authors, interviews

Kaye Baillie on writing The Friendly Games


Kaye Baillie holding her book THE FRIENDLY GAMES

Kaye Baillie writes picture books, novels and short stories. Her latest book is a nonfiction picture book The Friendly Games (illustrated by Fiona Burrows.)

From the publisher:

John Ian Wing couldn’t be more excited about the upcoming Melbourne Olympic Games. It’s 1956 and from his parents’ Bourke Street restaurant, John swells with pride watching the hive of activity as the city prepares to welcome its guests. But when world tensions threaten to overshadow the good nature of the Games, John knows he must do something to remind everyone of the meaning of friendship and peace.

Based on a true story, The Friendly Games is a fascinating tale of one boy’s role  in one of Australia’s most significant sporting events.

The Friendly Games by Kaye Baillie and Fiona Burrows

How did you first hear about John Wing?
I was researching the introduction of television in Australia. My idea was to write a story about a fictional family getting their first TV. I found out that television was introduced to Australia in 1956 in time to televise the  Melbourne Olympic Games. And of course the internet brings up stories related to what you’re searching for, so John Wing’s story came up. I read about a boy who wrote a letter to the Melbourne Organising Committee suggesting how the closing ceremony for the Olympic Games should break with tradition and allow all athletes to march as a mixed group behind one Olympic flag — as a kind of peace march. I was amazed by what he did and that his letter worked — all within three days of the closing ceremony. I gave up on the introduction-of-television story and began working on John’s story instead.

How did you go about gathering research for writing the book?
I researched old newspaper clippings on the government website called Trove. I also trawled through microfilms at the State Library in Melbourne.

I watched the official Olympic promotional video made for the 1956 games.

I read sections of the official Olympic report which detailed every part of the Games from its preparation to its final moments.

I purchased a CD from the National Library in Canberra containing an interview with John. This was great because I could hear his voice and listen to how he spoke.

On the City of Kingston’s website there was information and photos detailing John’s early years at a Children’s home.

I tried to find John by emailing his last known email address and I also wrote a letter to his last known home address but I didn’t receive any response.

I visited John’s address where much of the story took place. His bedroom window in Bourke Street, Melbourne is still the same today as it was in 1956. It’s important to get a feel for your subject and their surroundings through first-hand experience.

Did you have any interaction with the illustrator (Fiona Burrows) while the book was being created?
Not in the beginning. Fiona was chosen by the publisher as Fiona had already illustrated one book with MidnightSun. When Fiona was about to begin work on the illustrations, the publisher put us in touch so if we had any questions, we were free to talk to each other. We often emailed each other and Fiona invited feedback from me. Because the story is non-fiction we had to make sure the illustrations were a true reflection of the era, 1956 and the location, Melbourne. Usually illustrators and authors do not have any contact with each other during the book’s process. This is because the illustrator must have freedom to interpret the text how they see it.

Do you have any tips for children who would like to write about real events from history?
Make sure your subject is something you are really interested in. Research can take a long time so it’s important to enjoy the process.

Gather as much research as you can. The more information you have, the more interesting facts you will have to choose from.

Your story will be much better if you can show that you have a good understanding of the facts.

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project? 
I’m currently researching another non-fiction story. This one is set in America so it’s a little less familiar than researching in Australia. But I have found lots of information and the best part is that I am regularly talking to the daughter of the woman I am writing about. This makes the project very special. I am planning to finish the story within 2-3 months. It takes a long time to do the research and then to write the best story possible.

The Friendly Games is out in bookstores and libraries now!


The Friendly Games by Kaye Baillie and Fiona Burrows

Look inside some of the pages from The Friendly Games

Read a review of the book (review by Anishka, age 10)

Click here for Teachers’ Notes

Visit Kaye Baillie’s website for more about her and her books