Video transcript
2017 NSW PRC author interview - Yvette Poshoglian

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[music playing]

- Hi. I'm Yvette Poshoglian and I'm really excited to be here to be involved with PRC Bookfest. I have two different jobs that I'm really excited about.

One is that I write books for kids. And you might know my books 'Ella & Olivia,' which I love. And I also am really lucky because I get to work on the Premier's Reading Challenge, which we're all here to celebrate this year for its 15th birthday. So it's a very exciting time to be writing.

And I'm really excited to be involved in Book Fest because when you're an author, a lot of the time you spend on your own, at home, sometimes sitting in your pyjamas just writing. And you're not really always thinking about the end result, even though that's what you want. You want people to be reading your books.

So it's really exciting for me to talk to you today from where I am. I'm actually at a funny old place in the middle of North Sydney, which is not too far from the northern pylon of the Harbour Bridge in a museum called Don Bank Museum. Now, lots of people do ask me, why do you write in a museum? Is it spooky?

First answer is yes, it is. It's very quiet sometimes. Another thing that they ask me is it. do you get anything done when it's so quiet? And, of course, the obvious answer is yes. If you have no distractions, you can write to your heart's content.

And thirdly, it's separate to my own house. So I live on the other side of Sydney. But I actually spend time writing here in this museum which has been given to me very kindly for a very short period of time by the local council.

So I have an involvement with the community here. And we're going to take you on a little tour of Don Bank museum after this. So you'll see, see it a little bit later on.

It's basically a place where I can hang out, have all my fun writing stuff, my pens, my pencils, my computer, my research notes out, and some really awesome things lots of friends give me. If you never know what to buy a writer, buy them something to do with typewriters. This was given to me by a really great friend.

And it says 'Keep Calm, Type On.' And I actually have a vintage typewriter at home. But it's not here at Don Bank.

But I do love anything to do with typewriters. So just take note everyone. If you want to know what to get me, something with typewriters.

I do write on a computer. So I'm going to show you a little bit about how I write. But essentially, I'll just give you a bit of insight on to what I've been working on lately.

This is the latest 'Ella & Olivia' at the time of filming called 'Happy Campers.' And it's obviously about a camping trip. And those people that know me know how much I love camping. So I really dug deep for this one.

For all of you that have been camping, you'll know some of the story lines in here. Not everything goes right when you go camping. And for those of you that don't know this series, it's about two sisters, a big sister called Ella and her little sister, Olivia. And Ella is seven years old. And Olivia is 5 and 1/2.

And they've had lots and lots of adventures together now. So we've done lots of things. We've done lots of big book collections, which you might have seen in the bookshop or in book club. And they are some of the most favourite stories of mine to work on. So--

INTERVIEWER: How many have you done from that series?

- I have done-- this-- I think this is book 19.


- There's 19, 20 maybe by the time this goes to air. The next one is about the school band. So it's called 'Note Perfect.' And that's coming out.

INTERVIEWER: And what age group for those books?

- Five to seven, ages five to seven. And they're beginning chapter books. And they're illustrated by the most amazing Illustrator named Danielle McDonald. And she captures the characters so well. So she lives in another part of New South Wales. So we've only met just actually once.

But we have an editor who helps us put the story together with the images. And all the other authors and illustrators you've been working with in Book Fest would have the same kind of arrangement. So sometimes I write the story and Danielle knows exactly where to put it in the illustrations and how to draw the girls.

In this particular series, the girls have had lots of hair-- there's been hair disaster. There's been puppy trouble. It's basically a story of their lives.

So there's Ella and Olivia, who are in school together, but they're not in the same year. And there's Max, their little brother, who's nearly two. And there's a puppy called Bob.

So if anyone has golden-- a golden retriever out, their little puppy is a golden retriever puppy and he's very, very naughty. And he doesn't do very well at puppy school. So there's lots of puppy adventures for anyone out there who loves dogs. I love dogs. But I don't have a dog. But I have a dog in this book.

So Ella and Olivia basically started about five years ago. And the girls have had so many different adventures together. And their stories are still coming out. And I'm really excited about them. And the stories come from a lot of the things that my brother, sister, and I used to do when we were growing up.

My brother didn't do ballet. But he was involved in every single one of my sister and I's adventures. And there were definitely some hair disasters along the way. There's a ballet story in here.

What else? There's collecting 'Cool Kitties.' Anyone who's collecting things at the moment might love the 'Cool Kitties' story because Ella and Olivia go into a frenzy to collect something, something, get a big collection of toys. And that's one of the big things on their agenda.

But essentially, they both go into lots of adventures-- some of my favourite stories in the Ella and Olivia series are sports stories because I love sport. And 'Net Ball Fever' is probably one of my favourite Ella and Olivias. And, yeah, it's a great epic sports story, one of those ones.

And there's also another really great title called 'Sports Carnival,' which I love, where Mum and Dad, the characters of Mum and dad get involved in a sports carnival because they want to win the points and win the competition. So Ella and Olivia, yeah, those stories are keeping on coming and they just keep getting into more and more scrapes.

And they don't always get on. But by the end of the story, they always need to find a way out of trouble together. So for anyone that's had-- gotten into scrapes or done something wrong or had a bit of an adventure, sometimes you need a partner in crime. And I think these guys are real partners in crime. So anyone who's got a little brother or a little sister or an older brother or an older sister will totally understand Ella and Olivia.

And I've actually been working on-- and actually this book, 'Cockatoo Island,' 'Escape from Cockatoo Island' was a first big fiction book that I wrote. 'Ella and Olivia' kind of came along after 'Escape from Cockatoo Island.' I just totally just remembered that it started off with this one. And then I said to my editor I had at the time, I've just discovered this amazing place called Cockatoo Island.

And what I'd done was I had bought a kayak. And I decided I was going to become a really fit person paddling around Sydney Harbour. You might detect there's a theme of Sydney Harbour in all my books. Cockatoo Island, for those of you that don't know it, is an incredibly isolated location, but right in the middle of Sydney Harbour.

And it's a very interesting place that has had a long history starting from convicts all through the way through shipbuilding. They built a lot of ships for the navy. And they had prisons on there. And what actually happened to me was I was paddling out there one day. And I decided to stop and have a look on the island. And I didn't know anything about it.

And I walked up to a place at the very top of the hill. And I just got this really sense of, you know, chills down my spine. And it was a very bleak looking place at the top of the island. And it looked like a quadrangle so, yeah, almost like a very old fashioned school playground with lots of sandstone. And there was an interesting urn, a big sort of concrete urn, that had the words Biloela on it.

And I had no idea what it all meant. But I decided to go home. And that's where Google comes into play. The first thing I did was I googled Biloela Cockatoo Island.

It turned out that Biloela was actually a school for girls that existed on Cockatoo Island in the late 19th century. And this was a place where they sent girls particularly who were orphans or criminals. Because kids could be criminals back then. And they were rounded up and put on this island.

And it was a very sad state of affairs. And the more I started researching, the more a story came into my mind. And I decided to write about this character called Olivia Markham.

There's a thread here. Actually I've got two characters important to me in my life called Olivia. Olivia Markham was a character that I based on the records of the girls that I discovered living on Cockatoo Island. And for anyone that's been there, you might know how eerie Cockatoo Island is. It's quite a windswept place.

There's lots of birds. There used to be a lot of cockatoos on there. And biloela was actually an Aboriginal word for cockatoo. And that's why they're called Biloela.

And it was a girl's reformatory and industrial prison. So some girls were sent to just be in a prison. I mean, these were children that were sent to prison. And then there were also a whole other group of girls that were put to work in an industrial school. And they made pieces of clothing for the colony, sacks for food, aprons, smocks.

And then they all got shipped off the island. And the best thing that they could hope for was to be taken off the island to live as a servant in someone's home. And what I actually uncovered in the course of my research, which was fascinating to me and I didn't know much about it, was about the foster care system.

And it turned out that what happened to the girls on this island-- and you can see it's quite a sad looking girl on this island. And I'll tell you a little story about that that they're stuck. Because of the treatment of the girls on this island, the foster care system started in New South Wales in order to look after children that were orphaned or no one was looking after them. And I often get asked about this cover.

And lots of kids ask me if this is actually a real picture of the girl. And the really interesting thing about Cockatoo Island is there are no known photos of any of the little girls. But what there are lots of photos of are little boys from that time. The little boys didn't have to live on Cockatoo Island. They got to live on these ships that sailed around Cockatoo Island.

And they were treated pretty much like royalty compared to the little girls. The little girls were considered completely lost causes. They weren't worth worrying about. And they were sent to a life of drudgery.

The little boys were treated like champs. They were treated as-- trained to be sailors. And they got to live on these ships and have three meals a day, little uniforms. They were given exercises to do, special rigging exercises to climb up and down the masts.

Meanwhile, the little girls were stuck on Cockatoo Island. And this story is actually about a little boy who escapes the ship and about a girl that he meets on the island and how they both escape Cockatoo Island.

So I used a lot of research notes. There's a wonderful place called the Archives, which, you know, if you want to do some great research, out on the edge of Sydney. And you can go there and I looked at original photos and maps and I became really obsessed with this place.

So next time you hear about Cockatoo Island or you maybe will go there, maybe you can look at the layers of history. Because lots of interesting things happened on Cockatoo Island, not just at that time, in 1879, which is when this book is set. But beforehand and even up until right now, so it's a very--

INTERVIEWER: [inaudible]

- --very interesting place. There's a lot of old souls still living on that island, I think.

But my advice to anyone who has found an interesting story, you can always uncover more. You can keep digging, digging, digging, whether it's through Archives or online. There's some great research sites. You know, the National Library of Australia has a great website called Trove, which I sometimes just go on and look at just to find various old photos.

You can chuck your family name in there, see what happens. I haven't found anything yet with my name. But that's the story of that. And that comes-- that's in a series called 'My Australian Stories.' So some people might have read other books in this series that are all looking at different periods in Australian history. But that book was really important to me.

And interesting connection, after I wrote that, I started to work on a series-- now lots of people love spies. I love spies. The one thing I know about my self is I would never be a very good spy.

Because spies have to keep secrets for long periods of time. I'm not saying that I'm good at keeping secrets. I'm not very good at blending in sometimes. Sometimes I think that's the spy's biggest advantage.

Now Frankie Fox is another character. And funnily enough, she lives in a city just like Sydney. It's called Harbour City. There's very familiar places. In fact, there's even a place like Cockatoo Island. I love islands. I'm fascinated by islands.

Frankie Fox, there's two books in the series. And basically, Frankie-- and I don't know if anyone's ever had the sensation-- has this amazing ability to realise-- she actually thinks she might have special powers when she knows she can sense people following her down the street. Has anyone ever had that sensation? I know I've had it before. You know, when you're walking down the street and you see something happen out of the corner of your eye and you turn around, there's actually no one there, that's your spy sense kicking in.

Now, Frankie Fox has a really good spy sense. And it turns out she was actually trained as a spy since birth. But she only gets activated later in life when she's 11 years old.


So she actually goes to this very posh ladies school called Chumsworth Ladies Academy School for Girls. And she is very good at coding. She loves robots. She's a superstar.

But she decides she needs to investigate her own family history. So if anyone's really interested in spies-- I love spies and the technology and the gadgets-- you might like Frankie Fox. And she's, yeah, she's actually an agent of a special secret spy force called Gryphon. And I can't really tell you too much more than that.

INTERVIEWER: Where did you learn about the spy sense? Is that something you researched or--

- You know what? I have had a dad that read spy novels pretty much forever. So he was obsessed with spy movies, spy novels. Sometimes I honestly thought he was a spy. He's a bit of an international man of mystery.

He talks a lot of languages. He blends in quite well. He could be-- whatever country we're visiting, people think he's from that country. I know that he's a suburban podiatrist. If he wasn't and he didn't have Poshoglian, the most obvious surname in the world to google and I knew he was there every minute of the day, I would have thought he would have made a great spy. And can I just tell you, having a great imagination is the key to being a write? Because you let your imagination run wild.

So I grew up in a house that was very much into spy books. And then I also studied government and international relations at uni. So I was really interested in the way the world works. And I love current affairs.

And anyone out there who reads the newspaper or reads it online, you know, you can follow what's happening in the news. And actually, a lot of the things that happened to Frankie take place in places around the world that I had to learn about. And I really wanted to uncover the life of a spy.

Because in my next life, I think that's what I'm coming back as. I know it's not-- it's an unusual ambition to have, but I think they're very mysterious. There's a lot about the world that is not very mysterious. But spies somehow have-- without having to have superpowers, you know, I love superpowers. I love superheroes.

I could tell you my favourite superhero has always been Batman-- no, it's actually Superman. Batman, maybe, but I still think Superman has got it over Batman. However, I know that that will be an argument for the rest of time. But the thing about Frankie is she doesn't have to have superpowers.

She's got her own powers of reason, deduction, she's really good at code cracking. So anyone out there who can do code cracking or crack puzzles, she keeps mentally sharp by doing stuff like Sudoku. Look, anything you can do to keep your mind on track is good stuff for becoming a spy.

INTERVIEWER: Like exercise?

- And exercise is excellent. In fact she's, she's a very fit person. And yeah, in my next life I'm also coming back as an elite athlete I've decided.


- Because I love sport.

INTERVIEWER: [inaudible]

- I love sport. But I think anybody who is really--

INTERVIEWER: --on an island.

- On an island, that's it. You've cracked my code. I think, to be honest, Frankie is just a really cool superhero. And I really wanted to write about a really cool character, a cool hero. She has her, funnily enough, a kayak, who would have thought.

And she gets out exploring. My gosh, this is like a really deep therapy session talking about these books. There's so much in there that I didn't realise, actually, until I started talking about it. But I wanted to write adventure stories because I grew up reading things like, gosh, 'The Famous Five,' any kinds of adventure stories. I absolutely loved them.

All the way to thrillers like when I was a teenager I think I read 'Jurassic Park' and Michael Crichton's books and they really influenced me. And anybody who's read a Matthew Riley book, he loves writing about adventure. Anyone who loves 'Indiana Jones' or 'Star Wars,' those kinds of epic adventures, they really, I just love watching them and I love reading about them. And so adventure stories have always been really important to me.

OK, so now I think what we should do-- we'll just put the books aside. And I'm going to show you around Don Bank Museum, which is this place that I get to write in. It's not where I live, but it's a place where I get to come and work in. And I get to share the place with some incredible artefacts from a certain period. And it's worth a tour. So do you want to come and have a look?

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, let's do it.

- Hi, welcome to Don Bank cottage here in North Sydney. I'm the writer in residence here. And I'm going to show you a little bit about where I write and take you on a magical mystery tour of this really interesting old house, which was built in the 1850s. So come in and have a look. When we get to the door-- I just want to do this because it's fun. I think that's a pretty cool door bell ring.

And if you come in, you can see that it's actually a really old house. And I'm going to show you a little bit about it. It's a very old cottage, one of the last remaining upright slab timber cottages in Sydney. And it belonged to one family. Come in here and have a look.

There's actually a lot of artefacts that they found here over the time. And nobody actually knows why it's called Don Bank Museum. It actually belonged to a family called the White family.

So that's one of the first mysteries that I've got to uncover while I'm here. While I've been here as the writer in residence, lots of different artefacts have been found, some old things that have been found in the ground or as they're renovating the house. And there's even bits of old plates and china, which you might be able to see down here, which give us a little bit of an insight into the family that lived here and the way people might have lived once upon a time.

If we come back over this way, this is actually where the writing residence is. And you can see a little bit more about where I write. And essentially, this is it. We've got the camera tripod and things set up.

But maybe I'll just take you through a few little things that are important to me. As I said to you, you can never have too many typewriter products. And maybe if I just show you a few little things in here-- this is a really cool poster I picked up in San Francisco at an awesome bookshop.

I love to travel the world's bookshops. It's a big pastime of mine. This is a really cool ampersand. This symbol is called an ampersand. And that was a gift to me from my sister in law.

This really cool thing is a queen that waves. But she's not waving at the moment. She's got a solar powered cell. Sometimes she waves at me.

I've got a really awesome quote here from a friend of mine. 'I declare after all, there is no enjoyment like reading. How much sooner one tyres of anything than of a book.' I mean, what a great quote for life.

Lots of other children's authors have been writers in residence here, including people like Ursula Dubosarsky, which is really cool. So we've got the front door. We came in.

And if we come down this hallway, it's quite dark. And this will give you a really good sense of how old the building is. Because when we come in here, this would have been one of the family rooms of the White family.

And you can see all the walls are just timber. And it kind of gives you a good sense of the way families would have lived back in those times. It could have been quite chilly in winter and quite hot in summer. But it's still quite dark because all the shutters are closed.

And some of the rooms have fireplaces. And some of them don't. So Don Bank is a museum. But there's not a lot of stuff in here. There's just a few bits and pieces that try and illustrate the story of how the house was used and how the family would have used it.

You can see the big stone fireplace. And I was actually saying just before, you can actually make out some really interesting nicks in the sandstone. And I need to read up on why those nicks where there.

That's why history of houses can be really interesting. If any of you live in an old house, you might want to find out about the history of it. You never know who might have moved there beforehand.

And this opens up into probably the living room space that the White family would have lived in. You can see they've got a fireplace, some old decorative objects like clocks. And there's not a lot of furniture here in the moment, at the moment.

But there's actually a really interesting sewing table over here. Anyone who's seen one of these old fashioned sewing machines. There's even things like some old needles and thread and bobbins still left in there.

We come in to the dining room. And, obviously, it would be a great place for a lovely dinner. You can imagine what they would have cooked. And I'm going to show you where they would have cooked in just a second.

Because the kitchen is just on the other side. There's a few little items left, a few little bowls and dishes. But we don't know whether they belonged to the family or not.

OK, this is one of my favourite places. So when I come in to open up Don Bank when I'm here, this is the first room that I walk into. And I think a kitchen is always really welcoming. And you can see how they would have, you know, stoked the fire. They would have loaded the wood in there or the coal.

And then the cooktops were there. And then the big heavy kettles, heavy irons, that they would have heated them up so that they could use the irons to smooth things out. You know, candle light.

That gives you a really good sense of the history of this place. In case you haven't worked out, I really love history. And I think lots of objects and even things like houses can tell a story.

So first of all, I want to say happy anniversary to the Premier's Reading Challenge. I think it's fantastic that you've reached 15 years of age. And I hope that everyone is enjoying their reading time out there. And you've got until Friday, August 25 to finish your reading.

So make sure you are reading. There's lots of great books out there. And don't forget to try and read something new that might be out of your comfort zone. Goodness knows what you might learn.

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