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.
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.
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.
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.