Video transcript
2017 NSW PRC author interview - Belinda Murrell

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[music playing]

- Good morning, everyone. And welcome to Day 2 of Book Fest. We're thrilled to be joining you once again. Today I'm with Belinda Murrell, who we're going to meet very shortly. Belinda needs no introduction. Many of her books are on the Premier's Reading Challenge List. She's written so many different kinds of stories. And I've received so many emails from all the schools joining us, asking questions of Belinda, which we'll get to today. We have over 2,000 students joining us from across New South Wales today. So we want to give all of you a shout-out. We know where you are. We've got primary schools, we've got secondary schools. And I want to thank personally the teacher-librarians who have booked in for this session, because it's the kickoff to another great day for Book Fest. I'm Yvette Poshoglian, the Premier's Reading Challenge Officer, and it's my absolute pleasure to welcome Belinda Murrell to Book Fest!

- Hi, Yvette!

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Belinda, thank you for joining us.

- Oh, thank you. I'm so excited to be here.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Oh, that's terrific. Now, I hope we haven't drawn you away from your busy writing schedule, because all of the writers we've been talking to seem to be on deadline.

- Absolutely. Absolutely. At the moment, I'm juggling editing Book 3 in 'Pippa's Island' and trying to finish writing Book 4 in 'Pippa's Island.' So it's been very hectic, as well as doing lots of school events and school visits. So yes, it's a busy life being an author.

- It's very busy. Today we're at the [? straffield ?] Sound Stage working with our team here at the Premier's Reading Challenge. So thanks so much for joining us. But we're beaming out across the state. And we can actually see lots of those schools joining us right now. And if you're watching right now, everyone, can you give Belinda a big wave? She's very excited. She can see you. We want to see some love for Belinda. Morning, everyone. And how good is it to be talking about books?

- Oh, fantastic. My favourite subject.

- It's a good subject for us both. At the moment, the students are halfway through the Premier's Reading Challenge, so they're pushing themselves to continue on with what they're reading and what they're planning to read. So I know a lot of the students watching today have read your books. You've got some new books to talk about. And there's just so many different things you've written about. So I also want to hear about some of your stories too to do with animals, because I know that you come from a family that loves animals.

- Yes, definitely.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: So we'll get to that down the track.

- OK, great.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: But first off, you mentioned 'Pippa's Island,' which is your new series that you're working on. Tell us a little bit about Pippa and her island.

- Oh, it's so much fun. I'm really excited, because the new books are launching in about three weeks in the first week of July. So 'Pippa's Island' is about a girl called Pippa. And she moves from London, and she has to move to the other side of the world to this gorgeous tropical island called Kira Island. But for Pippa, she's really unhappy about it, because she has to leave behind her friends, her home, her school, everything behind her, which is really tough.

So it's a whole new life. Everything is different when she gets to Kira Island. But luckily, she does make some wonderful new friends. So the series is about friendship. It's about family. And it's about life and seaside adventures on this gorgeous tropical island. And Pippa starts a club with some of her new best friends, and they meet after school in a tower on top of a boat shed. And so they have all these wonderful adventures, and I really am loving being part of Pippa's life and writing about it.

- Oh, that's great. For research purposes, did you have to go to an island?

- Well, in my life, I've been very lucky, because I have travelled the world a lot and I have been to very, very many gorgeous tropical islands. So I was trying to picking the [? eyes ?] out of my very favourite islands around the world. But I wanted it to be a very Australian tropical seaside setting as well. So it was very much inspired by Lord Howe Island and also by the Whitsundays, where my family and I have been very lucky to travel to those islands in particular. And they're just these idea of a very small community. But it's a little bit isolated from the mainland, and so it's very safe and everyone knows each other. And so it's a completely different feeling to a big city like London, where Pippa originally came from.

- Mm. And they sound like adventure stories.

- Yes, they are. They're very much about the girls and the kids at school having just normal, realistic life adventures. But it's also very much about friendship, and issues, and the little bit of conflict that you can sometimes have in a school, and a little bit of competition when they're all trying to do something together. So yeah, it's just really about true life adventures that kids can have.

- Well, that's exciting, because they're not even out yet, but maybe we've heard it here first at Book Fest.

- Oh, I think absolutely, because I have only seen one copy so far, and it's right there. So they're just arrived from the printer.

- Such a scoop for us, Belinda. Belinda, you've written lots of different kinds of books.

- Yes.

- The Lulu Bell series, which a lot of the readers have read, focus on Lulu Bell and her stories particularly by the beach. They have a lovely theme. There's lots of different stories in that. And then you've written the Timeslip series and some fantasy novels as well.

- Absolutely.

- So do you have a preferred type of story to write, or do you just get swept away by the story?

- I do get swept away by the story. I can't quite believe it, because I'm actually working on writing my 31st book at the moment. So don't quite know how that happened. But every book that I write and every series that I write, I get so enthralled by the characters and by the setting. And I just love that story. So it was a little bit sad when I stopped writing about Lulu Bell. But then it was so exciting to move on to another set of characters and their adventures. And Pippa, of course, is more grown up than Lulu Bell, so it was sort of different sorts of friendships and things like that. So yes, I do get very swept up in the stories.

- And I did have a question. I had some wonderful questions through from lots of teacher-librarians and students. So I would like to give out a shout-out to Engadine High School, because they sent me through some great questions just this morning.

- Excellent.

- And one of them was, 'how long does it take you to write a novel?'

- Well, one of my Timeslip books takes me about a year. Because they're historical, there's so much research to do. So it takes me about three months to do the research and the planning of the story. Then it takes me about three or four months to write the very first draft, so about 75,000 words or 65,000 to 75,000 words. And then it takes me another couple of months to do the editing, and the proofing, and the going back and forward with my publisher, and looking for any little glitches, or mistakes, or typos, or things like that. So that pretty much takes up the year. And then, of course, there's the, once the book comes out, celebrating, doing the launches, doing the events, and travelling around Australia talking about the book. So it's a very busy schedule.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Sounds very tough. It's actually very busy.

- Oh, very hard. [laughs]

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Very busy. I guess one of the questions too that we often get is about the drafting stage in writing and rewriting. And lots of the students doing the challenge are also budding writers, so they'd like to get hints and tips where they can. And we will come back to that, but sometimes it can be a bit of a long process between sitting down to write something, finishing a story, and then seeing it on the bookshelf.

- Absolutely.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: So with, say, 'Pippa's Island,' how do the covers work? Tell us about the cover design. Do you get involved with that? And how long can it be before we see a book on the book shelf or in the library?

- Yeah. I think 'Pippa's Island' was a really good example, because we started talking about this series probably about three years ago. So the ideas have been bubbling away in the back of my mind for about three years. And then I seriously started writing them about 18 months ago. And it took me pretty much a whole year to work out the characters, and the setting, and get the voice right, and the pitch right, and the age right. And then we started along the way. My publisher and I, Zoe Walton, started talking about covers.

And initially, we were thinking about having illustrated covers, like Lulu Bell. And we started working with some illustrations, and I wasn't overly-- I wasn't in love with them. And then at some point, everyone realised that they just weren't working. So we decided to go with photographic covers, like the older books, like the Timeslip books. And we went with this sort of funky Instagram design. And so when I saw the first design, I went, yes, I love those covers. And suddenly I was really super excited about them. And so we worked with different images on the cover, but as soon as I saw that Instagram design, I loved it.

- Oh. Well, it's always interesting to hear how the covers come together. Belinda, you come from a family of writers.


- And you come from a long line of writers too, I believe.

- I do.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Can you tell us a bit about that?

- Well, I do come from a very unusual family, because we have lots of writers in my family. So my sister, Kate Forsyth, is also a published author. And she's written something like 40 books, everything from picture books to lots of books for kids on the Premier's Reading Challenge as well, I believe. Lots of books on the Premier's Reading Challenge right up to these massively big books for adults. My brother is also a published author. He's a lawyer, so he tends to write nonfiction books about business, real estate, and tax. So--

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Well, the Tax [? fest ?] is coming out soon. It's not right now.

- Absolutely. But the reason we all write books is because we all love books. But there is a history of writing in my family that goes back nearly 200 years. So my great-great-great-great-grandmother, Charlotte Atkinson, wrote the very first children's book that was ever published in Australia way back in 1841. And her husband was also a published author. He wrote several books about life in Australia way back in the 1820s, so that's nearly 200 years ago. And their daughters were journalists and writers as well. And there's been lots of other writers in my family.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Wow. So it's almost like in the stars or in the blood or something.

- It's in the blood.

- It's in the blood. And you've got children too, and are they creative writers themselves?

- Absolutely. I have three children-- Nick, Emily, and Lachlan. And they are all really talented writers. In fact, my daughter Emily is studying creative writing at university, and she desperately wants to be an author as well. And both my sons are really talented writers. My elder two kids both did four-unit English and blitzed it. So they're great writers.

- Well, that's good. Let's give a massive plug for English teachers, because they absolutely rock.

BELINDA MURRELL: Oh, yes, English teachers are fabulous, yes.


- Getting back to maybe the Sun Sword trilogy now, that's a little bit different from 'Pippa's Island.' It's for older readers. So some of our older readers have read the trilogy. But this is a fantasy series with, again, really strong heroes. And obviously, when I'm talking to lots of authors, they tell me about their characters. The characters kind of live within them. Is that how it happens for you, that the character kind of grows and then you decide what to do with them? Or do you sort of plan out the plot?

- I'm a little bit different. I used to be a travel writer, so I get obsessed with the setting. And 'Pippa's Island' is a tropical island. With the Sun Sword trilogy, it was the whole world that I invented. And so I love this idea of starting with a setting and then peopling that setting with amazing characters that then come to life. So that might be why it takes me such a long time to plan it, because I create the world, then I people that world with my characters. And the Sun Sword trilogy was interesting, because I wrote this for my three kids when they were younger about 11 years ago. So I based the characters on my kids. So I think when I was starting out, that was a really easy way to do it-- to sort of think about my kids, and what they loved, and what they were like, and create the characters a little bit based on my kids. Of course, they're very different, but that's how I started.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: And did you read fantasy growing up?


YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Were you a kind of person that read lots of different styles of story or genres?

- I did lots of different genres. I loved pony books. I loved Enid Blyton, particularly The Famous Five, and The Wishing-Chair, and The Secret Seven, Magic Faraway Tree. But one of my favourite authors was probably CS Lewis, who wrote 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.' And the Narnia series would have to be my absolute top series when I was a kid.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Top series. Yes. And all those books are on the Premier's Reading Challenge, which is convenient. All the classics are there.

- Oh, wonderful books.

- And when I go to schools, I'm so amazed when I ask kids if they know those books and if they've read them. They are so enthusiastic. They're shooting their hand in the air, going, I love those books too.

- Well, I want you to have a think about some of your other favourite books, because we're going to come back to a rapid-fire question round at the very end of our chat. So just be prepared.

- OK.

- They're all book-related, you'll be relieved to know. So with the Sun Sword trilogy, that was a little while ago that they came out. And then you also, in between writing your other series, you do a series which is historical fiction. And you call them the Timeslip series.

- That's right. Yes.

- Can you explain the Timeslip idea?

- After I'd written the Sun Sword trilogy, it was so exciting, because that was a bestseller and it was released in America. And Random House said to me, Belinda, what are you going to write next? And I was a little bit-- I thought I was so clever to write the first three books. And then I was trying to think about what I'd write next. And I'd had this idea in my mind for quite a long time, quite a few years. And it was this idea that you were a modern-day kid and that you found an old piece of jewellery, something like a locket, an heirloom that belonged to someone who lived a very long time ago.

And imagine if you put that piece of jewellery on, and it was magic, and you actually were able to travel back in time, and meet the person who used to wear it, and see what their life was like, and have all sorts of adventures back in the past. So I started with that idea. And so my very first Timeslip book was called 'The Locket of Dreams.' And it was set in 1850s Scotland and 1850s Australia, plus a modern-day stream. And so that's what I started with. And I just was so thrilled with the reaction I got from kids that I decided I'd go on and write a whole series of Timeslip books that are all very different, but all have this idea of a piece of jewellery that's a link to someone who lived in the past.

- Well, everybody has a kind of object that they have that's been handed down to them or has a special meaning to them. So you just, I suppose, take it one step further by creating a story around it.

- Absolutely.

- Do you find yourself looking at objects and then thinking about what they could be?

- I think it's because my mum actually collects antique jewellery. And she has some beautiful heirlooms that have been handed down through the family. So there was a locket that belonged to my grandmother's grandmother that was handed down from mother to daughter, mother to daughter for 150 years. And my mother has that. So I think that was what first gave me the idea. And she has a beautiful charm bracelet that was actually the inspiration for the river charm, the pebble charm on the charm bracelet.

- Well, my mum gave me a stitch tablecloth the other day, so mum, watch this space. I'm going to have to dig that tablecloth out and have a look at what [? nana produced, ?] because there could be a story in it.

BELINDA MURRELL: Yeah, absolutely. Oh, I'm sure there would be.

- Yeah. Look, honestly, the stories behind the Timeslip series, they take a lot of research. So you were saying that you can often spend three months, up to three months researching. What does that involve, Belinda?

- Well, the hardest book that I had to research was 'The Ruby Talisman,' because that was set in France during the French Revolution. So of course I had to go and live in France for a while. So I did take my three children and my husband, and we went and lived in Paris for a while. And we walked the streets of Paris. We went to all the boulangeries and patisseries and ate all those delicious French pastries. We visited the beautiful chateaus. I rode horses across the countryside. We sailed on an old fishing boat down the Seine. And we went exploring the tunnels under the streets of Paris all in the name of research.

For that book I even took fencing lessons. So that took a little bit longer than three or four months to do all that. But that was part of my research. When I was in the tunnels under the streets of Paris, I had the very first idea that actually became the story of 'The Ruby Talisman.' So that was the fun part. But obviously, there's lots of hard work as well, which is reading letters, reading memoirs, reading historical books, reading the newspapers and the magazines of the day, watching films, just delving into the past.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: So a lot of the students out there who we've been speaking to and hearing from are working on their own novels. They're very busy people. They go to school. At night, they're working on their great novels. Some of them have questions about research. Does it just mean going to Google?

- I actually use Trove a lot. So Trove is this wonderful resource from the National Library that has newspapers, magazines, photographs, film clips. All sorts of things are there. And I can get lost in that world of Trove, reading these beautiful old newspapers. And it's just all there. It's fabulous. I do, of course, google, and I also collect books. So if I know I'm researching the 1920s, for example, like 'The Lost Sapphire,' I read lots of books that were set in the 1920s or that were written in the 1920s, as well as diaries, and memoirs, and letters, and things like that. So I have this wonderful library at home. My office has literally thousands of books. And lots of them are historical books.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: And do you tend to write at home in a particular place, or are you the kind of person that can write anywhere?

- No. I actually get easily distracted, so it's best if I'm at home locked in my office. But I have a beautiful office. It's lined with books. It's got a beautiful fireplace, which is lovely now in winter. My dog sleeps in front of the fire. And I look out on the garden. And so every now and again, I look out into the world. And it's beautiful. And I live in Manly near the beach, so I often start the day by walking along the beach with my dog, thinking about what I'm going to write. And then I go back and just hopefully knuckle down and work at my computer.

- So when you were a girl and when you were in school, did you think that this is what you would do? I mean, you mentioned that you started life as a-- well, you'd worked as a travel writer. That, to me, sounds like a dream job as well.

- Absolutely.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: But you obviously always loved words, and writing, and stories.

- Yes.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: And you talked about the idea of draughts. How important is it to keep practicing with your writing?

- Well, I think that I have written every day since I was about eight years old. So I started writing around about the time I was eight years old. I used to write poems, and plays, and stories, and novels that I used to write in exercise books. And I literally have been writing all through school. And then at university, I studied creative writing, literature, and journalism at university. But actually, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a vet. And so I loved the idea of being a vet, because my dad was a vet. And the only problem was I was fabulous at English and I was terrible at math, probably because I was always reading a book in math class, and so I'd fail. And chemistry wasn't my strong point either. So when I was a teenager, about 16, then I decided that-- everyone said to me, you should be a writer, you should be a writer. And so I went to university and studied writing.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Oh. But you do have an interesting family backstory to do with animals--

- Yes, I do.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: --and vet stories. Tell us a little bit about that.

- When I was thinking about writing the Lulu Bell series, I wanted to write this series for my niece. And I was talking to her about what she loved, and she loved stories about animals. And that made me think about my kids when we were growing up. They'd always say, mum, tell us a story about your pet pony, or your pet wallaby, or your pet snake, or whatever it might be, because my dad was a vet. So we always had lots and lots and lots of animals, and really unusual animals like pythons, and wallabies, and a little pony that lived in the back garden, and a little-- dad would always bring home orphaned animals from farms, like lambs, and piglets, and ducklings, and calves, as well as always at least four dogs, always at least four cats. And they'd get up to all sorts of mischief. So I really had the most amazing childhood with dad being a vet and living in this house full of books and animals. And so that was what inspired me to write the Lulu Bell series was about a family growing up living in a vet hospital and all the crazy things that happen when you have a lot of animals around.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: And how many stories are there in the Lulu Bell series?

BELINDA MURRELL: 13 books in that series.

- 13. Gosh. And they've been incredibly popular.


- And Lulu does have some encounters with animals, being who she is. And were some of these stories based on things that happened in your family?

BELINDA MURRELL: Yes, absolutely. So for example, the very first book, 'Lula Bell and the Birthday Unicorn,' has a very naughty pony that breaks into the kitchen, because my pony was actually quite prone to breaking into the kitchen looking for snacks. And one day she ate our dinner. So in the 'Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn,' it's not the dinner that gets eaten, but something else, which will remain a surprise. And in one of the other books, it was based on, when I was a little girl, a cat went missing, and I searched the whole house for that cat. And I finally found her in the washing machine. And she had had a litter of six baby kittens in the washing machine. And I nearly washed her. So a couple of those stories are from my childhood.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: We've just had a quick question in.

- Yes!

- 'What's your favourite Lulu Bell book?'

- Oh. Kids always ask me this. One of my favourites is 'Lulu Bell and the Circus Pup,' because when I was a little girl, I really wanted to run away and join a circus. And so I became quite obsessed with circuses as a child. And then I loved researching this, particularly when my daughter, Emily, and I went and visited all these circuses. And so 'Lulu Bell and the Circus Pup.'

- And was there a Timeslip story also based on a circus?

BELINDA MURRELL: Yes, 'The Sequin Star.'

- 'The Sequin Star.' That's right.

BELINDA MURRELL: Yes, exactly. So I did. I wrote them both around the same time and did the research for both books at the same time.

- Oh, gosh. So how many books do you work on at any one time?

- Normally just one, because as I said, I get easily distracted. So it's best if I focus. But after researching the 'Sequin Star' and visiting all those circuses, I was still obsessed with circuses. So I then wrote 'Lulu Bell and the Circus Pup' after that book.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: OK. Now, there was an interesting story that you kind of alluded to, because I'm feeling sad I never had pet ponies and I could barely keep a goldfish going. But you had a really interesting encounter with some animals in your own family home I understand.

- Yes, that's right. So my kids grew up with all these stories about my childhood. And so they'd always be saying, it's not fair, we only have one dog, we only have two cats, we only have one bunny, we only have one horse. And so they'd always want more pets. And Lachy, my youngest in particular, was obsessed with reptiles. And he always wanted a snake. And he badgered me for about six years. And finally, I gave in. And he got a little baby python who's now grown into quite a large Stimson's python. And he was in a little tiny tank on the kitchen bench, and then we moved him into a bigger tank when he grew older.

And one day I was home typing. Lachy came home, went upstairs. And I heard this little voice from upstairs going, mum, mum. And I thought, I'll be right up there, Lachy. And then I heard this, mum! And I raced upstairs, and what had happened was that his little python was really unhappy about the big, scary tank he was in, so he'd bitten Lachy on the finger. And he eventually swallowed Lachy's whole finger to the knuckle like that. So I went up there, and Lachy's finger had been swallowed by the snake. And Lachy's like, mum, it really hurts. And so I had to try and get the snake off Lachy's finger without breaking the fangs, so that the snake didn't die. So we gently, gently, gently nudged it off and [clicks tongue] got the snake off Lachy's finger.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Oh, my goodness.

- So that was the time Sammy the Snake tried to eat Lachy, my son.

- [laughs] So wait. We didn't tell everyone that you were a snake wrangler before this, but I'm glad everyone's tuned in. I can't even-- I can't even fathom that story. It's just too crazy for me.

- He's an escape artist too. And he comes up to us, mum, mum, I can't find the snake, and we'd have to search the house.

- And Lachy made it? He's OK?

- Lachy's absolutely fine.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: OK, that's good to know. Good to know.

- One kid [inaudible] though, said, is Lachy dead? No!

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Well, that was going to be my next question. No, that's good, good, good news. Belinda, a lot of the people that are watching and a lot of the students who've written to us are starting to write, as I mentioned. And I think sometimes they get stuck on often the first page or the first sentence. What's some advice that you can give to people who are interested in telling stories and might be great at telling a joke or telling a funny story or an adventure story? How did they get started? Are you somebody that uses a notebook for ideas? Do you jot things down? Do you listen in to other people's conversations? Do you write down bits of dialogue? How does it work for you, and what's maybe a piece of advice that you could give to our writers out there?

- Yes. I absolutely carry a notebook with me everywhere, and I jot ideas down, because otherwise, I forget them. So that's my number one tip is always carry a notebook with you and write things down. Authors are known to write things down on the back of bus tickets and on the back of paper napkins in restaurants. But I like to write it in a notebook so I can't lose it. And so I think that's that idea of just listening. And I think authors can be like little spies. They listen in on people's conversations. And they take note of everyone-- what they're wearing, what they look like. And little, tiny details is what make those stories come alive, I think. So I would start with a notebook, and then I'd read back over my notes. And then I try to imagine a scene. It's a bit like if you imagined a movie. To me, when I'm writing, it's often like I can see the scene in my head, a bit like a movie, and I just write down what I'm seeing. So at one point, I stop taking notes and I just start creating.

- And some writers that we've spoken to, they plan every part of their book. And some people get guided by the characters, and some people, it's a combination of both. How do you work with all your different kinds of stories? Or is it different for each series or type of book that you're working on?

- The way I work is that my publisher always wants to know what I'm writing ahead of time. So I have to write a summary of an overview of the story before I start, so that we both know where we're going. And to me, it's a bit like a recipe or a map. So if I've got that sort of outline, I've got a general idea of where I'm going. But I must say the characters are a bit naughty and they do change the story sometimes. But that's OK. At least I know generally where I'm going. So I tend to plan out everything first and then let the story take me on its journey.

- Have you ever gotten to a point with a book that you just weren't loving it and it didn't work?

- Yes.

- What do you do in that scenario?

- Very sadly, I've had to sort of, like-- I pull the whole section that I'm not liking out. An I actually save it in case I do need it later. But then I just get rid of it, and I just start again. And so I think sometimes with a story, when I get a bit stuck, sometimes I give myself three choices-- so A, B, and C. And I think, like, well, that could happen, but actually, that's really stupid. Or that could happen, but that's really boring. And the third thing that could happen is this. And often that's the one I tend to go with. So it does help me sometimes to give me options.

- And do you use a computer, or do you write things down by hand? Or do you have notes? How does it work? Some people write things entirely in longhand, which I found out. And that's--


- That's incredible to me. But do you generally use a computer or a laptop?

- I use a computer to do my writing, but I do have the notebook, where I jot, for many months, ideas and things down. And then I sit down at the computer, and I do my synopsis on the computer. And then I just start writing. And then I save things. And then I can flick and look at the internet if I need to know what sort of tent I might be describing when they go camping or whatever it might be, some sort of historical event I need to look up. I can just click onto my internet and check facts.

- So when you mentioned that you were in France to research your story, how does it work? Do you walk down the streets of Paris with a notebook? Do you try and remember things? Do you take lots of photos? Sometimes photos can be a great way to get details, I guess.

- Absolutely. With me, I take lots and lots of photographs, because that can reinforce, for me, the setting. And then I write a really detailed travel journal when I'm travelling. So I describe what were the days like, the weather, things that I taste, all sorts of things. I think about my five senses and try and think about what I might be hearing while I'm there, or smelling, or tasting. And I write all those things down as well as things that happen, so that when I go home, I can actually look back at my notebook, and they're really, really detailed, a journal of what actually happened. And that can sometimes spark the idea for a scene or a setting.

- And say, with 'Pippa's Island,' we were talking about how important the setting is for that particular series. Is that something that you would do initially-- sit down, close your eyes, think about the character and where she might be? Because if she's a character moving from a big, bustling place like London, which has lots of different kinds of noises and sounds, to think about life on an island maybe in a beachside place, it's quite different, isn't it?

BELINDA MURRELL: Very different.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: And using those senses can be really important.

- Absolutely. And it can really bring that setting alive. Because I think if you describe what it looks like, that's fine, but I think it's those other senses that really bring the setting alive. So yes, I did. I think it was that contrast I wanted to have between London, a big, busy city, very sophisticated city, to a little, tiny community where everything is different-- the weather, the people. Everything that happens is different. So yes.

- Very exciting. I want to ask you now the questions that we ask all our authors that are on Book Fest or are associated with the Premier's Reading Challenge. So we're going to just start with some rapid-fire questions. OK, first of all, you did mention a little bit about this, but where do you keep the books in your house?

- Oh, we have books everywhere. In piles by armchairs, by the fireplace, lots of bookcases. All the kids have their own bookcases in their room. But most of them are in my office. Thousands of them.

- And you use them for research, reference--

- And reading for pleasures.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Just reading for pleasure.

- Yes.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: OK, great. Second question. We talked about some of your favourite books and some of the classics and also the background your family has with children's books as well. Do you have any other favourite books or one book that you remember from childhood that you just loved?

- I loved 'Seven Little Australians' by Ethel Turner. That was one of my all-time favourites. I just loved the naughtiness and the mischief of those children. And she brought that world alive to me, which is possibly why I love historical fiction so much. It was that real glimpse into another world that's long gone.

- Mm. 'Seven Little Australians' I think is on the Premier's Reading Challenge List, so I think people might be able to dig that one out too. That should be in their school library anyway.


- OK, next question. Some inspirations. Are you somebody that finds inspiration from TV, movies, music? Do you listen to music while you write?

- I do, not when I'm writing, because I find it distracting. But I do listen to music, especially if I'm doing historical fiction-- 1920s music or 1940s music if that's what I'm writing. The inspiration for me-- yes, I love watching movies and television and reading books. But I think most of my inspiration actually comes from people-- so my own children, the kids that write to me, the kids I meet in schools. And my travel is absolutely a huge inspiration.

- OK, that's great. One of the questions we were talking about with some of the other authors yesterday was the idea that the inspiration can strike at any moment. Are you always ready for an idea to hit you? Or does it kind of take hold and develop over some time?

- A little bit I think more over time. So I do write down quick ideas as they come to me. And I love the way you can be walking along and suddenly a fabulous plot twist comes to you or a problem is solved while you're walking the dog, or hanging out the washing, or whatever it might be. I love that. But normally, it's a bit more of a plodding process, where it takes me quite a bit of time to sort of think everything through. And often it happens in the middle of the night or where I'm lying awake early in the morning.

- Mm. This is a tricky question. Do you ever judge a book by its cover?


- And how important are covers for you?

- Hugely important. I know you mustn't judge a book by its cover, but we all do, don't we?


- So I think it's really-- when I go out to schools, I love showing kids different versions of the same book with different covers. And I get them to vote on it. It's so interesting to see how fashions change in covers, how so often you can predict which cover the kids are going to like the most. Because you go to hundreds of schools and they all seem to like that version rather than a different version.

- And there's a little project, a side project that I know you've been working on, which involves a travelling suitcase.


- And can you tell us a little bit about that? Because it might be working its way out to some schools out there.

- Absolutely. So this idea actually came from Queensland from some teacher-librarians up in Queensland who had this brilliant idea of making a travelling suitcase for a series of authors. And inside the suitcase was, obviously, copies of the books, but also a whole lot of props, teachers' notes, inspiration, all these sorts of things. So my particular travelling suitcase has a fluffy unicorn for the birthday unicorn. It has a sword for the Sun Sword. It's got a whole lot of little talismans like this for the Timeslip books as well as having photographs of me as a kid and all these fabulous things. So it's just like a travelling Belinda Murrell that's going out to different schools. And little videos, and things on USBs, and things like that. So it's a fabulous project.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: That's fantastic. Well, I suppose you can't be in 100 places at once.


- But I do know that you travel a lot around New South Wales and you get around to quite a lot of schools. And we were talking before about some of the schools that had joined us today and some of the parts of the state that you've travelled to. Are you busy now for the rest of the year? Will you be travelling quite a lot?

- Yes, I will. I'm going to Melbourne a few times this year, and I'm going up to the Whitsundays to launch 'Pippa's Island' on an island, up near in the Whitsundays. Where else would you launch it?

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: If you need help, just let me know.

- Oh, absolutely. And I'm travelling around New South Wales. And so various trips to sort of Queensland, Victoria, and New South Wales, travelling around the three states. So I'm really looking forward to it, but it's going to be very busy.

- Very busy. Well, also, we were talking yesterday about authors and how sometimes when we were growing up, we didn't get the chance to meet authors. So this has just been a fantastic opportunity to meet you. And your website has lots and lots of information about your books.

BELINDA MURRELL: Yes, it does. Mm-hm.

- And teacher-librarians and students can go there and have a really big look at all the stories behind your stories as well. But we've been really lucky to have you here today. And Belinda, we're going to now have a look at the students, because they're going to show you some love. And I'd really like all the students out there to give Belinda a massive round of applause. We can see you. Give her a wave. Give her a clap. Give her a cheer. Wave her on. Yes. Let's say, thank you so much to Belinda Murrell. We've really enjoyed chatting with you. We can see from the students how much they've loved it. And no doubt we're going to get some lovely feedback. And we hope you get some lovely fan mail too out of this, because I'm sure there are more questions for us to get to. But thank you so much for being a part of Book Fest.

- Thanks, Yvette. It was fabulous.

- And all the best.

- Thank you.

- Take care.

- Bye, everybody!

- Bye!

End of transcript