Frequently Asked Questions

Where do you get your ideas from?

I wish I knew, but I don't seem to be running out of them! People often think that getting an idea is the hard part of writing stories, but for most writers it's the easy part. (The hard part is doing the tenth, or eleventh, or twentieth draft.) Most writers have ideas for half a dozen stories and books in the back of their heads.

Some of my ideas come from events in my personal life (like Make me the flowergirl!) Or from events in the lives of people I know (like Nanna). But when I write fantasy or science fiction, mostly the ideas come out of the back compartment of my brain and I don't really know how they started.

How many books have you published?

Seventeen so far and four new ones under contract. See Books for a full list.

I have also published twenty stories in magazines for children, usually in The NSW School Magazine.

How much money do you make?

This changes from year to year, so it's easier to explain how the royalty system works. When one of my books is sold, the publisher must pay me a royalty. Usually, in Australia, that is 10% of the purchase price. So if the book costs $10.00, I get $1.00. If it costs $20.00, I get $2.00, and so on. However, for a picture book, that 10% is split between the author and the illustrator, so for a $10.00 book, we would each get 50 cents.

You can see that you have to sell a LOT of books to make any money.

Why do you write?

I thought of lots of answers to this question: because it's fun, because I like to tell stories, because I get to stay at home and be a mum and still have a job... but the real reason is, I think, because there are books I want to read, stories I want to hear, that haven't been written yet, and if I want to read those stories, I have to write them myself. The other answer is, because I get cranky if I don't get to write.

What's your favourite of the books that you have written?

Oh, this is a hard one! I don't send a book to a publisher if I don't like it, so in a way they're all my favourites (and yes, I have stories that I haven't sent to a publisher because I didn't think they were good enough). But for kids, I think my favourite book is Victor's Quest, and that is because Victor is my favourite character, which is why I have written a sequel called Victor's Challenge which should be out next year.

Another of my favourite books is The Black Dress, which is a story about the childhood of Australian pioneer Mary MacKillop. That won the NSW History Prize for Young People but, more than that, many people have told me how much they liked it - adults as well as kids, which is nice.

As I've only written one book specifically for adults, Blood Ties (out September 2007) I guess that has to be my favourite in that category!

What's your favourite book that someone else has written?

I have two: Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

For kids, there are too many to list, but the list would include the Narnia books, the Susan Cooper Dark is Rising sequence, and the Earthsea books by Ursula Le Guin. Also anything by Diana Wynne Jones.

I want to be a writer. What should I do?

Learn to type. This is not silly advice. Writers spend a LOT of their time at the keyboard, and typing quickly makes your life much easier.

Other than that, the best advice I can give you is to read as much and as widely as you can. Don't just read one type of book, or one author (even if that author is me!) Read fiction and non-fiction, fantasy and crime, family dramas and poetry. Read everything you can lay your hands on. Then, when you are writing, ask yourself: 'What can I bring to this type of story that no-one else can?' The more your writing reflects your deepest interests, beliefs and emotions, the better it will be. Be brave.

If you have actually written a book or short story that you want to send to a publisher, see the FAQs on the adult part of this site for tips.

When is your next book coming out?

My next book is for adults. It is called Blood Ties and is the first volume in a fantasy trilogy.

My next new book for children is a sequel to Victor's Quest, which is called Victor's Challenge, and tells the story of what happens after Victor takes Valerian back to the palace to be married. Valerian's father isn't too happy about her marrying a prince...

I'm very lucky that Kim Gamble has agreed to do the illustrations for Victor's Challenge as he did for Victor's Quest. (Look out for a new edition of Victor's Quest as well, with a new cover design!)

How many awards have you won?

I have won two: the NSW History Prize for Young People for The Black Dress and the Environment Award from the Wilderness Society for Scum of the Earth. I have also been shortlisted twice for the Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year awards (that means I have had two Book Week books - Victor's Quest and Pole to Pole) and twice for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards. Victor's Quest was also shortlisted for the Koala Awards.

Where do you write your books?

In a cupboard! At least, my computer is in a kind of big cupboard which can be closed up when I'm not using it. The cupboard is in our living room, so I write in the middle of things, usually when my son is at school, but sometimes when he and his friends are playing around the house, like they are as I am writing this answer.

What inspires you as a writer?

That's another one of those questions where I have to say, 'I don't really know'. See question 1. I suppose what inspires me as a writer is the same as what inspires me as a person - stories of courage, generosity, hope, laughter...

Are you married and do you have any children?

Yes, I am married and I have one son. We live in Sydney.

Have you always been a writer?

No. I have worked in the public service, as a waitress, in public relations, as a sub-editor, a scriptwriter for the PowerHouse Museum and for ABC Kids TV, a university lecturer, a business consultant, a technical writer and editor, a consultant in preventing corruption in law enforcement agencies, and an educational designer and trainer for adults. I started writing for kids when I was a scriptwriter at the ABC and ran two careers, as writer and consultant, for around twelve years until my son was born, when I dropped the consultancy work.

I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was around twelve, but I knew that it is hard to make a living as a writer and so I made sure I had other qualifications to make a living.

Do you do anything apart from writing?

Absolutely. I am a soccer mum (and a gymnastics mum and a swimming mum and a piano lessons mum...). I do all the things other mums do, except wash up, which my husband does because I hate it. I like to cook. I also teach creative writing at the Sydney Writers' Centre and often go out to schools to run workshops, which is great fun.

I have also just finished a Doctor in Creative Arts degree at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Do you support any footy teams?

I am the manager of my son's soccer team, so of course I support them!

What do you do to relax?

Read. Read. Read. When I have the time. I also like going to the gym. And I do all the sorts of things everyone else does - seeing friends and families, going to the movies, going to the beach, going for walks...

Will you ever change your career?

I doubt it. I might add something new in, though, as I have with writing for adults. I'd quite like to write a non-fiction book for adults, for example. Or maybe turn one of my books into a play or movie.

One of the great things about being a writer is that you never have to retire. Most writers keep going until they die.