February is also the time new books come out, to coincide with the beginning of the new school year - at least in the southern hemisphere. This month, I am excited to have two books released into the wild, on opposite sides of the world. Meet Lina arrives in bookstores across Australia today and Angel Creek should be making an appearance on bookshelves around the UK any day now. I have my fingers tightly crossed that these books will find readers who love Jelly and Lina as much as I do.
There are three more Lina books on the way, but meanwhile, here is an interview I did with a UK publication about Angel Creek. Happy not-so-new year!
1. What sparked the idea of ‘creek angels’?
2. What process did you go through in creating your ‘angels’, which are very unlike the traditional images of angels?
3. Why did you want to include this fantasy element alongside very real issues such as starting a new school, family, bullying and illness?
Though I admire writers who can create whole worlds from scratch, I like to work with something familiar and add a fantastical twist. I didn’t intentionally set out to cover a list of particular issues, these are just things I remember being important to me as a child and I imagine are very recognizable to most children. My aim is to create the most believable characters I can so that my readers might ask themselves, ‘What would I do in that situation?’
In some ways, the angel in my book can be read as an allegory for the natural world; scientists are still discovering creatures they could never have dreamed existed, so why not a baby angel? One of the questions in my mind when writing Angel Creek was if you were to find something wild and beautiful would you leave it alone and perhaps risk it dying, or would you interfere with the delicate balance of nature and then face the unknown consequences of your actions?
4. You explore the transition from childhood to early teens – what interests you about that age range?
5. You also explore how actions and even thoughts have consequences – do you feel that learning this is an important part of this transition?
Oh boy, this is something I think we never stop learning. I wish I could have learnt all that I needed to know about this when I became an adult but I’m afraid I still have a long way to go! The idea that we can change our thoughts to change ourselves, not just mentally but also physically, is something that is both inspiring and daunting.
6. There are quite profound questions around death in Angel Creek – how hard did you find it to tackle this in a way that worked for children?
I think we often underestimate how much children think about death – I was certainly more preoccupied with death as a child than I am as an adult, but often as much out of curiosity as fear. I don’t believe there are any areas that are necessarily out of bounds in writing for children, as long as this is done with sensitivity and insight. Birth and death are fascinating themes to explore for all writers, whether literally or metaphorically, and most authors I admire would never shy away from tackling profound questions just because they are writing for children. In fact often these momentous themes are explored more directly and with more honesty than in adult literature.
7. Your favourite character?
8. Is the book reminiscent at all of your own childhood?
Everything I write for children stems initially from my own childhood then takes on a life of its own, often fed by the experiences of my own three children. Beginning with my own experience helps me write from a child’s perspective with authenticity and not trivialize what might seem unimportant now. However, unlike Jelly, I spent much of my childhood living in South-East Asia, moving almost every two years because of my father’s job. Even though we mainly lived in apartments in very big cities, my father still managed to find us scraps of nature to explore and instilled in me a deep love of the natural environment that I think comes out in Angel Creek.
9. You are both an illustrator and writer – how visual are you when planning / writing stories for older children, as well as your picture books?
Being able to visualize my story is very important to me. I know things are working when I can see the setting and characters as if they were real and my job is only to write down their story.
10. What are your links with Italy, as you feature Italian characters in your stories?
11. How does your writing day go – any bad habits?
I am an awful procrastinator. I begin my day by spending way too much time on Facebook, reading stuff on the internet and feeling sick with guilt about wasting time. Then, when half my day is gone and it is almost time for my kids to get home from school, I’ll have a sudden burst of productivity and usually just be getting into a flow by the time they come through the front door, wanting my attention. Occasionally, if I have a deadline I might make myself go to the public library where I can’t get onto the internet and force myself to concentrate solely on my novel.
12. What do you do to relax when you’re not writing?
Spend time in the garden, walk along the Merri Creek, visit friends, hang out with my kids. Bungee jump – (no, not really. I hate heights!)
13. What are you writing now?
I am writing a series of historical fiction novels set in Melbourne in 1956 – a big year as it was the year of the Olympic Games and also the arrival of television. My character is a twelve-year-old girl called Lina whose parents have recently arrived from Italy. I am also always busy writing more books for my Billie B Brown and Hey Jack series for younger readers.
14. There are a number of very inspiring Australian writers – what did you read as a child / teenager (I remember reading My Brilliant Career then), and which writers were most inspiring to you?