Where does the inspiration to be a writer come from?
Often, it begins with the books we read and love.
Recently, Better Reading Kids asked six children’s authors – some with long careers behind them, others just starting out – about the books they remember from their childhoods. There are plenty of classics in their lists, but also a few surprises – Tim Winton, the Ahlbergs, The Rabbits’ Wedding, and Socrates!
Jackie French was the Australian National Children’s Laureate for 2014 and 2015. She is also an historian, ecologist, dyslexic, and a passionate advocate for literacy. Her writing career spans 25 years – Hitler’s Daughter spent a decade on most of Australia’s kids’ choice award shortlists; Diary of a Wombat is one of Australia’s best-loved picture books, and an international bestseller.
Jackie says that as a child,
“I read everything, including the phone books. At seven, my favourite books were The Famous Five, Jane Eyre, Brave New World and The Great Dialogues of Socrates. I had a crush on Socrates. And the Bible, as that was the only book I was allowed to read in the boring bits at church.
“And it was all so much more fascinating than life in Gallipoli Road, Brisbane. Until, of course, those books taught me different ways to look at Gallipoli Road, and to write about it…”
Sophie Hardcastle is an exciting young writer from Sydney. After writing her first (unpublished) novel at fifteen, Sophie was misdiagnosed with major depression the following year. She was admitted to hospital four times over the next two years. Her first book Running Like China is a young-adult memoir of her mental illness. She’s now working on a novel to be published by a major publishing house.
Sophie says she’s long been inspired by the work of Tim Winton:
“My mum and dad read to my sister and me when we were young every night. My two favourites were Tim Winton’s The Deep and Blueback. The ocean is integral to both stories and I think that really resonated with me.”
Nikki Gemmell is the author of seven novels and four works of non-fiction for adults, and a regular columnist for The Weekend Australian’s ‘Saturday’ magazine. She also writes for children under the name of N.J. Gemmell: The Kensington Reptilarium trilogy and Coco Banjo series are hugely popular.
“Then as I progressed into high school I moved on to Jane Eyre, My Brilliant Career and The Getting of Wisdom. And because I had older brothers I also loved books like White Fang, and, er, ‘Richie Rich’ and ‘Mad Magazine’ comics. Basically, I’d read anything I could get my hands on.”
Caleb Krisp is the pseudonym of an Australian author and creator of the Ivy Pocket series. He’s a very funny man. But in a rare moment of seriousness, he wrote that books “are a refuge and a wonderland…they thrill and comfort…break hearts and kindle hope.”
He told Better Reading Kids:
“I read everything I could get my hands on as a child and whole worlds were built in the wonderland of my imagination thanks to each and every story. Those characters and places still reside there and they happily coexist with the characters and worlds of my own books.
“If I were to nominate a favourite childhood book it would be the one concerning four children, a country house and a wardrobe [The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; the Narnia series]. It featured a majestic talking lion and a large quantity of Turkish delight. I spend many happy hours lost inside its pages – and I still venture there from time to time.”
Judith Rossell is a writer and illustrator who has worked on dozens of children’s books including Withering-by-Sea, an Honour Book in this year’s CBCA Awards.
“Another book I read heaps of times was Ajax the Warrior by Mary Elwyn Pratchett. It was about a girl growing up in outback Queensland, on a farm with lots of animals, including her fabulous dog Ajax, who saved her from all kinds of dangers, a flood, a fire, a landslide and from some hungry circus wolves. It was very exciting.”
Yasmeen Ismail is a former animator and now talented children’s book creator. Her most recent picture book is I’m a Girl.
She told us:
“I don’t remember many books that I had. I loved Burglar Bill by Janet and Allen Ahlberg. I would look at it a lot. It’s a very enjoyable story and beautifully illustrated.
“I also loved Come Follow Me by Gyo Fujikawa, and I have just recently rediscovered The Rabbits’ Wedding by Garth Williams.”
What books are special to you from your childhood? Please tell us in comments.
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