I daydream so much that I am always either lost or bumping into something.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
From the age of six.
Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Perth, WA, but my family moved back to Sydney when I was two so I grew up here. I’ve lived in the US, England and Canada, and now I’m back in Sydney. I like to see the ocean from a window, read all night, eat pancakes in my pyjamas, bake chocolate cakes, skate on frozen lakes, talk all night, and dance in the living room with my six-year-old, Charlie. (I only really like that last one for the first few minutes: after that, Charlie changes the music, or makes me pick him up and spin him around which hurts my back, or tries to switch things to a game of musical bumps, which I have to say is not a game I enjoy.)
How did you get the first flash of inspiration for 'A Corner of White' ?
A friend gave me the nickname The Princess KuKu Nightie. I decided I wanted to write a story about that princess. Years later, I drew pictures of a kingdom called Cello, where the princess could live. The princess herself ended up on the cutting room floor, and luckily, so did the nickname.
Tell me about how you came to use colours as a key part of the book?
I was working in a café one day when a friend stopped by. I told him I was writing about the Kingdom of Cello. ‘Okay, so what are your monsters?’ he said. ‘You can’t have a Kingdom without monsters.’ (He’s a filmmaker and had just made a horror movie.) I always used coloured textas and pencils when I’m working so these were scattered over the table. The monsters are colours, I said.
Did colours come first, or Newton?
After I’d decided to make colours into monsters, I read about the science of colour and light. That led me to Isaac Newton, and the story of him buying a glass prism at a marketplace and using it to split a beam of sunlight into colour.
Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Well, I’d already decided to set the book in Cambridge, England, and particularly in Trinity College, Cambridge. When I got interested in Isaac Newton I discovered he’d been at Trinity, Cambridge. I chose some other random famous people who’d also been at Trinity, and unexpected connections started emerging between them.
How extensively do you plan your novels?
For my first novel, 'Feeling Sorry for Celia', I had a one-page plan and did no research at all, except to check some facts along the way. For this book I had a 150-page plan and 30 folders of research material.
Sometimes I miss writing the old way, and when I finish this trilogy I want to write an entire novel without a word of planning.
Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Not so much dreams as not-quite-sleeping. Ideas come to me when I’m falling toward sleep, or listening to music. The whole plot of 'Finding Cassie Crazy' came to me while I was half-asleep and listening to a Placebo album.
Oh, wait. I just remembered that I dreamed about the essence of sadness the other night. I used that in a description of my character’s bad day.
Where do you write, and when?
After I take Charlie to school I walk to a local café and write ideas or plot chapters in a notebook for about an hour. Then I come home and work in my study until it’s time to collect Charlie from school at 2.55 pm. Most days the writing goes nowhere until 2.50 pm when it finally starts working. So I get in 5 minutes of writing a day.
What is your favourite part of writing?
The planning phase, before I start writing, when it feels like it’s perfectly possible that I’m just about to write a masterpiece, and I’m spending whole days in cafes drawing pictures and I can’t believe this is my job. Also, the final third of the book, after I’ve spent months dragging some huge disaster of a book up the side of a mountain and thinking, I can’t believe this is my job, and then, finally, it’s sort of coming together and I get to toboggan down the other side.
What do you do when you get blocked?
Eat too much chocolate. Run up and down a flight of stairs. Drink a lot of water. Cry. Read poetry.
How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
Reading poetry and science. Talking to people in unexpected places who do unexpected things.
Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
I can’t write without having a blue bowl of fruit and chocolate on my desk beside me.
Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Elizabeth McCracken, Lorrie Moore, Lisa Moore, Edith esbit, Diana Wynne-Jones, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Louis Sachar, John Marsden, Virginia Woolf, Dylan Thomas, Jane Austen, Carol Shields, Charles Bukowsi, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Rachel Cohn. I think I stopped counting sorry.
Diana Wynne Jones, also one of my favourite writers
What do you consider to be good writing?
When the characters keep chatting to me even when I’m not reading the book.
What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Don’t feel like you have to write a novel right away, and don’t be mad at yourself if your stories keep stalling and you find yourself starting something new. Write as many quarter stories in as many different genres as you like, until one catches hold of you and makes you want to take it to the end.
What are you working on now?
The sequel to 'A Corner of White'. Its working title is 'The Cracks in the Kingdom'.