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

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Author Interview: Felicity Marshall

Who is this talented person? Felicity Marshall

What does she do? She’s an author/illustrator.

Where can you check out her stuff? felicitymarshall.com

What’s her story? I live and work in Melbourne and also spend a lot of time in Anglesea, where I also like to work in between long beach walks. I have worked in the film industry for about 17 years, been an art teacher at an art school and also worked in a school library. I have two grown up children.

How long has she been writing? Truthfully, it all started in childhood where I was surrounded by journalists and horsey, country people, who all loved telling stories. But I seriously started to put things together about 10 years ago when I did a course in Writing for Children, and my tutor was Hazel Edwards.

What genre does she write in? I mainly write for children. Probably middle primary and up.

What other genres has she written in? I have written an adult non-fiction book My Brush with France, which has almost been published – twice!!

How long has she been illustrating? I guess it would be about 13 or so years now. Book covers firstly, then whole books.

What illustrative style does she prefer? I tend to draw and paint fairly realistically, but I LOVE other styles that I don’t use myself, such as stylised funny illustrations in Babette Cole’s books, or extremely simple illustrations found in Japanese and Korean books, or the amazing collages of Jeannie Baker.

I also like working in lino cuts and scraper board and have done some work in that technique.

I paint in oil on canvas and do large portrait commissions which are very different from book illustration. They are often about 6 feet wide.

Felicity’s new book – The Star – combines a wonderful story with glorious illustrations. What impassioned her to write it? Is Marion modelled on anyone? I had noticed the rise of the celebrity culture all around us – in newspapers, magazines, television. We are almost force-fed the latest on who is the richest, the thinnest, the fattest, the most stylish, the least stylish, their marriages and divorces.

Young people are very tuned in to this and I have become aware of the fact that many of them aspire to ‘fame’ as an end in itself, not something that is the result of outstanding achievement in some form of human endeavour. The ‘Big Brother’ type of fame. The fame that Andy Warhol referred to when he said that ‘In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes’.

Marion is not modelled on anyone in particular, but will probably remind you of aspects of certain celebrities. She is inspired more by the ones who did not sustain their fame but whose rise and demise inhabit the tabloid newspapers and magazines - aspiring starlets who are but a flash in the pan, and who often have a meteoric rise, and then disappear in humiliation after providing tabloid fodder for the public’s insatiable hunger for peeping into the lives of celebrities.

This is very much a modern phenomenon. You won’t see anything about this in a novel by Jane Austen!

The Star is certainly timely in a world of instant and fleeting fame. What message is she hoping it sends kids? I want kids to have real substance to their lives. Real friends, real aspirations, real love, and to be able to discern between the substance of true accomplishment (often invisible) and the illusion of hype (always visible, often without substance)

Why does Felicity write? To quote Bob Dylan ‘I got a head full of ideas, that are driving me insane’. I have to get them on the page. The same with painting, and so on.

What made her decide to write and illustrate a children’s book? I have wanted to do this since I was about six. We did not have a television, so I read everything in the local library and loved illustrated books.

Does she remember the first story she ever wrote? Not really, but I think it was about a pony and a ballerina - my two favourite things when I was growing up.

What are the greatest blocks or obstacles she has experienced on her writing journey? Lack of confidence at times, and lack of time and energy when I was a single working mother.

What does she love most about producing a book for children? The process. Working with the editor. Watching everything unfold and then come together. Seeing a child read it for the first time and ask me totally unforeseen questions.

What advice would she have on writing children’s stories? Be true to yourself and your own ideas.

If she couldn’t be a writer, what would she be? A ballerina (although I know how tough that is) or a gardener/farmer. I love watching things grow and being surrounded by animals.

What books did she read as a child?
‘The Good Master’ by Kate Seredy
‘Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain
The ‘Billabong’ books by Mary Grant Bruce
The ‘Eloise’ books by Kay Thompson Illustrated by Hilary Knight
‘Thimble Summer’ by Elizabeth Enright
‘Robinson Crusoe’ by Daniel Defoe
‘Treasure Island’ by Robert Louis Stevenson
‘Tess of The D’Urbervilles’ by Thomas Hardy

What are five of her favourite children’s books?
‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ by Eric Carle
‘Tomorrow When the War Began’ (series) by John Marsden
‘Would You Rather’ by John Birmingham
‘The Arrival’ by Shaun Tan
‘The Homecoming’ by Cynthia Voigt

What does she love doing other than writing and illustrating? My children, beachwalking into the horizon, gardening ‘til I drop, cooking up a storm, knitting and cryptic crosswords (together!).

What would encompass her perfect day? Sunshine in the day for me, rain in the night for the land. Full moon at night is magic.

Mangoes for breakfast, then lots of tea and probably locally made bread toasted with a boiled free range egg on the side, and perhaps a little home made apricot jam on that toast (I am SO into yummy food!).

Then this would be followed by a long walk on the beach exploring rock pools, find random weird things and watch sea birds and surfers. Have a cappuccino and some very nice cheese and fresh tomatoes and basil on rye bread for lunch.

Paint in my studio for a few hours. Spend the afternoon with my daughter Katie and my son Leo cooking up fabulous organic veggies ( I grew purple carrots this year – what a blast!) from the garden, and maybe some fresh fish or mussels, followed by a delicious dessert that includes cream. (It is so great to have an excuse to write about food - I could easily do this full time!!)

There would be some of my friends there at the meal and we would LAUGH a lot. Play some great music or better still - go out and watch a live music show. Fall asleep listening to the Tawny Frogmouth in the tree outside my bedroom as she hoots quietly. Her name is Sally Forth.

What five words best sum her up? Observant, discerning, nature-loving, fun-loving, loyal.

What’s next for Felicity Marshall? A screenplay adaptation of ‘Sage’s Ark’ with scriptwriter Alison Tilson, and an exhibition of paintings at Qdos Gallery, Lorne in 2011.

Kids Book Review will soon be featuring a review of The Star.

Keep an eye on Felicity’s website and Ford Street Publishing for news on some more happenings with her The Star characters - Marion, Harley and Polka. There’s much ore will be revealed! As for me, after enjoying Felicity’s interview, I’m hoping her next topic will be about food! - Ed