Tell us about your debut novel The Grandest Bookshop in the World.
It’s about a brother and sister, Vally and Pearl, who live in a magnificent Melbourne bookshop in 1893. Cole’s Book Arcade is like no other bookshop in the world, containing live monkeys, talking parrots, a room of illusions and lollies galore. One day, Pearl and Vally discover that their father – the eccentric Mr Cole – has risked his life in a shocking deal with the devious Obscurosmith. To save Pa Cole and the Book Arcade, they hatch a plan, and find themselves swept up in a dangerous game: they must overcome seven mind-bending challenges before the colours fade from the Arcade’s rainbow sign. But if they fail, they won’t only lose Pa and the Arcade: they’ll forget that either of them ever existed.
How did you find about Cole’s Book Arcade – and what was so special about it?
I discovered it when a friend showed me a book by Mr Cole himself. Remarkably, all the departments I describe were real! You’d be surprised how much of Cole’s Book Arcade came from research, rather than my imagination. I also love how inclusive it was, with multicultural staff, free reading encouraged, and all three floors accessible by lift.
How did you go about developing the characters of Pearl and Vally Cole?
I found some wonderful material on the Cole family at the State Library of Victoria, including a biography on EW Cole, Pearl’s book of party games, and lots of photos. There’s a bit of my family in them, too.
What are you hoping the reader will take away from your book?
I’m a teacher by day, so I’d be pleased if they learned something about Melbourne’s history. But more than that, I want to leave my young readers feeling hopeful about the future. Despite the problems we face, I – like Mr Cole – believe humanity and the world are improving all the time!
Tell us about your writing process – are you a planner?
I sure am. I don’t just outline a book before I start: I have to outline each chapter when I get to it. Detours and surprises are allowed, but I always keep my goal in focus.
How does it feel to hold the finished book in your hands?
It’s a rush! Seeing other people hold it in their hands is pretty exciting too.
What were some of the books you loved growing up?
It’s tough to pick favourites, but I loved His Dark Materials, Artemis Fowl, Michelle Paver, Paul Jennings, Jaclyn Moriarty, Tamora Pierce, Scott Westerfeld, Garth Nix, the manga Fullmetal Alchemist, and The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I think Deltora Quest – with its inventive monsters, engrossing puzzles and dramatic plot twists – had a huge influence on my writing.
And what are you reading now?
I’ve just started Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt by Rhiannon Williams. The spooky atmosphere hooked me straight away!