Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Kirsty Murray is an award-winning author of nineteen books for children and young adults. Her books have been published internationally and have won numerous awards including the WA Premier’s Award, the NSW Premier’s History Award and the Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Book, 2013. Murray has presented at literary festivals around the world. She was a Creative Fellow of the State Library of Victoria in 2006 and has been an Asialink Literature Resident in India in 2007 and 2012. Her novels include: The Year It All Ended, The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie, India Dark, Vulture’s Gate, Market Blues, and the epic quartet of historical fiction, Children of the Wind. She also co-edited the YA anthology of Australian & Indian speculative fiction Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean (2015). She lives in Melbourne in a house full of books and spooky puppets with her husband, the puppeteer Ken Harper.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
I’d dreamt of writing professionally from when I was a teenager but it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I realized I had to prioritise writing if I was ever going to finish anything. I gravitated towards writing for younger readers because I had a household full of children and teenagers. I came into publishing through a back door by first writing nonfiction. Allen & Unwin published my first three non-fiction titles for younger readers which led them to encourage me to cross over into fiction. My first novel, Zarconi’s Magic Flying Fish, was published in 1999 and won the WA Premier’s Book Award in 2000.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
Last year I completed two projects simultaneously. The Year It All Ended is a YA novel set in 1919 and traces the lives of four teenage sisters in the aftermath of WW1. It required years of research and a journey through the cemeteries of northern France. I also edited and contributed to an anthology of YA speculative fiction, Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean. Luckily, I had two co-editors working with me – Anita Roy and Payal Dhar. Anita and Payal are both Indian authors and the anthology contains the work of 10 Australian and 10 Indian writers and illustrators – all women – who collaborated to produce the stories included in the book. It was a totally groundbreaking cross-cultural publication that was released in India in November last year and in Australia in February 2015 and I’m incredibly proud of it.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
I have an office in my back garden, though I often work in libraries, particularly the State Library of Victoria. I love being surrounded by books as I write.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
At the moment, there is no such thing as a typical day. When my kids were younger, I used to start work the minute they left for school around 8.30 am and then knock off as they came tramping in the back door around 4.00 pm. Now that they’ve all left home, I tend to allow the working day to sprawl from 8.00 am to early evening, though I don’t seem to get any more done. I almost never work after dinner. I spend several months of every year travelling both inside Australia and overseas, which often involves a lot of public speaking engagements. I try and contain those events to stop them encroaching on my writing but frustratingly, creative time is too often taken up with administration. I’m trying to be more assertive this year about turning off internet access and giving myself over to the dozens of creative projects I want to complete. I also like to spend one day every week working in a library, preferably the SLV.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
I do a lot of research prior to writing. Much of my work is historical fiction but every story benefits from clear thinking about background and setting so I always try and gather material related to the stories’ content before I write. I generally do around four drafts of any work – whether it’s a short story or a novel.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
I’ve loved words and stories since I was a child. At first, it was love of story that drew me into writing. The more books I wrote, the more I became aware of the way stories are used to define culture and history. These days I’m drawn to the silences in Australian history and culture – the stories and the people who are overlooked, particularly women and children.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
I find the world inspiring. Every person you meet provides material for characters. Finding inspiration is the least of my problems as a writer. Observing people and their responses to the world around them triggers ideas for stories every day. I have more story outlines drafted out than I’ll ever be able to write.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
Sitting down. Sitting for hours on end is bad for your body and mind and particularly hard on your hips and neck. I’ve tried working standing up to write but it only seems to work for short pieces. I love falling into the page as the words flow which is a headspace that generally requires sitting for far too long.
WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU HAD KNOWN WHEN YOU STARTED?
That sitting was incredibly bad for the body.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE AUTHORS?
There are too many great female authors to choose from and I love many diverse authors that write for different ages and readerships including: Margaret Atwood, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Annie Zaidi, Jane Gardam, Maureen McCarthy, Ruby J. Murray, Annie Barrows, Charlotte Wood, E. Nesbit, Wendy Orr, Elena Ferrante, Leonie Norrington, Ursula Dubosarksy, Deborah Ellis, Urusula Le Guin, Henry Handel Richardson – the list is endless.
Thank you, Kirsty Murray!
— Nicole Melanson
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