1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
When I was small, I called myself Helena Poppelina and would make up long stories for my sisters in bed at night, but only if they called me Helena Poppelina. Only one of my sisters remembers this.
But something nobody else knows is that I made up a language when I was a child and drew maps of the pretend country in which this language was spoken.
2. What is your nickname?
Now: My husband calls me Sweetie Pie. Then: As a child, my nickname was Cherry Pie (later shortened to Chep or Cheppy) because when I was very small I had a red-and-white knitted outfit and very pink cheeks, with dark hair and eyes, and my grandmother said, 'She's so sweet, just like a cherry pie.'
3. What is your greatest fear?
That we will not take good care of our planet and the oceans will become so polluted that all the sea creatures will die.
4. Describe your writing style in 10 words.
Conversational, colloquial, story-making, fluent, direct, accessible, visual, absorbing.
5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
Positive, explorative, collaborative, inclusive, hopeful.
6. What book character would you be, and why?
When I was young, I always wanted to be Jo, in Little Women, because I too found it hard to follow rules and I wanted to be a writer. And she had three sisters. I have five.
7. If you could time travel, what year would you go to and why?
I would go to a mythical time-place zone (where time moved in spirals and was not linear - that is, did not move forward, year by year) where there was no war and the world was healthy and peaceful and all the creatures that are now extinct once more existed.
8. What would your 10-year-old self say to you now?
I'm glad you became a writer, but why haven't you written more books?
9. Who is your greatest influence?
This island - my home. It is full of stories. And I had very good English teachers at school, one of whom told me she was sure I would be a writer when I grew up. She wrote on the bottom of one of my essays: 'Send me a copy of your first published book.' But we lost touch when I left school and I could not find her when my first book was published. But I think I would have to name Shakespeare as my greatest influence. He writes for all people – humour, tragedy, comedy, poetry, dirty jokes, philosophy, swash-buckling action. And he has such a deep understanding of human nature and a brilliant way of depicting how people think and feel, and for showing the messes they can get themselves into, and the possibilities they have for growth and change.
10. What/who made you start writing?
I've always loved stories. And I come from a long line of good storytellers. I began by making up stories in bed at night with my five sisters and putting on plays for our parents on Sunday mornings. My first poem was 'Robin Hood and Little John', which I wrote with my sister Wendy for the Argonauts, a children's radio program, when she was nine and I was 10. I was Deucalion 16 and she was Deucalion 20. It was read out on the radio and we received a blue certificate from Uncle Mac of the Argonauts. I still love radio and have written plays for ABC's 'Airplay'. I also used to write my songs and poems and stories on an old receipt book of my father's, from when he was a milkman.
11. What is your favourite word and why?
Fleetly. It is the name I gave an old car we had. It just seemed to fit her. I can feel the wind in my hair when I say the word and I feel as if I am about to set off on a great adventure.
12. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I can't imagine such a dreadful world in which I was allowed only one book to read. I own thousands of books. Some are in bookcases, some in boxes and some in stacks on the sitting room floor. Once, I gave away 2000 of my books to a friend in the bush who had very few of her own, but I soon bought more to fill the gap. At the moment, I am collecting books to send to school children in South Sudan, because I think everyone should have tons and tons of books to read, and the children in South Sudan have so few. In Grade 10, I received The Complete Works of Shakespeare as a prize for being Dux of the school. So, if I absolutely was allowed only one book, I'd choose that one, although in a way I'm cheating, because it contains every one of Shakespeare's plays and poems.