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

Tuesday 11 October 2016

12 Curly Questions with Judith Ridge

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
I’ve had cosmetic surgery! When I was 8, I had my ears pinned back. They were serious Dumbo ears—I was born without the cartilage that makes the fold in your ears—and my parents decided to have the surgery done before I became self-conscious about them.

I remember Dad sitting me in front of Mum’s dressing table mirror and explaining it all to me; that one day, when I was older, I might want to wear my hair behind my ears (which indeed I do), and with my big shell ears I might feel self-conscious.

I imagine these days people might talk a lot about consent and so on, but I have never had a moment’s discomfort with my parents’ decision. And I have terrific ears!

2. What is your nickname?
I had lots growing up! My lovely Granddad always called me Tiny Town; I never knew why, but I loved it. When I was 4 or 5, I had a doll I called Melonhead, and so my siblings called me that (I also had a haircut to match).

In primary school, I was briefly called Nose (because I have always been very snotty and I once played ABBA’s ‘Rock Me’ into my handkerchief for the amusement of my Year 5 classmates one wet lunchtime).

Inexplicably, in high school, some friends decided I reminded them of Audrey fforbes-Hamilton, Penelope Keith’s character in the British sitcom To the Manor Born (thanks, guys!) and started calling me Lady Jude (my best friend from those days, Annie, occasionally still calls me that). But the one that really stuck through school was Ju Ju, after Judy Woolcot from Seven Little Australians. Judy is a personal literary heroine, so I was fine with that.

3. What is your greatest fear?
After terrible things happening to people (and pets!) I love, I would think my biggest personal fear is my house burning down.

I know we’re not meant to value stuff, but I love my stuff: my books, artworks (precious originals by children’s book illustrators among them), my diairies from childhood and adolescence, family photos, furniture owned by my parents and grandparents, and antiques—furniture, china—I’ve bought myself. I’d be devastated to lose all that, and my lovely old weatherboard house. (And because it’s a timber house, no candles for me!)

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.
Long, circuitous, but hopefully also ultimately clear and on point.

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
Thoughtful, instinctive, informed, respectful, bold (I hope). That’s what I aspire to, anyway.

6. What book character would you be, and why?
It’s got to be Judy Woolcot, really, but without the Dying for the Patriarchy bit. Either her or Penelope Taberner from Alison Uttley’s A Traveller in Time because time travel! (See next question!)

7. If you could time travel, what year would you go to and why?
Wow, that’s a tricky one. I am a history tragic, particularly was when I was a teenager, both English and Australian history. I was peculiarly obsessed with the bushranger Ben Hall in my mid-tweens, but my life-long passion has been for the Tudors, especially the Tudor women. (Not very original, I know, but there you have it.)

So, I think if I had to pick just one year, it would be somewhere in the late 1520s, when Anne Boleyn was at the height of her powers. She has always fascinated me and I would love to be able to observe her and see just exactly what she really was like.

8. What would your ten-year-old self say to you now?
Why haven’t you finished that novel yet?

9. Who is your greatest influence?
My parents, who raised me with a strong sense of social justice and who honoured my love of reading; my Year 5 and 6 teacher Helen Cashman and my Year 9 and 10 English teacher Christine Goonrey, who both tried to instill some discipline into me while nurturing my more creative impulses; Jonathan Shaw, my ‘best ever boss’ at The NSW School Magazine, who taught me everything I know about editing; my friend Pamela Freeman who has a higher opinion of me and my writing than I’ve earned; and all the great writers I have admired over the years.

I know that’s cheating but there isn’t just one.

10. What/who made you start writing?
My love of reading, I suppose. I was writing stories on my dad’s typewriter at a very young age, all pale copies of the books I loved to read—not an uncommon start for any writer, I’m sure!

Professionally, though, most of my writing has been critical writing, interviews with writers about their craft and opinion pieces on children’s and youth literature. I think my interest in how literature ‘works’ led me to focus on this form of writing, rather than fiction, my first love.

11. What is your favourite word and why?
I really like the word ‘cake’, not because I am mad about cake (I don’t eat a lot of sweet food at all) but because the word is so tactile in your mouth, it sounds and feels like what it signifies. Try it. Cake. Mmm.

12. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones. It’s a perfect children’s fantasy novel and bears many, many re-readings.


Judith's book, The Book That Made Me, is out now with Walker Books Australia. Learn more about Judith's work at her website.