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

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Interview: Author Sally Murphy

I was thrilled to finally meet Sally Murphy at the recent CBCA Conference in Sydney, where she spoke on her passion for verse novels. She was so inspiring, I'm adding verse novels to my list of aspiring manuscripts! I love this interview with Sally and KBR is so happy to belatedly welcome her.

Who is this talented person? Sally Murphy

What does she do? She’s an author, blogger, reviewer, speaker and website manager. Oh, and she’s also a mum of six!

Where can you learn more about her? sallymurphy.net

What’s her story? I have lived most of life in Western Australia (apart from one year living in Papua New Guinea), and currently live in the Wheatbelt town of Corrigin. I always wanted to be a children’s book author, but have also worked as a teacher for many years. Currently, my day job (three days a week) involves coordinating our local resource centre. I am also a mother of six children, ranging in age from 9 to 23 years old, and am a book reviewer, running the website aussiereviews.com.

How long has she been writing? Forever. I have been making up stories for as long as I can remember and trying to get published all my adult life. My first book was accepted 15 years ago, and in 2002, when I moved to a really tiny country town, I started to put more time and effort into my writing career and that year I made my first inroads into the trade fiction market.

I now have thirty books in print – including two verse novels, three picture books, chapter books and educational titles.

What genre does she write in? At the moment mainly verse novels and picture books.

What other genres has she written in? Chapter books, young adult, fiction and nonfiction reading books, and educational resource books.

Is there a particular book style she enjoys writing the most? Verse novels! I love this form for its seeming simplicity (not easy to write – just very accessible to readers).

Her book Pearl Verses the World has been shortlisted for the 2010 Book of the Year in the Younger Readers category. What is the book about? It’s about a girl who feels really lonely at school, and confused by what is happening at home, where her beloved Granny is dying. All that sounds sad – and this book is sad in parts, but is also a blend of humour and hope.

What inspired Sally to write about Pearl? Is she modelled on anyone? No. Pearl is a person all of her own. The character came to me and started telling me about her sadness and confusion. It was only when I started writing about her that I started to learn more about her story.

What made Sally decide to write children’s books? From the moment I realised that people actually wrote the books that I read, I knew that was what I wanted to do, too. And although I have occasionally written things for adults, I always wanted to write for children.

Does she remember the first story she ever wrote? I remember writing things in rainbow notepads before I even knew how to write. I figured writing looked like lines of scrawl, so that’s what I did, filling pages and pages. Later, when I learnt to write for real, I wrote books as gifts for my parents, and my Mum kept them, so I still have them.

Why does she write? Because I can’t not write. Stories keep coming to me and demanding to be written down. It’s like breathing.

What are the greatest obstacles she experienced on her writing journey? Getting published. It is very difficult to get books accepted by publishers, and many times I considered giving up because it seemed impossible. But I kept coming back to writing because it is, as I’ve said, like breathing – it’s part of who I am. I still get more rejections than acceptances – and though they sometimes hurt, they are part of the writing life.

What does she love most about producing books for children? Seeing a child read or listen to one of my books, and enjoy it.

How has the children’s literary scene in Australia changed in the past decade and where is it headed? I think there has been a shift to more series fiction rather than stand alone books. There seem to be less opportunities to write for educational series – though maybe it’s just that I am no longer getting these opportunities.

I do hear people saying that it’s harder to get published, but I’m not convinced by this – it has always been hard to get published. And with the development of the internet it is far easier for aspiring authors to access information about publishers and publishing than it was ten years ago.

Where is it headed? I think children’s books go from strength to strength, though something I think all writers need to do is to accept that electronic publishing is not pie-in-the-sky, and that e-books will become increasingly popular.

What advice does she have on writing children’s stories? Write for the kids of today, not the child you once were – there is a difference. And you need to know the industry. Research publishers and find out exactly what types of books they publish and what their submission guidelines are. Read as many new release children’s books as you can. And learn to edit your work. Too many aspiring authors submit to publishers too soon, then become disheartened when their work is rejected. You must expect to be rejected, and not take it personally.

If she couldn’t be a writer, what would she be? A reader. Anything to do with books – a librarian or a bookseller.

What books did she read as a child? All of them. Everything I could. Favourites, at different stages, included Enid Blyton, Trixie Beldon and Chalet School.

What are five of her favourite children’s books of all time? Oh gosh. Only Five?
Ca-a-a-ar Ca-a-a-r, by Geoff Havel
Horton Hatches an Egg, by Doctor Seuss
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, by Mo Willems
The Naming of Tishkin Silk, by Glenda Millard
and, for teens… To Kill a Mockingbird

What else does she love to do in life? Spending time with my family, reading, gardening
online scrabble, drinking good coffee.

What would comprise her perfect day? A day where I had time with my kids and husband, time to read, and time to write – preferably with no housework and delicious food prepared by someone else.

What five words best sum her up? Slightly crazy, disorganised but happy.

What’s next for Sally Murphy (other than Book of the Year!!)? Lol. Of course I’d love to win Book of the Year, but honestly the shortlist is so strong that I am amazed and delighted just to be on it. So, I guess discounting that, what’s next is to write lots more books. I have just finished work on a young adult novel, have completed the first draft of another verse novel, am waiting news on another verse novel, and have rewrites to do on a novel for upper primary. I also have two picture books contracted, and three picture books at various stages of writing.

Any parting literary words of support? I suppose I’d like to say that if you are reading this interview and hope to one day write books yourself, then the best thing you can do is to stop saying ‘one day’ and just start writing. But don’t be in too much of a rush to submit. Take the time to learn the craft, and to get feedback from critique partners. Really make sure that when you do finally submit, you are giving yourself the best possible chance of being accepted.

Sally’s latest books, Toppling and Snowy’s Christmas are available at bookstores now – Click on these titles to read reviews on KBR. For more, see sallymurphy.net and you can read Sally’s plethora of book reviews at Aussie Reviews.