Interview in Soup Blog
On a hill near the sea on the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne.
I love stories and books so much that I always knew I wanted to write them. My dad used to tell us crazy stories that he made up, and my mum read us wonderful books for bedtime stories, so wanting to write books never seemed like a strange thing to do.
Reading, going for walks (especially on the beach or in the bush, and especially with my dog), seeing my friends and family, doing tai chi, and travelling.
I was quite lucky with my first book (Amanda’s Dinosaur) because it won a competition, and the prize was having it published. The next few were harder!
At different ages: Winnie the Pooh; My Son in Law the Hippopotamus; Anne of Green Gables; Swallows and Amazons; Little Women; The Eagle of the Ninth.
I’m often not sure where an idea has come from until I’ve finished the first draft. Sometimes it’s from something that has happened in my life, and sometimes it’s a crazy sort of thought—which of course has still probably happened from something I’ve seen or heard or experienced in some way. Sometimes it might be by asking ‘What if?’ about something that’s happened. Of course you need a lot of ideas to make a whole book—one idea starts it, but then you need more for how a character looks or acts, or what happens in chapter 3, and what’s exciting in chapter 5, or how everything all comes together in the end … I sometimes think that there’s a little bit of magic in how all these different ideas come together.
On the computer. I use a pen to make notes in a notebook with a pen; often one book will have its own notebook and I jot down my thoughts or try to work something out. But once I start writing the story, I always use the computer. (For one thing my handwriting is so messy that writing a whole story with a pen would be too tiring— and even worse, I often can’t read my writing!)
Living inside a story and playing with it till it comes out right.
It’s very hard to choose a favourite, because they’re like friends or pets. I sometimes think Ark in the Park is my favourite, because when I read it there are still no words I want to change or lines I’d like to rewrite. But Nim has been my favourite character for a while—except that now Raven’s Mountain is out, in many ways that’s my favourite, because I always feel very protective about a new character about to face world. So that might be why Raven is my favourite character right now.
I’m always working on several books at a time. I’ve just finished Raven’s Mountain, which was out in February. The short blurb would be, ‘Three people go up a mountain; one comes down.’ It’s an adventure story about a girl named Raven who goes mountain climbing with her older sister and stepdad—but when there’s a rockfall and the others are trapped, Raven has to face the wilderness alone to try to save them, and herself.
If I had to choose one age group, it would be primary school or middle grade readers. But I’m very glad that I can skip around and play with a picture book or plan an adult novel in between.
Just keep on writing! Have fun with it; try writing different types of stories with different types of characters. Remember that the first person you’re writing for is yourself—you need to love what you’re doing. When you’ve finished, read it and see if there are any parts that are a bit boring, or don’t make sense—pretend you’re a teacher with a big red pen, be brave and mark everything that isn’t good. Ask yourself if that bit needs to be in the story. If it doesn’t—delete it. If it does—make it better. Does it make you laugh, or cry, or hold your breath? Keep on rereading and rewriting till you’re happy with everything in your story.
Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio