May Street Stories from Urban Lyrebirds

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Carmel Davies from Urban Lyrebirds is one of the founding members of our ‘teacher to writer and publisher’ group, ESL-SPIN. I interviewed her about her latest books, ‘May Street Stories’.

Carmel, congratulations on your new reading series

Thanks! It’s taken a while, but I’m really happy with the books. 

What are the titles?

At the Park, The Lost Key, Broken Computer, Underpaid!, Where’s my Bike? and Fire! Fire!

They sound very topical.

Yes, they’re all loosely based on experiences my students and friends have had over the years.

And the May Street connection?

The characters in the books include teenagers, refugees, international students and retirees. They live in the same block of flats in May Street, and get to know each other better through the events of each story.

The illustrations are very evocative of students I’ve met. 

Yes, I was very happy with the illustrator we worked with, Veronica Dixon. You can also see how the cover design of each book incorporates visual elements from the culture of the main character, and that’s carried on throughout the pages of the books.

I noticed that! What’s in the books?

Each book has a problem-resolution story of about 400-500 words, and two pages of activities and conversation questions. The stories are aimed at strong beginner to post-beginner learners (adult or young adult).

There’s audio, but we decided not to go down the CD route as so many people no longer have CD players. Instead the audio will be available for free download from our website – no codes to enter, as we want it to be simple for learners.

I see that Urban Lyrebirds is now distributing through Bookery…

Yes, that’s been a great experience for us, after doing our own distribution initially. They’ve been very patient and supportive. They were the ones who told us how keen the libraries were to find new Australian readers. 

So our books are still available through all the other language bookshops and library suppliers, but we don’t have to organise that any more.

What advice would you give other would-be writers?

Write stories about characters that students will care about, in situations grounded in reality, that reflect their lives. Humour is good, as well as relevance, and authentic characters. Universal themes, interesting stories expressed simply…

I notice how much students love to discuss moral predicaments and dilemmas – those ‘What should he/she do now?’ questions. Even beginners are eager to participate in the discussion when they feel strongly about an issue.

What else is coming from Urban Lyrebirds?

Sharon (Duff) and I are also working on some more readers, to accompany the Sing With Me! songs. She’s illustrating them too, which is very impressive.

We’re also planning to work on an unfinished book by our wonderful friend and business partner Maggie Power, who sadly passed away last year. She asked us if we’d finish her Preliminary level Passages to English, and we’re going to do that with her daughter.

That will be so valuable – and a great tribute to her.

Yes, she’s sorely missed, as a friend and a creative collaborator.

Just to finish up, if you ran the ESL world…?

I’d like to see more engaging PD for teachers, and more engaging activities for students, with meetings, social events, volunteers in the classroom and opportunities to build community – and only relevant assessment! 

And what would you create if money was no object?

I’d love to make short 3-minute videos. Or a mini-series – remember the 2006 ABC series, English: Have a Go!  There’s been nothing like it since…

My second dream venture would be a small travelling theatre company, taking live drama based on students’ life experiences out to learners across the country. I had this idea 20 years ago and got funding to do a one-off. It worked so well that the idea is still with me. So any interested funding bodies out there – do get in touch!

Good luck!

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