Author at six? No problem
When Annemieke Woodbridge's daughter, then aged seven, desired to become an author a few years ago, little did the expat from Down Under know it would lead to a full-time venture of her own. But necessity, as they say, is truly the mother of invention. So, when the mum-of-two could find no course to help her youngster fulfil her literary dreams, she decided to publish the book of short stories herself with the help of tech giant Amazon.
Eventually, bitten by the literary bug herself, Mieke (as she is fondly known) decided to publish her own book called Are We There Yet?: The Complete Travel Planning Guide for Families. Armed with her newfound publishing experience, she decided to do something about what she clearly saw as a void in the market - and set up the Young Author Academy last year.
The idea is to offer youngsters a shot at writing and publishing their own books through a five-week course that she offers. It helped too that she has a Master's degree in Business and Information Technology from Cardiff University. "The degree, along with my work experience, gave me the knowledge I needed to understand and practically put into operation this innovative platform," she states with a smile.
From 'bubble brainstorming' ideation sessions to storyboard designing, the ethos of Mieke's course is to help the kids think outside the box and broaden their horizons. They also talk about the importance of copyright, plagiarism and other related issues. Since the inauguration of her venture, Saturday mornings sees the business centre in JLT's Platinum Tower Cluster I turn into a classroom, where the aspiring writers of tomorrow embark on their publishing journeys.
The class is attended by kids of various ages with different writing interests. "We break down all the norms of story writing to the basics and rebuild from there. Rather than starting a story with 'Once upon a time', we brainstorm better story starters, more developed characters, relationships and story lines - all while keeping the book true to the style of the young author," she says.
The bubbly entrepreneur says she constantly gets emails from young aspiring authors and, at times, even from parents looking to get their stories published! "After five weeks, it's amazing to see the kids brimming with confidence about their original ideas," she says, beaming herself. "Not all kids are up to writing, but they have great imaginations." A case in point is Mieke's own son, whose thoughts she'd record using a voice recording that she'd later transcribe.
Not all kids want their works published immediately either; some sign up just to enhance their writing skills, while others need a bit of 'hand-holding' and may even take a little longer than five weeks to complete their books. "We've also had some kids come back after having their first book published, having written up a second book all on their own that they just want published. We gladly do it for a fraction of a cost," she explains. "I've seen kids go on to sell their books during Christmas parties and local barbecues, trying to get a feel of entrepreneurship."
If you're a keen radio listener, you may have heard Mieke on the airwaves. She has a spot on the Magic Phil show on 102 Pearl FM every Wednesday at 3.30pm. As a bonus, upon having the course completed, young writers are given a chance to go on air on the show to discuss their experiences. "It makes them feel like complete rockstars," laughs Mieke. Fun fact: Magic Phil has himself published a book called The Dog That Loves Blue through the Young Author Academy!
Mieke keeps busy, collaborating with schools in the country to give talks ("mostly to the junior kids, as that's when they begin to develop an interest in writing") and organise events. One school decided to have its own version of a 'Mini Literary Fest', where the entire student population spent three hours writing stories. The winner of each grade got a chance to have their story published. "Such was the enthusiasm of the children that we ended with up publishing two books: one that included all 700 stories from every participant and the other with only the winning stories from each grade," she says.
Owing to the rising demand for her courses, Mieke is now considering upping the number of workshops she offers. One of the youngest participants in her workshop is six-year-old Vedanth Vasanth, whose book Tyrann, the T-Rex that saved the Jungle is currently retailing on Amazon for $6.10. "The minimum price point of a book is set by the retailer and it factors in Amazon's printing costs and fees," she explains. "Authors are then free to set their own price points. It's an amazing feeling to see parents holding their children's published book - it does wonders for the kids' confidence," she adds.
Mieke is currently also thinking about developing an online platform, where children can send in their stories and have them published, with the benefit of being under parental control. Who knows? We might just have the next JK Rowling come out of Dubai.