Did you have a favourite book when you were growing up?
I had lots of favourites. One (which I read and re-read) was If I Ran The Circus by Dr Seuss. I loved circuses, and I loved the incredibly zany creatures that Dr Seuss came up with. CS Lewis's Narnia chronicles were a huge favourite of mine too. I read them over and over for years until I felt that the world of Narnia was mine.
When did you first realise that you had a talent for writing?
I'm not sure. I remember writing lots of rhyming poetry through primary school. I've still got a few of those poems. Some of them are really, really bad! But occasionally I wrote something that worked. One of the best ones, I think, was one I wrote very early, when I was just eight. It was called ‘I am a droopy tree'. My dad liked it so much that he typed it out for me on his old typewriter (I've still got it in my file). Looking back, I'm amazed that I got the rhythm and rhyme so tight, and that the message still speaks to me today.
Congratulations on the success of your book, What's the matter, Aunty May? What was it like to see the finished product for the first time?
It was fantastic. It just so happened that Andrew Joyner (who illustrates heaps for The School Magazine) was chosen by the publisher to be the book illustrator. He added so much humour to the text in his illustrations. Weeks later, I was still spotting new little ‘visual jokes' that Andrew had slipped in. It all worked together beautifully, which of course is what a picture book is all about.
You've written many wonderful pieces for The School Magazine. Do you find one particular genre more enjoyable to write?
I like both short stories and poems (and I've also tried writing an occasional play or nonfiction article). I think I like poems best of all. It's amazing that you can sometimes capture a scene, a character or even a story-line in just a few lines of poetry. I love trying to make each word and line worthwhile. And in poetry, it's not just what you say. It's also about finding the ‘music' in the sounds of the words and in how the sounds are combined from line to line.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you approach a new piece of writing? What processes do you go through?
It depends. If it's a purely imaginative piece then I just pursue the idea that's come into my head and let it grow as I craft the story or poem. If it's a piece that's based on something in real life—like an animal from nature—then I often do a bit of research or outdoors fieldwork at the beginning (I like getting outdoors to write). I keep self-editing a story or poem until I'm happy that it works for me, which often—though not always—means that it will also work for others. Generally, I know I've finished the process of writing a piece when it seems to hang together well from beginning to end, and has sparks throughout that excite me not just as a writer but also as a reader.
Do you have any advice for young writers?
Write what you love, even if it seems unusual or quirky, and look for inspiration in anything. Once I was wandering around the house looking for something that could inspire a story. I had no ideas at all. Then I saw an unopened can of pineapple just sitting on the kitchen bench. Hmm, I thought. That's interesting. And I got this funny idea: What if I opened this can and there wasn't pineapple in it? What if there was something else … like two tiny aliens in silver space suits! That crazy idea became the beginning of a fun science fiction story called ‘Pizza, special delivery'. The other bit of advice is not to give up. If a piece doesn't seem to be working, put it to one side and work on something else for a while. But don't throw away the writing that didn't seem to be working. Sometimes I've come back to an unfinished piece months (or even years!) later and I've been able to finish it in a way that completes the original flash of inspiration. I had a little fantasy adventure novel that was like that. I started it years back and got stuck. Finally I took it up again and saw how to finish it in a way that excited me, with lots of action and tension, and even an erupting volcano! (It's called The Cliff Runner and it was published by Blake Education earlier this year). So, never give up. Keep those good ideas and come back to them when your mind's had time to let them stew.
Cat Nap (pdf 3334 KB)
Hear poet Peter Friend recite his poem Cat Nap