Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Judith Rossell is an illustrator and writer from Melbourne, Australia. She has written 11 children’s books and illustrated more than 80. Her recent middle grade novel, Withering-by-Sea, was published in Australia in 2014 by ABC Books, and was shortlisted for the Australian Indies Awards. It will be published in the US in 2016 by Athaneum/Simon & Schuster. Judith also teaches Writing for Children at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and the Australian Writers’ Centre.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
I started as an illustrator. I did greetings cards, technical publications, package design, all kinds of things. Then I moved into educational publishing, and finally to children’s publishing.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
My latest book is Withering-by-Sea, an illustrated novel for readers of about 9-12 years old. In Victorian England, Stella Montgomery lives in the Hotel Majestic with her three dreadful aunts. One night, she sees something she shouldn’t have and is plunged into an adventure, involving a sinister magician and his gang of thugs, a hand-of-glory, a clockwork beetle, a military pudding, mutton in aspic, dancing girls, singing cats, and an enormous, ghostly sea monster.
I’m currently working on the sequel.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
I work from home. I have a studio (a spare bedroom) where I do most of my illustration. Writing is more portable. I work in a notebook, or on a laptop, and so I can work from home, or out at a café, or wherever.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
When I’m illustrating, I often work in the evening, sometimes quite late at night, in my studio. When I am trying to write, it’s a bit different. At the moment, I’m trying to write 500 words a day and so I have a new regime, which involves going back to bed with my laptop straight after breakfast and not getting up again until I’ve achieved this. Sometimes it takes hours. I’m a very slow writer.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK PROCESS?
I’m not a planner, unfortunately. I can’t think very far ahead in my story. So I’m trying to progress it forward a bit every day, attempting to write a new scene. I find it very difficult. I also have a notebook, and I write about my story, lists of things or descriptions or scenes. For me, this process is what generates ideas. If I make myself write—even randomly—about my story, the ideas do generally come trickling in.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
I love it, and I feel very lucky to be doing it. I used to have an actual job with a desk and a computer and a work car and whatnot, and so I know how lucky I am to be able to work from home now in a creative field that I love.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
I’m a bit obsessed with Victoriana at the moment. I’ve been visiting all the Victorian mansions around Melbourne to get ideas for my new book, which is a sequel to Withering-by-Sea. The story is set in 1885. It must have been an exciting time to live. The changes that occurred were so much more dramatic than anything that we experience today. People saw the very first electric lights, telephones, moving pictures… At the start of the Victorian era, the fastest a person could travel was on horseback; by the end, there had been the first powered flight.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
It’s not really hard, not like working in a mine or a factory. But sometimes it’s difficult to be motivated, working by myself. Especially when I’m not sure exactly where the story is going. It can feel very frustrating.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE AUTHORS?
There are so many brilliant female writers. I’ve been really enjoying Judith Flanders’ historical non-fiction, like The Victorian House, which is a great resource. For children, I love Joan Aiken, Cynthia Voight. I just finished Alice Pung’s novel, Laurinda; I thought it was great.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Thank you, Judith Rossell!
— Nicole Melanson
And thank you, R. A. Spratt, for recommending Judith! Read R. A. Spratt’s WordMothers interview here
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