Can you remember the first children's book you ever fell in love with?
Heidi, a birthday gift, was the first – and only – book I ever owned as a child. I loved reading and was always raiding Mortdale Public Library, mostly for books by Enid Blyton. Nowadays, when there are so many more children's books, I most love work by authors such as Sharon Creech, Glenda Millard, Ursula Dubosarsky, Jacqueline Wilson, Markus Zusak, Anne Cassidy, Scott Gardner and (my husband) Bill Condon, the inaugural winner of the Prime Minister's Award for Youth Literature. But there are so many more whose work I love!
When you are approaching a new piece of writing, do you start with character or plot?
Generally I start with a child character in some kind of a predicament. My forthcoming junior novel, A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press) is based on a girl whom my husband and I fostered; her mother left her alone often, but she was a cheerful and resilient and very lovable child. My last (junior verse) novel, Nobody's Boy (Celapene Press) was about another child, a boy we fostered who only ever wanted to live with his father.
Have you always considered yourself a writer?
As a child I dreamed of becoming a visual artist or a vet. I didn't write the first of my 120+ books until I was thirty. In the meantime I had a career as a primary school teacher, newspaper journalist, bookseller and advertising rep.
What are some of the challenges you face when writing for children?
The main challenge is in capturing a character's personality so strongly that the reader ‘knows' and cares about them. I try to do this through what the character says, through their interaction with other people, and through their thoughts and reactions to tricky situations. I strongly dislike novels that ‘tell' too much, so in my own fiction I strive to keep a fast pace through lots of dialogue and action.
What book can you read over and over again?
There are so many but I have re-read The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson numerous times. The last page always makes me cry!
Your new website is devoted to showcasing Australian children's poetry. What is it that you love most about poetry?
Good poetry captures the essence of emotion or experience and presents images that are fresh and original. I love it when words ‘sing' on the page, which is why I always read poetry aloud. The poetry I enjoy the most gives me a real physical reaction, an ‘ah' of satisfaction – or it might make me laugh aloud. By the way, visit the Australian Children's Poetry site.
What type of poetry appeals to you most? Why?
I most enjoy lyrical poetry with memorable images. The Australian children's poet who I think is a genius in capturing the sights and sounds of nature is Ann Bell. Having said that, I love a wide variety of serious, quirky and humorous children's poetry by poets such as Bill Condon, Elizabeth Honey, Harry Laing, Jack Prelutsky, Doug MacLeod, Max Fatchen, Colin McNaughton, Michael Rosen and Roger McGough.
Law and disorder (pdf 2356 KB) a play by Dianne Bates and Bill Condon published in Orbit, issue 3 2014