Hi Melina, thank you for taking time to answer some questions for the Better Reading community. The first book in your new series is being released this month.
What type of young reader is “What Zola did on Mondays” and the rest of the series written for?
It neatly fits into the 6-8 year old readership, but I know that my 5-year-old nephew and other little friends have loved it being read to them.
How many books can we expect to see in the series?
I went with the days of the week, so there are 7 in the series. 3 are coming out this year and another 4 in. 2021.
Many of us know you as an author for young adults, with books that tackle issues relating to the lives of teenagers. Can you tell us a little about the inspiration to write for much younger readers?
My 8-year-old daughter is a reluctant reader. When she was in first grade, she was very fortunate to be placed in the Reading Recovery program and it was an eye opener for me. I struggled as a reader myself at her age and I was reminded of how hard it was to be exposed to so many words on a page, and how intimidating the length of a chapter could be. As a parent listening to a struggling reader every night, you’re rallying with them to finish the chapter so you can congratulate them. They need their victories especially when their peers are constantly being chosen to read in class or for school events. Around that time, my editor Amy Thomas asked if I was interested in writing for younger readers and I said no. Six months later I had written the first couple of books. That’s how convincing she was.
It seems that your research for the “What Zola Did on Monday” involved observing your own family and your neighbourhood. Have you ever had any adverse reactions from friends or family when your books are published?
I think the difficult part for my immediate family is that they hear my voice as they read my words and that can be irritating for them. My mother is always critical of any swearing. But most of our friends love the familiar references. My next-door neighbour is the teacher in the book and she got to read it to her Year 2 class earlier this year. During remote learning her kids would write to her often asking about Zola and the dogs.
Diversity is a theme that you are still exploring. Do you think Australian society has made progress in acceptance of diversity since you first started as an author?
On the surface, yes, but if you dig deep you realise we’ve still got such a long way to go. And that’s not good enough. I’d like to see a lot more books for this age group with characters of non-Anglo or Celtic background. If a child doesn’t find themselves on the pages of a book from the time they can read, then they start believing they are not important. On the flipside, those children who constantly see themselves in books and films and media, grow up to believe subliminally, that their values are stronger.
Congratulations on the 20th anniversary of the film release of your bestselling young adult novel Looking For Alibrandi. You worked on the screen play for that very successful movie. The book and the movie had a huge impact on young women. Were you conscious of that at the time?
With the novel, no. Back. In 1992, I calculated that I knew 200 people in the world and I figured that half of them would read the novel. But I have a letter written to me by my Penguin Publisher, Julie Watts who came across the manuscript in the late 1980’s. She seemed to predict it would have a huge impact. I suppose back then I didn’t dream that big. With the film, which came out in 2000, it was different. I knew it was special. I was proud of the fact that a grandchild of migrants was the first teenager of Australian film in the 21st century. Of course, I’m always going to be on the bandwagon, but I wish that trend had continued.
What were the books that made an impact on you when you were growing up?
I’m a cliché. I loved books about strong girls who got into trouble for being opinionated. Anne of Green Gables. Christina from Flambards. Elizabeth from The Naughties Girl Books.
Was the creative process easier when writing for younger readers?
It was much harder. How indulgent you can be writing a 100,000 -word book. If you are writing for 6-8-year old readers, every word counts. I never imagined that 2,200 words would be so difficult. It’s why I’ve taken my time with the series. What Zola did on Monday has to be the bench mark for the rest of the series. I have to remind myself over and over again that Less is More. Also, I don’t want kids to feel as if I’m teaching them a lesson, yet I want them to get so much out of it. That’s tricky. What made it easier in the end was knowing that my words were accompanied by such gorgeous illustrations. I think Deb Hudson is amazing.
What’s the easiest and most difficult part of your job as a writer?
The easiest part is working from home and being your own boss. The hardest part is working from home and being your own boss.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers what would it be?
Write what you want to write and not what you believe others want you to write.
Thank you Melina, it’s always a pleasure to chat with you!