'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 19 March 2010

Interview: Author Lee Fox

Really delighted to feature Lee Fox on KBR. I have personally loved Lee's gorgeous, rhythmic picture books and it was a pleasure to talk to this lovely, talented woman, with a penchant for making you giggle!

Who is this talented person? Lee Fox

What does she do? She's a children’s author with a knack for rhyme.

Where can you peruse her stuff? leefox.com.au or Facebook

What’s her story? I live in Castlemaine with my partner, Jan ‘Yarn’ Wositzky, who is a storyteller/musician/radio broadcaster, and the youngest of my five children, Mia, who has just started secondary school. My older children have left the nest (my eldest is turning 30 at the end of March – OMG!).

I’ve spent most of my adult life raising my children, often single-handedly, but for a lot of that time I’ve worked or studied part time as well. Until two years ago I worked in a bookshop. I was there for seven years and loved it. Since then I’ve been developing my writing career full time and doing the bookkeeping for The Storyteller’s Guide to the World. But now I’m on the look out for another part time job, preferably in a library. So if you happen to hear of anything…

How long has she been writing? I made the actual commitment to writing in 2000. From then on I worked steadily towards getting my work published. I did courses and workshops and read how-to books. I focussed on learning the craft of writing, which I’m still doing, and gaining a profile as a writer.

I also wished on, not one, but FOUR falling stars.

Before that, I was the only person who became ecstatic when the tutor handed out the assignment or essay topics. I loved English at school even though my teachers were not so hot. I wrote poems when I was a child and my stepmother used to send them to newspapers. They were never published but it was great that she believed in me.

What genre does she write in? Children’s picture books and YA fiction. I’ve started a Junior Fiction novel and it’s patiently waiting for me to return to it. I plan to do that when I finish my second YA novel.

What other genres has she written in? None really, but I have had a few articles published in The Age and The Bendigo Advertiser.

Why does she write? It makes me happy, sad, crazy, who I am. It gives me a strong focus outside home, family and life in general.

What made her decide to write children’s books? I didn’t really make that decision. I was enrolled in the Professional Writing and Editing course at RMIT and everyone was raving about how great the Writing for Children class was, so I signed up for it. It was a good class but I thought I was terrible at writing for kids – though, not for lack of trying. It took me ages to get the hang of it and I still struggle.

Are her kooky characters modelled on anyone in particular? Ella is my now twelve-year-old daughter. Mia and I can divulge this secret because not long ago she gave me permission to reveal her true identity. From 2004 until 2008, I was sworn to secrecy. When Mia turned eleven, she said it was okay to tell because she realised there were lots of kids in the world who didn’t like getting their hair brushed, not just her.

Rhyme is notoriously difficult to do well, and Lee Fox succeeds absolutely. Why does she write in rhyme and how does she do it so well? Thank you for your generous compliment. I never think of myself as being particularly good at it but I have always enjoyed it.

When I wrote Ella Kazoo, I was under the impression that rhyming stories were out of fashion. So when I finished the story I read it to Mia a few times - for a bit of a laugh and hoping like anything that she would change her mind and LET ME BRUSH HER HAIR!

Then I put the story away and forgot about it. One day it began calling to me. I fished it out and thought, hmmm, this isn’t bad. But I never learnt to rhyme. So perhaps I was just born to do it.

It can be challenging and I do enjoy that aspect. It’s a bit like trying to work out a puzzle. I’ve learnt that there is always a way to make the rhyme work – you have to be patient and not force it. You also need to pay close attention to the rhythm – it’s just as important as the rhyming words.

Does she remember the first story she ever wrote?
I remember the first poem I wrote as a child. I was in Grade 6 at Footscray Primary School and my teacher, Mr Bridges, read it aloud to the class and said, ‘You know Lee, one day you could be a writer if you wanted to.’ I don’t remember what the poem was called but it was about a snake.

What are the greatest blocks or obstacles she has experienced on her writing journey? The first obstacle I had to overcome was finding the courage to follow my dream of being a writer. Getting published was my ultimate goal and as most people who aim for this know, it’s very difficult to achieve. But I was 100% determined and I think you have to be if you want it to happen.

Finding a literary agent was quite difficult. So I waited until Ella Kazoo was doing well and my first YA novel, Other People’s Country, was due out before I approached a few. I used to find getting a first draft out a bit like torture because my internal critic is very strong. But then I realised that first drafts are supposed to be terrible. That’s their purpose in life. Since then, I just go for it and write real shockers. Then I sit down and fix them up.

The biggest obstacle I face on a regular basis is maintaining the courage to keep going with it all. On good writing days it’s easy and I love them because they remind me of why I do it. It’s one of the most joyful and agonising jobs I’ve ever had.

What does she love most about producing books for children?
It's wonderful when a child comes up to me and says, ‘I really love Ella Kazoo or Jasper McFlea or…’ Knowing I’ve touched a child’s life and given them a positive reading experience is a wonderful feeling. I love working with people in the children’s publishing industry too. Everyone is so generous, supportive and gracious.

What advice would she have on writing children’s stories? I always tell kids to start with something that has happened to them and then switch on their imaginations and turn the story on its head and around and around in circles to see what will happen next.

If she couldn’t be a writer, what would she be? A painter or sculptor or someone who really could make world poverty history.

What are her most favourite things to do? Writing, reading, film, cooking, politics. I know I should have said bushwalking or going to the gym but …

What books did she read as a child? We didn’t have books at my house but my Grade 1 teacher at Footscray West Primary School, Miss Monkhouse, read Noddy books every day after lunch, so I grew to love Enid Blyton. I loved the illustrations in Little Black Sambo and, of all things – my first school reader, John and Betty. I think that’s what happens when a child is deprived of books at home.

What are her favourite children’s books of all time? Oh, this is hard to answer because I love so many children’s books. But here are a few that Mia and I have enjoyed together.
  • Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

  • A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer

  • Are We There Yet? by Alison Lester

  • Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy by Lynley Dodd

  • Milly Molly Mandy by Joyce by Lankester Brisley
What did she like to play as a child? It’s between mothers and babies or Twister.

What would be her perfect day? It’s cold outside and raining, but inside it’s warm because the wood heater is roaring. I’m alone. I write for most of the day and feel blissfully happy. I hear from my publisher who says she’s going to publish the story I sent her. I go to the post office to collect the advance copies of my next book then meet my best friend at Coffee Basics for an Austrian lunch of frankfurters, sauerkraut, mustard and good bread. I get a big fat royalty payment, which means I don’t have to worry about paying the bills for the rest of the year or ever again perhaps. At the end of the day my partner and daughter come home and I make fish soup with rice for dinner. We sit at the kitchen table and eat and talk and laugh as we watch Koko (dog) and Elliot (cat) wrestle each other.

What five words best sum her up? Generous, quick witted, funny and sometimes anxious.

See a review of Ginger McFlea Will Not Clean Her Teeth on KBR right here.