Can you give me some personal information about yourself?

I was born in Derby, England in 1950. (I’m not telling you my birthday.) My family emigrated to South Australia in 1963 when I was 12 years old. I am married. My husband’s name is John. We have one daughter — Lili. She is a writer too. We have a dog. Her name is Rita and she is a schnoodle.

When I decided I wanted to become a writer, I did an Arts Degree at Victoria College (which later merged with Deakin University). I majored in creative writing and Chinese language. After that I went to RMIT where I did an Associate Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing.

My hobbies are reading, gardening and family history.

Will there be another Dragonkeeper book?

The final book in the second Dragonkeeper trilogy will be published in March 2017. It is called Bronze Bird Tower. I think this will be the last Dragonkeeper book.

Where do you get your inspiration?

This is one of the questions I get asked most and it’s a hard one. I get inspiration from lots of places. It might be a conversation I overhear on a tram, or a person I see when I’m out walking the dog. I get a lot of inspiration from history books. Sometimes ideas just pop into my head (not very often) and I don’t know where they’ve come from.

What gave you the idea for Dragonkeeper?

I knew I wanted to write a story about a Chinese dragon. I was reading about dragon mythology in China and I came across a reference to a 2000-year-old Chinese history book. I found a translation of the book at a library. In it was a very short story about an emperor who had two pairs of dragons. The man who was supposed to look after them didn’t know how to care for dragons and one died. To get rid of the evidence, the man chopped up the dead dragon and made pickle out of it. I thought that was the most amazing little story I’d ever heard. And it was 2000 years old. So I used that as the beginning of my Chinese dragon story.

What can I read now that I’ve finished the Dragonkeeper trilogy?

Read the second Dragonkeeper trilogy! Blood Brothers, Shadow Sister and (soon) Bronze Bird Tower. Also you could read the blog I wrote about this. And don’t forget to read the comments from readers too.

Why don’t you make a movie out of Dragonkeeper?

I’d love there to be a Dragonkeeper movie, but I can’t make it happen. Firstly I’m a writer not a film producer. Secondly I don’t have $20 million dollars.

For Dragonkeeper to become a movie, three things would have to happen.

A film producer would have to be interested in making the book into a film and approach me.

The film producer would have to have $20 million dollars.

The people making the film would have to be people I felt I could trust to look after Ping, Danzi and Kai.

What is your favourite book that you have written?

Books are like children. It’s hard work bringing every one of them into the world. You like them all for different reasons.

However, Dragonkeeper has been my most successful book, winning awards and being published in 14 or so different countries to date. So I am very proud of Dragonkeeper.

What is your favourite book by someone else?

My favourite books in the whole world are Possession by A S Byatt, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

I don’t read a lot of kids’ books. I worry about picking up ideas without realising it. While I was writing the Dragonkeeper series, I particularly avoided reading other books about dragons. My favourite book that kids’ might have read is definitely Lord of the Rings.

Can you come to visit my school?

I spend most of my working days writing, but I do make some school visits each year. Most of the schools I visit are in and around Melbourne, where I live. If I am interstate, I sometimes visit some schools while I’m there. I’ve been to schools in Perth, Sydney, Adelaide, Hobart, Launceston and Brisbane.

I can only come to your school if a teacher invites me. I do charge a fee to visit a school.

To make an enquiry about a school visit for states and territories except South Australia and Queensland, please contact Booked Out.

For school visits within South Australia please contact Carol Carroll.

For school visits within Queensland contact Speakers Ink.

For events across the world, via video or in schools, contact Books Go Walkabout — global project uniting children and authors across the world.

How much does it cost to publish a book?

See the blog I wrote about that.

Do you have any tips for young writers?

I think it’s terrific that so many kids are keen writers. Every writer has their own way of writing. I can only tell you what works for me. It might work for you, it might not.

  • Write lots. The more you write, the better you get.
  • Try different types of stories — adventure stories, scary stories, historical stories, true stories. I didn’t decide to be a children’s writer straight away. I was trying to write for adults when someone suggested I try writing for kids. It wasn’t until I had a go that I realised writing for kids suited me perfectly.
  • Never be happy with a first draft. Reread and rewrite. About half the time I spend writing a book is spent rewriting.
  • Don’t think you have to write a novel first off. And never try to make a story longer once you have got to the end. There is no set length for a story. A story can be six lines long or it might be 600 pages. A story is as long as it takes to tell.
  • Keep writing. If you wanted to be a world-class swimmer or runner, you would practise and practise until you got really good. It’s the same with writing. Even if you are writing a review of the school play for the newsletter, it’s still writing. It’s all good practice.
  • Don’t take my word for it. There are plenty of websites with advice for young writers. See what they say. For example, this is the advice from Meredith Costain, and this is the advice from Kate Constable. If you’re not into reading (not a good sign if you want to be a writer), have a look at this YouTube video of Neil Gaiman’s advice to authors.

I wrote more about this topic in this blog, and in my series of blog posts on the writing process.

How can I get my novel published?

My first question to anyone who wants to get a book published is “Why”? If the answer is “I want to be rich and/or famous”, then I usually say “Forget it!” J K Rowling might be a multi-millionaire, but most writers aren’t. According to the Australian Society for Authors, the average annual income for an Australian author is $11,000. The only reason to write is because you are passionate about writing and love telling stories.

My second question is “Have you written a novel?” The answer is more often than not “No not yet”. This is definitely putting the cart before the horse. You have to write a book before you can think about getting it published.

If you are still interested…

  • Unless you know someone in publishing, there is only one way I know of to get a book published. You have to send your manuscript to a publisher.
  • Make sure you pick a publisher that says they accept unsolicited manuscripts. There’s no point in sending it if they’re just going to throw it in the bin.
  • Pick a publisher that publishes similar books to yours. A publisher that only publishes cooking books is not going to be interested in a kids’ adventure book.
  • Look on the publisher’s website. They might have guidelines for writers sending in submissions. If they do, follow them exactly. If they say they want it double spaced in 12 pt font, then that’s how you print it out. They probably get many more manuscripts than they can handle. If you don’t give them what they ask for, it’s a good reason to put your manuscript on the “No” pile and make their reading pile smaller.
  • Be prepared for the fact that the publisher may send it back and say they aren’t interested in your book. Rejection is something most authors have to deal with. It’s part of being a writer. I’ve had books rejected. Even J K Rowling has. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a good writer.

You might also want to look at the advice Jackie French gives on her website.

How else can I get my work published? (Actually no one’s ever asked me that, but I’m going to answer it anyway!)

I think it is really important to see your work published. There is nothing that inspires you to improve your writing like seeing it in print and knowing you can’t change it!

  • Personally, I think it’s better to start with short stories, not to try a novel straight off. That’s what I did anyway. You get to try a lot of different styles. I don’t know if there are magazines or ezines where kids can publish stories. There may be. Do some research. In Australia there is a youth magazine called Voiceworks where writers under 25 can publish their work. This is quite an edgy magazine, not suitable for young children.
  • There are lots of literary competitions. Many of them have a section for young writers. Some competitions are just for young people, eg. The John Marsden Prize for Young Australian Writers, the Young Aussie Writers’ Awards and The Somerset National Novella Writing Competition.
  • Libraries sometimes run writing competitions with a category for young people. Check if your local library does. Some are national competitions where writers from anywhere in the country can enter. Do some research.
  • Does your school have a magazine where you can publish stories? If not, why not? Perhaps you could convince your English or library teacher that it is a good idea. Writing is often about making things happen. You might have to do a lot of the work yourself. Most schools publish a newsletter, so the method for creating a small publication has already been worked out.
  • If your school isn’t interested in publishing a literary magazine, publish your own. My daughter, Lili, was a keen writer when she was young. Each year she collected up the poems and stories she’d written, made a booklet out of them and gave them to friends and relatives at Christmas. (She is now a published author, click here to read about her books.)

Would you read my story and tell me what you think?

Being an author doesn’t make me any good at advising other people how to improve their work. I need an editor to tell me how to improve my own work!

Also if I happen to be writing something similar at the time, you might think I stole your ideas (and sue me!).

Finally, I am a very slow reader (my daughter could read faster than me when she was eight) and I need all my spare time to read for my research… and the odd book for pleasure.

When will your books come out in my country?

Unfortunately, I don’t really know! I have very little contact with my publishers in other countries.

How did you get all your information about The Dragon Companion?

I read many, many, many books about dragons and dragon mythology before I wrote this book. It was a labour of love that took more than ten years!

You can see my dragon bibliography on this site. See also this blog on primary sources and this one on dragon research.

Will you answer my questions?

I am delighted that schools choose my books for children to read as part of their school work. I’m especially thrilled when students pick one of my books themselves for an assignment. I am happy to answer questions for school assignments. However, I think that students should do a bit of research for themselves. Have a look at the About page on this website. Check out my webpage for the book you are studying. If you don’t find the answers to your questions there, then send me an email and I’ll answer your questions.

Allow plenty of time for a reply. I usually answer emails once or twice a week. Sometimes I am away from home and can’t answer. Sometimes I have holidays!

I prefer not to answer questions about my private life, just about my books and writing.

Will you do my homework for me?

Okay, no one has ever asked me that! But sometimes I wonder if that’s what they mean.

If you have to answer specific questions about a book, then it’s up to you to read the book and come up with the answer. Your teacher is interested in your answer, not mine. If you have been asked questions like “What does the author mean when she says…?” or “What are the themes of the book?”, your teacher wants to know what you think.

Although I am occasionally suspicious that people who email me with questions like that are just being a bit lazy (particularly those who write demanding that I answer “ASAP because my assignment’s due on Monday”). Most of the time I think teachers haven’t made it clear that there are no right or wrong answers to these sort of questions. Whatever your reaction to the book is, that is the right answer. You might be the only one in the class who thought that, but it’s still right for you. If your teacher tells you your ideas about the theme of the book are wrong, show them this FAQ or get them to email me and I’ll tell them that they are the one who is wrong!