This section is intended largely for students who have to write the dreaded author report. You’ll probably find answers to most of the questions you need to ask here. If you don’t, contact me and I’ll do my best to answer them.
When and where were you born?
In Toowoomba, Queensland, more years ago than I care to admit. Let’s just say I’m old enough to have two grown-up children and two gorgeous grandchildren.
Where do you live?
In Brisbane, Queensland, in a suburb about 17km from the city.
Who do you live with?
With my husband and son as well as six or seven (it’s hard to tell them apart) visiting scrub turkeys who don’t answer to names.
Do you have any pets? Scrub turkeys visit and peck at the back door for handouts and possums gallop across the roof at night.
What kinds of things do you write?
Both fiction and non-fiction, and for television and multimedia. There’s lots more information in other sections of this site. I’m very partial to a bit of magic in my stories, and I love writing about history.
Why did you become a writer?
I think everyone enjoys doing the things they do best. Writing comes easily to me, so I like doing it. I would never have considered a career as a mathematician, for instance, because maths is a real struggle for me. But I enjoy playing with words, pushing them around, and making them fit together to say just what I want them to say.
The best advice I ever heard for someone thinking about their future career was, Find out what you like doing, and see if someone will pay you to do it.
Why do you write certain stories?
I write some stories because publishers ask me for them – and I get paid for it! For example, a publisher emailed and asked me to write a book about the dinosaur tree, the Wollemi pine.
So I did.
Other books I write just because something interests me, and I want to write about it. The Frog Family, for example, started when I read an article in the newspaper about the way Taronga Zoo was looking after lost frogs and sending them home to Queensland after they’d ended up in Sydney in a bunch of bananas. I thought, what a great story! and when I was next in Sydney, asked if I could visit the Zoo and talk to them about their work. They were very kind and showed me all over their unit, and the story came from there.
How many books have you written?
Over 200 for children and young adults. Some are short, only a few hundred words, for young children (but I find them the hardest to write!) Others are much longer, around 60 000 words. These are for young adults.
How much money do you make?
Not as much as I’d like! Writers usually get paid a royalty, a percentage of what the book costs in the shops. So if a book cost $20, and the royalty was 10%, I’d get $2 for every one sold.
What age group would you recommend your books for?
I’ve written for all age groups, from picture books for pre-schoolers to novels for young adults. I’ve also written short stories and articles for adults.
What’s your favourite book?
Persuasion, by Jane Austen. For young people, I like the writers Antonia Forest and Anne Fine.
When do you write?
All the time! I work best at the physical writing in the mornings (I’m not a night owl). But I think in all kinds of places – driving the car, in the shower, swimming laps in the pool, walking, waiting for someone somewhere. You can do a lot of work inside your head before you start to write it down.
If you have an idea, what do you do to keep it?
I write it down, on any bit of paper that’s handy. It helps to have a little notebook and pen in my bag. It could be just a few words, it could be about a page. Then I put it in a special folder (labelled IDEAS) in my filing cabinet. Sometimes the ideas never get used. Sometimes, maybe months or years later, they do.
When did you start writing?
As soon as I could write. I loved to read. I used to make little books and draw the pictures. (I was heavily influenced by Enid Blyton.) When I was a bit older, I used to make pocket money by sending stories to the children’s pages in the newspapers. They used to pay 10 shillings (as the money was then) if the story was published. When I left school I had ideas of being a journalist, but the newspapers took on very few females in those days. I got a job, instead, as a copywriter in the advertising department of a department store in Brisbane. I’ve been doing writing of one sort or another ever since.
If you mean when did I start writing children’s books, the first one I had published was after I’d written some television scripts for Lift Off! The producers wanted to turn some of the scripts into picture books, and my Dancing Pants was one they chose. So I got to write the book.
Do you ever get sick of writing?
Do I what. I once heard another writer (can’t remember who) say that writers don’t actually like writing, they like having written. James Moloney, another Brisbane writer, says “Writing the first draft is harder work than digging ditches” and he’s dead right. The first draft is hard slog. But after that, it’s great! Once words are down on paper, the second/third/whatever drafts are much easier because you’re re-reading and making it better.
What do you like doing when you’re not writing?
Reading. See my grandchildren. Walking on a special beach I know in northern New South Wales. Cruising the shops. Going to the movies. Eating out – especially Middle Eastern food. And I love travelling, anywhere, anytime.
What are your words of wisdom for children who’d like to have a writing career?
Words of wisdom? Moi? Oh well, here goes then.
Read, read, READ! The more you read, the more you know how it’s done.
Write. Try to get something published. Try the school newsletter, your sporting group’s newsletter, your local free newspaper, the children’s pages in the newspaper.
And keep writing. Don’t be discouraged if you submit work to a publisher and it’s rejected. If I’d kept all my rejection slips, I could have wallpapered the toilet by now. I still get rejections. But if you feel, yourself, that what you write is good, eventually you’ll find just the editor or publisher or agent who’s on your wavelength. Once you’ve had something published, you’ve got runs on the board. You’ll be taken more seriously when you submit something to a publisher because they know you can deliver.
Join a local writing group, or the Queensland Writers Centre (they have a website). The QWC often runs short courses on different kinds of writing, and some of these are for children. Go to as many as you can. You’ll always learn something, and you’ll meet people who can help you. When you get a bit older, try to get a mentor (the QWC can help here, too). A mentor is an established writer who’ll help new writers with advice.
Above all, READ! Believe in yourself. Keep trying. You’ll make it!