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INTERVIEW: Emily Rodda, author of 'The Three Doors' trilogy

Friday, January 18, 2013

Are you a daydreamer too?
Yes! I really believe all writers are. I think there should be more daydreaming. It’s a mistake to expect to be always busy. When your mind is idling, you get your best ideas. And not just writers. Daydreaming is good for everybody. It’s good for children to gaze into space, to watch clouds drift past, it’s good for them to think and daydream. 

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Oh, yes, always. From the very first time I could read. I wrote a lot when I was very young, but gave it up after my middle teens, probably because there are so many wonderful writers and I didn’t think I could ever be as good. I didn’t write for a great many years but then I slowly came back to it and of course, have not looked back since.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do? 
I was born in Killara, on the North Shore in Sydney. I was the first child, with two younger brothers.  I live in the Blue Mountains now; it’s very like what Killara was like when I was a child, lots of bush and trees and gardens with that wonderful smell of eucalyptus. I love to read , of course, but I also love cooking and sewing and playing around in the garden. I don’t much like housework or playing sport; I avoid those.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
I have always been interested in fairy tales, and often use fairy tale elements in my books. Having to make choices between things is a common fairy tale motif; usually there are three choices, three being a fairy tale number. One day I was just thinking idly – daydreaming if you like – and I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be more interesting to have to choose between three doors?’ A book is like a door, I thought. It opens to new worlds, new adventures. I imagined having a book that looked like a door. Then I began to think about what the doors might be like, where they might lead, who might travel through them … and the story grew from there. 

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
On occasion. It’s more a moment in a dream, a picture, nightmarish or beautiful, that I remember forever and which will eventually be worked into a book in one way or another. 

How extensively do you plan your novels? 
I think my writing style is quite intuitive. It seems a natural process to me. I mean, I do think about how the novel should progress, where the story is headed, what I need to do to get to the end … but I don’t write chapter outlines or anything like that. I like to discover things along the way. For example, in the Rondo books, Bertha the pig just appeared in a scene. It was fun to meet her. She wouldn’t leave, and so I thought, perhaps she’s important in some way … So even though I do think about the book a lot, I don’t plan it as such … it’s a lot more intuitive. I’ve been such a massive reader all of my life, I think I just absorbed how to do it, through the skin, you might say.

I always think your books are so perfectly structured. I often use ‘Rowan of Rin’ to teach what I think is a perfect novel structure, for example.
Oh, thank you, that’s so kind of you. Well, Rowan of Rin did have quite a rigid structure. There were seven heroes, each with a failing, so seven tests or obstacles … the story needed that kind of structure though. It was the same with the Deltora Quest books – it was a quest to find seven gems, and so each book was built around the individual quest, each with a satisfying end … you need a satisfying end, I think. 

Where do you write, and when?
I write every day, if I can. I work best in the mornings. I often get up early, around 4 o’clock when the house is quiet and dark. I particularly used to do this when my children were young. I never worked while they were awake.  

What is your favourite part of writing?
The most exciting part is the first handwritten notes – when the story first starts coming. Often it comes like a stream of consciousness, when I’m playing with ideas, asking questions, seeing what answers come. Starting can be difficult, when you know what a big undertaking is ahead. I always say, ‘don’t worry about the first line; just do it.’ 

Then I love that feeling of writing well, and the rush that comes around the middle of the book. When I’m writing well, it feels as if I’m reading the book, rather than writing it.

What is your favourite part of writing?
Promoting! I tend to be shy about my writing. Though I love signing books for children, these battered old books that have fallen in the bath or been dragged around all over the place. That’s really special. 

What do you do when you get blocked? 
I don’t get blocked very often. Usually it means I’ve got my heroes into an appalling mess and can’t get them out. I simply go somewhere else. I might take a walk, or go up to the coffee shop, or have a shower, and usually I’ll have solved the problem by the time I get back. Sometimes I’ll write down what the problem is and start listing all the possible answers – that usually works. 

Do you have any rituals that help you to write? 
No, all I need is a cup of tea or, as a real treat, a takeaway coffee. Though I do like to have a few special little things around me, little gifts from kids . 

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
The Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, Margaret Atwood, Kate Atkinson, Tim Winton. Roald Dahl, Ruth Park, Margaret Mahy.

Photo of Margaret Mahy by David Hallet

What do you consider to be good writing?  
It doesn’t matter how beautiful the writing is, if it doesn’t draw you into the world then the book has failed. No matter the genre, good writing must engage the reader.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Keep writing. Read as much as you can – you will learn to w rite by reading.

What is the secret of your success?
I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because I’m a storyteller. People love stories, you know. 

You may also enjoy reading my interview with Michael Pryor, author of the Extraordinaires.



Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Emily Rodda’s new fantasy series 'The Three Doors Trilogy' uses the device of three magical doors to create a portal for her heroes to set out on their quest. This got me thinking – not for the first time – about what a magical number three is. 

There is the Triple Goddess and the Holy Trinity. The Three Fates and the Rule of Three. Three wise men and three gifts. Three denials.

Bad luck comes in threes, and so, of course, does good luck.

Beginnings, middles and ends. 

Three-act structures.

Blood, sweat and tears. 

The rule of thirds in art.

Trilogies, triptychs, and Freytag triangles.

And, of course, three happens a lot in fairy tales. 

Let me see. 

Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The Three Little Pigs. Three Blind Mice. Three Billy Goats Gruff. 

The Three Spinners. The Devil with Three Golden hairs. Three wishes. Three gifts. Three tasks. Three brothers, and, sometimes, three sisters.

Usually the first two fail in some way, allowing the third to succeed. 

This reflects the pattern of what comedians call ‘the comic triple’. The idea is that two points establish a pattern; the audience comes to expect for the pattern to be repeated; and so the break in the pattern comes as a surprise, which makes people laugh. 

Interestingly enough, many old fragments of Druid mythology also come grouped in three. For example, the old saying: ‘Three things not easily restrained: the flow of a torrent, the flight of an arrow, and the tongue of a fool.’

I always build a plot on three key pivotal moments, or three major obstacles. 

And I live my life by the Threefold Law, the idea that everything you give out to the universe is returned to you threefold.

Three is also, strangely, the date of my birthday (I was born on 3/6/66). 

BOOK REVIEW: Emily Rodda's 'Three Doors Trilogy'

Monday, January 14, 2013

'The Three Doors Trilogy' is a new fantasy series by the wonderful Australian children’s author, Emily Rodda, filled with all of her trademark suspense, adventure and touches of horror.

The first book, 'The Golden Door', introduces a new hero, Rye, the youngest of three brothers living in the walled city of Weld, which is terrorised by giant skimmers that fly over every night. The city decides to send heroes to find and destroy the source of the skimmers; one by one, the young men of the city set forth, choosing one of three magical doors. None return.

After Rye's two elder brothers disappear, Rye decides to set out to find them. He is joined in his quest by a strong-willed, red-haired girl called Sonia who has her own reasons for travelling through the magical doors. Only their courage, persistence and kindness will help them in a journey fraught with dangers of all kinds.

I really love the fairy tale element – the way the quest begins with the eldest brother who does not return, and then the second brother sets out and does not return either, and so it is up to the youngest, Rye, to rescue his brothers and save his world. The device of the three doors is also an old one, but as always Emily Rodda makes it new. 

The second book, ‘The Silver Door’, takes Rye and Sonia to a very different place, a kind of badlands with people scounging what they can from the desert. As well as a wide array of eccentric and memorable characters, there are some truly terrifying monsters to battle..

'The Third Door' is an action-packed and exciting roller-coaster ride with enough chills and shocks to keep the most reluctant reader glued to the page.

Our heroes, Rye and Sonia, continue their heroic quest to find and defeat the enemy of Weld, discovering new things about themselves and their world at every turn. My favourite part of these books was the little bag of magical tricks that Rye was given in the first book - each gift has a hidden power and each is so fresh and inventive, it reminds me why Emily Rodda is Australia's queen of children's fantasy. 



Monday, December 31, 2012

This past year was the first year of The Australian Women’s Writers Challenge – a call to arms for Australians to support our women writers by reading and reviewing their books, and spreading the word about the extraordinary literary talent we have in this country.

The initiative – begun by Elizabeth Lhuede – aims to redress the gender imbalance in the way male and female writers are treated in this country. Male writers are reviewed more often and win prizes more often, even though they do not write more books than women.

I have to admit I've  always had a strong bias towards women writers – my husband will growl, ‘don’t you have any books by men?’ as he searches my many bookshelves for something to read – yet I have noticed that the major literary papers do not review the type of books I really want to read. 

So I decided to join in the AWW challenge by reviewing novels that I had read and loved on a blog which I began for that purpose. I have reviewed and interviewed both men and women, from Australia and elsewhere – and I have made an effort to read more books by Australian women writers. 

In all, I read 95 books in 2012, 26 less than in 2011.

Less than one-third of these were written by men.

Of the 63 women writers, 35 of them were Australian. All of them were utterly brilliant. If you haven’t read their novels, read them in 2013 and discover for yourself the amazing talent of writers we have in this country: 

Parallel Historical/Contemporary

1. Secrets of the Tides – Hannah Richell
A dramatic story of family secrets and lies, set in London & Devon. Hannah Richell is UK-born, but lives in Sydney so I have counted her as an Aussie. 

2. The Secret Keeper - Kate Morton 
A riveting read that moves between contemporary times and the early days of the Second World War

3. Lighthouse Bay - Kimberley Freeman
One of my favourite books of the year, this book has romance, suspense, a dastardly villain, and a cast of strong, defiant women.

4. In Falling Snow  -  Mary Rose MacColl
A fascinating look at the role of women nurses and doctors in the Second World War in France.


5. Raven’s Heart  -  Jesse Blackadder
Set in Scotland in the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, this novel is filled with unexpected twists and turns.


6. The Reasons for Marriage  -  Stephanie Laurens
7. A Lady of Expectations  -  Stephanie Laurens
8. An Unwilling Conquest  -  Stephanie Laurens
9. A Comfortable Wife  -  Stephanie Laurens
Regency romance novels that are thin on story and thick on sex – but enjoyable nonetheless. 

10. The Perfect Rake  -  Anne Gracie
11. Bride by Mistake – Anne Gracie
12. The Perfect Waltz  -  Anne Gracie
13. The Stolen Princess – Anne Gracie
14. The Perfect Kiss – Anne Gracie
15. His Captive Lady - Anne Gracie 
Sparkling Regency romances with just the right mixture of humour, pathos, intrigue and romance.


16. Sea Hearts  -  Margo Lanagan
A haunting tale of love, betrayal and selkies by one of Australia’s most extraordinary authors. 

17. Shadowfell – Juliet Marillier
The first in a romantic YA fantasy series by one of my all-time favourite authors.

18. Flame of Sevenwaters  -  Juliet Marillier
Another fabulous historical fantasy set in the otherworldly forest of Sevenwaters.

19. A Corner of White  -  Jaclyn Moriarty
A startlingly original book that moves between the parallel worlds of contemporary Oxford and the strange and magical Kingdom of Cello.


20. Poet’s Cottage – Josephine Pennicott
An intriguing murder mystery set in Tasmania, which moves between the present day and the tragic past. 

21. A Few Right Thinking Men  -  Sulari Gentill
The first in a series of murder mysteries set in 1930s.

Children’s/Young Adult

22. The Golden Door – Emily Rodda
23. The Silver Door - Emily Rodda
24. The Third Door - Emily Rodda
A new trilogy of action-packed fantasy adventure novels for 8+, by the brilliant Emily Rodda

25. The Forgotten Pearl – Belinda Murrell 
A fabulous historical novel for 10+, set during the Second World War in Darwin and Sydney.

26. The River Charm  -  Belinda Murrell
A beautiful and very moving novel that moves between contemporary times and New South Wales’ early pioneering days, drawing upon the true life story of Charlotte and Louisa Atkinson, Australia’s first female novelists and journalists (and, I proudly must admit, my sister Belinda and my ancestors)

27. Bright Angel – Isabelle Merlin
A charming romantic suspense novel for 13+ set in the South of France.

28. One Long Thread – Belinda Jeffries
A fresh and unusual coming-of-age story that moves between Australia and Tonga.

29. Moonlight & Ashes – Sophie Masson
A really brilliant retake on the well-known Cinderella story, set in a make-believe Prague.

30. The Madman of Venice – Sophie Masson
A romantic historical novel set in Venice, with lots of suspense to keep the pages turning.

31. The FitzOsbornes in Exile - Michelle Cooper


32. You’ll be Sorry When I’m Dead – Marieke Hardy

Next year I aim to read even more books by Australian Women Writers. 
What about you?

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