Term 4 2020
- Feature article
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Supporting Australian book creators
Best-selling author Sally Rippin talks to SCIS about ELR and library love.
When I was growing up, our family moved around a lot. We lived in England, Brunei and Hong Kong, as well as Darwin, Perth and Adelaide, moving every couple of years because of my father’s job as an engineer. By the time I arrived in Melbourne, ready to start Year 8, I had already been to seven different schools and lived in as many cities.
No matter where we were living, our mother – a teacher – always ensured we had a constant supply of reading material. Some of these books we would lug about with us from place to place, but books are heavy, and we had to make tough choices, so most of the time they were packed away in storage or wistfully handed down to a family friend.
Sometimes we lived in countries where public libraries stocked few books in English or we knew we wouldn’t be there long enough to bother getting library cards. This is where I would rely on school libraries to keep me in a steady supply of books. Some of my fondest memories come from spending lunchtimes in a cosy corner of a school library, lost in the imaginative worlds of Narnia, Dollhouses or Faraway Trees, reassuringly familiar when everything else around me was so new and strange.
No matter where we were, how often we moved, or whatever I was struggling with, books were always my happy place: reading, writing or illustrating them.
No matter where we were, how often we moved, or whatever I was struggling with, books were always my happy place: reading, writing or illustrating them. Even if I was missing old friends or nervous at the prospect of making new ones, books were my anchor in the ever-moving sea of my childhood and helped me feel less alone.
Fast-forward almost 40 years and making books has become my job. Every day I write stories, draw pictures and make books that help kids learn to read, see themselves reflected and feel less alone. I continue to travel the world, meeting thousands of kids each year, hoping to inspire them to pick up a book or even write and illustrate their own stories. I couldn’t imagine a lovelier way to make a living.
But it certainly wasn’t always this way. As a young writer, struggling to make ends meet, I came to rely on libraries more than ever. Public libraries were no longer just a place for borrowing books, they were somewhere warm I could hang out with my toddler during the day, or somewhere quiet I could write when my kids were at school.
Casual teaching and school talks supplemented my royalties for the first half of my career. Before writing the Billie B Brown series, even though I’d published over 40 books, I still wasn’t able to make a liveable income from writing. Unfortunately, as Australia’s reading population is so small, it makes it very difficult for most writers to earn a living from their royalties, unless you are lucky enough to write a bestseller.
So much work goes into every book published, but many of them disappear from bookstores – and therefore the public eye – sometimes only weeks after publication, as a newer book takes its place.
In the 25 years since I was first published, this has only become more competitive, as children’s authors are now up against comedians and other celebrities who naturally attract a lot of attention and therefore sell more books.
This is why Public Lending Right (PLR) and Educational Lending Right (ELR) payments are so important, compensating creators for royalties lost when their books are borrowed from libraries rather than sold in stores. For me, not only were these payments a vital financial injection into my bank account once a year, they were also a reminder that even if my books were no longer in bookstores, they were still being borrowed again and again from libraries all across the country.
The thought of all those children, curled up on the cushions of a public library, or stuffing their schoolbags with my books to read at home was often what kept me going when times were hard, and I’d felt close to giving up on my dream of becoming a full-time writer. These kids weren’t only reading new books or best sellers, but books from all kinds of writers from all across the world and hand-picked themselves.
I know how lucky I was to grow up surrounded by books. But the more I travel, the more it becomes evident that this isn’t the case for all children. This is why we are so fortunate to have such a vibrant public library service in Australia and why we must always champion the importance of teacher librarians in schools. School and public libraries ensure all kids can get access to all kinds of books, and ELR and PLR payments ensure that Australian authors can afford to keep writing them.
Images supplied by Sally Rippin