Exciting - here's my first giveaway for you! Penguin Random House Australia and bestselling author Belinda Murrell are giving away five signed copies of Belinda's latest novel, The Lost Sapphire, to my readers. Everyone's name went into the draw to win - no need to do anything! Five winners are announced at the end of this blog post, so read on!
I met with Belinda for lunch at the Fish Cafe near Manly. Belinda was charming and our lunch was divine (I recommend the fish pie!). Can't wait to share Belinda's journey from corporate writer to bestselling author. I know you'll enjoy it.
Belinda, tell us about your writing journey.
I started to write when I was eight years old. I wrote all through school, went to University and studied Creative Writing, Journalism and Marketing Communications. Later, when I had kids, they were keen readers, so I wrote little stories for them for fun. Nick was a great reader and he tore through all the primary books and started picking up books for teenagers. I thought, ‘Mmmm, I really don’t want him reading this yet,’ so I started to write a book for him.
Instead of watching telly in the evening, I would put the kids to bed and write. It took me about two years to write my first novel. It was about 65,000 words.
Around eleven years ago I went to the Sydney Writers’ Festival with my sister, who is a writer. I met an editor from Random House and she asked me if I had written anything. I told her I had finished a novel and within about two weeks she had read it and told me she loved it. That was the first book in the Sun Sword series.
What's your process when you write a new novel?
I like to revise as I go. I don’t know if that’s a procrastination technique, but I think it helps me get back into the world of the novel. The following day, I reread what I’ve written and polish a bit, and then I keep going. You have to realise no matter how much revision you do, the book will never be perfect. You have to reach a point where you let it go.
How did the Lulu Bell series for younger readers unfold?
For the first few years I wrote a big novel a year. My youngest was at preschool, so I only did school visits to promote my books if I could get there and back between 10am and 2pm! That was still pretty busy, but as the kids got older I had more time. My husband had a career change a few years ago, and I was faced with a decision – do I go back into corporate writing or journalism or do I carry on as a fiction writer? It was a tough decision. I talked to my family – my husband, sister, parents and my agent – and my agent suggested that I write a Junior Fiction series. She thought I’d write a beautiful series because I’m quite a warm person. So my husband and I struck a deal; he took care of the kids and the house and I wrote and travelled. So in addition to writing one big book a year, I was writing smaller Lulu Bell books as well.
Do you have a new series in the works?
Yes, I’m trying to develop a whole new series for 8 – 10 year olds. My readers have raced through the Lulu Bell books and are too young for the Sun Sword trilogy or my time slip novels, so they really need something. It’s a big jump to go from Lulu Bell to a time slip, so I’d like to write a stepping stone between the two. Lulu Bell is very much family focused, but the next series would be much more focused on peer groups and friendships, and problems that kids face in school and in their lives.
It takes up so much brain space to create a whole new series. New characters, new everything, really. I’ve come up with good ideas that are pitched slightly too old, so I’m refining what I think will work for 8 to 10 year olds.
How did your time slip series come about?
My daughter is a voracious reader. She reads so much and so widely and she was reading a lot of books that her brothers were reading. There was always a main character that was a male, and there was a wing girl…like Hermione Granger. So that frustrated me. She didn’t have really strong female heroes that she could read about. And she was drawn to old books with strong female characters. Modern books didn’t have that, for the most part, so I set myself a challenge of writing a modern-day book that she would love.
The time slip books are about a modern day girl who finds a piece of jewellery and this provides a link to the past. So with this first book, the modern day girl discovers a story from the past. In The Locket of Dreams she dreamed and could go back to the past, and then she wanted to spend more and more time there.
Was Locket of Dreams inspired by real life?
Yes. The story behind Locket of Dreams is that my grandmother was an English teacher, and she’d tell us how her grandmother had come to Australia back in the 1850s from Scotland. She told us so many stories. There was this little gold locket that had belonged to my great grandmother in Scotland that was passed down to my mother.
This little child’s locket that had come out with her on the journey to Australia. She was sent out to Australia as an orphan, so it was this whole intriguing thing – that they had come from a very wealthy family in Scotland but when the parents died they were sent out as orphans to be brought up by another family out here.
I decided early on it would be amazing to have a series where a modern day child discovers something about the past and in the process discovers something about themselves and the courage they didn’t know they had. The main character has to dig deeply within herself to find her courage and her place in the world. I’ve just loved writing those books and having this absolutely passionate readership from girls.
I think my new novel, The Lost Sapphire, will be the last time slip book. I’m in a bit of limbo. I’ve got two big series that are winding up now, so I’m saying farewell to those books that I loved and now I’m moving to something new and fresh. It’s exciting but also a little bit daunting as well.
Where did the idea for The Lost Sapphire originate?
I was in Melbourne touring with The Ivory Rose. The publishers had dressed me up in period costume and I was in this gorgeous abandoned mansion. Then I went somewhere else and there was another abandoned, and people kept showing them to me. So I decided to write a story set in Melbourne, inspired by The Secret Garden. It’s a book that’s about regenerating and exploring the past. The 1920s was a fascinating time where the world shifted from extremely wealthy families living in huge mansions. All the streams of these ideas came together and became The Lost Sapphire. The first print run has sold out already, and I’m pleased my readers are loving it!
Would you ever consider writing a book for adults?
I’m not really sure. Yes, I might, but it would probably be something I would do quite far down the track, possibly when my own kids are all grown up and not inspiring my children’s books. I almost feel a tiny bit disloyal saying I might write for adults because I feel that children’s books are just so important. They give you the most incredible reward in terms of passionate feedback from kids. Kids are so devoted to the authors they love, and I don’t think adults are devoted to adult authors. But I’ll never say never!
Are you facing any doubts or challenges in your writing life?
I suppose it’s just juggling the opposing demands of family and writing – not just my immediate family but my extended family. It’s hard to prioritise the time and choose what to put my effort into. I just can’t say yes to everything.
One of the things that’s really hard about being a writer is – that by the very nature of being creative – you tend to be sensitive as well. So I think all artists, whether they are musicians or writers, tend to be at the very sensitive end of the spectrum. You’re on a roller coaster. Emotional – very up and down as well. As a writer, the thing you have to battle is self-doubt. My sister and I have a joke…we talk about the goblin that sits on our shoulder and whispers in our mind, ‘It’s not good enough’ and ‘You’re not good enough.’ It’s awful. I think all writers have it!
What about your personal values as a writer? How do your values translate to your books?
I think it’s important to have books about Australian kids, Australian landscapes, Australian perspectives and distinctly Australian problems! I’m also passionate about having strong female characters in my books. So I write by my values. I love to have a bedrock of serious issues underpinning my books, whether it’s history, diversity, bullying or different cultures.
I also believe it’s important to give back. I’m involved in the Children’s Book Council, Room to Read and Books in Homes and I feel it’s so important to share and to give.
Do you have any advice for emerging writers?
Being an emerging writer is a hard thing to do. You have to throw pebbles in the pond. You don’t know where those ripples will go. No matter what you do, something amazing often comes out of very little things, and you don’t know which little action will take you forward. It’s an amazing, rewarding journey!