image in conversation with Jaclyn Moriarty

Jaclyn Moriarty is the author of best-selling novels for young adults and adults. She Grew up in Sydney, lived in the US and Canada, and now lives in Sydney again. Her new book A Corner of White ( the first book in The Colours of Madeleine trilogy) will be publishing in Australia in October of 2012 and in USA and Canada in April 2013. Before we ask you some questions about your new book we would like to find out a bit more about Jaclyn the writer. What is your earliest memory of reading or books? One day, when I was six, it was free-reading time at school.  The book I had said, ‘The curtains blew in the wind.’  I could get all the words on the page except the second one. Curtains it made no sense. Then I looked at the picture and saw curtains waving gently, and it all fell into place. Curtains. This is one of my earliest experiences of a minor triumph.  I felt so happy that I turned to Melinda Yu and said, ‘Do you know what this word says?’ and she said, ‘Curtains, of course,’ and that was one of my earliest experiences of withering contempt.

Also, I remember finding the book The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl in the school library.   It was about a girl who gets angry and her finger glows red and gives her magical powers.  She uses the powers to change things.  I was a good, quiet girl but I had a secret: sometimes I wished I could crush people underneath my shoe.  The Magic Finger filled me with astonished joy.  Suddenly, anger was okay and could even be constructive. (I don’t think I knew the word ‘constructive’ though.)  I borrowed the book from the library every week for the rest of that year. What were your favorite books in childhood? Apart from The Magic Finger, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, also by Roald Dahl. Five Children and It and The Phoenix and the Carpet by E.Nesbit.  TheFolk of the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton.  The Chalet School books by Elinor Brent-Dyer.  Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.   If you could be one fictional character who would you choose to be and why?   I’m trying to think of a beautiful female character who can sing, dance, do physics, mathematics, recite poetry and sparkle in conversation.  But I can’t.  So I guess I could be that girl from The Magic Finger, because of her powers. What was your most vivid memory or moment in being a writer? I think maybe when the author Garth Nix called me at work.  I was a lawyer then and when the phone rang I had my pen and Memo pad ready to take notes on the call, and I remember writing the name, ‘Garth Nix’, and thinking, ‘Wait, I know that name’, and then, ‘that’s not a client, that’s the famous author, why is he ringing?’ It turned out that he was working for the literary agency where I had sent the manuscript of my first novel, and he was calling to say he’d like to represent me.  It was that combination of wonderful, extraordinary news and the fact that it was not a client calling with a tricky question. What is your favorite part in the process of writing a book: writing it, submitting it to an editor, or Book touring? The planning part when I am working in a café, drawing pictures in my big notebook, high on chocolate, and ideas seem to be zig-zagging all over the place.  At that point it seems like the world is full of beautiful possibility.   Submitting it to the editor is a different kind of fantastic. Has a reader ever told you something about your books that really surprised you? The most surprising thing to me is how often people say that things that have happened in my books have happened to them—like best friends running away to join the circus (in Feeling Sorry for Celia).  The other day a 13-year-old girl wrote to tell me that whenever she feels sad she hugs one of my books and it makes her feel better.  That made me pretty happy. What do you think is the most important quality of a good writer and why? Fearlessness, honesty, imagination and humility.  I can’t choose between those four things because I think they all need to be interwined to make a good book.  The humility part comes in when the writer cuts back on the fearlessness, honesty and imagination. Do you have any kind of secret writing fetish that you would be willing to share with us? I can’t write without a blue ceramic bowl on the desk beside me that is filled with fruit and chocolate. Almost all your books have been written for young adults. What makes this genre so compelling to you?  

I like the imaginative range of children’s books, and I like adult books for the scope of issues you can explore.  So young adult fiction sometimes seems to be the perfect balance of both.  Also, I think young adults can make great characters because they are often intense, confused, insightful, passionate and they’re always changing and growing.

Your new novel is pretty breathtaking: it is extremely imaginative, it develops some great characters, it deals with both fun and serious topics and it introduces some very original ideas. We don’t want to give away too much but we do want to ask you a few questions about it The Colours of Madeleine trilogy is quite a departure from your previous books. What inspired you to write it? First I want to say thank you so much for your very kind words; I really appreciate them. The Kingdom of Cello came to me when I was living in Montreal, Canada.  One snowy winter day, I went to a café to work. A friend had just given me a notebook that was bound in soft red suede, and I took it along with me to write notes.  But when I opened it, I found a row of small coloured pencils, each in its own separate pocket.  Instead of working on my then current novel, I started drawing pictures of a Kingdom. I called it Cello, just because I like the word.  I think I was inspired by the strange beauty of a northern winter, and by a new and surprising notebook. There is one thing that definitely links it to your previous books: it is the letter writing. You seem to have a real affinity for the use of letters in your novels, why is that? When I was a teenager I started a letter-writing exchange with a friend who had switched to another school.  We used to tell each other secrets and try to make each other laugh, and we became very close as a result.  Our letters were profoundly important to my teenage years, so I guess that always stayed with me and inspired the letter-writing in my first book, Feeling Sorry for Celia.  Once I started writing in letters, I couldn’t stop.  I love how active letters are, and how they can be both honest and intimate, at the same time as subjective and unreliable.  And I’m drawn to the silence in the space between the letters. This new book is also astounding in its range of characters and ideas: there is Byron, Isaac Newton, laws of optics and so much more…What kind of research did you do for it and what part did you enjoy the most? I read a lot about Byron and Newton, especially memoirs written by their contemporaries, and I loved the vivid, personal details.  I also really enjoyed the science books about optics.  I got my aura read and healed, which was fun (and presumably beneficial to my aura), but my favourite research has been learning to play the cello.  (I’m working on Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star at the moment.) The Corner of White contains lots of elements of seeing, perception, reflections and communication between different worlds – would the fact, that you lived in different countries has anything to do with it? And if so how did these experiences contribute to your writing? On a practical level, A Corner of White is set partly in Cambridge, England, so the three years I spent living there definitely helped with this book. More generally, I think that living overseas has had a profound effect on my understanding of the complexity of, and similarity between, people’s characters and stories, and of the breathtaking strength and kindness of the human spirit.  (I guess I might have figured that out eventually anyway, but seeing these things from different angles and in different climates helped.) If you personally could have one supernatural power what would that be? Well, I suppose I should say that I’d like a supernatural power that enables me to end  wars, world hunger, environmental issues etc (without having to figure out the logistics of solving all those issues: I just want to wave my supernatural hand and it be done).  But in all honesty my first instinct was to say that I want to fly. Who is your favorite character in this trilogy and why? Elliot Barnaski.  Maybe because he was sort of inspired by a boy I had a crush on as a teenager.  He was one of those beautiful, talented, athletic boys who also happen to have a great heart.  I guess I still have the crush. We already know that there will be two more volumes coming: have you planned the whole trilogy from the start or did this story take you places that you did not expect?  

I planned the trilogy in detail before I started, but my stories usually ignore the plan, and this book definitely took me in unexpected directions.  So the plan is evolving.

And we simply just have to ask … What is your favourite colour? Yellow. Finally, we traditionally ask all of our authors if they could suggest three books that they would love everybody to read. What would these three picks be for you? A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf;  The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway; any of the novels wrirten by my sisters Liane Moriarty or Nicola Moriarty.