Wednesday, October 19, 2011

10 Quick Questions*

What was your earliest inspiration to write?

I was born with an ear for stories. Composing (music, songs, poetry, plays) seemed a natural thing to do, rearranging found objects into new structures.

Who is your favourite book character (any book) and why?

I’m going to be cheeky here and pick one of my own – I don’t think you ever really love a book character as much as one you have created. At the moment it’s Clara from Only Ever Always. She is brave and stern and fierce, but so vulnerable and has an enormous capacity for love. Her very existence is a philosophical conundrum, and I like that in a girl.

What is the best feedback a reader has ever given you?

Before my first novel Undine was published, Random House sent the manuscript out to teen readers for feedback. One girl answered the form questions in a positive but fairly perfunctory manner, but then added a note at the end saying she couldn’t put into words how the book had made her feel and how it was unlike anything she’d ever read. Her speechlessness was very touching.

What was your favourite picture book as a child?

John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat. I find it impossible to put into words how that book makes me feel, and I suspect it's more in the pictures than the words. So I'll tell you about another book, an odd little number called The Little Slipper Man. It’s a German picture book, quite nihilistic, about a miniature invisible man who no one can see. One day he steals a pair of psychedelic slippers (his little stalk legs slipping around inside each one) and runs down the street and feels very special and important until he realises everyone is looking at the slippers and not him. So he goes back into the meadow, disappears into the long grass and continues his insignificant, inconsequential existence. Not sure, now I have recounted the tale, why it appealed so much. I must try and track it down.

What are you reading right now?
Reading has been a challenge this year. I've wanted desperately to do it, but I am short on space. Avery sleeps in our room during the day and we only have one living area so in winter when the girls are home I have nowhere to go. Still, I am managing to find some reading spaces. This year I've been reading books concurrently, frustrated by how long it takes me to get through a book. I always have one or two collections of short stories on the go because I am enjoying them so much and sometimes I can even manage a whole one in a sitting before the baby cries or the television fires up or a child wants a snack.

I am reading quite diversely in terms of genre, though looking through this list I see that nearly everything is Australian, except for The Lottery. I had a deep craving about a month ago for Australian writing, which is what led me to seek out Patrick White. I am hooked, and plan to read another after this one. The only other I've read was The Vivisector in my early twenties. I am keen for recommendations.

Novel: Patrick White The Aunt's Story
Non-fiction: Melbourne by Sophie Cunningham and Kinglake 350 by Adrian Hyland
YA: Merrow by Ananda Braxton-Smith
Audiobook: The Secret River by Kate Grenville
Short Stories: Little White Slips by Karen Hitchcock and The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

If you could set a story in any time or place, where would it be?

44 rue des Écoles, on 25 February 1980.

If there is one book you wish you’d written, what is it?

The Gruffalo. I greatly admire those effortless rhymes. How gloriously smug Julia Donaldson must feel, and so she should.

If you could sit next to any historical figure on a plane, who would it be and why?

An ordinary person with a tale to tell from any period in history (which is why I like Malouf’s Ransom so much).

If you could give one sentence of writing advice what would it be?

Interrogate reality.

Which literary quote best defines you?

“There is an extraordinary charm in other people’s domesticities. Every lighted house, seen from the road, is magical: every pram or lawn-mower in someone else’s garden: all smells or stirs of cookery from the windows of alien kitchens.”
C.S. Lewis, Time and Tide, 16 June 1945

*Originally answered for the Ballarat Writers and Illustrators Festival, though I've updated my reading list.


  1. I think you might like The Tree of Man, Penni.

    I don't think I ever had John Brown as a kid, but The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek was my special book. I think it might have been drawn by the same person.

  2. And Voss.

    Lovely set of q and a, thanks! Nice to see that Lewis quote again, it is beautiful.

  3. Frangipani10:00 PM

    Riders in the Chariot is my favourite. I have been trying to finish Voss for more than 50 years and I think I have now abandoned it.

  4. Gosh, Ransom is the most marvellous book isn't it?

    Have you read Julia Donaldson's book about the witch, 'Room on the Broom'? Same addictive rhyme and rhythm, and a glorious story to boot.