This is the first in my series of author interviews. You can expect 1 or 2 new interviews per month for the duration of 2011. If I get more authors willing to join in the fun then the series will be likely to run into next year... Enjoy!
Sherryl Clark is an Australian writer who writes mainly for young readers - her latest book Meet Rose (the 1st book in a new series Our Australian Girl published by Penguin) will be released on Jan 31st.
What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?
I basically read everything I could get my hands on! My country school got boxes of books from the School Library Service every three months, which was never enough for me. I joined the town library when I was about 11, I think, and went berserk. Favourite authors were Arthur Ransome, TH White, Malcolm Saville and, yes, Enid Blyton. But the big winner was the Narnia series – my sister gave me ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ first and I was hooked.
When did you first realise you were a writer? What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?
I didn’t start writing seriously until I was close to 30. That was also when I went back to school and did an arts degree at Deakin, with a major in Literary Studies (and writing). It took longer than that to feel like a writer, though. Publication helps! I hope that a reader will love the world and the characters I’ve created, and want more – more books, by anyone. If I can help a child to become a keen reader, I’m happy. With my adult fiction, I guess I want a reader to take away more than just what’s on the page, something to think about. A big challenge as a writer.
Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure? Does everything you read come under your ‘writer’ microscope?
I do read for pleasure all the time. I’m a reading addict. If I am somewhere where I have to wait and I have nothing to read, I get twitchy! I do read as a writer all the same, although I’ve been doing it for so many years that it’s like a computer program running in the background – it logs on when I read something I think I can use in class, or learn from.
Do you have to avoid reading certain types of fiction while writing your own? Does what you read while writing have an effect on what you write? In what way?
If I’m writing something historical (like my pirate novel) I avoid similar kinds of novels in that age group, but I’ll maybe read a Bernard Cornwell just to see how he manages the factual detail, and how he weaves it into the story. That feeds into what I’m writing on a craft level, but I think I read so much that no single book influences me. However, I have written the start of something a couple of times and then realised it’s too close to a book I’ve read, so I’ve had to throw it out.
Name five authors or books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way?
“The Bone People” by Keri Hulme was a book that changed the way I thought about books and how they could be structured.
Billy Collins’ poetry always inspires me. Sharon Creech’s verse novel “Love That Dog” was what led me to writing verse novels for kids myself, I think.
Michael Connelly – he’s a crime writer who talks about “the telling detail” in setting. I also like James Lee Burke for the same reason – great details and settings.
If you were travelling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?
To be honest, I couldn’t pick just one. I couldn’t stand having to slave over Proust or James Joyce because I felt I should! And once I’ve read a book, I rarely ever want to read it again. These days, I’d cheat and take an e-reader and a power source and about 1000 books on the one device.
What makes a book ‘too good to put down’?
Characters that intrigue me, that I care about, who have interesting things happen to them both outside and inside. Plot on its own is not enough, language and style is not enough. I think I like diving into other people’s (characters’) lives.
What makes you put down a book without finishing it?
Boring or unlikeable characters. My pet hate is the male character in his late 30s who has just discovered life sucks and can’t deal with it. I think I just dislike characters who are pathetic or apathetic in some way. I can’t wait 250 pages for them to get a grip!
Do you have a favourite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them?
At the moment, my favourite is Kate Atkinson. I’ve just read the four Jackson Brodie novels and loved both her style and voice. Also her range of characters and how she weaves their lives together. She always surprises you and yet everything works.
If you had to list them, what would be your ‘top ten’ reads of all time (excluding the classics) and why?
Goodness, that’s hard. Um…
“The Bone People” by Keri Hulme – because it’s different and resonates in so many ways.
“The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy – beautiful writing but a story, too.
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer – a strange little boy but you really want to know what happened and why.
“Prodigal Summer” by Barbara Kingsolver – I know everyone always picks “The Poisonwood Bible” but I liked this one better – again because of characters and interweaving plot lines.
“Cold Mountain” by Charles Frazier – historical fiction that is so real you can almost touch it.
“The Dive From Clausen’s Pier” by Ann Packer – this tackles a scary subject of a disabled spouse and loyalty.
“Postcards” by Annie Proulx (most of hers, in fact)
“Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant” by Anne Tyler – again, her characters are amazing – I picked this because it was the first one I read and I loved it.
“The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd – great character voice. Movie was horrible.
“Northern Lights” by Phillip Pullman (and the other two as well) – wonderful characters but also a story that has all those deep themes that really make you think – and imagine!
What was your 2010 ‘best read’? What was it that made it number one?
“Case Histories” by Kate Atkinson – it’s great when you discover a writer whose books you haven’t read before and you love their writing. And you know there are more to come! (See 9 above)
What do you think of the non-traditional publishing methods – eBooks etc? Do you think the new technology will encourage more people to read? Do you think there’s a future for print books?
I hope there’s still a future for print books! I hope we’ll continue to have print books for kids for a very long time, especially picture books. Books can be really precious possessions, things to hug and put under your pillow! But I’m moving to ebooks myself for several reasons – one is that books are just too expensive in Australia. $36 for a paperback! And a lot of them I no longer want to keep on a shelf as I have no room, so having them digitally will mean I think I’ll actually buy more, as long as the e-versions are cheaper. Also I’m the person who’s always over my luggage weight at the airport because of my books, so an ebook reader will be a bonus there, too.
But books I want to keep, I’ll buy in print. I’ve heard of people reading ebooks and then buying the print version to make sure they never lose them. Print books just feel more permanent and real to me.
Sherryl started writing poetry and adult fiction in the 1980s. Her first children’s book, The Too-Tight Tutu, was published in 1997, and she now has more than 40 books in print. Her verse novel Farm Kid won the 2005 NSW Premier’s Literary Award for children’s books, and her second verse novel, Sixth Grade Style Queen (Not!) was an Honour Book in the 2008 CBCA Awards. Other recent titles include Motormouth, One Perfect Pirouette and her picture book of poems, Now I Am Bigger. Her books have been published in Australia and overseas. Sherryl teaches in the Diploma of Arts – Professional Writing and Editing at Victoria University TAFE. Her website is at http://www.sherrylclark.com/