Monday, June 27, 2011

John Marsden - Author Interview Series

John Marsden has 40 published books to his name, mostly novels for teenagers, but also novels for children, picture books, and a few non-fiction works. He has sold about 5 million books worldwide, and in 2010 his novel Tomorrow When the War Began was made into a movie starring Caitlin Stasey.

What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?

I'm embarrassed to admit that I was an Enid Blyton fan through and through! But I also enjoyed the Tasmanian writer Nan Chauncy, and the British writer Geoffrey Trease. I don't remember when I started reading, but by grade one I was a total addict!

When did you first realise you were a writer? What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?

My friend and I started a class newspaper in grade 4, and I loved writing articles and poems for it. That's when I first formed the intention to become an author. Most of all I want my readers to experience the lives of others, to go into different worlds, and to gain in empathy and experience as a result.

Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure? Does everything you read come under your ‘writer’ microscope?

No, generally I get very caught up in whatever I'm reading, and enjoy the experience thoroughly. But when I do come to a book that has more than a few clumsy sentences, trite images, or stale language, then yes, I do become very critical!

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?

I happily accept the fact that everything I read, and for that matter everything I see and experience, may work its way into my writing. I can recognise the influence of other writers in passages in my own books. I don't have a problem with that – it's part of the creative process.

Name five authors or books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way.

From Graham Greene I learned that characters should be complex, contradictory and hypocritical. Neville Shute was a great example for me of the power of storytelling. Paul Zindel introduced me to the new genre of fiction for teenagers (round about 1980). Hammond Innes and Alistair Maclean taught me a lot about tension and suspense. And Joan Phipson and Nan Chauncy showed me that people who live in the Australian bush or on Australian farms can be delightfully interesting subjects for a writer.

If you were travelling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?

Probably Impro by Keith Johnstone, because every time I read it I get a new insight into human behaviour, including my own.

What makes a book ‘too good to put down’?

Characters whose lives are so engrossing that I cannot bear to go on with my life until I find out what has become of them.

What makes you put down a book without finishing it?

Self-indulgent writing, characters who are essentially boring but the writer thinks they are absolutely fascinating (no doubt because they are based on his and her friends!), Vampire novels, clumsy sentences.

Do you have a favourite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them?

Not one favourite, but one I admire is the Australian author Scot Gardner, who writes for teenagers, but is sadly underrated. His books are fresh and lively, vivid and engaging. He writes about stuff that matters, important stuff, but in a way that is always accessible.

If you had to list them, what would be your ‘top ten’ reads of all time (excluding the classics) and why?

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, because it's such a great manual on how to live a good life.

The Human Comedy by William Saroyan, because the characters are so beautiful and Saroyan's musings on life and death so profound.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, because her observations of humanity are so acute and her characterisation so engaging.

My Childhood by Maxim Gorky, the greatest autobiography I have ever read – such a vivid and compelling description of a child's life (in prerevolutionary Russia).

Impro by Keith Johnstone – see earlier!

Tiger in the Bush by Nan Chauncy, because it's a warm and lovely book about people we often overlook – Australian "peasant" farmers.

Dibs by Virginia Axline, a book that makes me weep every time I read it, with its deeply moving account of the transition of a young boy from severe emotional illness to emotional health.

The Drama of the Gifted Child (also known as The Drama of Being a Child) by Alice Miller, a book of ineffable wisdom by a Swiss psychotherapist.

The Diary of a Nobody by George Grosssmith, an incredibly funny fictitious Victorian diary of a man who has no sense of humour.

1788 by Watkin Tench, the diary of a marine officer who accompanied the First Fleet to Australia, and wrote about the new colony with intelligence, humour and an enlightened mind.

What was your 2010 ‘best read’? What was it that made it number one?

My Experiment with the Truth by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi's autobiography, which is stunning in its modesty but also in its obsessive commitment to virtue and integrity.

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?

It's all fine by me!

Find out more about John at

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