Video transcript
2017 NSW PRC author interview - R. A. Spratt

Back to video Back to NSW Premier's Reading Challenge (PRC) 2017 author interviews

[music playing]


- Hi everyone, and welcome to our third session on day two of Bookfest. The hilarity is already ensuing here with my next guest. Rachel Spratt can't even be professional for one minute here.


- Guys, you can tell what kind of a session this is going to be. It's going to be intense. I just had my hair done, but that doesn't seem to matter. Rachel is going to break all the rules. We're breaking all the rules already, folks. Welcome to Bookfest. Welcome Rachel. We will get to you. You're just in the naughty corner for the moment, but we're getting there. We're beaming out to thousands of students across the state right now.

- I can see them on the monitor.

- We can see you on the monitor. Can you guys give Rachel a massive--

- Wave! Wave!

- -- massive wave.

- Yes!

- There we go.

- Come on, yes! All of you! Yes!

- It's out of my hands, guys. I give up. Rachel, welcome to Bookfest. At least give me one serious intro here.

- No! It's so awesome to be here! Which camera's on? Where's the red light?

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: There. That one. Right there.

- Oh, that one? You said there were two cameras! Now there's a third one.

- [laughs]

- There's no human operating that one. That one's my favourite.

- Well, you can talk to it, by all means. But there are thousands of kids watching. Many of whom have sent me questions for you. But I feel like I'm not even going to get a chance to ask.

- Where are they? Did you write them down?

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: They're in my mind. Believe me or not.

- How professional is that?

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: You really called me on that. What am I'm going to do now, guys? Thanks for being a part of Bookfest. You've journeyed up from the wilds of the Southern highlands.

- Well, actually we journeyed down. Because it's a mountain. So you come down.


- She doesn't know much about geography, does she?

- But this is not geography.

- She used to be a schoolteacher.

- This is literacy related.

- This is the quality of education in our state. She was a schoolteacher. That's why they kicked her out, boys and girls.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Let's see. It all baked it down into not a bad job. And we're really happy that you're joining us for the Premier's Reading Challenge Bookfest.

- So lucky.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: We have loads and loads of your books on the Challenge's list, and we're hoping you can talk to us about them today. Or do some other crazy amazing things for us.

- I had a brilliant idea!


- I thought I could read a book. Which camera should I look at? That one?


- OK. You see, here's the thing. You come to these things, and at school they always talk about books. And they talk about like, words, and sentences, and making them make sense. And that's just the boring part of writing a book. Yes, authors use words and sentences, obviously. But it's more than that. Writing a book is like-- it's like weaving magic. It's storytelling. So I thought before we get into the boring stuff-- which Yvette is an expert at-- I'll read you a story.


- Because that's what I'm good at, OK? You know how they say lying is bad, and yet storytelling is good? But really, they say storytelling is lying. It's like a synonym. But anyway, I won't get into that. That's a moral issue.

I'm going to read you some Friday Barnes. Friday Barnes. And all you need to know to understand this reading is that Friday Barnes, girl detective, is a girl detective called Friday Barnes. It's pretty easy to follow. Even Yvette could keep up with that.


- That's actually a top tip for you when you become best-selling international authors, like me, to have a nice self-explanatory title. Because you'll find that children have no money. So they can't afford to buy books. And their parents have no money because they have children, and children are a terrible burden who eat too much food, and so they have no money.

The people who have money are grandparents. So they're the ones who actually pay for books. So what you need to do when you become a best-selling international author of great fame and beauty, like me, is you have to have a nice simple title.

So Friday Barnes girl detective. Friday is a day of a week. So every grandparent has heard of Friday. A barn is a simple agricultural farm building. Every grandparent has heard of that. And a girl-- there's girls everywhere. They've seen them in the street. And detective is harder. But hopefully, by the time they go into a bookstore and ask for Friday Barnes girl-- the bookseller will understand, and then will sell them the book. So I have this brilliant simple title so that grandparents will spend lots of money on my book.

And so all you need to know is she's a detective. Her best friend is called Melanie. And in the book there's one big mystery that runs the whole way through, about a swamp-yeti. And there's nothing else you really need to know to understand the reading. So I'll just read it to you, and then you'll know a bit about me. And then she can ask me lots of boring questions. And we'll get to that a bit later.

So this is called 'The Case of the Missing Homework.'

''Barnes! Barnes!'

Friday was sitting in the dining hall eating dinner. It was Wednesday, so the meal was Toad in the Hole, which was the second-best dinner of the week, so Friday did not appreciate having it interrupted. She turned to see Parker, a year nine boy running towards her.

'You've got to help me!' he cried.

'I've got to, do I?' said Friday. 'Oh, you should have said please,' said Melanie.

'Please, Barnes, you've got to help me! I'm in a sticky mess!'


'My first name is Friday,' said Friday. 'I know you boys insist on referring to each other by your surnames. But I'm not a boy, and I don't like it.'

'Sorry, Friday, but you will help me, please? Here!' He rifled through his pockets and found a $20 note. 'Here, I'll give you $20 if you just come and have a look. And I'll give you another $20 if you can find it.'

'Find what?' said Friday. Her irritation with Parker could not dampen her natural curiosity for a mystery.

'My assignment! It's worth 80% of my final mark of the year, and it's missing! Someone stole it! I think it was the swamp-yeti!''

You can say (SINGING) da da, da, at that point if you want to.

- Da, da--

- No, we'll do it again. We'll do it again. She didn't--


- Just wait. 'I think it was the swamp-yeti!'

- (SINGING) Da, da, da!

- Anyway. You could do it at home better than her. Anyway, ''I think it was the swamp-yeti.'

'Really? But why would the swamp-yeti would want to steal an assignment?'

'Well, they say that the swamp-yeti is a former student who ran away from the 7th grade. So perhaps he's tired of living in the swamp with all that stinky mud and the mosquitoes. So he's trying to catch up on the coursework to get back into school.'

'Really? Said Friday. 'Well, we'll investigate.'

Friday and Melanie went with Parker back to his dorm room. It was exactly like their own dorm room, except that it smelled really bad, because boys lived there.

'Talk me through what happened,' said Friday.

'Well, I was sitting here doing my chemistry assignment, and it was really hot. I'm not very good at understanding valences. I know the teacher said it had something to do with an orange and a cricket ground, but honestly, I couldn't follow what the fellow was saying.'

'So it took you a while?' asked Friday.

'Oh, yes. Hours and hours. My roommate, Nigel, had to go and get me a plate of dinner, so I could work right through.'

'Oh! It was shepherd's pie last night,' said Melanie. 'You wouldn't want to miss that. That's the best dinner of the week.'

'Oh, absolutely!' agreed Parker. 'But I couldn't afford time away from my desk. My assignment's due tomorrow, and I just had to get it done.'

'Well, why didn't you just ask your teacher for an extension?' asked Friday.

'Well, yes, normally I would.' agreed Parker. 'But Mr. Spencer would never agree to that. He hates me.'

'Really?' said Friday. 'Why does he hate you?'

'Well, because in the last science exam, when we had to identify which beaker contained acid and which contained alkaline, I could remember how to do the proper test with that litmus paper stuff, so I just stuck my finger in each breaker and then licked it.'

'Oh, I remember that!' said Melanie. 'You had to spend a week in hospital, didn't you?'

'Yes, that's right!' said Parker. 'It was an awesome week! I got to lie in bed all day watching television. And the skin on my finger did grow back eventually, so it was a win-win for me!'

Friday peered at Parker's desk, and then at the window next to it. 'So how was it your homework came to go missing?'

'Well, I was struggling with a particularly difficult problem and eating the first bite of my shepherd's pie, when Portelli knocked at the door. He said they'd tied a year seven boy to his desk using his own necktie, and did I want to go and have a look.'

'And you did?' said Friday.

'Of course! It sounded like a laugh! So I popped out for a quick peek. I was only going 60 seconds, and when I came back, it was gone.'

'Someone had taken your homework?'

'Yes! And to add insult to injury, they'd taken my dinner as well!'

'Somebody, ate your dinner?'


'Did they take the plate?' asked Friday.

'Well, what difference does that make? No, they left the plate. But they ate every last scrap of the dinner. It's a good job I had some potato chips hidden under the floorboards. I would have starved!'

Friday looked about the room, then walked over to the open window. She took out a magnifying glass and closely inspected the frame.


'A clue?' asked Parker.

'A footprint,' said Friday.

'Whose is it? It's the swamp-yeti, isn't it?'

'No,' said Friday. 'Swamp-yetis don't exist.'

'Oh,' said Parker.

Friday leaned out the window looking first one way and then the other. In one direction she could see the cricket pitch in the distance. In the other direction she could see boys coming out of the dining hall, laughing amongst themselves, and throwing a few scraps to Fudge, the school's overweight dog.

'Then do you know who did take my homework?' asked Parker.

'Yes, I do.' said Friday. 'The problem will be proving it. How much money do you have?'

Parker rifled through his desk. 'I've got $80-- no, $90.'

'Perfect.' said Friday, taking the money and putting it in her pocket. 'I will meet you at the beginning of your science lesson tomorrow with your stolen homework.' And with that, she climbed out of the window and ran off into the bushes.

'Oh, thank you! Thank you very much!' called Parker. He turned back to Melanie. 'Um, she hasn't just run off with all my money, has she?'

'I don't think so,' said Melanie. 'But it can be hard to tell with Friday. She's very peculiar.'

The following morning, Parker was very nervous as he waited outside his science classroom. Melanie waited with him, but that didn't make him less nervous, because Parker found girls nerve-wracking, too. All the other students were filing in, and he couldn't delay for much longer. Mr. Spencer was just about to start the lesson, when he spotted his hapless student loitering in the corridor.

'Parker! Get in here. Stop dilly-dallying!' he snapped.

Parker entered, his shoulders slumped. He was just about to get detention for goodness knows how many days, possibly weeks. And he was out-of-pocket all that money he'd given Friday.

'What's she doing here?' asked Mr. Spencer.

Melanie had followed Parker into the room.

'Did you decide to bring a date to class?'

'No sir,' said Parker lamely.

'And where's your assignment?'

'I don't have it,' said Parker.

'Really? What's your excuse this time?' asked Mr. Spencer.

'Somebody stole it, sir!'

'Preposterous! You expect me to believe that someone would steal the work of a boy like you?'

'Well, It does sound silly when you put it that way, sir,' agreed Parker.

Suddenly the door burst open.

'Stop!' cried Friday, as she stood in the doorway carrying a snap-lock bag full of a mysterious brown substance.

'What are doing here?' asked Mr. Spencer. 'Aren't you in year seven? Shouldn't you be English, right now?'

'A minor technicality,' said Friday. 'I am here to clear the name of this boy, Parker.'

'Well, he says someone stole his homework. I find that very difficult to believe. When he does hand in his assignments, he always gets dreadful marks. No one in their right mind would steal homework from him.'

'Ah!' said Friday. 'But it wasn't stolen. It was eaten.'

'What? By whom?'

'Not by whom. The question you should ask is by what.'


'So it was the swamp-yeti! said Parker.

'No! Your homework wasn't eaten by a fictional swamp-dwelling man-beast! It was eaten by Fudge, the school dog.

'Fudge ate my homework? But why would he do that? He always gets lots of scraps from the students. That's why he's so fat.'

'Ah! Because it was shepherd's pie Tuesday, and everyone loves Mrs. Marigold's shepherd's pie. So there were no scraps. It's the one day of the week where Fudge is left alone outside the dining hall window feeling hungry. And there is nothing hungrier than a fat dog. So when you left your plate of dinner on your desk in front of an open window, that was tantamount to entrapment. Fudge could not resist.'

'What's that got to do with this boy's assignment?' snapped Mr. Spencer.

'Ah! Dogs are missing eaters. They usually eat from bowls. But Parker's dinner was on a plate. So as Fudge licked it up, he licked it off the plate onto the paper below, which was the homework assignment. When he'd finished eating, Fudge was still hungry, so he ate the gravy-smeared paper as well.'

'That's preposterous! I don't believe it for a minute!' said Mr. Spencer.

'Ah!' said Friday, holding up the snap-lock bag full of a mysterious brown substance. 'But I have proof! Here is Parker's assignment, fully digested and excreted as Fudge's poop!'

'Ew!' said everyone in the classroom.

'That's disgusting!' said Mr. Spencer.

'That's evidence!' said Friday. 'I had an express courier drive this to the university last night. They ran it through their analysis protocols and the results are conclusive-- this poop is 11% paper, which is consistent with a sheet of A4 eaten alongside a serving of shepherd's pie.'

'This is, by far, the most disgusting thing a student has ever confronted me with,' said Mr. Spencer.

'Disgusting, yes,' agreed Friday. 'But also conclusive proof that a dog ate Parker's homework.'

The class applauded. Friday was put on their most interesting science lesson since Mr. Spencer had accidentally burned his own eyebrows off with a Bunsen burner. The end.'

- Rachel, is Friday you? And how much investigating do you do in your normal course of the day to come up with stories like that, and come to these amazing conclusions?

- Friday is partially me. But basically when I come up with characters is I take my personality, and I get a pick-axe, and I chip it into different parts. My friends from the gym say that Melanie-- her best friend-- actually sounds like me. She's very vague and just says weird things. And they say that sounds the most like me, but I think Friday's a lot like me, too.

- Friday's got amazing powers of investigation and conclusion really.

- Yes.

- What she managed to find out is that Fudge, like a lot of dogs, likes to eat a lot of different kinds of things. But only she was able to put all the clues together.

- I know. I know. Often when I plot things, I plot in a reverse order. So I started off with the idea of-- I wanted to come up with a small mystery that was contained, and the solution was in one or two chapters. So the idea I started with was a dog ate someone's homework. Because that's a cliche, isn't it?

- Classic. Classic line.

- So I thought, how can I construct a story so that's the solution-- a dog ate someone's homework? And I had a friend who had a Labrador that was eating all sorts of inappropriate things it shouldn't, and getting sick all the time. And my husband went to a school where the school had a dog and every Monday at assembly there would be announcements don't feed the school dog because it's enormously fat, and you're endangering its health. And all the boys would still feed the school dog.

- Hm.

- I had all these ideas rattling around in my head. And then there's all these other ideas. I did have a friend who was studying science at Sydney University. So he's was like, a 19-year-old. Very bright guy, but he hadn't done any homework. And when it came to his practical assignment, he didn't know how to test the chemicals, so he stuck his finger--

- Oh, my goodness!

- Just so you know, children. He was automatically, instantly failed from that subject, because it's such a dangerous thing to do.

- Note to self-- don't stick your finger in the chemicals.

- No. Because not only is it incredibly dangerous, you will be automatically failed from the course at university, and have to do the whole thing over again. And pay the money and everything. So all these ideas were rattling in my head. My husband told me about the time at his school, they tied a boy to a table by his own necktie. Which to me sounds incredibly cruel, like something torturous, but he laughed about it. And I thought, oh, children are so horrible. That's wonderful. I have to put that in a story.

- Well, is that why you write books for children? Or are really adults reading these, and having a lot of pleasure in reading them?

- I don't really think about it in those terms. I basically write stories. But it turns out because I'm emotionally stunted at about the age of 10 or 11, they are the audience most suitable for me.

- And you first got your writing start doing the Nanny Piggins, or you were doing other kinds of writing as well?

- Oh, no, no, no. I've been writing for-- I'm going to wipe my nose. It's going to be very glamorous. But--

- That's all right guys. You've seen it here. We've had a lot of scoops today, Rachel, but that one really takes the cake.

- Yes, it is winter. So anyway. No, I started writing-- it's my 20th anniversary as a writer this year-- this October-- because I worked on television for 10 years before I became an author.

- Wow. So what kind of writing was that?

- Well, I started out writing jokes for Good News Week, so we were writing jokes about the news. Because you've got to understand, when I was at school, English was my worst subject. So when I was in primary school, like a lot of these people out here, I was so bad at spelling my teachers thought there was something wrong with my brain.

And they would have meetings about me and with my mum, and they would whisper-- What are we going to do? Should we get an intervention? And all that sort of thing. And in the end, I decided I would be all right so long as for the rest of my entire life, everywhere I went, I carried a dictionary at all times.

And now you've got to understand-- she doesn't understand, but you-- Back in the olden days, a dictionary was a book! It was a big book! It was like four of these books together. And if you carried that in your pants, for the rest of your life, your pants would fall down like 60 times a day. So I thought I was being cursed with this horrible punishment of bad spelling. But now you just got your iPhone, so it's fine. And it fixes it for you. Although often, it fixes it wrong, doesn't it?

- Well, it does. But we can't afford to go into that. Because spell check doesn't always work.

- No.

- I mean, that's why English teachers are quite useful.

- Yes.

- Thankfully they still employed these days.

- Well, you'd think that because you are an English teacher. But you're totally wrong. Because I was in high school, English was my worst mark. And when I did the HSC it was the last year where, if you were so bad at English, you could drop English. And I dropped English.

- What?

- Because I was so bad at it. [laughs]

- Kids! Just continue the story, Rachel, and tell us what happened next.

- No, it's going to get good. And then I went to university, and my history professor sent me to the remedial English coach because she said my grammar was so bad. But then I got a job as a professional writer. And if you sit and do something all day, every day, you slowly get better. And jokes are great, because jokes are only about 20 words long. So you don't have to worry. And they're words, and in dialogue you can get away with breaking the rules of grammar.

And it turns out, to be a professional writer you do need to be able to read and write. I joke about my bad spelling, but I have gotten a lot better. But the ideas are the most important thing. And it turned out I could come up with ideas. I could come up with jokes. And that was the unique thing.

So that when I went to Good News Week as a 22-year-old, work-experience kid, and they shoved me in a room, and I just sat and wrote jokes and handed them in, they weren't expecting for me to be any good at it. But they could just tell that I was. And so they offered me a job at the end of the first week. So that's how I became a writer.

- And had you always had ideas for books?

- No. No, I was a television writer for 10 years before I got into books.

- Well--

- Well, I was working on this television show called Bambaloo, which is a Jim Henson puppet show-- Jim Henson's like the Muppets. You know the Muppet movie? So they fly these really cool puppets out from New York, and we making-- It was a great show! It was a preschool show. When you write preschool, there's so many rules and restrictions. There's words you can't use and things you can't demonstrate. And I don't like rules. If someone says to me, don't touch that, there's wet paint. I'm like, you don't want me to touch this?


- Like Yvette said, she didn't want me to touch her hair.

- Oh, no! It's all over!

- You see, I find that-- Someone says don't-- So I was working on the show Bambaloo, and we had to do a craft thing every episode. And so you had to come up with a crafting for the actor to do. And so one episode I came up with they made a car out of toilet rolls. Because I grew up on Playskool, and on Playskool everything is made out of toilet roll-- cities, people, everything.

So I do this-- and they have childhood advisors, which are like the fun police. And they go on these preschool shows, and they come round and they take everything fun and enjoyable out of the script. So she comes to me and says, oh, Rachel! You can't possibly have a car made out of toilet rolls in your episode. And I'm like, why? And she said, because it encourages children to be unhygienic. And I'm like, what?

That's so patronising. Because children are shorter-- that's true-- but they're as intelligent as grownups. They just haven't lived this long on the planet, so they don't know as much stuff. Like they don't know if you get gum in your hair, you use peanut butter to get it out. These are just things you learn through living on Earth. But they're intelligent, so they know that if their bottom needs to be wiped you use the paper not the roll.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: That is actually very true.

RACHEL SPRATT: Even more uncomfortable would be several rolls masking-taped together with pipe cleaners. They know that would be a stupid thing to do. So I just thought, ugh. And it just frustrated me. So I thought, I'm going to write my own thing with no rules. And the kids are going to eat cake and chocolate. Because all these TV shows that say, oh, I love this carrot stick! I mean, carrots? They should say the truth. You have to eat carrot sticks or you'll get scurvy and die.

But this thing that carrot sticks are as delicious as chocolate is a lie they're perpetuating! And lying to children is not helping them. So anyway, I decided to write Nanny Piggins, which is this book. And there's cake, and there's chocolate, and there's fun, and there's violence. But never--

- But the character is a pig!

- Of course she's a pig!

- Tell us about Nanny Piggins.

- Well, you see, humans are too dishonest, whereas pigs are totally emotionally honest. They see a cake and whereas, I would say, oh, I'm on a diet, I can have a piece, and then I would secretly eat some, whereas a pig would see a cake and they wouldn't say anything. Nanny Piggins would launch herself with amazing athleticism, like one of the Olympic gymnasts, at the cake mouth first, and just inhale it before anybody else got to it. So that's why--

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: So they're are honest?

RACHEL SPRATT: They are emotionally honest. We should look up to pigs, because they have so much integrity. They don't deceive people.

- Do you own pigs? Have you come into contact with pigs? Where did the pigs come?

- Well, I went to James Ruse Agricultural High School. So we didn't have pigs there, but I learned about them. I read about them in books.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: That's good to know,

RACHEL SPRATT: Also, if you read books, have you ever read any books, Yvette?

- Well, I have.

- There's a lot of books about pigs as you know. Charlotte's Web. Animal Farm, if you want to read something depressing. There's lots of books about pigs.

- This is true.

- They're heavily featured-- Piglet in Winnie-the-Pooh-- because they're such great characters.

- That's true. I'm putting it together.

- They're so greedy. No, but when you write fiction you want really strong-willed characters with really strong motivations, because that's where the drama comes from. So to have a character who's just entirely infused with lust for cake, you never are in doubt about what they're going to do next.

- So you've been writing for TV.

- Yes.

- Then you've been writing books, as well.

- Yes.

- What other kinds of things do you write? Is it true that you also write songs?

- Oh! You want me to sing a song?

- I want you to sing a song.

- Well, I did write a song about why you should read books.

- That sounds perfect.

- You should probably listen to this, because I'm concerned you don't read enough, because you don't know enough about pigs in literature.

- [laughs]

- So you'll never believe these children-- I'm pointing at the monitor, but I should be here. You'll never believe this children, but there are some children out there-- because I go to schools I say, who likes reading books? And kids go, I love reading books, because it's so much better than talking to my friends! No. But kids say, I like reading books. But some kids don't like reading books, and they come from houses that don't have books.

So I have to go to these schools and talk to them about why it's so important to read books. Because, you think, oh, it's important to read books because you learn to read and write. But actually it's more important to read novels-- she's just checking her watch. She's trying to get rid of me.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: I don't-- I have to keep an eye on the time, Rachel. That was not something you're supposed to say!

- The watch is as big as her head! Well, then, have a smaller watch.

- Guys, we've got to keep some level of professionalism here, before I get her thrown out of the window.

- Anyway, reading books is really important, because it gives you an insight into the way someone else thinks. And you get to go on a journey, and it teaches you empathy-- which is a big word and it's confusing. So I'll just sing you a song. And basically, I have to get this half-hour speech at some schools about why you should read books, which is terribly boring. So I summarised it into a 30-second song.


- So it'd be something even Yvette could follow. Reading an actual book may seem like a strain, because you've got to focus your eyes on words and use your brain. But if you persevere, overcome your reading fear, it will help with your career. Not just your job, I mean your real life. Books teach you empathy with people throughout history, how everyone is different, yet the same. I lost the ability to play ukulele halfway through that.


- OK? There's another verse. There's another verse.

- OK, go for it.

- Reading's not as fun as playing Pokemon Go! Do you play Pokemon Go!

- We're not talking about Pokemon Go!

- It's something precocious, i.e., rude kids let me know. Well, I say tough. Life gets pretty rough. The worthwhile coolest stuff is always tough. Just ask an astronaut. If you want to succeed, you've really got to read books by great writers, like me. And end of it, I suppose.

- [laughs] Well, I think that's pretty much the soundtrack to Bookfest, right there.

- I know.

- You won't mind if we turn that into a single, and release it, and then continue on down that path? That should be all right with you, shouldn't it?

- Yeah, I've always wanted to be a huge rock star. I always thought I should be.

- You are a rock star, because how many books have you written now?

- I think it's like 16 or 17. These are all the Friday Barnes books. And there's a seventh one that I've written, that comes out in July. So it's like a grey cover, and she's like climbing a ladder, and she looks scared. Like that.


- And there's going to an eight one.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: And so there's going to be eight books in the Friday Barnes series.

- Yeah. I haven't written the eighth one.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Well, what are you doing here?

- It's due in two months and I haven't started writing it.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: You better get on with it, because I think your publisher is watching, and they're going to know that you're not writing.

- They won't watch this. They're too busy having lunch.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Fair enough. Where do you write. Do you write at home? Do you write on the train? Do you write on--

- Well, today I wrote on the train on the way down here.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: So you're one of these people that can write everywhere you go?

- I like to annoy the people sitting next to me on the train with loud click, click, click, clack. I actually went and bought a keyboard last week, because I hate the new soft ones that just go pitter, patter. I like the click-clack ones.

- OK. You need that sound.

- Yeah. And then I wear ear plugs. So I can't hear it. It's just annoys other people. I love annoying people. But no, I've got an office at home. I have a really lovely office. And I've got all my distractions. I've got my guitars. I just got an aquaponic fish tank with a Siamese fighting fish. And I pump the water up and I grow lettuce.


- You've got to have as many distractions as possible.


- And I've got all this gym equipment in my office. I've got Olympic rings hanging from my door frame.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: So is that why you're so fit? You train between writing paragraphs, or--

- Oh, yeah. I made a conscious decision three years ago, to get fit again. Because being an author is really hard work. They make you travel all around the country, and indeed the world. And particularly book week, which is in August. Everyone loves book week, and authors go out there. But it's cold season. And you go out to a couple of dozen schools in August, and the kids line up to get their books signed, and they all get to the front the line, and they sneeze on you. So you have to be really fit and healthy to cope with that as a person.

- Sounds a bit like just being a teacher, really. Because there's a lot going around in the schools.

- Yeah, you people.

- Yeah, I've got some good hard-core immunity, now. So that's important.

- Yeah. When the apocalypse comes--

- Look for the teachers.

- They'll be the only one's surviving, and the authors. But no, it helps [inaudible]. And also, you have to carry a lot of stuff everywhere. Because they always make you take your banner. And all author's hate their banners.

- I know, but we didn't have a banner today because we've got your book covers right behind us. And they look really good in larger than life, don't you think?

- They're bigger than your head. They're bigger than my head. And they came out of my head!

- I know.

- That's the amazing thing about being an author. If you think about it, just the electricity in your brain can create these whole worlds, and delight children.

- Well, a lot of the students who are watching today are also budding novelists.

- All of them! You can see them out there. All of them have electricity in their brain going, buzz! And they're probably thinking, what am I having for recess? Or what am I having for lunch? But one of them might be the next JK Rowling.

- They might be. But what's your advice to them as a writer?

- Stories. Learn to tell stories. Tell your friends stories. And learn to tell when you tell someone a story, and they sort of glaze over and check their watch, like Yvette just did-- because you want to be so enthralling that no one ever checks their watch when you tell a story.

- There's other constraints here. I just want to defend myself, and go on the record that I'm not--

- This is about me! This is about me, now. This is about the children of Australia, New South Wales.

- Well--

- We're encouraging literacy, and all you're doing is thinking of yourself.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: [laughs] Here's an amazing statistic. Let's bring it back to the kids. Last year, the Premier's Reading Challenge, do you know that--

- Do you know what Winston Churchill said about statistics?

- Please don't. It's a great step. Please let me have this one Rachel.

- OK.

- Seven and a half million books were read in New South Wales by the students doing the Premiere's Reading Challenge.

- Oh, my gosh! That's so good! I hope they paid full recommended retail price for all those books!

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Well, they also use their school libraries, too.

- Libraries are good because they pay royalties to authors!

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: That's right. So the teacher-librarians today--

- Bless you! All of you! I love you! My children eat because of you!

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: [laughs] Rachel, when you were a kid, did you always think that you were going to do something famous? Maybe it wasn't going to be a writer, but maybe it was going to be a rock star. Did you enjoy reading when you were younger?

- Oh, I was a reluctant reader. I did enjoy reading, but I got really into comics.


- Because I think I got a bit of a visual brain, and I think-- as I said-- my brain was wired a bit weirdly, and I struggled with words. So I got really into like comics-- The Beano, Asterix and Obelix, and things like that. But I did love reading. And I've always just loved facts and soaking up information.

So I got banned from watching television, because I'd been watching too much Days of our Lives and Young and the Restless. And it was the best thing that ever happened to me, because I read all these books and I listened to all these audio books, and I listen to all these things on Radio National. I've just always loved weird facts. Which has become really useful, because all these things I stored in my brain when I was a kid, I can now use in my books. So fill your head with ideas and thoughts, and that's another top tip.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Well, that's good.

RACHEL SPRATT: That's the third tip I've given now.

- That'll make a perfect clip for us later on-- read books and things.

- Yes!

- And do you read the newspaper?

- Well, newspapers are no good anymore.

- OK, online?

- OK, read the newspaper online? Magazines, everything.

- OK.

- Don't just read Facebook.

- Do you read books on your Kindle, or a device, or do you listen to audiobooks? What do you do?

- I have a Kindle when I travel, but booksellers hate that, so I don't have a Kindle. (WHISPERS) But I do.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: [laughs] So what you're saying is you're reading lots of different ways.

- Yes! Information! But reading in lots of ways. Online, I've got a Kindle. I've got Kindle on my iPhone as well. So I've got like three different books going at the same time. But I have physical books as well. Because I travel a lot. At the moment I've got the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in my bag. And I'm reading the second Percy Jackson book on my phone. And I'm also learning French on my phone.

- Wow, just not busy enough.

- Well, I spend a lot of time travelling to do things like this, and meet people like you.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Well, that's good. I'm sorry to take you out of your busy schedule. But that's one question that I do want to ask, is when you're not on the road, and when you're bunkered down, what are you doing? And how does your day look like? Are you one of these people that wakes up at 5:00 o'clock in the morning to write.

RACHEL SPRATT: Oh, goodness me! No.


YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: OK. That's reassuring.

- I hate the early morning! No, I got down that I can get out of bed at 8 o'clock, and get my children ready and out the door by 40 past 8:00. 20 to 9:00 as some people say. And then we walk to school. There is some yelling to achieve that.


- Because, you know, brush your hair, for goodness' sake! Brush your hair! And that sort of thing. So we walk to school. I come home. I go to the gym-- which is the best part of the day. And I do crazy stuff. And then I come home, and I eat lots of snacks, and I have a bath. And then I have a coffee, and I eat lots of snacks. I check all my social media, and then I check it again. And then I think, oh, my God! I have to work! And then so I work. And then it's time to pick the kids up from school like 20 minutes later.


- [laughs]

- Well, it's kind of a busy day, but full of good things.

- But then I look after the kids. They go to bed, and then I work another three hours at night. And then I fall asleep usually. And then my husband wakes me up, and then we watch TV until 2:00 in the morning. And then it starts again.


- And then there'll be the days that you get to travel. I know that you travel quite a lot to the USA as well.

- Yes!

- You went there this year to--

- I've been three times. I was there in January, yeah.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: And the kids are loving you books over there?

- I know! Who would have thought Americans were so brilliant? I was there when Donald Trump became President. And there was the Women's March. I was in Washington the day after the Women's March. It was so hard to go to the toilet because there were so many women in Washington, the queues in all the toilets were phenomenal.

[interposing voices]

- You're helping change the world, Rachel. And for that, we are eternally grateful. But we're going to enter our quick-fire question round now. Are you ready?

RACHEL SPRATT: Oh, my gosh! No.

- Put your thinking cap on.

- I feel like we haven't touched on anything yet.

- We haven't. But we've touched on things that no one knew we were going to touch on. So, let's just take this back to where--

RACHEL SPRATT: Like your hair.

- No one should touch that right now, Rachel.

RACHEL SPRATT: I touched it twice.

- First question that we need to get to-- serious face.


- Where do you keep the books in your house?

- On bookcases. Sometimes on the floor.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Well, it's just a reasonable question.

- No, I have two dogs at the moment, so. Like dogs eat books, and that's bad for books.

- Well, is Fudge based on one of your dogs?

- No I didn't have a dog when I-- I've only just got a dog. Dogs are awesome! You shouldn't nag your parents to get you a dog.

- Parents, we apologise in advance.

- And I'm very messy, so they're just littered everywhere. But I have a bookcase. In my office, there's a built-in wardrobe, and I have a bookcase full of my own books. But the thing is, they're all the books no one wants. Because people want the first book in a series-- the series you're currently writing. So I've have hundreds of copies of the third book of Nancy Piggins published in Brazil, and things like that.

- So you published in different languages?

- Yes! I have here the Brazilian version of Nanny Piggins.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Oh, gosh. Aren't they incredible?

- There's a video of Nanny Piggins talking in Portuguese on YouTube. Yeah.

- How about the covers? What happens with the cover art? Do you get a say in the cover designs?

- I get so much say. I've left the pictures in the other room, but yeah, I'm very, very lucky. In Australia, I get to draw a sketch of what I want the Friday Barnes covers to look like. And then Lily Perry is this amazing artist. She lives up in Queensland. And she does just a beautiful rendition of what my rough idea was.

And then the designer-- people don't talk about-- They always say, oh, who's your Illustrator? But actually the designer is as important for creating the look of-- And the front of mine would have such a strong look. So Kirby Armstrong's designer and Lily Perry is the Illustrator. But I'm very lucky. Because I can draw a little bit-- even with the Nanny Piggins books-- I was able to just draw a little sketch of what I thought the cover could be, and then they can do something with that.


RACHEL SPRATT: Because a lot of authors don't get a say on their covers.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: No, they don't.

- Like, particularly your covers. I've heard they never want to let you have a say on them.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Well, we're not going to talk about those right now. The next question--

RACHEL SPRATT: Oh, for this one! This one! I took a photo to show them what I wanted. And so I took a photo of me hiding in my wardrobe with all the lights off and a torch.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Well, they've achieved that look.


- The next question that I have for you is, was there a particularly influential book for you growing up, or a book that you just love and you can recommend to young readers out there.

- Hating Alison Ashley! Anything by Robin Klein. She's so fantastic.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: Pretty much a legend, really.

- Oh, she's brilliant.

YVETTE POSHOGLIAN: All the books will be in the school libraries.

BOTH: Halfway across the galaxy and turn left!

- Because I'm a comedy writer by trade. And that's my great love, is comedy writing. There's few really great comedy books. And I think Hating Alison Ashley, Halfway Across the Galaxy and Turn Left. But my all time favourite book is Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And that's like my role model in terms of, I want to just pack so many ideas into my books. Because like I was talking earlier about reading lots of stuff, and listening to the radio, and reading magazines, and newspapers, and books, and getting all those ideas. I want to pack all these thousands of ideas that I've had over the years, into each and every book, and make them just dense. So there's so much to chew over as you read it. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy like that. So that's the benchmark I try to strive for.

- Well, I know that there will be some teacher-librarians out there who will help you get those books into the hands of the readers. So thanks very much for those recommendations.


- The last note that I want to end on is a very serious note, Rachel.

RACHEL SPRATT: Oh, no. I'm not good at serious.

- It's a very important message.

RACHEL SPRATT: Has someone died?

- No, the opposite. We have to give the students who are half-way through the Premiere's Reading Challenge right now, some motivation to keep going. You've sung them a song, but what's your important message?

- Nanny Piggins could talk to them.

- Do it. Bring Nanny on.

- OK. Hello! Where's my close up? Is this is my camera? Read more books! Preferably having paid full recommended retail price for them, but you can borrow them from the library as well. No, you should read books. They're good for you. Your teachers will like it. Your parents will like it. And ask your parents to bribe you with chocolate to read more books. That's my advice. Say they have to give you a chocolate bar for every book.

- That good sounds good, Nanny Piggins. Thank you so much Rachel, what we're going to do now is we're going to ask the students to show you some love. Everyone listening--

- No nudity!

- No nudity, but you know what always works really well? Is a bit of dancing, some clapping, some cheering. We can see you on the monitors, guys. I want you to show Rachel Spratt some love. Let's give her a massive round of applause. There they are, Rachel! Aw, they're going nuts!

- Ah!

- There's someone dancing. I can see them right now.

- I love you! I love you!

- Look there are some kids doing jumping. Is that CrossFit certified?

- Probably they're bums have just gone numb.

- [laughs] Guys, we're going to say goodbye now.

- Let's jump! Jump!

- Thank you very much. Thanks Rachel.

- Do cartwheels!

- [laughs] Or don't! Thanks so much, now.

- Oh!

- Thanks Rachel.

End of transcript