Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Melina Marchetta - Author Interview Series

Melina Marchetta's first novel Looking For Alibrandi was published in 1992 and was released as a film in 2000 which she also wrote. Her novels have been published in 17 languages.

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

I was about 8. My mum is a reader and she passed down books that she had loved as a child. I especially remember Anne of Green Gables and the Naughtiest Girl books. I loved anything about orphans or kids sent to boarding schools. In primary, my favourite novel was Ivan Southall’s Hills End. I was one of the bin girls in Year 6 and we used to waste the whole afternoon burning school rubbish in the incinerator back in the day when that was allowed. But on the afternoons my teacher read Hills End the damage to the environment took second place and I’d be sitting right at the front, hanging off every word.

When did you first realise you were a writer?

I was sixteen. I remember sitting in typing class and handing my stories to the girl next to me, page by page. She’d always be impatient for more and it really helped with my typing speed.

What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?

A connection to the world I’ve created and a sense that I haven’t done this all before.

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

The greatest casualty of writing and research has been reading. But I do try to squeeze in a couple of books between projects and especially on summer holidays. I’m one of those people who buy heaps of books and they stack up on my to-be-read pile and I stare at them and feel illiterate.

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 do tend to keep away from fantasy when I’m writing the Lumatere Chronicles, although in saying that, at the moment I’m writing and reading fantasy. What worries me the most is reading a novel and noticing a similar story strand or character. It makes me feel anxious and paranoid and then it stops me from writing the story. It gets a bit tricky.

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

If I have to think of On the Jellicoe Road, Holes by Louis Sacher was a great inspiration with regards to its structure and intertwining stories. I loved what Joseph Heller did with chronology in Catch 22. Going back to Ivan Southall, Hills End, it’s about a bunch of kids taking on the role of adults under dramatic circumstances, and in Hard Times Charles Dickens has a line by Louisa, the daughter of the owner of the school, where she says, "I wonder..." and her very pragmatic father says, "Louisa, never wonder." The last line of the Jellicoe prologue is an ode to the Louisa line and sentiment.

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

I can’t answer that so I’ll cheat and say I have a Kindle so I can take more than one.

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

I love flawed characters and the grey areas in their personalities. Oh and I do like a great love story. The relationship between Meyer Landsman and his estranged wife, Bina in The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is amazing.

What makes you put down a book without finishing it?

I’m not really good when I don’t like all or most of the characters in a novel, but in saying that, good use of language has got me through many a novel about unlikeable characters (The Inheritance of Loss is one novel that comes to mind). That’s not to say that I think likeable characters have to be a pre-requisite. It’s just a preference thing for me. And if I get a whiff of a love triangle being used merely as a way of providing the main conflict in the story, well that novel goes into the not-to-be-read pile.

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

The Broken Shore because I loved the character of Joe Cashin and the way Peter Temple nailed characterisation in one line.

The King of Attolia by Megan Whallen Turner, because of the way she explored the claustrophobia, intrigue and boredom of a royal court.

A Civil Campaign By Lois McMaster Bujold, because she set a novel on a planet in the future and makes it seem as if you’re walking into the constrained rules and regulations of an Austen novel including some pretty amazing ways of getting around the primo geniture laws.

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon (see below and above)

Year of Wonders by Geraldine March. I travelled with Geraldine on an Asia Link tour the year before I wrote Finnikin and she spoke constantly about the need for vigorous research. Any time I’ve wanted to get lazy with research I think of how disappointed she’d be.

Obernewtyn by Isabelle Carmody. Because it was way before it’s time. Clever with great characters.

Nam Le’s The Boat. When I was writing The Piper’s Son, his short story, Halflead Bay, was a great guide on how to write relationships between men and boys. When it comes to dialogue, less is more.

I know I could be cheating a bit, but there doesn’t seem to be any rule against biography so I’m including the following two because they amazed me and I felt as if I was reading fiction.

The Silent Woman by Janet Malcolm

Joe Cinque’s Consolation by Helen Garner

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

Definitely The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. It walked a beautiful line between humour and pathos.

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?

For me, eBooks are great for when you’re travelling. Last year, I was downloading on long bus trips between Turkish towns. I also know friends with elderly parents who are loving the larger fonts and I remember hearing the writer Aiden Chambers speak about finally getting through War and Peace because he didn’t have to be intimidated by just how big that book was.

But it’s too soon to tell what it will all lead to. Every second person owning an iPAD does not equate to every second person reading eBooks. I especially don’t think eBooks will encourage people to read. If they weren’t reading before, they’re not going to start now. And the print book will always always be around. A friend in his 20s (supposedly the greatest consumer of eBooks) once said to me that there were few pleasures in life and one was holding a novel in his hand.

Melina Marchetta is a Sydney author. Her latest fantasy novel Froi of the Exile is Book Two in The Lumatere Chronicles, which began with Finnikin of the Rock. She is currently writing the last novel in the trilogy, Quintana of Charyn.

To find out more about Melina and her books go here.


  1. Wow!! I absolutely love her and what she writes... it's my favorite author. After I saw the movie "Looking For Alibrandi", I became her number one fan and I read every book of her. I'm sad that I can't find this book on All you can books. There are every kind of books, but not this one. Perhaps, I'll find it on other site or in a library, because it's one of my all time favorites.

  2. I agree, she is a fantastic writer.
    Glad you enjoyed the interview Diana and thanks for commenting! :)