When I first met Ursula Dubosarsky, I didn’t know she was a writer. She was a (very young) Latin teacher at my secondary school. Then, suddenly (a bit like something from one of her novels) she left, and just a few weeks later, a copy of her first novel, High Hopes, arrived in the post (which is exactly like something from one of her novels), sent by her publisher (I was reviewing books at the time).
High Hopes was one of those books that nobody else could have written, and everyone fell in love with it. Since then – over twenty-five years ago – Ursula has written many more novels and picture books and chapter books for young readers which have been published around the world and won many prizes – including a record nine state literary awards in Australia.
If you haven’t discovered her work, try The Golden Day, a recent novel or the exuberant picture book, Too Many Elephants in This House. Her website tells you more about all the books, some of which are harder to find but worth seeking out.
I’m delighted to feature Ursula on bookbybook and am cheered to see she found the questions challenging. I’ve been thrilled when each of the featured writers has entered into the spirit of the interviews – even enjoying it. Not everyone I’ve approached has replied, of course: one favourite writer declined, so politely – it just didn’t suit her way of working to investigate the origins of past books. (Which, in its way, is as informative, as reading the responses of authors who are happy to reflect.)
Ursula’s replies show us, perhaps, that writers don’t always know how and why they write the books they do. Let’s kick off the new year by celebrating the fact that they can!
- What was the first book you wrote?
That was a picture book text called Maisie and the Pinny Gig about a little girl (called Maisie) who has a recurrent dream about a GIANT guinea pig. It makes me smile when I think of it, because that first short book seems to contain all my preoccupations as they emerged in later books – children, dreaming and reality, word play and (of course) guinea pigs …
- For which book would you like to be remembered?
Too hard. Almost a DISTURBING concept.
- Is there a book you abandoned partway through?
Oh, more than I think! as I discover when I go through boxes of old papers. Although once I really get going I don’t abandon things. But when they’re just paddling in the shallows I can get disheartened or distracted and I toss them to the waves.
- Is there a book you know you’ll never write?
Another strange and intriguing (but not disturbing) question. Probably too challenging for me – in that I can’t think of an answer! Of course, I have a dreadfully untheoretical mind. I’m never able to plan my books (the ones I have actually written, I mean) – so I seem incapable of imagining the ones that I haven’t even managed not to be able to plan (if that makes sense).
- Which book do you believe should have fared better?
Hmm. These questions are CONFRONTING. I think I would say my novel The Game of the Goose.
- Have you been surprised by readers’ reactions to a particular book?
I’m always charmed by what people find funny – that’s one of the pleasures of reading aloud, you discover what makes people laugh. People laugh quite a lot when I do a reading, which always surprises me. I am not particularly trying to be funny, but I often seem to evoke laughter. (It’s a nice thing!) (for me, anyway)
- What book do you wish you’d written?
Well, I just adore and adore The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden. And also Holly and Ivy. And also Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. (I sound like I’m obsessed with dolls – I didn’t even really play with dolls as a child, it’s come on me late in life…)
- What are you writing now?
I’m just finishing the final pages on two books, one is a novel called The Blue Cat set in Sydney in 1942, and the other is an illustrated novel (the illustrator is Andrew Joyner) called Brindabella about a little boy’s friendship with an orphaned kangaroo.
Don’t miss the previous selection of author interviews on my blog – here’s a link.