November 1, 2018
A new chapter with Chris Collin
From construction to children’s author, Chris Collin has finally found his true calling. We catch up with the colourful writer and presenter to tell us more about his all-singing, all-dancing travelling literacy show, starring a funky chicken and his friends that’s delighting kids around Australia.
“I always had a passion for writing funny rhyming stories,” says Chris. “I blame my parents for that. In an effort to stop myself and my two sisters from fighting in the car, my mum and dad would start a limerick and we would have to finish it.
“I just had a knack for it and I always had a love of the absurd, I was a big Monty Python fan growing up.”
Yet despite aspirations of writing a children’s book for many years, life took over and Chris went down a very different path as a civil construction project manager.
It wasn’t until 2005, when he was on school camp with his son, Sam, that the seed was planted to turn his long-held dream into reality.
“It’s tradition on the last night of camp that one of the parent volunteers act out a silly story for the amusement of the teachers and students and I put my hand up,” says Chris.
“The camp was at Borumba Dam, a lovely part of the world with heaps of Australian wildlife and I could see us all playing roles as silly animals. I finally came up with the idea of the funky chicken, I don’t know why to this day, but he overtook everyone as the most unique animal in the bush.
“It was a real hit and the day after, some of the teachers approached me and said, ‘Have you ever considered writing kids’ literature because the rhyme and some of the language you used really resonated with the kids’. They loved it!”
But it wasn’t until some years later when Chris’s wife, Sue, sadly passed away from a terminal illness that he took the leap of faith to honour a promise he had made to her.
“I made a promise to Sue and to my son that I would turn the story into a book one day. Some time after Sue had passed, my partner Nadia came into my life and I shared the stories with her and she said, ‘Well, what are you waiting for?’”
After a year of research, as an unknown author, it became clear to Chris that his books were not going to be published straight away.
“A lot of publishers don’t like rhyme because they are very hard to edit and get the rhythm correct and you are limited with the translation to other languages. Also, in my books I use quite rich language and descriptive adjectives, which is different to most picture books,” says Chris.
“It became clear that I would have to cull them significantly or change them to prose to have any chance of being published, but I had already made the shift in my mind that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my days, so Nadia and I made the decision to self publish.”
Having given the books to teachers to take into the classroom for their feedback, Chris and Nadia received an overwhelmingly positive response.
“Teachers were saying, ‘If you do this in this format you will be supported by the educational system regardless of what the publishing world says’,” says Chris.
“We also decided we would like to do something special. Traditionally, the pictures tell more than half or sometimes even the whole story. I wanted to write stories so that anyone with a visual disability could have the story read to them and not miss out because the pictures were telling the story. The illustrations support rather than tell the story.”
One step further
Chris and Nadia decided to take their books one step further by turning them into an audio visual format.
“Our graphic designer and web designer who is also a singer, connected us with Adrian Hannan, an internationally-renowned Australian music producer who has written, engineered, produced, mixed and arranged tracks for many of Australia’s leading artists. In the studio Adrian is a real character, he puts all of these little quirks with an incredible orchestral score to suit the narrative.
“It is so powerful as a teaching tool because not all kids are inclined to pick up a book but they love this.”
Chris and Nadia’s latest addition to their business is a colourful new chook mobile, which is taking their fabulous show on the road to encourage kids all around Australia to read.
“The demand for our shows is growing year by year. It’s a whole performing arts show,” says Chris.
“We test drove the chook mobile this year from Toowoomba and ended up in the Whitsundays, we visited Bundaberg, Rockhampton and Mackay.”
“It will be beneficial for everyone,” says Nadia. “The smaller country schools can collaborate, enabling them to be part of it too.”
Chris has now published three best selling titles Funky Chicken: A Bushy Tale of Crocs and Chooks, A Bug Called Doug and his latest release Funky Chicken: Chooks in Space, all of which have a subtle underlying message, while promoting literacy and encouraging kids to read for the joy of it.
“For example A Bug Called Doug is used in schools for teaching kids about bullying,” says Nadia. “He is judged differently because he looks different and he is in the wrong place, in a house rather than the bush. There is not one word about bullying but it’s a great message.”
Designed as a fully interactive show for kids, Chris says kids go from dancing to singing to becoming enthralled with the story.
“It’s a literacy experience that is outside the box,” says Chris.
“For us it’s a buzz,” adds Nadia. “At the end, we know we have made a difference and they make a difference in our life. We feel blessed every day.”