Meet Heather Gallagher – Author

When: 7 May 2024

Meet Heather Gallagher, one of the amazing authors who work with our budding authors as part of Writer in Residence. She has helped numerous students to learn about writing stories, editing and publishing a book. We sat down with her and asked her about her experience.

Can you please introduce yourself?

My name’s Heather Gallagher. I’m a children’s author, freelance journalist, book reviewer and I also work as an educator in before and after school care. So I’m pretty busy.
My latest children’s book is Scaredy Cat, which came out with New Frontier and is based on my anxious dog Pip. So he inspired me one day when he was on the beach and he ran away from me and he came back and I was like, why do you have to be such a scaredy cat? And that was kind of the thing that, you know, the light bulb moment.
And I’m very excited that I’ve got a couple more books coming out with Marshall, Cavendish, which is a Singaporean-based publisher. So sometime in the next year or so now.

Can you describe what you do as part of the Writer in Residence Program?

So it’s a four week program and before I start, I try to get a sense from the teacher about what the class is focusing on, whether that’s an area of study or a particular style of writing. And that way I can tailor the program to meet the needs of that specific class.
So for example for the school that I’m going to next, I’m doing two classes of grade 2s and they’re studying the sea and we’re going to do sea-themed poems which I’m really excited about because I live near the beach so I’m gonna take in some seaweed and shells and stuff and get them to sort of think about how they feel and how they smell and all that sort of stuff. And that would be a really great sort of lifting-off point for writing some sea-themed poetry.

My strong feeling with the program is that it’s about making literacy fun for kids. That’s my kind of touchstone if you like for everything that I do, and so whether that’s doing writing games or exercises or I started working in a few like interactive with the class using the whiteboard coming up with sort of group stories and poems, and that the kids get really excited doing that. That works really well and eventually it all comes together in some sort of something that the kids have created.
Be that a story or a poem that we polish up and is ready to go into the book and the final stage is going back for the book launch, which is just so fun. And the kids absolutely love the fact that they’ve now become published authors. It’s amazing.

Why did you decide to do our WIR Program?

I heard Emma about speak about it at a meeting of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. And they have a little show and tell session there where people show books that they’ve had published. And she (Emma) showed one of the Ardoch books and talked about the Ardoch program. And I spoke to her during afternoon tea. About what she did, and it just sounded so exciting and fun. And she passed my name on and it kind of went from there.
I’ve always felt that child literacy is a social justice issue, so the idea of going into disadvantaged schools and getting kids excited about literacy, who might not have had the privilege of bookish parents like my kids have is just something that I’m so passionate about. And so I was really thrilled to get involved.

How many programs have you completed?

I’m very proud to say that I’ve completed 12 programs with Ardoch and I am about to do 2 more. I’m doing 2 classes at one school, so that’ll be my 13th and 14th program rolling out this year.

What is your favourite part about the WIR Program?

Definitely the book launch. When I go back for that book launch, the kids are just so excited that they’re going to be published writers and it’s the whole thing, the launch and often schools will really celebrate it. I went to one where they invited the entire Council or the councillors were there and the mayor and everybody was there. And the kids would just be rock stars on that day.
And I think it’s so good for their self esteem and their just that even if they don’t choose a career in writing, necessarily, it’s that kind of here’s this seemingly unattainable goal that I have achieved. And wow, there’s not much I can’t do. It’s really great.

Can you tell us about a time when you saw how the WIR program impacted a student?

So when I was in one of the Geelong schools and there was a child that was really struggling to get words on the page and because inevitably at some point in the program, kids do need to do the work.
So you know they’re at their desks trying to write something, and that can be really daunting for kids and particularly kids, who depending on their age, might even have trouble literally writing words on a page and I sat with this child and chatted to him and basically lifted the lid on this amazing imagination.
And he dictated his story to me. And it was like, here’s this kid who had been kind of a little bit pigeonholed in the struggling group and had an aid working with him and she was kind of just writing her own story. But when I sat down with this kid, he literally dictated this amazing story about aliens and whatever. And it was all there, you know, he just couldn’t quite get it out. And so sitting with him and and helping him to realize that he had stories inside him was a really powerful experience for me and for him, I think.

What do you enjoy about working with Ardoch?

That everyone is super friendly and super committed to what they do and I’ve had nothing but positive experiences with all the Ardoch team that I’ve worked with and I’ve worked with them for a number of years now. And I also feel very passionate about kind of Ardoch’s mission and making a real tangible difference in the lives of children. That’s something that I believe in really strongly and I feel like Ardoch is really committed to. So I really enjoy being associated with Ardoch.

What part do you think kids enjoy the most?

It’s a nice kind of ego stroke. When you go in for the first time and they’re all so excited to meet real life author, that’s like a real buzz for the kids. And then apart from that, it’s the fun of it. Just as I said, I tried to make it really fun and I incorporate games and stuff like that, and I think it’s that it’s kind of, I don’t know, like hiding the veggies in the Bolognese or something. It’s that, like kids are learning and expanding on their literacy skills without even really realizing it. They’re just having a fun time. I think there’s a lot of fun in it and I think that’s really super important

What do you find the most challenging part?

This is kind of something that I think all teachers struggle with but across a classroom there is a huge variation in abilities. For me, the most challenging thing is to engage all the children across that spectrum of abilities. So that you’ve got the children like that one that I just spoke about who might struggle to put words on a page and then you’ve got someone else over in the corner who is writing 10 pages of their great Australian novel. Trying to cater to both those ends of the spectrum is quite challenging. But it is something that I’m conscious of, which I think is a good first step and just with the support of teachers and support staff, that allows me the time to get around to all the different kids and engage them on whatever level they’re working at.

What do you think the kids find the most challenging?

I’ve probably already said this, but like all writers getting words on the page that is the hardest thing. So once you can kind of get past that, you know, perfectionist or whatever it is that’s stopping you, just getting those words on the page and also again, like all writers, editing. Kids often will write something and think it’s the best thing that they’ve ever written. #relate. And then you’ve gotta try and go back to that painful bit of editing and try and embrace that.
And so that’s something I’m always trying to impart to kids about your first draft is called a rough draft for a reason. It’s all about going back and finessing and editing and trying to coach children to understand that I find quite challenging and kids find it quite challenging as well to can’t go ohh you know, I think what I’ve done is pretty great and I say yes, but you know, let’s make it even better and try and cajole the editing process in that way.

What do you think the kids find the most rewarding?

I think that they have this special opportunity to learn from a real life writer.
A lot of them are very conscious and aware of that, and a lot of them because the schools are, generally speaking, disadvantaged schools, they may not have had the opportunity to have met a real life writer before. So it’s quite a big deal for them. And then apart from that, just seeing themselves in print is, you know, we all love that. That’s a beautiful thing.

What is your favourite memory of the program?

I’m pretty sure it was a senior cohort, I think it was grade five and six at east Geelong primary a few years ago and I found them quite challenging and they seemed a little bit kind of like that they were too cool for school and you know don’t they were into it but they weren’t super into it. And I wasn’t quite sure of whether I was actually making an impact.
And when I came back for the book launch and we did the big hoohah bit where we presented the books and they were sitting around with their snacks and everything and all the kids were sitting there reading their stories out to each other. And I was it was just such a moment where I just went wow, like you just never know the impact that you’re having. Like it might not reveal itself until who knows when.
But for me, at that moment I was just like, wow, this is huge. They were so proud of themselves and literally sitting around, just quietly, you know, let me read mine. You’ve gotta hear mine. And they’re reading them out to each other, and it was just fantastic.