Although my stories are all very different on the surface, I like to write stories about characters struggling with big problems. I’m always reminded, no matter how different from me one of my characters is from me on the surface, how we’re all pretty much the same underneath.
At around nine or 10 years of age, young people start to decide for themselves what’s moral or not, and that’s why I like writing for that age group so much.
Because kids are physically smaller, there’s an assumption by people who haven’t read a kids’ book for a long time that their ideas and themes and problems and ambitions must be commensurately smaller and less important. I would venture that sometimes the opposite is true.
Because of my poor writing posture, I started walking in the forest every day, and I found it a potent place to be creatively. It changed me in that it was a new way of doing my creative process, and I realised how much I liked being among tall trees.
Boys, particularly, like stories where they can have images in their imagination, where they can go to scary places and experiment with what can happen.
Children have limited power to shape their own lives, but when they can experiment with possibilities through books, their optimism can be recharged and kept alive.
Children know when they are being sold a sanitised version of the world, and I think that’s a betrayal of the relationship between author and reader.
Halfway through primary school, I realised that I was not as physically strong or fearless as many kids. So, in situations of conflict, I quickly learned that it worked better for me to get out of situations or maybe kind of, you know, prevail in a conflict situation by using humour than by trying to punch somebody out.
I discovered you can get closer to a character’s thoughts and feelings in a book than in a film.
I like the idea of young readers using my stories as a sort of moral gym, where they can flex and develop their newly developed moral muscle.
I like to write stories where young people have a strong feeling about something being fair or unfair, right or wrong, cruel or kind, and they act on the basis of that – often in the face of the prevailing limits of behaviour.
I prefer watching people on a screen, and I’ve had the most pleasurable people-watching experiences at the Palace Cinema in Balwyn.
I think probably you can either write for kids, or you can’t. That ability to imaginatively be a child and see the world as a child and feel and think like a child – you either have that ability or you don’t.
I think the best writers use the language they use every day when they talk to friends. When we talk to each other, we tend to talk in short grabs rather than in long flowing sentences. I think that’s not a bad way to write.
I think, to be a successful author, you’ve got to be part recluse and part show-off.
I used to get stuck trying to find the first sentence of a story, then I realised that it was often because I didn’t know what problem a character was facing in the story. As soon as I did, I could have the character trying to do something about it or have the problem whack him between the eyes.
I want to help children develop strengths that allow them to feel they don’t have to push things away mentally… If we ‘cotton-ball’ kids, it produces adults who are too scared to think for themselves and are easily manipulated.
I was named after my Jewish grandfather who left Poland early in the 20th century. What I knew from an early age was that he had lived most of his life in England, his Jewish wife had died, and he married a non-Jewish woman who was my grandmother.
I would never write stories with only despair and defeat and the dark side of life.
I wrote stories as a kid just for myself. One day, some of the kids in my class found some of my stories in my bag, and I was deeply embarrassed until I realised they enjoyed reading them.
I’ve always been aware that to be named after someone from the past carries with it all kinds of bittersweetness.
I’ve always been interested in setting my stories against a big event, the importance of which my younger readers are slowly becoming aware of as they move into their teens.
If we get caught up in a story, it’s because we’ve started to care about the characters, and that can only happen if we’ve moved beneath the surface.
In 1969, we emigrated to Australia. It was a big change. The heat, the flies, and the completely different tinned meats. The shock was so great, I stopped reading books for nearly a year.
In all of my books, I’m taking them on an emotionally challenging and sometimes physically dangerous process with a bit of fun and anarchy along the way. With the power comes responsibility.
It’s our potential for good stuff I’m most interested in exploring, but that has most meaning when juxtaposed with things that can go wrong.
Kid’s culture is often dismissed as superficial, like high fibre McDonald’s, but it’s so much more important than that.
Kids aren’t political, but around 10 years old, they are beginning to develop the moral grounding that might later, in their teens, develop into their first real political perspectives.
Kids who are nine, 10 and 11 are pretty sophisticated readers; they know that there isn’t always a good outcome every time and that problems don’t always have solutions.
Melbourne is my type of city, much more so than Sydney.
Most of your life after puberty, you’re either seeking to reproduce or living with the consequences of having done so. At 70, you start going back to being 11 again.
My capacity for humour may have come largely from my father – he liked to entertain people, make people laugh.
Step-parenting and being a step-sibling presents a lot of exciting opportunities. When families break up and re-form, there may be less order, less certainty, and a bit more trauma involved, but kids can end up having half-a-dozen parent figures.
Stories can bring alive the moral universe in a very vivid, useful, engaging way.
The type of stories I write are about young people grappling with the biggest problems in their lives, often problems that are bigger than they’re actually capable of solving.
When I did finally live in the Dandenongs, the mountain ash forests became an important part of my life.