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

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Guest Post: Irma Gold interviews Jackie French

KBR is delighted to welcome Canberra author Irma Gold with this glorious, sunshiny interview with the superlative Jackie French.


I meet Jackie French at Floriade on Gnome Hill, a grassy area peppered with a collection of porcelain gnomes. We walk across to a quieter spot beside a stream. She has come from giving a ‘Gourmet Garden’ presentation where she has managed to splatter herself with soup. ‘I never wear an apron at home,’ she tells me, but whilst using unfamiliar equipment, she has managed to make a mess of herself. Not that the evidence remains.

A bestselling author of children’s and young adult books, Jackie is also well-known for her books on gardening and cooking. She has published over 140 books in all, but today we are talking about Hitler’s Daughter, which is extracted in The Invisible Thread, an anthology of 100 years of writing from the Canberra region. On a gloriously sunny day in the company of blooms and carousing children, we speak about Hitler and the nature of evil. One of the troubling questions Jackie poses her readers is: when you’re a fourteen year old surrounded by evil, how do you know it’s wrong?

It’s the first time I’ve filmed an interview outdoors and Floriade presents multiple challenges. Finding a location with a suitable backdrop that doesn’t intersect a walkway and isn’t overwhelmed by the pop music pumping from the main stage proves to be a challenge, but we succeed in the end. When Jackie arrives the cameraman, Dylan, mics us up and we perch on chairs that I’ve lugged from the car park, across the bridge, and through fields of flowers (next day I will feel as if I’ve been punched in the crook of both elbows).

Interviewing Jackie French it is immediately evident that she is a born storyteller. Every time I ask her a question she doesn’t give me an answer, she tells me a story. When she responds to my first question she touches on multiple areas that I intended to ask her about. ‘You were almost redundant!’ Dylan says to me afterwards. ‘She was amazing.’

Despite her natural gift, Jackie tells me that ‘parents, teachers and guidance counsellors always pushed me away from writing. They always said no one in Australia can make a living being an author – do something else when you leave school. But every daydream [I had], every time I envisaged myself as an adult it was as a writer.’ Jackie pursued a ‘sensible career’ and writing became a ‘private, guilty indulgence’ until one day money forced her hand. Her marriage had broken down and she was living in a shed in the bush with a brown snake, a wallaby and a wombat for company. She needed $106.46 to register her car and only had $72 in the bank. A friend, knowing she was an amateur writer, suggested she write for money.

Using an old typewriter that she found at the dump, Jackie wrote her first manuscript. She submitted it to Angus & Robertson but it was so messy and riddled with errors that it was pulled from the pile and flapped about the office with laughter. They read it aloud, expecting it to be hilariously awful. Three weeks later she had her first publishing deal.

I won’t rehash the interview here since you can watch that for yourself, but after the cameras are switched off, we continue chatting. Jackie asks me about what I’m working on next and I tell her about my debut novel, which I have just finished, and my kids’ book, Megumi and the Bear, out next year with Walker Books. She offers all manner of invaluable advice. I feel as if I could chat to her all day, but eventually we part and I am left with the impression that Jackie French is possibly the most natural storyteller I have ever met.




Irma Gold is the author of an acclaimed collection of short fiction, Two Steps Forward, which won a Canberra Critics Circle Award for Literature. She is currently completing a novel for which she received a LongLines Award from the Eleanor Dark Foundation. Her third children’s book, Megumi and the Bear, will be published by Walker Books in 2013. www.irmagold.com

The Invisible Thread, edited by Irma Gold, is an anthology of 100 years of writing from the Canberra region is out 22 October. Learn more about the book here.

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