Hi Dee. Before we continue with the meaty part of this interview, allow me to give you a little drum roll to my readers. I guess the first thing I would have to mention is that we met through a wonderful Facebook group called Word Warriors. All the writers in this group were from around the globe in every corner, nook and cranny however we were united by one lofty goal: to write a 50 000 word in 1 month in November 2010. From the first I felt a kindred spirit in Dee. Yes, we are neighbours (across the ditch between New Zealand and Australia) but more than that this is a person who impressed me from the first with her gentle positivity and quirky sense of down-to-earth humor. Over the last 3 months I have grown to genuinely like, respect and admire Dee as an extraordinary person, a talented writer and a person who I am proud to call a friend. Dee and I have not met in person yet but it feels like I have known her for longer than a mere 3 months. I am looking forward to meeting up with Dee next month and I know that the chatter will be easy and flowing. I have since started following and subscribing to Dee’s wonderful blog devoted to all aspects of writing where she gives good advice to all who have the writing bug. Now, I know that my readers are eager to jump into the meaty part of this Close Up Interview, so without further ado…..
Dee: I’m a children’s and YA author who loves being a mum to two amazing boys. I’m married to my soul mate (25 years this year) and I live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. I’m a sucker for a homeless animal (we even have a stray rabbit) and I live in a town that has more kangaroos than people. I have ALWAYS wanted to be a writer and am so lucky to be living my dream.
girl with a quill: How long have you been writing?
Dee: Since I was seven years old and I wrote a poem about a tree and was asked to read it at school assembly.
girl with a quill: You write YA and children’s books. What made you decide to become a writer in this genre?
Dee: I think you write for the age that you are in your head – so I guess that means I never matured beyond my teen years:) Having kids in this age group also helps but I think one of the things I particularly like about writing YA is that teen readers want truth. They want to know what’s happening and why and they don’t want you to sugar-coat it. I feel like I can be honest and true to myself in YA writing.
girl with a quill: How many books have you published?
girl with a quill: Which of these books is your favourite and why?
Dee: They’re all favourites in different ways. I loved writing a Duel of Words because it’s about an important time in Australia’s history. Hope for Hanna was also special to me because I know it has inspired kids in Australia to raise money for villages in Uganda where the story is set. Harry’s Goldfield Adventure is one of the first stories I ever wrote (even though it’s the most recent one to be published) and it features my cat, Charlie.
But I’d have to say my absolute favourite up to now is Letters to Leonardo. I loved the idea of the story as soon as it came into my head and it was great to be able to incorporate Leonardo da Vinci and his works in my novel because I have been fascinated with him for as long as I can remember. The other thing about Letters to Leonardo was that it took a good dose of determination and belief in my story to get it to publication – over 10 years, more than 30 drafts and over 1 million words on paper.
Dee: I’m one of those people who is always working on something new. When I finish a draft I put it away for a month and work on something else so then I can go back to the original manuscript with fresh eyes and I seem to pick up lots of things that need editing. At the moment I am working on a YA thriller and an MG humorous adventure series about a junior scientist whose experiments always go badly wrong. My YA novels are always set in the real world and are usually fairly intense so it’s good to have something funny to be working on at the same time.
girl with a quill: Being based in Australia, do you base your stories there?
Dee: I suppose I write with an Australian voice because that’s where I’ve grown up, but most of my settings are generic except for Hope for Hanna which is set in Uganda.
girl with a quill: Would your stories be different if you were not in Australia and why?
Dee: I don’t think my stories would be different but I suppose my experiences would be. Most of my books are character and plot based so they could happen anywhere in the western world.
girl with a quill: Being a YA writer, do you have any famous influences that you look to in this genre? If you do, Who is your biggest influence and why?
Dee: John Marsden (author of Tomorrow When the War Began and many other great books) would have to have been my biggest influence initially. I loved that he wasn’t afraid to tackle serious issues that teens face – and he also taught me the importance of having an authentic teen voice. I’m also inspired by the amazing works of Ellen Hopkins and Laurie Halse Anderson.
girl with a quill: Would you say that it is more difficult or easier to write for young people as opposed to writing for adults?
Dee: I think it really depends on who you are and who you are at heart – that’s where your writing voice comes from. I think at heart I might really be a 15-year-old boy. Not sure how that happened:) There are usually fewer words in books for young people but in some ways the readership is more discerning and you are competing with the electronic age so the writing has to be tighter.
girl with a quill: Did you know what genre you wanted to write in from the beginning of your writing career? Or did you experiment with a few genres?
Dee: When my kids were really small I wrote picture books and as they got older, the age of my readership has changed too. I think I’ve always had two kinds of books – the ones I write for me (usually YA) and the stories I write for my kids (these are appropriate to their age and stage in development). Some of my books for younger readers are set in the fantasy world but all of my YA are based on real events and are set in contemporary times.
girl with a quill: I know from our many online chats, that you are a mother as well as a writer. Do you tend to have your children be your beta readers?
Dee: Both my boys are great beta readers. They pick up all sort of voice and language inconsistencies, ‘boring bits’, plot issues etc (as well as typos). They are both quite good writers themselves and my youngest (aged 12) is currently on the second draft of a novel that will probably be around 20,000 words when it’s finished.
girl with a quill: You have a website and a blog. Do you think it is important for authors to build a public platform on the web? And Why?
Dee: A public platform on the web is a great way to connect with your readers from all over the world. It also showcases your work to prospective agents, publishers and readers and gives them a sense of who you are. I did a fourteen day blog tour with Letters to Leonardo and when I launched it at Byron Bay Writer’s festival people bought the book because they had followed my blog tour and it made them want to read the book. So I think that having an online presence helps with direct sales too.
girl with a quill: Being a steady blogger, do you find that your blogging helps you in your writing skills and how?
Dee: Blogging is good for getting an idea across within a limited number of words, and these skills are useful in writing query letters and pitches. These skills are also helpful to a writer in identifying the important things in their own story. I also review books at my blog and I learn a lot about writing from reading other people’s work. Reviewing makes me delve deeper and look at how and why an author has written the book that way and what I like or don’t like about their methods and the end result. It helps me to be more analytical about my own writing.
girl with a quill: What would be the 3 pieces of advice you could give to an aspiring author for young people?
Dee: Read as much as you can, write as much as you can, don’t give up.
girl with a quill: Tell us a little about your writing process…How do you start a story?
Dee: For me a story idea tends to pop into my head and then the main character comes next. For example this is the idea that came to me for Letters to Leonardo – what if a boy received a letter on his fifteenth birthday from the mother he thought was dead? Next I started thinking about this fifteen year-old boy and how he would feel and respond to this event. He became Matt Hudson. I ‘interviewed’ Matt to find out more about him and the story kind of evolved from there. His behaviour was the catalyst for events that followed.
girl with a quill: Are you a panster or a plotter?
Dee: Definitely a plotter – or maybe I’m both. Often the creation of the story line is a fluid, free thinking process then once I know who is in the story and what is going to happen to them, I put the plot points in place. I guess this article at my blog best describes how I work:) http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/2010/04/26/how-to-mind-map-your-story-tuesday-writing-tip/
You took part in NaNoWriMo2010. Was this your first NaNoWriMo? What if anything did you learn from your NaNoWriMo experience?
Dee: it was my first NaNoWriMo. I learnt how motivating it is to work alongside other writers and how much fun it is to be part of an international writing community and chat group so there’s always someone online 24/7.
girl with a quill: Writers can be superstitious people. Are you superstitious when it comes to your writing? Can you give us some examples if you are?
Dee: I don’t think so. Although I don’t write under ladders. I used to get my kids to kiss the envelopes before I posted them but I gave up on that after a while.
girl with a quill: You often hear of “Muses” in the same context with creative people. Do you have a Muse? If you do, can you tell us about your Muse? Who or What is it?
Dee: Okay, now you’re probably going to think this strange, but my muse is a goat called Molly. My study looks out over her paddock and all is right with the world when she’s there grazing or sitting on a rock looking out towards the river. In the mornings, she likes to break out of her paddock and come to the front door to say hello. I guess she embodies the qualities you need to be a writer – kindness (she is particularly loving to the dog and likes to give her a massage), determination (If I haven’t said good morning to her she breaks out of the paddock and comes to see me), a sense of adventure, fearlessness (she comes for a walk with the dog up and down the road) and a love of life and everybody in it.
girl with a quill: What is more important to you: Story or Character? Why?
Dee: This is just the way I write, but characters and how they respond to events are what drive my stories. I become very attached to my characters and they ‘live’ in my house, my head and my heart. Particularly with YA novels, I think it’s the character that readers engage with.
girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character that you have created and why?
Dee: People who have read Letters to Leonardo might be surprised to hear me say this, but it would have to be Troy, Matt’s best friend. Troy is everything I wanted in a best friend when I was fifteen.
girl with a quill: Who is your favourite character in the literary world and why?
Dee: This is a completely impossible question to answer:) I think that Harry Potter is a great character because he engages the reader and makes them care about him so much. I loved Mrs Danvers in Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca because even though she didn’t appear in the story much I felt like I knew exactly who she was. I also really loved Ed Kennedy in Markus Zusak’s, The Messenger. Ed is pretty hopeless at most things but he is a deceptively complex character.
girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 famous creative people, who would they be and why?
Dee: John Marsden, Ellen Hopkins, Laurie Halse Anderson, Meg Rosoff and Jacqueline Wilson. So then we could talk about my favourite subject, great YA books.
girl with a quill: If you could throw a dinner party and invite 5 of your favourite fictional characters, who would they be and why?
Dee: I’m not a posh dinner party kind of girl so I’d probably go for a Roald Dahl Dinner Party with Fantastic Mr Fox (and Mrs Fox), The Big Friendly Giant, Matilda and Willie Wonker and the dinner party would have to be in a chocolate factory (and that means I’d have to invite my boys as well).
Dee: Don’t submit things until they’re ready.
girl with a quill: What is the one piece of writing advice you could give your future self, 10 years from now?
Dee: Be patient (even more than you already are:)
girl with a quill: What do you want your lasting legacy, as a writer, to be?
Dee: That my writing has meant something to be people – been inspirational – maybe even changed lives.
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