Jackie French - Interview (Dec 2012)
Q. What inspires you?
Wombats, words, friends, family, the first light in the valley every morning, the way shadows turn purple at dusk, the debates of philosophers 2400 years ago, and the conversation with teenagers last Tuesday….
Q. What’s the best thing about being a writer?
You can play with ideas, spend the morning in Mycenean Greece or the Snowy Mountains in the 1920’s, live out the stories in your mind-and get paid for it.
Q. Tell us about your writing process? Do you make notes, let the story grow in your mind or do you just sit down and write?
Ideas and themes grow over years and decades. Plots and characters brew. Usually they come together suddenly in a ‘ping!’ moment, and I can glimpse the book I’m going to write. After that, yes, I take notes, usually on scraps of envelope that get lost, which doesn’t matter, as by then they have become part of the fabric of the book in my mind. Each book changes as I write it too, evolving right up to the day they are sent for printing.
Q. What do you do when your characters want to take the story in a different direction from where you were headed?
An author needs to be able to simultaneously be so lost in the world they are creating that the story can evolve it’s own logic, but also able to manipulate it for best effect. I’m still learning the skill. I suspect (and hope) I always will be.
Q. If you could invite one author, dead or alive to dinner who would it be?
Socrates-but then his pupil Plato did the writing. And I’d have to learn ancient Greek.
Q. What do you like to read? Do you have a favourite author?
At least fifty, a changeable feast. I tend to go back to writers I love and read their entire output, usually with half a dozen books on the go at one time, depending on mood and time of day. At the moment it’s Margaret Atwood for morning tea, the savage wit of AA Gill in the afternoons, in bed with Robert Heinlein (my husband doesn’t object: Heinlein has been dead some years) , and Terry Pratchett or jasper Fforde for those moments when the world feels heavy. Have just finished re reading all of Joe Haldeman’s books, too.
Q. If you could be any character from any book for a day who would it be and why?
To some extent I am, or have been, every character from each of my books, at least when I was writing them. But when I dream of ‘something else’ it’s always the life I don’t quite have time for-my own. Just a little more time to climb the mountains, watch the wombats, see the moon rise.
Q. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Safe. Loved. In a quiet home with lots of animals and shelves of books. Not bored. (My childhood was about 50% boredom, 25% terror. The best bits were books.) But as a profession? I longed to be a writer, but was told that no one could make a living as a writer. Vet science, psychology, medicine, law were all considered as substitutes, but I have always written, even if it never occurred to me to seek publication. Even now there are stories and poems that are written for the sheer fulfilment of creating them, many on the backs of those envelopes, to be consumed by silverfish, not readers.
Q. And finally what’s next from Jackie French?
More, and I hope, better. The last two years have felt as though I have finally begun to know how to write. The Girl from Snowy River comes out on December 1, a continuation of the saga that began with A Waltz for Matilda. There’ll be three more in the series, spanning the history of our nation from 1890 to the present day, with six generations of extraordinary women. Diary of a Wombat celebrates it’s 10th anniversary about then, too, and Bruce Whatley and I have another wombat book for next year. At the moment I’m writing a reinterpretation of Australian history, the sort that weighs about 30 tonnes and readers need a wheelbarrow to take home. It will come out on October 1, next year, but it’s too early to speak much about that.
That is one of the unexpected arts writers need to learn-like how not to fall asleep before the announcement at award dinners, or pack outfits for a week into carry on baggage, or get RSI from signing 600 books an hour and make each letter to a class of 20 sounds different. You also need to learn how to talk about the book you finished a year ago, but has only just come out, while keeping together he thousand threads of the book you are actually writing. Jugglers and trapeze artists have it easy-they have just one world to manage. Writers have an infinity of universes to play in. Then comes the hard work of transforming them onto a page.