I was born in Parramatta, in Sydney, Australia, the youngest of four children in a Catholic family. A lot of my childhood was spent in bed with bronchial infections and asthma – these are the days before Ventolin – and I was forbidden (literally, on pain of death) to run around. My mother says she was very lucky that I was a reader, but I suspect that I would have turned into a reader if I hadn’t been one already. I’ve noticed how many writers and illustrators have had a childhood illness, or sometimes a shift to a strange place – something that turns them into an observer rather than a participant. Any reader can fully participate in books, however, and so I became the classic bookworm.
I go out to schools often and run workshops for kids and there are always children eager to tell me about the story they have written. I am amazed by this, as it didn’t occur to me until I was about twelve that I might write my own stories – and even then it was something I thought about happening in the distant future, when I was ‘grown up’.
In Year 8 (age 13), I was forced to write a short story for English class. I still have this story, and I have to say it’s really bad. I didn’t write another story until I was 18, at university doing a communications degree. Again, I had to write for one of my classes. That story’s not so bad, but it’s not so good either. After that, I tentatively started writing, often fan fic but sometimes my own creations.
Instead of spending my early years working on my own stories, I read other people’s. And the best advice I can give to anyone who wants to be a writer is to do the same (but by all means write your own as well). I read everything. Literally. By the time I was ten I had read everything in the children’s section of my local library, and our wonderful librarian, Mrs Wall, let me take books out of the adult section – after she’d checked them to make sure they didn’t have any rude bits. This meant I got to read Georgette Heyer but not the Marianne books, and Victoria Holt, but not the Flashman series.
Mrs Wall was not only understanding, she was also ahead of her time in her attitude to fantasy and science fiction. She bought the ‘Year’s Best SF’ collection every year, so my early introduction to speculative fiction was through masterly short stories. She also laid in a terrific selection of myths and legends from all around the world. In fact, her choices have shaped my whole life – let’s hear it for librarians!
I went to Catholic schools: St Mary’s at Rydalmere and then Our Lady of Mercy College in Parramatta for high school. I was blessed with excellent teachers, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Then I went to the University of Technology, Sydney (at that time the NSW Institute of Technology) and did a BA in Communications. I wanted to work in television, but I couldn’t get a job. So I entered the public service and worked as an ’employment officer’ at the Commonwealth Employment Service for eight months. What a goldmine for a writer! My task was to interview people who were looking for work and try to match them up with one of the jobs available. This meant I spent my day listening to people’s life story, and there were some doozies! The CES also sent me on a training course about interviewing skills which stood me in good stead for the rest of my working life.
After that I worked in PR for a couple of years, didn’t like it much, and threw it up to go live in the UK for a couple of years. While there I worked as a temp and for the BBC at Television City, as a secretary in the Scenery Construction section. That was a lot of fun.
I came home to Australia when my visa was running out and became a scriptwriter at the PowerHouse Museum in Sydney in the years just before it opened, writing and producing the videos which accompany the exhibitions. I went from there to the ABC Children’s and Education Department (that’s Australia’s government-funded station) and made kids’ programs. While I was there I started writing stories for children, and publishing them in The School Magazine, Australia’s biggest and best literary magazine for children. One of those, Betony’s Sunflower, became the last chapter in my first book, The Willow Tree’s Daughter. Many others followed.
I left the ABC and went freelance – at which point they promptly closed down the Education Department, leaving me without a client. Having taught Business Communication at uni part time for some years, I diversified into educational design, technical writing and business communication and ended up, through a rather Byzantine route, becoming an expert on the management people who report corruption within an organisation (note: these people are not ‘whistleblowers’, as whistleblowers are those who reveal the corruption to someone outside the organisation). My goal was to support the people who come forward – partly for natural justice, but also to encourage others to do the same. A lot of this work was done with police services, and in 1998 I received a Churchill Fellowship to look at how North American law enforcement agencies dealt with this issue.
So there I was, single, never married, no kids, thinking that in the next few years I’d become an international expert in internal complaints and maybe sell some kids’ books on the side. It was a pretty good life. Then I fell in love, got married and had a baby within less than two years. Life got even better.
Since then, I’ve dropped the consultancy work and concentrated on writing (which you can do at home with a baby). I also completed a Doctor of Creative Arts degree from UTS, and Blood Ties, the epic fantasy for adults was published by Hachette Livre in September 2007, was the thesis from that degree.
My son is now at school and I combine a life of writer and mum. What more could anyone want?