In A Room For Ryel, Emma Cameron effectively explores the intricacies of change and compromise within blended families.

Why do you write children's books? What do you love about them?

As odd as it may seem, I don’t actually think that I write children’s books. I just write. When I first begin, I don’t think about the reader. As a story takes shape, the likely audience for it becomes clearer. Some of my creations suit adults but not children. Others suit young readers because the story has a child protagonist. That doesn’t mean adults won’t enjoy them. A lot of the time, I prefer reading ‘children’s books’ over adult fiction as I find it refreshing. It’s nice to view the world through a child’s eyes. That doesn’t mean the stories are light. They can deal with really heavy issues. It’s such a shame that many adults don’t read children’s fiction.

What inspired you to write A Room For Ryel?

Ryel did. He just turned up one day. So, I let him say what he had to. My writing is just the means by which he could share his story. Like any character in any of my stories, he’s probably a combination of varied personalities I’ve seen, heard or interacted with at some point. I find it best not to question this aspect of writing too much. His story probably appeared because his situation is something I’ve seen and heard about in many ways. What he experiences is something that millions of people experience and it’s very relatable. We see it all over the world, again and again.

Did you have any personal experiences that contributed to this new book?

Working in schools and raising my own kids means I’ve met lots of blended families, so that was helpful. It wasn’t just knowledge about blended families that contributed to the story though. It was more about personalities, and watching how people get on (or don’t get on). Being surrounded by young people in a school setting meant I heard and saw a lot that helped me gain an understanding about what mattered to kids and why. When it comes to personal experiences, that’s where the tournament and winning came from. My favourite memories from my own school days involve the fun of games or sport. I’m super competitive, as is my whole family. Perhaps it’s in our DNA.

A Room For Ryel features an annual “sockey” tournament. How do you play and what inspired this idea?

The idea for Sockey stems from a game we played at school. It was kind of like hockey, but indoors, on the slippery timber floor in the school hall. We played in socks, skidding around all over the place. For A Room for Ryel, however, I had to invent a one-on-one knockout game that wasn’t all that much like what we played. How to play is something you can find Writing Help -

This story includes some big topics for young readers. Touching on the challenges and excitements of writing about these topics, what was it like to write about:

a. adapting to change?

b.       learning to appreciate family?

c.       compromise?

Change is inevitable and something that everyone needs to deal with on an ongoing basis. Most stories are about either adapting to or overcoming it. Breaking down what’s going on for characters as they navigate change is rewarding. It’s what helps a story evolve.

As far as learning to appreciate family goes, the challenge here was to keep reminding  my adult self that I’ve spend a lifetime learning to appreciate a great many things, but Ryel hasn’t. I needed to keep stepping back to let him do what he did. He needed to take time to work out what was best for him.

Writing about compromise was not so tricky because good old Dad was always reminding Ryel to focus on The Big Picture. And Ryel was clever enough to listen. I found it both a challenge and a pleasure to have a gentle protagonist. Not all kids are ‘in your face’ or ‘out there’. Lots are quiet and considered in their approach to others. They just don’t tend to be the ones we notice and I was grateful that, at the end of it all, Ryel’s story was deemed worthy of sharing with the world.

How did the writing process of this book compare to your previous children’s books?

I found this a lot more fun, partly because the issues were not as heavy as they were in some of my other works. View from the 32nd Floor, for example, stemmed from the fact that society can sometimes forget people to the point where they pass away without anybody realising it. It was good to step back from this and reground myself in first world problem of children having to share a bedroom! That said, A Room for Ryel still incorporates wider world issues when Ryel and his classmates research the topic of human survival and Ryel contemplates what life is like for those without family.

What do you hope your readers will take away from A Room For Ryel?

Ultimately, I hope it helps readers step back from situations to observe and think about the bigger picture. If they learn to focus on what really matters and what doesn’t, they’ll save themselves a lot of grief and distress. Knowing what’s worth our attention, energy and emotion is a key skill to develop but it isn’t that hard to do. Being considerate of others doesn’t mean you have to always put them before you. It just means you become adept at recognising when it is time to let others have their turn or when it’s time to look after yourself first.

Do you have any other projects in the works?

I sure do. Lots. The biggie is a middle grade novel about a dystopian world where music and song aren’t allowed. Fable, rather than fantasy, it follows two brothers on a journey to a better life. Besides this story, I’m working on a couple of picture books. And, as always, I’m helping others with their writing. Though the stories I assist them with aren’t mine, they are precious and I consider these my projects too.