A synopsis for your latest novel Grimsdon reads: “Three years ago a massive wave broke its barriers & flooded the city of Grimsdon. Isabella & her best friend Griffin live with the other children left behind, surviving with Griffin’s brilliant inventions & Isabella’s fighting skills. But will that be enough to combat sneaker waves, a ruthless harbor lord & rumours of a sea monster?” Could you give us an overview of the process you went through writing Grimsdon?
It started with my frustration at governments all over the world spending years talking about whether or not climate change existed. Whether a believer or not, the fact was and is that the planet needed less talk and more attention than it was getting. I thought about the large, iconic city of London that sits on the River Thames and is protected from rising sea levels and high tides by a large flood barrier. Even today, some people believe the Thames Barrier wont be enough to combat future high tides and sea levels. What if a city of Grimsdon was in a similar position and scientists had enough evidence that their barriers would not protect the city. The government accuses them of wanting to make themselves famous by scaremongering. They do nothing and one day, a huge wave tears toward them, overwhelming the barriers and flooding the city for good. Now that I’d created the world, I had to work out how these kids moved around, ate, found food, kept warm, coped without any form of modern technology? Who were my survivors, who were the few adults in the equation and what other dangers these kids face? There was quite a long planning process before I was ready to write chapter one.
You have written: “Grimsdon is the first book I have written, though, where the kids are not only on their own, but the adults who are around, are out to get them and use them for their own gains. This book then has called on my characters to be at their most creative, inventive and resourceful for their own survival.” What do you think makes independent, resourceful and competently skilled young characters attractive to young readers?
When I grew up, kids’ books either had adult characters or adults who saved the day for kids in trouble. I believe kids today are different and want something else from books. The messages for kids today are much more that they are in charge of their lives and I think they like that being reflected back at them in books. They like to imagine it is them facing great dangers, having adventures, saving the world, just as the characters in their books.
According to your website, your first writing job was for children’s TV show Cheez TV. Did writing for Cheez TV help you develop writing skills which you have found useful for your written fiction?
Absolutely. I accidentally fell into writing for Kids’ TV but when I was there, I loved it! Each week we’d write 6 morning shows that involved location and studio shoots, interviews and skits. Every day after the show went to air, kids would email us and tell us what they thought….sometimes very bluntly. So we had immediate access to what our audience liked, disliked, wanted more of and it was invaluable in honing my skills as a writer.
You have written that you love writing adventure comedies. What makes adventure comedies such an appealing kind of story for you to write?
As a kid I was short, overlooked, daughter of an immigrant, growing up in western Sydney where all that was expected of girls at that time was to finish school early and get married. So I was a short kid who wanted to be the hero. I love writing adventures with kids leading the action because there’s the need to be a hero in so many kids but I don’t want to write about a gloomy world and freak my audience out. It’s important to me that there is humour as well as warmth between the characters, so that even in a frightening, almost impossible situation, there is a glimmer of a way out.
Your Max Remy Superspy series is about children who are spies and your Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend) series, written with former Socceroo Captain Johnny Warren, is about children who play soccer. What is the key to making a series of fiction books work well, or what is a series you enjoyed reading and what made it work so well for you?
Kids’ loyalty to series is incredible but the boosk need to have a few things to really work: most importantly, compelling characters, some of whom they can relate to or imagine themselves being. A believable storyline that doesn’t get repetitive as the series goes . Big themes – saving the world, friendship, betrayal – no matter how ‘silly’ the content may be. I loved Norman Hunter’s Professor Branestawm series about an absent minded inventor whose every invention is brilliant but also leads to some kind of trouble. So there was the same conceit to each novel – a new invention that would go wrong – but the joy was in watching how it would go wrong this time.
You have written a mystery novel, called The Remarkable History of Aurelie Bonhoffen, about a girl living with her family in a haunted amusement park on a pier who gains the ability to see ghosts. What do you think makes a mystery story work well, or what do you tend to personally enjoy in mystery stories?
I think kids like mysteries because they like trying to work them out. They like trying to discover who did it, who the bad character is, what will happen next. In writing them, I enjoy working out how much to tell my readers to entice them to read further but not give too much away.
You have written that friendship is always important to your books. What are some of your favourite portrayals of friendship in fiction, and what makes them stand out for you?
I love the friendships in The Lord of the Rings that are unbreakable and without boundary. I love the Harry Potter friendships, that are real and often fractured by doubt and arguments. In Max Remy, my main character Max has trouble trusting anyone and over ten books she not only realises she has underestimated how special a good friend is, she knows she would put herself in any danger to protect it.
You are Australia’s official 2010 National Literacy Ambassador, and you have a story in the upcoming short story anthology The Australian Literature Review is publishing in partnership with world literacy/education charity worldreader.org. Why is literacy so important?
Now there’s a huge question. You only have to look in underdeveloped countries to see how literacy programs, particularly for women, are changing communities. Literacy programs help them become educated about health not only for themselves but their children, so that simple health issues are overcome not life-threatening, they can be educated about budgeting, growing food, creating a career or business. Even in more fortunate countries like Australia, improving literacy helps break cycles of poverty and unemployment, provide a future that will create independent, confident, healthier generations who are better informed about their rights and, most importantly, their potential.
What is next for your fiction writing?
After writing two series, then two stand alone novels, I am working on a new series…still kid-driven, with action, adventure and humour….and a few more ghosts.
The Australian Literature Review