky, Creaky Bed, at the Midlands Mall branch of Exclusive Books. Reading to a spellbound group in front of him, Daly displayed the child-like enthusiasm for story-telling that comes through in his books.

Daly’s books are widely appreciated around the world. He is highly regarded as a children’s writer and illustrator in the U.S, Canada, Denmark and Britain. From 1996 to 1999, Daly was also in charge of the Songololo children’s imprint from David Philip Publications. Shuter has now taken over Songololo but kept the imprint’s name.

Over a cappuccino Daly spoke about how he came from a background in music to his present profession as a children’s writer and illustrator. “In the early seventies I was performing in folk clubs around Cape Town,” he explains. “Someone took a recording of my work to London and played it to a studio. I got a contract with a recording studio in the UK and stayed there for 10 years. After a while the music industry got a bit tight, and I went to work in advertising. This was a great training ground for me. Eventually I put my musicality together with my ability to write and draw creatively into creating children’s books.”

Daly says that he listens to the rhythms of the text as he writes. He likes to know “how it sounds on my ear”. I asked him which comes first: the words or the pictures for a story.

“It’s not one or the other,” he answers. “I overhear someone say ‘Don’t you move, Melvin,’ and suddenly that becomes a title. Also, I sketch all the time. I have a need to draw and some of the characters in the sketches leap out at me. For example, Ruby in my story Ruby Sings the Blues just jumped out of the sketch book. I spend a lot of time with my godchild and her loud family and so I put Ruby together with their loudness and my story was born.

“So creating a children’s story is a network of imagination, environmental stimuli, and past experiences. Most people don’t retain that silly, absurd humour that children love. I do because I think I have an arrested development. I remember everything until I was about seven years old. Because of an alcoholic father, I blocked out the intervening years and woke up many years later.”

Essentially one brings all of one’s life experience and personality to bear in creating a children’s story. “That’s what makes the genre of children’s stories as valuable as any other,” says Daly emphatically. The captivated children who listened to him read a little earlier would certainly agree.

• The Squeaky, Creaky Bed illustrated by Niki Daly is published by Shuter.

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