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Meet the Canberra author interweaving scientific evidence, activism and creativity

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Being an author sounds like a glamourous profession, where people want to know your name and the doors of opportunity open wide.

But the reality is that becoming a published writer, even an award-winning one, involves matching creativity with grunt.

For Nicole Godwin (pictured), with many new stories currently in progress, a part-time job in the APS, three children and a husband, life is busy.

Nicole is a homegrown Canberra local and has lived here her whole life (apart from a few years living in Canada). She has published three picture books with environmental messages, underpinned by science, so far and says she is dedicated to “helping children and families look at the world around them in a different way”.

“Many children and families want books that are meaningful,” she explains. “I’ve found that families are keen for something with an engaging story and a message with really strong characters.”

One book with a strong, female lead character is Billie. The story is about a dolphin who sets out looking for the biggest wave but, in her search, she ends up encountering ocean pollution, driftnets and even whaling.

In 2019, Nicole won the ACT Writing and Publishing Award in the children’s category for Billie, picked up a range of other commendations. In 2018 she was awarded a scholarship (only one available worldwide) to attend the (International) Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Winter Conference in New York.

Looking at her work now, it all seems like a ‘perfect picture’ but her career has evolved through different experiences. After completing a Grad Dip in Professional Writing nearly two decades ago, Nicole’s writing took a back seat as she raised a family and worked in the public service.

In 2015, she got serious after a profound experience in Thailand. At Boon Lotts Elephant sanctuary in Sukhothai, Nicole met elephants that had been abused and tortured as a result of tourism.

Her stay in the elephant sanctuary sealed the deal that she would write books that aim to prompt change and directly give to environmental causes. All her books have a social enterprise edge with portions of sales and physical books donated.

While Nicole’s books do include some sad and heartfelt moments, these emotions result in powerful and empowering messages.

“I want to encourage children to be moved, but also feel hope and take action.”

And children are responding in droves. Nicole shares a story of one girl deciding to make bracelets to sell to help elephants.

“It made my heart melt; that my book had sparked love and concern. Here is a little activist in the making,” says Nicole.

At the Canberra Women of Science and Art online webinar during National Science Week in August 2020, Nicole took participants through her Jelly-Boy craft activity, making a jellyfish out of compostable materials. She then talked about plastic bags and other soft plastics and their impact on the oceans.

“Tell me if you think that soft plastic can go in your recycling bin at home, can we recycle it at all?” she said.

The chat window quickly filled with responses. So many children responded saying: ‘no not in the bins at home, you need to take soft plastics back to the supermarkets’.

“So, a lot of you are all over it! Well done,” exclaimed Nicole.

Kids being switched on is a recurring discovery for Nicole as she regularly talks to children at school visits and conferences.

“When I go to schools, it’s always highly interactive. I love discussing the issues I write about and the book creation process,” she says.

“For example, at a school a couple of weeks ago, they were about to start an ocean unit of study. Children are naturally curious and compassionate and they ask great questions. You can see lights going on as we talk though issues such as pollution, whaling and ghost nets.”

Nicole has also visited Lyneham Primary School. The students are creating a Forest Classroom, actively composting and managing a garden. Students also set up a ‘Tomorrow Team’, raising money through the container collection scheme to help fund environmental projects around the school.

“They are so passionate, excited and determined at their fundraising. This is special and meaningful to me because by raising money, they get stronger and stronger at distributing their environmental messages across the whole school,” she says.

Nicole has mastered the craft of writing stories that interweave scientific evidence, activism and creativity.

“It’s all about the emotional connection and being taken on a journey. There is nothing better for me than being told stories by parents of what the books mean to them; like the mother at the Old Bus Depot market who told me that their daughter sleeps with Ella under her pillow.

“When one of my stories connects, children will pick it off the book shelf over and over again—that’s when I know I’ve hit the mark. “

While the pandemic has put a dampener on many local events and markets that Nicole would usually be a stallholder, the blossoming of online opportunities has enabled her to make valuable connections online, where geography doesn’t matter.

Adamant that 2021 will be a cracker for the creative industries, Nicole is busily working on new stories to engage Canberra families and everyone else.

Nicole’s tips for starting out in writing, art or science (or combining them)

  1. Keep being curious and absorb information around you.
  2. Follow what interests you, whether it be watching David Attenborough or Myth Busters or observing nature first-hand.
  3. Get your imagination flowing by writing all sorts of different thing or drawing regularly. But don’t expect your writing and art to be perfect straight away. This takes time and practice.
  4. Enter competitions.
  5. Join your local association, for example, the ACT chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators or the ACT Writer’s Centre to learn and find out about opportunities.
  6. Find a mentor or a group of fellow authors that can help you, review your work and challenge you. Nicole is part of a ‘Critique Group’ that has become firm friends as well as writing buddies.

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