I remember thinking the song was clever, and Murphlet 2 enjoyed it too. Little did I know that those men, who were The Wiggles, would go on to become a huge international phenomenon – or that for years to come, long after my youngest grew out of their music, I would find myself randomly signing D-O-R-O-T-H-Y, or “Toot, toot, chugga chugga”, or other similarly catchy lyrics.
Almost 20 years ago I remember watching ABC TV with my toddler daughter when a clip of four weird men in skivvies singing ‘Rock a Bye Your Bear” came on.
The youngest Murphlet is now 11, and it’s been a long while since I bought a Wiggles CD or DVD, but I am eagerly awaiting my chance to do that in a few weeks. Now don’t jump to conclusions – there’s no grandchild or other new baby coming my way. Instead, there’s a new Wiggly offering that even my hard to please teens are going to like.
The Wiggles are turning 20 this year and, to celebrate, ABC Music is producing a new album featuring Wiggles songs covered by contemporary bands. Rewiggled will feature groups such as Jebediah, Washington, Oh Mercy and the Living End singing classic Wiggles tunes. For a taste, you can see the Oh Mercy number, Big Red Car, on Youtube.
What a piece of marketing genius! Songs that kids grew up with, being covered by the bands they now listen to.
This got me thinking about writing, and how as writers we often look back to the books we loved as children. I still feel a tingle of joy when I think of Mandy or of No Flying in the House, two of the earliest novels I remember loving. And I still adore reading Horton Hatches the Egg (my all time favourite Dr Seuss book) out loud to anyone who’ll listen. I wish I could be like Enid Blyton, with hundreds of books still in print over 40 years after her death (funnily, until I looked this up just now I’d never realised Blyton died the same year I was born).
There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but, whether it’s a contemporary author, or one we grew up loving, every writer needs to avoid the pitfall of trying to replicate another author’s work. Is it possible to write a new story in the exact style of Dr Seuss? Possibly. But why do it? Seuss’s works are still in print (including, of course, the new release of The Bippolo Seed) . Is it possible to write a Blyton-style adventure in a magical forest, or on a windswept island with lashings of lemonade? Again, possibly. But it’s been done – and again, those books are still in print. Publishers aren’t looking for another Seuss, or a another Blyton. They are looking for new, fresh voices, doing new, fresh things. I always cringe when a writer (or worse, a publisher’s press release) tells me that their work is ‘like Matthew Riley’s’ or ‘in the style of Dr Seuss’, or (shudder) ‘the next JK Rowling’.
If you’re tempted, take a leaf from Oh Mercy’s book. They haven’t donned coloured skivvies and replicated the Wiggles performance style or arrangement. They’ve taken the song and given it their own touch. That’s what you need to do. Sure, be influenced by your favourite authors – but don’t try to reproduce their work. Find your own style, your own stories, your own voice.
You can do it.