Skip to Content

When I See Grandma: Story of dreams, love and life

Page last published: 14 Mar 2014

Debra Tidball, author of When I See GrandmaHow can you express your love and affection for someone when they don't even know or remember you?

Macquarie graduate Debra Tidball's new book When I See Grandma tells the tale of two children who visit their grandmother in an aged care home and do their best to make memories with their Grandma. The children's vitality brightens the lives of their grandmother and of the residents of the once bleak aged care home.

Of love and life

The picture book, which launches March 2014, is described by the author as a story about "past and present, beginnings and endings, set in an aged care home and reflecting this cycle of life." It is based on Debra's own experiences taking her young children to visit her mother in the years before she died from dementia.

Debra recalls, "My kids were exhibitionists when they were young and when they realised the attention they could get by putting on mini concerts at their Grandma's aged care home with their primitive attempts at music and dance, they were hooked. They planned and choreographed and practiced all week and couldn't wait to get back to their captive audience."

"It became harder as Mum became less responsive, and I would have loved a book like When I See Grandma to help them make sense of their experiences, to give us a shared language and to encourage them to continue to 'brighten Grandma's dreams.'"

Debra dedicates her book to her mother and has also committed to donate the book's royalties to the Hazel Hawke Alzheimer's Research and Care fund.

Of reaching for her dreams

Her mother's long career in a local library was influential on developing Debra's love for books. She's been writing short stories since she was in grade school. She gets her inspiration from exciting scenes, pictures or phrases.

She says, "I usually find I get my best breakthroughs when driving in the car – so I'll grab any scrap of paper floating around the car and hope for a red light to scribble down the thought. I have been known to scribble whilst driving – but it's not recommended!"

However, Debra admits that she was a 'closet' writer. Before enrolling in Macquarie for a Master of Arts in Children's Literature degree, Debra was timid and self-conscious of her works. She believes her postgraduate studies helped her build her confidence and developed her writing.

"My postgraduate studies gave me the confidence to put my writing 'out there' - workshopping with others to improve my manuscripts, and sending it to publishers. It gave me an understanding of and ability to apply narrative concepts that helped shape my writing."

She chose to study at Macquarie because it was close to home she could do most of the subjects externally. She says she was also inspired by the course outline and range of subjects. The combination of theory and creative writing subjects broadened her knowledge and skills.

Having experts and writers like Jane Messer as teachers also helped Debra gain confidence.

Debra shares, "I thoroughly enjoyed my postgrad studies at Macquarie. When it came time for the creative subjects, I was incredibly nervous to read any of my own work out loud, or critique others, but Jane Messer's workshops were always respectful yet incisive, responding to student needs and creating a collegiate atmosphere of trust and good will amongst a very diverse group of students. In the end they couldn't shut me up! I also appreciated the way the practice of creative writing further informed and made sense of the concepts studied in the prior units."

Advice for aspiring writers

Debra's advice for students and aspiring writers is to get engaged in a writing community.

She says, "It's invaluable to be encouraged, critiqued, inspired, supported. I've kept up with a writing buddy I met through the course, and joined the Children's Book Council of Australia sub-branch – it's full of amazing authors, illustrators and teacher librarians."

"I've also found it really helpful to submit stories to competitions - especially those that give feedback – you can use the feedback to improve the story or in your pitch to a publisher."

When I See Grandma is Debra's first published book and is now available in bookstores and online through Wombat Books.

When asked if we can expect another book soon, Debra says, "It's with the publisher."

Interested in studying MA in Children's Literature? Learn more about this postgraduate degree from our courses website.

Related Stories: