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

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Author Interview: Ursula Dubosarsky

Kids Book Review is absolutely delighted to feature this interview with talented author Ursula Dubosarsky, whose books are big favourites with all of us. This award-winning author writes in many genres and we hope you enjoy this exclusive insight into this wonderful literary mind.

How long have you been writing? Well, I wanted to be a writer since I was six, which is when I learned to read. But my first book wasn’t published until I was 27. So in that sense I’ve been writing for publication for about 25 years.

What inspired you to write for children? Originally a friend suggested I write a picture book text that she could illustrate. So I did, and the book was published as Maisie and the Pinny Gig. After that, I started to think more specifically about writing for children – before that it was more a general desire to be a writer. But after writing that one book for children I have oddly enough never wanted to write anything other than children’s books!

How did you make your start in writing for children? Well, that book Maisie and the Pinny Gig was it! My friend the illustrator Roberta Landers and I didn’t know anything much about publishing, but we looked in libraries and bookshops and we put together a list of Australian publishers that published children’s picture books that we liked the look of. And we sent out text and the illustrations off to all of them at once!

Five wrote back saying no, but the sixth, Macmillan Australia, said yes. It was an exciting moment.

Why do you write? I guess it’s similar to the reason people sing or run or cook or draw or fix things or make furniture or read or look at pictures or – well, just about anything that makes you feel who you are. You can’t help what it is you want to do – the want is simply there.

Have you experienced any blocks or obstacles in your path to writing books? Oh, writing anything is always full of problems or obstacles! I’m always complaining. But it strange how you forget them once the book is over – the troubles seem to be wiped from my memory.

You’ve written for a wide range of ages; which is your favourite to write for? A corny but true answer is that each holds its own delights and challenges. I certainly don’t find one age easier to write for than the other – anything you write demands a lot from you. It’s a fairly fine-tuned process, judging what is most communicative for a particular age, but it’s very fascinating, and you recognise quickly when something is not going to be meaningful for a child of one age or another.

What’s a typical writing day? I try to write in the mornings until round lunchtime. Sometimes I can write all day – but only non-fiction. Writing any sort of fiction wears my brain out after a few hours.

What else do you love to do, other than write books? I love walking – any sort of walking, through the suburbs, the shops, bushwalks. If I was brave enough I would love to walk by myself at night. I read somewhere that Charles Dickens used to go on long walks through London alone at night, for hours, trying to work out a plot or a tangle in his writing.

I also like cooking cakes. I like finding unusual recipes for cakes and then trying them out.

What books did you read as a child? Can you reveal your top 5 favourites? The favourite book I read when I was eleven was called An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden. It’s set just after World War 2 and is about a group of children who get together to make a garden in an area of inner-city London that was bombed out in the Blitz.

It was not that easy to read at first – in fact it is now published for adults rather than for children. But I was intrigued by the opening sentence, even if I didn’t understand it. In the end I found it terribly moving.

Another standout favourite I was given for my eighth birthday - I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew by Dr Seuss. I read it at least a hundred times, probably more. I still know it (more or less) by heart, and am always quoting it to myself. It’s certainly the reason why I always wanted to write a rhyming picture book, which I finally managed to do with The Terrible Plop. It gives me enormous pleasure when people tell me their child can recite it off by heart.

I was a huge reader, trotting off to the local library every Saturday morning to get my six books, most of which were read by Sunday afternoon…

What’s next for Ursula Dubosarsky? I’ve got a new novel coming out in April, called The Golden Day. It’s about a group of schoolgirls whose teacher mysteriously goes missing in a cave, on a school excursion. Sort of Picnic at Hanging Rock in reverse. It’s set in 1968, ending in 1975.

I’m also working at the moment on a Word Spy activity book. The Word Spy books are non-fiction books for children about the pleasures of the English language – word games, history of the language, grammar – all sorts of things. In the activity book the illustrator, Tohby Riddle and I, are looking to create a book that will not just be read by children can write and draw in it as well.

Do you have any writing or publishing tips? My only writing tip is to try to finish what you start – even if you feel it’s not working or is no good. I always think I learn the most about writing by getting to the end of something. And getting to the end of something is pretty hard work!

Learn more about Ursula's incredible catalogue of books at http://www.ursuladubosarsky.com/